Systems in Systems

June 6, 2017

Tyr’s Hand, everyone, D&D’s magic is obnoxiously complex. There’s, like, nine systems in here and none of them are talking to each other.

We’re gonna have to break this down; first system is the spells themselves and how they’re designed, the second system is how they’re allocated between levels based on their power, the third is how they scale, and the fourth is how they interact with other systems (like damage resistance, AC, HP, saves, etc).

Today we’re gonna start at the bottom – what a spell level is and what it’s worth.

Traditionally there are 9 levels of spells, and each spell slot has a higher worth to them as you go up. We can quantify them, though, as multiples of a single slot – a 9th level spells is really 9 spell slots being used all at once. A single spell slot, one at level 1 spells, has included Magic Missile (does “minimum magic” damage at 1d4+1, but it never misses, with more missiles by character level), Alarm (chose a portal or an area no larger than a 20 foot cube, be notified if someone crosses it), Charm Person (attempt to get a person to trust you magically, they get a saving throw), Comprehend Languages (read and understand all languages spoken around you, must touch writing to read it), Disguise Self (pretty self expanatory, also covers all equipment), Identify (figure out what that magic item is), and Silent Image (create an object creature, or other visible phenomenon that is no larger than a 15 foot cube, does not have any sensory effects other than visuals).

This is all over the place as far as what we need to attribute value to. We can say that minimum damage (2-5) is equal to a single sense (hearing, touch, sight, smells, taste), and this is equal to a complete handwave of one kind of story barrier (languages, identification of an object, etc), which is also equal to trying to take one target out of combat by convincing them they’re not your enemy (or putting them to sleep). That’s a lot. It is, however, something we can work with.

So a single spell slot has a few levers and dials we can work with. We should break down the damage into two parts; damage potential and chance to hit. We can use the same arcs of damage potential we use with melee and ranged damage from elsewhere in the system to have a good graph for this. If I had a math person “on staff” I’d have a pretty graph here but basically I feel that magic damage should either have a slightly lower high end but a much higher likelihood to hit than a bow or crossbow. It also has the soft advantage of working around cover and line of sight easier than a bow or crossbow does. We know, though, that this averages between 2 and 5 damage every round, or more simply 3.5 damage every round, per spell slot with a multiplier sourced from the character’s level.

The rest has to have a bit of fudging to make sense of. Based on other spells (like Blindness and Deafness being a level 2 spell) creating a phenomenon is “at level” while taking it from a person specifically is one slot higher. So a spell slot can also grant one piece of information (as broad as “what are they saying”), one phantom experience (like an illusionary image), create one emotional shift (“go to sleep” or “We’re not enemies”, or possibly “they are enemies”), or bypass a non-magical problem (lock or unlock this door, find a non-magical trap, create a rope, carry my stuff for a bit).

Next time we’ll get into the next dimension of magic – schools.

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