Spellcasting Proficiencies (3.5e Variant Rule)

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Spellcasting Proficiencies[edit]

I mean elementalists, who can telekinetically control their element, like hammers or like knives, but if asked to do identify the aura of a magic item, they just shrug and say "I'm just the fire/water/rock/wind guy."

I like telekineticists, who stress and struggle, panting and heaving as they grip and twist and shove the world with their arcane might, but when asked to make a force field say "I CANNOT MAKE A WALL OF PUSH OR BATTLEMENTS OF PULL!"

I like an Abjurer whose magical defenses are like a wall of steel, who's rune circles are the same as a cast iron barricade. But when someone asks him to rain eldritch fire on entire armies, he shrugs and tells them to get a catapult.

I like shapechangers, who can turn into massive beasts or mighty dragons, but will just stare blankly if you ask them about the alchemical properties and creation metholodogies of magical potions and concoctions.

—anonymous poster who served as the inspiration for this variant rule, 4chan's Traditional Games subforum

One of the biggest and most widely agreed upon criticisms of 3.5 is that spellcasting classes (particularly the druid, cleric, and wizard) are vastly overpowered relative to the non-magical classes. This is largely due to their incredible versatility. Most non-magical classes can only focus on one or two themes. A barbarian can't be much more than a heavy frontline assault character. A fighter generally has to focus his bonus feats on one single theme (such as archery, two-weapon combat, defense, etc) in order to be effective. A rogue is very useful in single combat against an enemy he can sneak up on, but can't do much in a direct confrontation with hordes of enemies. There's nothing inherently wrong with these limitations. Indeed, it's the way a party should function, because it forces teamwork among the members--each party member must use his strengths to compensate for the weaknesses of other members. The problem comes when you add spellcasters into the mix--it's too easy for primary spellcasters to steal the spotlight, so to speak, making the other members useful for little else than being meat-shields for the spellcaster. This is because the spellcaster can do everything the other classes can do, and sometimes even better! A wizard can use evocation magic to become a better damage-dealer than a barbarian. He can use transmutation and polymorphing magic to become a more effective warrior than the fighter. He can use enchantment and illusion magic to become more effective at stealth and manipulation than the rogue. And worst of all, he doesn't even have to choose--if he picks his spells correctly, he can do all of these things at once!

Outside of combat, the imbalance is even more glaring. Non-magical classes need to rely on skills and ingenuity in order to get out of sticky situations, solve puzzles, and negotiate with NPC's. But a spellcaster can simply magic away almost any problem (often frustrating DM's who put a lot of time and effort into making puzzles, only to have the puzzle rendered moot by a spell that the caster will simply recover after eight hours of rest). Need to convince a congressman to side with the party? There are spells for that. Need to get past a locked or barricaded door? There are spells for that. Need to sneak past a group of guards? There are spells for that. Once again, the spellcaster steals the spotlight away from anyone who actually invested skill points into whatever would be needed to solve the problem without using magic.

This variant rule is designed to correct that--by limiting casters to only a narrow set of abilities. Casters will still be able to choose their spells, but in order to be effective, they must choose spells that are thematically similar (just as a fighter must focus his bonus feats on a single theme in order to be effective). Not only should it balance out the classes, but it should also make the game more fun and flavorful by providing more of a challenge and by making teamwork and cleverness more important.

The theme[edit]

Just as a warrior can train for many years and still have only mastered a single combat style and a handful of weapons, so too must a mage train for years just to master a single school of magic or element group. Under this variant rule, your campaign setting will not contain any mortals who are simultaneously proficient in conjuring armies of undead, curing disease, strengthening allies, using illusions to confuse foes, and using evocations to blast armies. In this setting, asking an abjuration devotee to summon a firestorm, or a fire devotee to conjure a force field, is just as absurd a request as asking a stealthy sniper to stand in the frontlines and charge headfirst at the enemy army, or asking a berserking barbarian to hide in the trees and pick people off with a crossbow.

In this setting, in addition to the spell schools (abjuration, conjuration, divination, enchantment, evocation, illusion, necromancy, and transmutation) which defines the spell's role, each spell is also associated with a an element--the primal force from which the spell draws its power. The elements are:

Fire: spells of an energetic, lively, vibrant motif.

Earth: spells of a patient, steady, determinant motif.

Water: spells of a calm, peaceful, tranquil motif.

Air: spells of a persistent, fundamental, universal motif.

Heart: spells that directly affect the very souls of beings.

Terms & Definitions[edit]

The following terms defined here will be used throughout this page:

Major Spellcasting Class: a class that has ten levels (0-9th) of spellcasting progression. Examples from the PHB are the cleric, the druid, the sorceror, and the wizard.

Minor Spellcasting Class: a class that has more than four, but fewer than ten, levels of spellcasting progression. Example from the PHB is the bard.

Secondary Spellcasting Class: a class that has four or fewer levels of spellcasting progression. Examples from the PHB are the paladin and the ranger.

Spellcasting Proficiency Set: either a Spell School Proficiency set, or an Elemental Proficiency set, as described below.

Spell School Proficiency Set: having proficiency with one of the eight schools of magic ((abjuration, conjuration, divination, enchantment, evocation, illusion, necromancy, and transmutation).

Elemental Proficiency Set: having proficiency with one of the five primal elements (fire, earth, water, air, and heart).

Spell Proficiency: Whether or not an individual is practiced enough with the school around which a spell is themed, and the primal element from which the spell draws its power, to cast it with guaranteed success. Each spell has two fundamental components: a school and an element. A character is considered proficient with a particular spell only when he has BOTH the matching spell school proficiency set AND the matching elemental proficiency set. For example, the flare spell is of the Evocation school, and draws from the element of Fire. In order to be proficient with flare, a character must have BOTH Evocation Proficiency AND Fire Proficiency.

Spellcasting Proficiency Sets[edit]

The spellcasting proficiency sets available to choose from are as follows:

Spell School Proficiency Sets

  • Abjuration Proficiency
  • Conjuration Proficiency
  • Enchantment Proficiency
  • Evocation Proficiency
  • Divination Proficiency
  • Necromancy Proficiency
  • Illusion Proficiency
  • Transmutation Proficiency

Elemental Proficiency Sets

  • Fire Proficiency
  • Earth Proficiency
  • Water Proficiency
  • Air Proficiency
  • Heart Proficiency

When am I proficient with a spell?[edit]

Each spell has an associated spell school AND an associated element. You must have the proficiency sets of BOTH in order to be proficient with the spell.

Exception #1: For spells that have "Universal" listed for their school (such as permanency), you do not need to meet the spell school proficiency requirement. You must still meet the elemental proficiency requirement, however.

Exception #2: Some spells will have "Universal" listed for their associated element. In these cases, you do not need to meet the elemental proficiency requirement. You must still meet the spell school proficiency requirement, however.

Very rarely a spell will have "Universal" listed for both its school and its element (prestidigitaiton is the only example from the PHB). In these cases, you are automatically considered proficient with the spell.

Exception #3: Very rarely a spell will have "Total Elemental Mastery" listed for its associated element (such as wish). In these case, you will need total elemental mastery (that is, proficiency with all five elemental sets) in order to be considered proficient with the spell.

What spellcasting proficiency sets do I get?[edit]

It depends on whether you are a major spellcasting class, a minor spellcasting class, or a seconday spellcasting class, as defined in the Terms & Definitions section above.

Major Spellcasting Class: You start the game with three spellcasting proficiency sets.

Minor Spellcasting Class: You start the game with six spellcasting proficiency sets. Your character's more limited focus and smaller spell list means that your character has more time to become proficient with what few spells he has available.

Secondary Spellcasting Class: You are automatically proficient with all spells on your list. Your character's extremely narrow focus, tiny number of spells per day, and dedication to a single theme means that he can safely cast all the spells on his list.

Multiclass Major/Minor Spellcaster: The three spellcasting proficiency sets you gained from your Major spellcasting class are universal, and apply to any and all spells that you cast. However, the six spellcasting proficiency sets you gained from your Minor spellcasting class count only towards spells that you cast as a member of that class.

Example: Imagine a Level 6 Wizard/Level 2 Bard multiclass character. From his Wizard class, he takes Fire, Water, and Evocation. From his Bard class, he takes Conjuration, Divination, Illusion, Transmutation, Air, and Earth. This character can use the Flare spell (Evocation school, Fire element) as either a Wizard or a Bard, and still be considered proficient with it. However, he is considered proficient with the Comprehend Languages spell (Divination school, Air element) only if he casts it as a Bard--if he tries to cast it as a Wizard, he will not be considered proficient.

Multiclass Major/Secondary Spellcaster: To cast spells as his Major spellcasting class, the character must meet the proficiency requirements using the proficiencies he gained from his Major spellcasting class.

Example: Imagine a Level 10 Paladin/Level 10 Cleric multiclass character. From his Cleric class, he takes Conjuration, Divination, and Water. This character is considered proficient with the Cure Light Wounds spell (Conjuration school, Heart element) only if he casts it as a Paladin. If he tries to cast it as a Cleric, he will not be considered proficient as he lacks the requisite elemental proficiency set.

Multiclass Minor/Secondary Spellcaster: To cast spells as his Minor spellcasting class, the character must meet the proficiency requirements using the proficiencies he gained from his Major spellcasting class.

Take the example above, except the character's second class is Bard instead of Cleric, and he takes Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Fire, Earth, and Water as his proficiency sets. The example otherwise remains unchanged.

Multiclass Major/Major Spellcaster: You do not get extra proficiencies for taking a second class. However, the proficiencies that you do know apply to both classes.

Multiclass Minor/Minor Spellcaster: See above.

Can I ever get more spellcasting proficiency sets?[edit]

At level 6th and beyond, you can take a feat (which will be outlined below) which will allow you to learn new proficiency sets.

What about monsters that can cast spells?[edit]

Monsters that are capable of casting spells (such as dragons) are automatically considered proficient with all spells that their Monster Manual entry states they are capable of casting. DMs should take note of this when deciding whether to allow monsters as playable PC characters.

For monsters that have levels in a spellcasting PC class (such as a dragon that also has levels in Wizard), treat its monster Hit Dice as a Secondary Spellcasting Class and use the multiclassing rules above.

Deities are always considered proficient with all spells in all cases, period.

So what exactly does it mean to have proficiency with a spell, anyway?[edit]

Ah, now we come to the fun part!

In this setting, casting spells is a dangerous business. The caster needs to harness immense energies from the elements themselves in order to cast even the simplest cantrip. It is the caster's job to make sure these energies remain completely within his control during the casting of the spell. Without exhaustive training and practice, the caster can lose control of these energies. The results of this loss of control range from the energy dissipating harmlessly into the air to devastating eldritch explosions. The consequences are increasingly more severe when attempting to cast more powerful spells--mishaps involving cantrips are generally unspectacular and harmless, while mishaps involving the mightiest of spells like time stop or implosion can rip holes in the very fabric of spacetime. Epic-level spell mishaps are capable of forming temporary black holes and wiping out miles of land.

If you are proficient with a spell, then you can cast it normally and without any problems (though you may still be subject to spell failure from armor and any Concentration checks you might need, as normal)

For every spell you attempt to cast for which you do not meet both of the proficiency requirements, there is a 35% mishap chance. At the end of the spell's casting time, roll a d%. If you roll above 35, the spell is cast normally and without any problems. If you roll 35 or below, a spell mishap has occured!

To determine the effect of a spell mishap, roll another d%, this time adding a modifier depending on the level of the spell:

0th: No modifier.

1st: +5

2nd: +11

3rd: +18

4th: +26

5th: +35

6th: +45

7th: +56

8th: +68

9th: +81

10th+ or Epic: +120

(Epic-level spells are treated as 20th-level for the purposes of spell-level-dependent mishap effects)

Once you have the final number, consult the table below. Unless the mishap effect stated on the table specifies otherwise, the spell's normal effect does not occur.

Table: Spell Mishap Effects[edit]

Mishap Roll Result Effect
1-30 The spell's energy dissipates harmlessly into the air. You've wasted the spell, but otherwise nothing bad happens.
31-45 Most of the spell's energy dissipates harmlessly into the air, but you suffer a minor backlash which causes you to lose focus. You are stunned for 1d4 rounds.
46-60 Recognizing that a mishap is about to occur, you put every ounce of mental effort into trying to control the surging magical energies, straining your mind. You successfully control the energies, preventing an even greater mishap, but your mind is weakened as a result. You take 1d3 damage per level of the spell to whichever ability you were using to cast the spell (for instance, Wisdom if casting a Cleric spell). This damage cannot be healed magically--it can only be recovered through natural resting.
61-75 Recognizing that a mishap is about to occur, you put every ounce of mental effort into trying to control the surging magical energies, straining your mind. Despite your efforts, you fail to control the energies, resulting in both a weakened mind and a potentially dangerous mishap. In addition to taking 1d3 damage per level of the spell to whichever ability you were using to cast the spell (which cannot be healed magically), you must also roll again on the mishap table, applying the effects of the second result in addition. If you roll this result a second time, treat the second roll as a 31-45 result.
76-90 You accidentally put more energy into the spell than is safe to do so. The spell goes off, but at the same time a powerful backlash of magical energy wreaks havoc with your body. The spell is cast normally, but you also take 1d3 damage per level of the spell each to your Strenth, Dexterity, and Constitution scores. This damage cannot be healed magically--it can only be recovered through natural resting.
91-105 You accidentally put way more energy into the spell than is safe to do so. The spell goes off, but at the same time a devastating backlash of magical energy wreaks havoc with your body. The spell is cast normally, but you also take 2d3 damage per level of the spell each to your Strenth, Dexterity, and Constitution scores. This damage cannot be healed magically--it can only be recovered through natural resting.
116-130 The magic destabilizes explosively as soon as it reaches your target. An explosion of eldritch power occurs, centered on the target of your spell. This explosion deals 1d6 damage per level of the spell to the target and to all creatures and objects within a 30-foot radius of the target (DC 15 Reflex save for half damage). Medium or smaller creatures within the radius are blasted to the edge of the area of effect and must make a DC 15 Reflex save or be rendered prone.
131-145 The magic destabilizes explosively before even leaving your fingertips. An explosion of eldritch power occurs, centered on you. This explosion deals 1d6 damage per level of the spell to the target and to all creatures and objects within a 30-foot radius of the target (DC 15 Reflex save for half damage). Medium or smaller creatures and objects within the radius are blasted to the edge of the area of effect and must make a DC 15 Reflex save or be rendered prone.
146-170 The spell creates a vortex of magic, sucking up all of your power before dissipating into the air. You immediately lose all of your remaining spell slots/spells per day, taking 1d6 points of damage for each spell lost in this way (no save).
171-181 An explosion of magical energy rips the dimensional walls asunder, creating an extremely unstable and temporary portal. Centered on the caster, all creatures and objects of Huge or smaller size within a 30-foor radius are immediately teleported to a random location on a random plane (no save).
182-200 An incredible amount of raw elemental power coalesces into a miniature, unstable black hole. The black hole forms in the air in front of the caster, sucking all creatures and objects of less than 1000 pounds within a 1-mile radius toward it at a rate of 30 feet per round. The caster is sucked in and killed instantly (no save). Creatures and objects rooted or attached to the ground in some way may or may not be sucked in, depending on whether whatever force attaching them to the ground is strong enough to withstand 1000 pounds of force. Creatures within the black hole's suction radius cannot run or charge. Anything touching the black hole takes 20d6 points of damage per round (no save) and cannot move. A creature or object reduced to 0 hit points in this way is crumpled into a microscopic speck of matter. After 1d4 minutes (the DM rolls this number secretly), the black hole destabilizes and explodes, dealing 60d6 points of damage to every creature and object within a 1-mile radius. Huge or smaller creatures and objects within the radius are blasted to the edge of the area of effect, taking an additional 1d4 points of damage for every 10 feet moved in this way, and must make a DC 50 Reflex save or be rendered prone.
201 or more Catastrophic feedback loop! Roll twice more on the mishap table, this time applying an additional +5 modifier to each roll. Immediately apply the effects of BOTH rolls. If you roll this result again on either or both rolls, the +5 modifier is cumulative! Should the modifier ever reach +85, an apocalyptic destabilization occurs, dealing 200d6 (recommend using a computer program instead of rolling that many dice) damage to all creatures and objects in a 20-mile radius, but ending the loop afterward.

List of spells and their associated element[edit]

SECTION UNDER CONSTRUCTION

New Feats[edit]

Extra Spellcasting Proficiency Set[edit]

Prerequisite: Caster Level 6th

Benefit: You learn a new spellcasting proficiency set (either a spell school set or an elemental set).

For multiclassing purposes, treat this new proficiency set as coming from a Major Spellcasting Class (so the proficiency applies to all of your spellcasting classes).

Special: You can take this feat multiple times. Each time, it applies to a different spellcasting proficiency set.

Spellcasting Dilettante[edit]

You are somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to spellcasting, slightly more proficient with unfamiliar spells than others.

Prerequisite: Intelligence 15

Benefit: The mishap chance for casting a spell that you are not proficient with is reduced by 5%.

Special: You may take this feat up to three times (but no more than three). Its effects stack.

Controlled Caster[edit]

You maintain greater control over wild magical energies than others, and are able to prevent truly catastrophic mishaps.

Prerequisite: Wisdom 15.

Benefit: Whenever you suffer a spell mishap, treat the spell you were casting as one level lower than it actually is (minimum 0) for the purposes of rolling on the mishap table and for any spell level-dependent mishap effects. This feat has no effect on Epic-level spells.

Special: You may take this feat up to three times (but no more than three). Its effects stack.

Celestian Mage[edit]

Prerequisite: Good-aligned

Benefit: You are always considered proficient with any spells that have the Good descriptor.

Special: You lose the benefits of this feat if you cease to be Good.

Abyssal Mage[edit]

Prerequisite: Evil-aligned

Benefit: You are always considered proficient with any spells that have the Evil descriptor.

Special: You lose the benefits of this feat if you cease to be Evil.

Mechanus Mage[edit]

Prerequisite: Lawful-aligned

Benefit: You are always considered proficient with any spells that have the Law descriptor.

Special: You lose the benefits of this feat if you cease to be Lawful.

Limbo Mage[edit]

Prerequisite: Chaotic-aligned

Benefit: You are always considered proficient with any spells that have the Chaos descriptor.

Special: You lose the benefits of this feat if you cease to be Chaotic.



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