Sidebar: Recalling Spells

A while back, I posted a link to Shamus Young’s blog entry, “A Retrospective Glance at D&D 3.5.” In the article, he talks about how returning to 3.5 after playing 4E helped him see some of the flaws with that system.

“A few hours go by and while in combat I hear something that hasn’t been said around me in a long time, “I am out of spells.” Until then we have had a few small skirmishes, but now this player had to kick back and make conversation with the other magic user who had run dry. They were completely out of the game for about an hour, and I had forgotten just how much that sucked thanks to new spell system in fourth edition.

As I said in my earlier entry, I think this is an insightful observation of the problems with the 3.5 spellcasting system. However, I don’t think that the 4E power system does a particularly good job of addressing the problem. In my experience, 4E players tend to hoard their daily and encounter powers, relying almost exclusively on their at-will powers to get through combat. Either that, or they expend all of their daily and encounter powers at once and then rest for the day. This tendency either turns combats into long, tedious slogs that can last four hours or more, or it recreates the problem of the 60 second day that so many players saw as a problem with 3.5. So while I can respect 4E’s attempt to address the problems with the 3.5 spellcasting system, I think there are better ways to go about it. I also think that there’s a way to address this issue without creating an entirely new combat system.

Design Considerations
In designing the rules for recalling spells, I had to take into consideration several variables. For example, I didn’t want players recalling spells that they hadn’t cast or prepared for the day. After all, it would be real easy to increase one’s daily fire power by casting fireball and then replacing it with three magic missile spells. I also didn’t want players to expend all of their spells in one encounter and then use subsequent encounters to recall those spells for the day. Another issue I had to consider is how the mechanics of recalling spells would affect spellcasters who have a limited number of spells they can cast each day. Third, I had to consider how such a rule change would affect spontaneous casters versus casters who prepare spells. Finally, I needed to consider how such a change would affect campaigns that include psionic characters, who don’t cast spells, but who would still be at a disadvantage if they couldn’t refresh their powers.

I think the system I came up with addresses many of the issues people have with the 3.5 spellcasting system, while still encouraging players to manage their resources appropriately. That said, I welcome any criticism or feedback people may have about this mechanic.

By the way, here’s another take on the same concept.

Refresh Spellcasting

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4 Responses to Sidebar: Recalling Spells

  1. It is an interesting idea, it will depend on your gaming style I suppose. Pathfinder built around that problem by making cantrips unlimited and adding some bloodline/specialist specific multiuse powers. You can run out of major spells but you always have some magic to fall back on.

  2. Rick L says:

    I suppose it depends on what part of the spell RAW makes your own game less fun. It is fairly common that folks find the 15 minute adventuring day less fun. So this is one pragmatic to approach it. As seaofstarsrpg said, you can make cantrips (0 level spells) unlimited and make some adjustments there so a caster can still do something besides twiddle their thumbs. Ultimately, it depends on how much you want the spell caster to manage resources as part of the game.

    For our game, lots of time spent picking out spells (instead of playing the game), always picking the same ‘cannot adventure without spells’ (instead of using some more interesting but not frequently used spells), and the 15 minute adventuring day were our less fun items. So instead we gave casters spell slots (you can cast any spell you know with limited slots), made 0 level spells unlimited, and allowed spell casters to regain their full compliment of spell slots after an hour or two of rest. It has simplified many aspects of our game, and reduced many of those less fun moments. Sure, it does give a power boost, but managing in our game has not been a deal breaker.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • dovearrow says:

      Thanks for commenting! Some of the GMs in our group tried the cantrips-are-unlimited house rule long before Pathfinder came along. I think it’s nice, because it allows you to use magic in a lot of roleplaying and exploration encounters that you might not have otherwise. That said, I’ve never found 0-level spells all that terribly effective in combat, particularly at higher levels, so I don’t feel like it really addresses the problem.

      I do like your group’s idea of allowing spellcasters to rest for an hour and reload all their spells, though. It certainly eliminates the problem of the 60 second day. As for your group’s use of spell slots, it sounds like an intriguing mechanic, but I’m not sure I understand it fully. Would you mind elaborating a little bit? It might be something I’d like to try in my own game.

  3. Rick L says:

    @dovearrow – I have added a blog post to share some info about one of our house rules on spell slots. If you have more questions, ask away.

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