D&D 5E Review Part 14: Spellcasting

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It’s been a while since I’ve shamelessly plugged anything, so let’s start with that. Hex Games co-founder Leighton Connor has just released the latest Ross Fulton, Occult Detective story, The MarmiCon Conundrum, in which I appear as a character. Leighton and I will also be releasing a new Brainfart Press book next week called Pig Palaces & Brisket Barns: A Guide to America’s Best Barbecue Joints (That We Made Up). No links yet, but I promise you can find out about it as soon as it goes live by checking the Brainfart Page or following Brainfart on Facebook or Twitter. I’ll also definitely mention it in my newsletter and on Patreon, both of which are linked in the right sidebar of this story’s page. I’m mentioning Pig Palaces now because I won’t be posting next week; I’ll be in or on my way to Indianapolis for GenCon when the blog usually goes up. We’ve actually got at least one game with a few spaces left last I checked, if you happen to be going to the con and want to check out Cinemechanix.

Now I’m going to talk about D&D some more.

Chapter 10: Spellcasting isn’t technically the last chapter, but Chapter 11 is an 87 page list of spells, so it’s only a chapter because they called it a chapter, not because it has any similarity of format to the previous 10 chapters. I’d call it an appendix, but I guess they didn’t want to lump it in with the other (much shorter) appendices that immediately follow it. So as far as I’m concerned this is the last chapter. It starts of with some rambling about spells that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere until right at the end where it’s clear that the point of the opening is to make sure you’re aware that there are a shitload more spells a-coming, and you can get them by giving Hasbro your money.

The first few sections cover spell levels (1-9 for everybody, none of that 9 for wizards, 7 for clerics nonsense) and memorization basics. The big difference here from previous editions is that there’s basically an extra level of spell slots. In previous edition, you had X spell slots of each level and filled each of them with a specific spell. So if you had 3 1st level slots and wanted to cast Magic Missile twice, you’d have to memorize Magic Missile, Bigby’s Happy Ending, and Magic Missile. Your memorized spells were the only subset of your spellbook.

The new version takes it one step closer to Carlin’s “A Place For My Stuff” routine. First, you’ve got your spellbook. These are all the spells you’ve picked up over the years and could potentially cast. But you can’t just cast any of them whenever you want because game balance(?), so you’ve got to pack a smaller version of your spellbook. These are called Prepared Spells, and are basically the ones you’ve got committed to memory right now. So you might have the first level spells Magic Missile, Bigby’s Happy Ending, Mage Armor, and Leomund’s Peaceful Port-a-Potty committed to memory. Then you have your spell slots, which is the amount of magical energy that you can channel through your body between naps. You don’t have to define which spells go in which slots. Instead, you can use the slots to cast any combination of prepared spells. So you can cast 3 Magic Missiles, 2 Magic Missiles and a Leomund’s Shithouse, 3 Bigby’s Handjobs, or Shield, Magic Missile, and Leomund’s Shithouse. It all depends on what kind of battles, sexual frustrations, and dietary fiber your character experiences. You can also use a higher level spell slot to cast a lower level spell (so if you don’t need to turn invisible but you really need to take a shit, you can use your 2nd level spell slot to cast Leomund’s Peaceful Port-a-Potty). In some cases, using a higher level spell slot increases the effects of the spell.

Even though there’s technically slightly more to keep track of, the new system isn’t much more complicated than the old version and it makes spellcasters a whole lot more versatile, especially at low levels. While it doesn’t completely eliminate the likelihood of running into a situation where that spell that you didn’t memorize because it’s only occasionally useful would come in really handy (since you still have to choose your prepared spells), it does make those situations less common. You still might regret preparing Detect Magic instead of Read Languages every now and then, but at least you can use the slot to cast an extra Magic Missile instead of just having the whole thing go to waste.

Cantrips used to work just like spells (just shitty ones), with each wizard memorizing a certain number of them each day. Now they’re minor (but generally more useful than their predecessors, based on my brief skimming of a few) spell effects that spellcasters (of all types, not just wizards) can use whenever and as often as they feel like. This adds some versatility and fits a little better with how wizards work in most non-RPG-based fantasy fiction. I approve.

Next up are rituals, which intrigued me when they were mentioned earlier in the book. Even most D&D-based fiction occasionally gets away from point-and-shoot magic in favor of a good old fashioned ritual, but the D&D rules have rarely allowed for the kind of magic that you get in real-world folklore and pre-D&D fantasy fiction. About as close as we got previously were high level spells with expensive components and long casting times. The new ritual rules don’t really add much, but at least it’s something. With the ritual rules, it takes 10 extra minutes to cast a spell as a ritual. In exchange for spending the extra time, you don’t have to spend a spell slot. Only certain spells (the ones with a “ritual” tag) can be cast as a ritual, and only by characters with an appropriate class feature. I would have like more flavor here, but at least the rule acknowledges the existence of ritual magic as a thing that exists and gives spellcasters yet another option to actually, you know, cast spells even after they’ve used up their spell slots.

Everything else in the chapter is standard: descriptions of the traits in the spell format, spell components, schools of magic, saving throws, etc. The only new additions are a sidebar of pure filler (“The Weave of Magic”) and a section about the standard area of effect shapes in case you missed learning about shapes in grade school. That section is a variation on the movement rules, basically just there to highlight how much easier this would all be with a grid map. And if you’re using a grid map, you might as well use miniatures. Have you thought about using miniatures? Why don’t you just buy yourself a fuckin’ pile of miniatures? All the cool kids have miniatures.

Next week: I’ll be at GenCon. You’ll have to find something else to kill some time on a Thursday night. Maybe grab one of those books I mentioned at the top or shop for miniatures or something.

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