Mixing Magic - A Bad Idea, Anyway.

When I started playing AD&D, magical spells - indeed, most things - seemed far simpler in comparison to 3e, or third edition Dungeon & Dragons. This is not to say that third edition is too horribly complicated, or that additional complexity had no place in the game, for this level of greater detail is very welcome for some. With it, a multitude of problems may be addressed.

Sadly, with it, a multitude of problems might also arise, and apparently did. You know, the sort of things a great deal of play testing before publication might have weeded out. 3.5 e, hot on the heels of 3e, has already started making some fundamental changes, and I think this proves my point about 3e being a bit half-baked. But then, all editions had problems. I just lament buying a new edition and having it such a short time before some major problems needed to be addressed with a new edition.

Some of 3e, at least to me, seemed ill contrived and tossed in almost as an after thought. The sorcerer class, for example, since it was a new concept, was not well play tested and immediately ran afoul of a variety of problems concerning metamagic feats or other differences in their spellcasting abilities. But I won't go into that here.

My main focus in this article will be spells and magic types. Alterations from edition to edition have seen many changes. 1e, or 1st edition, only had cleric spells and druid spells, as well as magic user spells and illusionist spells. It was as if they wanted only two kinds of magic - divine and arcane - but wanted to give an example of a specialty class for each type as well, hence the druid - a specialty nature cleric - and the illusionist - a specialist magic user.

They never meant to imply these four types of spells were all there ever would be. Indeed, each of the eight schools of magic user spells could have its own specialists, and each deity could grant their own clerics special spells or powers unique to their domains or spheres of influence, but they didn't bother to write those up, and thus left them for the ambitious player or imaginative DM to make on their own. Druids and illusionists had merely shown us the way.

1e also introduced prestige classes, or PrCs, though they didn't name them so. A druid, after all, seems quite like a prestige class of a sort of cleric. In fact, anything other than a straight single class fighter, cleric, thief (rogue), or magic user (wizard) could be so considered. We called them subclasses, but they were essentially prestige classes. They have become so standard that we simply think of them as normal approaches to adventuring, so barbarians, bards, druids, monks, paladins, and rangers were already second nature to us and as familiar as fighters, clerics, magic users (wizards), and thieves (rogues). We don't think of them as prestige classes, and sometimes needlessly get all worked up that these new fangled prestige classes are horribly complex and don't belong to 'our' game, but that's all they are, new subclasses.

However, prestige classes need not be more complex than any of the old subclasses were. Unfortunately, most I've seen leave something to be desired in regards to game balance, and far too many seem simple exercises in getting vast amounts of extra power while avoiding payments commensurate with that level of power - i.e. they get too much, too quickly, for too little. But this, too, is not new.

Bards, for example, used to be the most broken class in all existence. If you are only familiar with 3e bards, this may surprise you, since 3e bards do not seem terribly powerful. But in 1e, bards used to be part fighter, part thief, and finally part druid, each class's hit dice - complete with constitution bonuses - stacking on the previous class's hit dice. Before they were done, they could have well over a hundred hit points - in fact, theoretical maximum would have been 250 hit points if they maxed out, but the average would have been 171 hit points, assuming an 18 constitution. Couple that with the fact certain druid spells of infinite duration made them virtually immune to fire and lightning damage, and throw in some overly powerful musical and magical effects that made people stop in their tracks and listen to them for at least a round, no matter what - even gods had to stop and listen for a round - and you get the idea. 1e bards were the very first badly designed prestige class - as a matter of game balance, anyway. But I digress.

How, where, or why all these subclasses dipped into magic has changed. Rangers, for example, used to have druid and magic user spells. It was awful the way each of the four lists of spells would reference each other. The wizard's spell (A) is just like the cleric's spell (A), for example. The player was forever hunting around for the complete spell write-up since they didn't bother to write the spell down for each list, but only referred one back to another part of the book - which they also didn't give by page number, so you couldn't turn right to it. That's why it frequently took some time to find what you were looking for. It was a pain in the ass.

2e tried to solve that problem by making them all wizard spells or priests spells - i.e. arcane or divine. In doing so, they retooled some subclasses so they fit in one OR the other, and not both. Rangers lost their access to arcane spells, and bards lost their access to divine spells, for example. This didn't sit too well with some players, but what are you going to do?

When 3e rolled around, they tried to change things again - this time more radically than ever before - including the new spellcasting class of sorcerer. Bards, clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, and sorcerers/wizards each had their own list. Still, spell write-ups are alphabetized and are only in one area, so it's a decent approach to cutting back on repetition and makes it much handier to find a spell's write-up. Unfortunately it also sort of implies these widely differing approaches to magic somehow have identical spells, when in all probability it wouldn't make a lot of sense that these different classes would have completely identical spells.

Sadly, in order to do present spells on a single alphabetized list, they again made sure every spell list was classified as either arcane or divine. This presented problems. For example, if they insist bards cast only arcane spells, then a bard's 1st-level Cure Light Wounds spell must therefore be arcane; so what happened to general idea that arcane spells were not as good at healing as divine spells were?

This begs the question, 'What is it that a bard is doing that a wizard or sorcerer can't learn to do?' After all, they are all arcane spell casters, right? What's more, can bards write a lot of 1st-level Cure Light Wounds scrolls that wizards and sorcerers can read? Not only does it make little sense that wizards and sorcerers can't do what another arcane spellcaster can do, it corrupts a fundamental flavor of the game.

Is it not that wizards shouldn't ever be able to cast healing magic as arcane spellcasters, but only that arcane spells should always be inferior to divine spells when it comes to healing. Thus, many DMs allow their wizards to cast healing spells, but they would start at around two levels higher than the equivalent of a clerical healing spell. For example, a wizard may research an arcane version of the Cure Light Wounds spell, but it would be a 3rd-level spell for them since 1 + 2 more = 3rd-level.

Similarly, clerics might pray for spells of a more arcane nature, but they would be granted at two levels higher. For example, they might pray for a Magic Missile, but it would be a 3rd-level divine spell, or they might pray for a Fireball or Lightning Bolt, but they would be 5th-level divine spells - a deity's domain notwithstanding, for a god of lightning and thunder might grant their clerics lightning spells at the same level as their arcane counterparts get them due to the nature of that particular deity's domain.

Yet, despite these possibilities, on average no one should cast divine healing better than a cleric, and few, if any, should be able to cast raw power and damage spells better than a wizard, so the two-level difference rule of thumb is usually a great enough gap to keep wizards in their arcane realm and clerics in their divine realm of spellcasting. Adventuring parties will always need both types of casters to be well rounded, so we are not in danger of making one class obsolete, and that's what's important; not keeping them totally apart, but keeping this major distinction alive and well.

Alas, 3e flubbed it when they allowed arcane bards to cast the Cure Light Wounds spell at 1st-level, or in defining that spell as an arcane one. This probably came about simply due to a carry-over from 1e back when bards could cast divine spells since they were part druid.

Other problems were more glaring, however. The apparent differences between bard, sorcerer, and wizard, though all were arcane casters, didn't make a lot of sense. How can these vastly different approaches to casting magic have spells of such staggering similarity, right down to the identical V, S, and M components? It stretches the bounds of credulity and causes other problems to arise.

So What's The Solution?

I've recently come to the conclusion that DMs would be in little danger of anything awful befalling their game if they simply classified each spell list not as arcane or divine, but as mostly arcane or mostly divine. The bard spell list, for example, while mostly arcane, is obviously partially divine. The Cure Light Wounds spell, for example, must be divine. Thus, if the bard scribed it to scroll, only divine spellcasters could cast it. But there may be an even better solution. In fact, it may already be implied with the separate lists rule - for example, the Cure Light Wounds spell is NOT on the wizard's list, and thus they can't cast that scroll. The question only remains as to why they can't cast an arcane spell, particularly since nobody is better at arcane spells than they. As to the justification of separate lists and that rule, perhaps the following will suffice.

Why not make each spellcasting class's approach to magic sufficiently unique such that these classes may never share spells?

The idea is that each approach to magic, while its spells might be mostly arcane or mostly divine, have unique triggers - that is, things about them that only members of one's own class may understand and utilize.

Only another bard may read a bard's spell on a scroll, for example. Similarly, only another wizard may read another wizard's scroll. Also, a sorcerer's scroll may be read only by another sorcerer, a paladin's scroll only by another paladin, a ranger's scroll only by another ranger, a druid's scroll only by another druid, and a cleric's scroll only by another cleric. This makes the lists rule obsolete, and that's a good thing.

NOTE: In general, most cleric spells are generic - that is, most deities offer them as standard spells, so even clerics of vastly different alignments could probably cast each other's scrolls. For example, Cure Light Wounds is likely to be readable by any cleric of any alignment - unless CLW is not available to those clerics, of course, for in order to read a spell off a scroll, it must normally be available to their class and not forbidden to them for any reason. For example, a specialist wizard of one school can never read a spell from a scroll if that spell belongs to the school of opposition.

NOTE: Also, never make the mistake of thinking that a spell, like Cure Light Wounds, is intrinsically good or evil - it's all in how they are used, and people of any alignment may have ample cause to use such spells. But I digress.

If we implement this practice, having to keep track of what class made which scroll is about the worst that can happen. It also allows for some nice things, such as making the party seek out a member of the right class - as an NPC - to cast some scrolls found in a treasure hoard, or the DM being able to grant such scrolls as treasure since no one in the party might be able to use it, so they have to sell it. Different forms of treasure other than the trite pile of coins is often appreciated since it adds flavor to the game.

This approach to spellcasting will solve a multitude of problems, and I see little in the way of a downside while doing it.

Each approach to arcane magic is quite different. A wizard, sorcerer, or bard, each does things differently. Bards may have to sing their spells - the SILENT SPELL metamagic feat, and scrolls, notwithstanding. Wizards act as they always have, but sorcerers require their own blood - of draconic lineage - to be flowing through their veins to spontaneously cast sorcerer spells - not to mention it may require this draconic blood in the ink for their scrolls, and only other sorcerers may cast it, too. Similarities may exist, sure, but the differences are there as well, and great enough to keep these types of spells separate.

Counter spells from one type to another type probably still work. For example, a sorcerer may counter a wizard's Fireball spell with their own Fireball spell, despite their difference in casting techniques or requirements, since both work in similar enough fashion to interfere with one another, even if not so similar such that those spellcasters may share their spells.

Spellcraft, Spellcrafters, And Spellcrafting

This brings up the skill of Spellcraft. How does it work, anyway?

Spellcraft is the generalized study of ALL kinds of magic - not just those familiar to you or your own class. This study is quite superficial, however, never delving into the depths of how and why one may cast their own spells of the sort they might identify, but only enough to recognize a spell, no matter what its source may be. It is this superficiality that allows them time to study all known types, be they divine or arcane. This is why arcane casters can recognize divine spells, and vice versa, despite what some may feel, since they are well versed in ALL kinds of magic and not just their own. That is what the Spellcraft skill is all about.

This is also why the Spellcraft skill is not automatically assumed for a spellcaster. They need not take it in order to ply their craft. Furthermore, one might not recognize spells even from one's own field unless they had that very same spell. For example, a wizard who did not take the Spellcraft skill might recognize another arcane caster's Fireball spell anyway, despite not having Spellcraft, as long as they knew the Fireball spell themselves. Yet they might not recognize the Lightning Bolt spell if they didn't have that spell in their repertoire, despite it being an arcane spell and them being an arcane spellcaster. The Spellcraft skill, however, since it never approaches the depth required to actually cast spells, can concentrate on just what spells look and sound like in such a superficial way that they may cover the entire spectrum of all known spells.

DMs might, or might not, allow spellcrafters to recognize and distinguish a sorcerer from a wizard from a bard, or a cleric from a druid from a paladin, etc. I actually don't think anything too awful would happen if they could distinguish between these spellcasters, as long as that character was casting a spell.

Unfortunately, the Spellcraft skill implies worldwide - if not greater - uniformity of spells, lest they couldn't be so readily recognizable. This probably follows along the same lines as why chemical elements and scientific principles are the same in this solar system and this galaxy as they are in all other solar systems or other galaxies. The reason why they work as they do is simply because that is how they must work in accordance to the laws of each universe.

Still, nonstandard spells should cause the spellcrafter problems. No one can be expected to identify a spell you made up on your own, for example, though one might recognize certain elements of it if it mimics other spells on anyway.

Furthermore, the art of the bluff is bound to happen if Spellcraft becomes a common skill. For example, just by waving around a glass rod in a certain fashion, it would be relatively easy to convince an opponent spellcrafter a Lightning Bolt spell was being cast, even if one didn't have such a spell in their own repertoire - in fact, even if one were not really a spell caster at all! A robed monk, for instance, waving around a glass rod could very well fool a spellcrafter into believing their opponent was casting a Lightning Bolt spell.

But it might be more complicated than that. Just because you have the material and somatic components down, you might be lacking in the verbal components, and this might be enough to alert the spellcrafter that you are bluffing. This begs the question, can an arcane caster who doesn't have Lightning Bolt prepared still remember ALL the components - even the verbal ones - to mimic its casting? And if they can retain that knowledge, why doesn't the spell actually work if they have all the components correct? And could a monk mimic the verbal components anyway, even without understanding the actual spell? Your DM will ultimately have to rule on such questions. Suffice it to say, arguments can be made either way, so it will probably come down to an arbitrary decision on your DM's part. Hopefully, he or she will rule in such a way as to be consistent with the rest of their creation, and then consistently stick to these precepts of spell casting and spellcrafting so one may drawn intelligent conclusions from their observations. But I digress.

So, to summarize, the apparent similarity of each class of spells may be enough so a skill like Spellcraft is realistic, and even enough such that they may counter spell one another, but they should never be thought of as identical or interchangeable. No list is probably ALL arcane or ALL divine - not even the wizard's list or the cleric's list - but through a variety of reasons, may be some odd mixture of arcane and divine magic unique to a character, or unique to a particular class.

A class's scrolls may be used only by one of the exact same class. They are not interchangeable, even if they are both arcane or both divine spell casters, and even if they are on one's list of approved spells.

The DM may have exceptions for this, but this would be the rule. The most notable exception, for example, might be the clerics and paladins of the same deity could read each other's scrolls. But even that is up to your DM. For my part, I don't see too much danger even keeping those separate since they do, in fact, have different approaches to power, so it makes sense they are different enough not to be interchangeable.

© February of 2004
James L.R. Beach
Waterville, MN 56096