Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spell Levels Are Broken

Why is no-one willing to admit this?

Everything else using the term "level" in Dungeons and Dragons makes sense. A third level character has three hit dice. A third level monster is typically found on the third level of a Dungeon. The third level of the dungeon is found beneath levels one and two.

So why does a third level wizard get one second level spell?

This really should not be that hard to fix. Simply take the first level spells, separate them, fairly evenly, between weaker and stronger spells (perhaps putting the combat spells in the stronger spell category) and re-label the stronger first level spells "level two spells". A first level magic user selects a spell from the weaker 1st level spell list. When the magic user reaches 2nd level, she can take a spell from either the first or second level spell lists.

Same with former second level spells. Separate them, and re-label the weaker as third level and stronger as fourth level spells. The 3rd level magic user takes a spell from the 3rd level spell list, and when she makes it to fourth level, takes one from the 1/2 list, and one from the 3/4 list.

The same applies to third level spells, which become fifth and sixth level spells, and so on, until we reach the ninth level spells, which are separated and become levels 17 and 18, respectively.

24 comments:

Marc said...

This is exactly the approach taken by Hackmaster Basic. Although the casting mechanism is different, first level casters get first level spells, second level casters get second level spells, etc.

Roger the GS said...

I'd think it wiser to downgrade the weak 2nd level to new level 2, weak 3rd level to new level 4 and so on. You'd see a lot more TPK and dissatisfied magic users at level 1 otherwise. Maybe the weak level 1 spells could be downgraded to cantrips or at-will powers? (c'mon, why would anyone memorize Erase?)

Alex Schroeder said...

I find this hard to explain to newcomers as well. Monte Cook did this in his Books of Experimental Might for 3rd ed D&D, I think. At the time I thought it was an awesome idea. If I were to rewrite the rules, I'd consider it. But as a player and referee it just seems like too much work. :)

Porky said...

"Why is no-one willing to admit this?"

Good question.

It is counterintuitive, especially for newer players, as Alex suggests.

To make it simpler still, a very bold soul could draw up a list along these lines for discussion, with the new divisions renamed for clarity, and the whole thing titled 'The OSR Initiate Spell List' or similar.

Kent said...

The problem is the division into strong and weak spells in each category. which may be more arbitrary than useful.

A simple way to test if there are genuine workable divisions would be to blindly get experienced dms to separate spells of each level as examine the concordance. I suspect nothing useful would result.

Jeff Rients said...

"Why is no-one willing to admit this?"

It's a blind spot. It's also one of the things that, if fixed, would probably wreck backwards compatibility with any product with an NPC spellcaster. And I don't know about you, but NPC spellcasters are one of the things I like letting someone else do the heavy lifting on.

Stuart said...

Absolutely agreed - I'm going to adopt this idea. :)

@Jeff: You coul just say either the spell-caster's level or name the spells they have and it remains backwards compatible.

Carter Soles said...

This idea intrigues me -- anybody going to generate a list along this line?

Tequila Sunrise said...

What, 19th and 20th level don't get spells? The poor bastards.

Honestly, I like your solution. But what bothers me is that there're no 10th level spells. Logically there should be 10th level spells at 19th level to complete the next-spell-level-at-each-odd-level pattern.

GerallKahla said...

It was one of the most confusing points for me when I started. In trying to pass the torch and involve nascent roleplayers, it quickly becomes the aspect of the game that takes longest to explain.

Evidently, there are several implementations of the idea (according to the comments on this thread). I'll have to look them up and see how they feel.

Great question, and I LOVE the fact that the comments point me in all these different directions!

Thanks!

Ronin78 said...

I have to agree that I think the work would out weigh the benefits of doing it.

I have never even put this to thought till I just read this post. So I have to assume at least for me, its not an issue or I would have noticed it sooner.

Telecanter said...

I call them circles of magic rather than levels. Players haven't had any trouble yet. Course I haven't had any players survive to level 3 MU yet.

Are you folks saying its really hard for newbies starting players out at third level or something?

Another idea, as I think up new spells, they usually have a cost built in such that the idea of level doesn't matter so much. I guess I'm slowly shifting to a more S&S feel.

roleplay said...

All dnd like gaming are weird, leave it and toss it to the trash can.

From my point of view the whole oldschool gaming and retroclone rule designing are completely unnecessary. Because there are lot of games (for example odnd) and you don't have to publish n+1 vaersion. Why don't you redesign the original dnd?

Dave said...

I have to disagree here. I think perhaps your irritation might stem from getting hung up on the constant overuse of the word "level" in d&d?

Personally, the fact that a magician of Conjurer rank doesn't get orange-belt spells has never bothered me particularly. Even when they were on the third sub-tier of the labyrinth...

Tequila Sunrise said...

If you can't get anyone to diverge each spell level, and you don't want to do all that work yourself, you could take a page from 4e and simply relabel the spell levels. Instead of having spell levels 1, 2, 3, etc., you'd instead have spell levels 1, 3, 5, etc.

That at least will be more intuitive for newbies.

JDJarvis said...

In OD&D level don't track evenly across all factors.

A 5th level cleric had 4+1 HD while a Fighter had 5+1 and a M-U had 3.

Hit Dice got "fixed" in later editions but the spell levels didn't.

Spell levels being separate from direct association with class level also works when some character classes don't get spells at 1st level but get them later in life. Clerics in OD&D and "Basic" didn't get any spells as 1st level characters. In AD&D paladins don't get spells until they are 9th level and at 8th; should the first spells such a class get be some level other then 1st?

anarchist said...

Aaaaaaargh.

Someone has done this. I know they have. Now I can't find it.

Alexis said...

Well done. You've reinvented the wheel.

Bree Yark! said...

I've never seen this as a problem. And I started playing D&D when I was 7!

Of all the things I look back on that I either misunderstood or wrestled with, this wasn't one of them.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Alexis said...
Well done. You've reinvented the wheel.

I'm guessing that's your way of saying, hey, how are things, let's get together for a beer sometime.

Lord Kilgore said...

I happen to agree with this in principle, and have on several occasions tried to do exactly this or some variation of it. I've even tried to keep the existing level system but re-slot spells more logically power-wise. I always give up because

It's also one of the things that, if fixed, would probably wreck backwards compatibility with any product with an NPC spellcaster.

It's not quite a game-changer like doing away with levels and making everything skill-based, or doing away with hit points and replacing it with some other wound system, but it affects a heck of lot more than going to a single saving throw system or ascending AC, for instance. It wouldn't be an on-the-fly adjustment.

Nagora said...

Not worth doing anything about even if it does give some people a few minutes trouble. Backwards compatability is worth far, far more than this level of tinkering.

NetherWerks said...

Spell levels aren't broken, if you look at them as the relative threshold of difficulty required to make the initial contact or to get a satisfactory reaction from the spell so as to successfully acquire it...which is an approach taht we've had some fun with. Guess we'll have to get around to posting some details on this...

Austin said...

The only time I've come across confusion over this issue was when I had a new player who was confusing caster level with spell level.

One of my big complaints with the D&D spell system was also touched on in this post though. It has always irked me that a player can't cast a Fireball until they get access to level 3 spells, and then when they get access to level 4 and 5 spells, the Fireball is still only a level 3 spell.

For our group, I've started rewriting a lot of the more common spells to have variable caster levels. For example, Fireball can be prepared/cast as a level 1 spell, but it does less damage and has a much smaller radius. It could also be cast as a level 5 spell, and do more damage with a larger radius. It's a little more math, but definitely worth it in my opinion.