Friday, August 1, 2014

Spellslingers of Gor aka How the Frak Does Magic Work in 5e?

I've had quite a few experienced D&D players ask me about how magic works in the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons - especially after reading the explanation in the Basic book.  Complete newbies seem to get it right off the bat.  I think the problem is that the new system doesn't, on the surface of things, appear much different than many of the ways magic once worked, but the few differences turn everything on its head.  So I'll try to make it simple.

There are some terms to define.  I'm making up some of these terms, btw, for clarity.  Note, these are only for the classes mentioned in the Basic book, as other types of casters will appear in the PHB, which may have different mechanics.

Available Spells
Prepared Spells
Spell Levels
Spell Slots
Spell Slot Levels
Domain Spells

First, forget everything you know about spells.  Okay?  Good.  Now we are ready . . .

Available Spells are the spells that the caster can access.  It's like Agent Kay's armory in Men In Black - a room full of guns.  Wizards have the spells in their spellbook.  Clerics have, well, they have access to every spell of their level.

Okay, so a spellslinger has a big room of guns.  But she only has a limited amount of holsters on her belt. Each morning, she's got to pick the guns she'll be carrying that day.  These are called Prepared Spells.  Each gun is a different type of spell.  One gun may launch a fireball, another gun may heal someone.  It's pointless to have two guns of the same type.

Each spell has a different size, or Spell Level.  This is separate from any class level that the caster might have.  Detect Magic is a first level spell, while Fireball is a third level spell.  It's how much gunpowder that's required to make the gun fire.

Okay, so how does this spellslinger fire her gun?  Spell Slots.  Each morning, she gets a limited amount of spell slots, which act like bullets.  She puts the bullet in the gun just before she fires it.

Each bullet has a size.  These are Spell Slot Levels.  She might get three first level spell slots and one second level spell slot a day.  Think of this, not as a caliber, or width, of a bullet, but how long the bullet is - i.e., how much gunpowder is sitting behind the projectile.

The spell slot must be the same size as the spell's level or bigger.

If you try to fire a gun without enough gunpowder, it's just going to be a flash in the pan.  You can, however, use a bigger spell slot to kick off the spell.  Depending on the spell, it could have an additional effect - like doing more damage or healing more hit points.

So that's the basics.  There are some special instances:

Cantrips:  These are tiny little guns that use a solar panel to fire endlessly.  They are 'At-Will' spells that allow you to clean tables or singe people's eyebrows off.

Rituals:  Some guns can be cast without a bullet.  If you've got a spell listed as a ritual, and ten spare minutes, you can cast away at no extra charge.

Domain Spells:  Depending on a clerics chosen divine domain, they get some spells that are automatically prepared - forever.  It's like having a gun super-glued to your belt that doesn't count against the total allowed prepared spells for that day.  Pretty nifty.

Once players have these concepts down, they seem to be able to digest the rest of the magic rules without issue.  The mechanic works well, giving the player more options and cutting down on the angst of morning spell picking, without turning spellcasters into infinite magic regurgitation machines.

 If for some reason the above didn't make sense, please let me know and I'll try to clarify it. :)

- Ark


  1. Next time I take in a player who has never played an RPG or D&D more specifically, I will definitely remember this metaphor. Thanks!

  2. Awesome analogy and description....and you're right, I've noticed my greenies at the table are quicker to pick it up then the old vets.

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