Splitting up spellcasters based on subject

(Sorry if this should be in the House Rules section. Since I am not proposing any specific rules, I figured it might as well go here.)

One thing I liked about late-era 3.5 D&D was the inclusion of specialized spellcasting classes that were given access to only a few of D&D’s traditional schools of magic. So the dread necromancer (bad name) got necromancy and a bit of fiend-binding, the beguiler (worse name) got enchantments and illusions, the summmoner (good name) got conjurations, the elementalist got elemental spells, and so on. This is kind of like Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, if you’ve read that. It’s also not completely dissimilar to what Gygax what planning for his proposed second edition.

One thing I have always disliked about D&D and its iterates is the presence of the Cleric. This is partially because of the prevalence of the healbot meme, and partially because I like D&D most when it has a pulp fantasy feel. The cleric, as influenced by Judeo-Christian tradition and implemented in D&D, is not necessarily a common archetype in pulp fantasy. (This is by no means an original insight on my part.) Clerics of Pelor or Titivilla can turn sticks into snakes and call down insect plagues because of the Bible and Gygax, not because of what Pelor or Titivilla represent as deities. The idea of a priest is still important and powerful, but it doesn’t have to be tied down to a specific class. Most priests of Torm are probably paladins or fighters with the Knowledge (Church of Torm) proficiency. Most clerics of Wee Jas are necromancers or assassins. And similarly with other deities.

So what precisely is my point? The natural conclusion from my two premises is to get rid of the cleric and mage classes (and the priestess, warlock, and witch classes if you are using them) and introduce a bunch of specialized classes in their place. This means abandoning the arcane-divine divide, which is okay because it never made a huge amount of sense in the first place. Fictional magic being what it is, the number of ways you could accomplish this division is almost limitless. An easy set of classes would be:

Necromancer (necromancy and soul-magic)
Sorcerer (summoning and other conjurations)
Elementalist (elemental spells; not just a damage-dealing class because that’s boring)
Enchanter (mind-affecting spells)
Abjurer (protective and many healing spells)

We collectively refer to these classes as mages.

Obviously a lot more could be added, or you could combine the sorcerer with the elementalist or necromancer or whatever. To reiterate, these classes will be assigned what used to be both arcane and divine spells, including healing. Cure light wounds could easily be a spell for necromancers, sorcerers, elementalists, and abjurers, for example.

To make these classes both interesting and distinct, a lot of spells would have to be added to the base game. Luckily, a lot of spells is precisely what D&D has. So that’s okay. Actually going in and divvying up spells would be a nontrivial but not insurmountable amount of work.

The more troubling aspect is spell acquisition. In their 3.5 iterations, these classes automagically knew every spell on their spell list. But the acquisition of new knowledge through scrolls and collaboration is a super fundamental (and fun) part of the older editions ACKS emulates. If your group’s mages are a sorcerer and an elementalist, no one will be excited if the latest treasure trove has scrolls of animate dead and feeblemind in it. There are a couple of solutions.

  1. The best solution is no solution: Accept this situation as another aspect of the randomness inherent to roleplaying. Players will get over it, particularly since broad coverage of the mages can be obtained with henchmen.
  2. Return policies: Assume that sufficiently large numbers of friendly or neutral mages exist such that unusable scrolls can be traded for usable ones. Such an assumption would impose large ramifications for the makeup of your setting, and not all of these would necessarily be positive.
  3. Allow scrolls to be consumed in magical research to learn new spells.
  4. Allow mages to use scrolls of spells that are not from their class’s list with some chance of failure. You could make this chance flat, or have it be affected by your level and/or the level of the spell. Playtesting and mathhammering would reveal what works best.
  5. As 4., but also give mages some chance of being able to learn spells not on their class’s list.

Has anyone on this forum experimented with similar ideas? Did they come up with any elegant solutions to the main problem, or did they discover any other issues that I have not foreseen?

I agree with you that the best solution is no solution.

The ACKS PC gives us a framework by which we can assign powers in exchange for power. In other words, we can look at the mage or cleric spell list, and reduce it, and give the classes compensatory powers to retain game balance.

Since mages have a repertoire and do not automatically know all spells on their list, the actual amount of spells on their list is not important as long as they maintain the core competencies of a mage. Any mage spec which does not have access to spells which can do the things listed below should have custom powers added to compensate.

The core competencies of a mage are:
-Area of effect damage
-Crowd control effects (such as sleep and fear)
-Single target takeouts (whether this is high damage, or a paralysis type spell, or a mortal wound effect like Dismember)
-Utility (by far the most broad category, this includes both things like flight and raising undead minions)

If, for example, you had a mage spell list consisting purely of Evocation spells, they could do nothing but damage. They wouldn’t have three out of four of the core things that makes a mage good, and so they should be given more custom powers to account for it. The exact number might be difficult to pin down; off the top of my head, I’d suggest one power per missing spell type.

Divine spellcasters automatically know any spell on their spell list. If you want to use that as a base, we can look at the amount of spells that are known per divine value. The Divine Value description in the Player’s Companion tells us that their spell lists are based on 5/10/12/15 spells per level (at values 1/2/3/4). If your class has fewer spells on its list than its value would indicate, I’d give it a custom power for each breakpoint it is down. (Thus, if your divine value 2 class has 5 spells on its list, it gets one custom power).

Whichever type of magic you use as your base (arcane or divine), you can use the PC spell design rules to fill out your spell list. You can play with the cost multiplier for any spell that you want to be good at or bad a; for example, if you want mostly the wizard costs but to be good at healing, you can use the divine cost for healing. I would recommend not doing this unless they also have spells on their list at the ‘bad’ cost, unless you want to make every class always use the best cost (which would then increase the power of magic and I would probably count ‘always use the best cost’ as at least one custom power).

And now I am terrified at the thought of proofeading this post as I am tired and I rambled for a while. So I’m going to leave it as it is, and hopefully it will not need to act as a warning to future posters on the dangers of posting without thinking.

The arcane/divine separation has been problematic for some time. I think this is a neat idea, and immediately appeals to me as a better way of simulating a greekish type adventure. Why have a cleric of Zeus when a lightning-based mage is thematically far more appropriate?

Of course, this comes with the caveat that you’d need a tremendous amount of work and it’d all be useless to me because it’s far too late in my own campaign to rewrite half the core classes.

Great thoughts.

In the 2015-upcoming Heroic Companion, I introduce a new type of magic called “eldritch magic”. Eldritch magic can do all the things that arcane and divine magic can do, although it is not as good at blast, wall, and similar “flashy” spells.

Eldritch magic is divided into “white”, “grey”, and “black” schools, and casting spells from the grey and black schools causes corruption in the caster, which can lead to pernicious physical and mental effects.

Eldritch magic is intended to simulate the sort of magic seen in Middle-Earth and Hyboria and it addresses the concerns you’ve raised quite well. A priest of Set is an eldritch caster, as is a wind and sea sorcerer, just with different selection of class powers and spells.

Oh man, please tell me this is coming soon. I’m about to start a sword and sorcery campaign with my own cobbled up house rules, but this sounds so much better.

Libri, if so, would you like to be a playtester? Email me at amacris@gmail.com. You would need to be able to commit to providing feedback.

I would love to see this