Thursday, October 18, 2018

Redesigning Spells for a Wizard-Only Campaign

If your campaign is going to be exclusively about Wizards doing Wizard Crime in a City of Wizards, then we need to make sure that your frequently-used spells don't suck. The topic was touched on a few months ago in the community (this is the thread I remember starting it). But, as they say, better late than never!

Here are our problem spells for Wizard City: 
(Using the 5e Spell List because that's what I use for my home campaign.)

Detect Magic / Someone's Magic Aura - These have two functions: Is there magic? What school of magic is there? Both of these questions are irrelevant in Wizard City, because everything is magic.

Counterspell / Dispel Magic - These spells make the fun not happen. Got no room for wet blanket spells.

Rope Trick / Someone's Magnificent Mansion / All Extra-dimensional Spells - Sub-dimensional shenanigans are a major theme in the city. Need to make these more in line with the setting.

Alarm / Arcane Lock / Knock / All Security Related Spells - Campaign's basically all about breaking and entering. If you're going to be using particular spells a lot, they need to not be boring.

All Illusion Spells - When literally everyone is a wizard, and likely has access to Detect Magic and the like, illusion spells must be stronger or more interesting to not be totally worthless.


How we fix them:

Detect Magic - Every spell is a metaphysical legally-binding contract which every Wizard must sign. Ergo, this spell lets you read the signature and the terms. Tells you who cast the spell, with what, for what duration, and how long ago.

Ex: This Snakes In Your Pants trap spell was cast by Garfunkle Hopperdinger with a Secret Pant-Snake two weeks ago. It will last 14 more hours.

Someone's Altered Magic Aura - If every spell is a contract, this is forging the contract. You must borrow someone's identity (their personal magical aura) for the spell's duration. This is like signing someone else's name on a legally-binding metaphysical contract. Requires physical part of person (a tooth, skin flakes, hair, etc.).

Until the spell concludes the identity-stolen person cannot be named by anyone in any fashion. Doubles as a means of annihilating someone's name if you cast it enough.

Counterspell - Redirection (not nullification): either random or targeted, based on class and level. Takes no spell slots. May Counterspell only once per round. (We'll see if this is too much Counterspelling after playtesting.) This does indeed result in spells ping-ponging across the battlefield.

Random Redirection: Assign everyone in the conflict a number. Do it quickly and arbitrarily. Roll a d12. It goes towards that person. If there isn't an assignment for the number you rolled it flies into a wall or an innocent bystander or something.

Targeted Redirection: The spell heads towards the person or area that you desire.

Wizards: 2 in 10 chance of random redirection
AMWAT: 3 in 10 chance of targeted redirection; 1 in 10 chance of random redirection.
Spell Sharks: 1 in 10 chance of random redirection; 1 in 10 chance of targeted redirection; double these chances if the little bitch owes you money.

Spells go pew pew pew!
The Thrawn Trilogy

Dispel Magic -> Misspell Magic - A Paromancer invention. If spells are contracts, this allows you to create a typo. Becomes available at Level 1, may cast at higher levels. For each Spell Level you cast it as, you may mutate, add, or remove one letter in the Spell Title to alter the nature of the spell. Spaces are free.

Rope Trick - Leads to one place and one place only: The Extra-dimensional Speakeasy owned by the 14 5/8ths Street gang. Random location within. Usually it's the toilet.

Someone's Magnificent Mansion - Opens a door to the lobby of Infinnity, the Infinite Hotel, in which a literally infinite number of rooms are occupied by literally an infinite number of people, with paradoxically always room for more.

Alarm - Replace entirely with Unique Alarms, or have a lookout.

Arcane Lock - Works on any hole/portal smaller than an adult elephant. Creates a door if there isn't one. Bump it up a spell level for a modicum of balance.

Knock - Opens target object. Wizards will never rely on a single lock to stop other wizards.

All Illusion Spells - Are actually tangible things, they just disappear forever when their duration is up or someone convinces the illusion that it isn't real. Illusions are very very suggestible (they just came into existence, so give 'em a break!). They will take the form that they think they are. If convinced of their nonexistence, illusions will have a momentary existential crisis before popping out of reality.

Ways to screw with illusions:
- Holding up a framed picture to the illusion and suggesting that it is a mirror.
- Screaming "YOU'RE NOT REAL YOU'RE NOT REAL YOU'RE NOT REAL" at it very loudly for a few moments.
- Doing that dumb magic trick where you make it look like your thumb is coming off.
- Showing it an optical illusion. Illusions become irrationally infuriated by them.
"THEY'RE NOT THE SAME AREA", screamed the wall, suddenly.
- Introducing it to the 5-Minute World Hypothesis
- Mimicking everything they do.


  1. There's always a backup lock...

  2. Also for consideration: replacing all Saves with Counterspell mechanics.

  3. I am probably not going to run a Wizard City campaign, but I sure am stealing the illusion rule. I will also periodically secretly roll for any given creature being an illusion when it makes sense.

    1. Idea: Campaign where literally everything is an illusion.

  4. More counterspell alternatives:

    1. The spell turns into a pigeon. Throw a fireball? No, you throw a lightly singed pigeon. Summon a bear? No, you summon a pigeon which thinks its a bear.

    2. Send the spell into the future. The fireball will still hit where you aimed it. It will just do so a round later. (Or maybe a year later? That would make combat more dull but also fill wizard city with random explosions.)

    3. Counterspells are chaotic magic which counter the actual physical effects of a spell. Countering a fireball summons a big ball of water in its path. Countering a bear summoning might conjure a bear trap, coat the bear in glue or create a sinkhole that the bear falls into. Countering a knock might just add an extra lock to the opening, for which nobody has the key. The results can be anything chosen by the DM as long as it counters the effects of the target spell.

    4. Spell magnets. Small arcane devices which attract all spells towards them. Click the on-switch then chuck the thing far away from you.

    5. The spell-eater. The 'counterspell' summons a civet-like creature which devours the magical energy. The problem is that there is exactly one of these creatures; the spell summons the same one each time. It gets bigger and angrier each time it eats a spell, and the only way to get rid of it is for somebody somewhere else to summon it away from you.

    1. All excellent suggestions! I'm particularly fond of sending spells into the future, as it fits the theme of the city well (this is what they do to their criminals as well).

      I've considered more flavorful options to a simple redirection, but I've always been worried about adding complexity to combat for fear that it will slow down the pacing. Wanna get that old-school crispness in the speed of the fight, particularly when the combat meta encourages the party to split up when fighting the popo.