Now that the Fighter, the simplest Class to play, is familiar to you, I thought a conversation about magic in D&D is in order.
From it’s very humble beginnings in the 70’s, D&D has had a very close relationship with magic. The fantasy lands of D&D, full of adventure and sometimes tragedy has used magic to take the place of technology, enhance storytelling and expand the boundaries of what “can be”. Magic in D&D has worked a bit differently over the many different editions, but at the same time has expanded to become a cornerstone of the game. Almost every aspect of the game ties to some form of magic. This month, I’ll be focusing on how Player Characters use magic in D&D to survive, fight or screw with people.
When people first start out playing D&D, magic use takes the most time to get the hang of, mostly because the different PC classes use magic differently. Selecting spells, managing spell slots and the different magical abilities can intimidate new players. Magic users tend to have a more complicated character sheet also, making proper use of your character’s abilities difficult. However, once you get the hang of it, magic in D&D can be a terrific creative outlet for a player to make his/her mark on the world they inhabit. From Wizards who use their intellect to create arcane formulas, to Warlocks who ask for (or steal) arcane power from a higher being, to Bards that harness the power of song (and their pelvises), to mighty Clerics who channel the divine power of their Deity, lots of classes use magic in D&D to create their story.
First, let’s talk about the spells themselves. Spells are broken down into levels. These levels are different than your character’s level, that’s one of the first bits of confusion when people put their magic using characters together. The Player’s Handbook has a chart at the beginning of each Class description that will help you figure out how many spells you have and of what level. The simplest spells in the game have their own category, Cantrips. Cantrips are basically level 0 spells, usable as much as you want. These can range from offensive moves like Fire Bolt, conjuring a Mage Hand to float around and interact with the environment (or make a sandwich) or using Prestidigitation to create a basic magical effect of your design (including card tricks!). Creative use of cantrips is a skill that does require some practice but can be the most fun part of playing your character.
For leveled spells, their use is regulated by Spell Slots. At each level, your magic user has access to a finite amount of slots per level. Think of them as a “mana pool” or MP meter in a video game. For example, if you have 3 1st level spell slots then you can a cast 1st level spell 3 times. You decide what spell you cast based on what spells you know, and you are free to cast the same spell more than once if you need. These slots recharge when you rest, as your character is able to replenish his/her magical power. As you progress through the game your power increases, gaining slots in higher levels. When you gain these additional levels, you can use stronger spells. Some spells allows allow you to use a higher level spell slot, increasing the power of the spell. For example, if you cast Cure Wounds at first level, you heal yourself or someone else 1D8 hit points, plus your ability modifier. If you cast Cure Wounds at second level, the healing energy increases to 2D8 plus your modifier and so forth all the way up to 9th level (the highest spell level in the game).
As far as what all these spells allow you to do, the sky is the limit. From giant Fireballs to healing magic to Walls of Stone, magic spells have unlimited potential. It really depends on what type of caster you want to play. Want to be a Sorcerer that rains fire down onto the battlefield, you have Scorching Ray, Flaming Sphere and countless others. You can even cast Fire Shield and coat yourself in a protective flame that burns those that strike you! Want to be a Wizard travelling the world to learn the arcane secrets of lost civilizations, you have Comprehend Languages to read old texts, Detect Magic to analyze magical energy and Water Breathing so you don’t drown and stuff. You can be a Druid, harnessing the power your world to use Plant Growth to fertilize the land, Conjure Animals to fight by your side or create a Hero’s Feast to bolster your allies. Many of these spells can be used by multiple classes, but be sure to look through your chosen class spell list in the Player’s Handbook to make sure that spell you just have to get is available to you. If it’s not, you may want to rethink your choice of class but before doing that speak to your DM and see if he/she is willing to allow you to acquire it anyway. Be ready with a backstory angle to justify it but DMs make these kind of calls all the time. You’ll find that every magic using class has such a wide variety of spells that you might even get inspiration on your backstory by looking through the list of spells you’ll have at your disposal. Use every tool at your disposal to make your character who they are! Maybe your Cleric read so many stories about a legendary servant of your Deity that they seek out adventure to learn how to Conjure Celestial and speak directly to avatars of their chosen God. Then there’s the Warlock who sold his/her soul to Cthulhu so, when the moment came, they can cast Imprisonment on the slave master who worked their parents to death in a mine.
As far as my personal taste, I do enjoy playing casters. Using magic in D&D for creativity when I’m in a role playing mood, for fury when I’m having a crappy day or for healing when my allies are the ones having the bad day makes for great sessions. I do admit I don’t get to play them very often, I usually end up as the front line but when I do get to play a caster, these are some of my favorite spells:
- Moving stuff with your mind, Jean Grey style allows for flexible creativity.
- Throwing objects at your enemies, or simply moving obstructions from your path is extremely useful. Plus, you cast the spell on yourself, so enemies are less likely to Counterspell something that doesn’t target them.
- More bodies on your team are always a good thing. Plus, the idea of having some cool animal allies around to play with without fear of them dying helps too.
- Hey, falling to your death sucks.
- A great low level spell, it’s basically Force Lightning. Emperor quotes, baby!
Much like my article on the Fighter, I’ll be covering the individual caster Classes and the abilities they have in addition to their spells. So next time your group is starting a new game, or if your character has met an untimely end try out a spell caster. Best part, most spells require a saving throw by the target so less D20 rolls for me! Ah, I mean you, totally meant you. I personally LOVE all my D20s and would never imply they stay in the dice bag so they can’t ruin me…….
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