One of the parts of Dungeons and Dragons that people really love is leveling up their characters. You get more cool things that you can do almost every level or new spells you can use or even improved stats so that you can hit harder.…
You’ve now figured out what type of spell caster you want to be, so you have to go through and pick your spells and there are a lot of them to choose from. Good news, I’m here to help talk you through what you might want to consider when picking spells.
In my opinion, the best starting point is to look and determine if your character is a “support” or “attacker” character. Now, It’s possible to be a blend of both, and even if you lean towards being a support character, you should have at least an attack spell option, and if you’re an attacker, you should have some more support style spells for non-combat situations. It’s very tempting to go all in on either side, but there will be times when you need the other spells.
For example, if you’re a support character and you’re in combat, you’re at the point where most of the party is down but the monster is mainly dead. If you take a good hit from the monster, you’re probably dead as well, and that would end the combat with you all losing the fight. You could get someone else back on their feet with a couple of hit points, but at this point in time, you’re more apt to survive an attack than they would be. Do you just do the support thing and heal someone, watch them get knocked out again, heal them again, and keep that up until you run out of spells? That doesn’t sound like that fun at the table, and it also doesn’t really sound like it’s going to win the combat for your adventuring party. So you can attack, but you didn’t take a good attack spell or any attack spells, so you’re kind of stuck just healing.
The big thing that’s happening in the scenario is that you’re creating a prolonged and possibly stalemated battle for a chunk of time. And while attacking might not be what your character would normally do, a good attack would potentially end that stalemate. But it’s going to cause people to have more fun at the table because it isn’t a cycle of revive, monster knocks out, revive, monster knocks out, and so on and so forth. Adding in attack spell doesn’t stop you from being mainly support, but it can keep the game moving and keep it more interesting. The same goes for the flip side, maybe you’re a fire wizard and you’re up against a dragon that is resistant to fire damage. First, your DM’s a bit of a jerk if it happens all the time, but now you’re out of combat, so what do you do? You can attack, but it won’t do as much, but if you had a support spell or two, you’d be able to still interact with the combat. Or, maybe you want to be the best in combat, why not have your signature attack spell(s) but then also have the ability to support yourself so that you can truly be the best in combat and not have to rely on others for that aid.
This is all good to think about when picking your spells, but not actually picking spells. Let’s go with a Wizard as an example like I did in a previous article on magic. Our Wizard is fairly smart, 16 intelligence, so we get start with 4 spells known and 3 cantrips at first level. We have 2 first level spell slots as well, and I want to be an attacking focused Wizard. I believe in calling down the powers of the elements to smite my enemies and I might like fire a bit too much.
When I’m looking at cantrips, I know for sure that I want to get at least one, if not two attacking cantrips out of the three. These, at low levels, are going to be my go to spells (and even at higher levels), so I want something that feels like a signature ability that I can theme my character off of, or that has fire, because I’m a pyro. So the first cantrip is going to be Fire Bolt, a good attack spell with really good range, 120 ft. That allows me, since I’m a wizard and am always going to have lower armor class and hit points, to be at a safe distance for attacking and not being attacked. The other attack one I’m going to take is Thunderclap, this one is a bit of a jerk spell, because it can hit my allies, but it’s an area of affect, so that is a nice way to hit a lot of creatures if need be. Finally, a utility cantrip of light, simple spell, even if I have darkvision, that doesn’t mean I can see in pitch black, so good utility for outside of combat. Now we’re onto the first level, and with four known spells at first level, I’m going to consider a couple more attack spells, but again, we’re a pretty quishy character, so I’m going to grab shield as a spell. That is going to help keep you up. Witch Bolt is a good ranged spell that does lightning damage. Longstrider is going to be my first enhancing spell for my abilities on the combat field with an extra 10 feet of movement. Magic Missile is then my final one, a spell that doesn’t do massive damage, but it will do consistent damage.
Let’s break down what I picked, I’ve already done some why. Thunderclap and Fire Bolt both give me consistent spells to attack with. Witch Bolt and Magic Missile give me damage when I need a boost of damage. Magic Missile is the consistent damage when I need to finish everything off. The damage ones are definitely the most obvious spells, the others are just fairly obvious, but what I’m trying to create with my attacking wizard is a situation where I can keep out of range, Longstrider, boost my armor class to avoid an attack as needed, Shield, and be able to see outside of combat or even in combat if I’m fighting something with truesight or blindsight. But with so few spell slots available to me, I’m not going to use the first level spells for attacks all that often, it’ll mainly be for shield and then I’ll use my cantrips for attacking. There is a downside for that because cantrips aren’t as good for attack spells, but with a fairly high intelligence, it helps out the odds.
And, I only picked 4 of my 7 spells as attack spells. But even with that, I have a variety of damage, thunder, fire, lightning, and force, so I can get around most damage reductions. And while Fire Bolt will be my signature, the others have good utility for combat. Thunderclap has an area of affect, Magic Missile will never miss, and Witch Bolt can hang around for a while and continue to do damage. When I get to hire levels, I already have picked some utility damage spells, so I can focus in on more fire damage because I know that is going to be my signature element, but I have enough that I can still be effective if fire isn’t.
And when picking utility spells, I looked, besides the cantrip, as to what can boost my effectiveness in combat. Sure, I might want to use magic missile a one of my first level spells, but Longstrider allows me to avoid, which, again, I’m squishy, cause I’m a Wizard, and Shield is there for the same reason. I can’t be an awesome fighter if I’m constantly getting knocked out. At higher levels I’ll be able to improve upon those options as well with spells like Blur which make me even harder to hit.
I can flip this as well, and while I’d probably still keep a spell like Fire Bolt and Magic Missile (it’s kind of a signature of Dungeons and Dragons for a spell), I’d focus more on what can help other people. Longstrider on a Dwarf would allow them to charge into combat faster. Though, a Wizard probably isn’t the best support class out there, they do have some decent options as you get into higher levels. A class like Cleric would give you more support options.
When picking spells do you pick a variety of them or do you really focus in on attack spells or support? Have you every made a mistake with the spells that you’ve picked? I guess, that’s the last bit to write about for me, the mistakes and what what can mean. In Season 2 of Dungeons and Flagons the wizard picked a lot of weird attack spells, but they are were all area of affect spells, so that meant with two melee characters rounding out the party, he was always, when attacking, going to do damage to them as well. So thinking through your spells is important.
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One of the main Dungeons and Dragons spell casting classes is the Warlock, and Warlock is a popular class. It allows you to play an edgy sort of character, because you’ve made a deal with a demon, elder god, or high fey for some reason,…
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So, I put down the word mechanics, because, magic economy could also describe the level of magic in your world and how much of a vibrant magic trade set up there is. But in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, you have a magic economy of how much and when the player characters should get magic items.
The first thing that you need to know about magic items in 5th edition, they make it so that your magic items are limited. Now, this doesn’t count things like spell scrolls, potions, or other consumable magic items, but for things like magical swords, bows, armor, etc. 5th edition has brought in a thing called attunement. When an item has the attunement keyword, it means that you have to spend some time and get attuned to it. And as a character, you can only be attuned to so many items, that total being 3 items.
There are a couple of reasons that in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition that they have attunement to limit your items. The first, the 5th edition reason, is that they have a thing called bounded accuracy. This means that you are not likely to roll higher than a certain number or lower than a certain number when rolling for an attack or a check. And if you have more items that would give you a +1 to +4 to attack, you would now be rolling outside of the normal range and apt to hit more, or they would have to adjust their armor classes, which means that it could become impossible without getting a critical hit for low level players to hit mid level monsters. The other reason is that in previous editions you’ve been able to have a lot of items, and they didn’t have the bounded accuracy, but you had to do a whole lot more math. If you had four or five items that give you a plus to attack or damage, you are having to add those up for every attack that you do, which takes the game away from being as much of a role playing game.
But let’s get back to magic items, because we know that you have a limited number of attunement slots for a party, so how do you give them interesting items and give them magical items. And how quickly should you give them magical items?
I think that how many and how quickly you give them is really up to you in the game. It is possible that they are always swamped with them because your world has a higher amount of magic, it’s also very likely that you’ll only hand out a few items because you don’t want to add that power creep.
One good way to balance this out is with the consumable items. Especially since that can help your party of all martial characters stay alive without needing a healer. Let your party be able to find items like healing potions or be able to purchase more common items like that in town. Even something like a bead of force where it’s a more powerful item, but it has a limited number of uses it will be a way to give you more magical items in the game, without bumping up the players combat stats too much.
But maybe you want to reward them with more permanent items. There are plenty of items that are more utility items that you can give them. For example, the ring of water walking is very situationally useful, and it won’t affect combat much, if at all. But now it gives you a thematic item which you create traps or puzzles around that your group wouldn’t have been able to solve before. There are a lot of items like this in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) that you can use to add more magic to your games and to give the players something more than just gold off of the monsters that they kill.
Let’s quickly, though, talk about those items that do require attunement. How do you portion out those items so that you don’t end up with someone being too strong?
When I give out +1 magical items for either offense or defense or whatever, I like to hand out several of them in rapid succession. The reason for that is that you don’t want your party to go too far out of balance. If you have a fighter, a rogue, and a wizard, and you give the fighter a +1 sword, now the fighter is going to be better in combat than either of the other characters. So I try and hand out things in a few straight sessions until every character has that attuned item that improves them in a way that they want to be improved, whether it’s combat or not.
I also make the items specific for a character. If, for example, we have that party of a fighter, rogue, and a wizard, and the fighter uses a great sword, instead of giving him a short sword and thinking that they’ll want it and that the rogue won’t take it, I would give them that great sword with a plus one on it. Give the wizard robes that provide armor or a staff that does a plus one. Give the rogue a thieves kit that is magically enchanted to give them advantage on lock picking if that’s what they want. But a magical staff, great sword, and lock picking kit are clear as to whom they are going to go to, and you don’t end up with the party fighting over magical items.
Finally, with those attuned items, how often do you give them to the party? I think that many DM’s are going to give players a couple of these items per character by around level 5-7. I tend to give them out at a slower rate than that. But it really does depend on the game that you are running. If you have a higher level of magic and magic items in your world, your player characters will probably have more.
With whatever items you are giving out though, make sure it makes sense for the monster/shopkeeper to have them. A lot of people don’t let you buy magical items in their game, and unless it’s consumable, I tend not to have them in shops in my game. But let’s talk really quickly about if a monster drops it. Something like a ring of water walking, sure, the monster isn’t going to know much about it or probably can’t use it to their advantage. But if it’s a +1 great sword that the goblin boss is going to drop, the goblin boss should be using the weapon. So plan for your party when you are going to have the drop happen and let the goblin boss use that in the fight with the players. It’s little things like that which are going to make your game feel more immersive to the players.
How do you use magic items in your game? Do you let your players pick the magic items that they want throughout the game? Do you roll randomly for what is going to be dropped? Do you use a lot of them, or only a few of them?
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You’ve had a long running campaign. The players were really into the story. They’d spent a bunch of time planning on how to infiltrate this tower. You’d told them the wizard in it was too powerful to fight. Everything is going to plan… LEEEEEEROOOOOOOOOY JENKINS!…