Cantrips for Wussy Mages

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Arman
Joined: 2016-04-12 14:19
Cantrips for Wussy Mages

I've been mulling this over in my head for a while now, and I think I've come to the conclusion that mages are just really, really wussy. At lower levels, given even basic equipment, a fighter, a thief, a cleric, or even a priestess is going to wipe the floor with a mage. Other magic users (like the cleric) get weapons and armor, or (like the priestess and witch) get access to a whole lot of spells. The mage, on the other hand, has access to... almost nothing. If a battle lasts more rounds than the mage has levels, he's pretty much going to be sitting in the back saying, "No no, you go ahead, I'll just sit here, thanks."

While mages can specialize - prepare spells specifically for the primary task at hand - they need a lot of time and money to do that, especially at later levels. I realize that high-level mages are going to have more powerful spells, and a lot more of them; a 5th level mage has a third level spell, and 5 spells total. But compared to the equally-unarmored Priestess, he's a spell behind, and the priestess gets to cast any spell she wants. And even a specialized 8th level mage can't prepare for everything; that stone-to-flesh you spent weeks preparing is great until you realize you just used up your spell slots fighting orgres. Oops.

In short: mages get the short end of the stick. Once they've shot all their spells, they have nothing but a 1d6 staff to their name. Lore makes them out to be powerful masters of the arcane, but in reality, they are one-shot wonders. For a campaign with long battles, that means mages are going to be passed over with some regularity. Mages are great for utility, but terrible for battles - in fact, much worse than the cleric, even though the cleric is supposed to be the support character.

However, in D&D (note, I've not actually played D&D, just read about it... I do that a lot) there exists a type of spell called a cantrip: a low-level spell that wizardy-types can shoot all day long. That would mean that a wizard that locked a door and tossed a few magic missiles at a target in the morning can still be relevant by lunchtime; sure, a cantrip doesn't do much in the way of damage, but running in swinging your staff is going to get you killed.

In ACKS, there is no cantrip, but I've already introduced 0th level spells (spells of 1/2 spell point or less). At such a low level, it's not going to do much damage, but it's better than nothing; you can make a 1d4 attack with a save at range 15' for exactly 1/2 a point; not as good as a crossbow, but it'll hit well-armored targets. Or, he could summon a single centipede for a turn, as long as he concentrates and the centipede doesn't make its saving throw (0.43 spell points).

Any arcane type (which includes Mages, Gnomish Tricksters, Zaharan Ruinguards, and Elvish Spellswords, but not Clerics, Bladedancers, or Witches) has one of these 0th level spell slots at level 1 (though partial mages get their cantrips later; 2/3 or 1/2 mage at level 2, 1/3 mage at level 3). Cantrip slots are improved as usual by INT bonus; that means a mage with INT 18 gets 4 cantrips. These cantrips can be used at will. Research can be done on cantrips as usual; however, the spell must always be a 1/2 point spell or less - no research breakthroughs. For the purpose of math (for cost and time), treat the spell as 1/2 level. A mage can only cast the cantrip(s) he has; if he wants something else, he has to research it. Finally, cantrips do have an added requirement: no worn armor, no readied weapon (except a staff, since that can act as a focus). A Ruinguard or Spellsword will have to remove their armor and drop their weapon(s) to be able to cast a cantrip. Then again, their weapons and armor usually are better than a cantrip anyway.

What do you think - does this make a mage too powerful? Or does it balance that gap between low-level mages and low-level fighters?

CharlesDM
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I don’t think a few cantrips of the power you’re talking about makes a low-level mage too powerful. (Cantrips may have world-building implications depending on how powerful they are and how frequently they might be cast or used from a magic item.) That said, I don’t like that word “balance”. Many people say it, act like they know what it means, and then take exactly opposite directions.

I’d rather focus on fun. Cantrips can be fun.

You should try out an ACKS or “D&D” mage from levels 5-11+ I usually Judge, but my highest level characters were all mages.

bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Yeah, I was going to make a long-winded reply to the OP, but you captured the essence of what I was going to say in a couple lines.

There's really no "balance" issue with the ACKS Mage. They are not supposed to be the same as a Fighter, and a Fighter is not the measure of what other classes should be.

Take, for example, the Cleric; you laud the class for having the benefits of the Fighter (e.g., heavy armor, weapons), but the Cleric is, at best, a poor imitation of a Fighter at 1st level. Fewer hp, worse weapons, likely lower Strength as Wisdom is their Prime Requisite, no spellcasting, much poorer weapon selection...they're just like a Fighter, only worse!

What about the Priest(ess)? I'm playng one in a PbP campaign right now. All the downsides of a Mage, but none of the spectacular spells (e.g., Sleep, Charm Person, Summon Berserkers, etc.)! My best spell has been Protection from Evil. Tremble before me!

The underlying difficulty with these kinds of analyses is the presumption that combat is the measure of a class. But most classes trade away combat ability for the capacity to do other interesting and fun things outside of combat. Pretty much all classes can still contribute in battle, but it's not their focus. In the case of the Mage, extra Proficiencies and Languages from high Intelligence help carry the class. If you're looking for extra magical "oomph!" I'd suggest looking at Proficiencies like Black Lore, Familiar, Magical Music, Mystic Aura, and Prestidigitation. All will add "magical" ability without the addition of a new type of unlimited spellcasting. If you're not as fixated on being magical, Proficiencies like Healing, Loremastery, Magical Engineering, and Soothsaying also provide plenty for a Mage to do after they've cast their limited spells.

Back to your actual proposed Cantrips, I say no, I don't think they're game-breaking. I think unlimited 0th level spells breaks verisimilitude and potentially harms ACKS underlying economic assumptions, but I don't think they immediately make the class more powerful than all others. Personally, if I went with them, I would avoid damage Cantrips. 1st level spells can't do huge amonts of damage, and can only be cast once per day to start. Unlimited 0th level spells, even at 1d3 damage, would very quickly overshadow spells like Magic Missile. If you're worried about some kind of balance, it's probably better to restrict Mages to attacking with physical weapons just like everyone else, and leave 0th level spells for other types of effects.

EDIT: ...aaaand my reply was long-winded anyway,

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

I was going to say "I'd hate to see a long-winded reply" but you beat me to it.

bobloblah
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cheeky

Arman
Joined: 2016-04-12 14:19

The perceived balance issue has less to do with power, and more to do with "time in the game." A fighter and similar classes will always be able to "play" in a battle, since they never run out of their ability - staying alive because they have armor, and hitting people with weapons. Clerics may not hit as hard or as often, but at least they have armor. Priestesses may not have fancy spells, but many of their spells last multiple rounds - a concentration spell that lasts 6 rounds is going to keep a priestess in the battle a lot longer than the 3 rounds a third level mage can handle. With no armor, mages have a hard time staying in a battle and not getting killed.

Not that I'm complaining about armor, mind you - I just want my players to not get left out of a long battle. I realize cantrips probably aren't the perfect answer; however, I'd like to give mages something to remain useful in a fight after they've used their spells.

As an added note, however, magic missile and other full-level spells have some huge benefits over 0th level spells - no attack throw, and no saving throw. A spell that does 1d4 damage but can be shrugged off with a saving throw is going to do significantly less damage than an auto-hit spell. Additionally, 0th level spells aren't going to scale, and will be almost useless at higher levels. And, finally, they will do a lot less damage than simply striking out with a staff; the only benefit is that they are safer.

bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

The perceived balance issue has less to do with power, and more to do with "time in the game." A fighter and similar classes will always be able to "play" in a battle, since they never run out of their ability - staying alive because they have armor, and hitting people with weapons. Clerics may not hit as hard or as often, but at least they have armor. Priestesses may not have fancy spells, but many of their spells last multiple rounds - a concentration spell that lasts 6 rounds is going to keep a priestess in the battle a lot longer than the 3 rounds a third level mage can handle. With no armor, mages have a hard time staying in a battle and not getting killed.

-Arman

All other classes, other than Fighter-types, have periods where they don't get to "play" in battle. It's really only a bit more for Mages than it is for Thieves, in fact. Moreover, Fighters also run out of (or low on) hp, which removes them from front-line combat on a regular basis.

Out of curiosity, which spells do you think allow Priest(esse)s to remain in combat? They have no armor and 1d4 hp, just like Mages, and the only vaguely combat spells they have are Command, Light, Protection from Evil, and Sanctuary. The Command spell lasts a single round, Light can be cast once on a single target to maybe blind them (Saving Throw applies), Sanctuary is for avoiding combat, not participating, and Protection from Evil requires them to remain stationary and concentrate, doesn't affect all opponents, and loses its main benefit (Can't Touch This!) if anyone under its protection attacks. They are far more poorly equipped to deal with combat than a typical Mage.

Not that I'm complaining about armor, mind you - I just want my players to not get left out of a long battle. I realize cantrips probably aren't the perfect answer; however, I'd like to give mages something to remain useful in a fight after they've used their spells.

-Arman

One of the main downsides to a Mage is their inability to hang in combat. It's one of the primary balancing tenets of the class (when balance is viewed holistically, and not just as related to combat). ACKS also has the advantage over newer versions in that battles don't last very long, and take up very little real-world time (at least at low levels where you perceive the problem to be).

Keep in mind as well that Mages have Attack Throws largely the same as other classes at 1st level, with only Proficiencies or Ability bonuses making the difference. They are quite capable of attacking with ranged weapons (and melee; that's just much more dangerous).

As an added note, however, magic missile and other full-level spells have some huge benefits over 0th level spells - no attack throw, and no saving throw. A spell that does 1d4 damage but can be shrugged off with a saving throw is going to do significantly less damage than an auto-hit spell.

-Arman

A lot of these limitations are effectively irrelevant when an ability is at-will. Maybe "irrelevant" is too strong a word, but bear with me. Let's say there's an Attack Throw. That means that for a 1st level Mage somewhere between 1/2 to 1/3 of their attacks will hit. Of course, Magic Missile hits every time without fail, so it is obviously better. The trouble is, with an at-will ability, a Mage is likely going to be able to cast it every round of every combat during a day. The 0th level spell is going to end up inflicting far more damage than the Magic Missile will during a day, it'll just do it over a longer period of time. The Magic Missile will still be objectively better, after a fashion, but only once per day.

Now, let's say you're worried about your 0th level spell still being better than Magic Missile, so you provide the target with a Saving Throw on top of requiring an Attack Throw. The Mage's chances to inflict damage are now better with a dart or dagger; why wouldn't they use those? How "magical" does your Mage seem when they spend their time throwing daggers or darts until they run out, then switch to a 0th level spell?

Additionally, 0th level spells aren't going to scale, and will be almost useless at higher levels. And, finally, they will do a lot less damage than simply striking out with a staff; the only benefit is that they are safer.

-Arman

A staff isn't a ranged weapon. A better comparison is with the aforementioned darts and daggers.

Ultimately, it's your game. I personally think there are issues with 0th level spells generally, and 0th level attack spells more specifically, and since you asked, I'm trying to explain why I feel that way. But, if you find it makes your game more fun you should definitely go for it.

Lucasdelsur
Joined: 2015-05-05 18:43

And there is the fact that mage spells are way more powerfull than cleric spells. a first level mage can wipe down his own party with one sleep, or summon the equivalent to 4 level 1 fighters for 30 minutes, or trasnforme the scary ogre into his best friend. 

Arman
Joined: 2016-04-12 14:19

True; this is less about making the mage more powerful, and more about making the mage more relevent. If another class exhauses its spells, it usually has something to fall back on (with the exception of the witch and priestess). This lets mages stay in a fight if they fail to charm the ogre or make the baddies fall asleep... not well, but it staves off boredom.

Aryxymaraki
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Mages are proficient with daggers and darts, and can throw them.

They already have an at-will ranged attack available. Granted, it's not a lot of damage, and they can't throw into melee, but these are general rules for ACKS characters. Giving them an at-will spell that does 1d3 damage but requires an attack throw would allow them to fire into melee, but actually deal less damage.

I don't really see the need for it, is my point, I guess. I've never understood the whole disdain for mages using weapons that seems to have popped up since 3.X; I always loved my daggers in 2E or my light crossbow in 3E.

Arman
Joined: 2016-04-12 14:19

That's a good point; I guess that outside of a few Gandalf-esque magic users, I can never picture wizards and their ilk bothering with actual weapons. Though I suppose I could argue that a spell that requires an attack throw is basically a ranged weapon anyway... "Bah! Slings and daggers? Never touch 'em! No, I'd rather use this magical band of leather that fires this magical pebble I just picked up, or my eldrich steel that I can hurl at enemies with my magical... er... muscles!"

Jard
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I started playing in 3e so, for me, crossbow has always been a sorcerer/wizard's weapon.  It's available to almost everyone unlike bows, it's cumbersome to reload so it's not going to be taken by anyone expecting to someday get multiple attacks, and you can't get a "composite" version to take advantage of having both high strength and high dex.  It was a bit of a shock for me to see that mages have just about nothing as far as weapons, with throwing daggers being the main option (and not great since it maxes out at 30').

It's why I was surprised, when Guns of War was published, that mages couldn't use hardly any firearms since a major historical point of early firearms was how easy it was to train in their use and how little strength it took to keep firing them.

Going back to the issue at hand: I honestly think any cantrip providing more than 1d2 is going to be dangerous in ACKs because of all the extra benefits that magical damage confers.  I would recommend instead trying to make 1st level or higher spells which, instead of doing damage all at once, confer the mage access to 4-7 "charges" to be used at their discretion, not unlike similar abilities given out in Pathfinder.  This allows the mage the choice to trade away the explosive power of a spell that only affects one combat for several opportunities to affect many combats.

James K
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It's worth bearing in mind that later editions of D&D have quite different design premises than ACKS. In later editions each combat takes a long time to complete, making it important that everyone can contribute in each battle. Also, since each player is typically only controlling 1 character, it's also important that each character has something to add to battles. 

Both of these points are much less relevant in ACKS. Combat is much faster, and the GP-as-XP rule makes fighting everything you encounter much less of a good idea (especially since ACKS is deadlier than later editions). Early in the campaign I'm running one of the party's mages cast Magic Rope as their only spell for the day, because doing so let the party loot an Orc lair's treasure without fighting the lair. That would be madness in Pathfinder, but made perfect sense in ACKS.

Also, players have henchmen in ACKS, and that means every player can be engaged in combat, even if not every character is engaged. One of my players runs a Nobirian Wonderworker, and ends up sitting out most battles, but he has a couple of fighters and an explorer for henchmen, and those characters are involved in every fight. 

bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

One of my players really struggled with this in my current campaign. It was the first time he had played ACKS, and he almost always plays spellcasters, as he finds melee characters dull and uninteresting. His complaints centered around the idea that his character wasn't able to do much, and that he was consistently outshone by other characters, even his own Fighter Henchman. His character looked like this at 1st level:

Belgarath

Mage 1; Str 9, Int 18, Wis 11, Dex 5, Con 15, Cha 12; MV 120', AC -2, hp 5, #AT 1 weapon, D 1d4, Save M1, AL L; Spell Repertoire: Hold Portal, Light, Magic Missile, Ventriloquism; Proficiencies: Animal Husbandry x3, Bargaining, Familiar (Owl; Prof: Collegiate Wizardry, Soothsaying, Navigation, Tracking); Languages: Elven, Dragon, Dwarven, Hobgoblin; 2 War Dogs;

None of the big three spells (Sleep, Charm Person, and Summon Berserkers), and a somewhat atypical Proficiency selection.

The thing was, he had to ignore his character's contributions to come to the conclusion that his character was useless. His Familiar did all the party's scouting and frequently tracked opponents; he regularly saved his two War Dogs (and another character's hounds) from Mortal Wounds and Death; he turned the tide of numerous fights through the use of Light and Magic Missile, set up ambushes and intimidation with Ventriloquism, and bought the party crucial time with Hold Portal; was able to speak to, negotiate with, and interrogate their numerous Hobgoblin and some Goblin opponents early on; and lastly, he saved and made the party considerable amounts of coin by reducing the cost of virtually everything they bought by 10% and upping the price they received on treasure sold by 10%. Basically, his character's impact was enormous, but it wasn't focused solely on combat.

Eventually, the player has started to work this out, and he's gotten much better at utilizing his character's specific assets to contribute. It's also become clear that he's pretty much a party unto himself: he has the longest serving (and hence, highest level) Fighter Henchman in the party, plus War Dogs and a Hunting Dog he can heal with Animal Husbandry, all backed by his main character's spellcasting, and flying Familiar for scouting.

bobloblah
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Joined: 2013-03-22 16:16

Obviously, this thread has really drifted from the OP's original intent. I don't think anyone here is actually trying to discourage you from trying out your 0th level spell ideas. We're just trying to give our opinions, as you asked. I hope it works out for you, and it'd be very interesting to hear back once you have a bit of play experience with it!

Beragon
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I've dabbled with the idea of cantrips myself, coming up with a few spells that costed a 1/2 point or less. I'm saving them in case any player with a caster complains about not being able to cast enough spells in a day, but no one has done that yet.

If I ever implement them, I would not make them unlimited. They would be able to be used a certain number of times per day just like any other spell (I think my notes say something like "a number of times per day equal to 1/2 Int score").

What has actually happened: I have one player who plays a mage (currently 4th level) who keeps active during combat in two ways. [1] He normally has a mystic henchman who is capable in combat. [2] He often wields a spear, using it from the second rank (behind main-line fighters) so that he can participate in a fight. Granted, he fights as a 0th level character, and I waive the rule stating he can't use his class abilities (which is irrelevant if he's run out of spells) and also the rule stating he does not gain any XP (seems overly harsh in this particuar case).

Beragon
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Another set of notes I have on the matter after checking my laptop. I've never used this one either as it iis only half-baked, but it does look like fun.

I can't take credit for this idea... I found it on the internet from someone else though I don't remember who so can't give the credit to. But the basic idea is that as long as a mage has an unused spell slot, he can use a "spell-like ability that is related to a spell in his repertoire."

A few I came up with:

Detect Magic - the caster can sense whether an item is magic by thoroughly examining it. He must handle the item and concentrate on it for a turn.

Light - a caster who knows this spell may cast it as a cantrip on a translucent object no larger than the size of an apple and maintain its duration indefinitely so long as he holds it and is conscious. The object may be part of a larger item held in hand (such as a dagger with a gem in it or a staff with a crystal affixed to it... btw, I envision this is how Gandalf navigated the mines of Moria in the movie).

Magic Missile - A caster who knows this spell may imbue a wand, staff, or rod with arcane energy allowing him to fire "magic darts" of arcane energy. The caster can layer this effect onto an existing magical wand, staff, or rod if desired. Each "magic dart" uses a charge, and the caster can store a total of 20 charges at any one time. Each charge costs 5gp in materials and takes 1 turn to imbue. "Magic darts" function exactly like normal darts in all respects, except that they can affect creatures hit only by magic weapons.

Ventriloquism - The caster can speak without moving his lips and "throw his voice" anywhere within 10'.

bobloblah
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The Detect Magic one is not that far off the Sensing Power Proficiency. Doesn't your Light cantrip obviate the need for the Continual Light spell?

Saturno
Joined: 2018-07-29 15:08

I have a houserule for Cantrips that works this way:

A cantrip is a very, very, very weak version of a spell you have prepared, a trick. You can cast it as much as you want, but if you cast the original spell you will be out of juice for the relevant cantrip.

So for instance, if a character has Fireball prepared I would allow him to produce small flames, not enough to damage someone, but enough to ignite flamable material or produce light as a match. If the mage has Charm Person I would allow a small circunstantial bonus to a specific Reaction roll. The most important thing here is for the cantrip to make sense.

One of my players had the spell that summon bersekers, and he described to me that his berserkers were actually sand golem-like creatures of human size and appearance of egyptian soldiers. So I allowed that the Cantrip for this spell was the ability to move, through concentration, small portions of sand around. He also had Sleep, so I conceded that the relevant Cantrip could be the ability to calm down and relax willing creatures.

This way I do not have a specific list of Cantrips, I only tell my mages that they can attempt 'tricks' related to the spells they have prepared. Ocasionally I may roll a dice to add some randomness. Like if the sand manipulator tried to use his power to throw sand in the eyes of an enemy.

Alex
The Autarch
Joined: 2011-06-30 18:10

That's a cool rule Saturno. Do you use Vancian memorization in your campaigns then? In RAW ACKS, a caster doesn't prepare or forget spells, so he'd have all his cantrips until he spent all his spell slots. Or is that how you do it?

Saturno
Joined: 2018-07-29 15:08

That's a cool rule Saturno. Do you use Vancian memorization in your campaigns then? In RAW ACKS, a caster doesn't prepare or forget spells, so he'd have all his cantrips until he spent all his spell slots. Or is that how you do it?


-Alex


Well you are correct, I misspoke and mixed the two systems! I do not use the Vancian system when I play ACKS (but I do in other systems), and I got confused. So to clarify how that would work outside of Vancian Magic: As long as the character has a single spell slot not used he can produce the cantrips related to all spells he has in his repertoire. So if I drop Sleep and take Charm Person I would exchange one cantrip for the other. If I have both on my repertoire I can use both cantrips as long as I have a spell slot left. I RP the spell slots as a abstract form of mana or magic power, so a Mage who have cast all his spells is tired, drained, etc. It has no weight in rules, it is just a description.

Frank
Joined: 2018-01-01 06:39

There is nothing 'wussy' about the mage. With the right spell in the right place and equipped with magic items, he saves the day. Some spells a better choice for a given situation, than other. When the mage is out of spells, he has his magic items to use. On early levels, low on spell and items, it is hard for a mage to survive. That is good, because you don't want to fill the world with to many high level wizards! The keyword with mages is to prepare, stock up and to create items. If done and played right, the mage rules the day.

If you as a GM give out few appropriate magic items and think it is a bit 'un-magey' to cast darts; Then I think it is a good idea to allow the mage to create a stick (wand) that can shoot dart like elemental missiles that require a hit roll and deals 1d3 in some type of damage within dart range (elderwood for poison or such). Perhaps the 'wand' has a component cost and some charges. Like a magic version of dart throwing. Consider the price. Its all about the flavor and how it feels. If the game effect is more or less the same as the dart, I think it really does not matter - only how it feels.