Ever get the urge to search through your bookshelf and look for something that might jazz up your home game?

I was doing that recently — specifically as a means to give spellcasters in my hombrew Steffenhold game a little extra flavor and mechanical kick.

One magic subsystem that’s worth a second look is Spell Templates. The version I have is from Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved from 2005.

As written, the Spell Templates subsystem is tied into the Diamond Throne setting’s emphasis on rituals, specifically the truename ceremonies that some characters undergo.

But with very little tweaking, it could be grafted onto 3.5 or Pathfinder RPG.

What’s a Spell Template?

It’s a category of feats (or in some cases, magical items) that grants a caster access to a thematic overlay to a spell.

For example, the Energy Mage feat puts the electricity descriptor into any spell that inflicts damage. Targets that fail their Fort save against the spell’s DC are stunned on top of receiving regular damage.

To keep the system balanced, each use of spell template carries a cost, as well. In the case above, it’s a material component, a gemstone worth at least 30 gp. Some work more like metamagic feats, in that they occupy slots of a higher-level spell, or they can be laden, meaning they take up two slots instead of one.

A wide variety

What grabbed my attention, though, wasn’t the mechanical aspect of the subsystem. It was the flavor.

Some of the spell templates are based on energy types (acid, cold, electricity, fire, sonic) and some are elemental (air, earth, water). A few are specific to racial types (dragon, faen, giant, litorian, sibeccai). But the more intriguing ones reflect some roleplaying aspect of your spellcaster.

Does your caster traffic with demons? Then the Corrupted template might fit. Conversely, communing with angelic beings might imbue one with the Blessed template. Casters who dabble with mental powers might be attracted to the Psion template, and those who like to lay spells down like traps, which are only triggered when certain conditions are met, might be attracted to the Programmed template.

One of my favorites was the Wild template, which tries to mimic the random wackiness of a wand of wonder. Half the time your spells work as described, one-fourth of the time they have heightened effects, and one-fourth of the time they fizzle out.

Elegant solution

I think the elegance of this system is that is does an end-run around the prestige class mechanic. A lot of prestige classes grant special abilities that emulate some of the themes represented by the spell templates.

But I’ll be honest:  Anything that sidesteps the Pandora’s Box that is represented by the practice of dipping into prestige classes, is a good thing. But my rant on prestige classes must wait for another day.

What do you think?

I’m more interested in what you think, fair readers. Being feat based, is the Spell Templates mechanic prone to being abused, especially in Pathfinder? Do you have any actual play experience with this mechanic that you wish to share? What’s the upside and downside to adding it to a non-Aracana Evolved game?