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D&D Burgoo (3.5): A second look at spell templates

Posted By Troy E. Taylor On September 16, 2010 @ 7:00 am In GMing Advice | 7 Comments

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?

About  Troy E. Taylor

Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.




7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "D&D Burgoo (3.5): A second look at spell templates"

#1 Comment By BryanB On September 16, 2010 @ 10:20 am

It sounds interesting. I’m in favor of trying out optional bells and whistles for the 3.5 magic system. Anything that alters or changes the base system is a step in the right direction to me.

There are many ways to alter, enhance, or replace the spell slot method used in base 3.5. You probably won’t know how well templates will work out until you try them. Why not try them? What have you got to lose? :)

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On September 16, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

I agree that spell templates sound like an interesting thing to try out. There are plenty of spells out there (particularly with Spell Compendium, etc.), but this allows you to work with a core few and get all the flavors to differentiate sacred casters from icy sorceresses.

What do the racial ones do?

#3 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 17, 2010 @ 8:34 am

Racial templates
Here’s a couple:
Dragon, aura of scaly hide or wings, adds natural armor bonus of +1, +2 if spell has dragon descriptor.

Faen, spell is beguiling. save to any enchantment spell increased +1, duration doubles in length

Sibeccai, savage servants, musk spell accompanies any spell in which the caster is the target. Caster gains +1 to atk, dmg, AC, Str, Con or Cha, spell duration doubles and caster gains additional +1 to atk and dmg rolls for duration.

#4 Comment By The_Gun_Nut On September 17, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

I liked the template design, as well. I especially liked how several metamagic feats were combined into a single feat, allowing the caster to pick that one feat to perform several different “boosts” to their spells, but were limited to one type of boost per spell.

Making the spell laden greatly increased the number of utility and tactical choices for the caster. Should I increase the damage now, or save the spell slot for a second, different spell?

A friend of mine was running a game of Arcana Evolved and became worried when the two dedicated spellcasters (myself and another person) were wiping the floor with the thugs that we ran into. The others were doing pretty good, but the two of us (a magister and an ice witch) were laying down some serious hurt. His concern evaporated after both of us stated “I’m out of spell slots” simultaneously after a particularly tough fight. We could hammer our foes hard when we needed, but we ran out of juice quickly. Decisions, decisions.

#5 Comment By Knight of Roses On September 17, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

Those sound like fun, I will have to dig out my copy of AE and take a look.

#6 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 17, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

@The_Gun_Nut – That brings up a great perspective — resource management.

It’s certainly worth a longer discussion, using your spells now or holding them for later. There’s good points to be made on both sides of the argument.

But yes, that extra kick when you need it is really great.

#7 Comment By E-l337 On September 18, 2010 @ 10:20 am

This is personally relevant to my interests. I’ve got a pet project I should start working on soon that revolves heavily around mucking about with how magic works – spell templates sound like they could be a very interesting thing to toss in.

However, I would like to point out that there is one extremely disturbing issue with Pathfinder: Characters gain way more feats than in 3.5. So it would be possible for a character to have multiple spell templates, unless some sort of limiter were put on those templates.

I am personally hoping to move towards making magic – and psionics – access something that is as easy as taking a feat. Taking a specialized class in that – the wizard, the sorceror, etc – gives you increased flexibility with those spells.

But again, without some sort of limiter, yes, these things can easily become broken in Pathfinder. I’m not simply talking about someone trying to stack everything onto a single spell – that’s just silly. But for a spellcaster to specialize in every single element and damage type sounds to me to be a little… well, questionable at best.

Perhaps some pre-requisites are in order. Say, an INT score of 14 + the number of Spell Templates you currently have. Or limit the number of spell templates to the INT modifier.

Then you could make a prestige/advanced class built around granting extra spell templates, maybe, if people get all uppity about it. Those are just some options, however.

I think I’ll go see if I can hunt down the Arcana Evolved now, and see what other neat things are in there.


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