Magical Mondays: (Over)Reacting To D&D Next’s Magic   9 comments

Jim Darkmagic

It seemed fitting to let Jim Darkmagic (owned by Mike Krahulik (AKA Gabe) of Penny Arcade fame) be the top image of this post since Jim Darkmagic (of the New Hampshire Darkmagics) was easily one of the best things to come out of Fourth Edition.  What awaits him in the future?  I’m sure Wizards of the Coast will sponsor Acquisitions Incorporated again before too long and we’ll find out.  Anyway, on to the post.

This last week, Wizards of the Coast released the Basic Rules for D&D Next, called 5th Edition by some (though I think WotC is trying hard to make us think of it as an all new form of D&D rather than just the “next edition” of the AD&D that’s been going on for so long). Needing a topic for Magical Mondays, and given my nature for veering into D&D territory on occasion (don’t know if you’ve noticed or not), I figured that I should look into D&D Next’s magic as seen through the guise of the Basic Rules. This is all subject to being updated bit by bit, as is the nature of D&D products, and as such keep in mind that anything I say may be premature. For instance: it’s probably not fair for me to criticize the spell list for not having Wish when I know very well that the Player’s Handbook will probably have it. There were a lot of things that I really, really, really liked about what I saw. There was also one big giant thing that I absolutely hated. I’ll start with that so that I can end on a positive note.

I hate The Weave.

Seriously. I absolutely, positively hate The Weave. It’s one of the primary reasons that I never play Forgotten Realms games. I’m sure there are many people who disagree with me on this front, many people who love The Weave. And these people are in for some great news because according to the Basic Rules, Every Setting Has The Weave Now. They say that it might be called different things in different places, but it’s always The Weave.


The Weave In Loom


Why do I hate The Weave so much?  It’s honestly hard to say.  I think the primary reason is because it takes some of the richest and most imaginative settings’ magic systems and tops it off with an origin that has this weird sameness to it.  Cleric, Psion, Sorcerer, Druid, Wizard, you’re ultimately just tapping into this artifice to access the “true magic” that you’re not allowed to get at because you’re a mortal.  I can barely tolerate putting all arcane magic under the same definition on a good day, but all magic regardless of origin?  My mind shudders at the thought.  This is similar to the Well Of Furies problem from City of Heroes: in City of Heroes, your character eventually had the chance to become an “Incarnate”.  Now, before you became an Incarnate you declared that your hero (or villain) gained his or her (or its) powers through Science, Technology, Mutation, Magic, or Natural training and abilities.  The fan base recoiled when these options seemed to be trumped by the Well of Furies, which seemed to give you Magical powers whether you wanted them or not.  This was eventually revealed by the developers and writers to not have been the intention; rather, it was meant to imply that the Well was trying to make you achieve a level of power through your regular means, just advanced to the level of Sufficiently Advanced Technology, effectively making it indistinguishable from magic.  The (necessarily) uniform story that put you on this path suggested such a thing (depending on your origin you see a strange thing that represents your powers, be it an unimaginable piece of technology or just a mirror that reflects back at you), but it was missed by many of the players.  Sadly, The Weave doesn’t offer us such an out.  You’re pretty much stuck with The Weave, and the knowledge that even if you call it something else it’s still The Weave.

Shadow Well

Fortunately, City of Heroes never had Dark Astoria give us a Shadow Well, or Lord Recluse attempting to make his own… Well… actually, no, he tried that, didn’t he? Lousy Recluse, always being villainous…

My other objection to The Weave comes from the vague feeling that this is somehow related to marketing.  Call it paranoia, but 4th Edition demonstrated that WotC wasn’t a fan of creating material that might not fit in the games of all fans.  Will your Eberron players buy a book about Baator when they have Khyber instead?  Not likely.  (Curiously enough, Baator wound up being placed in the realm of Syberis instead of Khyber when that marketing decision happened, possibly due to Syberis’ stronger association with Law.)  Some settings handled this mandatory uniformity better than others (ironically, the Forgotten Realms may have been the most damaged by such things.  Was the plane of Dwarfhome even referenced in Fourth Edition?)

Enough of my ramblings about this one problem I have with the rules so far, though.  Let’s move on to the GOOD stuff!

D&D Next is taking significant strides toward embracing not only its historical roots but also the flights of imagination that created the game in the first place.  Vancian Magic is, of course, well represented through clerics and wizards who prepare spells in spell slots before casting them like tiny spell bombs.  I’m hard on Vancian Magic on this blog, but let’s be honest: there’s a certain charm to knowing that you “prepared magic missile” that morning.

Players of earlier editions (particularly third) will find that spells look familiar.  A lot of classics are represented (magic missile, fireball, wall of force, etc.) but a number of new ones are worth looking at.  Fire Bolt, for instance, is a cantrip that deals a good amount of fire damage if you make a successful attack with it.  Oh, I forgot to mention: cantrips aren’t expended in this edition, so even if your Wizard runs out of regular spells during a fight there’ll still be some combat options upon which he or she can fall.  (Fire Bolt isn’t the only offensive cantrip, of course, it just seems the most flashy and new.)

The thing that’s really worth mentioning is arguably a holdover from 4th edition (or some of the later elements of third edition): rituals!  Ritual magic is back, and possibly better than ever.  In third edition rituals were usually story specific and hard to find.  In 4th edition, rituals were a specific alternative to spells (and, in fact, many classic spells were removed and reclassified as rituals.)  Ritual spells in this edition share the best of both worlds: you can choose to memorize a spell and cast it as normal in a flash, OR you can not memorize it and take a longer amount of time to perform a ritual that generates the magical effect.  Even if a wizard or cleric doesn’t “have that prepared today”, there’s a chance that they might know it as a ritual, in which case there’s no need to sleep for eight hours (after waking up at dawn and having two or three fights that end in less than an hour.)  So even when the caster runs out of spells, the caster can keep on doin’ stuff.  Sometimes pretty awesome stuff.

Tier Envy

Even better, WotC has simplified some of the mystical, non-rules related aspects of the game.  Clerics can still turn undead, of course, but now instead of looking up a complicated chart and rolling different kinds of dice against the number of hit dice that an undead creature has (and don’t forget its turn resistance), you pretty much just declare that you’re turning the undead and the poor undead creature makes a save to see if it resists.  That’s it.  Even better: advanced clerics can now ask their deities for direct intervention.  Yeah, direct divine intervention.  Do you *need* a deus ex machina in this situation? Well, you’re in luck, there’s a tiny chance that the cleric might just be able to arrange for that to happen.  It can’t be used too often, and before the class capstone there’s a very good chance that it won’t work at all, but still.

Oh, and if you love unanswered mysteries as much as I do: just take a look at the table you can roll on for Trinkets.  That’s just an awesome list of stuff.

Anyway… my reaction to the magic stuff in D&D Next is, ruleswise, almost entirely favorable.  There is the… unpleasantness about The Weave.  Fortunately, I don’t need to incorporate that into any games I run.  It’s annoying that I’ll be working against the official lore when I do so in my games, but it’s ultimately something I can work through.

That’s it for this week’s Magical Mondays, folks.  Seeya later!


9 responses to “Magical Mondays: (Over)Reacting To D&D Next’s Magic

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  1. So you house rule it.. what’s the problem?

    • In general, I agree with you. That’s part of why I tried to start with the rant and end on a positive note (I’ll let everyone else decide if I succeeded.) And, as I posted near the end, I fully intend to not include The Weave in any games I run (unless, through some weird fluke, I wind up running a Forgotten Realms game. Stranger things have happened, after all.)

      I talked with a friend the other day who had a bit more of a problem with it. As he put it, including the Weave in the assumed lore presents a subtle shift wherein people who don’t care for Forgotten Realms mechanics *must* houserule, rather than one where they are *encouraged* to houserule. I think that’s pretty close to splitting hairs, but he does have a point.

      Ultimately, I don’t expect this to affect my enjoyment of D&D Next. I expect to enjoy the game and, if I don’t, I expect to have different reasons, probably ones not related to the magic system. The only fault of saying that “all magic is done through The Weave” comes from an abrupt shift from D&D Next being the system where WotC is “hands off” and encourages people to pick and choose what they use to being one that has a single assumed bit of lore hanging over everyone’s heads. Ultimately it’s not a problem, but it *is* something I don’t like.

      I’ll know more about how I feel come August, I’m sure. Thanks for commenting!

  2. FYI the cleric is unable to ritual cast a spell unless they have prepared it for the day.
    In theory they could have left a preparation empty at the beginning of the day, then prepare (pray for) the spell and then cast it as a ritual and not expend a spell slot. This adds a good chunk of time to the process so this would need to be after immediate threats are resolved.

    Wizards get the extra utility of casting rituals (add 10 min to casting time) without preparation as long as they have the spell in their spell book.

    • Ahh, thank you. I overlooked that distinction. I like that, as it gives a little extra spell versatility to the wizards (and the free/assumed metamagic that they get goes along with that theme as well, at least with the Arcane Tradition that came with the basic rules.) It also helps to balance against the Cleric’s 10% chance of a deus ex machina at level 10, I think. Thanks!

  3. Perhaps you could’ve actually done a better job of describing what “The Weave” was before you told me why you hate it.

    I’m guessing by context it’s a source if magic of all types both arcane and divine.

    • Yes, my apologies. I was trying not to post too much of their content, but I suppose if they’re releasing it for free online that damage is probably already done, and intentionally so.

      The Weave is, basically, a thing that sits between “real magic” and the magic mortals use, and mortals only get to use their “magic” by interfacing with The Weave. One difficulty in explaining it is that it might change from setting to setting as it exists in the basic rules (but time will tell.) In the Forgotten Realms, The Weave was, uh, woven together by Mystra and put into place as a way to allow mortals to touch all this “magic” stuff that they keep hearing about. Later Shar, and more recently Lolth, decided to imitate this and create their own weaves (though Shar’s is more of a pseudo-construct that consists of all the empty space between the lines of the “weave.” So, Mystra owns the lines but Shar owns everything that’s not the lines.

      Ultimately, though, my complaint isn’t about the Weave itself. My complaint is the way that they’re taking something from one campaign world and instituting it throughout ALL campaign worlds. I’d feel the same way if they said that Cat Lord was always present, or if they said that The Draconic Prophecy governs the fate of all campaign settings. These things are cool in and of themselves and in their original context, but I find it presumptive on the part of Wizard’s of the Coast to deprive their DMs of the chance to create their own lore in some cases without resorting to house rules.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment and for reading!

      • As a huge FR fan and devotee of the Weave, > sigh < I have to agree that I can see why committing a Forgotten Realms specific idea to the Basic Core D&D rules would be frustrating. Especially since they always do a FR compendium anyway.

        That being said, I love the Weave and am happy to accept it into the canon. 😉

      • Heh. I’m glad you’re happy about it. And, honestly, the Weave isn’t an idea that I object to on principle. A friend of mine and I talked about how we both would’ve liked The Weave a lot more if it had been a smaller thing, only focused on for a bit as one of a number of theories about how magic works, or as one of a number of ways that magic can be accessed. Defining it so strictly made it “less magical” for me, I think.

        As it stands now, I won’t be using the Weave in my games unless a player asks me if their character can incorporate a weave-centric piece of lore, in which case I’ll find some way to make it fit my setting’s cosmology. Or, of course, if I ever run an FR campaign, which I don’t see happening but I also won’t rule out (I mean, FR has some great locations, concepts and creature themes, so a Forgotten Realms adventure might happen if I have a good idea for it.)

        As a sidenote: I actually made a video about this post, since I had so many responses to it from different sources and since I wanted to try my hand at uploading a video. I doubt I’ll do many other videos like this, but I’m glad I made the one:

  4. Pingback: Magical Mondays: Healing | Crater Labs, Inc.

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