Let's kill some sacred cows in the spell lists...


Homebrew and House Rules

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I have been thinking about this on and off for some time. The fact is that the spell lists of Dungeons & Dragons, and by extension all descendants of those games, are riddled with old, faithful spells that have become the "expected core" of the magic system in every setting for the games. Magic missile, fireball, lightning bolt, invisibility, fly, haste, hold person, charm person, detect magic, know alignment, featherfall, protection from evil, mirror image, mage armor, shield are some of the more classic offenders. I can understand why, they give you a feel of familiarity.

However, sometimes, that's not what you want after a long time playing. I have had thoughts about making a setting where the elements matter far more than they usually do... and I run into magic missile, mage armor and shield. Force spells remain a staple of every low-level wizard's repertoire.

Another consideration is that these spells are often badly written due to not being seriously updated since the dawn of time.

So... what can be done? What happens if I just exclude them? What other spells will take up the slack? Is it okay to do this? Will the price in added confusion be worth the contribution it can make to a setting? Will removing a few, generally low-level, spells change the power level of the various spellcasting classes, and is this a bad idea?


The only major change i think would need to be made, is to incorporeal undead. Force spells are the expected counter for those, so you may have difficulty afterwards.

The other thing you can do is look at changing the spell type, but retain the spell. Ice Armor instead of Mage Armor for example. Acid Shield, Lightning Missile.

keep the spells as is, change the flavour.

Those are two options


And Invisibility, mirror image, hold person, haste and the others? An elemental setting is merely one example of problems. For example, what would happen if fireball and lightning bolt went away? There are plenty of other area spells, but would they be adequate replacement? If they aren't, isn't this evidence that fireball and lightning bolt are out of touch with the system as it stands today?

The Exchange

I am curious to hear others' feedback on this. I have been wanting to do something similar for some time now, but have lacked the time or willpower to do so.

One thing I have considered is removing the spells which can allow a spellcaster to step on other class's toes.

I was thinking of making a static list of available spells with a fixed number for each school per level, say 10-20, and removing the spells that are problematic from these lists. If a character wants a spell not on the master list, he would have to research it himself. This keeps those oddball spells from being common or existing at all in my game.

I have not, however, determined what affect this would have on the various power levels or spellcasting classes. Although, this also might be a good opportunity to develop different lists for each class (e.g. Sorcerer vs. Wizard).

As for the force spells you mentioned, couldn't those easily be turned into elemental spells? Fire Missle, Ice Shield, Rock Armor (thanks Dragon Age), etc. The only difference would be that monsters with elemental resistances would be able to shrug off some of the damage, but I don't know that would be a problem at low levels.
EDIT: NINJA'D - As Weables pointed out, incorporeal is a problem.


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Honestly, I have no problem with any of the spells you mentioned (maybe detect magic, since it can be spammed endlessy, but a simple "Range: Touch" would suffice)

IMHO, spells that should be removed/changed are just those that either are too good (Gate, anyone?) or steal the thunder form other classes (Knock, Detect Traps, etc)

Well, I'd like to remove allignment from the game too, so I guess allignment-based spells would be cut.

Removing spells won't make casters have more diversified spell lists, it'll only change the "standard spell selection", most likely to the second best spell selection.

What if instead of cutting them away, you just fluff them differently? Maybe Mage Armor creates a protective wind around the caster, or summons some kind of rock armor around its chests. Mirror Image uses light reflected on some magic mist. Haste imbues the targets with the swiftness of the winds. Hold Person could actually be a wave of static electricity that paralyzes the target (yeah, I stole this idea from pokémon!), etc...

You can fluff spells anyway you want, and then give them a elemental description to match. Fly and Feather Fall could be wind, Shield could be Earth, etc...

Silver Crusade

It is not a problem to remove anything from the game PROVIDED you consider the impact of the removal. These spells are staples for reasons beyond age. If you remove fly, how do the PCs deal with flying enemies? If you remove detect magic, how do the PCs distinguish between a +5 holy speed greatsword and a masterwork one? What about protection from evil: is the fighter just hosed the instant there's a vampire?

Maybe the solution lies in making a game that doesn't favor these spells as much. However you do it, your game will have to change to accommodate the change.

Additionally, if the player finds them stale, don't use them. I played an effective wizard who refused to take any "non-physical" spell (so basically conjuration(creation) only) and was a focused crafter (including 5 craft skills).


Sissyl wrote:
So... what can be done? What happens if I just exclude them? What other spells will take up the slack?

Can we have a better idea of which spells you want to cut?

As for "the usual suspects" (fireball, lightning bolt, fly, invisibility, polymorph, teleport, illusions, charms etc) these are core of the magical curriculum because they existed in fantasy literature and mythology much before D&D; it isn't surprising that they made their way into RPGs, regardless of the system. These are part of our mythological heritage.


What I want is wizards not all doing the same few things in a new setting. Even if I set up a fantastic new world, where most magic comes from the elements, the wizards will still use mirror image, magic missile and haste, and feel like a D&D wizard, nothing else.

Now, the attack spells are not really the biggest problem. It's easy to reskin the force spells, maybe make magic missile require a ranged touch and have it deal 1d6+1 elemental damage instead. You could also look through the 3.5 books and find dozens of possible replacements.

Part of this is the defensive spells, but even worse are the information spells that everyone suggests writing adventures that expect the use of. You also have the transport spells, like fly and teleport, that divide up the gaming experience in before and after. Partly, there is a solution for this in 3.5, namely that you remove the astral and ethereal planes from the setting, meaning lots of spells and various creatures go bye bye.

I merely think that if I just remove these offenders, I will need some kind of replacement. Instead of fly, perhaps spells that allow for better jumping? Improved expeditious retreat? Instead of teleport, better overland movement spells?

There are a lot of traps that come with the expected magic loadout. I wish there was a better way to handle them.


If you want to focus heavily on evocation/conjuration (and to a lesser extent illusion) damage spell spamming you're going to have to go through sections of the beastiary to remove large amounts of resistances and multiple elemental immunities. (And as noted before, change incorporeal undead)

Then if you still really want to encourage people to use those sorts of spells they're going to need a buff too, and to each have their own unique shtick. Or unique to their subset, not necessarily an element.

As to whether or not you can get away with removing fireball and lightning bolt makes a noticeable difference, it's because they have almost no utility. The best they can do, outside of killing people, is set combustible things on fire. There are a bucket load of spells to kill things. There aren't multiple spells like haste because action economy is more powerful than throwing a small quantity of d6 at a group of enemies.

Removing haste does nothing to a Wizard. It stopped granting extra standard actions after 3.0. It hurts everyone who uses the extra attack, who hits the enemy AC by 1, who doesn't get hit by 1 AC. It hurts martial characters.

Damage spells are weak and easily avoided, hurting people doesn't restrict them unless it kills them/knocks them unconscious. Utility spells and SoS's or SoD's solve or bypass encounters.
That's why if you see an Evoker wizard in regular PF it's optomised up the wazoo. Otherwise it can't do anything.

I suppose you can just turn the wizard into a ranged elemental DPS machine. That would certainly drop it down a few tiers and stop it from overshadowing anyone.


How about invisibility, mirror image, stoneskin and the other defensive spells? I guess what I want to do is find a way to replace the old core spells with others that work differently, to change the dynamics of the wizard class (primarily) a little.


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In "Midnight" setting teleport ws removed. Instead there were spell that transformed the caster into a shooting star that flew to the destination in rounds (and was 8th level spell - which was important due to multiple factors, not least one being detectable for hundreds of miles by magic-hunting servants of Evil god).

Mage armor and shield can be reskined to elemental spells of earth and air. Or in case of mage armor it can be turned into Transmutation that hardens the wizard's robes.

However, not every removed spells has to be replaced. Instead of focusing on mechanics, focus on cosmology and metaphysics and adjust the magic to it. Lack of planes removes spells that deal with planar travel (but not teleportation, while teleportation was customarily explained in D&D as using Astral Plane there is absolutely no need between the two to be related) and that allow summoning entities from other planes. There is no need to replace them if there is no need for them in the particular world in the first place.

Adjust the magic available and foes encountered to demands of the setting, not the other way around. No magical flight? Reserve flying opponents for more important encounters.


So basically, I get the sense that it's okay to do this. The game will change if you remove stuff, but maybe that's okay.


Revising many of the spells in the list isn't terribly hard if you categorize them first. In my own campaign, I dislike alignment-based spells. Most of them have bad penalties for being good or evil, so neutrality is the "tactical" decision to make. With this in mind, I changed the spells to harm / heal based on those of the same or allied faiths, on those of no faith or a neutral faith, and an opposing faith.

With the detect evil/good/whatever spells, I simply modified the types it affected, i.e. it doesn't function on humanoid, monstrous humanoids, plants, and vermin unless they have a feature such as the aura of good/evil that clerics, paladins, and antipaladins have and/or alignment-based damage reduction.

My recommendation is be thorough and test against any impact it may have on core systems before you make a change.


Sissyl wrote:
So basically, I get the sense that it's okay to do this. The game will change if you remove stuff, but maybe that's okay.

Definitively Okay to change and own the game, but I would add "...as long as all players agree". If players come to your table expecting to cast teleport, fly and invisibility; they may be disappointed*. Otherwise, anything goes.

Obviously, you need to be aware of the consequences of the changes. A game without ways to fly makes terrain and mundane obstacles much more important, and flying creature becomes more of a challenge. As long as these are factored-in, the game experience can enhance despite the lack of options we got used to.

My recommendation; give yourself some clear guidelines as what you want, and cut the rest. Make sure your remain consistent.

*there are a few spells like mirror image and blink that immediately bring D&D to mind, but more generic spells like mage armour, fly, invisibility, scrying, teleport fireball etc. are signature of fanatsy, not necessarily D&D/Pathfinder.


As someone that plays a wizard often, I have to say that if you restrict the spell list too heavily (especially if it ends up feeling really ad hoc or if it's left with mostly blast spells) I would not likely want to play a wizard. I might change to a sorcerer or a witch. Now, removing or changing a few spells (even some of the common ones) wouldn't be enough to do that, but it's something to watch out for.

Have you considered something like the Words of Power system? It'd be much easier to reshape since you don't have such a huge list of things to pick through.


MagiMaster wrote:
I have to say that if you restrict the spell list too heavily (especially if it ends up feeling really ad hoc or if it's left with mostly blast spells) I would not likely want to play a wizard. I might change to a sorcerer or a witch. Now, removing or changing a few spells (even some of the common ones) wouldn't be enough to do that, but it's something to watch out for.

As a GM and longtime wizard player, if you restrict the list of one class, you should do the same to the rest of the arcane classes. It still wouldn't make me want to play an arcane user in such a game if those spells are gone, seeing as how I tend to favor Illusion the most.


You may be better off starting with nothing and systematically creating spells than starting with the current list and culling.

Let's start with the elements. Let's go with the traditional Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Aether.

Fire is easy. Fire does heat related damage, increasing reaction rates as with burning and/or changing the phase of a substance from solid to liquid to gas to plasma. It's a thing.

Air is less straight forward. Control over air must mean moving it, changing its temperature, or changing its pressure, but temperature and pressure are related and differences in pressure create or are created by moving air. This would mean that air can do damage by heating, though probably only nonlethal, by cooling (changing phases in the opposite direction of heat, which is lethal to mostly liquid living things), or by force. Air is also associated with weather which is associated with electricity. Air is like Dexterity. It does almost everything.

Earth is also the element for protection. Earth is resistant to force and ceramics are probably the best common thermal insulators. They're also electrical insulators. There is something under the category of Earth resistant to any elemental attack. The wind and sea may wear down anything in time, but that's on time scales even elves will consider long. Even Tolkien style immortal elves. Offensively Earth packs a lot of poisons, specifically the heavy metals. They tend to be slow, but pretty sure.

Water is the element for life because life is based on chemical reactions occurring in water. Acid should go here rather than earth as most acids are water based. Indeed by any but the most modern definition I learned in high school chemistry acids and bases can't really exist outside of hydrogen bonding liquids. As the medium of life it's also the medium for all biological poisons.

Aether doesn't exist, but if it did it would be the medium through which light travels. As such it is the element for light, obviously, but also can be associated with electricity and magnetism.

With elemental themes in hand the next step is to figure out how they can be manipulated. Earth is probably the odd element out, but for the others they can be manipulated as an aura for defense and melee touch attacks, thrown as a ranged touch attack, emanated as a reflex save for half aura, cast forth as a reflex save for half line or cone, made into a wall, and so forth.

Let's take Aether for our example since it's probably the hardest.

Aether as an aura is going to produce a halo of light and possibly deal electricity damage to attackers. Maybe level 1 or 2 is a combination blur and faery fire. You get a stealth penalty and a miss chance. A higher level version might add retaliation and allow you to make touch attacks while it's active kind of like Produce Flame crossed with fire shield, but in lightning damage.

Aether as a ranged touch is a laser. Lightning doesn't follow straight paths that would make touch attacks meaningful.

Aether as an aura is either a blind spell or lightning burst, but lightning doesn't normally act like that so it's a blinding flash. Or just an illumination/darkness spell.

Aether as a line or cone is good old lightning bolt or a longer ranged directional cone of blinding.

Aether as a wall is probably going to be a wall of 100% concealment. Take the aether out of a region and it becomes perfectly opaque and black.

And so forth. Once each element has a suite of basic spells figure out what utilities you still need and slot them. For example healing pretty clearly goes under water, invisibility if you want it would go under aether, Earth might be given association with gravity and become the element for extradimensional spaces if you want them around and so forth.


Al Qadim set up a spell system based on wind, sand, wave, and flame. You pick two you're really good at, and two you can't cast at all. Any combination works, there are no opposing schools. If this is too harsh, you can change it to two you're really good at, one you're ok with, and one you can't cast.

I've seen all alignment based spells removed and all detect spells removed; that made for an interesting game.

If you want to go more natural based, you could re-flavor or remove all non-element spells from the game, like others have suggested.

If you want to remove the quintessential wizard without removing spells, you could create a stronger specialization system. Choose two or three schools around a theme for which you get more spells (like standard specialization), another one or two schools that are similar to the theme and are cast like normal, one or two that are slightly opposed and are treated like standard forbidden schools from CRB, and one or two schools that are completely uncastable for the wizard.

It's a complex idea expanded from the Thassilonian system, but it'll make each wizard truly unique.

I like Atarlost's idea. I'll add a bit to it: fire is also heat, and heat measures the movement of molecules. Faster the movement, the hotter it gets. Haste and slow should be in that category.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Sissyl wrote:

What I want is wizards not all doing the same few things in a new setting. Even if I set up a fantastic new world, where most magic comes from the elements, the wizards will still use mirror image, magic missile and haste, and feel like a D&D wizard, nothing else.

What you want then is a different game. D&D and it's cousins are descended from tactical war-gaming. It's not surprising that the spells have evolved to such. The spells in D&D are an integral part of it's design, it's not just a matter of dumping the core spells and assuming you can take off from there.

Wizards in a D20 setting tend to have cookie cutter spell selections because the jobs they're called to do ARE cookie cutter, and the spells they select are the best ones for those roles.

Perhaps you should be looking at the Iron Heroes rules and playing with a greatly reduced or eliminated magic altogether.

Or perhaps play a different setting and ruleset that has spells more your preferred flavor like Ars Magica.

Dark Archive

Kara-Tur / Oriental Adventures was another example of a setting that divided all (or most) of the spells up by an elemental theme.

When OA first came out, I was totally in love with the idea of playing a Wu Jen who used entirely the new spells from the book, and none of the old standard magic-user spells, but found some (like detect magic) indispensible. When the APG came out, there was an occasional mention of someone running a PBP entirely for the new classes, with none of the core classes, and I remember thinking that this would have been a great opportunity to play a spellcaster who used, as much as possible, entirely spells from the APG and other non-core sources (like the special cleric spells in Gods & Magic, or the racial spells in Dwarves of Golarion, or the later additions from Ultimate Magic or Ultimate Combat). But, at the end of the day, I suspect that playing a wizard who won't cast haste or mage armor or fireball or invisibility or fly or dispel magic would get me kicked out of a game. :)

And a cleric with no cure spells? Madness!


LazarX wrote:
Or perhaps play a different setting and ruleset that has spells more your preferred flavor like Ars Magica.

...which still has invisibility, teleport, fireball, fly, hold person, polymorph, charm person, detect magic, as staples of spell-casting.

There are plenty of wonderful games out there (I love Ars Magica btw), some may fit the OP's style better than others, but I don't think Pathfinder RPG is an ill choice for alternate setting with spells working on a different thematic.

Silver Crusade

As I understand it OP, you're looking for a way of making magic feel more... primordial, chthonic, more... well elemental.

In the spirit of that, I'd advise a more low magic setting, something less, Tolkien and more Howard.

Try thinking Conan. Magic there is veeeeery difficult and takes a long time to set up, in fact, it's more ritualistic than anything else. But oh hey lordy if it ain't powerful. You want to make it rain? Make it rain, you want your enemies struck down by a thunderstorm? Call one down.

In the spirit of that, I'd advise you check out the Thieves' World Player's Guide. It's a D20 supplement focusing on the setting from the Thieves' World series of Shared World Novels, magic there is very much focused on elemental power and sheer raw might, but the caveat is that it's so hard and drawn out to do.


It's best to find out why those cows are in the field before killing them.


Thanks for your input, everyone. I am certainly going to inform people about these changes beforehand. That goes without saying. Still, some feel that these spells are so important that if I want to exclude them, I shouldn't be playing D&D or PF. Surely the current form of those spells can't be that central to the game?

Silver Crusade

Sissyl wrote:
Thanks for your input, everyone. I am certainly going to inform people about these changes beforehand. That goes without saying. Still, some feel that these spells are so important that if I want to exclude them, I shouldn't be playing D&D or PF. Surely the current form of those spells can't be that central to the game?

It's not that they're central, or necessary. It's that they're part of the flavor. To some people, this is like walking into an ice-cream parlor, asking for the hot-fudge sundae, and asking them to hold the fudge. They say, "well why not just order the vanilla icecream then?"

I say it's more like walking in, ordering the hot-fudge sundae and asking them to swap the fudge for butterscotch.


Well, considering the amount of time and money I put down in these games, I would be truly disappointed if campaigns were meant to come in one flavour only.


You can change what spells are good or bad (although there will always be some that are just plain handy) by drastically changing the environment and style of adventure.

An adventure that takes place 100% underground will put more value on some spells and less on others.

Similarly, one in a world of endless sky with no ground beneath the floating landmasses will put the emphasis in other places.


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I have no issue with them. I would be aware of what removing certain spells do to the game though. I think detect magic could have been a first level spell, and it would still have been valuable. I also think Greater Invis should be 1 min/level.
Rather than inform the players I would discuss it with the players for a change like this.I know if the wizard/sorcerer lost certain spells I just would not play one. The defensive spells are something I would be looking at closely.


Sissyl wrote:
How about invisibility, mirror image, stoneskin and the other defensive spells? I guess what I want to do is find a way to replace the old core spells with others that work differently, to change the dynamics of the wizard class (primarily) a little.

I'm not entirely sure I understand this concern--why do you want to remove their defensive spells? Wizards are squishy, they sort of need these to not die.

I guess you could replace them with different defensive spells, but all defensive spells are still going to boil down to the same basic building blocks:
1) increasing AC and/or saves
2) providing a miss chance
3) granting DR, energy resistance, or SR
I mean, you could substitute one spell that gives a miss chance for a different spell that gives a miss chance, but to what end? If you just want them to feel different, why not just refluff them? There've been all sorts of good suggestions in this thread so far.

Are there specific spells that you want to see used instead? People tend to use the core spells you seem to have issues with largely because they're either more universally useful or more efficient than other spells--sure, I could learn explosive runes or sepia snake sigil, but I'll get a lot more mileage out of fireball, fly, and dispel magic. And there are some nifty spells outside of the core rulebook, but again, they tend to be less efficient and more circumstantially useful than the spells you seem to have issue with, and the biggest problem wizards have is that they need to know what spells to prepare ahead of time--making their spell list less universally useful just makes them that much more difficult to play and enjoy.

Dark Archive

Rather than tweak spells, which, at the end of the day, kind of is like replacing all the blue with orange (since you'll need different sorts of spells to deal damage and different sorts of spells to heal injuries, etc., etc.), perhaps you could replace standard 'vancian' spellcasters entirely with classes that use other mechanics, such as the 3.5 warlock, binder, truenamer, shadowcaster, incarnate or totemist (or some combination of the above).

Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed introduced entirely new spellcasting classes, different spellcasting mechanics (laden spells, heightened spells and diminished spells, for instance) and a huge new list of different spells, replacing tried and true spells like fireball and lightning bolt, and, at the end of the day, it really wasn't that different. Whether you've prepared fireball and mage armor or 'eldritch torrent' and 'illusory mail,' it might end up feeling like little more than rearranging deck chairs, as players get used to the new spell list and gravitate to a small subset of them that they consider the most effective or useful anyway.


But a different subset provides a different flavour, doesn't it?

And if I go for, say, incarnum wielders, do I still need standard D&D wizards plopping out their standard spells?


Incarnum users don't replace wizards or arcane magic in general. If you are just trying to change flavor then just change a spell's description. What I see is a change in mechanics. Flavor is always mutable, and is seperate from mechanics. As an example some GM's don't allow the ninja class, but I can just play a rogue or ranger and call it a ninja so the flavor has not really changed. Another example is barbarians. Instead of being the typical barbarian I can say I am someone who has learned how to focus my rage. That changes the flavor, but the mechanics are untouched. If the barbarian is banned I can play a ranger or paladin, and with similar flavor by using smite or the ranger's focus.

In short all you will be doing is making wizards easier to kill. That would not change the flavor of the game though. It takes more than changing one class to do that, and if nobody plays the class then all you will have done is made sure that nobody played the class.


So, if I change the mechanics of these spells, or take them out, then nobody will play the class. That sounds very harsh, especially since this class is consistently evaluated as top-tier. I'd say it reflects poorly on the would-be wizard player.

I did not say I wouldn't put something else in. Defensive spells are few and far between, because while you can only make one attack spell per round, you can have perhaps a dozen defenses active. Ultimately, a new useful defensive spell will increase the defenses of all or most wizards, so designers have been careful not to overdo it. As a consequence, the existing defensive spells are left as they are, pretty much alone. Removing them means you get more space you can use for new spells.

And no, just saying that "mage armor is now an earth spell" is not what I am talking about.

And I am well aware that incarnum does not fill the wizard "niche". I would still think it was interesting to see a setting where another set of classes made the "core classes" cut. Incarnum can throw damage effects, they can heal, they have utility effects and skill boosts aplenty.

Silver Crusade

Sissyl wrote:
Well, considering the amount of time and money I put down in these games, I would be truly disappointed if campaigns were meant to come in one flavour only.

In my case, I run two campaigns right now.

Carrion Crown, a gothic horror of Frankenstein meets Dracula, meets Shadow Over Innsmouth, meets, just about every piece of Gothic horror fiction ever. In this campaign, I scare the players, give them eerie events and creepy feelings, make the hairs on the backs of their necks stand up.

And then there's my other campaign, entirely my own creation on this count, where the group is a bunch of Pathfinders, traveling the inner sea, discovering lost cities and ancient cultures, currently they're exploring a Jistkan Ruin, underneath a wizard's tower that they have to break into and rob, so they can recover a box for a powerful information broker who will give them the information and contact they need to bust some friends out of a Cheliaxan Slave pen in Westcrown and escape back to Absalom, where they will finally be able to report to their Venture Captain.

Two very different campaigns, two very different flavors, both good.

Just because you like chocolate doesn't mean you can't like vanilla.

Set wrote:

Rather than tweak spells, which, at the end of the day, kind of is like replacing all the blue with orange (since you'll need different sorts of spells to deal damage and different sorts of spells to heal injuries, etc., etc.), perhaps you could replace standard 'vancian' spellcasters entirely with classes that use other mechanics, such as the 3.5 warlock, binder, truenamer, shadowcaster, incarnate or totemist (or some combination of the above).

Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed introduced entirely new spellcasting classes, different spellcasting mechanics (laden spells, heightened spells and diminished spells, for instance) and a huge new list of different spells, replacing tried and true spells like fireball and lightning bolt, and, at the end of the day, it really wasn't that different. Whether you've prepared fireball and mage armor or 'eldritch torrent' and 'illusory mail,' it might end up feeling like little more than rearranging deck chairs, as players get used to the new spell list and gravitate to a small subset of them that they consider the most effective or useful anyway.

Personally, I was rather fond of a class I made for a campaign I was running in my own setting. I had decided on a whim to make use of a setting I have for a novel series I've been writing a long time, but the way magic works there is far from Vancian. Instead, magic hurts. Like all hell. Doing magic hurts, casting spells hurts, strictly speaking, it's not damage per-se as much as it is just pain.

So, I created a class which could cast as many spells as it damn well pleased. But each spell required intense concentration, and even slightly going wrong... well, you can suffice to say, it wasn't good. Magi could eschew components, verbal, somatic and material alike, but doing so made the spell less "real" and therefore more difficult to realize and thus, cast.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Companion, Lost Omens Subscriber
Sissyl wrote:
And Invisibility, mirror image, hold person, haste and the others? An elemental setting is merely one example of problems. For example, what would happen if fireball and lightning bolt went away? There are plenty of other area spells, but would they be adequate replacement? If they aren't, isn't this evidence that fireball and lightning bolt are out of touch with the system as it stands today?

Actually, just the opposite. If you take a spell out and there is no adequate replacement, that means that that spell is necessary for the system!

If you want to limit spells, I have had success with going back and strictly enforcing the old rule of wizards only get the spells they find in spell books or research themselves. This may cause bit of a problem so discuss with players before hand, and it is more work for the GM, but it makes spells feel much more rare and precious and really adds something to treasure.


I played Marvel Super Heroes basic and advanced. In basic there was body armor. In advanced...body armor. The difference was that in basic it said body armor reduced an amount of damage and was on your body all the time; advanced said the permanently on thing could be optional.

Now look at comics. MANY heroes and villains alike have body armor in the simple terms laid out in the game's definitions. Why? Because its a nice way of saying you have "some power" that protects your personal body from harm.

Now look at Mage from White Wolf. In that game magic is simply the bending of reality; anything you can think of you can do, it just simply takes the will and willingness to do it. There were no "spells" in the classic fantasy sense, though there were some suggestions of power combos to set a benchmark.

I guess I fall into the camp of "re-flavor, don't remove/restrict". I've almost always played homebrews and have housruled flavor and encouraged it in my spellcasters for years. Not every player has been that into roleplaying but still...

And I do mean ALL spellcasters.

Lets look at the iconic "Cure Light Wounds". I had a cleric of Poseiden YEARS ago, long before the Percy Jackson series. He asked that, when he cured someone there was some kind of water effect (since water is life). In response I used to describe his CLW as at first a stinging, but then a cooling of the wound with a sheath of water cleansing and revitalizing the area. When the spell ended there were always little beads of water left behind.

Now take 3 different flavors of arcanist and don't even change the "force" descriptor of the damage type on Magic Missile. Fladnag the Off-White in his pointy hat shoots darts of magical force, like the stock standard. Then Raven Nightrose the goth necromancer steps up, firing streaks of opaque amythest energy with skulls encircling them. Finally Barbaricon the savage shaman reaches into his hide pouch and hurls a spell forth. Out comes the disembodied claw of his totem spirit the bear, the paw leaving a spectral trail in its wake.

All 3 situations are magic missile. All three end up with the same game mechanics. None of them are exactly the same.

But that's it, isn't it Sissyl B. of the Mill? The reason for your post deep down. Its not that the spells are bad or broken, quite the opposite; since they're so good and so iconic EVERYONE has them. And by everyone I mean the heroes...and the villains.

I'm reminded of the Harry Potter series (I haven't read the books, sorry). Harry has a spell called a Patronus (sp?) that keeps spectral evils at bay. But his manifests as a stag, somewhat like his fathers; others in the series have different manifestations. Why though? Simply put, all wizards need to keep the boogeyman at bay, its just a matter of your arcane mark on it instead of the other guys, isn't it?

I hope that your spellcasters on both sides of the screen get to keep their powers. Whether you call it magic missile, beast swipe or skull bolt I hope they get to keep blasting away mercilessly at their enemies.


Pyrrhic Victory wrote:
Sissyl wrote:
And Invisibility, mirror image, hold person, haste and the others? An elemental setting is merely one example of problems. For example, what would happen if fireball and lightning bolt went away? There are plenty of other area spells, but would they be adequate replacement? If they aren't, isn't this evidence that fireball and lightning bolt are out of touch with the system as it stands today?

Actually, just the opposite. If you take a spell out and there is no adequate replacement, that means that that spell is necessary for the system!

If you want to limit spells, I have had success with going back and strictly enforcing the old rule of wizards only get the spells they find in spell books or research themselves. This may cause bit of a problem so discuss with players before hand, and it is more work for the GM, but it makes spells feel much more rare and precious and really adds something to treasure.

No, if there is a spell that does roughly what fireball does (fills the same niche), people will use it instead. If every other area-damage 3rd level spell is significantly weaker than fireball, then obviously the problem is with fireball not being matched to the rest of the game anymore. There is nothing that says wizards' power coming on the standard (fly and fireball at 5th, quickened spells and teleport at 9th) curve is a necessity. A game without fireball and lightning bolt will play slightly differently, that's it. Especially if other spells can partly replace what was taken away.

I am typically the DM. I know the tactics of low-level wizards by heart and by rote, and I am bored with those few ways to defend yourself. Yes, I could call mirror image "deceptive copies" instead, giving it the same spell effects, but I don't see much changing with that.


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I think you can pull out spells on a case-by-case basis without much trouble. But you'll need to consider carefully exactly WHY those spells are used so much. Mage armor and shield keep those low-level casters alive to become mid-level casters, so if you remove them, how do your mages live long enough to do anything? Those blasting spells you mention--magic missile, fireball, lightning bolt--are used frequently because a) the familiarity you note, b) reliability, and/or c) they're just plain fun, even if not the most tactically brilliant weapons at times. Hold person? Because you need to take someone out of the fight NOW, and for some reason don't want them dead this instant? I'd suggest you first make up the list of spells you want to omit, then any other changes you think to make, then let us Forumites* in our Grand Wisdom* take a crack at it, theorycrafting-wise.

* Denotes a term patented by a crazy gamer, somewhere :)


Here's a compromise: apply auto-metamagic to lower level spells and remove higer ones specific to the element the caster is focused on. Ex:

Magic Missile + Toppling Spell instead of acid arrow

So at first level they get magic missile. When they get 2nd level spells they get Toppling Missile. When they get 3rd level spells, in place of fireball they get Sickening Missile instead. I don't know...just spitballing.

Scarab Sages

Sissyl wrote:
So... what can be done? What happens if I just exclude them? What other spells will take up the slack? Is it okay to do this? Will the price in added confusion be worth the contribution it can make to a setting? Will removing a few, generally low-level, spells change the power level of the various spellcasting classes, and is this a bad idea?

I always preferred the spellcasting system, and the spell lists, from Rolemaster.

If I were to create a homebrew ruleset again, I would use those mechanics.


Sissyl wrote:
If every other area-damage 3rd level spell is significantly weaker than fireball, then obviously the problem is with fireball not being matched to the rest of the game anymore.

Not necessarily.

Fireball and lightning bolt are better area-damage spells because that's what they're supposed to be: area-damage spells. They don't debuff; they don't control; they don't sneak around spell resistance. All they do is make lots of things take damage, right now. The reason no other 3rd level spell does that is because they don't need to; that niche is already filled. Why reinvent the wheel?

One problem I foresee in removing the staple spells is the addition of extra paperwork to track secondary spell effects. If your evoker is using, say, snapdragon fireworks instead of magic missile as his basic damage spell, you're going to be making an extra die roll each round and keeping track of who's dazzled instead of writing down damage once and being down with it.


I have played an oriental themed caster right along side a wizard that was using standard spells. If you want some good ideas on how elemental spells work for defense and offense, look to the L5R/3.5 Oriental Adventures books - specifically to the magic of rokugan and way of the shugenja books. There is a whole list of things that are elemental themed and not like the spells in any of the other books. If you get really into elemental combinations there are spells that combine elements to do interesting things. Probably one of my favorite characters I've ever played was a full on Rokugan Shugenja that had a bunch of feats so he could take all the different spells.


Here way I see it little work as GM or DM.

A) Reskin spell change it a little but keep the same flavor ie hold person make earth form around you or evard black is snakes that grad you.

B) By more book there a ton of spell out there beside just core, hell beside just pathfinder I have tone of 3.0 /3.5 book from Wotc or other party that still work just fine.

C) Force you self to take other spell try some thing new. You may like it. Quite pick spell like you can only go to McDonalds. There a ton of books out there with vast amount of spell to chose from.


Sissyl wrote:

So, if I change the mechanics of these spells, or take them out, then nobody will play the class. That sounds very harsh, especially since this class is consistently evaluated as top-tier. I'd say it reflects poorly on the would-be wizard player.

I did not say I wouldn't put something else in. Defensive spells are few and far between, because while you can only make one attack spell per round, you can have perhaps a dozen defenses active. Ultimately, a new useful defensive spell will increase the defenses of all or most wizards, so designers have been careful not to overdo it. As a consequence, the existing defensive spells are left as they are, pretty much alone. Removing them means you get more space you can use for new spells.

And no, just saying that "mage armor is now an earth spell" is not what I am talking about.

And I am well aware that incarnum does not fill the wizard "niche". I would still think it was interesting to see a setting where another set of classes made the "core classes" cut. Incarnum can throw damage effects, they can heal, they have utility effects and skill boosts aplenty.

I was not trying to imply that nobody would play a wizard. I was saying I wouldn't and others would be a lot less likely to do so once they realized their chances to die just went up by a good amount. You may add something to replace the defensive spells, but I can only be what you tell us. Right now I am seeing subtraction, and not addition.

As for incarnum:What you can do is not a factor on its own. It also matters how you can do it and how well, and healing is not just about hit points.


Sissyl wrote:
Pyrrhic Victory wrote:
Sissyl wrote:
And Invisibility, mirror image, hold person, haste and the others? An elemental setting is merely one example of problems. For example, what would happen if fireball and lightning bolt went away? There are plenty of other area spells, but would they be adequate replacement? If they aren't, isn't this evidence that fireball and lightning bolt are out of touch with the system as it stands today?

Actually, just the opposite. If you take a spell out and there is no adequate replacement, that means that that spell is necessary for the system!

If you want to limit spells, I have had success with going back and strictly enforcing the old rule of wizards only get the spells they find in spell books or research themselves. This may cause bit of a problem so discuss with players before hand, and it is more work for the GM, but it makes spells feel much more rare and precious and really adds something to treasure.

No, if there is a spell that does roughly what fireball does (fills the same niche), people will use it instead. If every other area-damage 3rd level spell is significantly weaker than fireball, then obviously the problem is with fireball not being matched to the rest of the game anymore. There is nothing that says wizards' power coming on the standard (fly and fireball at 5th, quickened spells and teleport at 9th) curve is a necessity. A game without fireball and lightning bolt will play slightly differently, that's it. Especially if other spells can partly replace what was taken away.

I am typically the DM. I know the tactics of low-level wizards by heart and by rote, and I am bored with those few ways to defend yourself. Yes, I could call mirror image "deceptive copies" instead, giving it the same spell effects, but I don't see much changing with that.

I would be more than happy to give you fireball and lightening bolt to keep mirror image.

It seems you want your players to change how they play characters for a change of pace. Changing the spells won't do that. Why not just ask them to try something different. It work for an old group I was in when we had one player that only used barbarians.

It was a tough sell though. :)

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Companion, Lost Omens Subscriber
Sissyl wrote:
Pyrrhic Victory wrote:
Sissyl wrote:
And Invisibility, mirror image, hold person, haste and the others? An elemental setting is merely one example of problems. For example, what would happen if fireball and lightning bolt went away? There are plenty of other area spells, but would they be adequate replacement? If they aren't, isn't this evidence that fireball and lightning bolt are out of touch with the system as it stands today?

Actually, just the opposite. If you take a spell out and there is no adequate replacement, that means that that spell is necessary for the system!

If you want to limit spells, I have had success with going back and strictly enforcing the old rule of wizards only get the spells they find in spell books or research themselves. This may cause bit of a problem so discuss with players before hand, and it is more work for the GM, but it makes spells feel much more rare and precious and really adds something to treasure.

No, if there is a spell that does roughly what fireball does (fills the same niche), people will use it instead. If every other area-damage 3rd level spell is significantly weaker than fireball, then obviously the problem is with fireball not being matched to the rest of the game anymore. There is nothing that says wizards' power coming on the standard (fly and fireball at 5th, quickened spells and teleport at 9th) curve is a necessity. A game without fireball and lightning bolt will play slightly differently, that's it. Especially if other spells can partly replace what was taken away.

I am typically the DM. I know the tactics of low-level wizards by heart and by rote, and I am bored with those few ways to defend yourself. Yes, I could call mirror image "deceptive copies" instead, giving it the same spell effects, but I don't see much changing with that.

It looks to me like you have your own answer and that you are not really looking for ideas but confirmation of what you already think. If you want to change the basics of the game, and your players agree, then by all means create a "low magic" game or any other alteration that you want. Lots of people do it and it can be quite fun to be different once in a while.

Silver Crusade

I think the root problem is whatever causes your players to play the same wizards the same way every time (hint: it's not the spell selection). The group I game with avoids playing the same character twice, even if it was another player that played it. Maybe the best solutions to all the challenges you present are those spells. Maybe your game is so hard that for a wizard to make it to level 6 he has to take a very set spell selection. If you have the chance, try to analyze each situation a spell is used in and why the PC thinks that spell is the best option. A good way to introduce other spells is to give them a scroll in one room, and the perfect situation for it just a few rooms later. Fudge the rolls to make it awesome if you have to, and show that other spells are good too.
The point I'm getting at is players take spells that have proven their usefulness. If [other spell] worked much better than [standard spell] enough times, the PCs will start using [other spell]. Also don't underestimate the power of making something sound cool. I like minor creation, not because it's very good, but because I've been allowed to do cool things with it before.


Why not just get rid of the wizard and sorcerer class? Have people play witches and magi for one game.

The thing about changing the spell list is that it's a huge project. As has been mentioned, simply taking away iconic spells is going to cause a lot of unintended consequences and likely won't quite produce the results you're looking for.


I kind of see her meaning here. PCs get into the habit of doing something in a specific way and choose to stay in that rut of using the same spells repeatedly. In mine own campaigns, the biggest repeats have been things like enlarge on fighter-types and invisibility (or improved) on rogue-types for sneak attack purposes. The tactic is proven (though the latter tactic is easily side-stepped at higher levels, when more creatures/casters have see invisibility or true seeing available to them), but their repetitive usage starts to make encounters dull.

Things like hold person I don't have near as much problem with myself because the enemy gets a save to defeat it. Additionally, I've found that PF has done a decent enough job with their spells that wizards don't necessarily use the fireballs or lightning bolts near as often because there are other spells more useful.

My own opinion on this matter is that eliminating some of those spells according to the world you're piecing together is perfectly legitimate. I honestly think people can do without fly or invisibility spells, and fireball and lightning bolt aren't as useful as they once were back in my old 2E days, so their use has fallen drastically already as well. If the magic of the world you're making doesn't call for the normal, everyday spells, get rid of them and tell your players it's time to start thinking outside the box. You'll find spellcasting players that would be all about that!


Thank you for your thoughts, people. I really wanted different perspectives, and I got them. Yay forums!

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