How DMs Can Improve D&D’s Magic System


Magic is an essential part of Dungeons & Dragons experience, but house and custom rules could potentially make it a more interesting experience for players in a campaign. Many of the rules of J&D are devoted to simulating the effects of magic, while the plot of almost all J&D The campaign revolves around a powerful magical artifact or a powerful working of magic. The rules for casting spells in J&D Presenting magic as a discipline based on formulas, each spell that wizards or clerics memorize has a fixed and consistent effect. Dungeon Masters who are interested in a less conventional magic system can use the design principles listed below to rework how magic works in J&Dgiving players mechanics to create new spells, modify existing spells, or treat magic as a more fluid improvisational discipline.


The magic rules for Dungeons & Dragons (sometimes poorly done) have changed a lot over the past decades and game editions, but are still heavily shaped by two specific sources of inspiration. The first source of inspiration for J&D the magic was chainmaila medieval miniatures war game whose rules have become the basis of combat in Dungeons & Dragons. The fantastic gameplay segment of chainmail contained rules for adding spellcasters to a classic medieval army, and accordingly included fixed rules for casting magic missile and other utility spells. Magic spells were relics of a more civilized age in dying earththe psychedelic and melancholic fantasy literary setting of Jack Vance which J&D were inspired by, and often had, the names of their creators incorporated into their titles. Many could only be cast by wizards who painstakingly memorized their complicated formulas.

Related: D&D: Spells That Belong To The Wrong School

In the first sessions of J&D – the Castle Blackmoor and Castle Greyhawk campaigns led by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax – there was only one magic character class: the “Magic-User” or “Wizard”. Like the magicians of Vance dying earth novels, the wizard would memorize a list of spells from his spellbook, carrying those spells in his mind like loads of bullets in a pistol’s magazine, literally “shooting and forgetting” them as they were cast. Much early J&D magic spells (and spells from other old-school tabletop RPGs) had stark descriptive names like “ESP” or “Fireball”, while others had grandiose names Dying earth-style names like “Tensor’s Floating Disk”. As J&D evolved, new character classes with new paradigms of magic appeared – the Cleric, who received restorative and protective magic from his patron deity, or the Druid, who could change shape and command the elements of nature.

From J&Dfrom 5th Edition, these other spellcasting classes still use the same “spell-slot” system as the original J&D Wizard class, though the concept of memorizing spell formulas doesn’t quite fit the thematic flavor of cleric, druids, or wizards. For this reason, Dungeon Masters does not use fake J&D homebrew rules for magic might want to make a whole new magic system for their Dungeons & Dragons games using one of the following approaches.

Dungeon Masters Could Hack D&D’s Magic System To Use Magic Points

After Dungeons & Dragons became successful and demonstrated the profitability of the role-playing game concept, several game developers released their own tabletop RPGs, drawing inspiration from the early J&Dwhile trying to implement different and more intuitive mechanisms. Two competitors for the 1st edition J&D, Tunnels and trolls and RuneQuest, introduced “Power Point” or “Magic Point” mechanics where wizard-type PCs had to expend points from a limited pool of magical energy in order to cast certain spells; later games enthusiastically adopted the RPG Magic Point/Mana Point mechanic, equipping player characters with a blue-colored energy bar that represented their ability to cast spells.

The designers of Dungeons & Dragons have experimented with Magic Point spellcasting systems in the past, most notably with the Psionics school of magic that is heavily represented in the dark sun fantasy setting and monk subclasses that use Ki to cast certain spells. The current Spell-Slot rules of J&D 5th Edition is also a step away from being a classic magic point system, giving players the ability to enhance the potency of certain lower level spells by using a higher level spell slot to cast them. DMs looking to use more spells or skills powered by magic points of some kind should carefully study previous conversion attempts made by the developers of J&Dcalibrating the point-to-spell ratio so spellcasting doesn’t get too weak or too powerful.

Dungeon Masters Could Hack D&D to Let Players Improvise Magic

In most tabletop and digital RPGs, players are given a fixed list of spells their characters can cast, spells often designed to damage, manipulate, or hinder enemies in dungeon crawling segments. The Dungeon Master’s Guide to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has sections with tips on how to build and balance spells that match the classic J&D party roles of druids, paladins, wizards, clerics or bards. The process of designing a new balanced magic spell in D&D 5e can take time both in and out of character, making discovering or creating a new magical spell the end goal of several campaign sessions.

Related: The Most Powerful AOE Spells In D&D (And When To Use Them)

To design a more free and imaginative homebrew magic system for their players, Dungeon Masters of a J&D the campaign should lean towards the rules and themes of tabletop RPGs centered around improvisational magic – Mage: Ascension, for example, lets its magical PCs create and cast new spells on the fly, limited only by their affinity rating for specific “spheres” of magic and the risk of triggering a reality-fracturing paradox if they push too far. . Dungeon Masters can also take inspiration from the spell-casting systems in Morrowwind and Oversight, which allow players to create original spells with customizable damage shapes, duration, range, and effect radii. Implementing these sorts of free-form spellcasting rules without changing the Dungeons & Dragons system beyond recon is a difficult undertaking to say the least, but can also give dungeon masters and players the ability to spice up the fantasy worlds of their games with weird and wonderful magic unrelated to the paradigms of previous J&D editions.

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