Thursday, April 9, 2009

Doing Buffs Right

As part of my "fix third edition" week, I have provide alternate versions of several popular cleric "buff" spells as well as the rationales behind them. I am doing cleric spells because I think that casting buff spells fits them better than the other spellcasting classes.

Sometimes I use the fourth edition concept of encounter-based durations because I find it a useful mechanic that can be introduced into any edition of d&d without much trouble, and because it is so much easier than keeping track of how many rounds your effects are lasting for. My commentary on the official version of spells is based on the versions at, a wonderful resource for third edition players. Without further ado:

"Bless (1st level): All friendly creatures within a 30 foot radius of you enjoy a +2 morale bonus to their weapon and spell damage rolls until the end of your next turn. This spell may be cast as a move action."

This version of the spell doesn't impart a trivial bonus. It lets the caster (presumably a cleric) get in on the action. It doesn't take the cleric's main action to cast, so he can still cast a more powerful spell or go to town with his non-edged weaponry. The spell ends quickly, and everybody knows whether they are affected by it or not. Best of all, a cleric is unlikely to burn a ton of spell slots on doing this, but he still might memorize it so that the whole party can have a round with extra oomph. This is desirable because clerics should be able to devote at least half of their spells to memorizing proactive spells with direct effects, rather than being chained to healing and buffs. They ought to still be the buff class, only it shouldn't be buffs that are best cast on other people.

"Bull's Strength (2nd): A friendly creature touched gains a +3 morale bonus to damage with melee weapons until the end of the encounter. This spell may be cast as a move action."

This spell is also a move action to cast, so that the cleric need not spend his first few turns of each combat charging up his comrades. The bonus being applied specifically to melee damage instead of strength sidesteps all the other side effects of changing the strength ability score, and offers the caster a much better idea of how he is helping when he casts his spell. The more specific and focused the benefits of a spell, the better.

"Prayer (3rd level): All friendly creatures within a 30 foot radius of you enjoy a +2 morale bonus to their AC until the end of the encounter. This spell may be cast as a move action."

This version of the spell is not a move action because it offers benefits to the entire party for the duration of the battle, and is likely to have a significant effect on how successful the party is. Every party member likes having a higher AC, so it doesn't just help the weapon using classes. Unlike the original version of the spell, it does not affect the attack rolls of the enemies. Having penalties to all enemies' attack rolls is a sloppy game mechanic --having a higher AC is much easier to keep track of, and achieves the same effect.

"Divine Power (4th level): You become filled with divine wrath, and are ringed with a halo of angry-colored light. Until the end of the encounter, your melee attacks enjoy a +3 morale bonus to damage. Additionally you gain +15 temporary hit points; these hit points vanish at the end of the encounter."

This spell takes an action because it is a hefty bonus on top of other buff spells, and only affects the caster so that he cannot waste a fourth level spell slot on making the fighter better. A set amount of bonus hit points is desirable because the normal version of the spell offers very trivial benefits for a spell of its level. Consider that the given version of the spell offers a strength bonus only slightly better than a second level spell (bull's strength), and the extra temporary hit points start off at +7, hardly an impressive bonus then, and even less impressive at higher levels. A +15 temp hp bonus is helpful at any level, and though it becomes less useful at higher levels due to hp inflation, so too does the damage bonus become less important at higher levels (or Strength bonus in the official version of the spell).

"Spell Resistance (5th level): The subject touched is shielded from spells by the grace of your deities. Until the next day, he enjoys a +4 morale bonus to saving throws against spells and spell-like effects."

I sidestep spell resistance because slowing down encounters with additional rolls --one roll ought to be enough when saving against magic. The +4 bonus is just right. If you are burning a fifth level spell on protecting someone from magic, it had damn well better make a difference. Nor do I think that having a conditional saving throw bonus of this sort is too difficult to track, especially as it lasts for the entire day.

"Heroes' Feast (6th level): You conjure a grand feast that feeds one medium creature per level, takes an hour to consume, and offers benefits to the characters that do so. Until the next day, characters that have feasted enjoy a +2 alchemical bonus to attack rolls, +1 alchemical bonus to the DC of their spells, and gain +15 temporary hit points. These temporary hit points do not vanish until the next day."

This spell offers benefits to the cleric's companions for the entire day, including spellcasters. The extra hit points let them start the day's adventure off with extra hit points, so that the cleric need not squander as much curing on them and can concentrate on more proactive spells. Assuming a party of five adventurers, this spell will add a total of 75 temporary hp to the party, but it isn't unbalanced because it is quite spread out. The vitality powers from the psionics handbook can easily grant 75 temp hp to the user, and do so again when they have taken damage. By comparison, this spell is very balanced.

"Regenerate (7th level): The subject regrows any severed body parts or permanent physical injuries. Additionally, the subject is cured 30 hp of damage and gains +50 temporary hp, that fade after the encounter is over."

The spell as given in the srd is not intended for combat, but rather to fill the role of "we need a spell that can restore lost limbs even though the game has very little in the way of permanent injury.

Actual regeneration of the sort that occurs every round is a pain in the ass. Remembering to heal those hit points is annoying, and mistakes are common. Moreso if there is more than one creature with regeneration, things become even more annoying. It's much better to use temporary hp to express a limited form of regeneration. You regenerate a certain amount, and then your ability is overloaded.

In this version of the spell, I combine the non-combat healing (the limb loss function that rarely comes into play) and a combat application (healing and extra hit points) to make a spell that fills its distinct rules niche and is also very handy in dungeons.

If I wanted to stat a player regeneration effect with a longer duration (like a ring of regeneration) I would find it expedient to have the character begin each encounter with a certain amount of temporary hp.

"Holy Aura (8th level): All friendly creatures within a 30 foot radius of you enjoy a +4 morale bonus to their AC and saves until the end of the encounter. During this time, they are immune to possession and mental influences. This spell may be cast as a move action."

Simple, helpful, powerful, and only a move action. Worthy of an eighth level spell. Save it for the dungeon's climax, and use lower level spells (like prayer) in the meantime.

"Hand of Glory (9th level): You are temporarily imbued with a portion of your deity's power. Until the end of the encounter, your first melee attack each round receives a +15 morale bonus to damage. Additionally you gain +100 temporary hit points; these hit points vanish at the end of the encounter. After this spell wears off, you become exhausted."

There are no 9th level clerical buff spells in the srd, but I figure it's worth taking a shot at writing one. It is unlikely that a cleric using the core mechanics will be able to work too much mischief with the hefty damage bonus, even with critical hits, though I am sure he would find it helpful. Even if the cleric is using a weapon with good critical damage (such as a keen scythe) his crits will still only inflict an extra +40 damage because of this spell. This is much less than a harm spell or the hp likely to be lost to an energy drain spell, the cleric's 9th level "damage" option.
The extra hundred hit points aren't overkill at ninth level even though they are likely to roughly double the cleric's hp, and they allow the cleric to wade into combat to save his friends or to help them beat their enemies. Additionally, this spell is likely to be useful for important "boss" npcs that could use a pile of extra hit points to save them from targeted PC attacks. The exhaustion effect at the end is flavorful, and not a serious problem for most clerics.

Next: Doing Feats Right

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