I hate at-will 0-level spells with the blazing passion of a thousand fiery suns.
It’s not that I think they unbalance the game or turn the PCs into super characters. Rather, the reasons for my distaste of 0-level spells falls into two categories:
Why I Hate Them: Flavour
On the face of it, at-will 0-level spells solve one of the perennial problems of playing a spell caster: what do you do when you run out of spells? Having a store of inexhaustible magic means you can (in theory) always do something. However, for me, this erodes the flavour of the game. I like a gritty campaign in which magic is actually wondrous. I think at-will 0-level spells erode that wonder. Consider:
- Light/Dancing Lights: Even the lowliest adventuring party has no real need of mundane light sources—light and dancing light aren’t exactly rare or esoteric choices for spellcasters. Sure everyone should carry a couple of torches or a sunrod just in case, but in practise they are rarely used.
- Detect Magic: Every group has at least one spellcaster who knows detect magic. In practise this means they use this spell in every area they explore, which somewhat cuts down on the level of player skill required to find hidden treasures (and indeed magic traps!) In practise, magic traps are normally much harder for a thief to find than normal traps, but this is not the case if someone can cast detect magic! Of course, countermeasures for both instances—lining treasure niches with lead, casting nondetection on traps—are possible, but extensive use of such measures just ends up nerfing a PC’s abilities. In effect, at-will detect magic means the party rarely misses out on magic treasure and rarely suffers a magic trap’s effects.
- Create Water: On the face of it, what’s the harm in at-will create water? It’s not like you could flood a dungeon, after all! True, but the presence of at-will create water does somewhat reduce the environmental challenges involved in a trek through the desert or the badlands or even a long sea voyage. Don’t worry about securing a supply of fresh water—just memorise create water and you are golden!
Why I Hate Them: Resource Management
Part of my enjoyment of the game is the resource management facet of running a character. This might make me seem even geekier than the normal player, but I think it’s a vital, enjoyable part of the game. For example, with at-will detect magics there’s no real reason to only use the spell when you suspect the presence of hidden treasure or a magic trap—just wang off a detect magic in every area and Bob’s your uncle.
Similarly, create water removes a large part of the challenge of travelling through inhospitable terrain. No need to look for an oasis or island at which to replenish your fresh water supplies—just have the cleric fill barrel after barrel—or flask after flask—with fresh water. Doesn’t that somewhat reduce the unique challenges involved in travelling across a desert!
Finally, consider the case of mending:
- Mending: Never run out of arrows, bolts or other missiles again! Ammunition that misses their target has a 50% chance of breaking. This means archers and the like must choose their shots wisely and make sure they carry enough ammunition for their adventure. Similarly, they must carefully consider whether to buy special ammunition (silver, cold iron or adamantine arrows, for example) and when to use them. With mending, worry no more! Simply collect your broken arrows after the battle and fix them all—even the expensive ones tipped with special materials! How convenient.
Since the beginning of my Borderland of Adventure, I’ve banned the use of at-will 0-level spells. In their place, I use the following house rule:
Spellcasters’ 0-level spells do not represent an unlimited resource and a spellcaster cannot treat them as at-will powers. Rather, a spellcaster memorises, knows or has access to 0-level spells as normal but can only cast a limited number of such minor magics per day.
- At 1st-level, a spellcaster can use his 0-level spells a total of 3 + spellcasting stat’s modifier per day. Thus, a 1st-level wizard with an Intelligence of 16 could use his 0-level spells a total of 6 times per day.
- Spellcasters gain an extra use of their 0-level spells for every two level of the relevant spellcasting class they gain.
So what do you think? Am I worrying too much about verisimilitude and flavour? Am I just a grumpy old man? Do you have a house rule that handles 0-level spells in a different fashion? Let me know in the comments below!