Pathfinder Advice: Why I Hate At-Will 0-Level Spells and How I Fixed Them

I hate at-will 0-level spells with the blazing passion of a thousand fiery suns.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

My Solution

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!

 

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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87 thoughts on “Pathfinder Advice: Why I Hate At-Will 0-Level Spells and How I Fixed Them

  1. I think your solution is probably a fine one. It will keep the aspect of resource management around while still giving the character a goodly number of options. You could also accomplish the same kind of thing by changing what spells are available as unlimited 0-level spells. The whole issue is really about having options in combat, so remove those non-combat spells from the list. A guy who can cast Acid Splash once per round as often as he wants, probably isn’t a big deal.

    I, personally, think this is an issue with the whole Vancian magic that D&D (and derivatives) employ most often. I really don’t like the whole system.

    • You should consider this in light of what the other classes can do. Basically, a caster class is defined by its ability to cast spells, so once you can no longer do that you are useless. Unless you’re a cleric or magus or similar combo, you can’t really fight. You likely can’t pick locks or track enemies or similar either. A caster without spells is basically a magical expert with no way to actively help the group in a way that makes sense for what they are supposed to *be*.

  2. Another alternative would be to reduce the daily allotment of 0 Level spells to zero but allow spell casters to *swap out* any prepared spells with a 0 level spell (much the same way clerics can with cure spells).

    This ensures that the spell is always handy – but with real consequences for the caster if they choose to use them.

  3. I’m thinking that you’re just a grumpy old man 😉

    Sure PF (and 3e in general) is higher magic than many of us old men wistfully recall from the game on which we grew up. It’s a different game. From verisimilitude, I accept it and run with it. I think most still have their eyes in a prior edition/form and are using that judgement against them.

    A cleric memorizes endure elements and create food. Is this a horrible game destroying thing, or is it accepted? Why is create water any different for example? The resource used is in terms of which 0 levels are known/memorized rather than the Vancian one shot spell slot.

  4. For something like Light to maintain the same utility it had in 3.5, you’d have to increase the duration. Other than that, it seems a good way around the “I always see magic” problem I’ve run into with Pathfinder too.

  5. I think the rule is okay (though I would simplify it to read 2 + 1/2 caster level + spellcasting modifier). Unfortunately, I think some of the cantrips are okay – every character should be able to do something when resourced out, just at limited effectiveness. Ultimately, if your issue is with just a few effects, I’d limit or change those spells. Light is made unlimited mostly because tracking light sources just isn’t fun. Create Water and Purify Food and Drink and Dream Feast are unlimited because tracking rations isn’t fun.

    That said, I’m also for making per-day resources management important, but only because I feel adventures move too fast. All too often, if you look at the life of an adventure through a campaign, it’s entirely likely to go from 1st level at age 16, to 15th level at age 21 – that’s insane.

  6. Perhaps you are going too far…. perhaps the real problem with many of the 0’s is duration….. reduce their duration “concentration” and suddenly it becomes a whole new ballgame….. Players won’t want to loose light in a combat….

  7. These types of at-will castings should take a toll on the caster. These draw from a different sort of channel, and should be fatiguing. To mend your last broken silver pointed arrow should cost the caster a wave of fatigue, -1 to every stat for a round at least. Same with the others; want ‘Light?’ with lighting a torch, -1 all stats for a round. Make the magic-user a necessity, but make her have to question it’s use, if the situation is not an emergency. Magic is a sacrifice of power for power. For both clerics channeling from a deity or casters from latent magic sources, immediate, unprepared access requires a jolt from the caster. Period.

  8. If the reasons are not mechanical, but based on personal flavor or what you tend to enjoy as a plAYER, then I would posit that your house rule isn’t bad or unbalanced…but maybe your solution isn’t the more apt or (even more problematic) might be removing the joy and fun for players.

    Your workaround might get more of that old school flavor….but it isn’t really ADDING anything cool or meaningful. It also somewhat forces you to double check every adventure you run…as many writers are just going to assume that there will be an unlimited amount of 0th level spells floating around.

    It’s workable, but inelegant. Also one of your reasons was based on what you enjoyed as a player…well…you aren’t a player; you’re the DM. Changing rules in that manner, as long as your players feel the same way, can be great…..but there are other players who are going to feel cheated out of class features when their caster takes an arbitrary hit but none of the other character do….because the GM doesn’t like this caster ability. But only this one.

  9. I like it. I’m always (and the only one) concerned about such trivial matters in my group, though.

  10. I’ve played in a years-long 3.5e campaign and one PF adventure with characters at levels 5-7 and it’s exactly this issue that played a large part in turning me off. At-will powers (and over optimized BABs) made it feel like I was playing an unnamed MMORPG or… ROLL playing vs. roleplaying. It definitely took the focus off of the story and characters and I would argue that it actually exacerbated the resource management issue. Every room or encountered involved making sure the appropriate at-wills were “up”.

    My suggestion is to keep them unlimited but make them like minor rituals. Duration is limited to “concentration” and casting time is lengthened to something like one minute or more. This makes resource management something that the players have to be conscious of within the game and not just during character creation and leveling up. It becomes a real decision to spend time detecting magic and run the risk of wandering monsters or having the trap spring in the meantime.

    You could justify it by saying that there are no formulae or components; the increased casting time reflects reflects the extra personal effort and lack of reliance on ANY materials. Maybe then there are metamagic feats focusing on specific cantrips.

    Also, get rid of damage causing cantrips or nerf them to 1pt of damage. Play a fighter if you need to attack every round or encounter.

  11. I’d lean toward you being slightly more on the ‘grouchy old man’ side of things, although that’s my personal take. My groups always houseruled at-will 0-level spells, even in the 3.0 days, because they didn’t make that huge a difference. Our games were never focused on the minutiae of arrow management or environmental hazards, except when it became important. Our key was to focus on the notion that 0-level spells were just that: 0-level spells. They rarely exceed the utility of a 1st level spell, and while they can definitely take the place of tools in certain situations, every one of those is another option not selected.

    Were I looking to limit the impact of magic in a campaign for a grittier feel, I’d probably knock out spellcasting base classes and crib a feat-based system (like Midnight 2nd had), or haul out the Mage and Sorcerer prestige classes from D20 Modern and modify them to be in line with Pathfinder. In either case, magic becomes special because it requires significant amounts of time and resources devoted to it. Should players be willing to make that investment, they can reap the rewards of a better quality of life for their characters…at the cost of achievement in another field that might yield more tangible results.

    (I’m certain that there are other 3rd party Pathfinder resources that would do the job better than the two 3.0/3.5 era books I mentioned, but those were off the top of my head)

  12. I suppose I can understand. When I started DM Advanced D&D I had a similar bit of frustration. After all, the first things players sought in my world was an everburning torch, (or a coin with perm light) and a ring of sustenance. In many ways that felt like it took something out of the experience.

    As a player I loved the 0-lvl spell rules, because it meant that my wizard could be useful in cannon fodder fights with out using up important magic. I did feel that having Detect Magic as a 0-lvl was too much. Every time we defeated a enemy the other players would be prompting me to cast detect magic. It really felt like overuse.

    On the flip side, when I DM, I have always used a house rule we call “the 10 minute rule.” Any spell caster can cast a spell that is available to them (ie in the wizards spell book) the long way. Casting the long way involves all of the prep that a caster would do when preparing their spell in the morning as well as the actual casting that is normally done later. The catch is that it takes 10 min to cast a spell like that. It allowed my casters to take battle appropriate spells for spell slots and still be able to cast utility spells like alarm when needed.

    Further, I have always wanted to run a game with the spell casting as a skill options from Sword and Sorcery’s advanced player’s guide. (I did some modifications to the version I want to present to my players.) So basically I have moved in the other direction. (I love the crit and fail tables they presented for it too.)

    I don’t often push resource management in my games, but maybe I should think about it again. there is something important about making sure you have enough food and water on a long trip.

    • I’m a big fan of resource management–shockingly. I think it is an important part of the game. Of course, you could take it to extremes but to me tracking things like water, food and ammunition aren’t extremes. I like it when I overcome a problem because I have the right piece of kit or spell. It forces me to think more creatively, tactically and strategically about the game I’m playing.

  13. As far as Mending goes the 10 minute casting time to fix d4 damage means it isn’t going to fix all your arrows
    Create Water definitely does ease provisioning of course it also doesn’t last so if the cleric goes down…
    Detect magic takes time to narrow things down and a couple of times when the pcs get hit because of non-detection or similar goes a long way…
    Dancing light’s duration is short enough that it needs to be renewed in most combats, yes Light means you don’t need torches, until the cleric or wizard goes down, but really very few groups pay that much attention to light sources – and most adventurers can afford an ioun torch after an adventure or two

  14. If 0-level spells are bothering you, Pathfinder RPG’s magic system is probably not for you.

    • I love Pathfinder–and almost its entire magic system; it’s just at-will 0-level spells I have a problem with. I don’t have a problem with 0-level spells themselves, though; I’m fine with them. I just feel that even small amounts of magic should be wondrous; at-will spells somewhat erodes that wonder (at least for me).

  15. Sounds like you’re aiming for a slightly more generous version of the original 3.x rules on cantrips/orisons, and that’s fine if it’s what your campaign needs. Those spells you mentioned do reduce the worry about sufficient light, clean water, and item repair.

    If you implement this rule, be sure to give casters the option to use a higher-level slot to prepare an extra 0-level spell — if they select the same one twice, they’d get double the number of uses. Also consider adding a trait and/or feat that increases the number of castings allowed.

    One thing worth noting for spells like Detect Magic. Concentrating on a spell requires a standard action each round. Walking at your speed (or less) in a turn is the same pace you would use when walking casually, without hurry. This means someone can maintain concentration on a spell while exploring at a normal pace.

  16. Though your house-rule has merit, I don’t see the 0-level spells in such a light as to limit them, unless there is a player who is milking them for all their worth.

    IMO, the 0-level spells are useful only at lower levels, or when the caster suddenly needs something so “magically mundane” like water or light. To me, that is part of “magic” power, to have a character draw light from the darkness to follow the path, or draw water from a stone to solve a sphynx’ riddle.

    Or to see a map at night or not die of thirst, also good reasons for at-will spells.

    Mending pushes that limit, though, and might qualify as a 1st level spell.

    0-level spells should be unlimited to let players try and wring every last ounce of utility from them.

    ‘Cuz Magic!

  17. Mending will only fix things with the broken condition. When you hit (0r 50% of the time when you miss) ammunition is destroyed (or lost). So it does not do what you think it does. Light has it limits, only one light spell at one time is a big one that most people miss. Detect Magic I agree with and have often thought of making it a 1st level spell.

  18. Have you considered instead maybe utilizing a SPELL POINT system? I tweaked the one from the 3.5E D&D Unearthed Arcana and am currently playtesting it with my group. So far, as 50% of the party are spellcasters and of 10th lvl or better, the system really seems to be working and enjoyable by all. If you’d like to see what I have done you can check out the House Rule file at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/475290655937097/?ref=bookmarks

  19. I agree 100% and restrict them even more. You only get your stat modifier in # each day of the ones you have memorized. No swapping, no increasing. You still end up with too many detect magics and light spells but at least they can’t use them in every room.

  20. I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, at-will detect magic is annoying as a GM (though I’m slowly coming to terms with it!). On the other hand, my group’s sorcerer has made prestidigitation a part of his character. I would have to think long and hard before implementing something that changed that, though I do like your rule.

  21. I must admit to having the same concerns when i started on the Beta test (probably for the same reason having started on AD&D) but having played several campaigns since then its never really come up as an issue.

    Yes it does take out some of the old Resource management activities – but they always had level 1 spell solutions anyway which just penalised casters for supporting the party.
    Yes it does change the flavour of the game. But not in a game breaking way. in fact you can make this part of your game (Nomads getting restless – could it be their shaman has just been injured and their getting thirsty?)

    Personally i’d review a lot of the level 0 & Level 1 spells anyway for balance: for level 0 i’d reduce most ranges down to touch (Detect magic ? then stick your hand in the coffin… go on… i dare you…), and even weaken some of the lesser used level 1 spells to make them level 0. that also would increase the variety and force some tough decision making.

    The principle is fine IMHO, just a few tweaks here and there to improve the flavour.

  22. spellcasters are meant to be just that to be honest. they manipulate energies to solve problems. why penalize a mage for bringing light into the world constantly when a fighter can alsways swing a sword with no fatigue rules?
    i like high magic campaigns, even my steamworks DnD campaigns are high magic. it allows players to get involved. if a player decided not to carry a torch and use light spell that is them saying i have solved this using my character and not in the normal way, this is me beating the system.

    But…
    that sentence involved a lot of the words I amd MY, as in its my opinion. i have also played in campaigns that are low magic and had just as much fun, campaigns like ravenloft where the use of magic was rare. thats what made the difference.

    If the mage wants to leap in with detect magic and nullify the rogues use as a trap finder then the rogue may get a bit miffed, commence roleplaying the situation. if the mage wants to work with the rogue and help out with detecting traps awesome, commence roleplaying. Detect magic only shows the caster aura types and so on if they can see them, so yeah there is abjuration magic on the front of the chest but whether that is a trap or a preservation spell you have no idea. Also the auras of the magic items in the chest can blur the auras of others so the end answer is basically ‘ yes there are varying types of magic there but you cannot define which’ pass the ball back to the rogue…
    My personal opinion is that if its suits the campaign or the game world you as a DM are playing then do it, but not as a personal preference as a DM. Most DMs have had that smug player that dominates thier game and mushes monsters and story lines alike with thier easy solutions and cookie cutter characters, but at the end of a day they smile and take a lot away from the table.

    its the player abusing the system not an imbalance in the game.

    loveyoubye…

    • I guess that’s a problem–determining if the class feature (at-will 0-level spells) is imbalanced or if the players are abusing it. I had a player–for example–who cast guidance and resistance every minute at low-level. Every time someone makes a skill check out of combat he cast guidance. Mechanically, that’s no problem–a +1 isn’t going to break the bank–but it just seemed a tad cheesy to me.

      • very true, but if he roleplayed praying for guidance for said actions it would have been even better. unfortunately i find that people have stepped away from roleplay and just started number crunching, i am possibly the worst one for this.
        even had a rogue with a single level of sorcerer just for the cantrips. 🙁

  23. If zero level spells break your game that’s a sad day, Detect Magic is a cone, just put the trap around a corner use a mundane trigger plate. That or if you caster is always up front use a non magic trap. See how long that Wizard takes point LoL. Create water is great, but no food to go with it is even better.

  24. You could categorize 0-level spells into something like “combat” and “utility” and allow unlimited use of combat spells (ray of frost, etc.) while restricting the use of utility spells. This allows the GM resource control and gives the player something to do every round in combat.

  25. In a world where the PCs have unlimited cantrips, the NPCs do, as well. In addition, *everyone* knows it! “Oh, a spell-slinger, eh? Well, we can hire our own to cast Nondetection or Magic Aura or similar. Or we can build an antimagic area. Or we can use a lot of lead. Or we can target him with reflex-save effects or arrows. Or…” Basically, NPCs act just like PCs and will treat PCs just like PCs treat them.

    IMO

  26. I agree with most of it. Table top rpgs are NOT video games. I prefer the feel of a novel full of dangers and hurdles than the feel of “oh, when in situation A, just press X 3 times and you’re done”. The desire to transform tabletops into videogame-lookalikes just reduces the options of the players stealing the creativity afforded by them. BTW, if this had been broken to start with, then spellcasters in RPGs would have disappeared from the game entirely in the first 3 months back in 1974. RPGers complain of Vancian magic well because we love to complain about everything but still love the game.

  27. You kind of are being a grumpy old man. If it bothers you that much, make a spell-point system ( like spell cost = 1 + spell level squared, so 0 = 1, 1 = 2,
    2 = 5, 3 = 10, etc thru 9 = 82), so that those who have to put up with no infinite casting can at least save up their points on days when they don’t cast for when they need to. Going with that, you could easily make Arcane Casters gain a certain number of spell points daily, based on their main stat’s bonus, and have Divine Casters receive lump-amounts from their Deities…. So, resource management remains a big thing, it’s just a few more kinds of ammo to count up and rely on.

  28. I think you’re being a grumpy old man too! I’m happy with PC spellcasters having at-will magic available, particularly things like light, mage hand, prestidigitation, and a very basic attack cantrip (such as ray of frost) to help cut down on the 5 minute adventuring day. Having said that, I much prefer how 5e handles detect magic – it’s a full 1st level spell, can be cast as ritual (so takes 10 minutes, caster doesn’t need to have it prepared) and it requires concentration. Mending is also a bit too good as written.

  29. I agree with you Creighton, however that is exactly why I don’t play Pathfinder. Paizo is great people though and their enthusiasm for gaming is infectious.
    In this I would make light a first level spell and detect magic too. Although I might tie Detect Magic to an Arcana roll with a 10 minute cast time, once per day per item. Light might be a 0 level spell if there is a priest or light or some-such but otherwise you gotta pay resources for photons. Mending should be a first level spell, with a quiver of arrows roughly equal to one casting of the spell. (Arrows are tricky, did the magic repair the arrows spine? Is the fletching still spiraled?) Create water should be a second or third level spell and I would put out a first level spell, dowse water. Zero levels spells SHOULD have a range of touch. But that’s my take on it, YMMV.

  30. I agree with why you don’t like them for the most part, but maybe make Acid Splash and Ray of Frost and any other level-0/1d3 spells that I don’t know about unlimited so you really don’t run out of spells per day? That’s the part that always worried me about playing my Sorcerer in 3.5.

  31. I just started a bard character in a PF campaign. Since we have a cleric and an alchemist, my bard is the arcane “spellslinger” for the most part. We have only played a half dozen times, but I have cast detect magic three times total, when we found things that looked like they may be magical or cursed/evil. I have cast mending once, and I am the only character with a bow in the party. I don’t think the problem is with the 0-level spells, I think it is with your players. A lot of roll playing going on there and very little roleplaying. Seriously, what adventurer would toss up detect magic in EVERY room he walked into? Would Gandalf? Would Merlin? Your players have made your game into a computer RPG, and as the GM you’ve allowed it. Its like the thief that had to check for traps every single 10″ square in a corridor. Or someone checking for secret doors literally everywhere. If they are going to play stupidly then you need to run stupidly. They will get the hint pretty quick.Just take a big handful of dice and throw them without looking and say “no traps here” If they cast detect magic in every room start having some sort of magic backlash at the caster, in every room. And mending is simple. The arrow head is blunted from hitting a wall. Mending wont fix that. There are easy ways around most of these problems without altering the rules.

  32. We’ve been debating this very subject in our gaming group to some degree. I posted in reply the proposed solution that you have and that I kind of like. One of the other DM’s in the group replied to it in the manner below. Additional thoughts?

  33. For some reason it lost the additional notes.

    I would say even 3 + 1/2 level + stat per day is too much for Spells like purify food or mending. Some of those spells need to be returned to the 1st level list, or possibly higher…

    I have no problem with offensive spells, or even at will offensive cantrips, as I like combat to be overwith as fast as possible, as it should be the minority of any game session. For the game’s I want to run though, most utility Spells are significantly overpowered.

    Look at “Purify Food & Drink” for example. It is always measured in Cubic Feet per caster level. 1 cubic foot is only slightly less than a bushel. A bushel of apples contains ~125 apples, or roughly 45 pounds of food, enough to feed a small hamlet. Converting an entire bushel of rotten apples into fresh edible food is Miracle-level stuff, not the sort of thing a 1st-level caster should be able to do, and certainly not something he should be able to do multiple times per day…
    Purifying a whole bushel (or multiple bushels) of food should probably be a 2nd-level spell at least. It’s the kind of thing that is almost guaranteed to win the passing cleric some solid converts if the people are having a bad harvest year, or their potatoes are afflicted with a blight…

  34. Create water creates 2 gallons of water per caster level per casting, your argument there is pretty much moot without banning the spell outright as your average group won’t need more than one or two castings of it a day. You obviously don’t know how detect magic works, I suggest you actually read how the spell works, it’s far from oh I autosee magic. As for light, well there’s little difference between light and a few torches, meh. Finally, unless you are perpetually playing low level games, these issues are pretty much negated at even a moderately high level, who needs an oasis when I can just take 10 and get a 30 on survival. Oh look I have an everloaded weapon/extradimensional ammo storage/magic item that creates arrows, oh look a Ring of Sustenance costs 2,500gp. Really you are just giving the shaft to low level characters and ignoring what you can get even around level 5 or so, unless you are going to be a dick and deny your players from buying basic PHB magic items, in which case I’d say find new players because you DM like a jerk.

    • I sense you and I have radically different play styles! (which is cool).

      I fear, you wouldn’t enjoy playing at my table as I do indeed restrict magic item purchases. I hate the concept of magic item shops with the fiery passion of a thousand blazing suns.

      In any event, I hope you enjoy your games!

    • Wow…I think your type of gameplay must be extremely boring to be involved in. Imagine dismissing low level play as ‘beneath you’ and to play without anything other than “Oh look, another even MORE powerful monster to fight” zzzzzzzzz. Lets all just set up a load of ‘Ye Olde Magic Shoppe’s” so that the players can glide their way through the game….Take a hard look at yourself and your game style before you start having a go at someone lol.
      Glad you enjoy the hobby, but would avoid your games like the plague tbh

  35. On 5th edition, which is now my preferred system. I am thinking that cantrips should be done a number of times equal to Proficiency bonus plus stat bonus. This resets with a long or short rest.

    So in effect most first level casters will be able to cast around 5 cantrips until a long or short rest. Maybe 11 for a 20th level character. They will still have “basically unlimited” cantrips. Yet in a big combat, in a mega-dungeon they can and will run out. With limited ability to rest it could also mean a higher sense of drama.

    I guess my main issue is for archers. They run out of arrows, while a wizard will never run out of firebolt. The only advantage the 1d8 Long bow has is a max range of 600. Firebolt has a range of 120 and does 1d10 but increases to 2d10 at 5th level and again at 11th and 17th. The archer won’t ever get better. He is capped at 1d8 with if you choose the archery combat option for fighter or ranger giving +2 damage.

  36. This is not a problem that needs fixing in Pathfinder. Yes, Level 0 spells are more capable and their use is unlimited, but so is everything else in Pathfinder. Feats come more frequently, HP are higher, there fewer “dead levels”, no multiclassing XP penalty, etc. Everything has gotten a power up (though some things have been nerfed to fix obvious power issues with 3.5).

    But the key thing here is that the monsters have gotten power-ups, too, with CR set to match with these new player abilities. If you start stripping away these class features then you are lowering the party’s effective level. The assumption behind CR is that you have a balanced party with full HP and access to the wealth and abilities of their level. Mess with any of those, and you have to adjust the encounters, too, or you have made them more deadly.

    If you are willing to do that work, then fine. But by default Pathfinder is a high-magic fantasy, designed to give characters more specialization and more capability so that they can face off against more unusual opponents earlier on. If you don’t do the work you are hamstringing the PC’s.

  37. Another option would be to down-calculate the charts to 0 level, but allow a caster to replenish them with an hour of study/meditation. This makes them fairly trivial, and makes resource management important, while allowing casters to have useful 0 level spells and only cast them intermittently. Fluff-wise, casting spells causes a mental fatigue that prohibits concentration, but 0 level spells are so trivial and rote that with just a bit of rest you can re-prepare the rituals, regardless of how much magic you’ve already worked today.

  38. I usually master in the Forgotten Realms pre-spellplague setting, so I really don’t mind magic being “too common”, it kinda already was. I bypass the “detect magic” issue by putting nearly everything under a Magic Aura spell, I particulary love to see players in a dungeon where everything, or nothing, seem to be magical. They become paranoid as fuck. As for Light, carrying torches is quite annoying even for me, so you’re right but I still don’t mind.
    Anyway, I agree about Create Water and Mending. But, Create Water allows players to go further than anyone could do till now, like deep in the desert, and uncover great mysteries and live great adventures that weren’t possible as well till now… not for low-level players at least… and maybe for good reasons, mwahahah.
    Ok, ehr, I’ll quit being sadistic, for now.
    About Mending, yes annoying it’s annoying, but I was under the idea that Mending could only mend little damages, if your arrow is badly broken and there are some pieces missing, I don’t think Mending would do, since “all of the pieces of an object must be present for this spell to function” (good luck finding all the splinters you little lamer player).

  39. Lol, youre funny. i use something similar, but without the increase with caster level, and I can still never use all of my 7-10 per day each cantrips. In the magic item rules, anything that can be used 10 times a day is usually cheaper to just make use avtivated or continuous, so it stands to reason that a caster who can cast a spell 10 times a day just knows that spell and can cast it.

    On a side note, I also strongly dislike the Vancian magic system and personally prefer so ething more akin to Elder Scrolls, simply because it’s more Terran realistic. I would prefer a limited number of spells know that could always be cast, like Spell Mastery, with everything else having to be cast from a resource, but still using the caster’s magival energy. But cet la vi.

  40. I realize this is commenting on a somewhat closed topic, but I really wanted to speak directly to Detect Magic. When run properly, Detect Magic is a spell that most players would find FAR too headachey to spam.

    Bear in mind, the spell’s duration is Concentration. Meaning that a character has to concentrate to utilize its effects. This would be a standard action, which would mean the caster couldn’t take other standard actions without dropping the spell. This alone means that even in noncombat situations, a caster would need to forego any additional standard actions for the time that they wanted to spend detecting magic.

    Now, to the spell’s description:

    You detect magical auras. The amount of information revealed depends on how long you study a particular area or subject.

    1st Round: Presence or absence of magical auras. (Concentration check #1, and all you get is “yes, there’s magic.” Or “no, there isn’t.”)

    2nd Round: Number of different magical auras and the power of the most potent aura. (Concentration check #2, and the only information gleaned is how many auras you sense, and their potency.)

    3rd Round: The strength and location of each aura. If the items or creatures bearing the auras are in line of sight, you can make Knowledge (arcana) skill checks to determine the school of magic involved in each. (Make one check per aura: DC 15 + spell level, or 15 + 1/2 caster level for a nonspell effect.) If the aura emanates from a magic item, you can attempt to identify its properties (see Spellcraft).

    (Concentration check #3, and you can finally ATTEMPT to determine the magical school from which the spell is drawn…but still can’t identify the spell itself. For that you need Identify, I believe)

    Magical areas, multiple types of magic, or strong local magical emanations may distort or conceal weaker auras.

    Bearing in mind that auras (by definition–and I believe that’s the intent here.) are INVISIBLE. A dragon’s Aura of Fear isn’t some sort of visible thing…it’s an emotional/mental impact that has no visible component outside of the dragon’s actual appearance. A paladin’s aura of courage doesn’t give off light or the like, it’s just something that emanates from them and affects allies, much like a charismatic and courageous soldier can inspire fellow soldiers to better performance. I’ve seen a lot of people treat detect magic as if it ‘lights up’ an object that has magic on it, but there’s no indication of that here (in fact, the point that the object has to be within line of sight and it takes three rounds to even be able to identify a spell school seems to indicate that there’s no visible “glow.”) So a sorcerer who throws down Detect Magic has to spend 3 full rounds doing nothing but focusing on a single direction, gleaning information as they do so. That’s 24 seconds to scan each cardinal direction (which would not, given that it’s a cone-shaped emanation, allow for an entire room to be searched, unless the room is small enough that the cones overlap snugly), plus an additional 12 seconds in any direction where an aura is detected to ATTEMPT to identify the spell school. Assuming the Arcana check is made first try. This means the caster can’t make Perception checks, concentration checks on anything else, or anything similar while utilizing the spell, they’d have to turn at least 4 times to examine an entire room (at minimum), and they MUST use a standard action to concentrate, or the spell immediately ends.

    So no, a mage does not automatically invalidate magical traps, or any other gimmick a GM wants to utilize from a magical perspective, and the spell is time-intensive, even outside of combat. When played as written, and not just hand-waved, like many players and GMs I’ve encountered. I’m not judging those who do that — if that works for you, and you and your players have fun with it, great! I’m just saying that the spell is limited and restrictive enough as it was created that it’s not just a “spam this just for safety’s sake” kind of spell. This is why I don’t mind it being a level 0 spell.

    • I realized after typing ALL OF THAT, that concentration wouldn’t be a standard action outside of combat, but free. So not AS restricted, but still not a one-shot spam.

  41. Okay I’m late to this but meh I’ll comment. This is coming from someone who prefers martials to casters and thinks some spells can be OP and think meh nothing wrong with 0 level spells

    Light/Dancing Lights: If that’s the case what’s stopping players from just picking classes with dark vision? Believe it or not I’ve played with players who prefer races with such than the spell due to the fact it allows sneaking a bit more easier. And even then at least in the games I played, we’ve had torches as just in case if magic gets shut down. But either way if you want to limit a spell because it negates resource management then you might have to consider negating classes with dark vision because why should they use torches?

    Detect Magic: Okay it’s a cone and it requires 3 rounds and knowledge skills for you to be able to get any milage out of this. This might be good when you take out a big boss but if you’re in a more hostile area this might not be so good as it means you have to keep going. Also yeah it sounds as though it’s more an issue with players. When I started playing, I only remember one guy who spammed this spell but this was because the enviorment was known for its crazy magical properties and so it was used for security reasons. Other times when I gmed, players would only use it after combats to see if the opponents had any magical items on them and there was one time they used it to help detect a drider who was wielding a magical weapon and had just tried to use ghost sounds on them (which I think was a good strategy). As for detecting traps, well they still have to deactivated, right?

    Create Water: Water disappears after a day and it won’t solve your food problem. Also if you’re campaign’s more in an urban setting it becomes useless. If you want to make a dessert campaign have players face the problem of their cleric or druid being kidnapped by bandits or other dessert dwellers who see the spell as a valuable resource for them both personally or financially. Also I think someone said this can also be replicated with the survival skill (not only can they find water but food as well again something the spell doesn’t fix). Maybe you can house rule that but some might argue that’s a nerf to martials who are the most common to have the skill

    Mending: Only used this spell like once and it was to repair someone’s dress that was ripped during a fight. Maybe more people use this I do but personally I just never saw much use for this.

    There’s also the thing of they’re suppose to help keep a character useful. I think someone did point out that why should spell casters have to conserve their 0-level spells but a fighter won’t get fatigued for swinging a sword all day.

    And as said from what I see, yeah it’s the issue with players not the spells. If you want to fix this, make it clear to players that you want RP not spam spell characters.

    Also finally what about class abilities that give this same ability. The paladin can cast detect evil at will (which makes sense for the character). Does that mean you rewrite that? Personally I’m playing a paladin and haven’t used it yet mostly because IC wise my character has no reason to use it so far although I’ve heard players will use this Everytime they try to talk to someone. Again this goes to players not the ability.

    Conclusion: You’re idea isn’t bad and in some ways I get your POV but I don’t agree with the way especially if some of these spells can be replicated with spells and/or race abilities.

  42. If you take away the might a warrior has, ok deal. But resource based classes are always behind the warrior, you want to take away even more.

    Remove Speels that’s would sabotage the components of a game you and your players want to enjoy and let them keep the rest, tiny Ice damage is nothing compared to the warrior always smashing everything at full power. I hate the days of even 3.5 where all wizards/sorcerers/etc. had to grab an crossbow after the first half of the day, while the warrior still couldn’t care less.

  43. It depends on the kind of game you want to run. A low-magic or ‘magic is wondrous’ game is the perfect setting for implementing this kind of house rule. I usually run on the high fantasy end of the scale, usually in the Forgotten Realms or my own created world and so the 0-level spells being as they are isn’t an issue.

  44. I think I’ve come to this thread many years too late. But I love the system, and I think there are some arguments that have not been made.
    Light
    Only one can be active at a time. This is a real restriction. What are you losing, having to buy torches, which are like 3cp, and more importantly carrying them, for they weigh half a pound. Which can add up quickly. I as a dm, never ask my players to strike off a torch every hour and police weight rules. As an adult, I don’t have nearly as much time as I would like to dedicate to roleplaying. And neither do my players. We are not going to devote time to tracking cps and half pounds. We like to slay dragons, woo princesses and accumulate wealth and power, not keep painstaking track of it. We use “reasonable” weight rules. Only carry what’s reasonable considering how strong your character is.
    Detect Magic
    Magic traps DO NOT detect with detect magic. It’s part of their trappiness. Look them up in the gamemastering section of the CRB. Certainly, if the opposite were true, it would be SO overpowered. Removing half the need to have a trapper in the party (the other half being actually disarming them). That being cleared, what are you really losing? Your players sometimes missing out on what you say is the rare and woundrous magic in your campaing. What’s good about that??? If it’s loot, they can just gather it all and use a single Detect Magic at the end of the day. If there is some important plot element that would be disrupted by Detect Magic, it’s probably a crappy plot if it can be undone by a common cantrip, and then there’s Magic Aura, which can foil Detect Magic. Also, varying thicknesses of materials block Detect Magic.
    Mending
    Mending takes 10 MINUTES to cast, so it has 0 use in combat. Repairs a single point of damage to items as long as it still has AT LEAST 1 remaining hp and has some limitation I don’t specifically recall repairing magic items. What do you lose? The adventure no longer has to come to a halt because someone sundered the fighter’s sword. Your fighter will no longer avoid taking sunder because it amounts to destroying loot. I don’t miss that. If it’s an important plot element for something to be broken, then it is almost definitely outside the purview of mend to repair. And ARROWS!!!! …Sorry for the caps and exclamation marks, but this is a pet peeve of mine. I played an archer with 5 attacks/round in a campaign with NO LOOT. I had to make my own arrows every day. I was able to make 1.5 to 2 rounds worth of arrows a day. And then would have to wade into melee, completely contrary to my character concept, just because I didn’t have arrows. What does counting arrows (nonmagical arrows worth next to nothing) bring to the game?? Nothing. Your archer, and your whole party, will be far more entertained by imagining the archer killing 5 orcs per round, Legolas style, than counting how many arrows you have left.
    Create Water
    Here, I do sort of agree with you. In most campaigns, water will be easy to come by, and the effect of this cantrip will be 0. You will devote no game time to the characters casting it. Just as you would devote no time to the characters going to the town well and filling up their waterskins. But if you want to make survival an important part of your campaign, I find the system, as written, is stacked against you.
    In that case, Create Water is not your enemy. Survival, the skill, is. The checks to keep a party hydrated and fed are WAY too easy to make, and scale very slowly. I personally assume the difficulty outlined in the CRB is for rural agricultural, or urban settings, where hunting small game, collecting edible vegetables or getting water is not particularly challenging. In a desert setting, I raise the base difficulty depending on how harsh the environment is, and the scaling to one additional cared for individual for each 5 or even 10 points by which it is exceeded.
    As to Create Water, I rule that the reason why deserts are desertic is because the elemental plane of water is particularly distant or inaccessible in these locations, or maybe the elemental plane of fire is particularly close. Same difference. Ultimately the effect is that Create Water takes far more effort to cast, raising the level of the spell in proportion to how inhospitable the area is.

    • Super duper late to reply but entirely agree with everything you said. Casters at high level have so many utility spells at their disposal and can overcome so many obstacles. Does that mean you should nerf every single one of them, why even play casters at all then. Fly is such a quintessential skill and it happens to ruin a lot of encounters/puzzles/terrain difficulties/traps but you have a problem with the Light spell (which you can only have one of and have to recast every 10 minutes), I guess you (the op) just really LOVE lighting torches. If level 0 spells are such a problem then I believe the poster just lacks creativity in coming up with problems for the party to solve. Like everything you (the OP) has a problem with could be fixed with like 2000g. Are you going to just not give the party gold either? Stop penalizing your players because you’re not creative enough to come up with solutions or better puzzles, like half your job as a DM is taking account of your party and create appropriate encounters, not create encounters without a single thought to the composition of the party and then get mad when they have items/spells that can overcome them.

      • Also I assume you just blanket ban characters with dark vision because that ruins dark dungeons. Here’s a list of items that recreate, for cheap, the cantrips people tend to take. Better ban these too!

        Mage Hand: Hand of the Mage 900gp

        Mage Hand AND Prestidigitation: Apprentice’s Cheating Gloves 2200gp

        Light AND Detect Magic: Lantern of Auras 2000gp

        Arcane Mark: Ring of Arcane Signets 1000gp

        Create Water(2 gallons a day): Goblet of Quenching 180gp

        Purify Food and Drink(Liquid Only): Tengu Drinking Jug 1000gp

        Detect Poison: Tyrant’s Friend 3000gp

        • We only use the core book most of the time so I’m not sure what most of those items are! The only one I recognise is hand of the mage which, if I recall, is a mummified elf’s hand. I don’t recall anyone ever buying one of those!

      • In my games, magic item purchasing is not always a thing. I hate magic item shops as they don’t feel like D&D to me. I suspect you’ll disagree with me, but as long as you are enjoying your game it’s all good!

        • It does not sound like you’re playing dnd (neither Pwtu or other editions) then. I get that your job is to make players feel like they are heroes as a DM, but thats not how this article and your comments come off. Dnd can be played like a strictly gritty fantasy, but even then there are some concessions to to the higher fantasy world the systems inhabits that you can’t ignore.

          Do you ban creatures like Dragons and Beholders from games, and force your players to only play as humans since anything else (creature and player race) would be too magical? Do you not allow wands or magic item Creation in your Pathfinder games? Do you still use the Core rulebook only? To that end, are Base classes allowed and/or things like Psionics over more magical classes? And since you do preach Core only and Raw, have you ever thought about going back and fixing/changing what you thought those spells did back then in the article, since, as others gave said, none of those 0th spells work like that?

          This isn’t meant to sound like a straw man, either. I’ve done resource management games before. You do nerf at-will stuff or spells like goodberries. But we treat those games as a variant at our tables, not “how the game was meant to be played”.

          • I want to pick up on one of your points, Ty. I’m not saying “this is how the game was meant to be played”. That would be madness. I’m saying, this is how I like to play the game! I would absolutely not tell you how to run your game. You probably have a different play style to me. The great thing about gaming is that whatever your play style you can probably find other like minded people to enjoy it with.

        • Getting back to you on the comment you made:

          I appreciate your earnestness, at least. I apologize if I came off as a jerk, as well. It just seems like sometimes, some DMs (especially those who don’t wish to have ‘fun’ in their games) don’t understand the spirit of the game.

          So again, my apologies.

        • Things like this are why I tend to pick up Craft Wonderous Item nearly any time I play a Wizard. Now, I’ve spent a feat to explicitly make any magic item I want available to myself. (And if you try and say I can’t buy components to make magic items I’m capable of making, then what is gold for? Even if you say “buying a castle” or something, castles are made with magic altering the landscape using Wall of Stone or other spells – they even mention this explicitly in any stronghold-building guidebook.) In fact, I take Craft Rod reflexively, and if I’m the only dedicated caster in the party, I often take Craft Magic Arms and Armor (the usual split is Wizard gets Wonderous Item while Cleric gets the Arms and Armor), and if I’ve gone that far, I might as well take Craft Construct and give myself an army of magical poppets and graven images to make up for all the dedicated magic feats I missed out on. (Item crafting rules in the core rulebook even explicitly say I can use crafting feats to make items that don’t exist in the core rule book, so if you don’t recognize the resuable magic items Mia mentioned, they’re all perfectly valid RAW if you craft them yourself.)

          If you say I can’t make my own magic items because it’s downtime, I just won’t go into dungeons and refuse quests until I can finish them, and since I’m making magic gear that the rest of the party wants, they’re going to agree with me on this, so the players are going to force you to DM the rules properly, or there’s going to be a walk-out.

          Anything like incarnum or base 4e even lets you melt magic items down just to be able to make the exact magic items you want.

          Now yes, I could be more gracious and say that everyone can play the game the way they want, but this whole article is based upon the idea that the way most people enjoy the game needs you to “fix” them, so it’s not like you’re as gracious as you want to come off in the comments, either. I kind of have to ask to what end do you drag your feet and stubbornly refuse to play the game the way it is designed to be played? This feels a lot like people who insist on fumble tables even though it explicitly makes the game harder for martial classes who get worse as they are supposedly more skilled (more attacks means more fumbles, because skill doesn’t play into fumble tables), when the game already makes martial types weak relative to casters. Is there anything of actual gameplay balance that this does that makes the game more fun for players, or is this just complaining that the new DM plays the game differently than your old DM? Maybe I’m just a chaotic alignment, but “traditions” that exist just to be traditions need to be executed swiftly, because they only exist to make new players have less fun and drive them away from the game so that the most delusional grognards can circle-jerk to their own rose-tinted glasses as they pretend it didn’t ruin their own games and make them miserable in the past when their first DM did this, either.

          Refusing to even account for what magic changes about the world isn’t so much a failure of the rules as a failure of imagination to react to how a fantasy world IS A DIFFERENT WORLD, which kind of should be the whole point of playing a fantasy game. Again, don’t complain that the murder mystery is ruined because Speak With Dead “ruined the game”, think about how murderers would react to a world where Speak With Dead exists. (Forgetting the cleric has that spell is as stupid as forgetting the ranger can shoot arrows when you make a melee-only boss fight behind a gauntlet of traps.) Does having Create Water make a desert less daunting to travel across? Well, aside from food problems (again, Survival helps with that), then make a world that REACTS to the existence of magic by having desert caravans be more common unless there’s a fantastic reason they are not – such as lack of cover making deserts prime hunting grounds for giant flying beasts like blue dragons. Now, deserts aren’t a challenge because players have to do accounting problems to have enough water, it’s a challenge because they have to camouflage their caravan from the blue dragons that sweep the desert at night. You’ve taken a boring mundane problem, and turned it into an exciting fantasy problem that fits the world you’re in. This is the kind of thing that made Star Wars so enrapturing – fantastic worlds that feel lived-in because it feels like the ramifications of this technology or this magic or this alien ecosystem were thought through (even when they generally very much weren’t) and people react to aliens and monsters not with shock but like it’s an ordinary day in a fantastic realm of imagination. People SHOULD be reacting to the wizard lighting up their staff the same way people react to the fighter lighting his lantern, because that should be one of the first tells that you’re Not In Kansas Anymore. You aren’t making an engaging, entertaining world if you aren’t imagining how people react to lands where tameable gryphons mean gryphon riding has revolutionized communications (if long-distance magic communications didn’t already do it first) in an otherwise medieval world, nevermind the portals to alternate planes. You’re failing your players if you don’t have the fact that you can summon and ask LITERAL ANGELS all the philosophical questions you want or to have them root out corrupt church leaders change how the world views religion. This is why, in Discworld terms, it’s hard to be an atheist because the gods will come by and throw rocks through your windows. Clearly, the only RATIONAL way to view the world is to put aside silly superstitions about conservation of mass and energy because watch me flood the Underdark out with this decanter of endless water!

          The basic laws of physics in this world are different, so that should be a challenge to you and the players to stop thinking in terms of the middle ages and start thinking with portals. Sideways logic puzzles and magic physics are what make the game challenging, while a well-thought-out magic system and how it creates a “dungeonpunk” technology system is what makes it capture the imagination.

          Basically, if you want this kind of game that D&D never was, maybe you should look up other games that aren’t D&D? After all, if you’re completely tearing out much of the basic rules to change the tone and setting, why NOT just start from a completely different game that is a little more flexible and more conducive to rewriting some of the rules than post 3e’s notoriously hard-scripted rules set? There’s a whole host of games that let you play lower-magic fantasy without completely destroying class balance, and I think you might enjoy looking up something like one of the World of Darkness games meant to be played in historic times while playing as standard humans. If you’re set on older-school fantasy, there’s Runequest or plenty of OD&D-style games like Castles & Crusades. I mean, it’d be easier to rewrite Maid RPG for low fantasy than Pathfinder.

  45. What if you simply re-interpret the meaning of “at will” to mean something other than “unlimited”; like “not needing memorization” each day or “casting time”, but still only able to “power” the spell a certain number of times per day? So, a higher level sorcerer or wizard has, 3 “at will” 0 level spells. For example: Detect Magic, Light, and Mending. OK, they no longer need to memorize them each day, because they know so them well, and they no longer need full casting time or materials because they can power the spell themselves but only so many times per day.

  46. I think it’s a good solution, almost identical to the idea I had to fix the issue. The idea was to base cantrips around the spell-like abilities usually granted by domains and such. You won’t believe to what length the players would sometimes go casting them all over the place, especially at those low levels.

    Limiting the amount and warning the players of this before the campaign starts, however, yielded some very good results. I feel less bothered as a GM and the players have their focus on the story instead of trying to get a +1 skill check here, +1 to resistance there, detect magic over the entire world. Or, if they do, it is a situation they feel is very important, so there’s some resource management involved.

    I never give my players infinite resources in anything. In my opinion, it’s a bad practice, even if it’s minor like cantrips.

  47. If you’re playing PFRPG in Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance, your rules replacements are fine. But aren’t you kind of breaking Golarion if you arbitrarily decide that, all of a sudden, magic-users can’t cast Level 0 spells at-will anymore? I mean, what impact would it have on Golarion society if, Irori forbid, your Wizards had to depend on candles to stay up reading at all hours of the night? Or if battle clerics were limited to stabilizing three dying soldiers in a day without carrying around healing kits? Or if druids had to carry compasses to figure out which direction was north?
    I mean, most of the complaints you list are handled equally well by equipment in other settings, and PCs have never let a thing like carrying limits get around their ability to bring along an entire caravan’s worth of equipment.
    In Golarion, there’s a built-in reason they don’t have to. That’s pretty elegant, don’t you think?

  48. Sorry, I’m leaning on grumpy old man. Detect magic isn’t the wonder drug that you wrote it to be. Detecting magic is only the beginning. When our wizard detects magic, we don’t actually know if it’s a construct, a magic item, or a trap unless he succeeds at the relevant knowledge check. So, I don’t see it as necessarily any different from having the rogue check for traps in every room which is something you kind of have to do to avoid instant death.

    For create water; is “having water” really an interesting challenge? “You make your way through the desert, and as the sun shines overhead, you think ‘Did one of us say the phrase “i buy enough water for this journey” while we were in town?”

    It isn’t exactly solving a puzzle to “have basic rations”. Your party is literally made up of a group of people who go on adventures for a living. We can assume they know how much food/water they are going to need and have brought it, barring some external situation such as magical effect causing their food to rot, or being looted by bandits. In which case, having magical means by which they can restore their supplies memorized IS rewarding.

    Seriously which of these scenarios sounds more interesting:

    “You are walking through the desert. Did you remember to say “I buy 3 barrels of water, and a wagon?” an hour ago?” ‘Well, I said that we were going to prepare for the journey before setting out’ “But did you say the words “I buy 3 barrels of water” ‘Not those exact words’ “Then the party dies of dehydration.”

    vs

    “You are walking through the desert, and a sandstorm kicks up. You manage to find a cave to shelter in, but in the chaos you lose track of the wagon carrying your water. When the sandstorm dies down, you cannot see any trace of it. Without the water, you may die if you continue your journey, but it may take too long to find and dig up the wagon. What do you do?” ‘I know the Create Water spell.’ “Your containers were lost with the wagon. You can create water to sate your allies thirst in the moment, but won’t be able to store it.”

    You could then have challenges based around protecting your living source of water. Ambushes from venomous enemies that can incapacitate your water maker, or desert people seeing your water maker’s abilities may try to kidnap him/her would make for far more interesting storytelling opportunities than spreadsheets and graphs charting out how many cubic feet of water you need to travel x distance, and how much gold that is going to cost.

    As for mending? It’s a 10 minute per item spell. So, you can just rule that each arrow is an individual item and that say, your ranger breaking 6 Adamantine arrows in a fight will cost your team an hour of down time. You can then easily put a bit of time pressure to ensure the ranger keeps enough arrows to last him a full day of fighting. You can then also hit them with another little problem. If you need 8 hours rest to get your spells back, when do you have time to repair 30 arrows, at 10 minutes a pop before morning? That’s 5 hours.

    In conclusion, at-will spell casting doesn’t break the game. You just need to learn how to build your adventures with their existence in mind. If the only way you can think to challenge your party is by nerfing their abilities into oblivion, you might want to take some courses on improv and creative writing.

    • Thanks for the comment, Changer. Obviously, we have different styles of games–which is cool. For me, 0-levels spells don’t work because they change the way the game is played–morfing it away from its old-school roots–and also change some of the base assumptions of the world and how it operates. Luckily, I have a group of players who seem to agree and I’m more than comfortable modifying how these abilities work. But, as always, good luck with your game!

  49. What I want to know is why limit casters when they’re already a really limited type of class? Spells and magic are supposed to be more than mundane. A Fighter can swing a sword all day and be effective, so why must the caster be limited further? It actually takes more skill to play a full caster than it takes to play a martial class because you have to contend with preparing and/or learning a limited amount of spells every level (in the case of spontaneous casters) or every day (in the case of prepared casters).

    For many full casters, their role is support. Take the Cleric, for example. They’re full, prepared, and divine casters that are meant to aid the party. Creating food and water eliminates the need to track rations (as mentioned before), which shouldn’t be a focus in your game unless survival is a large aspect of the campaign you’re DMing. Most of the time, Survival as a skill just isn’t used even if there are no casters.

    Pathfinder already has a large amount of rules and limits, and not all of them make sense (like the Kineticist. I understand the mechanics of how the class works, but it doesn’t make sense from a developer point of view because there’s a lot of unnecessary rules that prevent many from wanting to play the class).

    If one of your players is spamming a 0-level spell, talk to them about it. Making unnecessary house rules for something that can be avoided by talking it out is, well… unnecessary.

  50. Create water has larger campaign implications that I think are largely ignored. If you have studied history, you might now access to water is an outsized requirement for geographic locations of early settlement.

    Any cleric in that community could waive this requirement. Sure at low levels she might be spending her whole day creating water, but a temple and a few acolytes could serve a community’s need for water much more easily.

    This, this one spell plauaibly could change the shape of civilization anywhere it is present.

  51. So, at first glance, i was appalled by the title, but as i read your fix, i said, i guess it could work. The group i play with have been playing so long, that we never make campaigns that begin below 4th level, so players may even forget they have cantrips, orisons and the like. We have players, that will simply summon Monster III, Lantern archons, alright, now cast your at will continual flame, for the next 6 rounds on these simple torches, bam, free continual light torches. But trying to limit cantrips? if you want to make it gritty, then you could do things like limit how many spellcasters play in the game, and remember, that except the sorcerer, everyone else only can select 4 cantrips to use in the day, if they want a different one, they have to wait till next day to get a different cantrip. remember, that for detect magic, put some lead on your traps, and you block that spell from helping. My DM said, its dumb that ammo that misses has a 50% of breaking…if it hits, it has a chance of breaking when you pull it out, if it misses, you have a 50% of not finding it. and Mending shouldn’t fix alchemical items, you need an alchemist and to fix it via crafting, and you can implement issues with that. time constraints. the question comes down to, how you want to challenge your players. if you want it to be gritty, try creating water near the lair of a black dragon, and let there be a thing that its corrupted the area and infused it that all water comes out corrupted…so now they have to also use another spell to fix it, so lets say they have create water and purify food and drink orisons memorized, they’ve devoted half their resources to fight the challenge of just having drinkable water. I can tell you about the many ways some of fellow dungeon masters and I have made stuff challenging, but remember from the point of view, 1st level wizard or sorcerer has 1 first level spell, maybe 2 or three if they are super smart, that first fight, they aren’t a wizard anymore, but just a smart person with a crossbow without the accuracy of the fighter. if 1d3 frost or acid breaks the game, you need to throw more encounters in the same day or find other challenges.

  52. While I can see the point in these three cases you are also denying every other case globally, many of which are far more situational. Even if someone did memorise these three, Arcanes dont have access to create water and in any case you need to deny yourself some of the other 0 level spells. Cantrips give a caster a way to remain relevant when his standard spells are depleted or dont apply at the time. Besides if you memorise one cantrip you cant use another selecting only a few precious choice spells at a time. Detect magic may not always be the best spell to have on hand and Create water becomes redundant after 1-2 castings but takes up a slot.
    Arcanes get spells like Jolt and Acid splash they can use at will but what is 1d3 damage versus the non-casters endless number of available attack actions that deal at least 1d4 to maybe 2d6 all day long, as you say, AT WILL. Casters have the worst to hit rolls in the game so having one or two 1d3 ranged elemental touch spells that can be resisted by literally any level of resistance doesn’t help much in the long run anyways but it helps a feeble damage at least do SOMETHING productive while the non-casters are leveling everything in sight.
    So detect magic helps low level parties against magical traps. Low level rogues cant find them on thier own anyways without a nat 20 until higher levels so it helps. Nothing stops a Detect magic from detecting magic except even so much as a silk cloth or a piece of paper. Text dictates they must be able to SEE the item to see the magic, it doesnt glow in a 5 foot radius. Then to look 1 90 degree area fully takes 3 rounds, so every room now slows the party down by 12 rounds while the rest of the party searches trying to reveal the trinkets that were out of sight. Rogues still need to find hidden compartments and secret doors. Youve lost nothing and made the party slow waay down. Best to gather all the loot and then scan it at once or risk the wrath of the party.

    Create water does help in travelling, but its not overpowered. It is a survival tool. The party still needs to forage for food so not having to find water as well can literally save lives but guarantees nothing. It doesnt help navigate, forage, hunt, aid in travelling terrain, nor deal with encounters in any way. Its just one small factor less to worry about.

    And yes, mending is one of the most powerful 0 level spells, i agree. But still you cave a pittance of gold in the long run but it frees your archers from having to carry a bundle of 500 arrows into a dungeon or face complete irrelevance. An archer without arrows is a poor, ill equipped melee looking to die quickly. It also specifically can repair magical and nonmagical damaged items. Did your fighter get sundered and now wears destroyed armor and shield? Mending gets him back in the action so you dont have to trek out of dungeon and back two weeks to a the nearest blacksmith.

    It looks like you are not fond of casters or lack experience with them. Non-casters get many many feats, talents, and tools at thier disposal 24 /7 where casters are only relevant so long as spells per day holds up. Cantrips also quickly become irrelevant in combat after just a few levels and become an out of combat thing but lowbies NEED them. Every class has a role. Not fully understanding pros and cons of casters doesn’t mean you have to nerf them when they start so comparitively weak. Mages can compete and maybe beat fighters after a while but 1st-4th level they need all the help they can get.

    • I’m sorry we disagree on this, Tiberous. That said, I hope you enjoy using the rules as written!

      Wizards are my favourite class, and I normally end up playing one when I get the chance. I suspect, we fundamentally disagree about the role of magic in the world. I think it should be rare and wondrous and not always available “on tap”. I think Pathfinder is set up to be slightly more magical/high fantasy style of game than perhaps I like. That’s cool, though, as tinkering with the system is one of the perks of a GM (assuming the players don’t storm out in protest at the changes!)

      Having read your post I have a question about detect magic. If detect magic is almost always available to pesky adventurers why does anyone ever bother creating a wildly expensive magic trap? Similarly, why don’t people who do create magic traps either coat them in lead or cast non detection on them? At least that way, they may actually work occasionally!

      In any event, thanks for the comment and good luck with your game!

  53. 100% agree. I change any game unbalancing ones (wasn’t too many, to Level 1 spells instead).
    Environmental dangers are overlooked by lazy GM’s and Player’s. Most of the greatest adventure films and stories have these cause the protagonists to have a hard time and some close shaves…..Magic is too handy to gloss over an important part of heroic adventures.

    • I agree with the reduction of at will spells. In our group we are are more into plausibility when we play, keeping it a little gritty and down to earth.
      “Yes the building is on fire, you sent in a fireball. I don’t care what book says!”
      Low level spamming, literally, would change the entire world the characters are in, and, if the world is not built for it….well it changes the tone. I think it is simply one more failing within the Vancian system.
      Personally I much prefer spell points. We have used Elements of Magic and Unearthed Arcana from 3.0/3.5. They create amazing npc’s and villains, especially if one has the time to build them properly. Really throws the players for a loop when the baddie has every spell he needs, or has a handful of unique spells, without the guilt of cheating!

      In our campaigns the usual DM is very good at catching overuse and deals with this (mostly) by additional skill checks. In fact he often has pc’s use spellcraft automatically when they come into contact with magic, instead of always casting detect magic.

      Sadly we dont play as much as we used to so the effort in changing the rules is not worth our time.
      I would throw out the vancian system and go spell points. Barring that I would have increasingly difficult spellcraft checks be used to cast 0-level spells after, say, 2+spellcasting stat. Still usable, but harder to do. This works well to sort out create water and mending. Easily fix major stuff( or save the party from dehydration), but no way are you fixing every arrow shotgun combat day(or saving an entire town from dehydration).
      What about reducing the effectiveness? How about reducing the amount of light given off by the cantrip down to candlelight? Enough to save you, or to read, or walk to home in the dark, but effectively useless without a secondary source in a dungeon exploration. Or at least useless when in combat or when an indepth searching is going on.

  54. I fully agree with you regarding cantrips/orisons/whatever. #nofreemagic. I grew up in the era of the 2 hour adventuring day for ANY type of caster, loved it for what it was, and firmly believe it should never have changed into what it is now. Back then, a cantrip was literally just a simple magic trick, like making a candle flame flicker. Now? A cantrip can deal 4d10+20 and push/pull them 40ft. Oh, and any character can pick this up with a feat/level dip. Whatever 5E is smoking, I’d like some, please.

    I really enjoy your fix to this, though I personally prefer my own (for 5e, anyway). Level 0 spells now have their own Spell Slots! Full casters get 1.5 their level 1 spells, Half casters get equal to their level 1 spells, and Warlocks get 2x their spell slots. No, you cannot spam Eldritch Blast all day, Mr. Warlock/Paladin, a class combo that only exists because of filthy munchkins gaming the system to “win the game” rather than Roleplay and contribute to the DM’s story he worked so hard on. Why do you get world-bending magic in addition to reliably outpacing the Fighter/Barbarian?

    Limited magic is the trade-off for having such spells. The fighter can action surge, sure, but when their out of that, they’re limited to 2d8+10 a round with no extra effects. Fighters getting consistently out-damaged by what’s supposed to be a limited spell caster? Hell no! That is NOT how the game should be played! Fighters/Barbarians are supposed to be the kings of damage output. The caster is supposed to be this squishy lil guy in the back deciding when and where to use this world-bending magic he possesses, NOT becoming a literal rail gun dusting mooks left and right ala DBZ. Why play any martial class when this is a thing?

    I realize I’ve been ranting on about in-combat stuff, and want to touch base on out of combat before shutting up and moving on.
    Light: hate it. No need for torches when magic dude can just *poof* Light for an hour! It does paint a large target on the PCs, though, so this one’s hit or miss.
    Mending: This is officially a level 1 spell, as it always should have been. Weapons and Armor break with use, and this spell just nullifies that issue if it’s infinite use.
    Create Water: This is Level 1 regardless of edition. Fun Fact, 5E actually bumped this up to a 1st level spell, so that’s at least one thing they got right.
    Create Food and Water/Goodberry: Yes, these are higher level, but they now have an expensive material component to discourage spam! 300gp/50gp diamond per cast. Manage your rations properly like any good adventurer and stop using magic to solve all your problems!
    Prestidigitation: This one really makes me sad. This combines all the original cantrips into one bland, mundane spell. Each of this spells effects was its own spell at one point, and it should never have changed. Easily fixed by requiring each version to be taken separately ^_^

    Before anyone chimes in with “wow, you’re a terrible DM,” or a False Equivalence fallacy like “durr, so do you make the bard start without vocal chords and the fighter start with broken arms,” screw off. You don’t play in my games, and I would never have you as a player. I firmly believe this is how the game should be played, and am using these changes in all the games I run. My players like it, so your opposing opinion is not needed.

    OP, you keep doing what you do. You’re playing the game the right way, and I commend you for it.

  55. Spells have spoken components. Trapped door? They hit it with Detect Magic and find the trap? Awesome: whatever’s on the other side of the door gets a surprise round. Every. Time. Until they figure it out.

    Usually stealth is an important part of the game. How often is a trap little more than bells ringing to alert the guard?

    Magic in public in classic AD&D is an offense that brings social problems. Letting people know you’re a mage is akin to letting them know you’re a leper, or telling your grandparents you studied comp sci in college; good luck living that shit down.

    *Make* it wonderous… and realize that wonderous things are usually hidden for a reason.

    They nuke everything in the dungeon and want to go back and pick up stuff? Sure! But that Talisman of Kill All Goblins is going to outshine the disintegration trap on the radar, without a sufficiently high roll to determine which is which.

    Also, you’re misreading ammunition and special arrow rules, but that’s another story. Spending X time casting Mending over and over (once for every piece of ammo?) is still going to cut into a lot of other activities, and make a lot of noise, and give a large magical signature (for enemies on patrol with Detect Magic up), and so on.

    And that’s another thing; *ALL ENEMY CASTERS HAVE CANTRIPS*. So use them. Glowing beacons for your party, spyglasses for the enemies who know better than to keep spells up all the time when they’re trying to be sneaky. The party shows up, looks like a shiny magical beacon… and the enemies walk around them, until they take a nap, and butcher them in their sleep.

    There’s *so much* you can do to offset these things, as a DM, and as a player, and so on. You’re looking *way* too closely at this and not seeing how it fits into the bigger picture. Spell Slots are *not* the only resource you have at your disposal, and infinite spells still carry downsides~

  56. I might be a bit late to the party here, but I can’t help but chime in on this one.

    First of all, run your campaign however you want. I want to make clear that I’m not trying to tell you that your fun is wrong; if the players at your table are enjoying the game with the rules you’ve presented, then you’re playing the game correctly and you should continue.

    That said, I think some of your assumptions about the purpose of cantrips is a bit off, and there are probably some things you’re overlooking in regards to their use. Ultimately, I feel like restricting the casting of cantrips is going way too far to solve a problem that might not exist once you better understand the spells and their use. I’ll explain.

    In the case of Detect Magic: yes, it can be used to find magical traps and items more easily. If you’re worried about the caster stealing the opportunity to find traps from the rogue, note in the spell description that it takes at least four rounds (one round to cast plus three rounds to focus on an area) to actually locate the position of anything with the spell, at which point the rogue has had ample time to search the room with perception checks and has even possibly already disarmed the trap.

    In a more general sense, you don’t need something as powerful as Nondetection to hide magic objects. The 1st level spell Magic Aura can be used to make magical items appear as non magical (or vice versa, if you want to throw in some false positives to keep the players on their toes). It has a duration of days per level and costs nothing to cast. Any wizard competent enough to set up a magical trap in the first place would know that they should be using this spell to prevent their handiwork from being identified by a cantrip. If a dungeon or other trapped area is inhabited, and they have any kind of arcane spellcaster, odds are they are making the rounds every week or so making sure all their traps are still hidden.

    Also keep in mind that just because the players have discovered a magical trap doesn’t mean they know what it does or can bypass it. Only rogues and other similar classes have the ability to actually disarm magical traps with a simple skill check. If there is no rogue, your players will have to resort to Dispel Magic, teleporting past the trap, finding another way around, or sending the fighter through and hoping for the best (and many magical traps reset once triggered). All of these methods expend resources that are not unlimited, so the trap has still done its job.

    Finally, don’t forget that even though it’s a cantrip, using Detect Magic means casting an actual, full-blown spell with verbal and somatic components that provokes an attack of opportunity. Doing it in a dungeon is normal, but it isn’t going to be stealthy (verbal components mean you must intone the spell in a loud, clear voice). Also, most average folks lack the Spellcraft skill and can’t tell the difference between Detect Magic and Fireball until the casting is over. That means using it (or any magic) in a social situation is going to put an end to negotiations, have people diving under tables for cover, or even attacking the caster as he drops his guard because they don’t feel like tossing that particular coin today.

    Mending: again, sure, this can be used to repair broken ammunition. But it takes 10 minutes to cast, and repairs 1d4 HP to a single object per casting. That means that if your players are trying to use this to restore all their fired ammunition, they are spending on average ten minutes per two arrows fired. Arrows made of special materials will take even longer, likely requiring multiple castings per arrow. Even at lower levels it’s not uncommon for a ranged specialist to fire 3-5 arrows per round. How does the rest of the party feel about waiting around for an hour or two after each fight while the cleric glues the ranger’s arrows back together one at a time?

    Moreover, why don’t they just buy more instead? Mundane ammunition is so cheap that most tables I’ve played at don’t require that you keep track of it after like level two. If you’re into meticulously tracking that sort of thing, fine, but there’s really no reason not to just buy a thousand arrows from town, or put a few ranks into Craft (Arrows) and make your own. Even arrows made from special materials like alchemical silver or cold iron are inexpensive enough that by the time you’re high enough level to expect to need them it’s worth carrying around a couple dozen of each. They’re not rare and precious items that require careful deliberation before the use of even a single one. Adamantine arrows ARE expensive, coming in at 60 gp per arrow, but they don’t break when fired. Unless you fire them off a cliff into lava or something you can probably recover them all after a fight.

    As for the Light spell, well, practically speaking, what’s the actual difference between a glowing staff and a torch anyway? As far as sources of light go, they accomplish exactly the same thing. There’s no reason not to use both, either – if a group of four or five people walk into a dark cave, they probably all want their own light source.

    Picture this scene: a group of adventurers descend the crumbling steps into the darkness of an ancient ruin. The barbarian lights a torch, enjoying the feel of the open flame. The fighter lights a lantern and hooks it to his belt, preferring to keep his hands free in case of trouble. The rogue hangs back in the shadows, not needing much light to see anyway. The wizard speaks an arcane word and taps his staff on the ground, causing a steady glow to emanate from the crystal embedded in the top.

    The wizard’s ability to cast light doesn’t detract from the other characters, nor does it prevent them from benefitting from their own abilities and equipment. Why get hung up on something that’s ultimately so trivial as what particular method the group uses to see?

    As for Create Water, I’ll grant you that it does basically eliminate the need to figure out where your group is getting its drinking water. The actual impact that has on the game is going to he determined largely by the setting and players. If, as you say, you’re running an adventure at sea or in a desert and you want meticulous resource management to be a thing (and if that’s the sort of thing you and your players enjoy) then you should probably restrict or eliminate the spell entirely. Maybe instead of summoning water from nothing, you flavor the spell so that it pulls fresh water from sources underground and if you’re in a desert there just isn’t enough in the area to make the spell work. That would also create a limit on how much it could be used elsewhere. A cleric might be able to use the spell enough to sustain a small group indefinitely, but couldn’t single handedly provide water to a town of hundreds – they’d just deplete the area.

    As I said, it really just depends on what you and your players are into. I think that Create Water is the only cantrip you listed with the potential to actually trivialize what would otherwise be a difficult situation, IF you and your players enjoy the resource management aspect of the game. The rest of them really just require a closer look at what they actually do, the problems that they “solve”, and whether those problems are things that would actually pose an issue in the first place.

  57. I’m super late to this party (and got here by a totally unrelated Google search), but I’m not sure you identify the real issues that at-will spells can have.

    First off, I find that if you want one of these much-lauded mythical “low-magic fantasy” games I often see the older grognards talk about, then Pathfinder just simply is the wrong version for you. The base setting of Golarion features such lovely places as a kingdom run entirely on zombie labor and another chunk of the map is best described as “Conan vs. the magic robots from space”, and it’s generally Spelljammer and Eberron levels of high magic fantasy. Pathfinder is a system that presumes you can roll into town with more cash than a small kingdom, spend it all on reagents you only get from an interdimensional magic market, and then craft them into items worth more than the gross domestic product of at least a duchy because, hey, you’ve got an open magic slot, and you might as well fill it.

    Second off, I always hated that second edition problem of a wizard having super limited spells and nothing to do at low levels because you have three spells per day, and you need them all for combat. The fact that Elminster, the supposed mightiest mage you could ever meet in all the Realms needed to stick a cantrip on his pipe just so it could light on his command because HE COULDN’T DO IT HIMSELF is kind of the perfect encapsulation of the idea.

    And that brings up a third point – that Pathfinder requires giving out magic items, and magic items that perform functions at least as powerful as cantrips with unlimited uses per day are affordable and commonly found in even small, out-of-the-way towns. The idea that Pathfinder is a game where normal people don’t see magic every day is something that only exists in the heads of a particular sort of grognard. The flat fact of the matter is that the player’s point of view is the only one that truly matters, and as far as they are concerned, outside of DELIBERATELY picking a no-magic party or campaign, they will NEVER be without ready sources of magic on tap on demand from player characters often built exclusively around magical abilities as well as dozens of magic items giving even non-magic fighters magic abilities whenever they want.

    So, OK, that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual impact of these spells…

    Light is not a problem in game mechanic terms. (In fact, often guides say this one is useless BECAUSE torches are cheap and forgettable.) This is purely a “problem” of your own personal taste. You need to go out of your way to use Light and Dancing Lights in creative ways to make this spell as good as a lantern. Yes, Light is as good as a torch, but lanterns are better than Light because they shed light further, and if you crack open 3.5e books, there are things like shields that hold the lantern for you so it doesn’t take a hand. You need to either have flammable gas in the game (for DMs), or else using the spell to project light away from the party by casting Light on an arrow or distracting enemies with Dancing Lights away from the party to make these spells compete with not-spells.

    How much water are people going to need in a day? Create Water being limited to 3 + Wis Mod + Level/2 uses per day is almost certain to be all a party needs even at level 1, so you’re not even solving the “problem”. Also, it doesn’t feed PCs… but then, the real killer of survival gameplay, Goodberry, still exists. (It’s at least “freshly picked” in PF instead of 5e’s infinite free food.) Oh, and most parties are going to want Survival skill ranks anyway for the tracking, so unless you explicitly make it a problem as a DM, most parties generally just ignore food needs. Even in a desert, it’s just a minor change to the DC of Survival checks to keep finding food and water even while on the move. (Also, you DO know that you travel through deserts at night when it’s actually cold, not hot, right?) Oh, and Purify Food and Drink also lets you restore rotten food or negates any poison, so feel free to take raw meat on campaign for weeks and just Purify it when ready to cook! You can also purify monster corpse and eat yourself some tasty gibbering mouther kebobs because the spell as written means literally anything organic becomes edible without problem. The REAL problem with Create Water is that it CREATES MASS. This is highly useful for dungeon crawling because it lets you solve a lot of puzzles or obviate traps the DM might throw your way based upon things like pressure plates or pitfalls. (10′ poles not strong enough to trip every pitfall? How about dumping skins full of water weighing 50 lbs?)

    Mending? Remember how I said most parties just ignore food needs? Yeah, the ONLY way you will get parties to track their arrow consumption is to sit over their shoulder and remind them for every single freakin’ arrow that they have to tick those off, because I have never had a player track arrows (even when I have their quiver counter as an always-visible bar on Roll20). Most players will just assume infinite arrows unless it’s explicitly a magic arrow (which Mending doesn’t help), and if you DO ride their ass for arrows and make them do something about it, the players will just have one guy take craft fletching and say they replenish during downtime, and if you make them actually roll for that, they’ll demand a new DM because you’re dragging the game down with “boring accounting crap” when they want to do something fun. The real use for Mending is repairing sundered shields or better yet, some of those ubiquitous construct armies like Poppets that constantly remind your players that you’re in a totally high fantasy where magic is common.

    Detect Magic – OK, this one is actually game-changing, but this is something like one of those “murder mystery” games where the DM is shocked -SHOCKED- that the first thing the cleric would do is cast the obvious Speak With Dead and ask the victim who killed them. (Any assassin worth the name already thought of this, and wore a mask/disguise so their identity is concealed. Now, instead of ending the mystery, the party has its first clue – what is the identity of the scorpion-masked killer?) This is a problem of a DM stubbornly refusing to adapt to the world the PCs live in, and just porting over plots from non-magical genres wholesale without thought. So basically… what’s the problem with trap-builders lining traps with lead to prevent easy spotting, again? That it shuts down player abilities… when you worry rogues are made less relevant by Detect Magic? Just make a mix of lead-lined traps and normal ones to keep both sides useful. Magic item caches get spotted by Detect Magic? Well, good. Again, the world only exists as far as the players are aware of it, so a secret door or horde of treasure the players never find might as well not exist. Those only make sense in West Marches-style games where another party could come back and solve the puzzle that another party couldn’t. You SHOULD make treasure and secret doors easy to spot, but just because a party detects a treasure doesn’t mean they can get to it. As a general rule, “hidden” treasures are boring and unfun, while treasures the party can see, but may not know how to get to or have to solve a puzzle to grab without a failsafe destroying the magic items create actual drama. Make it so the party can detect a treasure from the other side of a wall, so they know it’s there, but then have to puzzle out how to get to the treasure (maybe by a secret passage on another wall that leads to a riddle) because there’s no opening in the spot where they detect the treasure… and destroying the wall destroys the treasure.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment, James. I absolutely agree that low-magic style games are normally the preserve of grognards of a certain vintage. I very well might fall into that category! You also might be right that Pathfinder is not the ideal game system to chase this dream. Sadly for me in this instance, Pathfinder is the game system we have compromised on as a group. Some of us like more high-powered games while others hanker over returning to the good old days of 1st/2nd edition AD&D. Pathfinder is a good middle ground.

      I disagree, though, where you state that the players’ view is the only one that truly matters. Of course, players’ views are tremendously important, but the GM’s view–in my opinion–is more important. The GM is the one who spends hours between games designing the adventures and perhaps the world. They pour their creativity into the game; most players just turn up. That’s not to say a GM shouldn’t take players’ views into account, but they shouldn’t be ruled by them. If a GM wants to run a game in a certain way they should, but they should understand that players are free to leave at any time! If–for example–my house rules for 0-level spells feel so terrible to a player they ruin the game for them they shouldn’t play. That would be a sad turn of events, but such is life.

      Again, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Good luck with your game!

      • I’ve honestly never really seen this particular brand of argument before, but OK, let’s contend with it.

        Tabletop role-playing games are fundamentally collaborative improvisation games. Their greatest advantage is that they are NOT Turing equivalent. Meaning, they are not, like a computer program, the same experience that has the same results for the same inputs no matter which computer that program is run upon. While some games strive for Turing equivalence, like a sports game, differences in the field they play upon or the referees would mean that even if the players on two pairs of teams playing on different fields were magically exactly the same, they would have different games due to the different stadiums they played in. Trying to make the game as close to a Turing equivalent, video-game like game where the DM is just an impartial arbiter of the game world as it was already constructed with no room for improvisation is a major reason why 4e was so rigid and divisive to a large chunk of the gaming community. (And yes, you could work to “fix” 4e, but it’s so much more work to do that in 4e than just picking up other editions or other games that Pathfinder actually became a thing people know about, rather than being something you have to be really looking through the back of the Internet to find like Castles & Crusades.) A computer will just always be an easier way to play a Turing equivalent game that if you don’t lean into the nonequivalence, you lose the reason to bother scheduling an in-person game.

        Tabletop role-playing games are ruled by “the social contract” that everyone is there to mutually have a good time. Believe me, I’ve had plenty of time where I just imagine things or just create a character concept with a detailed backstory that never sees the light of day. And yes, that can be enjoyable, but it’s not the same as playing the game. The characters I never used in a game (or only used in a game that lasted a single introductory session before the GM flaked out) I can never really say I’ve played, and I, at least, tend to mourn the lack of chance to let those concepts truly breathe and experience a real challenge to their concept or my ability to role-play them rather than let them be simply concepts.

        So with that preparation out of the way, I have to say that while, of course, the GM needs to be enjoying the game, too, they’re not going to be having fun AS A GM if they’re not sharing their work with others. This is why, again, outside that West Marches style of game where multiple parties will explore the same space (and there is some need for there to be something closer to Turing Completeness so that another DM can run the same dungeon you created), a dungeon is basically never built until the players have set foot within it and seen its dimensions. By contrast to my character concepts as a player, as a GM, if I have a dungeon that never sees the light of day because the PCs never explored it, I at least have the capacity as a GM to play Schrodinger’s hallway and replace any part of the world the players haven’t explored yet with a dungeon concept I really want to put into play. In fact, I tend to work with small event-style mini-dungeons where I have little caves meant for one or maybe two encounters that I can just have players stumble over as random encounters while exploring the wilderness. (They come across it if the terrain is appropriate whenever I roll a 4 or 5 on the d20 while they march into a new hex.) Once the players have seen it, it’s marked on the map and it has to be consistent, of course, to ensure verisimilitude, but the game world does not exist until it has been shared with the players, and those players have seen and experienced it.

        This is why it’s always poor game design whenever PCs have to succeed at a roll in order for the story to advance. In my current (5e) game, one of the first major fights that the party had was with a small bandit camp surrounded by a wood pallisade and with five guard towers with lookouts. The party scouted the clearing, and had a high enough roll to spot a ditch in a blind spot. The ranger, rogue, and the wizard’s snake familiar (riding on the rogue) decided to sneak in while the wizard, paladin, and DMPC cleric stayed in the treeline near the gates for when the infiltrators would open the doors for them. Things went awry very quickly, however, when the ranger failed a DC 7 climb check (but succeeded at the stealth check not to alert the guard when he slid back into the mud). The rogue tossed back a rope and gave assistance, but even with advantage, the game basically crashed to a halt for about 20 minutes (even when I was trying to just advance the game, the players wanted to keep rolling), but the ranger kept getting 2s and 3s on Climb even with advantage (while somehow still always making a DC 13 stealth check). This was fortunately not something that had to stall the game (the plan went even more awry soon after when the rogue hesitated for a long time on trying to take down guards while the wizard went ahead and tried to assassinate the bandit leader with a shocking grasp transfered through the snake that missed but woke the bandit leader who raised the alarm – and was tough enough not to get killed by a shocking grasp even if it worked), because the fecal matter was primed to be projected into the ventilation machine as soon as any bandit noticed, and it quickly became a confused brawl with a split party. Nevertheless, there’s always a real damper on the fun of the game for everyone involved when you have players just waiting on getting good rolls so the story can advance, much less having a DM have to change the adventure so that the story can advance because they never thought that the players would roll a 1 on a check to follow tracks back to the beast’s lair, and the whole adventure depends upon the players finding it. (And I once had a game where someone rolled THIRTY-SEVEN consecutive natural 1s when they were off solo.)

        If anything really should be brought back about 1e, it’s the rules-light nature of the game granting a much wider latitude for the DM to be the storyteller without having to rely so much on dice. There’s this presumption in later D&D editions that because skills have numbers, they MUST be rolled, and players are just looking for chances to roll dice. Nothing annoys me more than “I cast perception at the room” [rolls perception] instead of describing actions in terms of role-play. (Or my new favorite, the rogue whose player only ever played video game D&D before expecting stealth to be a toggle that works out in the open and saying he “stealth sits” on a barge. [rolls stealth]) But this is a bit beside the point…

        Basically, the problem with, for example, traps that are just rolls to disable is that they’re boring if they are simply disabled. The players may never even know what the trap was going to do if it is never sprung, so any work put into making a clever trap was wasted. This is why, in movies, they always have a red shirt or minion of the villain go out and trip the trap and get killed (think Indiana Jones and how there’s always some extras that get murdered by the traps or melt when they drink from the wrong cup or look at the ghosts). In TVTropes terms, it’s an Unspoken Plan Guarantee. Meanwhile, a trap the players don’t disable are basically a punishment for hypothetically bad play, and a lethal trap can ruin someone’s run, so making traps arbitrarily too difficult and murdering all the players just so that you could flaunt the traps is going to lead to nobody having fun. “Pie in the face” traps that are very difficult to spot or disable, but which are more annoyance than threat (1d6 damage pits with a minor monsters like two giant centipedes at the bottom) tend to be the best compromise if you’re just going for making players properly paranoid (only meaningful in areas where rest is not available to recover healing), although you do need to have party-splitting portcullises and more easily disabled but lethal traps that keep players feeling they’re not just totally at the whims of the dice when you show them the traps they did overcome cleanly. That said, whole-room traps that have moving parts players can disable WITHOUT ROLLING really make the best traps, since there’s nothing more annoying that making success or TPK dependent upon the whims of the dice.

        While this is a likely too-long-winded way of saying it, I build my dungeons around my players and what I have come to expect of my players. (The polearm master paladin in particular is strong enough I have to up the HP on most monsters and have one dedicated big monster just for soaking up her charge while the others exist just to threaten the whole rest of the party.) I also tend to be vague about my overarching plans and only actually draw out the next dungeon when I expect I might use it in the next one or two sessions just by my own procrastinating nature, but it allows me to build a world specifically for my players to enjoy.

        Doing this, I can still try to push my own philosophy for RPGs onto players (especially the rogue player who keeps trying to act like it’s a video game) by having players have to actually sit down and perform the actions of scouting out a place for setting up camp, collecting firewood, and cooking/consuming rations, for example (then having them get spotted by flying monsters because they wanted to camp in the ruin out in the open instead of the forest copse I pointed out), but I’m always keeping the audience in mind when I share the story of our collective fantasy world.

        As much as I can be annoyed by the way that the rogue player thinks of the game world, however, I understand it’s a persuasion, not an ultimatum. I want to share this game and what it can do to open up creative expression with others, and saying that my game is not for anyone who doesn’t play the way I want to play is just gatekeeping.

        Again, I’ve played games I enjoy with those certain types of grognards, but one of the things I always find is that they are more driven by some rose-tinted ideal than actually enjoying the games they play. A friend of mine insisted on fumbles and justified it by describing how he used to play, and if we didn’t play with fumbles, we couldn’t have critical hits. I said that’s honestly better, since randomness of any sort favors team monster and it’s silly how random the game is to start with. Likewise, how he lost his first paladin’s paladining powers because he struck a thief in the back who was running away with a treasure he was sworn to protect. I told him that his old DM was wrong because he was more interested in satisfying his own sense of how the rules should be run than making a game that everyone enjoyed, and the paladin rules were changed for good reason. (We didn’t agree on that one.)

        I said this in a different reply, but I feel like you’re actually crippling your own ability to imagine a fantasy world by insisting on a world that doesn’t take the changes ANY magic would have on a world into account. Rather than fight it, you really should try embracing it. Again, Create Water can be used to create mass, which means it’s a tool for solving physics puzzles if the DM runs it correctly. (To use video games as an example, just imagine all those games that have you push crates onto scales or see-saws to reach higher ledges. Create water lets you place empty barrels and one of those, and expect the players to fill the empty barrels with water so that they make the weights they need to weigh something down. As an infinite-use cantrip, you know that it’s always going to available if memorized without having been exhausted in a fight, and cannot fail like a skill roll that stops an adventure cold.)

        As a Dwarf Fortress player, one of the things that players always race each other to do with any new mechanic is find a way to weaponize it or use it in the creation of logic circuits. Find a mushroom in the depths that is always 0 Celcius? Make a barrel from it so your beer is always ice-cold! Now, let’s find a way to insulate it so that we can have a dwarven deep fridge. Encouraging this kind of thought about the game world is vastly more engaging for the players, because as soon as they start realizing these sorts of logic puzzles are in the world, they start trying to overcome challenges with something other than skill rolls and DPS.

        Honestly, my suggestion to you would be to find a game in a different genre where you aren’t so attached to the way you used to play that game. Play Mechwarrior or Hunter: The Vigil or maybe Stars Without Number. In a different genre, you might allow yourself to be free of the conviction that only medieval stasis is allowed and get over your phobia of creative world building.

  58. Also, I might as well follow up with the actually problematic cantrips:

    Guidance, Resistance, and Virtue – I can’t believe you’d complain about constant-use spells and not mention the most obvious three. Guidance in particular is useful for literally any skill check you don’t already have a better competence bonus for. (Granted, +2 competence bonuses are available from masterwork tools, so it’s not hard to make obsolete, but there are some skills for which masterwork tools aren’t obvious or universally applicable, like diplomacy. Note that Diplomacy and Intimidate in particular have a special cantrip that’s just a specific +2 for them.) Free and lasting a minute means that the cleric can tap everyone on the shoulder to constantly renew a floating +1 to basically any roll ever. Virtue is the most sneered at, but it’s the one with the longest shelf-life unless you have plenty of temporary HP abilities to spare. One extra HP is just one extra HP, but it’s one HP you’d have for every battle if you didn’t spam it.

    Ghost Sound – not quite as good as 5e’s Minor Illusion, but you can get up to plenty of monster-distracting hijinks with Ghost Sound and Dancing Lights in combination. Not quite as good as Ventriloquism, but if you just need to make a guard investigate a weird sound and light down that dark alley, it’s all you need, and it’s in a spell level where you rarely have anything better to use.

    Sift – MUCH more useful in dungeon crawling than Detect Magic most of the time. Lets the bard search for traps from a vantage point 30 feet away, albeit at a +5 DC. Nothing says they can’t Take 10 on this, either, so if their Perception is good enough (spells like Tears to Wine and having eyes of the owl help), this is a great way to find all the symbols and patterns and other magic traps from around a corner before you can actually activate them.

    Prestidigitation – While not as overpowered as 5e’s version, basically the whole point of this spell is to make a mockery of the notion that Pathfinder is low-magic. It’s essentially written to have next-to-no mechanical effect, but to have tons of flavor effect. Players eating cold gruel from last night they couldn’t even heat up because a fire would give their position away? It’s now warm and tastes like beef stew. Players covered in filth from being shoved into a sewer? Instant dry-cleaning! (This is actually listed as a common way to get laundry done in the goods and services section, so magic instant dry-cleaning is what any individual with enough money to pay the apprentice wizard’s fee will get.) My players actively look for chances to make Prestidigitation useful because they love this spell and how it reminds them they’re not in a dreary low-magic world, but that they’re WIZARDS in a power fantasy world.

  59. There’s this one little passage in almost every core rulebook to almost every game I have or have read. And, since we are talking about Pathfinder, that passage is on page 9 of the core rulebook.

    It states that the rules presented may not work for everyone’s playstyle and in that case, feel free to change them until they do work for you because the ultimate purpose of the game is to have fun.

    Most of you must have missed that section. Figueres. Everyone always just jumps straight to the character creation or combat rules, don’t they.

  60. I’m going with Grumpy Old Man, no offense.

    Running out of spells is why I never played classes I loved, like wizards and sorcerers. If I’m a magic user, I should be using magic, not trying to fight in melee. Also I can answer most of your issues up there with simple in game mechanics. Light spell? Darkness spell. Create food/water? Mending? Make items they deal with magical, it doesn’t work on that, so they keep their resources, and keep breaking the good stuff. Got someone abusing Detect magic? Here’s an enchanted dungeon, have fun being blind for the rest of the day by looking at it. Also is create water really that bad? Sure it nerfs deserts but how many campaign adventures are taking place in a desert? Goodberry is worse than that. At least create water doesn’t heal you.

  61. You should consider this in light of what the other classes can do. Basically, a caster class is defined by its ability to cast spells, so once you can no longer do that you are useless. Unless you’re a cleric or magus or similar combo, you can’t really fight. You likely can’t pick locks or track enemies or similar either. A caster without spells is basically a magical expert with no way to actively help the group in a way that makes sense for what they are supposed to *be*.

    (Apologies, I meant to reply here.)