There's one thing a D&D campaign can never get enough of: magic. More spells. Weirder spells. New ways to interact with the magical forces in our favorite fantasy worlds. With Deep Magic, Kobold Press has harnessed some big RPG names (including Ed Greenwood) to give us all the magic we could possibly want.
Deep Magic is a tome of magic spells and options for the Pathfinder RPG, an off-shoot of 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. The Kickstarter campaign has more than doubled its goal just days after launching. It's being edited and developed by Amanda Hamon (numerous Pathfinder design and editing credits) and designed by Wolfgang Baur (Kobold Press publisher, creator of the Midgard campaign setting) and Ben McFarland (Ars Magica, Pathfinder). And according to Baur, "the list of contributing authors is like a [Pathfinder publisher] Paizo freelancer/staffer who's who." This includes Ed Greenwood, creator of the Forgotten Realms.
The design and development team answered a range of questions on what it's like to invent new magic spells for such a venerable RPG system, and they even shared a soliloquy courtesy of Ed Greenwood on shieldmaidens and why they need magic to survive. With so much information, I didn't even have room for the preview spell they sent, so you can check that out at Robot Viking. It's a 1st level spell for druids, rangers and witches called Fire under the Tongue.
First, could you tell me what you've got planned for Deep Magic? What is this book of magic going to add to someone's Pathfinder campaign?
Wolfgang Baur: Deep Magic hugely expands the range of spells and options for every Pathfinder RPG spellcasting class, from the inquisitor (with 17 new spells and counting) to the classic sorcerer and wizard (literally hundreds of new spells.) It also offers great advice and new ways to run certain types of magic from the best Pathfinder freelancers on related topics like golems, familiars, incantations, and archetypes. And it presents entirely new schools and subschools of magic, like Ed Greenwood’s shieldmaiden magic.
Amanda Hamon: I'll also add that this book throws a ton of brand-new magic options into the game. For those who are looking for magic with a twist, there are incantations, glyphs, runes, and ink magic ciphers—without introducing a whole bunch of complicated new rules. The systems are surprisingly easy to learn and make your game feel refreshingly new.
What makes for a good spell?
Amanda: First of all, spells have to be useful. A spell might have the coolest visual effect ever, but that doesn’t matter if it requires a situation so specific that it's almost never used. Once your spell has a good raison d'etre, make sure that its mechanics are balanced with other, similar spells that already exist. Once those elements are nailed down, it's important for a spell to have a certain x-factor. Maybe it's a breathtaking visual effect, or an effect that's invaluable in combat, or something else that makes the party members say, "Wow, I'm glad you used that spell — I thought we were goners!"
Wolfgang: A good spell gets the player excited to use it, to be the hero of the moment. It could involve talking to stones about local threats, or it could involve animating a landslide or sinking an island. Mostly, though, good spells combine utility with a sense of wonder and empowerment. Flying is both very useful and an extremely cool trick. Calling down lightning? Oh, yeah!
You need to provide the player with a sense of world-changing possibilities. If a spell doesn’t make me feel like Tesla about to trigger a massive electrical coil, it’s just not quite there yet.
Can you tell me the story of designing a particular spell, from initial inspiration through development where the mechanics and balance were hammered out?
Amanda: I'll typically give a spell two readings: One to understand what the spell is supposed to do and to do a light copy edit, and again to pick through all the mechanics, to make sure all the parameters make sense, and to see what might need to be changed from a development perspective. Honoring the author's intent is the biggest thing I always keep in mind.
For example, there's a spell going into Deep Magic that's called bright errantry. Its intent is to allow a player to make three rolls with a +4 luck modifier for all actions taken during two consecutive rounds. But the way the initial draft read, it wasn't clear when those rounds should begin, what type of bonus the spell bestowed, and whether you could choose the most favorable result as opposed to simply the highest result. So, for that spell, it was just a matter of reworking the wording and the duration to make sure the spell worked as the author clearly intended. Closing loopholes and nailing down specifics — that's the bulk of it.
Ben McFarland: There really is an art to spell design, almost like a legal argument or debating. Precedent helps you make your case, but you need to know what's out there to draw from it. For my entry in the Lost Magic contest, necromancer's retort, I started with a concept of the chain of exploding corpses, a scene out of an old video game I loved, called Myth: The Fallen Lords. My spell destroys a chain of corporeal undead, causing them to explode in a spray of acidic, venomous pus.
With that concept in mind, I looked for spells that worked the same way for targeting. The first and closest one was death to undeath, which is pretty high level, but what I had in mind is a serious effect. Then I considered the kind of damage, the actual effect I wanted to implement, and what spells are similar to the final result, which brought me to chain lightning. With both of those as a baseline, I decided that 7th level was a good place to start, because I was combining two similar mechanics. Then I looked at the additional splash damage, the secondary effects, and I realized that was worth an additional level. This led me to the final decision to make it 8th level.It was a long walk to get there, but sometimes, with a complex spell effect, that's how it goes.
What are some areas of D&D/Pathfinder spell "design space" that you think are relatively unexplored?
Ben: There's a lot of room to look at ways of altering spells without using metamagic feats: things like alchemical components or consumable ritual fetishes. Feats can be considered a tax. Resources could be used to pay that tax. I also think the idea of magical instruction is really left untouched. Whether you address that in an archetype, or a feat, or another method is up to you, but far too often the D&D/Pathfinder wizard can't tell you about who taught them their magic.
What's your favorite story of someone using a spell in a creative or unexpected way in an adventure?
Ben: I always love the clever uses of illusion to outwit enemies, but sometimes it's the small, unexpected uses of otherwise utility spells that take the cake. Once, the party was facing off against a big bad vampire sorcerer surrounded by mobs of zombies. They were down to those ugly last rounds of combat, where the battle could tip toward victory or a Total Party Kill based on whether or not characters start folding. The vampire hit the rogue with a flaming sphere, setting him on fire and putting his hit points into the negative range.
The party cleric needed to heal him, but he also needed to redirect his spiritual weapon to end the undead sorcerer and make up for the lost attacks from the rogue. So the cleric used his move action to redirect the spiritual weapon, and he cast create water on the rogue, extinguishing the flames and giving another party member time to reach him with a cure serious wounds potion, putting him back in the fight.
Who knew create water had a range, or that it ever would see use outside of a logistical setting? I loved it.
Wolfgang: In a nautical adventure last year, the adventurers were in a ship being chased under full sail by demonic pirates, racing through shrieking winds. It was high adventure with fire arrows and magic missiles flying—right until the moment the wizard cast wall of force across the path of the bad guys’ ship.
In the contest of wooden ship versus immovable object—well, it was a complete disaster for the bad guys. The ship hull splintered, masts and sails snapped from the sudden jolt, demons and pirates drowned. The heroes picked through the wreckage, and the DM ground his teeth a little but played fair. I think he had to respect the perfect use of a defensive spell to demolish the opposition.
The right spell at the right time. That’s what we’re providing in Deep Magic with its hundreds of new spells and options. Hope your readers get as much of a kick out of spellbooks as we do!
Shieldmaiden Magic: A Spell Collection from Deep Magic
By Ed Greenwood
So call to mind the Briennes and Big Berthas of lore—the burly farm-lasses or fiery-tempered spitfires who aren’t content, or are unable thanks to the cruelties of fate, to cleave to hearth and home, and turn instead to battle.
Call them “shieldmaidens,” to give them a name that reminds us that some take up warfare to defend family, home, or other things they held dear.
Some make war because they love it, some because they must, but in either case to taste defeat is often to die—so shieldmaidens, fiercely or grimly, want to win.
And in lands where wizards walk and on many a day magic can rule a battlefield, a warrior desiring victory—or just to survive—may need spells of her own. So it follows that shieldmaidens have developed their own magic, and some of them may train other women warriors, and pass these spells down. Magics that transform shields or give a brief edge in combat, spells that make their casters real threats; as more than one veteran fighter has observed angrily, “Spells that are just gods-cursed unreasonable!”
Sometimes, it’s about being strong and swift and smart, guy or gal, so you triumph and live to smite the foe another day.
Like any great adventurer.
All images © 2013 Kobold Press.