3.x Kitbash: A Replacement for Schools of Magic 11

In playing 4e, one of the things that I miss about 3.x D&D is the feeling of a greater structure to magic. I would like 3.x magic more if it had more of a sense of mystery, but it’s better than the total lack of structure presented in, say, a 4e wizard. I understand that Essentials at least superficially does something about this, but “I understand Essentials does X” is a common refrain for me since I haven’t bought any of it yet (and given that I am not currently running a 4e game, I’m not likely to make another purchase soon). ShaggySpellsword has for a long time been my main source of information on all things Essentials D&D.  Anyway.
As a further digression, I would like to sit down and kitbash the appearance of a system into 4e by tweaking existing spells, but any players of such an effort would have to be at peace with hand-typed character sheets, as DDI would regard them as mutant commie traitors. (Don’t get me wrong, the original Character Builder saved vast amounts of time and energy. It also made kitbashing almost impossible, so we can be allies, but not friends.) Back to my original topic: 3.x structures of magic.
This is something I’ve messed with before, as displayed in my wiki. But everybody‘s done an elemental breakdown of magic, whether it’s air-earth-fire-water(-spirit/void), earth-fire-metal-water-wood, or whatever. So, not so interesting anymore. I was flailing for something that felt different, but also structured enough to stop me from flying into a rage at squishy magic systems. Oh, and plains-swamps-mountains-forests-islands… also been done. Ahem. Though I like Birthright enough that I would appreciate a system that really drove home the connection between wizards and the land, that’s not really where I’m going with this. I’m looking up, not down, and I have some ideas for constellations and planets.
My idea, which is still in a very rough form, is that each constellation might be a specific spell. The lines that “connect” the stars form its rune; different ways of drawing lines between the stars signify different spells. Sorcerers, therefore, imprint upon specific constellations, which they can change only with great difficulty. The planets in their courses pass through many of these constellations; wizards study these courses and derive power from them. They might focus on one planet, reducing their access to others (and possibly eliminating their access to an opposing planet, whatever that would come to mean). I haven’t yet worked out anything about the themes that connect the spells of each planet, but I’d be taking as much inspiration as I could from astrology and various esoteric traditions. Stealing from Dragonlance the idea of one or more moons and their phases influencing spells in some other way is also possible.
I like for magic to feel like a part of the game the players can explore, and will want to explore. I want to be able to introduce new things they haven’t seen before, but with some thought (or, in more obscure cases, research) can see how those things fit in with everything else. I want opponents to have governing themes with a bit more going on than “fire mage.”
Fire mages everywhere hate me for this, so I’ll explain. There’s nothing wrong with fire mages, until PCs know that they’re about to go fight a fire mage and bulk up on protection-from-fire effects. Then you have one of two situations, both of them not so hot. In one, the PCs’ protections work, and the fire mage is toothless – he really should have learned another trick. In the other, the fire mage has fire spells that ignore resistance to fire, in whole or in part, so either he’s doing some other flavor of damage (mixing, say, profane/necrotic damage with his fire damage) or he’s casting FIRE rather than fire, and the PCs’ efforts and resources to prepare were wasted. This situation generalizes to other kinds of preparations, but is at its worst with narrowly themed spellcasters or elemental creatures. Therefore, I’d have each planet draw on multiple concepts and be more than one-trick ponies.
Oh, another neat thing about this: spell scrolls look like star charts, and that’s awesome. Also, it gives a really strong reason for your setting to have a lot of circles of standing stones. If you’re a darkness-beyond-the-veil-of-stars kind of person (though personally, I’m generally not) you’re all set for something to start eating stars and destroying known spells.
If I ever get around to it, I’ll work out some planetary themes and spell lists, and post them here. This will be perpetually low priority, though, what with all of the other stuff I should be writing instead.

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11 thoughts on “3.x Kitbash: A Replacement for Schools of Magic

  • Kainenchen

    Unsurprisingly, I am so on board with this idea. It's not that hard to get ahold of charts that track transits, and at least get some basic idea of what the correspondances et al are IRL, depending if you want to use the actual heavens, or a made-up celestial chart. Either way, I think the general process that astrologers use is relatively easily gutted and skinned for the purpose you want.

  • samhaine

    "In olden times, the stars were right, and the mages of the elder world did wondrous things and left us amazing artifacts. But, now, the stars are wrong, and only the most stable of the constellations can be trusted to work with any predictability.

    Some say the old mages did this to their descendants, calling down starfalls in an ancient war to blast their foes and remove their treasured constellations. Others say that our loss is a natural consequence of the universe losing interest in our small world… and that, should the universe know us again, powerful new constellations would preceded unstoppable foes.

    I have grown up in a world where the stars are wrong, and I am at peace with it. I pray to live out my days and pass from this world before the stars are right once more, for I fear their alignment."

    That is to say, sounds cool 😀 .

  • samhaine

    Alright, maybe blogger won't eat this this time:

    "We are mages, the wise, practitioners of Sidereal Magic. Our power comes from the alignment of the stars, vast power resonating across the cosmos and made manifest by skill and word. It is a slow power, hard to learn, difficult to marshal, but versatile and lasting. We wrest our magics from long study of the skies themselves (or an innate sorcerous bond to the cosmos), forging a channel from heavens to earth.

  • samhaine

    They are clerics, the faithful, practitioners of Solar Magic. Their power comes from the very earth beneath our feet, the sun in the sky, and the moons above, near power brought to bear like an inferno. It is a fast power, easy to learn, dangerous to channel, and mighty but quick to expire. Anyone can learn their magics, but to do so is to attempt to channel a raging flood of power through a tiny mortal soul: most require the aid of a god, or so they claim, to mediate the flow of energy. Those that can channel these magics without such aid are possessed of a terrible might… for the brief span before they burn out completely."

  • Shieldhaven

    While I do imagine that constellations often overlap, I hadn't particularly thought of them as conflicting – my thinking here is that making this system the source of new restrictions is probably not a good way to get players to like something unfamiliar.

  • seaofstarsrpg

    You could set them up in a way that learning nearby constellations was easier or provided some additional small benefit. Which could lead to cool titles like "Mastery of the Northern Sky" or "Lord of the Zodiac".