At its most basic level, arcane magic comes from forbidden knowledge and is cast by wizards. Divine magic is bestowed from a higher power and channeled by clerics. Specific spell affects, like healing, have always been the purview of one type or the other, with very little exception. Divine magic tends to favor healing, buffing, and resisting or overcoming affects. Arcane magic on the other hand is all about bringing the pain and making things blow up. It is dazzling, powerful, and over the top, while divine magic is subtle — at least until it is time for a miracle!
The initial D&D Next 5/24 playtest material included two types of magic: arcane and divine, with hints of a third that will probably be psionic. These types of magic have been in the game since the beginning, and they have stayed true to their forms throughout, while each editions has attempted to clarify or expand the defining features of each kind of magic. Other types of magic, such as elemental, shadow, primal, and others have come along over the years, but none are as icoic as the original two sources of all magic, arcane and divine.
All spells are assumed to require verbal and somatic components; that is, they need to have spoken words and hand gestures. Tis raises the idea that certain spells cannot be cast at certain times, and the rules go on to state that when circumstances are poor, a character may need to make an ability check to successfully cast a spell. Failure results in a lost turn and no spell, tough the spell is retained in the spellcaster’s memory for a later attempt.
These rules are both very old school and very grounded in a grittier, more realistic feel of game. The thought that wizards should be rooting around in their pockets for a ball of bat guano and sulfur to cast a fireball is a part of the myths and legends which have always informed the game, and it is done very well in this iteration.
Some of the spell components are inspiring and imaginative, and the whole system feels very different than recent mechanics. Old school is I guess the best way to describe it, but I am not sure that is entirely accurate: putting the mystical, the unknown and fantastic, the danger and risk and destiny, into the magic. The magic section is not workman-like: it is inspiring, colorfully written, and leaves plenty of room for interpretation; in fact it reads more like an interpretation than hard unbreakable rules mechanics, and maybe that is the secret sauce that gives this section such praiseworthiness. Magic is mysterious and always open to interpretation. If they can maintain this style, then the magic system is sure to be one of the highlights of this edition, and in this early stage, magic encapsulates the classic style and feel and advances the game to the next level.
Spells generally take a turn to cast (plus whatever optional movement the caster takes) though there are a few instantaneous or reactive type spells, like Feather Fall, and some spells have a “ritual” aspect that takes longer to cast and has a gold piece cost but it doesn’t have to be memorized ahead of time. The spells also have new forms of range and radius. The cubist non-euclidean geometry of Fourth Edition is gone (or at least on hold until we see how they deal with traveling on a diagonal) and we are back to spell radius described in feet, as well as lines, cones, cylinders (from space) and clouds, which are like spheres but ignore cover.
Some spells are now classified as minor spells, which means arcane cantrips and divine orisons. I do not know why they use the term minor at all — just call them what they are. The magic missile has been given cantrip status, meaning wizards do not have to resort to throwing darts after the first encounter any more. This is good. Clerics get lance of faith, which is basically a magic missile which needs a roll to hit and does more damage. Cool, and clerics need something like this (the quintessential laser priestess) but it is too blunt, and should somehow do more than just damage. It also needs to keep the ethos of divine magic: subtle help for allies, perhaps by granting a save or giving temp HP to an ally, or something of that nature.
There are 31 spells in the book, and they take up the last five pages of the 31 page How to Play booklet. Most of these are classics from all or most of the previous editions, and it looks like in most cases, the spell attempts to stay true to its roots. Below is a brief summary of the spells and things I found notable about each one.
Alarm – I like how a silver bell is the component, and that the wizard can have the bell ring, or a mental alarm sound, and even allow a password to prevent the alarm from going off. A fine spell, that for 25 gold can be cast as a ritual and no paranoid party should be without.
Arc lightning — As awesome as ever, doing 4d6 to the initial and 2d6 to s second target, but I am appalled it is desribed as “a crimson arc of lightning” because my arch villain Zagnazerak the Lord of Time and Space is the only one who knows the secret of crimson lightning! Please fix.
Battle Psalm — This awesome second level divine spell which I beliee is new to this edition (though similar to bard and warlord powers of Fourth Edition) allows the cleric to sing the praises of his deity, and as long as he keeps singing, all his allies add his wisdom modifier to their damage. Sweet.
Burning Hands — As burning and handsy as ever. I like how it mentions it ignites all combustables in its cone of affect. We dms need to be reminded of the destructibility of the environment the characters inhabit. And it gives a hook to creative players.
Charm Person — Down from forever to one hour duration, my how this spell has lost its charms. Might as well cast Sleep and slit their throats.
Command — Many spells seem to have a cut-off of 10 hp or more allowing a save, while creatures under 10 are not, ad this is one of those spells. One word, one turn.
Comprehend Language — Normal but no cracking codes or revealing secret messages. Strangely, it is not offered as a ritual, though it is a perfect candidate for all non-linguist specialist mages.
Continual Light — awesomely the spell component of this as a 509 gold (or more) ruby, crushed.
Crusader’s Strike: Cleric, become more awesome with that mace. For an hour. I love when things last an hour, I don’t know why, maybe because it induces the party to keep going while the affects last.
Cure Light Wounds — 30 years and still rollin’ with the d8 (plus mods.) Some things are born perfect.
Death Ward – A minor (cantrip) new spell that either keeps corpses on ice, or gives necrotic resistance. Nice dual purpose, more like this please, even if it is fairly lame, that is until everyone in the party buffs up before a battle with the undead, then it becomes essential.
Detect Magic — Normal, but with a warning that it won’t detect magic designed to be concealed. Take note.
Divine Favor — A Nice little first level buff, reminds me of bless. Why isn’t this called bless?
Grease — The wizard cast Grease and hilarity ensued.
Healing Word — This is the anemic half-wit cousin to Cure light wounds. Bestowing a measly 1d6 (which will always be a 1 so don’t bother) without any modifiers, yet it allows the caster (obviously the fighty cleric type) to make a melee or ranged attack. Big whoop, forget the spell and just attack, I don’t need your 1 hp. Please fix (by adding ability bonus) or do something.
Hold Person — A nice powerful second level spell that can paralyze a creature under 40 hit points, or immobilize one above that threshold.
Light — Only one light spell going at a time.
Mage Hand — Its range has been increased, but it spells out that it can’t attack or use magic items. My friend who loves to make -5 attacks with his mage hand wielding long sword will be sorely disappointed. He actually hit once that way.
Magic Missile — Up to four missiles at higher level, and wizards can cast it every round all day long. It should spell out its affects better like, it will not damage or destroy inanimate objects, or we will see people trying to tie ropes to their magic missiles and shooting them across ravines if we are not careful.
Mirror Image — In a third edition game I once had a character playing a pseudo dragon who would cast this multiple times in a single encounter (like crazy amounts of times) and I still have nightmares about that. I think one time she had a congo line of at least forty versions of herself spread throughout the dungeon. Or perhaps all forty were in the same square, pre/post 3.5 rules change. Anyway, nightmare territory, I am gong to skip this spell, hope they fixed it, and hope even more that no one ever memorizes it in my group.
Radiant Lance — Magic Missile for clerics. ‘Bout time.
Ray of Frost — Cool cantrip that instead of doing crap, just immobilizes the target for a turn, which is a fine affect for a cantrip to have. Mmuch better than 1d2 damage, or causing the Shivering condition of past editions.
Searing Light – Holy crap this first level cleric damage does way more than any wizard spell of the same level. In fact the wizard spells are rather weak all across the board, while the cleric seems to be breaking new ground with massive damage spells. Something is off about this. Wizards blow things up, clerics kiss them and make them better.
Shield — Nromal Half cover, which I think is -2 to hit, or is it disadvantage?
Shield of Faith — Wierdly this can now be cast as a reaction (before determing if the roll hits the target) which used to be what Shield did, but no longer. Another case of the cleric stealing the wizard spell and making it better. What is going on here, I am seeing a trend. Is this why Monte left?
Shocking Grasp — I lke how you have advantage if the target is made of, or wearing metal armor.
Silence — A moment of silence for Silence please.
(pause, geez half the spells start with the letter ‘s’. I thought I was almost done like spells ago.)
Sleep — Pretty good rendition, casing drowsiness and slowness to all, but those under 10 hp, save or sleep for real.
Spiritual Hammer – Why memorize this when I can radiant lance each round? This spell is useless. Keep trying, it is iconic. Maybe 2d8, or 1d10 + modifiers or something, hell searing light does 4d6+, so why not?
Sunburst — I was all excited about the new spell “cylinder” yet none of them, like this perfect candidate, even use it. Lets tighten this up people. Ok last spell.Turn Undead — I’m sorry this is a spell, but it is also the only Channel Divinity power a cleric can use, so which is it? Please get this off the spell list and into the core description of the cleric WHERE IT BELONGS! (Otherwise it sounds pretty good.)
Thank you, I hope you have enjoyed this review of the preview of the next edition of D&D. Check out my other articles on the subject, they are around here somewhere.