Cantrips as Encounter Powers

Some time ago, I bought a copy of the Pathfinder Beginner Box (reviewed here, here, and here). I still think about running it as a complete (E5-style) low power game, perhaps with a d20 supplement such as The Lost City of Barakus (that might be a fun G+ campaign). The one thing that I have decided that I absolutely must change is how at-will magical powers work. The same is true of the recent D&D Next playtest materials. The chassis is something I would enjoy playing, but I really dislike limitless powers, from both style and gameplay standpoints.

First, I would just remove cantrips that solve resource problems (such as light). Second, all other cantrips would require a short rest to prepare. Five minutes each, so two cantrips could be prepared per turn (important for things like torch duration and wandering monster checks). Diegetically, cantrips would be exactly the same thing as other vancian spells; they would just require less work to prepare. In game terms, they would function like Fourth Edition encounter powers. Thus, your PFBB wizard would get one free force missile (or whatever it’s called; I can’t be bothered to look it up right now) per combat.

I readily admit that this is not meaning first design, but it is “meaning based” design. And yes, this decreases the power of the magic-using classes. I don’t see that as a bad thing. In essence, there would be two kinds of vancian spells: the kind that require deep concentration and a fresh mind to prepare, and the minor cantrips that can be prepared given a few minutes.

7 thoughts on “Cantrips as Encounter Powers

  1. Lasgunpacker

    I like this, although it makes me wonder about spells that fit somewhere in between… neither per day nor per encounter.

    Possibly this leads one to have “spell slots” where more complicated spells take up more memory slots, and smaller ones just use one.

    EG if you memorize “blah blah’s supra fireball” and it takes up 10 slots, it takes 10 turns to memorize, and your memory is locked up until you use it, or until you sleep. “phill’s lifting finger” on the other hand is a 1 slot spell that takes 1 turn to memorize, so you could relearn it every turn or so as needed, or replace it with some other similarly sized spell.

    1. Brendan

      Yeah, that sounds logical, but it might end up being rather complicated in practice. Like, even picking all the spells to prepare for a mid-level magic-user in traditional D&D can be a hassle.

      Someone on G+ pointed out that making people reprepare cantrips individually might even be too much detail, and that short rest = all cantrips might be the way to go. I think that would be reasonable too.

    1. Brendan

      I’m not really a fan of G+ either, really. I think it’s unfortunate that so much RPG discussion seems to be migrating there (mostly because blogs were my intro back into the hobby, and I would be sad to see them become less vibrant). G+ also fragments the comment stream on blog posts, as people will post a link to their blog post on G+, and then people will be commenting in two different places.

      It is, however, a pretty decent videoconferencing platform.

      I’ll certainly let you know if I plan on starting something up.

    2. LS

      Oh, people play via video conference. I hadn’t realized that. I’ll be sure to pick up a webcam.

      To be frank, I rather detest all sites of that ilk. Facebook is, in my most humble opinion, one of the worst things that has ever happened to the Internet. I’ve got nothing against new media. I love Twitter and Tumblr, even if I prefer the days when web forums and AIM reigned supreme. I just don’t like shitty new media.


      Really, I would love to play in such a game. I think I’ve only played in one game in the last 5 years where I wasn’t the GM.

  2. Lasgunpacker

    Yeah, you are right that it could become a hassle, but maybe some sort of mechanical aid could help that, like different sized spell cards.

    Preparing the whole stack of minor spells in one turn, but then burning all of them when you use one might be interesting.

    Then wizards are swiss army knives, and not just the nuke though.


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