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interrupting spells in 4e

January 14th, 2011 by paul

"He's a dark elf wizard and he's put some kind of hold on Derek!" Elistan cried. "Keep him from casting spells!"

-The Magic of Krynn (Dragonlance Tales, Volume 1)

Every D&D rule change comes with tradeoffs. In 4th edition, wizards were rebalanced. The advantage is that they are no longer overpowered compared to other classes. The disadvantage is that they are no longer overpowered compared to other classes.

I kind of miss the panic that set in when earlier-edition parties met a wizard, and all the maneuvering (by the party and the DM) to hit a wizard before he finishes his spell. However, honestly, 4th edition works perfectly well without it.

That's not a reason to tinker with what ain't broke, though. I'd like to try to return wizards to their place as fearsome super-artillery without overpowering them (much). Here's my plan.

4e wizards may cast attack spells normally, or they may cast them as a "rite" (sort of halfway between an attack spell and a ritual, and analagous to 3rd edition spells with a full-round casting time). Casting a spell as a rite ends your turn and has no immediate effect.

On your next turn, you may finish the rite as a standard action. You cast the spell normally, except that any hit by the spell is a guaranteed critical hit.

During your casting of the spell, you are saying magic words, performing ritual gestures, and doing other wizardy things. If your concentration is broken, you lose the spell. Non-damaging forced movement, being knocked prone, being grabbed, etc. forces an Endurance check of 5 + 1/2 the attacker's level to avoid breaking concentration. If damage is done to the wizard, the DC of the Endurance check is equal to the damage.

Is this option too underpowered (never used) or overpowered (always used)? It seems to me that it will be situational. Spending two turns to do slightly more than double damage starts out pretty balanced; if it's successfully used with a daily power, it's quite good indeed. However, if there is any chance of the rite being interrupted, it might be too risky to use it. Wizards might only use it when they're in a position where they think they can avoid attack for a turn.

Rites might be used by the DM more often than they are used by PC wizards. A wizard who has begun a rite becomes a fearsome threat and may cause an abrupt change in the PCs' tactics.

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10 Responses to “interrupting spells in 4e”

  1. katre says:

    Is Endurance a class skill for wizards? I can see a wizard school that focuses on casting Rites and trains the apprentices Endurance. Drop a bag of fire ants in their robes while casting, make them stand in cold mountain streams while casting, that kind of thing.

  2. baf says:

    Hm. I think I’d use a different term than “rite”. To me, rite connotes (a) religion and (b) something bigger than a ritual, something that the whole community is involved with. Like a sacrifice, or a bar mitzvah.

  3. paul paul says:

    Hmm, good point. Form, as in martial arts? Procedure, as in COBOL? Full-round action, as in 3e?

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  5. AlioTheFool says:

    I like the idea behind this, but off the top of my head I see an issue that would probably be significant. If you allow a Wizard to do this against a solo, that solo is going to get pounded. Red Dragon soup is on the menu tonight!

    Any balanced party is going to have a defender or two to grab the attention of the solo (through force via marks) so Raistlin can just stand back and unload dailies every couple of rounds and rip a castle-sized hole in the side of Ember. Beyond that, a Wizard could even do this by himself if he has access to a stunning condition.

    It’s a cool idea, and I’m behind you in premise. In practice I think it might be a bit too overpowered in 4E. Then again, Raistlin should be able to wipe the floor with everyone anyway.

  6. CC says:

    It’s a good idea. A couple of comments:

    * If it turns out to be too overpowered, you could back it off by just having it be an automatic hit. For non-At-Will powers that don’t refresh if you miss, this might be incentive enough to use it. Or, you could make all hits be criticals. Or you could make it an automatic hit, but you still roll for criticals with the threat range doubled or tripled. Etc. There are a lot of ways to back it off from being overpowered. Overpowered-ness should not deter anyone from trying this idea out.

    * Having a rite as an option for casting still doesn’t reflect the “stop him from casting spells!” thing. If you want to model that, you’d need to require that the wizard always uses it, or perhaps the wizard must specify when the power is taken. Note that removing choice in this fashion may also help with it being overpowered.

    * The proposed setup could be abused. You could start casting a rite around a corner, and then run into the battlefield and cast it on the next turn. It seems to me that you should incur an Endurance check during *voluntary* moves, also (perhaps scaled to how far you move, say, +4 per square or something). From a storytelling perspective, I like this, since a wizard has to stand there gesturing, and people are forced to either charge him or go scampering for cover. Because the wizard is probably not going to move much, running for cover would work as an alternate strategy; getting out of his line of sight would force him to chase after you for an angle, possibly ruining the spell.

    * You could make the concept of a rite a little more versatile, and a little more modular, by having the “rite” act like a pre-spell which affects the spell you cast on the next turn. So, for instance, you could have the “Rite of Deadliness” which turns all hits on your next spell into critical hits. You could have the “Rite of the Eagle”, which adds range to your spell. You could have the “Rite of Whispers”, which changes a line of sight requirement into audible range requirement, etc. You could even tie these to magic items, so that you can dole them out as play rewards.

    * I agree with baf that “rite” is not the correct word; it sounds religious, not arcane. How about “incantation”, “formula”, or simply “chant”?

  7. David says:

    I could see this getting a fair amount of use from dailys and maybe even from encounter powers. It seems like a fair way to amp up the wizard just a little bit, and appropriately, with a good counterbalance of it taking up an extra round, plus maybe being interrupted.

    I think that in order to prevent movement, the standard action on the second round should have to come before a move action.

  8. paul paul says:

    alio, cc, and david all have good points that help with balancing this correctly. My absolute favorite idea is cc’s proposal of “Rite of Deadliness”, etc. Turns the whole think into a kind of 3e metamagic system.

    I could see new “rites” (or “chants” or whatever) being given out as treasure, and I can also see each school of wizardry starting play knowing a different one. (School of necromancy: anyone slain by this spell rises next turn as an allied minion skeleton, etc).

  9. Rory Rory says:

    A couple things to keep in mind about your assumptions:

    1. The damage of a crit compared to a normal hit varies quite a bit. It definitely isn’t about double. At level 1 without a magic weapon the actual damage increase is fairly small for some spells, for example. If I crit with a 1d6 + ability mod spell, I am adding 2.5 damage to a spell that would do about 8.5 damage normally. On the flp side, if I have a high crit implement, such as one that gives d10s to damage, I could see the crit being quite significant.

    2. A Crit is an auto hit! This is awesome for the wizard who wants to hit the guy they normally have a 15% to hit and not as good for the guy they have a 75% chance to hit.

    3. Crits don’t do anything with regards to effects. Wizards have lots of abilities that give effects to targets either on a hit or no matter what. Thus, only having these go off every other round definitely makes this a bit less appealing.

    4. Feats: Reliable crates make those stupid feats that only happen on a crit a lot more appealing. I forget what they do, but some of them must be relevant and OK right?

    Other Thoughts:

    1. What about simplifying things and just giving the wizard a saving throw whenever they are jostled or damaged? If they fail the spell poofs.

    2. It might be worth making this one of the special abilities associated with an implement if you want to keep things balanced.

    3. Alternatively, let ALL classes do this! Some won’t since the odds of getting hit will go up considerably. For example, the fighter will usually want to avoid their power swing if they’ve got three enemies marked.

  10. j says:

    It’d be fun if the spell went off in the wizard’s face, if the endurance check fails by enough. Spells gone wrong are a fantasy trope we don’t see enough of in D&D.

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