Dungeon Master Assistance

A place to share thoughts and ideas about Dungeons and Dragons

Spell Casting Basics

The rules for using magic in Dungeons and Dragons v3.5 can be confusing to a new player. Below is my attempt to make the magic system rules easer to understand. Note that the rules for Metamagic and Counterspells are simplified in my D&D Lite house rules.

What spells can my character cast and how does he learn them?

Spells come in two types: arcane cast by bards, sorcerers, and wizards and divine cast by clerics, druids, paladins and rangers.

How does my character cast a spell?

You simply tell the DM which spell your character is atempting to cast. If your character meets all of the requirements for casting the spell and it does not fail for some reason, then he has sucessfully cast the spell.

Your character must have and be able to use all of the componunts the spell requires. These are listed in the spell discription. The various types of components are:

  • V (Verbal): A incantation spoken in a strong voice. (Must be able to speek)
  • S (Somatic): A movement of the hand. (Must have one hand free)
  • M (Material): A small physical substance or object that is annihilated by the spell. (Must have the material in your hand)
  • F (Focus): A prop of some sort. (Must have the item of focus in your hand)
  • DF (Divine Focus): A holy symbol (for a cleric or a paladin) or a sprig of mistletoe or some holly (for a druid or a ranger). (Must be presented boldly)
  • XP (XP Cost): Some powerful spells entail an experience point (XP) cost to the character. (Must have the XP to spend without loosing a level)

Unless a cost is given for a material or focus component, the cost is negligible. Assume the character has all components (of negligible cost) needed.

To cast a spell, the character must concentrate. If something interrupts the character’s concentration while the character is casting (such as taking damage from an attack), the character must make a Concentration check or lose the spell. The DC for the saving throw depends on what causes the interruption and the level of spell you are attempting.

How long does it take to cast a spell?

Few spells take more than 1 round to cast. Most only take the time of 1 standard action.

  • For 1 acton spells, you can also make a move action before or after casting the spell.
  • A spell that takes 1 full round to cast comes into effect just before the beginning of your turn in the round after you began casting the spell. You can not also move during this round other than taking a 5 foot step before, during or after casting the spell.

Does wearing armor effect spell casting?

  • Divine spell casters (clerics, druids, paladins and rangers) can wear any armor with no chance of the armor causing their spells to fail.
  • Arcane spell casters (bards, sorcerers, and wizards) have difficulty in casting while wearing armor. Bards can wear light armor without incurring any spell failure chance for their bard spells.

Spell Failure Check: A character who casts an arcane spell while wearing armor must usually make an arcane spell failure roll. The number in the Arcane Spell Failure Chance column on the Armor and Shields Table is the chance that the spell fails and is ruined. It is not necessary to make an armor check when casting a spell without a somatic (hand movement-based) component, such as Feather Fall.
Shields: If a character is wearing armor and using a shield, add the two numbers together to get a single arcane spell failure chance.

What is my spellcaster’s most important ability score?

The ability that governs spell casting ability depends on what type of spellcaster your character is: Intelligence for wizards; Wisdom for clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers; or Charisma for sorcerers and bards.

I call this his “Key” ability.

What is the maximum spell level my character can cast?

Your characters key ability score – 10 is the highest level spell your character is capable of casting.
Example: If your 5th level wizard has an Intelligence score of 12 the highest level spell he can cast is a 2nd level spell (12 – 10 = 2). So even though the Players Handbook says that a 5th level wizard can cast one 3rd level spell each day, your wizard isn’t intelligent enough to be able to cast any 3rd level or higher spells. He can, however, substitute a lower level spell.

Beginning at 4th level and every 4 levels after that you get the opportunity to increase one ability score by one point. Increasing your spellcasters key ability will increase the highest level spell he can cast. The highest level spells are 9th level which will require a key ability score of 19.

What is the Saving Throw?

Most harmful spells allow an affected creature to make a saving throw to avoid some or all of the effect. A saving throw against your spell has a DC of 10 + the level of the spell + your spellcaster’s key ability bonus

What is Spell Resistance?

Spell resistance is the extraordinary ability that some creatures have to avoid being affected by spells. Each spell includes an entry that indicates whether spell resistance applies to the spell. If your character’s spell is being resisted by a creature with spell resistance, the character must make a caster level check (1d20 + caster level) at least equal to the creature’s spell resistance rating for the spell to affect that creature.

What is Metamagic?

Metamagic is a way of changing the nature of a specific spell. Using metamagic, a spell caster can make spells last longer, make them reach farther, make them more difficult to resist, or even make them do more damage. The ability to manipulate metamagic is gained by acquiring metamagic feats.

What are Counterspells?

It is possible to cast any spell as a counterspell. By doing so, the character is using the spell’s energy to disrupt the casting of the same spell by another character. Counterspelling works even if one spell is divine and the other arcane.

How Counterspells Work: To use a counterspell, the character must select an opponent as the target of the counterspell. The character does this by choosing the ready action. In doing so, the character elects to wait to complete his or her action until the character’s opponent tries to cast a spell. (The character may still move at normal speed, since ready is a standard action.)

If the target of the character’s counterspell tries to cast a spell, the character makes a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + the spell’s level). This check is a free action. If the check succeeds, the character correctly identifies the opponent’s spell and can attempt to counter it. (If the check fails, the character can’t do either of these things.)

To complete the action, the character must cast the correct spell. As a general rule, a spell can only counter itself. If the character is able to cast the same spell and has it prepared (if the character prepares spells), the character casts it, altering it slightly to create a counterspell effect. If the target is within range, both spells automatically negate each other with no other results.

Specific Exceptions: Some spells specifically counter each other, especially when they have diametrically opposed effects.

Dispel Magic as a Counterspell: The character can use dispel magic to counterspell another spellcaster, and the character doesn’t need to identify the spell he or she is casting. However, dispel magic doesn’t always work as a counterspell.

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