Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cantrips Revisited

Rob at Bat in the Attic posted today about the reaction to Unearthed Arcana when it first came out by mining old Usenet posts about it.

Leaving aside the rest of the book, the idea of cantrips always seemed a little silly to me, even though I can see some value in them. But their fun and logic is quickly cut off at the knees by virtue of the fact that they're usually abandoned at first level. To quote from page 45 of Unearthed Arcana:

"Most cantrips are simple little spells of no great effect, so when the individual becomes a 1st-level magic user, the knowledge and information pertaining to these small magics are discarded in favor of the more powerful spells then available. However, a magic-user may opt to retain up to four cantrips in place of one 1st-level spell. This assumes that the magic-user has, in fact, retained his or her book of cantrips - a tome as large as a good-sized book of higher-level spells."

I see some fun to be had in re-introducing cantrips with a little modification. First, I don't see how or why these small magics are discarded - is it merely because of the large book that needs to be lugged around? I'd house rule this and say that cantrips don't require a spell book at all - they're essentially like the little recipes and tricks great chefs learn early on, and by first level are something that any professional would know how to do without having to resort to a magical tome for a refresher.

In addition, I'd be fine with granting four of these to a first level magic-user in addition (rather than the option of "instead of" listed in UA) to their first level spell(s). Thereafter, I'd allow another cantrip to be learned per level of the magic-user, or something similar, and have them each be able to be cast once per day (heretical!). I mean, these are really mostly useless items to have in one's repertoire as an adventurer anyway (not that I personally wouldn't love to have the Exterminate cantrip handy on a camping trip), and I'm having difficulty at the moment even thinking of a decent role playing opportunity for them, but I'm sure they're there, right?

I picture archetypal mages like Gandalf and have a hard time believing that they couldn't cast "Salt" or "Stitch" cantrips. Besides, it might be fun to come up with some more of these little spell-lings.


Timeshadows said...

Yes. That's great.
--Thanks. :)

Jayson said...

Agreed. I like the likening to tricks of the trade. I could see some elitist colleges having a social reason for disallowing cantrips, or at least, looking down on established mages who still use "apprentice tricks".

David Macauley said...

B/X Blackrazor put up something similar on his blog, which I'm thinking of using:

7. Minor Magic: USE WITH CAUTION. Some campaigns may decide that while it is all well and good to say spells come from mnemonic words of power, only humans with "the gift" have the capacity to learn, memorize, and use those words of power. These gifted individuals are discovered and apprenticed based on their ability, from a young age, to demonstrate certain minor feats of magic, not unlike AD&D cantrips.

A feat of minor magic includes lighting a candle or small fire, opening or closing a door, moving a book across the room without touching it, knotting and breaking ties, and possibly seasoning or spoiling food and milk. It should not be used to perform any feat that could not otherwise be accomplished through the use of regular equipment (for example...flint & steel, sewing kit, salt and pepper)

Nick said...

low-level guys with their one spell a day can be seen as kind of a party investment, which some parties won't want to make, so i can see cantrips as helping preserve the wizard aura and in that way the character's existence.

Don Snabulus said...

I could see them adding to the role-playing aspect of things. Little favors can tip the balance when dealing with NPCs.

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