Monday, December 3, 2012

Innovating for D&D Next: The Spellsword

As I've said here a few times, I've really been enjoying the D&D Next Playtest, so much so that I've been considering putting my long-running game, the Sellswords of Luskan, back together using the new rules as the framework.  With that said, D&D Next is very much still a work-in-progress, and while I’m sure it’ll be a full-version of the rules with a full range of character options eventually, as it stands now, only the four basic classes are currently in the playtest class rotation full time right now, with most of the rest still under construction.  But I like options in my games, and I feel like I’m a good-enough Dungeon Master to manage a little--or even a lot--of homebrewing in my game, so when and if I open up a new version of Sellswords, one of the things that I’m planning to do is to allow a certain amount of class improvisation based on the playtest material that’s currently available.
With that in mind, I decided to go ahead and do an example--the Swordmage.
I really liked Richard Baker's book
The Swordmage (or Spellsword) as a concept is a fantasy staple--for example, the wizard Gandalf fights with a sword in the very first fantasy book ever written, The Hobbit--but at least until the Fourth Edition, I don’t personally think that D&D ever really had a unique and well-considered way to express the class.  I mean, yeah, in earlier editions of D&D, you could make Fighter/Wizards, but they were never really a full synthesis.  They were more like characters with multiple personality disorder--different facets slammed together that never really added up to more than a kind of half-useful sum of disparate parts.  However, with D&D 4e, the Swordmage finally came into its own.  With that edition, we finally had a fully playable close-combat wizard that was both different than a Fighter/Wizard and equally effective with either class on its own.
In innovating a new Swordmage class for D&D Next, my first thought was to consider what, exactly, I thought the class was supposed to be.  Is a Swordmage basically a Fighter who can cast some spells, or is it defined more by its magic, with a specific role in a battle.  As noted above, I decided that a real Swordmage is a close-combat wizard who fights with an ensorcelled blade to which he’s linked fundamentally through magic.  With that in mind, I decided to make the Swordmage a tradition that’s part of the Wizard class.  So the write-up goes something like this:
A Swordmage is a Wizard who specializes in a combination of close-combat wizardry and martial prowess.  Unlike other Wizards, Swordmages get in close and fight with weapons, using a blade to channel most of their magical power.  Swordmages tend to focus on simple elemental and defensive magics that augment their melee and close-quarters magical attacks, meting out punishment through a combination of arcane power and sheer strength and speed.
Bonded Spellblade: You are proficient with a sword of one of the following types: rapier, scimitar, short sword, or longsword.  You are bonded to a specific weapon of this type and can channel your magic through that weapon as though it were a wand or other wizardly implement.  This blade is your Spellblade, and you can call it to your hand from up to a mile away as easily as most people can draw a weapon from a scabbard.  When you channel your magic through your Spellblade, you use your Magic Attack bonus rather than your Weapon Attack bonus when figuring attack roll results.
You can change the specific blade to which you are bonded only during a Long Rest.

At-Will Spells: You can cast the spells Mage Armor and Sword Burst as At-Will spells.

Signature Spells:  You can cast the spell Greenflame Blade as a signature spell.

Of course, that write-up requires the innovation of a couple of new spells.  Here they are:
Sword Burst (Level 0)
You explode with magical power, dealing 1d6 lightning damage to all creatures within five feet of you.  Creatures in the blast radius that succeed on a Dexterity Saving Throw take half-damage.

Greenflame Blade (Level 1)
You channel your magic through a melee weapon that you are wielding and with which you are proficient.  That weapon becomes wreathed in magical green flames for the next ten minutes or until you dismiss the effect (no action required).  While your weapon is wreathed in green flames, it deals an additional 1d6 fire damage each time you make a successful melee attack with it.
You can prepare and cast Greenflame Blade as a higher level spell.  When you do, it does an additional 1d6 fire damage per extra spell level.  So, for example, when you prepare and cast Greenflame Blade as a 3rd Level spell, your weapon deals an additional 3d6 fire damage each time you make a successful attack with it.

Design Notes:
I can well imagine folks who want to build a Fighter/Mage using the Swordmage tradition as the basis for the build.  That was kind of the point.  A typical Swordmage won’t have any of the Fighter’s Maneuvers or Expertise Dice, but it will have other Wizard spells handy for when additional effects are required beyond a simple melee basic attack.  Also, please note that the mechanic of using Greenflame Blade as a Signature Spell is meant to give the Spellsword a level of melee punch that is close to, but not quite the equal of, the Fighter’s Expertise Dice extra damage mechanic.  
That said, this is the kind of idea that I’d like to allow and combat test in my game.  If I actually get a chance to do so, I’ll let you know how it worked.

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