I’ve made it no secret on this blog that my favorite class in D&D’s Fourth Edition (4e) was the Swordmage. I liked the class because it was versatile, and because as a 4e player, versatility was the thing I prized the most.
But I also liked it because it was evocative. I liked the book Swordmage and liked the whole concept of a close combat wizard—a guy who could get in close to bad guys and then explode with power to lay them out. I even liked the idea that to be a swordmage, you had to be both smart and tough. Smart because smarts are what it takes to learn spells; tough because only tough guys go hand-to-hand with monsters. Bottom line, the whole concept spoke to me, and ever since Wizards of the Coast (WotC) announced D&D Next, I’ve made it a recurring project to try to reimagine the swordmage class through the lens of the various versions of the playtest rules.
Unfortunately, I read the other day that the independent fighter/mage class, which I can only think of as the swordmage, didn’t make it through the early rounds of WotC’s internal playtesting. So at this point it seems unlikely that D&D Next will support the swordmage as an independent class, at least in its earliest iterations. On the other hand, WotC has also said that they’re working hard to make multi-classing a viable option in Next, so that if you want to play a mage who can fight with a sword, being a fighter/mage ought to be a decent option. But. That is not exactly what I personally am looking for. I’m looking for a close combat mage, a mage whose sword is integral to his magic, a guy who can stab you, yes, but someone who’s really out there trying to blow you up at point black range with bursty, blasty sword magic. And that’s not exactly the same thing as a guy who happens to know both a little magic and a little swordplay.
|My daughter Hannah drew this wizard.|
It's awesome, but you've got to admit
that it's missing sword.
Now, before we go on, let me just say that if you’re interested in D&D, and you haven’t signed up to get the Playtest rules, I don’t know what you’re thinking. The Playtest rules are free, they’re an interesting read even if all you’re doing with them is reading them, and I’m not planning to take the time here to try to explain what you’ve missed if you haven’t been following WotC’s development efforts over the course of the last year or so. What I will say is that the latest iteration of the playtest rules provides a slower build of class-specific powers, seemingly as a way to show how your character grows in ability as he or she grows in experience. I really like the approach, but it makes it impossible to build a swordmage—or any other class specific kit-type build—straight out of the box. That’s not a bad thing, but it is quite a departure from the design ethos that informed the development of 4e.
With all of that in mind, here’s my homebrew Swordmage Arcane Tradition, for the Mage Class in its current form. For what it’s worth, I’m only going to go through Levels 2, 5, and 8 of the progression in order to save time on a project that’s not ultimately going to go anywhere.
Wizardry: School of Sword Magic
You’ve become proficient with the ancient elven school of battle magic known as Sword Magic. Most practitioners of Sword Magic, called Swordmages, are either elves or elf-friends, outsiders raised in close proximity to elven settlements.
Swordmages are the samurai of the high elves, and most serve either as personal guards to high elf rulers or as part of an elite elven strikeforce or military organization. Swordmages are skilled melee opponents, but their true power relies in their close combat magic and their ability to take the fight right to the enemy, up close and personal.
Level – Feature
2 – Sword Bond
5 – Sword Magic
8 – Aegis
You are bonded to a specific sword—a longsword, short sword, rapier, scimitar, or bastard sword. You are proficient with that sword type and can use that sword as an implement for your spells. Additionally, you can call that sword to your hand magically as an Action from up to a half-mile away.
You can change the sword to which you are bonded, but doing so requires a week of intense meditation.
You can cast spells that require a touch or a melee attack roll (i.e. Chill Touch, Shocking Grasp, etc.) as part of a melee attack that you make with your sword. When you do so, you must use your melee attack statistic, either Strength or Dexterity, for the associated attack rolls instead of your Intelligence, but you add your spellcasting bonus not your weapon attack bonus. Both melee damage rolls and the spell damage rolls are figured as normal.
For example, Chill Touch cast by a 5th Level Swordmage through his longsword would require a single attack roll—1d20 + Strength modifier + Spellcasting Bonus (+2, at 5th Level). On a hit, the attack deals 1d8 + Strength modifier slashing damage (the physical portion of the attack) plus 2d8 necrotic damage, along with the other associated effects of the specific spell in question (the magical portion of the attack).
When you have your sword in one hand, you can use your free hand to summon a magical aegis, a powerful ward of protection. When you have your sword in one hand and your off-hand is free, your aegis provides a bonus to AC equal to your Intelligence modifier.
Anyway, that’s basically what I have in mind. I’ve no idea how it scales with WotC’s current D&D Next math, but it’s the kind of thing I’d like to see in the way of a Swordmage or Battle Mage option for the next edition of the game.