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As we all know, the golden-age era of spellcasters having access to spells like Permanency is now over with the arrival of 5E. I am now DM'ing a top-tier campaign, and several of my PCs are casters who have requested a way of making several spells permanent.

What I have found so far

I have done some research and have found a few things which might help give direction to this.

  • There is a homebrew 5E version of the Permanency spell on the unofficial D&D wiki, but I don't feel like it's quite complete, and there is nothing for concentration spells.

  • I am already aware that several spells have permanent versions which last until dispelled, such as Teleportation Circle, Glyph of Warding, Guards and Wards, etc.

  • Since Wish doesn't have spell permanency as one of its guaranteed effects, I'd prefer to omit it as a solution. It would probably have drawbacks, mostly with its reliability (using it this way is a 33% chance of no longer being able to cast it), and also because several casting classes do not have access to it.

  • As far as having a permanent effect on a PC directly, I was thinking of having PCs with access to Clone create a clone, but with a longer casting time, and having to cast the spell they want to affect them permanently a certain number of times. The original then dies, and is transferred to the now enchanted body.

TL;DNR

I am looking for ways, other than the casting of Wish, to add permanency to spells.

What is a good answer?

Good answers to this question will follow the Good Subjective/Bad Subjective rule. I am looking for answers from DMs who have tried granting players some form of permanency in their spells.

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Make it a Downtime Activity

More on less on par with Crafting a Magic Item.

This is how I approach permanency in the Eberron game that I run, and my players have been happy with it so far.

The initial problem

Trying to directly port Permanency into 5E is a problem, since Permanency had an XP cost, and using XP is an optional rule in 5E.

Precedent

D&D 5e's Adventurer's League has a precedent for charging Downtime as a 'toll on the character's soul.' (See Here, the section on Jenny Greenteeth)

For further precedent...making a magical effect permanent is essentially what you are doing while crafting a magic item. So making a spell Permanent is following the same sort of procedure as you'd use to craft an enchanted item with a persistent effect...but you're attaching it to a person or place instead.

My Rules

For the downtime activity of making a spell Permanent, I basically follow the rules for crafting a magic item, starting on page 128 of the DMG, using the 'Power By Rarity' table on page 285 to determine the 'effective rarity' of the spell to be made permanent.

Because Permanent spells can be torn down with Dispel Magic, I treat them as 'consumable' items (half the cost and creation time of a 'normal' magic item of that power level). If you want Permanency to be harder...then treat them as normal cost for their rarity level. And if you want to cap which spells can be made permanent, bear in mind that 3.5e actually had a rather short list of spells that could be made Permanent.

By dint of flavor, I generally say that making a spell Permanent doesn't actually take the full duration of you working on it. I rule that some of that time (often about half) has to be spent recovering from the physical and spiritual exertion of what you just did.

Requirements

Naturally, you have to know the spell in order to make it permanent, and every day you spend working on the permanency, you burn an appropriate level spell slot to cast that spell.

Additionally, you need to be somewhere while working on this where you can acquire all the extra spell components needed to stabilize the spell into a self-sustaining loop.

Finally, because of the delicate nature of permanency...you can't interrupt your work. If you're in the first half of the downtime and you skip a day...you get to start over. If you're in the second half of the downtime, you're operating at 3 levels of exhaustion and that day doesn't count towards your recovery time.

Whoever (or whatever) is the recipient of the Permanent Spell, must be present the entire time the spellcaster is working on making the spell permanent (so, the entire workday for the first half of the downtime). After that, they may wander off while the spellcaster recovers.

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This is how 3.5 broke

We even had a term for it: CoDzilla

The fundamental premise of such builds was that they were powerful because they could stack an insane number of magical buffs on top of each other. The stacking eventually turned the character into a force comparable to Godzilla, capable of smashing campaigns balanced near CR to oblivion.

Part of the shift in balance from 3.5 to 5e is that many forms of stacking were either reduced or eliminated to maintain a simpler and easier balance-point. This is why so many things give advantage: advantage doesn't stack. Similarly, this is why the 5e Fly spell is concentration-based, when the 3.5 equivalent was simply minutes/level, and became hours/level when "upcast"(I'm translating for a 5e player :P ) to a 5th level spell. By level 20, having permanent flight was trivial for casters.

It is implausible to assume that the 5e designers, having made 5e so similar to 3.5, were not aware of how flight ran in 3.5 or other, similar, meme-level optimization options available to CoD-zilla types. When 5e makes these things hard to stack, I assume that it is part of an intentional shift in balance between 3.5 and 5e to make them not stack.

All of this to say two things:

  1. Down this road, there be dragons.

  2. If you REALLY want a more powerful end-game experience, I think you should be using 3.5. The community-level knowledge on how to balance 3.5 is FAR greater than the community-level knowledge on how to make 5e play more like 3.5(such as by allowing various buffs to stack). There'll be a bit of work to do as the DM, but your players will back-port fairly reasonably.

Experience base for this answer

  1. Over a decade of experience homebrewing, optimizing and analyzing in the 3.5 design space.

  2. Several years DMing 3.5 variants, with various additions of my own and others' homebrew.

  3. Several PCs who have back-ported from 5e to 3.5 first at my table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And even for magical items that grant effects that are similar to spells (boots of flying) they've set a very limited amount of attunement slots for that very reason. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Aug 4 '17 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ This would make a good-subjective answer here! \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Aug 9 '17 at 8:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ While information about how it worked (or didn't work) in previous editions is interesting, it doesn't actually answer the question posed about 5e. This answer therefore does not meet this site's requirements for a frame challenge. -1. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 18 '17 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question was how. not whether. you could add a short warning to the end but the answer should answer the question primarily. \$\endgroup\$ – rpgstar Nov 18 '18 at 8:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Stacked spells are powerful, but 3.x Permanency never broke anything IME, because it applied to a very limited list of spells. 5e Permanency that was similarly limited doesn't seem likely to break anything, and in fact it would likely be fine for most non-Concentration spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Errorsatz Nov 27 '18 at 0:16
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Challenging the frame; 5e has an App for this

Based on the question, the discussions in chat, and your reservations with what wish and some other tools can do, I recommend that you not try to implement further iterations of permanent effects but instead use ...

Epic Boons

The Epic Boon tool in the DMG (p. 231) allows you to craft one-of-a-kind cool features, powers, and states of being for each of your players. While the general idea is that Epic Boons are there for level 20th play and beyond, the difference in Tier 4 play (Levels 17-20) versus play at 20th level and beyond narrows once 9th level spells are in play and spell casters are seriously powerful throughout the game; not just in the home world of the characters, but in other worlds and some other planes. There's no compelling reason not to introduce them in Tier 4 before level 20 if you feel that you have a problem to solve.

Here is how I see the X-Y problem

Desire: players want neat, custom features. (And why not? Fun is fun!!)
Presumption: a spell cast permanently is how to get that

  • but there be dragons

Problem to solve: get players neat/custom features for their characters.
Are there tools to offer custom cool features that solve this problem?
Yes. Epic Boons.

Example(from the discussion in chat):

A high level Druid (and the party) complete a difficult quest or adventure. The Nature Deities grant an epic boon to the Druid; permanent bark skin.

Rinse and repeat for each player as appropriate, choosing a cool mod that fits that player's character class.

Model your epic boons on what is in the DMG, or restrict them to only what's in there, so that power creep does not unbalance the feature upgrade between players. Each player should be able to benefit from "cool / neat permanent feature" as the conditions to earn an epic boon are triggered.

Collateral benefit

You don't have to rewrite D&D 5e's balance, nor try to predict how a particular spell being permanent might break the game through an exploit.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is ok for the purpose of "giving PCs non-item magical benefits", but not so much for the purpose of "PC caster wants to create things". I'm not saying that it needs to be 100% player-controlled (3.x Permanency had only a short list that was automatic, everything else was GM-discretion), but there's a major conceptual difference between "you can be the one who creates the floating castle" and "if you're lucky a god might hand you a floating castle". \$\endgroup\$ – Errorsatz Nov 27 '18 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Errorsatz This is a DM asking for DM advice. Your points are understood. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 27 '18 at 1:32
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The only solution that I can guarantee wouldn't start fights at the table is the one that's already in the book.
Outside of Wish, most spells can't be made permanent, and the ones that can have it explicitly called out in their description (and if you let them use wish for this, be certain to include unforeseen consequences - for example: the fighter has permanent haste, but experiences the lethargy for one round every minute)

BUT, if you really intend to go through with adding spell permanency - you need to add clearly defined limits. Establishing a set of rules rather than a case-by-case basis will ensure that your players are not upset with you if you deny a particular spell.
The two limits I would suggest are:

  1. 1st and 2nd level spells only. This has precedent in the wizard's class features, where they can acquire a first or second level spell to be castable, indefinitely, without using a spell slot. There's also the added benefit of cutting off Haste as an option.
  2. Spells to be made permanent must have a base duration of 8 hours. The idea behind this restriction is that spells with this duration are functionally permanent already for your average adventuring day, at the cost of a spell slot.

If you do this, you should use one or both of these restrictions.

That said, I still don't recommend doing this.

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You say you don't want to use Wish because of the possibility of side-effects.

Per the spell description:

The DM has great latitude in ruling what occurs in such an instance; the greater the wish, the greater the likelihood that something goes wrong.

So if you, as DM, decide that this spell is the best approach, you get to decide how the effect happens.

Since you're trying to let them do something and just want to provide the players with a valid framework to achieve those results, I'd suggest this method works perfectly. "You want permanent Barkskin? That'll cost a Wish." Done and done.

For Barkskin, specifically, I would suggest going a less powerful route. Barkskin is a 2nd level spell. Rather than expend a 9th level Wish, have your caster write up a higher-level version of Barkskin as a custom (homebrew rules) spell. I would suggest this be no less than 5th level, and probably closer to 7th. Maybe a 5th level version that lasts 1 day and doesn't require concentration, "Greater Barkskin." Then a 7th level homebrew spell that's "Permanent Barkskin." Those homebrew spells could be modeled after various existing spells that have more powerful versions at higher levels. Though again, Wish would certainly get you there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you provide an example of a spell that become permanent by virtue of 'upcasting' as you describe to back your suggestion? Or experience to support the answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Aug 4 '17 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pyrotechnical its homebrew. There are several spells that increase in duration by upcasting (Hex for one). But I would make it last 24 hours, not permanent. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Aug 4 '17 at 19:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ The upcasting would be homebrew, written by you and/or your player. I've updated the post to note that. Sorry for the lack of clarity. \$\endgroup\$ – CaM Aug 4 '17 at 19:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I understand that it's homebrew, but I think it's being backed by gut intuition as opposed to experience, hence why I'm asking if there's anything in the rulebook to back up the intuition. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Aug 4 '17 at 19:45
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This is within the domain of a Wish spell. One of the example effects is "You grant up to ten creatures that you can see resistance to a damage type you choose.", which is a permanent effect. A wish to change the duration of any single active magical effect to permanent (no concentration) is comparable in power to this or even slightly weaker. RAW, twisting wishes should only be done if the wish is for something greater than the suggested uses.

As for homebrewing a spell to do this, I would be wary of making it anything less than a 7th-level spell, if not 9th level.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that several spells have permanent effects equivalent or weaker than granting resistance to a certain type of damage to 10 creatures, but again, buffs like Haste are way too powerful for such a thing. \$\endgroup\$ – QuantumDM Aug 4 '17 at 14:27
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Provide special quests which result in access to such magic

Monsters in 5e often possess abilities that PCs cannot replicate without their assistance. We even have examples in the Monster Manual related to permanent magical effects: Demonic infestations often permanently mark the land around them, and particularly powerful demons leave a permanent shadow behind when destroyed (so PCs might kidnap, bind, and sacrifice a powerful demon to render a shield or other suitable object or collection of objects permanently cloaked in shadow), the Drow mass produce magic weapons and armor with a unique 'decays in sunlight' drawback (so PCs might engage in magical disguise and political intrigue to gain entrance to a drow college of magic, so as to steal the secret to their seemingly exceptionally-low-cost crafting process), and the Galeb Duhr are somehow bound to the Material Plane so that, unlike other elementals, they do not return to that Plane when they die but instead remain on the Material (so PCs might seek one out and study its connection so as to learn how to similarly bind themselves).

Providing additional monsters, ancient magical traditions, or other sources of power outside of the abilities players can access via class progression forces players to quest for the abilities needed to make a particular effect permanent, which works well. It is important to remember, however, that players can assume the powers of most any creature via high-level polymorph effects, and thus permanent magical abilities should only be granted to monsters in such a manner that the ability itself would still require significant adventuring, otherwise the magic should be tied to knowledge, skill, culture, or Providence such as to require the players to actually encounter real members of that race.

Additionally, rather than having an effect be permanent until dispelled, consider having an effect be tied to some conditions external to the PCs, and then letting the PCs concoct some way to render such an effect permanent. This seems to be more in keeping with 5e's approach to monster-based magic-- particularism trumps universalism. An example of this in core D&D 5e would by the Myconoids' Rapport Spore abilities. These spores allow telepathic communication for up to one hour per dose, and an adult myconoid exudes a permanent radius of such spores. PCs have access to all manner of magical and mundane spore preservation techniques, and so could conceivably gain what would effectively be Rary's Telepathic Bond at-will except limited to 30ft communication.

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I have used the following method in my campaign.

Only spells which have a permanency option can be made permanent. Examples: Teleportation Circle, Mordenkainen's Sanctuary. These spells are usually made permanent by casting them daily over the course of a year. So the game has a precedent that balance is not broken by having some particular spells made permanent.

That being said, they have also included a way to undo the permanency. Dispel Magic can still remove the effect. It struck me that few people would bother to commit the time and resources to make a spell permanent when it can be so easily destroyed by a relatively low level spell.

In order to reconcile the two, my campaign has a house rule that every casting over the number required for permanency adds the requirement of an additional casting of Dispel Magic. So instead of 365 castings of Teleportation Circle, a prudent wizard casts it a dozen more times, giving the spell a "bank" of castings that have to be dispelled.

This preserves the intent of the rules to both have a spell be permanent and destroyable, but raises the bar of destruction, encouraging the creation of permanent effects.

A DM could season this to their campaign by making the banking spells less effective. Perhaps it takes 10 castings to add one to the bank. Or even another year.

As for making spells permanent that do not have the option baked in, I would discourage it, or at the very least consider carefully. The removal of Permanency is unlikely to be an oversight.

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One last thing: make this require an attunement slot. 5e's system to keep some kind of sanity check on powers above and beyond your character class powers is attunement. This needs to fall within that economy.

Then, as was suggested above, treat this as creating a magic item. Look at the Magic Items in the DMG for examples of what is acceptable at various power levels.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried this house-rule in your own games? How has it worked, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 5 at 15:59

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