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One of my players (level 5 Druid) has been looking at the Spell Points variant rule in the 5th edition DMG (page 288) and wants to use it for his character. I've talked to the other players with spellcasting (a Wizard and an Arcane Trickster) and they would prefer to stick with spell slot. So,

  1. Would there be any problem in letting the Druid use Spell Points while the other PCs used spell slots?
  2. Would anyone be at a disadvantage by doing so (druid or other PCs)?
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Individual rather than game-wide use is the intention of the Variant: Spell Points option. It's in the "Dungeon Master's Workshop" chapter, which has lots of advice and ideas for modifying the game to suit your table. Some of these are spelled out as game-wide. For example, under Combat Options, there are "Action Options", and the book says:

This section provides new action options for combat. They can be added as a group or individually to your game.

(That is, a group of all of these options, or just individual added actions. But, clearly, game-wide.)

On the other hand, this variant is under Creating New Character Options, and specifically "Modifying a Class". It says:

The classes in the Player’s Handbook capture a wide range of character archetypes, but your campaign world might have need of something more. The following section discusses ways to modify existing classes to better serve your game’s needs.

I think it's pretty clear that the intent here is for this option to be an example of a way to build a new, additional option to broaden the range of archetypes. Other sections here make it clear that this wouldn't need to even apply to all examples of a particular existing class. For example:

For example, you could decide that the clerics of a particular deity belong to an order that forbids the accumulation of material goods, other than magic items useful for their divine mission. Such clerics carry a staff, but they are forbidden from wearing armor or using weapons other than that staff.

So, come up with some reason why these druids are different. I might even consider going as far as to create a new druid circle that accesses magic in this way.


N.B. I have no experience with this option in play, and don't have particular knowledge or even opinion on whether it is unbalanced per se. I know answers which have that are preferred, but in this case, I think it's objectively clear that the option is meant to be a mix-in, not a game-wide replacement.

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I've done this before, but granted, the players with the regular spell slot rules weren't super familiar with the rules at the time. The thing the Spell Points Variant does is give flexibility to a caster. He can cast a lot more lower level spells in a day, or even pool up for fewer, but bigger spells, as the moment requires. This can be pretty powerful, but it's not game-breaking.

Keep in mind where the druid fits in with the others with regards to power. In my group, the wizard that used Spell Points was one of the two characters not using UA options that we later realized were too powerful. The spell points helped bring him up to par with the others (not entirely, but the flexibility was certainly beneficial) and helped him feel like he mattered, especially since he could cast more lower level spells outside of combat and have a strong influence in social encounters.

Discuss with everyone whether they think the extra flexibility diminishes their power, and whether they're ok with the change. Keep your entire group happy, and the slight imbalance from the extra flexibility won't matter.

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Spell Points are balanced.

At 5th level, your druid will have the option of creating up to 13 1st-level spell slots, 5 3rd-level spell slots, or some combination between those two extremes. Compare this to a druid of the same level, who may cast 9 spells total, only two of which may be as high as 3rd-level. In this instance, the druid with spell points will have the advantage... though when the regular druid's spell slots are broken down into points, they'll have the same value as the number of points a spell point druid would have.

At higher levels, however, the situation alters.

You can use spell points to create one slot each level of 6th or higher. You can't create another slot of the same level until you finish a long rest.

This particular rule very slightly throttles the power curve of the druid (who would have similar spell slot restrictions until 19th level anyway). That's not much of a change, but it is worth noting.

So how do higher level druids with and without spell points compare?

10th level: A druid without spell points can cast up to 15 spells a day, up to 2 of them 5th level and the rest evenly distributed among the levels. A druid with spell points can cast up to 9 5th-level spells or 32 1st level spells. Again, point value is identical- the advantage lies in the spell point druid's ability to effectively convert his lower spell slots into more 5th level slots.

15th level: If you're running one of the official campaigns, such as Tyranny of Dragons or Princes of the Apocalypse, this is probably as high as you'll have to worry about. Without spell points, your druid can cast 18 spells- the same as 10th level, plus 1 slot each for 6th, 7th, and 8th-level spells. With spell points, the high end looks identical- one each of the upper three slots, and the same possible combinations as 10th level.

Why are spell points balanced?

Consider three different spellcasting schemes.

  1. Your druid casts as many high-level spells as possible.

  2. Your druid casts as many spells as he can.

  3. Your druid casts spells haphazardly as he needs them.

In the first case, congratulations- you've turned your druid into a warlock without the invocations. You'll be able to cast more spells than a warlock as long as they take only one short rest per day; after that, the warlock is more effective.

In the second case, you will be able to cast a number of spells that dwarfs all others... none of which will be higher than 1st level. This may be handy for a utility caster, but those who wish to control the battlefield or deal damage will be woefully underpowered.

The third case, by what must surely be a strange coincidence, causes you to cast spells in roughly the same amount and power as those without spell points.

Conclusion:

Spell points as a variant would indeed give your druid an advantage, but only in terms of flexibility... and in the long run, your druid will either accept some hefty drawbacks to use that flexibility effectively, or cast spells in a similar spread to your other casters. Either way, your druid can look forward to more bookkeeping to keep track of it all.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Tracking one single number would actually be less bookkeeping than tracking slots separately for each level. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Oct 11 '17 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ One non-intuitive number that drops by a non-linear amount every time you cast a spell, requiring two separate extra tables from the DMG to track? As opposed to a number already included on character sheets? \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Oct 11 '17 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Its a matter of taste. But you can easily record SP cost instead of level in your spellbook. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Oct 11 '17 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheVagrantDog, is tracking your HP too complicated? It is a non-intuitive number that drops by a non-linear amout every time you take damage. Even non-casters do that. Introducing spell points makes your book-keeping more consistent. \$\endgroup\$ – András May 14 '19 at 11:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast It does not; a 10th level druid could cast 9 5th-level thunderwave spells if they wished. Something I hadn't considered until your question made me re-read the rule, though; under the variant option, partial casters like the paladin and eldritch knight would gain access to new spell levels at different class levels than normal. A paladin would get 2nd-level spells, for example, at level 6 instead of level 5. \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog May 8 '20 at 16:40
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It will make casters more powerful, but not too much

You can think of spell slots as worst case (arbitrary case) scenario of Spell Points.

Sometimes I had to cast Faerie Fire in a 2nd level slot, because I ran out of 1st levels.
It was a waste of resources, which would not have happened in the Spell Point system.

It will make casters more flexible, without any downsides.
Bookkeping becomes more consistent, it will be just be like tracking Hit Points.

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Yes he should be able to cast his spells in this manner but with the following conditions. He must designate which spells he a memorized for that day. I usually use the spell point cost to let casters purchase their magic slots. I limit it to this degree. This is an example of a 20th level caster.

A 20th level wizard (for example) would have 89 levels of spells that day. This would be four 1st level spells, three spells of 2nd to 5th level, two spells of 6th and 7th level, and one spell of 8th and 9th level. If the player decides not to cast that 9th level spell, his character would with 9 levels of spell slots available which could be used to cast any combinations of spells, but he couldn't cast spells of a level that would be higher than the spell level lower.

Example: 4 1st, 3 2nd, 3 3rd, 4 4th, 4 5th, 2 6th, 2 7th, 1 8th

This loadout of spells shows that he has more 4th and 5th level spells than he has of 2nd and 3rd level.

A proper way would be:

Example: 5 1st, 4 2nd, 4 3rd, 4 4th, 3 5th, 2 6th, 2 7th, 1 8th

This loadout of spells used flows a higher number of lower level spells to a lower number of higher level spells. The higher level spells doesn't out number the lower level spells, but the 89 spell levels of spells are kept.

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