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I'm a new-ish 3.5/Pathfinder frankenstein-hybrid DM (CMB and CMD exist in my game, Death rules from Pathfinder, the rest is 3.5) and now I'm thinking about tweaking Level 0 spells.

However I'm not happy with the PF solution, so I thought about an alternative:

  • Every spellcaster has their normal, 3.5e Level-0 spell-slots.
  • Every level-0 spell is available as known, just like the spell lists.
  • Every spellcaster can cast any Level-0 spell they know/have on their list, without preparing, but spending a 0-level slot (so, not unlimited).

How heavy would be the impact of this solution, gameplay wise? For good and bad.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to make sure I understand correctly: every caster uses 0-level spells like a spontaneous caster does, with limited slots, but the knowledge of every 0-level spell in their list? \$\endgroup\$ – Landir Apr 6 '16 at 10:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Landir Exactly, so players wouldn't need to decide which level 0 spell to prepare and thus making them slightlly more useful, but not unlimited. \$\endgroup\$ – Punkgeon Apr 6 '16 at 11:37
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The Pathfinder implementation is much better.

Most cantrips and orisons are nearly worthless, while a few are regularly handy. Being able to use those few as much as you need to is much better than maybe having the option of using one of the ones that’s usually useless.

So the Pathfinder version gives a more potent, useful effect than yours, and that change isn’t breaking anything. Yours won’t either. Because ultimately, cantrips and orisons just aren’t that game-changing in the first place.

But on the flip side, I do not think this will have the desired effect. Cantrips and orisons are minor in the extreme; just about nothing you do will ever make them a major source of important decisions or exercising creativity.

Moreover, your implementation does have a problem for prerequisites: some feats and prestige classes, such a loremaster, require a certain number of spells known meeting some criterion, such as seven divination spells. With this change, everyone automatically knows all cantrips and orisons on their list, which can automatically meet, or largely meet, these sorts of requirements. But verifying that a given criteria is met means digging through the books to find how many cantrips or orisons on your list meet the criteria, which is kind of annoying. But the alternative, to just not allow these requirements to be met with cantrips or orisons, is a huge blow to spontaneous casters, since they get so few spells known and frequently relied on their cantrips or orisons to meet the requirements for the lowest cost (since cantrips/orisons have the lowest value and cost the least to give up in favor of meeting the requirement).

Honestly, I don’t think this is a big problem, because I think those requirements were always really dumb: they were trivial to meet as a cleric or druid, and pretty simple as a wizard, while being extremely painful a bard or sorcerer. Eliminating that imbalance is a good thing. But it is something you should consider.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Being able to cast Detect Magic at will impacted my games. Before, it was rarely used in the save-up-spells-until-you-know-you-need-them economy, but now, rarely is there any exploration done without Detect Magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Apr 19 '16 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood I don’t believe I ever implied, much less stated, that it has no impact. I stated that it isn’t breaking anything, and that they are never a major source of decision-making (which your comment corroborates; before no one used them, now they use them constantly). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 19 '16 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Understood. I just think it's an important side effect to consider in making the decision. I like it, personally, as more party members are engaged in exploration besides the "thief", but it happens often enough you pretty much need to commit that one to memory ;-) It isn't game changing from the aspect of breaking the game, but it can change how the game is played. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Apr 19 '16 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood The question doesn’t ask whether or not to implement the Pathfinder rule, and this question concomitantly does not opine on whether or not it is a good idea to do so. It merely points out that the Pathfinder implementation is better (as in, more advantageous for those who have cantrips or orisons), and since it does not break anything (an assertion based on experience), it follows that this worse (less advantageous) implementation will also not break anything. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 19 '16 at 19:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Uh... "How heavy would be the impact of this solution, gameplay wise?" Really? \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Apr 19 '16 at 19:33
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Bottom line is "not significantly more broken than D&D 3.5/Pathfinder currently are". Spellcasters are the most powerful characters in the game, and you've made them more powerful - but not really very much more powerful. Your D&D wizard can now always have Daze ready to cast, when previously they had to think about whether to prepare Daze or Disrupt Undead (or whatever else) that day. That's not game-changing at low levels, and 0th level spells aren't what have an effect at high levels.

For a Pathfinder caster, it's even less breaking - you're now trading off the ability to cast any 0th level spell for the ability to cast an infinite number of spells per day. Maybe slightly more of a win for sorcerers than other casters, as sorcerers can already cast 5 or more 0th level spells per day.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My intentions are making the Bard a little more willing to use and think about level 0 spells with a little more freedom, so maybe I'm on the right track... \$\endgroup\$ – Punkgeon Apr 6 '16 at 11:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Punkgeon: Actually, if that's the goal, I don't quite think you are quite meeting it. By going from an "at will" to a "only N per day", the player is somewhat less likely to use them "just for fun" in case he/she might need one later. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Apr 6 '16 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. The problem isn't having a low spell slot count, but the player preparing just the ones that are just more useful overall, and not just using what could give an interesting effect at the moment, if the player is creative enough. \$\endgroup\$ – Punkgeon Apr 6 '16 at 13:14

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