Arcanist Casting in Eclipse

Freezing on the Sea Cliffs

Hey, I didn’t know that you knew that one! – kleinnick

Today it’s another question from Alzrius – in this case, on how to use Eclipse to build something new from Paizo…

Paizo recently released the public playtest for their Advanced Class Guide. One of the classes in the book – the arcanist – has a method of spellcasting that blends the spontaneous spellcasting of a sorcerer with the prepared casting of a wizard.

More specifically, the arcanist has a number of spells per day and spells known, as per a sorcerer. The difference is that they have a spellbook, and each day they use it to choose what their “spells known” will be, preparing them out of their spellbook like a wizard.

While the developers are still making changes to these classes, they’ve said that the arcanist’s spellcasting method will remain the same. This leads me to ask, how would you model this method of spellcasting in Eclipse? Not using the Studies limitation for a magic progression means that you are a preparatory spellcaster who uses your entire spell list (a la the cleric or druid), whereas using the Studies limitation means that you’re either a preparatory caster who needs to find and record spells before you can prepare them (as per the wizard) or are a spontaneous spellcaster with a small – and unchangeable (mostly, maybe swapping out a spell known every level or two) – list of spells known. There doesn’t seem to be an option for a “hybridized” method of spellcasting like what the arcanist has.

Well, the conceptual basis for “Vancian” spellcasting – at least as presented in earlier editions – was basically that a Wizard had no particular natural power; he or she skillfully drew a trickle of energy from the planar structure of the universe and bound it into spells – each an an individual immaterial object, comparable to a hand-assembled anti-tank missile or similar one-shot device. A Wizard could only keep so many spells ready for much the same reason that a fighter could only carry so many weapons; they each took up part of a limited carrying capacity. Being Out of Spells was simply being Out of Ammo. They needed spellbooks to help them prepare or “memorize” their spells simply because spell-structures were incredibly complicated and had to he just right to work.

When Sorcerers were introduced the general presumption (where people gave it any thought at all) was that a Sorcerer either had a natural reserve of magic or could draw on power much more quickly than a Wizard and had some sort of natural channels through which they could shape that power into a particular effect, much like a fancy tip on an icing applicator. Of course, they only had so many channels and could only handle so much power. The rules never examined the difference that closely – after all, the rules also don’t bother to differentiate between an axe to the head and a club to the knee – but presumably a Sorcerer ran out of stored magical energy or power-handling capacity and tired (albeit not enough to have an in-game effect worth noting) while a Wizard just ran out of prepared spells.

The Arcanist evidently has a Sorcerer’s ability to tap into or store raw power but lacks natural channels for it – so they build artificial channels for it. Sadly, artificial channels are apparently both fragile and complex, and must be renewed on a daily basis. (Why Spell and Channel formula are entirely interchangeable is a good question, but game convenience has a lot to say about that).

Now this does have limitations. Most notably, this makes an Arcanist even more dependent on his or her spellbook than a Wizard is. At least if something happens to their spellbook a Wizard will have whatever spells are in his or her head to work with. If worst comes to worst, he or she can even convert most of them into Scrolls, and then copy them back into a spellbook once he or she is back in town and can pick up a new book. Arcanists have no such option; their spell choices are simply gone in the morning. Of course the fact that a Wizard or Arcanists spellbooks are vulnerable, expensive, and time-consuming only has an effect if the game master enforces it, so this may not be much of a limitation at all.

Secondarily, the flexibility is not as great as it might be; most characters have some favorite, workhorse, spells that they use all the time anyway – while a high-intelligence Wizard may well have a greater variety of prepared spells available in any one day, and can gain some of the same casting flexibility with spell-recall items, such as Pearls of Power (or some of the even cheaper items in the Magic Item Compendium).

As for how to build such a character in Eclipse… the quick and easy way is to buy levels in a desired spellcasting progression as a spontaneous caster, Specialized for Increased Effect (spells known may be readily changed) with the limitations being that…

  • The user loses one spell slot of each level he or she can cast.
    • Honestly, that’s no big problem in most cases – and if it is, there are plenty of ways to get more spells.
  • Their Spells Known (or “Channels”) other than Read Magic must be renewed from a spellbook daily. As usual for book-based casters the user starts off with a spellbook containing Cantrips as the GM decides, (Int+3) first level spell formula at level one, and an additional two castable spells of choice per level thereafter. Other spells must be acquired in other ways.
    • How important this is varies with the Game Master and the setting. If spells are scarce, spellbooks are seriously threatened on occasion, and the characters must rely on spell research and automatic spells, then this is a major limitation. If not, then it’s a lot less important.
  • Due to the fragility of artificial magical “channels”, the user cannot amplify his or her spells or effective casting level with Mana, Hysteria, Berserker, or similar abilities. Similarly, he or she may not reduce the impact of applying a metamagical theorem other than Compact or Battle Magic below +1 spell level.
    • Now this is a significant limitation. It cuts an Arcanist off from a lot of the usual Eclipse ways of powering up their spells – but, to be fair, those methods don’t exist in Pathfinder, so that’s fair enough.

There are other ways of course; an Arcanist gets a base of 225 levels of spells per day at level twenty. To build that progression we’ll want to buy:

  • 90d4 generic spell levels as Mana, Corrupted/only usable for arcane spells, must be broken up into a regular spell progression (never offering more spells of any higher level than of any lower level) – although turning it into a progression does allow attribute based bonus spells (180 CP).
  • 20 Base Caster Levels, Specialized/only for the generic spell levels purchased above (60 CP).
  • 34 Spontaneous Spell Formula. That would normally cost 68 CP, but we want to be able to change them – which calls for thirty-four instances of Enthusiast, Specialized and Corrupted for Increased Effect (2 points per instance, all points can be reassigned with a mere hour of study)/ Only for Spontaneous Spell Formula, never offering more spells of any higher level than of any lower level, arcane spells only, spells must be renewed every day – a net cost of 102 CP.
  • Spontaneous use of Read Magic (2 CP). Actually I’m not quite sure whether or not Read Magic counts against an Arcanist’s available formula slots, but I’m going to assume that it doesn’t.
  • Buying Attribute Based Bonus Spells for a custom progression was never addressed directly – but it’s simple enough; buy Immunity/the need to apply the Magician ability to Rune Magic only (Common, Minor, Epic, Corrupted/only applies to a single spell progression, 12 CP) and then the Rune Magic Magician ability (6 CP).
  • Getting unlimited Pathfinder-style use of a selection of Cantrips calls for Shaping, at the usual six-point cost (6 CP).

That gives this progression a base cost of 368 CP at level twenty or 18.4 CP per level – just over what a Sorcerer pays (or the same with rounding). Of course, those extra 8 CP buy you the ability to make minor tweaks in the progression to suit yourself and avoids one of the major restrictions of doing it the quick-and-simple way.

Is doing it either way especially unbalancing?

I’d say no. There are plenty of ways to work freeform magic in Eclipse; allowing a Sorcerer-type to vary their spell list in exchange for a few fewer spells really isn’t that big a deal.

4 Responses

  1. Not sure where to post questions so I’ll just leave this here. How would you build the Soul Eater class from the Book of Vile Darkness?

  2. […] Arcanist Casting in Eclipse: How sorcerer-types can swap out their known spells. […]

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