Friday, 17 May 2019


Why Cantraps?
It's a variant spelling of cantrip, and the one used by Jack Vance in The Dying Earth, so why not.

When I arrived very late to the 3rd edition party Cantrips struck me as a surprising addition. My previous experience having only extended so far as the fabled Rules Cyclopedia of BECMI, I was accustomed to magic users starting out with the power to memorise and cast just one spell each day. 3rd edition provided wizards with a similar power to cast one first level spell/day, but this was augmented by the power to prepare up to 3 cantrips, any of which could be cast an unlimited number of times each day.

In addition to their unlimited use, cantrips could also produce damaging effects. Spells like fire bolt provided wizards with an infinite number of potentially lethal ranged attacks at first level, making them more powerful than mundane ranged attackers, who are limited by ammunition.

This feature was carried over into fifth edition, and it's something I would like to amend.  I want first level magic-users to start out weak and squishy, but to have some utility once they have expended bed their daily spell slot. Cantrips will henceforth be rendered as cantraps. Cantraps will be spontaneous, non-damaging, tied to particular ability scores, available to some zero-level characters, and bound by class restrictions.

The Nature of Magic
Magic is the exertion of will (be that the will of the caster, the gods, or some other consciousness) over the fabric of reality to create supernatural effects. That fabric is the iridescence, the aberrant chaos. Cantraps isolate one fragment of the iridescence and reshape it temporarily. If the iridescence is God (which is how most mortals understand it), then a cantrap is but a wisp of its spirit.

Starting Cantraps
Zero-level PCs start with just one cantrap. You require a minimum ability score of 12 in the appropriate stat for the cantrap in order to learn it. This ability score will determine your spellcasting ability, and thus limit future class choices. Most cantraps are associated with two ability scores.

How the you obtained this curious ability is up to the you and the GM, and it should be connected to the your character's backstory. Maybe you were taught by a wandering sorcerer, blessed by a spirit, or born with it. Consequently, superstitious villagers may have forced you to flee your home, or your family may have sold you as a slave to a temple, cult or religious order.

This first cantrap may only be cast once per day. Spellcasters master cantraps only when they achieve character class levels.

The Cantrap List
Cantrap Intelligence Wisdom Charisma
Dancing Lights Yes No Yes
Guidance No Yes Yes
Light Yes Yes Yes
Mage Hand Yes No Yes
Minor Illusion Yes No Yes
Prestidigitation Yes No Yes
Read Magic Yes Yes No
Resistance No Yes Yes
Thaumaturgy No Yes Yes

Learning Cantraps
Upon achieving a minimum of one hundred experience points, you may learn an additional cantrap. Cantraps can be learned via the following methods:

  • researching magical texts, grimoires or scrolls (intelligence-based casters only)
  • observing a colleague use a cantrap in three separate encounters
  • though meditation or prayer (faith-based casters only)
  • being taught by another spellcaster
  • being blessed/cursed by a fey creature, demonic entity, spirit or god (wisdom or charisma based only)
  • via an artefact or magic item
Once you have learned a second cantrap, you may cast each of your cantraps up to twice per day.

You may learn a third cantrap upon obtaining 500 experience points. You have now mastered cantraps and may cast any cantrap you know an unlimited number of times per day. However, you may not learn any further cantraps unless your character class allows.

Forgetting Cantraps
Once zero-level characters gain enough experience, they will need to choose a class. For whatever reason, your cantrap-casting character might decide not to pursue a spellcasting path.

You will continue to possess the power to cast cantraps, but that power will fade with time. Every time you take a long rest, roll a d10. A roll of 1 indicates that you have forgotten your most recently learned cantrap. Any other number means that you have remembered it, but next time you take a long rest you must roll again... and this time you fail on 1 or 2, and so on.

The exception to this rule is any cantrap received from an artefact, demon, spirit or god. This boon is for life. Likewise,the innate cantraps of the Iblisi cannot be unlearned.  

Further Development
That will suffice for now. The spell list is limited at the moment, but I want to test out this and some zero-level rules before I go charging ahead and expanding upon this in any more detail.

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