Monday, November 18, 2013

Wood Magic (Wands and Staffs)

I have a longstanding dissatisfaction with D&D magic.  It is not that I don't like it.  I loved playing illusionists when I was a kid first starting to play D&D and in general I loved the magic that was there in D&D.  I just wanted more.

I have no problem with Vancian fire and forget magic, but I really don't want it to be the only type of magic in my games.  I have come up with some different options over the years, a trance possession cleric, the hekuras of my 4e game (at this point Tilia, one of the PCs in that game, has four different hekuras living inside of her), some point spend casting systems, herbal and mushroom magic, a recharge mechanic for spells... something I am working on now is a nature magic system based on the magical properties of wood.

A caster in this tradition could only cast a spell either by touching a living tree and casting a spell using its energy or by making a wand or staff which draws on the energy of its parent tree (the parent tree must still be alive of course!).  This system would work with the regular spell level limits, so a 3rd level caster could cast up to a 2nd level spell, but the limits on how many spells could be cast in a day would be based on the tree being drawn upon, not the caster.  Creating a staff takes enough time that it would not be done in combat, while creating a wand can take as little as 1 round (see below).  Wands only function at a very short range from the parent tree (unless linked to a staff, see below) but I hope that the ability to break a twig off a tree in one round and use it immediately as a wand will enable some cool options in combat for a caster.  I am making a random tree species chart for different environments so there will be the element of randomness - a caster could be in a combat near a tree that has magical properties useful for the encounter, and they could either touch the tree directly to invoke the magic or break a wand off on the fly and use it during the encounter.

As you can see, I am carrying my staff around :)

Tree Magic

Each tree species has different magical properties, and I will assign each spell in the game to one or more tree species according to those properties.  For instance, willow wood is associated with spells dealing with water, the element of spirit, death and rebirth, transmutations, emotions, healing, and the will.  When a tree is encountered, a roll on the tree age chart will reveal its age and the maximum spell level that could be drawn from the tree.  A rough version of the tree age chart is below.  Each tree species may have a negative modifier to apply to the tree age roll, depending on the maximum age of that species.  For example, only three of the trees occurring in eastern North America listed in this database have a maximum age of less than 100 years - those tree species would have a -4 modifier to the tree age roll to give a maximum age of 100 years.  Looking at the same database (which is very useful) there are 10 tree species with a maximum age between 100 and 200 years - those trees would receive a -2 modifier and so on.

Tree Age (d20)
Max Spell Level
Max total spell levels castable per day
1-8: Sapling (0-10 years)
9-13: Immature (11-30 years)
14-16: Mature (31-99 years)
17-18: Old (100-199 years)
19: Elder (200-499 years)
20:Ancient (500+ years old)

When physically touching a tree, a caster can cast any spell on that tree's spell list up to the max level of spell the caster can cast, as limited by the tree age as shown above.  The tree age chart shows the total spell levels that could be drawn from any particular tree per day.  To draw upon the power of a tree from a distance, a caster can make wands and staffs.  Each spell in the tree's spell list would have a [W], [S] or both to denote if that spell could be cast with a wand or staff.  Some spells might only be castable by directly touching the tree (Wish springs to mind, and it would have other requirements of course).  In general, wands are used for spells that actually emanate out from the wand, like a lightning bolt or paralyzing ray, and staffs are used to create most other magical effects.  Of course not all tree species are created alike; some will have much more extensive spell lists than others, and some might have a more extensive wand spell selection and others a more extensive staff spell selection.


Creating a staff takes takes 10 rounds minimum.  Roll 1d6 per round spent crafting the staff (max = 10 rounds +2 rounds/level);  the result equals the number of miles from the parent tree the staff can be used.  The range is also capped at the age of the tree (a staff made from a 95 year old tree could function at a max distance of 95 miles from its parent tree).  Staffs cannot be made from saplings.  If a staff is more than a mile from its parent tree, a caster must spend 1d2 hours per 24 hour period meditating on the staff to draw magical energy through it.  It is possible to use staffs from more than one tree but this requirement must be met for each staff.  Failing to meet this requirement does not destroy the staff, it simply cannot be used to cast magic until meditated upon for at least one hour again. Even if no spell levels remain to be drawn from its parent tree, a staff can be used in melee and each tree species has a unique effect that is added to the regular 1d6 damage.


Creating a wand takes 1 round minimum    Roll 1d6 per round spent crafting the wand (max=level) result x 10 = number of feet from the parent tree the wand can be used.  If a wand and staff are created from the same tree, as long as the staff is within range of the tree the wand can be used within its range of the staff as it will draw energy through the staff from its parent tree.  


  1. Good stuff! Quite right about the not being enough different magic in D&D. A player in one of my games played a homebrew witch, she didn't have to preselect her spells but any spell she did cast had to be justified with an appropriate material component. It led to her collecting all sorts of delightful objects: a chieftain's tongue to cast command, prison manacles to cast hold person. It made the magic much more prominent and led to some entertaining scenes, as the party of delivering bad news to a distraught Queen the witch is trying to figure out how to collect some of her tears without landing them in too much trouble.

    I really like the theme of your wood magic, but unless the wilderness you were adventuring in was quite different from standard is going to be a fairly good source of wood all around. So picking up a few of the right branches on the way the dungeon would allow the first level wizard to knock off 17 sleeps. Perhaps if different types of tree interacted thoroughly with each other so the low-level wizards has a limit as to how many different staffs they could safely cart about?

  2. Yeah that is probably a good idea. This is obviously a very rough first hack at this idea :) I think 1st and 2nd level casters would probably only be able to use one staff unless they got a bonus one from high intelligence (maybe wisdom for this class?). And really probably 2 should be the limit (except a bonus one for high intelligence) from 3rd level even up to a pretty high level to keep it from being too powerful.

  3. Also I definitely need to rework limits on spell levels they will have to be tied to caster level in some way and capped by the maximum of the tree, rather than be based solely on the tree.


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