While house-ruling the game to fit higher/epic fantasy games seems pretty simple (lift restrictions on magic items, utilize cantrips RAW, modify crafting to be less toilsome), lower fantasy seems to be a bit more of a challenge. Before I accidentally cause backlash, I find cantrips to be a neat idea and realize their intent is balancing out caster classes for the newest edition. No matter, I pondered ideas on modifying cantrip casting in an effort to make classes fit other narratives, genres, and gaming styles. Of course, I thought of alternatives that are hopefully pretty balanced against cantrips themselves. Plus, I’ve been curious on how to merge OSR-inspired mechanics and concepts into more modern gaming such as D&D 5e. As a result of that thought experiment, here are some ideas to replace the cantrips mechanic. All of these replace the rules for cantrips as written.
- Basic Idea – Choose one of the following below. Unless an ability below says otherwise, you may cast Cantrips as many times as your casting stat + 1 before taking a short rest. (If you feel proficiency bonus is more appropriate than caster stat, replace it with that instead.)
Exploiting Resources – You may safely cast Cantrips as many times as your level + your casting stat mod per long rest. Upon casting cantrips after this, you must make a saving throw (DC 12 + 1 for every successful save) using your casting stat for the saving throw. Failure results in losing your action for that round. This modules allows for at-will casting, but at a potentially dangerous price.
In addition, the DM can choose one of the following options.
- You may not use cantrips again until you take a short rest.
- Depending on the severity of the failed save, the character suffers from a level of the Madness condition.
- Failure could result in arcane corruption akin to 3rd Edition’s “Tainted” mechanics. This will be covered at a later time.
AD&D Style – Instead of the short rest mechanc, you gain 1 extra Lv. 1 spell slot. In addition you always know the spell “cantrip” (or “orison” for divine characters.) This spell lasts for 1 hour and replicates the effects of any cantrip spell from your appropriate class list. However, you only gain the benefit of one of those cantrips at a time, unless an ability states otherwise.
Imbuing Power – You’re able to form magic into a minor weapon of some sort as an action, using your caster stat for attacks (e.g. A shard of ice dealing d4 + caster cold damage, a small flame on a staff dealing d4 fire + caster damage, or the like). You can only have 1 minor magical weapon at a time, each lasts for 1 minute. You may do this as many times as your caster stat before taking a short rest.
Battle Knowledge – Weapons you’re proficient with can use your casting stat instead of their regular stat for attack/damage.
Slot-Like Cantrips – You can cast each 3 times before taking a short rest; also, you can sacrifice 1 cantrip to cast another more times.
Arcane Scholar – You may use Detect Magic as a class ability as many times as your proficiency bonus + 1 per Long Rest; Also, the Read Magic cantrip is rolled into the Arcana (or possibly Religion) skill.
These house rules are very volatile, as they haven’t been tested. If you try them, let me know what happens! Also, I’m always open to feedback in general.
Image Source: Xzar by Myrskyt