The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Giving Wizards Access to Higher Level Powers

Many thanks to Wesley Hall for the idea for this article, as well as the article art! By the way, here is what happened last time Wes and I teamed up. Also, you should follow him on Twitter. Hilarity will ensue.

Artwork by Wesley Hall (click for big)

In the classic Disney movie “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Mickey plays an aspiring wizard who, after being left unattended with the master’s spellbook, wreaks havoc when he tries to cast a spell he is not practiced at. Without looking too far for deeper meaning, this is a great example of what might happen in a D&D setting if a wizard were to cast a spell higher than their level. After all, we might assume that, especially if a character went to “Wizarding School,” they know about higher level spells, even if they’re not sure exactly how to cast them.

To wit, wizards are framed as scholars of arcane arts. They learn their magic through years of study and practice. Why is it, then, that in D&D Wizards suddenly “know” new spells at each level? When did the learning and practice happen? Today, I present a fun optional mechanic that you can add to your game to give Wizards access to higher level spells that they’re currently “in the process of learning.” Of course, in a highly pressurized combat situation, the chances of miscasting such a spell are high. When the situation is dire, you may be tempted to dig deep and try that powerful new spell you’ve been perfecting… but are the risks worth it?

By the way, I might mention that this mechanic was modeled in part after Gamma World’s Alpha Mutation overcharge feature, with a nod towards my love for random tables. I hope your players like it as much as I do.

Optional: if you don’t want your Wizards to have default access to this power, you can either give the option at character creation (swap out Ritual Caster, for example) or simply make a feat for it.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Encounter – No Action

Effect: Spend one or three healing surges.
-If you spend one healing surge, choose a Wizard encounter attack power up to 4 levels higher than you are.
-If you spend three healing surges, choose a Wizard daily attack power up to 4 levels higher than you are.
You may use the encounter or daily power before the end of your next turn. When you roll the attack for the power, roll 1d12 with it, and consult the following chart for possible adverse effects.
Special: If you do not have enough healing surges, you may instead spend a number of hit points equal to your surge value times the number of surges you need to spend. You cannot regain these hit points by any means until you have taken an extended rest.

Click for big (i.e. readable)

You can get the power as a PDF player handout here.

Artwork by Wesley Hall (click for big)

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8 Responses to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Giving Wizards Access to Higher Level Powers

  1. This is awesome, gives a great risk vs. reward setup. I may have to see if I can translate this into a function to replace Dark Sun defiling for my Thursday night game.

    • Benoit says:

      Thanks. Risk vs. Reward was the intent. Under normal circumstances, taking advantage of this might not be considered by a player (17-25% chance of death), but if a combat quickly goes south, they might begin to consider taking such a risk.

  2. Wesley Hall says:

    I love this solution!

    Every wizard knows, this is not a move you make lightly. Dealing with magic beyond your grasp can be quite painful and quite quite deadly. The only thing I might look at adding (or switching out) is the lost of limbs (boom your arm is on fire and burnt to a crisp) or making a character loose a sense of sight, hearing, or smell.

    Being the devious DM, I might not even tell the players what the exact consequences could be (well I make them aware that death is possible) before letting them use this power.

    I’ll definitely have to throw this into my next game!

    • Benoit says:

      I like those ideas – the “slowed until your next extended rest” was supposed to simulate some of that, but here are some other ideas:
      Your arm is on fire – add ongoing 5/10/15 damage (by tier) (save ends) to one of the numbers above. You could even base the damage type on what the spell was SUPPOSED to do.
      Blinded – swap out “slowed until your next extended rest” for “blinded (save ends) First failed save: blinded until the end of the encounter. Second failed save: blinded until your next extended rest.”
      Deafened is a real status, I know, but I don’t think it really has any teeth. Losing your sense of smell would be a flavor thing. I do think that adding flavor type consequences on top of the mechanical ones would be fun, and I was going to add a separate chart for them, but I ran out of time. 🙂
      I think not telling players what the exact consequences are is a great idea. Like you said, just let them know that death is one of the possibilities.

  3. mwschmeer says:

    Great idea!

    However, the link to the PDF appears broken — I get taken to a “file not found” page.

  4. David says:

    I don’t have any wizards in my 4e group at the moment, but this is a fantastic idea!

    • Benoit says:

      It wouldn’t be too hard to adapt the fluff to other classes. For example, you could explain it to Sorcerers as the faint stirrings of new untested power. Do they dip into that raw energy or not?

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