Spells without levels, dropping clerics, healing wizards, and design space

My games do not have clerics. They do have clergy, and the mystic warrior archetype is fulfilled by Mageblades: if you need healing or other things that clerics do (like removing curses or diseases) you go to a witch or wizard and hope that they can help you.

Why? Why not? D&D has been a trendsetter in wizards not being able to heal, and pretty much any other RPG not inspired by D&D (especially early ones) has healing wizards. From B/X onward I never understood why the jock wizard that is less good at magic gets to heal and the weakling nerd wizard that is better at magic do not. Or why healing is divine and fireballs are not: why do healing requires divine allegiance?

The answer: the biblical Jesus was a wandering preaching healer, and a whole lot of clerical spells derive from biblical miracles. The Bible has also a lot of bad stuff to say about wizards, of course, so that’s probably the reason of the split between Jesus magic and wizard magic. Similarly Christianity preaches that true healing comes only through the divine, so I guess that helps.

Unless you are writing a Christian game, tho, there is no reason to split magic this way. I’m not against splitting magic amongst classes or schools of course, and for example both the three Moon-influenced schools of Dragonlance and the easy/difficult magic of Arcana Unearthed are great: the first has the right wizard schools split across three magic guilds that really do not like each other, while in the latter all casters cast the easy spells, and the hard spells are reserved to various subclasses (fire witch gets fire magic, etc). What I’m saying is: restricting healing to armoured faith healers baffles me. Why is this the limit?

This is exactly the logic behind Marvels & Malisons. Of the 5 disciplines within, 2 are the basis of cleric replacement: Apotropaism and Healing.

Apotropaism is, literally, turning stuff away. Bad stuff. Amongst the spells there are replacements for warding spells, remove curse, spirit binding, exorcism against demons and undead, and of course a spell that turns the next malison aimed at you you onto your goat. Excluding the goat, this is all traditional cleric fare, but this magic work, also in the real world, has not been confined to clergy or the divine. Including similar stuff involving goats cast out of cities.

Healing has healing spells. A few of them cure some condition (for example poison). with the extra effect of curing HPs. These spells were interesting to write: some are clearly more effective at low levels and some at higher levels. This was done to provide players with a panoply of effects, curing HPs only one of many: naturally there is also value in having all of them, for those who really care about healing. As a side, in my games there is mana points but no memorization, with the downside that casting the same spell twice in a day is complicated: extra spells doing similar effects are much valuable.

Curiously, the most effective healing spells at level 1 is Seven Steeped Stones, from the Cunning Folk discipline. The spell enchants seven one-use sigils stones that can be used as magic sling stones or to heal 1 hp each. Alternatively it’s possible to keep on boiling the stones in milk (do not ask me! the spell, like most of the book, is inspired by real world magic) and then drink it to get an extra save against a curse or illness. So, yes, it cures 7 hp at level 1, but it takes 7 rounds, and the stones must be cooked in milk in advance. It’s work! It also fills a gap in the design space: a sigil healing spell that can be cast in advance and consumed later, also doubling as last ditch magic weapon. It’s also a healing spell in a non-healing school.

At any rate, casters seem pleased by the increased choice of magic, yet at the table do not feel pressured to actually pursue healing magic: a lot of our parties do not have healers, and get by with herbalism, potions and surgery. Some players tho really double down and play herbalist healers surgeons with port-a-stills. As for myself, I normally play exorcist healer girls trying to capture demons in brass lanterns, who occasionally might throw a fireball or lightning bolt. Those who want to play a jock caster have fun with Mageblades.

Regardless: how much should spells heal in a spell-without-levels paradigm?

Should spell damage be more or less than spell healing, per slot? Combat economy suggests damage should be higher to avoid healing dragging out combats, but healing also allows a longer exploration phase (as opposed to a downtime phase), and that is welcome. So for the purpose of this post I’ll strike a balance and call a healing spell baseline as 2d6, exactly as a maleficence. As maleficence can be cast on an area, healing could be the same: maleficence can blast an entire melee, friends and foes alike, and because of that i have it rately seen used in melee. Right before melee, tho, when the enemy group is at a good distance, I see it used all the time.

So healing 2d6 on a melee would also be interesting: while it would see a lot of use after combat, you could also cast it during combat, albeit healing some of your foes too. Maybe that would be the beginning act of parlay?

Maybe there is another way tho: make healing a class power, like maleficence and magic shield (also from Wonder & Wickedness). This would make all sorcerers heal 2d6 as much as they can blast 2d6 or raise a magic shield. This is probably not a bad use of mana, and allows more casters to share the burden of healing, while leaving healing spells still very useful as they also treat other illnesses.

The bad side of giving healing to all sorcerers is that by giving more powers to all sorcerers all sorcerers become more similar. As each sorcerer now shares the power (and responsibility) of healing, sorcerers become less diverse. I’m not super keen on this.

There is an easy way out tho. We could make powers tied to magic disciplines, requiring familiarity with its spells in order to master it (2 or 3 spells would be adequate, while in Mageblade it would be tied to a perk). Studying Cure could eventually unlock the power of Healing. Maleficence blast (the melee-wide attack) could be unlocked by studying elementalism, maleficence ray (single target) for necromancy, magic shield for apotropaism, wizard eyes for spiritualism, turn/control undead for necromancy, tame beasts for vivimancy, esp for psychomancy, and never be freaked out by spiders for arachnomorphosys. I’m not sure about the other disciplines but something could be worked out.