What Do I Know About Reviews? Incantations (5e OGL)
The Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition Unearthed Arcana was a treasure trove of ideas. While it blighted my existence with the concept of gestalt characters, it also introduced concepts like the skill challenge, with became of staple of 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. In addition to the broader concept of skill challenges, Unearthed Arcana also introduced Incantations.
Incantations were extended spells that took longer to cast, usually requiring multiple skill checks. Even characters that weren’t spellcasters could participate in casting an incantation, which meant even your fighters or barbarians could kick in some skill checks to bring forth the magic. They were great for “plot magic,” like opening a door to another world without having a spellcaster that could plane shift.
Incantations is a 5e OGL book that introduces the concept of “plot-based” magic that can be cast even by non-spellcasters to the modern iteration of the game.
Publisher: Metal Weave Games
Project Director: HTTPaladin
Designers: Kiersten Bell, HTTPaladin, Lucia Versprille
Editing: Elias Veren, Sebastian Yue
Graphic Design and Layout: HTTPaladin
Cover Illustration: Syd Mills
Interior Illustration: Zander Barcelo, Cher Chen, Stephanie Cost, Riel Hye, Genel Jumalon, Maïwenn Kasprzyk, Allaine Kate B. Leoncio, Erika Lundrigan (Mizomei), Patricia Maura L. Mercado, Anna Moshak, Mike Pape, Devon Ste Marie Rubin, The_Gobbo, Lauren Walsh
Metal Weave Games Executive Producer: Andreas Walters
I was a Kickstarter backer for this product (which I would have totally missed if Brandes Stoddard hadn’t brought it to my attention). I haven’t had the opportunity to use any of the material in this book, however, I am familiar with Dungeons & Dragons 5e both as a player and as a DM. Additionally, I’ve used the Unearthed Arcana 3e version of incantations in games before, as well as using adapted rules for them in D&D 5e.
Form and Functions
This review is based on the PDF version of this product. This is an 88-page PDF, including a credits page, a table of contents, a full-page summary of all of the incantations in the book, and a full-page OGL statement in the back.
Metal Weave Game products are definitely art intensive, and this book is no exception. In addition to the art pieces that adorn parts of various pages, there are full-page art pieces that introduce chapter breaks, a few full-page illustrations of incantations in use within chapters, and a few incantations that are the only text on a page that has thematic artwork framing that particular incantation.
Beyond the artwork, another thing that struck me about this book is that the credits are much more specific about what creator contributed to what work in the book itself. Not only are all of the incantations listed with their creators at the beginning of the book, but the art credits appear somewhere on the page with each piece of art included.
In addition to the above, the table of contents also has a content notice listing pages where blood, skeletons, ghosts, and depictions of death appear in the book.
The book’s content is divided into the following sections:
- Chapter One: It’s a Kind of Magic (Incantations)
- Chapter Two: Go Your Own Way (Subclasses)
- Chapter Three: I Love Playing with Fire (Magic Items)
- Chapter Four: Under Pressure (Designer Notes)
The Designer Notes section is very similar to a similar section of The Islands of Sina Una, which makes sense because Joshua Mendenhall worked on both of these products. I really enjoy this section, because I think it adds to any game product when you gain insights into the design process.
As mentioned above, incantations tend to be “plot magic” that can be used by people that are not traditional spellcasters, often taking more time to cast than more standard D&D spells. By “plot magic,” I mean spells that can do things that help to advance an ongoing narrative, or help the player characters customize the campaign to their wishes.
My immediate thought upon seeing the Kickstarter was that this was going to be introducing the UA 3e concept into 5e D&D, but the Designer Notes clarify that the concept was to recreate D&D 4e rituals. While the end result is similar, it does mean that instead of working like skill challenges, if you have the proper material components and know the incantation, you can cast it like you can most spells in D&D. There are still some spells that might require you to make checks to implement the effect of the spell, but you don’t need to do anything to actually cast the incantation, beyond what would be required of a standard spell.
These incantations can do things like creating a place safe from scrying, creating a dream space where characters can perform downtime actions without having time advance in the real world, imbuing mounts with magical abilities, creating planar archways, or connecting doors between various locations so that they can be used to magically move from one space to another. These incantations have spell levels just like regular spells, and some (but not all) have some expensive material components.
Characters that don’t normally cast spells can learn an incantation, but can only cast it once per long rest, and will cast it at its lowest level. Casters with spell slots can use their slots to cast incantations. In addition to using spell slots to cast incantations, some spells have effects that are bolstered if additional casters contribute spell slots to them. This might allow the incantation to be cast in less time, have a greater duration, or in some cases, make them a permanent effect. Some incantations require that the caster be of a specific class, and in some cases, they specify that the caster must have more levels in a particular class than they have other class levels.
The individual entries for the incantations also contain a paragraph of flavor text explaining what the incantation looks like when cast, a situation where an incantation might be useful, or another quick narrative relating to the incantation.
Some of these are pretty powerful, even if they aren’t able to be used in a standard combat round. Beyond level, there is an additional limitation, explained in the magic item chapter. For now, we’ll just note that there is a limit to the number of incantations you can learn, and finding a particular incantation is at least in part well within the purview of the DM.
Some of these incantations seized on what I liked about the concept from UA 3e, creating some evocative moments that aren’t as well modeled by standard spells. I love the idea that a party can create a connection between doors in two different cities for their ease of transport, or that a party might have a planar arch for a given plane that they visit often. Other incantations can be used to repair or transform territory, which can be a strong incentive to find an incantation to fix some damage that might have been caused to a region the PCs care about. Some of these incantations definitely remind me of 4th edition D&D rituals, like the incantation that allows you to move the magical properties of an item and place them into another item.
The tricky part about this section of the book is that the subclasses are meant to evoke the same general tone created by incantations, but none of them directly interact with the rules for incantations. This is understandable, especially considering how focused and specific incantations can be, but it means that theme is even more evident as a design goal.
The subclasses in this section include:
- College of Antiquity (Bard)
- Path of Vehemence (Barbarian)
- Supernova Domain (Cleric)
- Circle of Dust (Druid)
- Artifact Eater (Fighter)
- Way of the Cosmic Grasp (Monk)
- Oath of Dreams (Paladin)
- Vespertine (Ranger)
- Figment (Rogue)
- Harbinger Bloodline (Sorcerer)
- Whispered One (Warlock)
- School of Travels (Wizard)
The College of Antiquity bard is one that is meant to emulate a bard that has done extensive research into ancient history. The actual class features lean more heavily into a bard that has studied time, itself. You get abilities that make you better at Arcana and History checks, and an effect that uses your bardic inspiration die to boost your initiative. The 6th level ability lets you tally all of the dice that would have been rolled whenever an ally within range misses, and then hits them will off of those dice in force damage, as long as you choose to use it before combat ends. Your 14th level feature lets you damage all of the gear of an enemy with rapid aging.
I like this subclass, even though it does feel more like it’s playing more with actual time than with ancient history. That said, the ancient history theme works more with the bard class, as something that can be studied or recited to inspire others. Something feels off with the Damage of Yore ability, since you have the option of just using your force damage as an action, or adding it to a spell attack, which means there is a chance that your potential damage wouldn’t take effect. I don’t know why you are picking the risk over the sure thing, and I also feel like there should be some risk with this feature, since you are tallying all of the potential damage that hasn’t been taken. It’s also a little confusing how this interacts with abilities like a ranger striking a character while Hunter’s Mark is up, or a rogue that would have done sneak attack damage.
The Path of Vehemence barbarian summons other passionate emotions to fuel their rage, other than anger. They can choose from Fear, Grief, or Joy, and eventually have an option for Peace. At lower levels, picking one of these gives them an extra combat ability when raging. At 6th level, you gain the ability to infect others with your emotion, allies or enemies depending on the emotional state you are in. The subclass feels like it shifts a bit when the 10th level feature kicks in, which lets you cast spells while raging, and also gives you some once-per-day spells to trigger. Overall, I really like this concept, and I enjoy the low-level features, but I’m not as sure about how to feel about the added option of a “peaceful rage” at higher levels.
The Supernova Domain cleric is kind of slippery for me. It’s meant for clerics of gods that are interested in creation, energy, elements, and order. But “exploding star” is just a hard theme for me to reconcile with a godly domain. The artwork on this one is amazing, however. It just feels like fire, explosions, creating vulnerabilities, and crystal armor are a hard collection of things for me to pull together into a theme in my head.
The Circle of Dust druid is tied to entropy and the passage of time. Much of this is centered around being able to see how things fall apart over time. You can learn creature traits like immunities, you can hover above the ground to keep you from interfering with the natural progression of entropy. You can create shards of entropy under certain situations when people are healed, critical hits happen, people die, or you directly take damage. You can then use those shards of entropy to do things like reverse damage on others or poison a target, by manipulating the flow of entropy. You can restore a class feature use to allies at 10th level on a short rest, and you gain Truesight (from all that watching things decay) at 14th level. I’m pretty happy with this one, and it’s an interesting “wide view” implementation of the druid.
Artifact Eater fighters are strange. They are meant to emulate people that are not themselves spellcasters, but are very sensitive to magic flowing around them. Their initial abilities make it harder for creatures with a recharge feature to recharge, lower the ability of creatures to heal damage, or cancel out temporary hit points. You can identify magic being cast and can attack someone using it with your reaction. At 7th level, you pick up the ability to gain charges whenever someone uses a recharge ability or a spell near you, which you can expend for extra damage or attack bonuses. At 10th level, spells that target Constitution or Wisdom saves do half or no damage to you. At 15th level your armor and weapons don’t count against your attuned items, and you can summon attuned items to you, for example, manifesting your magical armor. At 18th level, you can destroy magic items an opponent is using once per short or long rest, causing them extra damage if they are attuned to it.
I feel like there is a theme going on here, but it’s not “artifact eater.” There is a story in these abilities, but I’m not sure the subclass’ story pulls those elements together in a way that fully explains them.
Way of the Cosmic Grasp monks are experts with interplanar interactions. They get a short-range teleport ability. At 6th level, they can potentially banish an opponent for 1 minute. At 11th level, you can cancel out creatures attempting to teleport and change planes, and at 17th level you gain immunity to two damage types. This theme works great, and this feels like a fun subclass to play, with the possible exception of dealing with a banishment effect more often than even spellcasters may use them.
The Oath of Dreams paladin doesn’t actually deal with dreams so much as aspirations. You are there to help others be the best version of themselves they can be. You can use channel divinity to give a massive bonus to your allies, or to super smite. Your aura grants a bonus to ability score checks. You can spend lay on hands to perform the help action for free. Your “avatar” form can cancel damage to allies, and does extra radiant damage that also heals your allies. I like this, in part because it’s a support subclass that gives a bonus to the party when doing things, they may be doing outside of combat, even if that ability doesn’t show up until 7th level.
The Vespertine ranger are rangers that have learned tricks to use from various monsters. You can communicate with monstrosities regardless of language. You can restrain opponents with magical chains that do radiant damage. You can inscribe symbols that can affect charisma checks, the effects of failing a Constitution save, or granting resistance. At 15th level, you get more symbol effects that let you reroll saves, double damage, and make you immune to being vulnerable to damage. These aren’t bad abilities, but the “borrows tricks from monsters” theme doesn’t really hit very hard, and definitely not at lower levels of play.
The Figment rogue is someone that plays with creeping people out even when they don’t know the rogue is there. Their 3rd level ability lets them make an intimidation check against passive perception to stay hidden, which then causes them to be frightened. You can impose a negative number to an opponent’s save equal to the number of sneak attack damage you rolled against them. At 9th level you can hide from blindsense or tremorsense, and can paralyze people that you make afraid. At 13th level, you can ignore immunity to the frightened condition when you impose it, and at 17th level, you can pull shadows with you when you leave an area that is obscured. I like this creepy theme, although I think Erosion of Nerves, imposing a save penalty, should really be a per-ability score limit rather than every sneak attack, given how easy it is to line up sneak attack.
Harbinger Bloodline sorcerers are the Dragon Reborn. Honestly, they are sorcerers that are born at a time of potential ruin that gain their powers from the potential to either resolve or cause a great calamity. You can turn an attack roll spell into a charisma save roll, you can speak a set number of words that can be understood by anyone hearing them regardless of language, and at 6th level, you can score a critical hit on a 19-20 with spells. At 14th level, you regain hit points when you cast spells, and at 18th level your magic gains the siege property and scores a crit on an 18-19. I like the concept of this one quite a bit, especially if the DM and the player can work together fleshing out the potential calamity.
The Whispered One patron warlock has made a deal with something that is locked out of reality, and is pushing its way through. You get a bonus die to int checks, and you know what spells others are casting, and may shift them towards casting another spell instead. You gain psychic resistance at 6th level, and at 10th level, people have a hard time focusing on you, and take psychic damage when attempting to read your mind. At 14th level, you can gain health from absorbing part of a spell that targeted you, and you can potentially use this energy to regain a spell slot.
The School of Travels wizards is all about movement, but also with a side of being well traveled. One of your first abilities make it cheaper and faster to copy spells. You can also change the speed of someone affected by one of your spells. At 6th level, you can cast touch spells at range, and can’t have your movement reduced. At 10th level, you can move when you take damage without provoking an attack, and reduce damage by your level. At 15th level, you get much better at managing variables in teleportation and increase your range when you convert a touch spell to ranged. I think this theme holds up well across the class abilities.
Remember when I said there was an interesting limit to incantations that I would touch on in the magic item section? You can only have access to an incantation if you are attuned to an item that imparts information about the incantation. Not only do you have to find an item with an incantation to impart, you also have a limit to the number of them you can have active. These are all considered artifacts, meaning they are rare and not easily manufactured.
A memento requires you to make an ability check to learn the incantation within. Once learned, you can attune to the item. It grants you an additional attunement slot. A relic is an artifact that you can attune to, which does not require the ability score check. However, as soon as you attune to the item, it loses its physical form. Once you cast the incantation, you are no longer attuned to the item, and it ceases to exist.
I like that this gives the DM some flexibility on how they want to introduce incantations. If you want it to be something the PCs always have access to while adventuring, you want them to find a memento. If the incantation really is something you just want them to use at the right time and place, without further repercussions on the campaign, you want that item to be a relic.
This section also details an Antiquity. Antiquities are created by a specific incantation, in this place, one that starts the user down the path to lichdom. Essentially, it creates alternate rules for a phylactery, and also covers what happens if you end up with a PC on this path as well.
These are solid tools that the text provides in this chapter. It puts me in mind of all kinds of ancient, lost societies in D&D. I can easily see an elven kiira stone imparting an incantation, or even one of the Nether Scrolls from the Forgotten Realms.
Hope for the Future
While it’s not exactly what I was thinking of when I backed it, I really do like a lot of the tools introduced in this product. Not only are there some imaginative options within, but I also like the concept of being able to iterate on these ideas. It helps to explain so many of those long-term effects that show up in fantasy settings, and lets the player characters participate in working some of those mythic fantasy effects. Several of the subclasses are also very imaginative and seem like they would be a lot of fun to try out.
Mistakes of the Past
Some of the subclasses have evocative features that don’t quite feel like they come together to a cohesive theme. Because some of the incantations have wide-ranging effects, the explanation of how to adjudicate them can be a little complicated, but this is generally only an issue with the really esoteric ones. Some of the incantations are really interesting, but I’m not sure how they work in practice. For example, Chains of Penance is a great “bind the monster” spell, but I don’t know if you can perform the components and then trigger them later, or if you must try to bind something as soon as you finish the five-minute casting time, because the latter is going to really limit its usefulness.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
While I love the concept of big, plot-related magic, it is a step away from how D&D usually presents magic, and I can understand the concept might not fit everyone’s idea of fun. There may also be some people that miss the more “skill challenge” aspect of the D&D 3e version of incantations. Regardless, I think this product introduces some great tools for story details, and then introduces even more tools to help manage the tools it introduces, in the form of the limited artifacts needed to use incantations.
Pingback: Routinely Itemised: RPGs #162