Character Building Made Simple: Spellcasters

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    Orion

    (Screenshot from NWN:EE, WoG PW)

    For the purpose of this guide, Spellcasters are characters who primarily use their spells to defeat enemies. These are Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics and Druids.

    This guide focuses on some tips to help new players build spellcasters. They are interestingly, easier to build than combat builds, once one understands the concepts.

    Some combat classes such as Paladin, Ranger and Bard have spells, but they use other methods to defeat enemies, they are not covered in this guide.

    There are Arcane Spellcasters (Wizards and Sorcerers) and Divine Spellcasters (Clerics and Druids). When designing characters, spellcasters have common and special features. I’ll discuss features common to building both classes.

    Higher caster level = more powerful spells

    A caster level is simply the class level of the spellcaster’s class. For example a level 20 character with Wizard 15 / Rogue 3 / Fighter 2 has a Caster level of 15. A level 20 character with Wizard 10 / Fighter 10 has a Caster level of 10. So more levels in spellcaster class in question = higher caster level spells.

    Almost always a higher caster level (ie more levels of Wizard) means stronger spells. A higher caster level means more spells / day, and more powerful spells. A higher caster level grants:

    • Spell penetration (SP = Caster Level + 1d20 + SP feats)
    • Spell protections which are less likely to be dispelled (With 25 Caster Levels, spell buffs on characters are immune to Lesser Dispel, Dispel Magic and Greater Dispelling, but not to Breaches or Mordenkainen’s)
    • A larger spellbook (Maximum progression is at level 20 + caster statistic bonus + items)
    • Access to higher level spells, including 9th circle spells and eventually epic spells
    • Bonus feats from level 23-24 onwards to increase the caster stats plus Wizards get bonus feats at levels 5, 10, 15 and 20.

    So one of the principles of building a powerful spellcaster is aim to set the spellcasting class level high. There are no hard and fast rules here, but my suggestions would be to aim as close to level 20 as possible for level 20 builds, and 20-25+ for level 30 and level 40 builds.

    I would go even higher against enemies with high spell resistance (for spell penetration so the spells work) or if one is facing a lot of mages (so Mordenkainen’s Disjunction doesn’t remove as many spell protections).

    This is obviously at the cost of other features (ie one could take some RDD levels for extra strength and AC, for example) but if the goal is more powerful spells, a high caster level goes a long way to achieving this. Palemaster levels do not improve caster levels but add other features which one might want.

    A high caster statistic = more spells and higher DCs

    A high caster statistic (ie Wisdom, Intelligence, Charisma) is the second most important part of making a powerful spellcaster but still no less essential. The Caster statistic allows the player to cast more spells / day using a complex formula, and for the spells to have higher difficulty class rolls, if such spells have saving throws (for example, reflex save for half damage, or fortitude save or death).

    The ability modifier table, from the NWN Wiki. I have put markings when one gains an additional level 9 spell.

    An absolute minimum to aim for is 19 for spellcasters who can cast level 9 spells. One will want usually want more.

    One thing I learnt from my work in the ECB is that 24 and 32 are nice numbers to stop. When one has items which add +12 to the caster statistic, 24+12 and 32+12 grant two and three bonus level 9 spells / day. Stopping at 30 means two level 9 spells/day and three level 8 spells/day but the level 9 spells are usually the most powerful spells in the spellcasters arsenal, and having one extra level 9 spell/day provides an enormous amount of power. Its nice, but not not always essential.

    Other general features

    There are a few other features for all spellcasters which can valuable for all spellcasters.

    Enough hitpoints is usually my next consideration. 150hp at level 20, 225 at level 30 and 300 at level 40 are nice targets, although 250hp at level 40 can work for a Wizard/Sorcerer, their hitpoints are rather low due to their d4 hit die. A Toughness feat or a little investment in Constitution can work wonders.

    Spell focus feats are very valuable to enhance the power of certain spells. Wizards and Sorcerers a number of spell focuses are popular (Necromancy, Evocation, Conjuration, Enchantment, Illusion, Conjuration, Transmutation), Clerics the most popular spell focus schools are Evocation and Necromancy. Druids the popular spell focus schools are Conjuration, Necromancy and Evocation. I will talk about some specifics with these schools a bit later.

    Crafting magic feats (Scribe Scroll, Craft Wand, Brew Potion) are very useful if one runs out of spells, hasn’t got the specific spell prepared or has teammates who can use such items with UMD. Certain spells on scrolls and wands are very powerful. These include:

    • Scrolls of Mordenkainen’s Disjunction, Greater Sanctuary, Premonition, Mind Blank, Heal, Harm, Bigby’s Forceful Hand, Summon IX
    • Wands of Lesser Spell Breach, Improved Invisibility, Stoneskin, Protection versus Elements, Restoration, Cure Critical Wounds, Animate Dead/Summon IV

    The downsides of crafting magic are that they use both gold and experience. In single player modules which gold and experience are limited crafting magic is rather unattractive. In persistent worlds or DM run modules where enemies respawn crafting magic is very attractive. Crafting magic is also very valuable in rest restricted environments.

    Spell penetration feats can be valuable. Spells need enough spell penetration to work. Spell resistance is beaten when spell penetration is equal or greater to spell resistance. For level 20 builds I believe spell penetration feats are usually valuable if one is facing enemies with magic resistance.

    Level 40 builds are a little different. Maximum toolset spell resistance is 32, so a spellcaster with 31 caster levels (or more) exceeds this 100% of the time with a 31+1d20 SP roll (or more). A spellcaster with less caster levels can have spell penetration feats (ie spell penetration, greater spell penetration, epic spell penetration) to exceed maximum toolset SR. Ie 25 caster levels + epic spell penetration will beat max toolset SR 100% of the time.

    One proviso is whether such high spell penetration is necessary. Firstly in some environments, enemies do not have such high spell resistance, even rarely will it be that one faces maximum toolset SR. Secondly some spells do not take into account spell resistance, such as the Summon Creature, Mestil’s Acid Sheath, Creeping Doom, Darkfire, knockdown effect of Grease. Thirdly spell resistance on non-monk enemies can be lowered with Mordenkainen’s Disjunction, Greater Spell Breach, Lesser Spell Breach and Nature’s Balance. Mordenkainen’s Disjunction can lower SR by 10 for 10 rounds, which means a caster level 21 Wizard can penetrate max toolset SR 32 100% if the enemy is ‘Morded’. This means Wizards, Sorcerers and to a lesser extent Druids, can get away with less caster levels.

    One final sneaky feature is that Clerics have Animal Domain. This can empower the summon creature spell for all classes who use summon creature. This includes Wizard, Sorcerer and Druid spells and scrolls. A single level of cleric just to access Animal Domain can enhance the power of Wizard, Sorcerer and Druid summon creature spells, which can be a huge power boost. Note that in some environments Druids get empowered summons by default.

    Wail of the Banshee, a powerful area colossal area of effect level 9 Wizard/Sorcerer Necromancy spell that forces enemies to make a fortitude save or die, if spell penetration is sufficient, and they do not have death magic immunity. All these enemies in the screenshot, are dead in the next few seconds. (Screenshot: NWN EE, WoG PW)

    Stinking Cloud, a level 3 Wizard/Sorcerer Conjuration spell which forces a Fortitude save or be dazed, each round for 1 / round per caster level. Around 15-18 enemies are disabled in this screenshot. My evil sorcerer is immune to the effects through a level 1 Protection versus Evil spell providing Mind Immunity. (Screenshot: NWN EE, WoG PW)

    Specific features

    Wizards

    Wizards have high intelligence, and usually more skillpoints than they will ever need. It helps for wizards to have a small investment in other classes which have a high number of class skills, such as Rogue. They get Scribe Scroll for free, and four bonus feats at level 5, 10, 15 and 20. Additional bonus feats in epic levels at level 23 and every 3 levels from there.

    Wizards have the option of staying as a generalist (and being able to cast all wizard spells), or specialize in a school, gaining 1 spell/day per spell level but at the cost of being unable to cast spells of the opposing school.

    If one specializes, I recommend specializing in either Illusion (if you don’t plan to use Enchantment spells, these are largely mind altering spells such as hold/dominate monster plus Mass Haste) or Necromancy (if you do plan to use Enchantment spells, but you will not be able to cast Premonition, a powerful physical damage defense spell).

    Sorcerers

    Sorcerers aim to have high charisma. 1 level of Paladin (Divine Grace) or 2 levels of Blackguard (Dark Blessing) adds the charisma bonus to saves, meaning Sorcerers can have saving throws off the charts. With these great saves, Evasion (from Monk 1, Rogue 2, Shadowdancer 2 or items) is very attractive.

    Additionally 1+ level of cleric, 3+ levels of Paladin or 3+ levels of Blackguard allows access to Divine Shield, provided one meets other prerequisites which include Power Attack, Str 13+ and planning the levels carefully. Having a +10-15 AC divine shield for 10-15 rounds can be very powerful to keep the sorcerer alive.

    Wizard and Sorcerer Spell Focuses and Epic Spells

    Necromancy is very popular for Wizard and Sorcerer spells. Wail of the Banshee, a level 9 spell, will kill all enemies within a massive radius unless they have death immunity or pass a fortitude saving throw. Finger of death is a similar save or die spell, which is single target. Horrid Wilting and Fear are also useful necromancy spells.

    Conjuration is powerful as it boosts the Flame Arrow spell, which can do a lot of damage in level 40 characters, along with boosting spells such as Grease, Stinking Cloud and Evard’s. Evocation is popular as a large number of evocation spells use saves, such as Fireball, Chain Lightning, Firebrand etc. However a number of spells including Ice Storm and Issac’s Greater Missile Storm do not have saves, and spell focus in Evocation does not improve them. Enchantment can be useful against non-mind immune enemies. Illusion is great with Color Spray, a level 1 mind affecting spell. Transmutation I consider only good for one spell, Flesh to Stone, but this is a very powerful spell which immunity is rare.

    The best Epic Spells for these classes in my opinion are Epic Mage Armor (which will add a minimum of +5 dodge AC, unless the +20 dodge cap is hit with say +20 dodge AC boots), Epic Warding (which grants a +20 / 50 soak damage shield). Other Epic Spells such as Greater Ruin, Hellball, Mummy Dust, Dragon Knight can be useful but usually they are nice things rather than essentials.

    Clerics

    Clerics get a lot of spells which boost attack bonus, and hitting things well can be valuable for cleric builds. Sometimes it is better for a cleric to have a high strength or dexterity score as a result, making them more combat builds rather than spell casters.

    Clerics have domains, which add special abilities. It is beyond the scope of this to go into detail with them, however certain domains are popular, such as Animal Domain (empowered summons), Trickery (improved invisibility), Travel (haste), Strength (extra divine power / day), War (aura of vitality), Plant (barkskin, creeping doom).

    Evocation is a valuable spell focus for clerics due to Implosion, Blade Barrier and Hammer of the Gods. Necromancy (Destruction, Slay Living) and Conjuration (Storm of Vengeance) can be valuable spell focuses. Clerics don’t have a lot of great epic spells to discuss, Greater Ruin, Hellball Mummy Dust, Dragon Knight are nice rather than being essential.

    Epic Spell: Dragon Shape is one of the most powerful feats in the game. With a single monk level, my Dragon Shape has 5 attacks / round (instead of three) and has an Armor Class of 70 at level 30, which is extremely high.

    Druids

    Druids can shapeshift into certain creatures such as Bears and Water Elementals. The most powerful form being Dragon Shape, an epic spell with exorbitant requirements including a base Wisdom score of 30 and Druid 18+. Druid builds usually benefit very much from monk levels as a result, to make the shapeshifted forms attack more often and add the Wisdom modifier to armor class. As a result Druid/Monk shapeshifted forms are quite difficult for enemies to kill.

    Druids also have fabulous area of effect disabling spells such as Grease, Stonehold and Storm of Vengeance. Conjuration is a very valuable spell focus. Necromancy is good for Finger of Death. Evocation is good for better Call Lightning and other damaging spells. Transmutation for better Drown spells.

    In summary:

    • High caster levels – stronger spells, more spells / day
    • High casting attribute – strong DC spells, more spells / day
    • Other features in detail to be considered listed in this article

    I hope you enjoyed this article on Character Building Made Simple: Spellcasters and hope it helps with building characters!

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