Heavy Metal Arcanist: A guide to arcane spellcasting in full armor

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    Sorcerer equipped in armor and tower shield, able to cast spells without failure. (Source: NWN EE, WoG PW)


    This is a draft guide, and has not yet been completed.


    • Memorised arcane spells (used by Bards, Sorcerers and Wizards) have a chance of failure if cast in armor (other than robes) and with a shield equipped if they have a somatic component. Most arcane spells have a somatic component.
    • To cast these memorised spells without failure, one has to wear robes without a shield, wear equipment with reduced Arcane Spell Failure that reduces it to 0), use Still Spell to cast the spell, or have Automatic Still Spell.
    • Spell buffs and summons which last a long time can be cast without failure by simply unequipping the armor/shield so there is no failure, casting the long duration spells (ie Summon Creature, Flame Weapon, Improved Invisibility) then re-equipping the armor/shield once the long term spell buffs can be cast.
    • Shorter duration buffs such as Haste or Mestil’s Acid Sheath can also be used, however durations can be shorter. They could be cast using Extend Spell to make the duration longer with the armor unequipped, then re-equip the armor.
    • Crafted magic is not subject to Arcane Spell Failure, and therefore spells can be cast from a Scroll, Wand in full armor and shield without failure. This includes scrolls such as Summon Creature IX, Greater Sanctuary, Bigby’s Forceful/Grasping/Crushing Hand, Issac’s Greater Missile Storm, Firebrand and wands of Issac’s Lesser Missile Storm, Stoneskin, Evards Black Tentacles, Flame Arrow. Potions are also not subject to Arcane Spell failure.
    • Some spells do not have a somatic component and can be cast without failure in full armor / shield without Still Spell/Equipment with reduced Arcane Spell Failure. These include Light, Flare, True Strike, Darkness, Displacement, Mordenkainen’s Disjunction, Time Stop and Wail of the Banshee.

    Example of combat for a sorcerer equipped in armor and tower shield. The enemies don’t get a chance to attack me, but if they did, the sorcerer would very high AC from the armor + divine shield she has active (Source: NWN EE, WoG PW)

    The basics:

    Arcane spells, used by Bards, Sorcerers and Wizards, are amongst the most powerful in the game. These spells have the ability to damage, disable, protect, enhance, become undetectable, summon powerful allies, instantly kill and even control time. These spells can be single target (ie Bigby’s Forceful Hand – knock down and daze an opponent for 1 round/level) or area of effect (ie. Wail of the Banshee – colossal area of effect fortitude save or death).┬áThe major counterbalances to these powerful abilities are that the classes that cast these spells have limited number of casts / day, as well as reduced statistical and physical prowess (for example, 1d4 or 1d6 hit die), and arcane spell failure.

    Arcane spell failure is a percentage chance a memorised arcane spell cannot be cast due to equipped armor and/or shield. It is cumulative. It only applies to spells with somatic components which are the majority of spells. Arcane spell failure can be very high. For example an ordinary full plate (8 AC) has 45% arcane spell failure, an ordinary tower shield (3 AC) has 50% arcane spell failure, an arcane spell caster using full plate and tower shield (11 AC) will have 95% arcane spell failure unless it is reduced in some way. Essentially the arcane spell caster will not be able to cast somatic component spells in that situation.

    The AC loss in this situation is huge. 11 AC is equivalent to -55% chance of being hit in combat. So a cleric wearing full plate and tower can cast all spells without failure and benefit from that reduced chance of being hit. In comparison the arcane spellcaster, if either has to make a choice to 1. wear robes and lose all that AC, but be able to cast spells in combat, 2. wear full plate and tower and not cast spells in combat or 3. use some the strategies I will outline to work around it. It should be noted in practice the AC bonus is even higher than the 11 AC quoted. For example an environment may have up to +5 equipment, and a +5 tower shield adds +8 AC, so the same full plate and tower with +5 bonuses is +21 AC while +5 robes is +5 AC, so an effective difference of 16 AC (or -80% chance of being hit in practice).

    So what are the strategies to manage an armored arcane spell caster? They can be summarised in a few groups:

    • Cast long, short term spell buffs and summons in robes before combat, then equip armor/shield and engage in combat.
    • Use equipment with reduced arcane spell failure reducing the failure chance to 0.
    • Use crafted magic spells from scrolls, wands and potions.
    • Use non-somatic spells in combat.
    • Use the Still Spell and Automatic Still Spell Feats to cast spells in combat.

    This dwarven wizard has precast all his spells (Summon IX, Premonition, Extended Shadow Shield, Extended Haste, Extended Mestil’s Acid Shield, Extended Improved Invisibility, Extended Elemental Shield, Empowered Bull’s Strength, Empowered Endurance, Greater Magic Weapon, Mage Armor, Protection vs Evil) and is engaging in melee combat against a mighty dragon! (Source NWN EE, WoG PW)

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