Project Arcana


So, let’s make this official.

Good morrow friends! Legendary Pants is proud to announce Project Arcana, our efforts to improve the magic of 5th Edition D&D. Really, this project is the brain child of myself (Matthew) and my father, Shawn. We have long complained about the ad hoc and seemingly random organization of magic spells in D&D, even as far back as 1st Edition AD&D.

Magic is an important part of these fantasy RPG systems. This should be no surprise, as every PHB (except 4th Edition, maybe, but only because it worked differently) has devoted a large percentage of its pages to magic and spell descriptions. Woe is the poor fighter who, in even the most verbose editions, never got more than a handful of pages which detailed all of the class’s rules. Of course, woe is the player who makes a fighter and sits bored while the spellcasters rifle through those spell pages. However, such is the way of things.

So, knowing how important this aspect of the game is, it’s somewhat baffling that we’ve gone through 5 core editions (6 if you count OD&D, but who does?) and a huge number of supplements and campaign settings, yet the magic system still feels poorly organized. WotC is a huge company, surely they can hire a guy to make it better, right?

In our hubris, we know that we can do better. And we’d like to share that with you!

Project Arcana is broken into three phases. Each phase will mark a distinct checkpoint in the overall project which will be usable in the 5e system. That means you can decide just how different you’d like the rules to be, with Phase 1 being a much smaller change than Phase 3. In the end, we’ll have a nice little supplement that will refine the magic system in a fun and, more importantly, useful way.

Phase I – Organization of the Schools

In the first phase, we’re going to take all of the spells in the PHB and organize them into the schools. I hesitate to say “reorganize” because that implies an initial level of organization that doesn’t seem to exist. The spells do tend to align based on their underlying mechanisms, so all we have to do is identify those mechanisms and assign them to schools in a sensible way.

We will be keeping the current 8 schools, though we will be renaming one of them (stay tuned!). We will also be adding one school because a lot of divine magic is simply unclassifiable. We will have updated descriptions and spell lists for each school.

On the issue of balance, we have decided to not concern ourselves with the number of spells in each school. First of all, there already exists some inequality in this regard. Secondly, and more importantly, the only game mechanic affected by the schools of magic is the associated Arcane Traditions for the wizards, and then mostly the price it costs to copy a new spell. Yeah, some wizards may make bank, but that’s the price of true organization. Yes, there are other, little bonuses that the wizards get in their traditions, but we will make sure that those bonuses are just as valid when we’re done.

The goal of Phase I is to set up a coherent foundation of magic for DMs and for the next two phases.

Phase II – Wheel of Magic

Though the title of this phase is a bit tongue in cheek, what it suggests is that we are going to explore and codify the relationships between the schools of magic. As is becoming abundantly clear as we work on Project Arcana, there is a bit of a haze between some of the schools. For example, Enchantment affects the mind while Illusion affects the senses. These are very closely related concepts, and some of the spells do fairly similar things. Our “Wheel of Magic” will show which schools are related to each other and how.

WARNING: Final output of Phase II may not resemble a wheel even a little bit.

After that is established, we will be drafting reasonable and fun rules for crafting new spells and magical items within the context of the game. By firmly establishing the underpinnings of the magic system, rules like this become viable and reasonable. In current 5th Edition rules, the system presented in the DMG for crafting magic items is fairly sketchy, especially when items of equal rarity can have wildly different effects. Furthermore, if a player wishes to make a whole new magic item, establishing its rarity is not always clear. As for making new magic spells, there doesn’t seem to be a set of rules to let a player do this in the game.

The goals of Phase II are to codify an interrelationship between the schools and new crafting rules for magic-related stuff (items, spells, scrolls, etc.).

Phase III – Into the Wild Electric Pinkish-Purple Yonder

The third phase of Project Arcana is still fairly nebulous and TBD. We’d like to rework the magic system entirely, using the foundation created by the earlier phases, into something new and interesting. This is where we get into creative realms that require a lot of working, reworking, and playtesting.

We’d definitely like to at least offer magic users of all kinds interesting new ways to use the schools of magic to add flavor and new dynamics to their characters. After all, except for a few little things for Wizards, the schools of magic have no bearing on any other class in any truly significant way.

The goal of Phase III is to make something awesome! Stay tuned!

We’ve already started on Phase I, which you can read about in the following articles:

Stay with us! This is going to be awesome!