I Like Cantrips

I like cantrips. Part of my interest in cantrips was probably inspired by Jon Winter’s article “The Little Wish” in Dragon Magazine #221, where he offers suggestions as to what cantrips from each school can do (this is back in the 2E AD&D days, where there was a spell called cantrip, and it covered all the bases).

I like that cantrips a very minor type of magic. I like that in PF they can be used over and over. I like that there are means for non-spellcasters to learn how to cast them. In a way, PF converting the 3E (expended-like-a-spell) 0-level spells into (at-will-these-are-different-than-spells) cantrips is a precursor to the hex ability of the witch class—something you can use over and over which (unlike preparing a spell) doesn’t expend a daily resource.

(It’s funny that there is pressure at Paizo against adding new cantrips to the game, mainly because the wizard class “begins play with a spellbook containing all 0-level wizard spells” and the witch class’s familiar “begins play storing all of the 0-level witch spells,” and therefore all new wizards and witches would automatically start play with every single cantrip ever published*. This aversion to new cantrips actually resulted in a bunch of cantrips written for Ultimate Magic getting cut from the book.)

Of course, Goody White’s Book of Folk Magic has dozens of at-will hexes, some of which are also low-level spells. I even wrote some 0-level spells for 3E back in the day, some of which later got adapted into not-cantrips.

Basically, I like the game mechanic aspects of cantrips. It’s fun to take an existing spell and see if you can squish its power level down enough that it’s appropriate for an at-will use. Which is a small aspect of how magic in Five Moons RPG works, which I’ll address in a future blog.

What prompted this blog was I woke up this morning thinking about an underused spell in World of Warcraft called Eye of Kilrogg, which creates a floating green eyeball that the caster can move around at normal speed to spy on things. D&D/PF has arcane eye, of course. But how would you make that 5th-level spell into a cantrip? The easiest way is to limit its range to “5 feet,” which means it’s not good for scouting ahead, but is great for looking around corners. Which resulted in this:

Corner Peeker
School divination (scrying); Level sorcerer/wizard 0, witch 0
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S
Range 5 ft.
Effect magical sensor
Duration concentration
Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance no
You create an invisible magical sensor that sends you visual information. You can create the corner peeker within range at any point you can see, but it cannot travel outside your line of sight. A corner peeker can move to anywhere in its square as a move action. It sees exactly as you would see if you were there.
The sensor can travel in any direction. Solid barriers block its passage, but it can pass through a hole or space as small as 1 inch in diameter. It can’t enter another plane of existence, even through a gate or similar magical portal.

(There will be a version of this spell Five Moons RPG but with a much simpler stat block.)

(There will also be something in Five Moons RPG that means you don’t have to list what cantrips mid-level casters have prepare, because that’s annoying clutter in a stat block that needs to focus on important things.)

If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!

* Of course, the way to fix that is to errata the two classes so they only get the cantrips in the Core Rulebook instead of “all” cantrips.

11 thoughts on “I Like Cantrips

  1. Pingback: Five Moons RPG: A bit on cantrips, Kickstarter Update #4 summary | Five Moons RPG

  2. I like that cantrips reinforced that a spellcaster’s expertise doesn’t end when he’s out of spells. A wizard can always read magical writing or take a moment to study a magical object. Cantrips are like a spell version of a box of ordinary tools. While you won’t be building boats with it, you can accomplish many things with a bit of clever thinking. To me, this is what being a mage is all about — using the supernatural to solve problems in fun, creative ways.

    For this reason, prestidigitation is always my favorite cantrip. I played a magus that hated being dirty. After every battle, he’d spend 5 minutes cleaning himself and his weapons off with prestidigitation.

    A shame those new cantrips never made it to UM. I heard many fun uses for the scoop spell. A guy I know recently said a wizard in his party dumped molten glass on a goblin during Rise of the Runelords.

  3. {It’s fun to take an existing spell and see if you can squish its power level down enough that it’s appropriate for an at-will use. Which is a small aspect of how magic in Five Moons RPG works, which I’ll address in a future blog.}


  4. I’ve actually just got finished reading that article on Dragon #221 that you pointed out. I can definitely see some of the inspiration, like when I saw this quote in the article: “With cantrips as proficiencies, thieves and psionicists have a chance to use magic, albeit in small portions.”

    I can liken to the idea of Cantrips having broadstroke uses, though making up your own uses I agree would just leave me to mostly just use the example uses in a given schools entry. So mostly I’d like the idea of each Cantrip having broad utlility uses, opposed to ultra specific like “Corner Peeker”. However, if any cantrip-user has access to ALL of them, At-Will, then having specific ones don’t really matter, and would likely just be more organized that way (so that’d work).

    I will say I disliked the idea in 5th edition how Cantrips are basically the best spells in the game, can’t say that’s exciting fantasy so much. So it’ll be good to see they’ll retain a notion like that article, or 3rd edition.

    Lastly, not a big deal, but I noticed the other blog you moved to referenced this instead of the other way around. Are you returning to this blog, or perhaps some minor error due to lack of sleep? I’m fine either way, I just want to know where its best keep track of this stuff is all (though it usually migrates to the other anyway,so minor query).

    • This blog entry is mostly about cantrips in general, rather than Five Moons in particular, which is why it’s on my blog instead of the Five Moons blog. In other words, if someone interested in Five Moons doesn’t see this, they’re not really missing out on any new info. :)

  5. Pingback: Five Moons RPG: Throwing Out Vancian Magic | Five Moons RPG

    • Personally, I think cantrips should do a little bit *less* damage than a weapon, as there’s no ammo, it doesn’t cost the character any gp to “own” it, and it’s a ranged attack so the caster can hang back from the melee. So, maybe a d4 or d6 as compared to a typical 1d8 martial character’s weapon.

      • To be fair, in 5e cantrips already deal less damage than a shortbow (except for warlocks and, to an extent, some wizards and sorcerers) because ability modifiers. 1d6+3 is already roughly equivalent to 1d12.

  6. I always wondered why there are no domain orisons in 3e/PF. It seems a strange and obvious omission. Likewise there are no cantrips for half-casters like rangers and paladins. So I wrote my own; it wasn’t remotely hard. I like cantrips.

    As for the wizards-know-everything issue, I house-ruled it to 1 per point of Int at start, plus one per level thereafter.

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