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All Rules in Designing Spells

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The Golden Rule

Source Ultimate Magic pg. 128
Compare your spell to similar spells, and to other spells of its intended level.

Unlike when pricing magic items, there are no formulae for how to correctly “price” a spell. The entire process is a matter of comparing the new spell you’re creating to other spells and evaluating whether your spell is weaker, stronger, or about the same as that spell or group of spells. Designing a spell requires a firm understanding of all the game’s rules, not just those related to spells. Furthermore, it requires an understanding of some unwritten game assumptions, most of which are discussed throughout this section.

Example: If you look at the spell list in the Core Rulebook, you’ll notice that there isn’t a 1st-level wizard spell that deals sonic damage. You may decide to design a spell to fill that niche, modeling it after burning hands, except dealing sonic damage instead of fire—perhaps you’d call it sonic screech. However, there’s a reason there aren’t as many sonic spells in the game: “sonic” as an energy type is a late addition to the rules, and very few monsters have any resistance to sonic damage because most monsters existed before “sonic” was defined as an energy type. Because there are fewer creatures with sonic resistance than creatures with fire resistance, sonic screech will almost always be a better spell than burning hands. That means if you introduce sonic screech into your game, you’ll see savvy players selecting it instead of burning hands. If a new spell displaces an existing spell from the roster of most spellcasters, it probably means it’s better than the other available choices—and if it’s so good that it’s obviously the best spell choice, it’s probably overpowered. Understanding the entire system of rules can help you avoid mistakes like this.