Cantrip Comparison

Cantrip Comparison

I recently posted an article (you can check it out here) about how much I enjoyed Cantrips in D&D 5E and how it was one of my favourite parts of that system. One of my long-time online gaming-buddies Dennis Bach posted on Facebook that he thought there might be some duplication of existing spells if the effects were just to be ported over, which is a very valid point because the idea of Cantrips is to give magic-users some cool extra stuff they can do, not to replicate or replace the higher-level spell systems.

Glen Hallstrom did an episode for Radio Grognard this morning where he gave an interesting potted history of Cantrips in D&D, if you’ve not heard it I highly recommend you check it out:

In the episode Glen suggested that he ports the mechanics for Cantrips directly from 5E into whatever games he’s running; this–along with Dennis’ post–got me thinking about how similar the Cantrips from 5E actually are to the levelled spells, so I’ve decided to do a comparison.

Please note: In this article I’m comparing the basic mechanics of 5E Cantrips to levelled spells from LOTFP since that’s what I tend to play. I’m going to pick a Cantrip and then compare it to the lowest levelled spell that I consider to be thematically similar.

Magic-user/Wizards

Acid Splash vs Magic Missile

Acid Splash: You hurl acid up to 60′, one creature within range or two creatures within 5 feet of each other must make a Dex Save or take 1D6 damage. Damage increases with the Wizard’s level.

Magic Missile (only lvl 1 damage inflicting spell in LOTFP): Has a range of 60′ plus 10 per level of the Magic-User and inflicts 1D4 damage per level of the spell-caster. Attack automatically hits, target is allowed a save vs Magic to only take half damage.

My verdict: Although it seems like Acid Splash does more damage than Magic Missile at first level, the short range of the Cantrip and the fact that a Saving Throw negates it entirely makes Magic Missile more of a sure thing. The damage for Magic Missile also soon outpaces that of Acid Splash as the caster climbs in levels.

I don’t think there would be too many problems importing this as is.

Blade Ward vs ???

Blade Ward: Until the end of their next turn the caster gains resistance (takes half damage) against bludgeoning, piercing and slashing attacks dealt by weapon attacks.

My verdict: I couldn’t really find a first-level spell to compare Blade Ward to in LOTFP but it still doesn’t seem too massively over-powering, if you want to use your turn to cast the spell then you can take a little bit more damage, as a first-level LOTFP Magic-User you still only have a maximum of 1D6 HP, so it’s not exactly going to make you invulnerable.

Chill Touch vs Magic Missile

Chill Touch: You make a ranged attack against someone within 120′, if hit they take 1D8 HP damage and cannot regain HP until the start of your next turn. It gives undead disadvantage on attack rolls against you until your next turn, the damage increases by level.

Magic Missile (only lvl 1 damage inflicting spell in LOTFP): Has a range of 60′ plus 10 per level of the Magic-User and inflicts 1D4 damage per level of the spell-caster. Attack automatically hits, target is allowed a save vs Magic to only take half damage.

My verdict: Again Magic Missile seems under-powered (especially at first level), but when you look at it, Magic Missile automatically inflicts some damage (even if the enemy makes a save) whereas the caster of Chill Touch has to make a ranged attack, which isn’t a sure thing by any means when you’re a low-level Magic-User in LOTFP.

I’m pretty sure this would be fine to port over.

Dancing Lights vs Light

Dancing Lights: The caster creates four torch-sized lights within 120′ and can move them up to 60′ as a bonus action, each light must stay within 20′ of the others. The spell requires concentration and lasts for up to a minute.

Light: The caster creates a single torch-sized light within 120′, after creating the light the caster has no control over it (other than to end the spell) but it can be cast on a person or equipment. The spell can also be reversed to create Darkness and can be cast at a person’s eyes to blind them, it lasts for 3 turns per level of the caster.

My verdict: Although these spells seem to have a fair amount of overlap, the Light spell has far more utility, it lasts far longer and also doesn’t require concentration to maintain. There is also a combat function for the spell that Dancing Lights does not have.

Fire Bolt vs Magic Missile

Fire Bolt: The caster hurls a mote of fire up to 120′, making a ranged spell attack and inflicting 1D10 fire damage if successful. Flammable objects are set alight. Damage increases every few levels.

Magic Missile (only lvl 1 damage inflicting spell in LOTFP): Has a range of 60′ plus 10 per level of the Magic-User and inflicts 1D4 damage per level of the spell-caster. Attack automatically hits, target is allowed a save vs Magic to only take half damage.

My verdict: As with other damaging spells, Magic Missile is more of a sure thing and quickly outpaces Fire Bolt in terms of damage as the caster goes up in levels.

Friends vs Charm Person

Friends: The caster gains advantage on Charisma checks against one creature for up to a minute. When the spell ends, the creature is aware that the caster used magic to influence them.

Charm Person: The spells makes a single subject utterly enamoured with the caster if they fail a save vs Magic, causing them to follow any request that is not directly against their interests or personality. Intelligent subjects will realise they have been charmed and have full memories of their actions whilst under the influence of the spell. Effectively this spell appears to have no limit to duration, however, neglecting the charmed person or abusing their trust leads to another save with possibly murderous results.

My verdict: These spells are similar however, whilst Friends just gives you a bonus to checks against the subject, Charm Person entirely brings them under your thrall as long as you do not abuse that power. In my opinion Charm Person is clearly the more powerful spell and there are sufficient differences that bringing Friends over would not invalidate the levelled spell.

Light vs Light

Light (Cantrip): The caster touches a small object, it sheds light in a 20-foot radius for up to an hour. Casting Light again cancels the previous casting.

Light (LOTFP levelled-spell): The caster creates a single torch-sized light within 120′, after creating the light the caster has no control over it (other than to end the spell) but it can be cast on a person or equipment. The spell can also be reversed to create Darkness and can be cast at a person’s eyes to blind them, it lasts for 3 turns per level of the caster.

My verdict: I think we see the most overlap so far in these two spells, however the levelled version has far more utility with the Cantrip doing just a single thing and only being able to be cast on one thing at a time, whereas–if you have the spell slots–you can keep casting light on things.

Mage Hand vs Unseen Servant

Mage Hand: The caster conjures a spectral, floating hand that they can move on their turn (although it can’t go more than 30′ from the caster), it can manipulate objects but cannot attack, activate magic items or carry more than 10 pounds in weight. The spell lasts for one minute.

Unseen Servant: Creates an invisible, mindless force that performs simple tasks such as opening doors, carrying things. It can lift 20 pounds or drag 40 pounds of stuff but cannot attack or be killed. The spell lasts for 6 turns plus 1 per level of the caster.

My verdict: Unseen Servant is clearly a better spell in terms of the stuff that it can do, however I like that the Cantrip seems like a clearly lowered powered version of the same spell and–to my mind–that’s what a Cantrip should be.

Mending vs Mending

Mending (5E Cantrip): Repairs single break or tear in an object as long as the break or tear is no larger than 1 foot in any dimension. The spell can physically repair a magic item or construct but does not restore any magical functionality.

Mending (LOTFP lvl 1 spell): Repairs small breaks or tears in objects, objects with multiple small breaks can be invisibly rejoined to be strong as new. The spell cannot repair magic items or affect creatures.

My verdict: This is the first set of spells I’ve seen so far where there appears to be a great deal of overlap, I can’t really think of a reason–if both were available–why you’d take the levelled version of Mending. However, it’s a spell I’ve rarely seen taken and–if adding it as a Cantrip–means it frees up Magic-Users to take more interesting spells then I’m all for it.

Message vs Message

Message (5E Cantrip): The caster points their finger at a visible target within 120′ and can deliver a short message to them.

Message (LOTFP lvl 1 spell): The caster points his finger at a target within 60′ (plus 10′ per level) and can deliver a whispered message to them, the target can also whisper a reply back. The gestures for this spell are subtle and easily concealed.

My verdict: Again, a fair bit of overlap here, although the LOTFP levelled-spell does have some advantages in that it allows the subject to reply and it’s easy to cast without being noticed.

Minor Illusion vs ???

Minor Illusion: The caster creates a sound or an image of an object within 30′, the spell lasts for 1 minute, illusionary objects have no substance and are easily revealed should they be examined.

My verdict: I couldn’t find a low level LOTFP spell that overlapped with this, but again it’s just a little cool thing that casters can do.

Poison Spray vs Magic Missile

Poison Spray: The caster targets someone within 10′ and a puff of noxious gas emanates from their palm towards the unfortunate target. They must make a CON save or take 1D12 poison damage. The damage of the spell increases every 5 levels or so.

Magic Missile (only lvl 1 damage inflicting spell in LOTFP): Has a range of 60′ plus 10 per level of the Magic-User and inflicts 1D4 damage per level of the spell-caster. Attack automatically hits, target is allowed a save vs Magic to only take half damage.

My verdict: Sorry to keep comparing damaging Cantrips to Magic Missile, but it’s really the only damaging spell for first level Magic-users in LOTFP. As previously the poison damage can be negated by a save so Magic Missile is a surer guarantee of actually inflicting damage and–as levels increase–soon outpaces the damage you can do with Poison Spray,

Prestidigitation vs ???

Prestidigitation: Allows you to create various minor tricks such as lighting candles, creating showers of sparks, etc. It lasts for up to an hour and a caster can have three instances of the spell active at one time.

My verdict: There isn’t really a levelled equivalent of this, and I think it’d be a great inclusion in OSR games, allowing Magic-users to do some of the cool (but minor) stuff that we see wizards doing in fiction and film.

Ray of Frost vs Magic Missile

Ray of Frost: The caster makes a ranged-spell attack and–if successful–inflicts 1D8 cold damage, also reducing the enemy’s speed by 10′ until the start of your next turn. Damage increases every 5 levels.

Magic Missile (only lvl 1 damage inflicting spell in LOTFP): Has a range of 60′ plus 10 per level of the Magic-User and inflicts 1D4 damage per level of the spell-caster. Attack automatically hits, target is allowed a save vs Magic to only take half damage.

My verdict: You know the drill by now, Ray of Frost is useful at lower levels but is out-classed by Magic Missile once a Magic-user gains more experience.

Shocking Grasp vs Magic Missile

Shocking Grasp: The caster makes a melee spell attack against a target, gaining advantage if they are wearing metal armour, on a hit the target takes 1D8 lightning damage and can’t take reactions until the start of its next turn. Damage increases every 5 levels or so.

Magic Missile (only lvl 1 damage inflicting spell in LOTFP): Has a range of 60′ plus 10 per level of the Magic-User and inflicts 1D4 damage per level of the spell-caster. Attack automatically hits, target is allowed a save vs Magic to only take half damage.

My verdict: Pretty much the same as previous appearances of Magic Missile on this list, Shocking Grasp is cool and has a few interesting side effects, but if a mage is looking to inflict raw damage (especially as levels increase) then they’ll go for Magic Missile.

True Strike vs ???

True Strike: The caster points at a target within 30′ and gains advantage on their first attack roll against the subject, providing that the spell hasn’t elapsed. The spell requires concentration and lasts for up to 1 round.

My verdict: There isn’t really a first level spell to compare this to in LOTFP, probably because the Advantage mechanic isn’t used in that game (although I’m considering perhaps using it). I don’t see any major problems with porting this Cantrip over as it is.

Overall Verdict

Obviously I’ve only looked at Magic-User spells and Cantrips here (although I may do the Cleric versions at some point in the future) but there is actually far less overlap than I expected there to be. I’m a great fan of giving Wizards something more they can do without bumping up the power level of the game, previously I’ve suggested the idea of allowing them to continue casting once they’ve run out of slots but having them roll on a miscast table (you can find that article here) but I think allowing them cantrips might be another good alternative.

Having looked at the 5E Cantrip mechanics I can’t really see a problem with just porting them over, I don’t think I’d use both Cantrips and the Miscast Tables though since I think that would make Wizards too powerful. I’m going to have to think about which option I want to use in my Midderlands game.

Illustration is the Hag taken from the Old Book Illustrations website:

https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/illustrations/ye-hag/

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