Cantrips have been around for a long time in D&D. The idea is that you get minor magic, “apprentice magic”, and it’s as fun as a barrel of monkeys.

The implementation in 1st edition’s Unearthed Arcana is that you can memorize 4 cantrips instead of one of your 1st level spells. It always seemed like a bad trade. At low levels you really need those 1st level spells, and at high levels you don’t care so much about cantrips.

2E Cantrip is a 1st level M-U spell. You get to cast it and perform tiny magics equivalent to the UA cantrips for one hour per caster level. It is a bit weird, but at least it doesn’t take up several pages for what is primarily a roleplaying aid.

In 3E they give 0-level spells called Cantrips, but they actually do cool stuff. The Cantrips in UA are more like “-1 level spells” instead according to that definition: they don’t do damage, or afflict someone with a penalty, or bestow a bonus. It was just a roleplaying thing.

As a roleplaying thing, I was always very free with Cantrips. Some schemes I’ve tried in the past were allowing one cantrip per “extra language” in INT for M-Us, per day, but you still have to memorize them. You could also just say that you can use any cantrips you want; after all, they don’t actually DO anything important.

It also lets the M-U do things for roleplaying that make him seem more magical and mysterious right away, without busting out the big guns of 1st level magic. Having UA style cantrips allows for apprentice-level spellcasters, or else otherwise mundane folk who have a trick or two they can pull out. It offers an opportunity for cantrip-level magic items which are cool and fun and useful, but don’t affect combat or economy.

3 Responses to “Cantrips”

  1. hotelnerd Says:

    Cantrips are a great spell. Since 3.5 I basically haven’t limited my players on their use of cantrips as long as they haven’t used all their spells for the day. Even before 4e where at-will powers were introduced I took the stance that cantrips were basically 0-level spells and cost the magic user so little energy and magic that as long as they have a higher level spell slot uncast on the day, that they still have the energy to cast 0 level spells, without effecting their higher level spell slots either. Once all their higher level spell slots had been expended then the reasoning was that they had taxed their magical pool of energy to nothing and they were pretty much tapped for the day. Even then I would sometimes allow them to pull off an extra 0 level spell with a skill check or something, because they had no combat effect and it always encouraged more role playing in my spell casting players. This applied even for 1st level characters, my reasoning being a 1st level spellcasting PC is no longer “an apprentice” they’re a full fledged wizard, still young and growing in power, but they’ve graduated from apprenticeship and cantrips are like a Grad Student saying their ABC’s. 4e just made it even easier with the notion of at-will, encounter and daily powers.

  2. 1d30 Says:

    I agree in general. But the Vancian magic system where you memorize a spell and then cast it is the basis of D&D magic up until 4e. There were some little side exceptions, like a certain Witch “where you’re from” kit in one of the brown 2e splatbooks, and the Sorcerer and Bard spontaneous casters in 3e. But if I’m running a 1e/2e game it makes sense to me to require memorization of any magic.

  3. D. Says:

    I went even further, I use an extra stat (Power) and Magic-Users can memorize a number of cantrips equal to thier Int, and cast a number per day (without forgetting them) equal to their Power + Level. If a mage wanted to, I’d be happy to let them exchange a 1st Level spell for another four cantrips to memorize for the day (nobody ever has). If you didn’t want to use an extra stat you could certainly use Charisma (“force of will”) instead.

    I also give Elves, Half-Elves, and Gnomes free cantrip use that is basically the same but without the level bonus if they don’t have a magic-using class.

    I’ve found that this gives mages and “Fae” a nice, but non-overpowering flavor of magic. Sure, a creative player can use the 1E cantrips in a very power-gamey manner but I’m not exactly unhappy when my players get creative.


    Additional note: Clerics simply get an Orizen per level per day, plus three. But don’t have to memorize them beforehand – in keeping with my policy on clerical magic.

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