A New Look at Infrequently Used Spells
Did you ever notice just how many spells are in the Player's Handbook? Roughly a third of the book is dedicated to describing the hundreds of spells available for clerics, sorcerers, wizards, and other spellcasters. A couple of dozen spells, often blatantly offensive or defensive in nature, tend to fall into the "no-brainer" list for all but the most specialized of spellcasters, such as magic missile, fireball, mage armor, cure spells,and protection from energy (and for you power players out there, miracle and wish). Beyond this immediate list, however, are spells that may not always get the recognition that they deserve -- for both the player and the DM.
This series focuses on several spells that do not get frequent use in play, but are nonetheless interesting and effective when used in the proper manner. What's more, we'll be giving a nod to the DMs out there, hopefully inspiring them to use these spells as a way to keep the characters on their toes, or perhaps even start an entire campaign simply by the casting of one . . . little . . . spell.
In this installment, we'll take a walk on the wild side and discuss some nature-oriented spells used by druids and rangers, plus some ways to get more use out of them in your campaign.
While not as straight-up effective as a sorcerer's fly spell, air walk, available to clerics and druids, is far more comparable than one might think. Air walk allows the subject to tread on air as if it were solid ground. "Solid ground" is the key phrase here, since it means that you can basically function as though you were moving up and down a steep hill, without the risk of tripping and tumbling down it. It's an easy way to get to "high ground" above your opponent, all without having to worry about maneuverability. Also, with its long duration, the subject can walk far greater distances than they would with fly (and air walk is a level below overland flight).
Train your mount not to balk when this spell activates and you have a mobile firing platform. Also, air walk still allows you to charge.
Air Walk -- For the DM
Here are a couple of ways that you could use air walk in your game:
- Air walk could be used as a bit of deception, with an NPC that looks and acts like a sorcerer or wizard -- hey, look he flies, too -- but in reality is a cleric or druid using air walk to get about.
- A stairway that leads up to nowhere has a magical effect that casts air walk on anyone who treads all the way to the top and takes a step off. Those daring enough to do this find that they can walk up to somewhere else -- perhaps a castle in the skies or a silver dragon's home in the clouds.
Commune With Nature
Druids, Rangers, and Nature Spells
Fighters are experts of the blade, and sorcerers and wizards conjure strange and powerful spells, but druids and rangers are the masters of the wild. To play up this connection, players should be encouraged to make the casting of nature-oriented spells more "organic" -- hearing the calls of the wild and talking back to it. DMs should also reward additional XP to players who go out of their way to make the spells of druids and rangers different and unique as compared to the "by-the-book" method of wizards or faith-based techniques of clerics.
This remarkably potent divination spell actually gets surprisingly little use in game. With its remarkable aboveground range of 1 mile per caster level (that's 9 miles aboveground for the minimum caster available: a 9th-level druid), you can glean an incredible amount of information as it relates to natural elements. Here are some additional thoughts and uses of this spell:
- Commune with nature states that it reveals any "powerful unnatural creatures" within range. Based on the creature types, it could be surmised that it reveals the presence of aberrations, constructs, undead, and outsiders. I suggest that you use the table from detect evil in the Player's Handbook to determine what would be considered a "powerful" creature.
- Use of this spell would reveal the best places to create certain types of traps, especially pits or rockslides.
- If used underground, commune with nature would allow you to know every tunnel, passageway, and air pocket within the spell's impressive range. That's far better than using prying eyes or other scrying/divination magic to scout out each individual path.
Commune With Nature -- For the DM
Because the spell reveals the general state of nature, it can also set up a scenario where a player discovers just how "sick" a given area is, thus prompting her to action. For example, a ranger casts commune with nature to find a good place for him and his companions to establish a base camp. However, the spell also reveals that all vegetation on the edge of the range of the spell is blackened and dead due to some horrific rotting disease -- the perfect lead-in for an adventure.
Sure, being a druid or ranger is about respecting nature, but every once in awhile, it's time to pull out the weed whacker. Most adventurers are going to be interested only in the prune growth version of this spell, but the possibilities are wide open.
- If the adventurers find themselves ambushed in an area with thick underbrush or deep woods, diminish plants could deny the attackers most of their cover bonus and force them out in the open.
- In a similar way, use diminish plants to clear out an area around your campsite at night in order to push back the potential ambush area.
Diminish Plants -- For the DM
The stunted growth ability is most like to spur adventures. An evil (or vengeful, misunderstood, and so on) druid or ranger could use this spell to systematically blight a region, dooming it to famine. Adventurers that use commune with nature (see above) could determine if an area's blight is the result of foul magic or not.
About the Author
Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Monster Manual IV, and the Tome of Corruption from Green Ronin Publishing. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.