This is a thought exercise. There’s a TLDR at the bottom.
In the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, the spells per day tables for spellcasting classes are a weird place in the game rules. You get X spells per day for each spell level, but there’s a separate table (in a different chapter) to determine how many extra spells per day you get for having a high ability score.
(Update September 23, 2014: 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!)
It’s set up that way because you might have a character who doesn’t meet the ability score minimums for certain levels of spellcasting, . For example, a level 5 wizard with Int 11 has access to 3rd-level spell slots, but can’t actually prepare 3rd-level spells in those slots because he’s not smart enough to cast 3rd-level spells; he can only prepare lower-level spells in those 3rd-level spell slots.
Which means the basic table is built on the assumption that the character isn’t minimally competent at their class.
Most people wouldn’t choose to build their character that way because it’s a significant limitation, but it could happen (heck, I’ve done it). And it means building a spellcaster character has an extra step of tedious chart-hopping, which is another obstacle between “I’m a new player” and “I’m getting the rules right.”
What if you ignore that isn’t-minimally-competent-character assumption in the table? What if you determined the minimum ability score to actually cast spells of that spell level, and added in the bonus spells per day from Table 1–3: Ability Modifiers and Bonus Spells (page 17)? The wizard table would look like this (listing the extra spells as “+1” just so it’s easier to track the difference compared to the normal table, instead of actually adding in the number):
Note that for most of the wizard’s adventuring career, the difference is only 1 spell per day for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level spells. And note this isn’t changing the rules for how many spells a wizard should get, it’s just changing how we show information on the table with the assumption that the wizard can actually cast spells of his highest spell level.
Okay, but most player’s don’t play with an absolute-minimum-Int wizard, they put their best stat into Int and improve it with the ability score bumps at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 20th level. If start with the standard ability score array (15 14 13 12 10 8), put the 15 in Int, no racial mods, and use your +1 ability score boost for Int every time, and incorporate those as the minimum ability score into the wizard table, you get this:
That’s much more consistent at the lowest levels (almost always just 1 extra spell per day for spell level 1st, 2nd, and 3rd)—the player would never have to refer to the Ability Modifiers and Bonus Spells until level 7 when he gets 4th-level spells and but his Int (finally) doesn’t grant him a bonus spell of his highest spell level. And notice that even for spell levels where the wizard gets a bonus spell, with the exception of 1st-level spells at level 20, the difference is only one spell per day. In other words, you’re making the player go through a lot of work adding up stuff on different charts just for one spell level per day for low-level spell levels.
You just as easily could build these minimum bonus spells into the wizard table, and then modify the Ability Modifiers and Bonus Spells table to ignore all of those “1” results (because they’re built into the table) and change all of its “2” results into “1” results (because the first bonus spell would already be built into the table, and the second bonus spell would be from really high ability scores); mathematically, that would still give spellcasters the same number of spells per day, but the player wouldn’t have to do cross-table math until the wizard’s Int hit 20 or higher (the first point at which the table gets its first “2”). If you built in all of those “1” bonus spells into the wizard table, and added up the numbers instead of making them “+1,” it would look like this:
Of course, if you’re not having to worry about the Ability Modifiers and Bonus Spells table until your ability score is 20, and the net benefit of that high ability score is just a few more lower-level spells, you’re doing a lot of cross-table math work for very little reward. (If you start with 15, increase that stat every 4 levels, and buy a +6 headband at level 12, that’s only Int 24 at level 24, that’s only an extra 3rd-level spell each day… when you’re able to cast 6th-level spells.)
And given the prevalence of scrolls and wands in the Pathfinder RPG, you already have the means to get those low-level spells you need. So it’s a lot of work for very little reward, and that reward is redundant to equipment you’re carrying.
So maybe the Ability Modifiers and Bonus Spells table could just go away, and you could just alter the spells per day charts to include those extra +1s at the appropriate levels (or rebuild the number progression for all spell levels to account for that, so each spell level matches and doesn’t rely on a discarded secondary table at all).
TLDR: Maybe we could dump the Ability Modifiers and Bonus Spells table, and modify the spells per day tables to account for the bonus spells per day from the expected minimum ability scores. Together that would give us a simpler process for building and leveling spellcaster characters so you wouldn’t have to look at two tables 20+ pages apart to figure out your spells per day.
* Of course, PFRPG inherited this from D&D 3E, so it’s not like PF created this problem.
** I’m pretty sure the “extra spells from high ability score” was introduced to D&D in order to make low-level spellcasters be something other than “I cast my one spell, then I’m useless.” And there is merit to keeping “I have more than one spell to cast before I am useless” in the game. For example, the “15 minute adventuring day” is a direct result of the “I only have a couple of my most powerful spells, so it’s in our best interest to rest for a day after I’ve used my best spells” paradigm***. Giving casters more spells helps extend the “15-minute adventuring day” to more than 15 minutes.
*** The “I have a very limited number of spells per day, so they are proportionally more powerful than martial character abilities, which can be used over and over all day” paradigm is the way the game tries to balance spellcasters vs. martials. Unfortunately when you combine that paradigm with the 15-minute adventuring day, it just amplifies the disparity between martials and spellcasters: if you don’t adventure all day and the spellcaster never has to deal with scarcity of his remaining spells, martial characters never get to take advantage of their “I can do this all day” class features. A better paradigm would be to abandon this paradigm for something where all classes have both abundance and scarcity****, but the PFRPG is too heavily invested in the current spell power level to do that without a lot of work.
**** Which is what 4th edition D&D did, although I think they pushed it too far, and different classes within the same role tended to feel the same.