Is the only difference between a Cantrip and a Spell that the Cantrip does not count towards a Wizard’s number of…

Is the only difference between a Cantrip and a Spell that the Cantrip does not count towards a Wizard’s number of…

Is the only difference between a Cantrip and a Spell that the Cantrip does not count towards a Wizard’s number of prepared spells?

I ask, because it seems a little bit odd to me that every time the Wizard wants to do something as simple as e.g. light the way (there are dungeons — this happens a lot!) he has to roll the dice and suffer the possible consequences of a partial success or a miss, etc. Or, conversely, gain experience points at a rate the other players won’t have a chance to match…

It’s no big deal, but I’m just curious to see if everybody else indeed plays cantrips as fully equivalent to spells, with all that implies.

30 thoughts on “Is the only difference between a Cantrip and a Spell that the Cantrip does not count towards a Wizard’s number of…”

  1. As far as consequences, I suspect most GMs will scale the consequences so that a miss on a Cantrip is less likely to have seriously dangerous results than a miss on, say, a casting of Fireball. As far as why it can miss, well, even simple magic isn’t easy. You’re messing with serious arcane forces and trying to coerce them to do simple things. You should definitely ask the Wizard what kinds of terrible things they’ve seen go wrong even when trying to cast simple spells.

  2. Also, bear in mind that misses don’t necessarily mean the spell fails. A miss on casting Light may mean that your staff starts glowing, but it attracts the attention of creatures you didn’t realize were waiting in the darkness. Had the miss not happened, those creatures might never have existed. Misses and near-misses on moves in Dungeon World are all about pacing. It’s not necessarily about actions ‘failing’, it’s about things happening as a consequence of actions, successful or not.

  3. Yes, you should roll for 2d6+INT for Cantrips as you do for any other wizard spell. You can justify it in a manner of ways (“even small magical feats are potentially wild and dangerous” and things like that) but of course on hipotetical failure you should always follow the fiction, and attract unwanted attention because you cast Light in a dungeon doesn’t look far fetched to me.

    Then again, if for any reason you feel the need to change this rule, you could discuss with the other players at the table and decide to change or abolish it. I must say, though, that I never felt rolling for cantrips as a problem, it just didn’t happen that often.

  4. In contrast to D&D “failure” isn’t failure, it’s an opportunity for something exciting to happen; being against the idea of rolling for cantrips is the wrong mindset. Misses and partial successes trigger the forward momentum of the emergent plot.

    If a GM simply has Gandalfs light spell fizzle on a miss, he’s doing it wrong…it’s suppose to trigger the GM move of bringing the balrog into play 😉

  5. I love the idea of partial successes and misses for cantrips.

    A fun miss might include having the unseen servant drag items along the ground instead of floating them through the air.

  6. As I understood it, Cantrips were basically very simple magical exercises intended to teach magical concepts. The reason they’re not counted as part of the typical spells is because, as simple training exercises, they’ve been practiced to death, and they’re just not very powerful.

    So, yes, you roll for them because magic, itself, is variable from moment to moment, but if they fail or have unintended consequences, you can just try again.

    This also explains why the number of times you can cast spells goes up as you gain experience. It’s because you’ve been practicing.

  7. Aaron Griffin

    My take on it is that I should always call for a roll if a move is triggered; the ‘Cast a Spell’ move is pretty explicit about its trigger condition, so I should call for rolls on cantrips just like I would for other spells.  If a miss is rolled, It’s part of my role as GM to make it interesting by making an appropriate GM move to help fill the characters’ lives with adventure.

  8. Agreed, Dan Bryant. When you do it, you do it. This isn’t like the weird edge cases of “does stabbing a dragon with a spear count as H&S since technically I can’t hurt him?” — this is straight-up “i’m casting a spell,” so cool, roll Cast a Spell.

  9. We stopped rolling for cantrips when failure wasn’t interesting or when it should happen as a matter of course…like not asking an archer to Volley because it’s not a challenge to shoot that rat. Hasn’t really broken the game yet. Partly we did this because I was making overly hard moves on 6-‘s (oops), but also because the wizard player didn’t think magic should be so variable and dangerous as missing on a cantrip makes it look.

    All of which is to say, it won’t break anything if you don’t roll for cantrips.

  10. I just like the idea of magic, in all its forms, being unpredictable. Sure you can get better at it, but there are big forces at play. I hate to think of it as almost a utility.

    You want light? Just flip a switch.

    Instead, you still get light, but it may just burn brighter than normal or float out ahead about ten feet in front of the object it was cast upon or it floats just behind you so that you are constantly (and annoyingly) casting a shadow towards anything that you want to look at.

    That just makes magic more cool and more terrifying to me. I see cantrips as the soft move of full blown magic. Seeing how they succeed with mixed results gives me a whole different feeling about casting more powerful spells. It’s one thing if the wizard’s light cantrip manifests behind the party and quite another if his fireball spell does.

  11. Alfred Rudzki well the trigger also says “release a spell you prepared”. You could make an argument that there are certain cases of magic that are not “releasing” anything, making it a bit more like a mini-ritual. “Well I know how to cast Light so if I spend 10 minutes while actually reading aloud from my spellbook, I should be able to cast it, right?”.

    This sort of thing depends on the fiction of your game though and how magic presents itself.

  12. One “Miss” that I thought of is, perhaps your light wont go out, or wont obey you when it’s time. Instead of summoning “light” it is a small “light elemental” that has a sense of humor or decides to go wizzing off at a bad moment. The delaying of the effect is just as good. It creates drama and shows that magic can get out of control with out it being a “wild magic” type of effect. Think offscreen. I mean, the clean cantrip is wonderfully depicted as a “miss” in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Disney or the one with Nicolas Cage.

  13. Another option: The light emanates from the wizard’s eyes. Sadly, this means that the wizard is blind and must be led around for 3d6 minutes.

    Or the lighted object becomes an unexpected flash-bang which draws undesired attention, but doesn’t technically harm the party members…

  14. There are times when I feel that the fiction comes first. If it’s interesting to roll, then roll. If it’s not, then move on.

    That being said, since “light” is left to the wizard to describe, I’ve seen them do crazy-cool things with it, like shaping it into a butterfly to fly up through a chasm to summon help from above.

  15. Joseph F. Russo

    I keep seeing a lot of these descriptions of floating Light and I’m wondering if the spell was changed at some point.  In the book and sheets I have, Light specifically applies to an object that the Wizard touches.  You can combine Light with Unseen Servant to get a floating light source, but, as written, it doesn’t do things like create glowing butterflies (possibly you could do that with Prestidigitation, though.)

  16. I think that people are lumping in Farie Fire and Cantrip in this case.  The nice thing about DW is that it is your game and you can define it how you want or let the player define it.

  17. Dan Bryant My book says it applies to a touched object. I was just pointing out complications that could be added so that it is supposed to work that way on a success, but on a miss it could still be a success with a strange complication. That complication being such that is is no longer isolated to a controlled touched object and, instead, behaves in strange ways (like being offset by ten feet from the object that was intended to be lit, or floating behind the caster, or only lighting their hand, etc).

  18. Dan Bryant You’re right. The rules are entirely what you’ve said. I read somewhere (here, or a blog, maybe) that a way to make Light interesting is to remove the requirement of it being an object, but let it be a controllable light source. The wizard describes how it looks and behaves. It will always clearly be a magic light source, and it doesn’t do damage or anything, but this allows the wizard to have more control. So that’s how I play it.

  19. It helps when the players can tell you how their magic works, makes them feel more connected and by those descriptions you can align other magic descriptions for the player, give them the FEEL of the world and it shows that you are paying attention and caring about your character. “Be a fan of the characters.”

  20. Joseph F. Russo I let our Swordmage craft a reliable crystal tip for his staff that lights up when he taps it on the ground for that reason. He didn’t agree with needing to roll for his light spell. Sometimes you just have to give them what they want.

  21. My view is that “Light” just isn’t that interesting. Wizard can roll to…not use a adventure kit? The druid doesn’t need to roll to not eat, which has been much much more useful. But casting spells is interesting. So I made Light more interesting, and more player-focused.

  22. Scott Selvidge Sounds like more of a magic item to me.  Basically, an Item that gives the Wizard a 1 Hold on the spell always, sort of like a scroll would.  I would be fine with this.

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