One of the more radical concepts recently introduced to the d20 game is the metamagic feat. These feats allow spellcasters to tinker with their spells’ range, area, damage, components required, and even casting time. While such options existed in previous editions of the game, they usually required the caster to use other spells to affect his magic, rather than relying on pure talent.
However, this new option comes with a significant cost, particularly for those casters who prepare spells (such as clerics, druids, and wizards). Such characters must plan in advance which spells they wish to use their metamagic feats on, and prepare those spells in the appropriate higher-level spell slot. This requirement forces the character to guess which spells will be needed in which situations. If a caster anticipates being grappled, a stilled spell would be extraordinarily valuable—but which one? If a character expects to be sneaking around, she should consider using Silent Spell on one or more of her spells—but how many? In many cases, these choices are for naught, since the caster ends up using her silent magic missile in ordinary combat, or her enlarged fireball in a space too small to take advantage of the expanded range.
Characters who don’t prepare spells in advance (such as bards and sorcerers) have a distinct advantage in that they can choose to use their metamagic feats “on the fly”; that is, at the time of casting. The cost is an extended casting time (making Quicken Spell a useless option for such characters), but this cost is rarely balanced with that paid by other spellcasters.
The two variant systems described below give more variety and options to the metamagic-using spellcaster. With either of these variants, a spellcaster doesn’t have to prepare metamagic versions of her spells in advance (if she normally prepares spells) or spend full-round actions to cast metamagic spells (if she doesn’t prepare spells). Nor do metamagic spells take up higher-level spell slots.
Instead, the “cost” for using a metamagic feat is applied in one of two different manners. The first applies the cost as additional spell slots. The second restricts the number of times per day the feat can be used.
Regardless of the variant you use, the Insidious Magic and Tenacious Magic feats (both from the FORGOTTEN REALMS® Campaign Setting) don’t use the normal metamagic rules. Since they automatically affect all of a caster’s spells, they never require higher-level slots or have any limit on the maximum spell level affected.
For both of these variants, the prerequisites for selecting a metamagic feat, and the effects of the feat itself, remain the same as given in the feats’ descriptions (except when otherwise noted).
Metagame Analysis: Spontaneous Metamagic
The first variant limits the immediate effect of a metamagic feat on a character’s power level, just as in the standard rules. A character who picks up Quicken Spell can’t immediately begin quickening her most powerful spells—she must initially be content using the feat only on her weakest spells. Again as with the standard rules, the variant establishes a default “minimum caster level” for each feat, since the feats are useless until a caster is capable of casting spells of high enough level to take advantage of the metamagic feat.
Unlike in the standard rules, however, a character with a metamagic feat need not weigh the value of a metamagic-affected spell against a spell of a higher level. The caster doesn’t have to decide whether she’d rather have an empowered magic missile or a normal lightning bolt, since the empowered magic missile doesn’t require a higher-level spell slot than normal.
A character using the first variant—particularly one who must prepare spells ahead of time—almost certainly uses her metamagic feats much more often than she would without the variant. At first, it may seem as if the character has gained significant power, but that’s to be expected when a new option be comes available. Ultimately, the limit of daily uses keeps this new ability from getting out of hand, and the simple fact that the character had to spend a feat slot to gain the ability in the first place is still a balancing factor.
The second variant is both more and less restrictive than either the standard version of metamagic or the first variant. On one hand, a character who relies on metamagic feats to boost her spell power goes through her available spells at a dramatically faster rate. A spellcaster who isn’t careful could find her entire spell selection drained by a single battle!
On the other hand, this variant allows a spellcaster to apply metamagic feats to her most powerful spells right away. A 9th-level caster who picks up Quicken Spell can quicken even her 5th-level spells—but at a cost of four additional 5th-level spell slots, which few 9th-level spellcasters have. This means that metamagic feats have a more dramatic effect on combat, as characters “juice up” their most powerful spells from the moment they select the feat.
With this variant, a character who selects a metamagic feat gains three daily uses of that feat that she can opt to use “on the fly” without previous preparation, increased spell level, or extended casting time. The character must decide when casting the spell if she wishes to apply the effect of one of her metamagic feats to the spell.
The maximum level of spell to which a caster can apply a metamagic feat is equal to the maximum spell level she is capable of casting (based on her level and ability scores), minus the spell level adjustment of the metamagic feat. If the result of this calculation is less than 0, the character can’t apply the metamagic feat to any of her spells.
For instance, a 5th-level wizard is normally capable of casting spells of up to 3rd level. If she chooses to apply her Silent Spell metamagic feat (which uses a spell slot one level higher than normal) to a spell, the maximum level of spell that she can apply it to is equal to 3 minus 1, or 2nd. Thus, she may make any of her 0-, 1st-, or 2nd-level spells silent. If she had the Maximize Spell feat, she could apply it only to 0-level spells (since a maximized spell is normally cast as a spell three levels higher, and 3 minus 3 is 0). Quicken Spell would be of no use to this wizard, since she couldn’t even apply it to 0-level spells.
A caster can apply more than one metamagic feat to a spell, or even the same metamagic effect more than once (if allowed by the feat’s description). However, to determine the maximum level of spell that can be so affected, add together all the spell level adjustments given for the various feats. A 9th-level wizard could enlarge and empower any spell of 2nd level or lower (since her maximum spell level is 5th, and the total spell level adjustment for Empower Spell and Enlarge Spell is 3). If a feat may be applied more than once to the same spell (such as Empower Spell), each application counts as one of the caster’s three daily uses.
Each time a character selects a metamagic feat, she gains three daily uses of that feat. Multiple selections of the same feat are cumulative. For instance, if a caster selects Empower Spell twice, she may use the feat six times per day rather than three.
In this variant system, the Heighten Spell feat functions slightly differently from other metamagic feats. You may use the Heighten Spell feat to increase a spell’s effective level (for purposes of such factors as save DCs and so on) up to the maximum spell level you are capable of casting. For instance, a 3rd-level cleric could heighten a 0- or 1st-level spell to 2nd level, while a 17th-level druid could heighten a 0- through 8th-level spell to 9th level. The spell is treated as a spell of that level for purpose of save DC and similar effects, but doesn’t require a higher-level spell slot.
Extra Spell Slots
With this variant, a caster must expend extra spell slots in order to apply the effects of a metamagic feat. These spell slots must be of a level equal to or higher than that of the spell being modified by the metamagic feat. In essence, the character pays for the metamagic effect by “using up” other spells of the same or higher level. The caster need not prepare the metamagic version of the spell ahead of time, and the spell’s actual level and casting time are unchanged from normal.
The number of extra spell slots required is equal to the spell level adjustment of the feat. For example, a wizard who wants to cast a quickened magic missile would expend the magic missile spell, plus four additional spells of 1st level or higher. If the caster has more than one spellcasting class, all extra spell slots expended must come from the same spellcasting class as the spell to be modified. A 7th-level cleric/4th-level wizard who wants to cast a maximized cure moderate wounds can’t spend any of her wizard spell slots—they all must be from her cleric spellcasting ability.
A character may only expend bonus spells from school specialization on spells of that school (so an evoker could spend her bonus 3rd-level evocation spell to pay for a metamagic feat applied to another evocation spell, but not to a spell of any other school). She can’t expend domain spells to pay for a metamagic feat’s added spell slot cost, even if the spell is a domain spell.
In the case of the Heighten Spell feat, a caster expends one additional spell slot for each effective level she wishes to add to the spell. To heighten a fireball to the equivalent of a 5th-level spell, a caster must expend two extra spell slots of 3rd level or higher.
A caster can apply more than one metamagic feat to a spell, or even the same metamagic effect more than once (if allowed by the feat’s description). She must simply pay the additional cost in spell slots. For instance, a wizard casting a stilled and silent invisibility spell would spend two spell slots in addition to the invisibility spell: one for Still Spell and a second for Silent Spell.
If a caster doesn’t have enough remaining spell slots to cast the metamagic spell, she can’t apply that metamagic effect to the spell.
Combining The Variants
You could combine the two metamagic variants presented above. Using a combined system, a metamagic-enhanced spell would cost additional slots (as noted in the second variant), but the caster would have a maximum spell level to which she could apply her metamagic feats (as in the first variant). This combined approach limits the immediate effect of metamagic feats in the game (because of the spell level limit) while simultaneously assigning a very real cost to their use (additional spell slots).