December 13, 2018

Minor Spirits | Rebinding

In this series, I'll be slowly tackling a rework of one of our favorite classes, the Binder. The class was originally a straight update of the class of the same name from D&D 3.5's Tome of Magic, including most of the original vestiges, but as we revisit this class, we'd like to examine its mechanics and its concepts with fresh eyes, improve upon them, and write a whole new list of vestiges. 

If we at Mage Hand Press have made one addition to the Binder from its original version in D&D 3.5, it's the inclusion of minor spirits, less-powerful souls that the binder can more easily and flexibly bind. This adds a huge measure of flexibility to the class, especially at lower levels, but has plenty of room for improvement.

Minor Improvements, Minor Length

Upon looking back at the old binder, it's really bizarre how much space we reserved for minor spirits. Even the feature that spelled out its rules was needlessly long. Though still tiny by vestige standards, minor spirit entries generally had three features: a cantrip to offer the binder, a bonus action ability that dealt one die of damage, and a once-per-rest spell of 1st or 2nd level. The most interesting of these additions for gameplay were the bonus action abilities, since they gave the binder something interesting to do on their turn, even if their vestige choices fell short.

This is a case where the best design choice is subtraction: removing everything but the bonus action abilities will make the minor spirits shorter and easier to understand, but not substantially impact their fun coefficient. Especially given the need to make the binder as condensed as possible, this is a godsend.

There were, of course, also balancing considerations with offering handfuls of cantrips and higher level spells (some undoubtedly too powerful compared to the rest). Stripping those out will ensure that we aren't overlooking spell or cantrip inclusions and will make the spellcasting vestiges feel much more rewarding for their cost.

Here's what we got this time:

Minor Spirits
Beginning at 2nd level, you can use the runoff energy from your binding ritual to enlist a minor spirit to your service, selected from the Minor Spirits list. The spirit itself manifests faintly hovering around you, though you can cause it to become invisible or return it to visibility as an interaction on your turn.
     You can bind additional spirits to your service as you gain additional levels in this class, as shown on the Binder table. When you gain a level in this class, you can choose to replace a minor spirit you can bind with another.

- - -

Minor Spirits
These minor spirits are presented in alphabetical order. If a minor spirit calls for an attack roll, it uses your spell attack bonus, and if it calls for a saving throw, it uses your vestige save DC. 
Blade Spirit
The remnants of an intelligent item's soul, a blade spirit manifests as a faint, ethereal weapon. As a bonus action, you can make a melee spell attack against a target within 5 feet of you, dealing 1d8 slashing damage on a hit. 
A chill is a minor elemental spirit resembling a multifaceted snowflake. As a bonus action, you can make a ranged spell attack against any creature within 30 feet of you, dealing 1d6 cold damage on a hit. You can also use the chill to create ice cubes. 
Abruptly shifting and flashing, the glitch is a time-lost spirit from a distant era. As a bonus action, you can make a ranged spell attack against any creature within 120 feet of you, dealing 1d4 force damage on a hit. 
A ravenous spirit that haunts dark places, the grue is feared for its stealth and acidic saliva. As a bonus action, you can use the grue to cause a creature within 30 feet to make a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 acid damage. 
A minor divine spirit of pure goodness, a lantern manifest as a fist-sized ball of light and sheds light as a torch. As a bonus action, you can use the lantern to cause a creature within 30 feet to make a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 radiant damage. 
A stone is a minor elemental spirit, the smallest unit of living elemental earth. As a bonus action, you can make a melee spell attack against a target within 5 feet of you, dealing 1d8 bludgeoning damage on a hit. 
A shade is a spirit of regret or woe which haunts a place following its death. As a bonus action, you can use the shade to cause a creature within 30 feet to make a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 necrotic damage. You can also use the shade to project faint, ethereal noises within 30 feet. 
The very least among fiends, a sin is an evil spirit that tempts mortals into evil acts. As a bonus action, you can make a ranged spell attack against any creature within 30 feet of you, dealing 1d6 necrotic damage on a hit. 
A spark is a minor elemental spirit, resembling a small blue bolt of crackling lightning. As a bonus action, you can make a ranged spell attack against any creature within 30 feet of you, dealing 1d6 lightning damage on a hit. The spark can attack a target up to 60 feet of you, if that creature is wearing metal armor or is primarily composed of metal. 
The shifting, incomprehensible form of a strange must originate in a far-off dimension whose rules differ from our own. As a bonus action, you can use the strange to cause a creature within 60 feet to make a Wisdom saving throw or take 1d4 psychic damage. 
A torchling is a flickering, living flame, a minor elemental spirit of elemental fire. As a bonus action, you can make a ranged spell attack against any creature within 60 feet of you, dealing 1d6 fire damage on a hit. You can also use the torchling to start a fire or boil water. 
A totem is a manifestation of an animal spirit. As a bonus action, you can command the totem to bite; make a melee spell attack against a target within 5 feet of you, dealing 1d8 piercing damage on a hit. The totem always knows which ways is north and how long remains until sunset. 
A faintly-glowing spirit of capricious fey energy, a wisp sheds light as a torch. As a bonus action, you can use the wisp to cause a creature within 15 feet to make a Constitution saving throw or take 1d8 poison damage.

- - -

I anticipate that the biggest complaint about the new Minor Spirits is that they're not as varied as they used to be. If you've got any suggestions on ribbons or changes we can implement to improve the list, leave them below!


  1. So, basically a weak, non-scalable cantrip as a bonus action.

    Having a bunch of them doesn't do much bu itself... other than Legion Lodge, do they get any improvement or other purpose?

    1. Part of this is predicated on the fact that flat bonus action attacks can be very strong. Assuming you are using a shield and a longsword, blade spirit is basically the equivalent of two weapon fighting with two longswords.

      That said, there are a couple answers

      - Add the cantrips back in. This is simple, and affords a proper boost in power. That said, we're mostly keeping cantrips wrapped up in Lexicon.

      - Allow you to add your Charisma mod to the damage at some level. I think this is a pretty reasonable boost in power for a bonus action ability.

      - Allow you to use ALL of your spirits at the same time as a bonus action (if possible). This makes having multiple spirits out much more immediately effective.

    2. I see how this is good, it's just not a really interesting mechanic. Which is totally fine, actually, as a binder already has a complex and varied main mechanic.

      Using all spirits at once could be a cool nova option at 15th lvl or so.

    3. Not interesting is a correct assessment. I /really/ wanted to keep the complexity low here, since there's already so much going on in the class.

  2. Minor Spirits feature mentions something called an "interaction," is that intentional? I've never heard of that as an action type in 5e.

    Chill, Glitch, Spark, and Torchling all say "As a bonus action, you can use your bonus action to" do whatever. Maybe fix? Also a Torchling is supposedly an "Elemental Spirit of elemental fire," which seems redundant.

    These do seem pretty weak, but I assume that they'll all have some sort of ribbon in the finished product?

    1. Oop, Sin too! I missed that on the first go.

    2. Interaction is a weird thing, because it's not a super official part of the action economy, but it's still in the core rules. You can make one "interaction" on your turn, which includes things like opening a door, drawing a weapon, etc. I don't generally call out interactions directly, unless it's hard to call out otherwise.

      Also, I'll fix the bonus action thing.

  3. No more shield spirit? That was my favorite one. Maybe bring it back with a bonus action activation +2 to AC that last till the start of your next turn?

    I don't much like this change, but without seeing the complete product it's difficult to judge. Honestly, I thought it was fine the way to was, in fact it was my favorite feature. However, I do understand if it becomes a balance issue.

    Also, I thought a minor spirit tied to knowledge would be cool, but it wouldn't make sense with this new version of the class feature.

    1. Now, +2 AC as a bonus action might be too strong, compared to the rest of these, but +1 might be fine. The bigger thing is that I'd really want to find a bunch of other spirits with comparable abilities, otherwise it's a weird odd duck.

    2. If we did a shield spirit to pair with the sword spirit, You could just have each thing allow you to summon a weapon and a shield.

    3. I liked Blade Spirit actually creating a weapon. Was building a two-weapon Binder around Blade spirit in one hand and Blade of Kas in the other

  4. I think that they all need some sort of ribbon ability not just some I unfortunately don’t have any suggestions for those though. I also have a couple of questions about the mechanics of them. How intelligent are minor spirits and can they communicate with you. Also how far from you can they go, could you use them as a limited scout or do they have to stay in your space, cuz I love the idea of a totem spirit pet that can run around causing mischief but I don’t know if they would be to powerful if they could leave your side.

    1. If anyone has ribbon ideas, I'm all ears. I did all those I could think of.

      By default, the minor spirits won't be able to leave your space, no can they communicate. This is less for the sake of balance and more for the sake of keeping them very, very simple; there's enough complexity elsewhere in the class. The subclass focusing on Minor Spirits will improve them in various ways.

    2. It might be more than just a ribbon but maybe with the melee spirits make it so you can make your opportunity attack with the spirit rather than yourself, so spellcaster builds can get a opportunity attack

  5. Aw, dang. Not to be sour grapes, but the blade spirit was pretty much my favorite part of the old binder. Sure, it required a dip or afeat to get as a fighter, but it was thematically worth it to me.

    But yeah, the design looks really solid to me. I agree with the previous post about them needing some sort of ribbon. For the totem, maybe letting you choose to deal 1d4 slashing damage with your unarmed Strike (bestial claws or something), for stone I think one of the effects of mold earth would work fine. For blade, perhaps proficiency in one melee weapon of their choice, changeable during a long rest. Teeny boosts that are still useful.

  6. While I understand your concern with complexity, but I think this was a bit too much. A lot of these are interchangeable amongst themselves really, with a few difference in damage types. As refereed by others, ribbon abilities or strange skills would work well, like providing light, finding/producing drinkable water, parry reaction (for the shield perhaps) or turning into pieces of equipment. I loved the blade/shield combo of the previous one, because as I changed Vestiges I could easily equip them with the appropriate weapon.

    1. That's a fair assessment, and I can certainly add more ribbons to the list to make it feel more varied. This list has proven tough to compile, since the power ceiling is pretty low.

  7. Some possible ribbons:
    Blade: Advantage on history to recall information about weapons.
    Glitch: Know the exact hour of the day.
    Grue: Get 10 ft darkvision, or increase it by 10 ft.
    Lantern: Well, it sheds light.
    Stone: Know how deep underground you are.
    Sin: When you kill, get 1 temp hp?
    Strange: You... Know whether a creature has telepathy?

    1. I like these. I would probably replace Sin with something else, like once per day feeling whether there are any fiends within 1 mile/X feet of you, but without knowing direction or number. Or maybe more than once per day

  8. That they do damage should honestly be the least important thing about them, unless you're trying to make a weirder knock-off warlock. In fact they feel like they miss the point. If they are supposed to add flexibility, is it really important that they do damage? It would be the last thing they would do, in my mind.

    Ex: Lantern spirit should be used as a lantern. It should honestly be something like Dancing Lights, written less like a spell and more like an ability, that can maybe be sacrificed to do damage, or to causes faerie fire on something.

    Grue could cause unattended objects to disappear by eating them.

    Blade spirit makes your melee attack ranged, or even better causes your melee attacks to come from some other location, wherever you've sent the spirit.

    1. So much this. I hardly ever used my Spirits for extra damage, more for the cool utility they provided.

    2. [M. Bison “YES!!!” Meme]

    3. I believe we're approaching this from wildly different perspectives, especially with regards to the 'flexibility' thing. Vestiges themselves add a ton of flexibility to the class, so the purpose of the minor spirits (in this iteration) is to give you something interesting to do with your bonus action, even if you have a bad vestige pick for a given situation. They're not supposed to help accomplish specific playstyles or have powers comparable to cantrips (in fact, they're all weaker by cantrips by design).

      And I'm fully aware that this is a departure from the old version of minor spirits. The old versions were basically too powerful for what they offered, and lopsided in which spirits offered things.

      And I feel that should clarify: I'm all for cool utility spirits. However, with the hard power cap I'm placing on them (less powerful than cantrips) and the way in which they need to interact with the action economy (actives only) this is a super hard thing to design for. We'd need at least half the list to be cool utility things, or we can't make the spirit choices meaningful.

  9. What if they have more varied effects, such as the shield plus 1 ac or something like bonus action for 10ft of extra movement, or bonus action to give disadvantage on opportunity attacks, or maybe advantage against being pushed for a turn, or even small buff effects like add 1 or 2 to an allies next saving throw. Small effects that might make a difference in a pinch but are not quite as powerful as other class bonus actions since you have a wide variety

    1. I'm all for neat varied effects, but if we're keeping this as a bonus action (and I think we must), these are going to be super hard to balance. After all, each of them need to be less powerful than a cantrip and general in application (and equal in generality).

      I'll do a run at redesigning them like this, but I make no promises about implementing them in the class.

    2. I hope so. Otherwise, the legion archetype needs to be really good to bring back the minor spirit's splendor.

  10. Im adding my bit of feedback, I agree that damage is not what I used to look for in the minor spirits, maybe have them let you infuse your weapons/armor, so they add 1d6 to the attack or substract 1d6 from the the damage recieved as a bonus action.

  11. Your main point is that you say you want the Binder to be able to do something during their bonus action. Does that mean there aren't any binder/vestige abilities that activate as bonus actions?

    Also, I feel like theres a little lopsidedness with some of the spirits. Chill, Lantern, Shade and Totem (and to some extent Spark) all have some physical characteristic that can be activated either to increase RP value, or possibly increase chances for adv/disadv on ability checks depending on the DM (the Shades ability to create sound effects could cause a distraction or increase the chances of Intimidation for example). But the other spirits don't have anything. I like the simplicity in an early complicated class, so continue giving the other spirits some simple characteristics that don't automatically affect play by themselves. Otherwise, certain spirits are already considered better than others.

  12. One more thing. I also liked the old naming style you had before. "Chill" is more of an adjective/object, whereas "Frostling" sounded more like a spirit name.

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  14. I understand why the power had to be reduced. If you mean to simplify the class and consolidate spell-casting into a dense and meaningful choice via vestiges, then it only makes sense to remove the elements of minor spirits that essentially made every Binder a quarter-caster by default. However, to echo the sentiments of others here, I valued the minor spirits for their rp value and my favorites were the ones mechanically reinforced with persistent and unique effects. Like how the Guardian Spirit expressed its protective nature by adding +1 to your AC, how the Frostling acclimated you to the cold that composes its being by offering cold resistance, and how the Ghost lent you the fortitude to shrug off fear having already faced death itself.

    These mechanical advantages may be deemed to much in the final cut, but shifting them into alternate bonus action abilities or softening them to more situational effects or shifting them to non-combat uses would be better, in my opinion, than seeing them lost. An example from these could be; Frostling (I suppose Chill now) You can exist comfortably in temperatures as cold 0 degrees Fahrenheit, in addition to its Chill's current Ice cube ability and damage; Ghost(Now shade), See into the ethereal out to a range of 30 feet, in addition to the ethereal sounds and damage; Guardian Spirit(I've heard "Shield" being thrown around and if the names are also getting simplified, this may be the most direct moniker), you are not harmed by and feel no pain from minor accidents (Such as stepping on glass, a nail, a Lego, cutting yourself with a knife, or gripping the rim of a heated cooking pot, but not getting hit by a car, run over by a carriage, or having a mine shaft collapse on you because the barbarian missed and took out a support.) though you still recoil from their source, in addition to the +1 to AC on bonus action and a possible 1d4 bludgeoning (or radiant damage if you wanted to make it divine) as a bonus action as well.

    As for some of the minor spirits in this post, the Glitch could, as a bonus, cause and maintain one minor disturbance in the result of a circuit, computer, or enchanted items (Like color changes, flickering, or audio skipping, but probably nothing more powerful than that), the Lantern could, as a bonus action, shift the light it sheds so only you and those you designate can see the light (Almost like one of the Aos Si stalking about with hidden lights), and the Wisp could, as a bonus action, could attempt a wordless persuasion check to convince a creature you can see, but that is not in combat, to come towards its current location (Or I suppose your location, unless the legion lodge or some other feature allows minor spirits to move away from you).

    I hope I've been clear and didn't come across as dictating design, I only meant to suggest elements for consideration. I really am enjoying this public rework. It's been a joy to witness the creative process via these rebinding posts and the community involvement in the comments.

  15. How about in addition to the bonus action attack and damage...

    Blade: Can manifest as any weapon, not actually useable by the PC but say the PC needs to pass as an archer and Blade helps by looking like a longbow.
    Chill: Can create a 5ft area of moderately cold sensation.
    Glitch: Can inhabit any electronic/technological device and cause the screen to flicker or a light to flash that does not impede the device's use or function.
    Grue: No clue
    Lantern: Keep the torch light
    Stone: Can remain motionless and appear indistinguishable from a regular rock. I see this as the only spirit that can't fly or levitate.
    Shade: Keep the ethereal noises
    Sin: Can create a feeling of unease or aversion in any good aligned character/creature. Not enough to force a saving throw or have an effect, but enough to be noticeable.
    Spark: Keep the metal ability
    Strange: No clue
    Torchling: Keep the boil and fire ability
    Totem: Keep the direction ability
    Wisp: Get rid of the light ability as this would help differentiate from Lantern. If going off of a Will o' the Wisp, maybe can manifest as multiple spots of light in a 15ft cube, don't actually shed any light.
    Shield?: I like the protection from stubbed toe and minor injury ability somebody proposed.
    Cherub (new named Virtue)?: I liked this guy from before. He could do pierce as a bonus action damage type and can create the same unease that Sin creates but in evil aligned creatures.
    Mirror?: Mirrors have been associated with other worlds and spirits for a long time so I wanted to throw out an idea for one. Can reflect an image of a creature or an object no larger than 5ft and no farther than 30ft away.

    Those are my 50 cents.