D&D 3E/3.5 3rd Edition Revisited - Better play with the power of hindsight?

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
To be clear, I'd push for something like 75% effectiveness of a level-appropriate magic item in the same slot a buff could go, so that the magic item is an effective floor. That, and the ratio of available spell slots vs. available anchor points for buffs should skew thus that you generally can't afford to cover all bases with spell-slots alone (and/or you have to accept some significantly sub-optimal buffs as you rise in level and have to use lower level slots).
Having magic items serve as a less-effective substitute for buffs strikes me as likely being seen by the players as just that: less effective. While there's a lot who won't care (since optimization isn't nearly the pivotal point that the Internet makes it sound like), I don't think building spellcaster supremacy into the system even more is the way to go in terms of reducing the overall degree to which buffs can tilt things.

That's leaving aside the issues of practicality involved, since this would necessarily require some rewriting of the magic item creation system. Even if we put aside issues of (comparatively) cheap wands and scrolls (along with UMD to activate them), we'd need to establish a reason why you can't create wondrous items that manifest the spell effect on a use-activated/continuous basis, which isn't that expensive for lower-level spells even if you use that ridiculous footnote that 3.5 introduced (the one that staggers the cost based on the spell's duration). At that point, you're basically edging towards a different game altogether, and I'm not sure that the results would be worth the effort.
The other thing is that buffs come at the cost of spells cast as active actions, which is likely going to be most of your battlefield control/debuffing and some amount of DPS. That trade-off should be hairy enough that it's not a simple calculation to toss all of your spell slots into the fighters each morning, but doing so might be worthwhile in some cases.
If you're saying that you'd keep all buffs short-term with regard to their duration, so that the spellcaster had to re-cast them at the beginning of every fight, that just sounds like you're locking down their actions even more due to the "soft pressure" of them being expected to buff again and again and again throughout the adventuring day. So now their buffing is not only expected, but also not very fun for the player, who's being pushed toward a perpetual support role because the party doesn't want to only be 75% effective by just relying on their magic items.
Assuming we're talking about a 3.5 base, I don't have a ton of sympathy for the fireball wizard. If it is effective, it's such a drain on the niche of fighting types. Better that they actually are the most effective source of damage.
This sounds an awful lot like you want to lock the wizard into a support niche, rather than finding ways to boost the fighter so that they can exceed the limits of their current design. I won't say that's not a credible way of doing things, but I'd venture that there are better methods of doing this than making other types of magic sub-optimal to buffing. (Personally, I'd recommend bringing back some of the limitations from AD&D, not just on spellcasting but also on magic item creation, but at that point we're getting back toward "making a variant game" again.)
More generally though, I don't think it follows that if buffing is good, all active uses of spells are outclassed. Summon Monster and Evard's Black Tentacles should be in competition with Haste, and deciding you want spells left to do them is an interesting daily choice.
The nature of that competition shouldn't be between "make the rest of the party more effective" and "getting to have fun." At least not where the system itself expects the first choice to be the consistent one.
I don't think that's true. If you don't plan for it, then your casters are just even bigger force multipliers. What's the difference between "planning buffs is usually necessary to do well" and "planning buffs will trivialize nearly all encounters" from an optimization perspective? A party trying to succeed is still incentivized the same way, but the former will likely have more fun playing the actual game.
I don't agree with your last sentence. If the goal is to reduce the degree to which spellcasters seem to dominate the game, institutionalizing that dominance by making it expected that they'll do certain things (and making alternative choices notably worse, both to funnel them toward their expected route and to protect other classes' niches) strikes me as narrowing options rather than expanding them.
 

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Pedantic

Legend
That's leaving aside the issues of practicality involved, since this would necessarily require some rewriting of the magic item creation system. Even if we put aside issues of (comparatively) cheap wands and scrolls (along with UMD to activate them), we'd need to establish a reason why you can't create wondrous items that manifest the spell effect on a use-activated/continuous basis, which isn't that expensive for lower-level spells even if you use that ridiculous footnote that 3.5 introduced (the one that staggers the cost based on the spell's duration). At that point, you're basically edging towards a different game altogether, and I'm not sure that the results would be worth the effort.

If you're saying that you'd keep all buffs short-term with regard to their duration, so that the spellcaster had to re-cast them at the beginning of every fight, that just sounds like you're locking down their actions even more due to the "soft pressure" of them being expected to buff again and again and again throughout the adventuring day. So now their buffing is not only expected, but also not very fun for the player, who's being pushed toward a perpetual support role because the party doesn't want to only be 75% effective by just relying on their magic items.
This tangent started with a discussion of embracing 3.0 style long-term buffing, thus that you're generally determining the buff vs. active spell ratio at the start of the adventuring day and I've been assuming that's the paradigm we're discussing. You're right that I wasn't accounting sensibly for active spell-use items which is definitely something that would need to be resolved, but that's an endemic issue in 3.5 to begin with. Heck, or traps if you get into those.
This sounds an awful lot like you want to lock the wizard into a support niche, rather than finding ways to boost the fighter so that they can exceed the limits of their current design. I won't say that's not a credible way of doing things, but I'd venture that there are better methods of doing this than making other types of magic sub-optimal to buffing. (Personally, I'd recommend bringing back some of the limitations from AD&D, not just on spellcasting but also on magic item creation, but at that point we're getting back toward "making a variant game" again.)
Oh, both is good, but I'm less concerned with class balance in the specific than the overall role/structure of buffs. That, and I'm not sure we should jump straight to buffing as a superior option to other spells. In classic 3.5, buff spells that mimic magic items are generally frowned on, even when they would have been effective (see Magic Weapon, Fox's Cunning and variants). I think making buffs and magic items compete directly is a better take than circling around bonus stacking.
The nature of that competition shouldn't be between "make the rest of the party more effective" and "getting to have fun." At least not where the system itself expects the first choice to be the consistent one.

I don't agree with your last sentence. If the goal is to reduce the degree to which spellcasters seem to dominate the game, institutionalizing that dominance by making it expected that they'll do certain things (and making alternative choices notably worse, both to funnel them toward their expected route and to protect other classes' niches) strikes me as narrowing options rather than expanding them.
What is the counterfactual you're drawing? I feel like, if buff spells are references to a specific set of 6 slots and the non-buff case is roughly 75% effectiveness relative to buffs, the no-caster party and the active-caster party are still better off than the default 3.5 situation.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
This tangent started with a discussion of embracing 3.0 style long-term buffing, thus that you're generally determining the buff vs. active spell ratio at the start of the adventuring day and I've been assuming that's the paradigm we're discussing. You're right that I wasn't accounting sensibly for active spell-use items which is definitely something that would need to be resolved, but that's an endemic issue in 3.5 to begin with. Heck, or traps if you get into those.
It's an issue in 3.0 also; 3.5's attempt to "solve" it was really to introduce the footnote I mentioned before (in the magic item crafting costs, which introduces a multiplier based on the spell's duration). If we're talking about bringing back the hour-per-level buff spells of 3.0, my guess (and I want to stress that this is just a guess) is that the designers thought that the variable values for how much of a bonus those granted would make them less palatable compared to simply buying/making items with a static boost (i.e. you'd rather have gloves of dexterity +4 than take a chance on getting a mere +2 from a cat's grace). It's sort of the reverse of the "magic items are less effective" idea you mentioned before.
Oh, both is good, but I'm less concerned with class balance in the specific than the overall role/structure of buffs. That, and I'm not sure we should jump straight to buffing as a superior option to other spells. In classic 3.5, buff spells that mimic magic items are generally frowned on, even when they would have been effective (see Magic Weapon, Fox's Cunning and variants). I think making buffs and magic items compete directly is a better take than circling around bonus stacking.
I'm not sure what you mean by "generally frowned upon," since we do have (some) buffs that mimic magic items; fox's cunning isn't really any different than a headband that grants a +4 enhancement bonus to Intelligence. For that matter, they don't stack with each other, since they're both enhancement bonuses.

Really, I think the issue here is to make this an issue of either spellcasting classes specifically, and/or the way spellcasting itself works and/or overhauling how magic items are created. Trying to work the overall bonuses into the encounter design math is not only very indirect, but essentially makes the problem into the party's problem rather than the spellcaster's, which I think it more trouble than it's worth.
What is the counterfactual you're drawing? I feel like, if buff spells are references to a specific set of 6 slots and the non-buff case is roughly 75% effectiveness relative to buffs, the no-caster party and the active-caster party are still better off than the default 3.5 situation.
The default 3.5 situation seems to presume that magic items are (as a generality) just as good as the buff spells. Better, in many cases. The Core Rules don't have a "+6 enhancement bonus to an ability score" spell, but there are magic items which grant exactly that. So that's certainly better off for the no-caster party. Greater magic weapon tops out at a +5 enhancement bonus to hit and damage, the same as a +5 magic weapon. Barkskin tops out at a +5 to natural armor, the same as an amulet of natural armor. You can get a better resistance bonus to saving throws with the spell resistance spell than with a cloak of resistance, but the latter applies to all saves whereas the former applies only to spells, SLAs, supernatural abilities, and magic items, etc.

That's leaving aside the issues of most buffs operating on a sliding scale anyway, where they become more effective over time as your caster level goes up (albeit with an eventual cap), whereas magic items are static in what they offer. The "better buffs, slightly worse magic items" idea you're proposing just doesn't seem like it's going to work without a lot of retooling; and even then, I don't think it's going to retool the roll of buffs the way you're hoping it will. You're still going to have issues of recalculating things if something is dispelled, comparing bonus types on magic items to overlaid buffs to see if they stack or not, etc.
 

Pedantic

Legend
It's an issue in 3.0 also; 3.5's attempt to "solve" it was really to introduce the footnote I mentioned before (in the magic item crafting costs, which introduces a multiplier based on the spell's duration). If we're talking about bringing back the hour-per-level buff spells of 3.0, my guess (and I want to stress that this is just a guess) is that the designers thought that the variable values for how much of a bonus those granted would make them less palatable compared to simply buying/making items with a static boost (i.e. you'd rather have gloves of dexterity +4 than take a chance on getting a mere +2 from a cat's grace). It's sort of the reverse of the "magic items are less effective" idea you mentioned before.

I'm not sure what you mean by "generally frowned upon," since we do have (some) buffs that mimic magic items; fox's cunning isn't really any different than a headband that grants a +4 enhancement bonus to Intelligence. For that matter, they don't stack with each other, since they're both enhancement bonuses.
That's my point. You didn't cast those spells, you got the correct magic item instead and never touched them. I'm suggesting the trade off should be between a +5 to saves from resistance from your caster, or a +3 from your cloak, or ideally you'd want buffs to be a bit less flat and a bit more situational.
Really, I think the issue here is to make this an issue of either spellcasting classes specifically, and/or the way spellcasting itself works and/or overhauling how magic items are created. Trying to work the overall bonuses into the encounter design math is not only very indirect, but essentially makes the problem into the party's problem rather than the spellcaster's, which I think it more trouble than it's worth.
I don't know if I understand this point. The unit of effectiveness that matters from an encounter design perspective is always the party, not an individual.
The default 3.5 situation seems to presume that magic items are (as a generality) just as good as the buff spells. Better, in many cases. The Core Rules don't have a "+6 enhancement bonus to an ability score" spell, but there are magic items which grant exactly that. So that's certainly better off for the no-caster party. Greater magic weapon tops out at a +5 enhancement bonus to hit and damage, the same as a +5 magic weapon. Barkskin tops out at a +5 to natural armor, the same as an amulet of natural armor. You can get a better resistance bonus to saving throws with the spell resistance spell than with a cloak of resistance, but the latter applies to all saves whereas the former applies only to spells, SLAs, supernatural abilities, and magic items, etc.

That's leaving aside the issues of most buffs operating on a sliding scale anyway, where they become more effective over time as your caster level goes up (albeit with an eventual cap), whereas magic items are static in what they offer. The "better buffs, slightly worse magic items" idea you're proposing just doesn't seem like it's going to work without a lot of retooling; and even then, I don't think it's going to retool the roll of buffs the way you're hoping it will. You're still going to have issues of recalculating things if something is dispelled, comparing bonus types on magic items to overlaid buffs to see if they stack or not, etc.
Yes, that's exactly the kind of redesign I was proposing. We tie buffs specifically to slots, we reign in bonus type proliferation, and probably you start assigning rider effects (haste's extra attack, the miss chance on missiles from entropic shield, etc) to slotted positions as well.

I'm generally not sold on the concerns about complexity. The math was doable back then, and if anything, it's more doable now in a VTT environment and/or with more conscientiously designed character sheets. Taking more buff decisions away from actions in combat to a daily resource allocation will only simplify things.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
That's my point. You didn't cast those spells, you got the correct magic item instead and never touched them. I'm suggesting the trade off should be between a +5 to saves from resistance from your caster, or a +3 from your cloak, or ideally you'd want buffs to be a bit less flat and a bit more situational.
I don't think that is "ideally," though. Yes, it narrows the range of available bonuses, which makes encounter design easier, but you've also cut off certain options in order to do that. Now, the range of magic items is narrower, since you can't have them be equal to or greater than spells of the same type. This has unanticipated consequences, such as the party potentially not bothering to buy those magic items at all if they're superfluous thanks to the daily persistent buffs (and the encounter math presuming the buffs anyway), which potentially changes the Wealth By Level calculations. It also constrains the magic item creation rules, and (as noted before) requires the spellcaster to put aside a certain number of spell slots for those buffs as a matter of course, even if it's just at the beginning of the day.

Restricting options in favor of trying to make the math more predictable, or speed up the course of play, is understandable, but doesn't strike me as the best way to go about achieving either of those things.
I don't know if I understand this point. The unit of effectiveness that matters from an encounter design perspective is always the party, not an individual.
That doesn't mean that it's a good idea to presume that character X's effectiveness is necessarily going to be based (even partially) on specific actions from character Y. Otherwise, once you change the party composition, things are going to be thrown off. Now, some of that is inevitable, but you can at least ameliorate some of that by not calculating what the party can do by assuming something as specific as particular spells always having been cast ahead of time.
Yes, that's exactly the kind of redesign I was proposing. We tie buffs specifically to slots, we reign in bonus type proliferation, and probably you start assigning rider effects (haste's extra attack, the miss chance on missiles from entropic shield, etc) to slotted positions as well.

I'm generally not sold on the concerns about complexity. The math was doable back then, and if anything, it's more doable now in a VTT environment and/or with more conscientiously designed character sheets. Taking more buff decisions away from actions in combat to a daily resource allocation will only simplify things.
I agree that the math isn't a problem, but the simplification that you're achieving comes largely from restricting ranges of possibility. I don't think that's a worthwhile tradeoff. Capping what magic items can do, necessarily presuming a specific set of buffs being in play all day, etc. push things more toward a standard which I don't think will achieve the stated goals (or at least, not enough to be worthwhile when compared to what's lost).
 

The Toughness feat has been mentioned earlier. I house-ruled it and made it class-specific, i.e. to provide the average (rounded up) hit die of the class. So, the standard Toughness applies to Wizards and Sorcerers; to d6 classes it provides 4 hit points; to d8 classes, 5 hit points; to d10 classes, 6 hit points; to d12 classes, 7 hit points.
 

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