D&D 5E A Slower Caster Spell Progression and other Suggestions

DND_Reborn

Legend
I have to admit: the sort of psychic powers often seen in sci-fi are often more attractive to me then pages of spells.
Yeah, it has its appeal. I love d20 SW personally (with the vitality/wounds system) because jedi spend vitality when they use the Force.

Could you imagine if casters had to spend Hit Points instead of spell slots? Sure, you could have a lot more spells, but casting them makes you weaker--so do so carefully. ;)

That could be interesting: spellcasting would be one-short (per rest) that you either save or work around.

I'm not sure I'd want to play that, though: I'm one of those people who hoards anything with limited use for "just the right moment" and then ends up never using it.
Players in my games learn to horde anyway. They never really know when the next long rest is coming, after all, so learning to only use spells and features when necessary is par for the course at my table. :)

"Buff martials" is my usual response to balancing the two systems.
Sure, but where to start is my response. See my latest post about it here:

 

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(bold added)

While perfectly rational, adventures should hardly ever be (IF ever!) perfectly rational. This is why I express to my players (and play myself) to be very conservative when it comes to spell use. In my games (anyway) when you are "on the adventure", you really never know when you will get a chance to rest. Sure, there are some spells, etc. that make it more likely, but then you are basically using a resource to help recover resources.
That's a very different meaning of "perfectly rational" than I was intending, and I'm (mildly) annoyed at being so misread. That is, to speak of a singular thought as being "perfectly rational," one is saying that there's nothing irrational about thinking it. It's a thought almost anyone could have, and arguments against it would struggle because there's nothing incorrect or malformed about it. You took "perfectly rational" to mean "ONLY minds that have NO trace of irrationality could have this thought" which is....basically exactly the opposite of what I was arguing.

I specifically said this WASN'T some kind of hyper-optimized calculation ("It's not like this is scheming, conniving optimizers wresting control from poor, beleaguered DMs.") That it's...just a reasonable thing almost anyone would think. Obviously, if there are other considerations, that would factor in. But as I also said in that post, it's very difficult (I would argue borderline impossible) to maintain a truly uniform time-pressure such that taking a night's rest is always too costly until you literally cannot afford to do otherwise.

Now, rests are common enough in my games, but most of the time a rest is taken and casters still have spells available. The point is you just never know, so you are best off only using your spells when necessary, not just because they are the "easy solution".
That...doesn't actually sound like it's solving the problem either. You're basically admitting that they're under so little pressure that they don't even use up all of their resources anyway, even when resources are plentiful.

Plus...there are more than a few spells out there that are that much better if you can use them just before taking a rest, either because they are useful while in the rest, last at least 24 hours and so will fill up the following adventuring day, or simply aren't time-bound at all. If I can reasonably rely on having a few slots left over at day's end, preparing one or two such spells can be very useful, e.g. animal friendship, goodberry, darkvision for an ally on watch who doesn't have it, suggestion, nondetection, tiny servant, guardian of faith, Mordenkainen's faithful hound, Mordenkainen's private sanctum, geas if there's a valid and worthwhile target, seeming. And that's just the ones with at least 8 hours duration; many are instead instant effects and thus have no duration or are permanent, e.g. create or destroy water, arcane lock, continual flame, create food and water though the food only lasts 24 hours, glyph of warding plus some other useful spell put into the glyph, life transference if you can take the hit 'cause you heal another for twice the damage you take, potentially plant growth if you have the time for the 8-hour version, fabricate, Leomund's secret chest, stone shape, awaken again if you have the time for it, legend lore, transmute rock. Most of these spells are still useful even if not cast immediately before a rest, though I will admit that some are very niche in many games, like Leomund's secret chest.

Yes and no. ;)

I think it really just depends on how your world views it. While magic for PCs might be commonplace due to all the spellcasting capable classes and subclcasses, that doesn't mean it is commonplace in the world. Spellcasters could be insanely rare in your game world, the PCs happening to be part of that rarity.
Okay. I don't really see how this is relevant? That is, you seem to be saying, "This isn't relevant to me, so it's irrelevant to me!" Which isn't particularly productive, especially when I was responding to someone who explicitly finds that it is relevant to them (and a problem).

Even with that said, many find your logic here very flawed. That is, I've known plenty of posters over the years (on this forum and others) who balk at "well the PCs are just part of the rare group." If the only representatives you see are people in the rare minority, it will never feel like it's a minority. It doesn't matter that there are billions of muggles when less than 10% of characters in Harry Potter are muggles; when the story is 99% supers and 1% truly ordinary humans, the experience isn't going to be one of "wow, superpowers are so rare and unusual!" it's going to be, "Hmm, I wonder what powers and limitations the next bad guy will have?" or even "well, wonder if we'll be getting a Flying Brick or a Barrier Maiden or a Hand Blast guy this time..."
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I'm (mildly) annoyed at being so misread.
Yeah, we're definitely not on the same page. Sorry that my response made you feel like that.

My point was simple. The 5MWD, as a "strategy" for players, is not something players can (or even should) count on. You can't blow through all your features and expect a short or long rest be there when you need it. In fact, if you play that way, you will most often find out getting a rest in when you need it is very unlikely while adventuring.

And so, players in my games understand that their features should only be used when actually needed. For example a single fireball could wipe out a group of low CR monsters the PCs encounter, and it might be very quick and easy to do so, but the PCs could handle the encounter with "lesser means" and should do so, because they never know when that fireball might be needed later.

So, they understand this and act more conservatively, and yes, they often do have features available when they rest. But that is a good thing because often a rest might be interrupted, and they might need those features during the fight. Even then, they can't just waste everything because they never know when another interruption my occur.

Even with that said, many find your logic here very flawed. That is, I've known plenty of posters over the years (on this forum and others) who balk at "well the PCs are just part of the rare group." If the only representatives you see are people in the rare minority, it will never feel like it's a minority. It doesn't matter that there are billions of muggles when less than 10% of characters in Harry Potter are muggles; when the story is 99% supers and 1% truly ordinary humans, the experience isn't going to be one of "wow, superpowers are so rare and unusual!" it's going to be, "Hmm, I wonder what powers and limitations the next bad guy will have?" or even "well, wonder if we'll be getting a Flying Brick or a Barrier Maiden or a Hand Blast guy this time..."
Maybe, maybe not. Your experiences aren't mine. 🤷‍♂️ And so, the logic isn't flawed if it is what your world supports. Perhaps players in your world only see other creatures, NPCs, and such with "superpowers" so your PCs don't feel like a minority?

My experience is different. I stress how such beings (with abilities outside of the mundane) are rare in my games. PCs in my games know they are the exception, which is why their average ability score is almost 13, roughly 3 points higher than the vast majority of the people they encounter. While they difference might be minor at lower levels, but tier 2 they are heroic and continue to be so.

For example, I don't make kings higher CR beings unless the narrative reinforces it (a king who actually has a background in war or established his kingdom, etc.). Having a king with a CR 1/8 can easily be the case in my world.

Your experiences might be vastly different, as player and/or DM, but that hardly makes mine less logical given my game world.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I've been a fan of slower spell progression and was shocked a variant rule for it wasn't in the PHB and DMG.

When it comes to cantrips. Cantrip does make D&D high magic frequency but I'm in no rush for casters relying on weapons.

Clerics and druids clubbing foes is fine. However wizards and sorcerers swinging daggers and staffs outside of desperation just will always seem weird.
 

TheSword

Legend
The 5 MWD is just as big a problem with a party of martials as a party of wizards. It’s about lack of resource depletion. Not just spell depletion. Be that a fighters second wind, battle master points, hps etc.

One of the biggest limiting factors to wizards is actually actions per round in every combat. If you can only get one spell of a round and have to decide between protecting yourself or impacting the fight, then there is balance.

Don’t allow opportunities to cast buff spells before combat in all but the rarest situations. Don’t give casters magic items or effects that make protections unnecessary or that improve action economy.

Provide events in combat that the caster needs to react to. This might be as simple as a powerful foe gets within attacking distance. The wizard is then casting misty step or invisibility and not disintegrate or banishment.

Out of combat you are just limiting options and slowing down the pace of the game by reducing spell slots or limit

Reducing spell slots and spell power is not fun. No one likes being nerfed. Players of magical classes won’t thank you.
 
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LoganRan

Explorer
At least for me mysticism gets removed from magic when it becomes 100% predictable and reliable with zero chance of failure. D&D magic is already technology and has been right since the beginning; there's no mysticism to remove by the addition of reliable repeatable cantrips.
Agreed so very, very much.

I loved D&D when I was a kid but I have always hated the way magic works in the game. I prefer Dungeon Crawl Classics magic system which makes magic wild and unpredictable as it, IMO, should be.

I did not include it in my original post because it would be such a radical change of the D&D magic system but in my preferred system I would make the following major changes:

spell points/mana instead of spell slots - I know Gygax was a fan of the Vancian magic system but I have always disliked it intensely.
wild magic - spell failure (and spell overcharging) would be a component of all magic not just a possible subclass option.
dramatically reduce the total number of possible spells - do we really need hundreds of spell options?
reduce the number of spells a caster can know - a first level caster would know 2 spells and a twentieth level caster might know about 14 spells.
eliminate the division of magic into divine and arcane - this is just "fluff" but I prefer magic to just be one universal power.
 

LoganRan

Explorer
I should point out that all of the changes I would like to see to magic in game would go hand in hand with a refocusing of the game on exploration and other non-combat activities.

In TSR-era D&D combat was generally to be eschewed as it was so deadly and unpredictable. WotC has made combat much easier and more predictable which has usually lead to combat being a primary focus of the game which in turn has caused players to focus largely on maximizing their characters options and effectiveness in combat.

The loss of spammable damage cantrips would not be so offensive to many players if combat was a rare occurrence as I would like it to be. Casters could actually focus their magic on solving exploration or social challenges which is what I always felt the primary focus of magic SHOULD be. Why have casters focus on damage spells when you have fighters and their ilk who can already do that (and pretty much only that)? If the focus of the game moved to a greater emphasis on non-combat, then casters wouldn't have to feel "left out" of the action because they would get to shine in the expanded role of exploration and social challenges where their magic could overcome many things that martial characters might not be up to.
 


TwoSix

Unserious gamer
For that type of wizard, it would be fine. But, it isn't what I was trying to do, but maybe I can look the idea and see if I can utilize it in some fashion. :)
I think a question for any kind of caster rule change is how different you want magic-user tropes to look within in the setting. Rolling back slots and spells available means that casters still feel like casters, just less capable. Depending on the players, that can easily be a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, if the DM is going to make changes, I'd rather them make qualitative changes, so that my options feel different in play; not an option I had previously but that they've chosen to make weaker.

That's why I like rules changes like using warlock as the only caster, or changing spell lists around (remember that?), or only using sidekick classes. Lowering power levels feels better if it's in the service of providing an entirely different experience than baseline D&D.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I think a question for any kind of caster rule change is how different you want magic-user tropes to look within in the setting. Rolling back slots and spells available means that casters still feel like casters, just less capable. Depending on the players, that can easily be a good thing or a bad thing.
(bold added)
I wasn't out to change the feel of casters, just nip their power-level or capability to bring it more in line with martials and to have spells be less prevalent in the game. For our group, it is a good thing. :)

Personally, if the DM is going to make changes, I'd rather them make qualitative changes, so that my options feel different in play; not an option I had previously but that they've chosen to make weaker.
Not a bad goal either, just not what I was going after.

That's why I like rules changes like using warlock as the only caster, or changing spell lists around (remember that?), or only using sidekick classes. Lowering power levels feels better if it's in the service of providing an entirely different experience than baseline D&D.
(bold added)

Many posters seem to like the Warlock as casters-template. To me it seem too restricted, but that is but my preference. And I've toyed around with running a game with JUST sidekick classes for the PCs, and my group wouldn't mind trying it to see out it goes, but we haven't gotten around to it yet.

As for the bolded part, Heck YES! You should see our spell lists for our games now, only about 35% of the spells have overlap (so reducing sameyness) and spells over 5th level are completely unique in who gets which spell.
 

I agree. I was thinking about including a "spellcasting check" for spells that don't require an attack roll in the OP. But what about spells that allow saves instead? Requiring it for those would be like double-rolling: 1) a roll to cast the spell, 2) a roll to resist it.
Take the spell Fireball. As things stand it always, and without exception when there aren't counter-measures (like counterspells and anti-magic fields) produces a 20ft radius ball of fire but it allows a saving throw.

Fireball also causes problems in other ways; I can imagine a Blindness spell ending up on a gradient with a single roll (with results including fizzling and the caster ending up blinded) but fireball and other such AoE spells don't really have this sort of backlash as possible.
Another mechanic I like is spell drain instead of spell slots, then you don't have guaranteed spells per day. Once your drain fails, you'd be done until you could rest maybe?
I'd be interested in 5e exploring some of the 13th Age spells that you could recover on a short rest or even were leveled but not expended on casting (although significantly less powerful than other spells of their level)
 

nevin

Hero
My preferred fixes for casters would include:

1) Eliminate all cantrips. Of the many things in 5E that I dislike, spammable cantrips are at the very top of the list.

2) Increase the number of low level spells casters start with. For example, at first level a caster would have four or five first level spell slots available per day. I would do this for first and second level spells.

3) Cap spells to no higher than 7th level spells. Remember when the Cleric spell list only went up to 7th level spells? Go back to that for all casters. Thus, getting rid of world altering spells like Wish which should only be available as one time consumable items IMO.

4) Slow down the progression of attainment for the next spell level much as the OP has suggested. That is a 7th (or even 8 or 9th) level caster would only just be getting access to third level spell slots. An (incomplete) table of spell progression might look something like...

1234567
Level 14
Level 674
Level 117521
Level 1675331
Level 207533321
When the cleric list capped at 7 they had less spells as they leveled but all bonus spells for wisdom were granted immediately and 7th level spells were things like miracle.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
When the cleric list capped at 7 they had less spells as they leveled but all bonus spells for wisdom were granted immediately and 7th level spells were things like miracle.
Well, they were really performing "miracles" much sooner with Cure Blindness/Deafness... And even Raise Dead was only 5th level.

IMO this is part of the problem with D&D at this point. Spells of 3rd to 5th levels are basically considered commonplace, which makes them feel less powerful in some ways. So, it becomes a sort of escalation issue.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
EDIT: Ooops, didn't realize this was a necro'd thread.

Just to open to a related but different idea: let go of the idea of keeping low level slots.

Idea stolen from 13th Age, but perhaps total number of slots grows very slowly, but we lose lower level slots. So a 9th level caster it might be 0x 1st, 1x 2nd, 3x 3rd, 2x 4th 1x 5th - half the total number of slots, but keeping up with the expected progression. We wouldn't have any 1st level slots, but can still cast those spells with higher level slots.

Keeps proliferation of Shield, Bless, and other low-level but well-scaling spells in check. Also helps prevent nova-ing all the time in if we run fewer encounters per day.
 
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Cruentus

Explorer
I think the idea of lowering the number of available spells is a good one. Especially if the goal is to both balance casters with martials, and to have "lower level" magic be powerful at mid levels. I prefer to play and DM in "lower magic" settings. What that means is that someone throwing around fireballs is going to raise eyebrows, and be seen my most as "amazing magic." Forget stuff like wall of stone and forcecage and simulacrum. Kings would seek that person out and try to entice them to come to their court, or others would hunt them down as dangerous.

Now, if that happens at 7th, rather than 5th, then that fireball is a bigger deal.

I do wonder, though, is part of the problem with "magic" being that it is an answer to everything? Would there be any benefit to creating a smaller list of spells? Do we need 200+ spells? If a caster can only cast, say 14, do they need a menu of hundreds?

I'm still working out concepts for using spell points as in the DMG optional magic section, with perhaps assigning fewer points if I really wanted to make a "lower magic" setting.

Another thing I've played with is increasing the wizard HD (why wouldn't all humans/humanoids have a d10 for hp anyway?), and then having them spend those HP to cast spells in lieu of external points.

With both, I've also toyed with always using "wild magic" for every spell cast. Just to up the variability.
 

Do the nerf is applied to any caster including half caster, and 1/3 caster like the Ek?
and what to do with Warlock?
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
At the end of the day it's probably easier to just narrow down and tighten up the individual spell lists for each spellcasting class than it is to try and re-work the entire system so that the "too powerful" spells get knocked back.

As has been said, there are "miraculous" types of magic at most spell levels of the game. So if you really want to tone it all down... just make spell lists of like 8 spells per level and hand-select which eight spells are the most acceptable for a lower-powered magic system. I mean after all... that's pretty much how many spells were available to select from in in the B/X boxes... eight rather meh spells.

So your Cleric 1st level spell list might be:

Command
Create or Destroy Water
Detect Evil and Good
Healing Word
Protection From Evil and Good
Purify Food and Drink
Sanctuary
Shield of Faith

You remove the combat spells and the powerful buffs like Bless and you go back to a time where magic was assistant to your day and not overpowering.

Cleric 2nd level might be:

Augury
Calm Emotions
Continual Flame
Hold Person
Prayer of Healing
Silence
Warding Bond
Zone of Truth

Again, you take out the spells that can eliminate injuries received from creatures like Lesser Restoration, the more powerful attack spells like Blindness/Deafness, and ones that are overlapping what other classes are there for like Find Traps and Locate Object (more of a Wizard spell.) You keep doing this for all the classes and you will end up with a much more subtle magic system that isn't just masses of things that go boom.

Just an idea.
 

For cantrip spamming, I would suggest creating wands of rechargable cantrips. Probably you can cast each cantrip once per day, but if you have a wand, you can imbue them with that one slot.
That way you can disarm a caster as you can do with a martial.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I just like putting cantrips on a recharge mechanic, like breath weapons. You can count on always having them when a fight starts for the most part, but you don't know when they'll be available again.
 

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