D&D 5E Are Wizards really all that?

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
There is either consensus here that the Wizard, at high levels, is vastly superior to martials, or the people who believe so are just the most strident and incessant in expressing their opinions, but either way I don't see much pushback against that narrative.

However, I'm not so sure.

Some caveats for the following:
1) I recognize this doesn't address the complaint that casters get to do "cool things" while martials just get to make attack rolls. This is about the supposed difference in actual power/effectiveness in combat.
2) I have literally zero experience above level 15, so this only addresses tiers I to III
3) In the absence of magic items my argument would change, but while a goal of 5e was supposed to be that magic items are optional, I've never actually seen in played that way.

Here are my observations:
- First, the most powerful spells use saving throws, not attack rolls
- Monsters tend to make saving throws much more easily than they dodge weapon attacks (that is, than PC's miss with their weapon attacks)
- Far more magic items give bonuses to weapon attack rolls than to saving throw DCs
- More magic items boost Strength than Intelligence above 20
- Martials get advantage on attack far more frequently than monsters get disadvantage on saves
- Concentration prevents many of the best spells from being used simultaneously
- Casters have concentration broken fairly easily
- Two words: "legendary resistance".
- While many creatures have resistance/immunity to mundane weapons, resistance/immunity to magic weapons is very rare. Meanwhile, resistance/immunity to magical damage types is at least as common, if not more so, but can't be negated by picking up a magic wand (maybe it should).

What all this adds up to (again, in my experience, below tier IV) is that monsters too frequently make their saving throws, and casters end up contributing very little. And when they do contribute a lot it is not by themselves, but in synergy with a martial. For example, they banish the boss while the martials kill the minions. Or they haste the martial who then novas on the boss.

I asked myself: would I rather have a group of all martials, or a group of all casters? And except for some edge cases, in most battles I would rather have all martials. If you get extremely lucky on dice rolls a group of casters could win a tough fight, but it's far more likely that a couple monsters make their saving throws, they attack the casters who are trying to concentrate, and the whole thing turns into a rout. A group of martials is going to take a lot of damage, but they are also going to pump out a lot of damage, and overall have a better chance of winning. (Once again, my opinion.)

But of course what I really want is a mix of the two. Which kind of suggests the game is working as intended.
 

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FitzTheRuke

Legend
I honestly don't know how people come to the conclusion that "Monsters tend to make saving throws much more easily than they dodge weapon attacks (that is, than PC's miss with their weapon attacks)"

Is that factual? I've never seen it. IME saving throws get worse, relative to save DCs as you level while AC generally gets better as to-hit bonuses go up (though not all the time. Some monsters remain easy to hit).
 

Stalker0

Legend
I asked myself: would I rather have a group of all martials, or a group of all casters?
I do think wizards are pretty well balanced with martials in combat most of the time. Wizards apply the whammy; martials apply the pain. But that is assuming you have a mixed party. Meanwhile a group of all martials would be cripplingly weak compared to a group of casters at high levels....ASSUMING your dm is not compensating for your party when they make encounters.

There are many many things in dnd that require magic to deal with. If you don't have magic, you are sunk. so if the DM is using standard "adventure module" type encounters, yeah your martials will hit some serious roadblocks that the casters will waltz through. There will be encounters the casters find more challenging, but other than maybe an anti-magic field encounter there is no scenario where a caster party will go "uh there is nothing we can do here".
 

Stalker0

Legend
Also, the reason that legendary resistance is so "lame" is because it has no scaling based on party compositions. If you have one caster in the party, LR is crippling, its just not worth them spending 3 rounds just to maybe get a spell off, the party will have won or lost by them in most cases.

However, 3 casters in the party and suddenly LR is not that big a deal, they all throw down their whammies, chew through the LR, and now the big bad is just as vulnerable to big whammies as anything else. Yes it takes spell slots, but in terms of throwing caster power against a BBEG it works very well.

So this is why I really don't like LR, its stupidly penalizing or barely an issue depending on your party composition.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
I honestly don't know how people come to the conclusion that "Monsters tend to make saving throws much more easily than they dodge weapon attacks (that is, than PC's miss with their weapon attacks)"

Is that factual? I've never seen it. IME saving throws get worse, relative to save DCs as you level while AC generally gets better as to-hit bonuses go up (though not all the time. Some monsters remain easy to hit).

The two variable factors are AC and saving throw modifiers, of course. But lets look at orc.

Assuming a 16 in the PC's primary stat, and no other modifiers (magic weapon, etc) a level 1-4 PC has:
+5 to hit
Saving Throw DC of 13

Chance to miss orc with weapon attack: 7/20
Chance of orc making a Dex save: 9/20
Chance of orc making a Con save: 11/20
Chance of orc making a Wis save: 8/20

Now, I'm sure one can find monsters with high AC and low stats where this is inverted.* But my experience is that they make saving throws far more often than weapons miss.

It's become a running joke in our group that monsters are largely immune to Sacred Flame. On the rare occasion where it does damage we all cheer.

*One of my projects is that I want to find a dataset of 5e SRD monsters and computationally generate and graph all these odds. If anybody knows of such a dataset, let me know.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Also, the reason that legendary resistance is so "lame" is because it has no scaling based on party compositions. If you have one caster in the party, LR is crippling, its just not worth them spending 3 rounds just to maybe get a spell off, the party will have won or lost by them in most cases.

However, 3 casters in the party and suddenly LR is not that big a deal, they all throw down their whammies, chew through the LR, and now the big bad is just as vulnerable to big whammies as anything else. Yes it takes spell slots, but in terms of throwing caster power against a BBEG it works very well.

So this is why I really don't like LR, its stupidly penalizing or barely an issue depending on your party composition.

In my experience those creatures have high saving throw bonuses and thus make their saves easily, so it takes a while to chew through LR. We also tend to run smart monsters as smart, so an Arcana check to recognize the spell being cast and then a decision of whether to burn LR. Smart monsters will eat some damage and save LR for really dangerous spells.
 

Stalker0

Legend
In my experience those creatures have high saving throw bonuses and thus make their saves easily, so it takes a while to chew through LR. We also tend to run smart monsters as smart, so an Arcana check to recognize the spell being cast and then a decision of whether to burn LR. Smart monsters will eat some damage and save LR for really dangerous spells.
In my experience, if casters are planning to really burn through LR...then they are just using dangerous spells. There is no point half-a**ing it, all the casters will throw down their whammies to burn LR....or none of them will and will just stick to damaging spells or spells not reliant on saves.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
A smart caster doesn't need to rely on saving throws. Force cage? No save. Wall of Force? No save. Reverse Gravity? No save. Web? Technically, there is a save, but plenty of monsters are still hosed if they make the save but are near the center of the web.

When casters are playing the same game as martials, there is reasonable parity. Unlike martials, however, they have a choice whether to play that game.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
There is either consensus here that the Wizard, at high levels, is vastly superior to martials, or the people who believe so are just the most strident and incessant in expressing their opinions, but either way I don't see much pushback against that narrative.

However, I'm not so sure.

Two caveats for the following:
1) I recognize this doesn't address the complaint that casters get to do "cool things" while martials just get to make attack rolls. This is about the supposed difference in actual power/effectiveness in combat.
2) I have literally zero experience above level 15, so this only addresses tiers I to III

Here are my observations:
- First, the most powerful spells use saving throws, not attack rolls
The problem with "the most powerful" here is that the existence of power spells that use saving throws doesn't harm wizards.

It just adds to their options. "There are high level wizard spells that are extremely powerful that use saving throws" is true, but that statement makes wizards stronger, not weaker.
- Monsters tend to make saving throws much more easily than they dodge weapon attacks (that is, than PC's miss with their weapon attacks)
So, a +0 modifier on your saving throw corresponds to an AC of 14. But guessing which saving throws are weak isn't all that hard; so, compare a monster's weakest saving throw (+14) to their AC, as wizards get to pick which saving throw to attack.

However, this requires that the wizard use a tactic reliant on saving throws. Going back to point 1, this is an option -- making a spellcaster who rarely if ever cares if a foe makes a saving throw is very viable and strong.

- Far more magic items give bonuses to weapon attack rolls than to saving throw DCs
Yes. Note that magic items that give bonuses to weapon attack rolls are the non-attunment variety. Attunement items tend to give other benefits.
There are magic items that modify saving throw DCs, but they are all attunement required. There are now such items for every class.
- More magic items boost Strength than Intelligence above 20
Strength is a rather sub-par stat otherwise.

In fact, Strength sucks so much that a really good belt of giant strength is rather key to making it usable in an optimization setting.
- Martials get advantage on attack far more frequently than monsters get disadvantage on saves
Note that often the best way to get advantage on attacks is spells.
- Concentration prevents many of the best spells from being used simultaneously
Yes, except 1 good concentration spell is crazy good. Concentration is an extra resource that martials don't have -- it gives the spellcaster a long-term highly effficient use of a spell slot, but only 1 at a time.
- Casters have concentration broken fairly easily
By T2/T3, a caster can get very robust concentration.
- Two words: "legendary resistance".
Yes, that is why relying on save based spells only is a mistake.

You can make builds good at breaking through legendary resists. If you do so, you can short cut the entire HP budget of a foe. And 2 spellcasters working at it can do it in a few rounds (a spellcaster with a bit of optimization is about as good as a monk is in T2/3).

- While many creatures have resistance/immunity to mundane weapons, resistance/immunity to magic weapons is very rare. Meanwhile, resistance/immunity to magical damage types is at least as common, if not more so, but can't be negated by picking up a magic wand (maybe it should).
Again, a matter of choice. It means spellcasters have to have a variety of damage types (if they are winning by damage).

One of the damage types you can do is, well, BPS that isn't from a weapon, or through an ally.

A twincast haste on T2 martials literally is 1 action, a few sorcery points, and concentration, in exchange for the damage output of a full martial. If the martial is a rogue, you almost double their damage (with the readied action trick) and add 50% to the other one.

Now your actions are just icing on top of the cake.


What all this adds up to (again, in my experience, below tier IV) is that monsters too frequently make their saving throws, and casters end up contributing very little. And when they do contribute a lot it is not by themselves, but in synergy with a martial. For example, they banish the boss while the martials kill the minions. Or they haste the martial who then novas on the boss.
Sure. Or they polymorph a 8th level commoner into a giant ape.

Or they hypnotic pattern and shut down the entire army of minions.

Or they are 2 bladesingers. One banishes the boss, the other hypnotic patterns 75% of the minions, then they ginsu the minions. Next, they drop a force cage in the spot the boss comes back into together with some aoe that deals damage over time and drop concentration on the banishment.

Or a myriad of other ways to make the entire fight work completely differently than it would against people whose main ability is "reduce HP meter".

It is true that a martial + a spellcaster is stronger than a spellcaster. The question is, would 2 spellcasters do better than the martial+spellcaster?

Martials cannot, in 5e, meaningfully protect spellcasters in T2/T3. While haste is an efficient spell, other options for concentration based damage (like animate objects) exist.

I asked myself: would I rather have a group of all martials, or a group of all casters? And except for some edge cases, in most battles I would rather have all martials. If you get extremely lucky on dice rolls a group of casters could win a tough fight, but it's far more likely that a couple monsters make their saving throws, they attack the casters who are trying to concentrate, and the whole thing turns into a rout. A group of martials is going to take a lot of damage, but they are also going to pump out a lot of damage, and overall have a better chance of winning. (Once again, my opinion.)

But of course what I really want is a mix of the two. Which kind of suggests the game is working as intended.
So, here is an example of how it can work.

Fighter 1/Swords bard X. Uses a hand crossbow (SS/XBE feats). Boosts its combat abilities with stuff like greater steed, holy weapon, haste, greater invisibility, etc, as well as a selection of debuffs. The real problem is the lack of known spells -- every spell known is almost as good as a class feature. Uses fighter 1 for cheap access to archery fighting style (the +2 is nice) and heavy armor prof (rides a griffon, doesn't need the mobility) and con saves, but could replace it with feats.

Even without that, dropping polymorph on an ally boosts them up to being a decent meat-shield. A T-Rex is stickier than most martials with its chomp attack. The HP buffer fades eventually, but at 140 HP per spell slot it goes a long way.

Summoning hordes of meat shields is another option, or having an escort of zombies. Many of the summon subclasses make their horde attacks count as magical. With 1 OA per horde member, they are again stickier than PCs are, let alone dogpile grapples.

The real problem with an all-caster party is that the DM will be tempted to escalate. Doing so against all-martials with foes that only a spellcaster has a chance against would be viewed as rude, but doing so against all-casters isn't; and the all-caster party still stands a chance, because they have options. Options to flee and come back, options to cheat (create their own martials), huge piles of options in the form of spells.

Each spell is a rules element that lets the player impose their will on the narrative. This happens both inside and outside combat. Spellcaster non-optimzied damage is not that far behind non-optimzied martial damage (if at all), and they have this huge library of "oh, and I can change the rules of the game" in their back pocket. These spells get more and more gonzo as you gain levels.

It isn't that a spellcaster dominates melee.

It is that spellcasters have so much more room for optimization than melee do, and their starting point isn't far off each other.

Spellcasters can change the game, in combat and out of it, with spells. Martials lack those abilities.
 

I honestly don't know how people come to the conclusion that "Monsters tend to make saving throws much more easily than they dodge weapon attacks (that is, than PC's miss with their weapon attacks)"

Is that factual? I've never seen it. IME saving throws get worse, relative to save DCs as you level while AC generally gets better as to-hit bonuses go up (though not all the time. Some monsters remain easy to hit).
It's my experience that NPCs makes saves more often than melee PCs miss attacks. BUT, see below.
But my experience is that they make saving throws far more often than weapons miss.
My experience as well.

And now for the But:
But, lots of spells still have effects (half damage) on a save. Very few martial attacks do anything on a miss. So, just comparing hit% to save% doesn't tell the whole story.

I do see casters as having more options. But in my group martial damage against single targets still far outweighs caster damage against single targets. BUT... damage isn't the only way to defeat a NPC or control the battle field.
 


jgsugden

Legend
I'd fix this problem in the next edition by having all spells have four levels of effect:

1.) Full effect: The equivalent of what happens if someone fails the save now.
2.) Partial effect: A half impact that gets across the brunt of the spell, but not all of it ... like half damage.
3.) Low effect: A minimal effect that is still something to notice, but is less than the partial effect. Something like 1/4 damage.
4.) 'No' effect: Generally, nothing - but in some cases this would still have some impacts. For example, you might have a 'no effect' of a web spell force the target to move out of the area of the web.

Then, we'd give monsters that would allow them to downgrade the effects of the spell from full to partial to low to no. Making a save could reduce it, but so would resistance. Creatures with legendary resistance would automatically downgrade all spells to partial effect as a starting block.

Damage spells are easy, but things like Hold Monster might be:

Full effect: Paralysis, resave at the end of each turn to downgrade.
Partial effect: Slowed, resave at the end of each turn to downgrade.
Low effect: Speed reduced by 10 feet, resave at the end of each turn to downgrade.
No effect: True no effect.
A monster that fails a save is paralyzed, but if they make it they are slowed. At the end of their next turn they could save again and downgrade it by a level. You might specify that a creature that makes the initial save instead moves to the no effect - that would be dictated on a spell by spell basis.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
*One of my projects is that I want to find a dataset of 5e SRD monsters and computationally generate and graph all these odds. If anybody knows of such a dataset, let me know.

Won't such an analysis have to assume each creature is encountered with equal frequency? I'm not a statistician, but I think it would be hard to make this sort of analysis meaningful for understanding actual play. (I have the same problems when people start counting immunities and resistances: yes, all devils are immune to fire and poison, but the conditions under which they are met are comparatively rare.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I honestly don't know how people come to the conclusion that "Monsters tend to make saving throws much more easily than they dodge weapon attacks (that is, than PC's miss with their weapon attacks)"

Is that factual? I've never seen it. IME saving throws get worse, relative to save DCs as you level while AC generally gets better as to-hit bonuses go up (though not all the time. Some monsters remain easy to hit).

This is an interesting place-


It lets you view the various saving throws for monsters. It's pretty much what you expect (Int saves are usually the worst, Con saves are usually the best, saves start getting better at CR8). But you can play with it.
 

So here are actual stats from my campaign.
Rogue, Hit: 86% Damage Dealt: 11937
Sorcerer, Spell Landing: 65% (this includes save and attack roll spells), Damage Dealt: 8931

Screen Shot 08-24-22 at 09.11 AM.PNG


Ardwill = Range
Daxmog = Rogue
Manny = Sorcerer
Meinan = Fighter/Wizard
Sorin = Cleric
Will = Bard/Warlock
 



Reynard

Legend
So here are actual stats from my campaign.
Rogue, Hit: 86% Damage Dealt: 11937
Sorcerer, Spell Landing: 65% (this includes save and attack roll spells), Damage Dealt: 8931

View attachment 258942

Ardwill = Range
Daxmog = Rogue
Manny = Sorcerer
Meinan = Fighter/Wizard
Sorin = Cleric
Will = Bard/Warlock
Off. Poor Sorin -- lowest damage output and tied for most KOs. Also, that player's (digital) dice HATE them.

Those rogue stats are a pretty strong condemnation of the design as anything other than a front line fighter dressed up in stealth cosplay.
 

Amrûnril

Adventurer
In combat, wizards have some significant advantages over martial characters (AOE burst damage, number of options), and some significant disadvantages (single target sustained damage, survivability). Focusing only on combat, though, misses a big part of the picture.

Out of combat, wizards are comparable to martial characters (except rogues) in terms of non-magical, skill-based capabilities, but they also have access to spells that can completely transform the state of an adventure (teleportation, scrying etc.). If I wanted to pull back some of wizards' power, my first step would be to reduce their number of skill proficiencies. That way, they'd be able to do powerful things out of combat in scenarios where their spells were applicable, but would be more reliant on skilled martial characters in other scenarios.
 

Reynard

Legend
In combat, wizards have some significant advantages over martial characters (AOE burst damage, number of options), and some significant disadvantages (single target sustained damage, survivability). Focusing only on combat, though, misses a big part of the picture.

Out of combat, wizards are comparable to martial characters (except rogues) in terms of non-magical, skill-based capabilities, but they also have access to spells that can completely transform the state of an adventure (teleportation, scrying etc.). If I wanted to pull back some of wizards' power, my first step would be to reduce their number of skill proficiencies. That way, they'd be able to do powerful things out of combat in scenarios where their spells were applicable, but would be more reliant on skilled martial characters in other scenarios.
Wizards that burn through powerful resources out of combat end up being terrible elemental archers in combat.
 

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