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D&D 5E Bladesinger - a criticism of its design

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
How do they have a 20?
That was with rolling, you know - the standard system for character generation. About one in six characters will have a 16+ and a 17+ score in their stat line. Nearly one in two characters will have a 15+ and a 16+ (allowing 18 Dex, 16 Int, going to 20 Dex at level 4, for AC 21 / 26 with Shield.)

Umm.... fly, invisibility, and polymorph are all Concentration spells. You can't cast more than one of those at a time. You can be invisible or you can be hiding, but not both. And once you cast your spell you lose the other buff.
Here I was exaggerating for effect. The point is, Bladesinger is a full-caster. No loss of Wizard power. Straight Wizard levels is the bar for power in D&D. Even without having tank AC and decent melee damage (with Green-Flame Blade).

Not being up all the time is a HUGE catch. 2-3 combats per short rest is an average.
Which means that a third of the time it will be those two combats, a third of the time it might just be one combat between short rests, and a third of the time it could be four combats between short rests. And while the ones that count the character will have bladesinging up, that still means two combats where they're the party's tank and have an AC of 18. Which is still decent but by no means unhittable.
There aren't really three challenging combats per short rest, in any campaign I've yet seen.

That's also maximum AC. They can't ever find magic armour. Or a magic shield. There's maybe a single item that can boost their AC at that point. Meanwhile, monster accuracy just keeps increasing. While nothing is going to hit reliably at level 4, at level 8 or 10 that changes. The CR 5 hill giant is going to hit 30% of the time and makes two attacks. And the CR 9 fire giant also has two attacks and hits 45% of the time. And does 28 damage on a hit, which will serious wreck the day of a bladesinger with 50 hit points at level 8.
Huh? Fighter is capped at 21 unless they find magic armor. If Bladesinger finds magic Studded Leather, they switch to it. The odds of light magical armor are the same as those of heavy. If Bladesinger takes ASIs at 4th and 8th, they gain a point over the heaviest martial, even before casting Shield.

You do correctly identify that their weakness is hit points. They'll probably want their third highest stat to be on Constitution. Most Wizards I've so far seen, put their second highest stat on Constitution. The thing is that unlike the heavy Fighter, the Bladesinger can choose to take a caster role, against things that look likely to be able to hit them, and move to a melee role against other creatures (where GFB becomes better, with bounces). Casting is still the strongest strategy in D&D. Why should a caster be anywhere near a martial at melee, without sacrifice?
 

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That was with rolling, you know - the standard system for character generation. About one in six characters will have a 16+ and a 17+ score in their stat line. Nearly one in two characters will have a 15+ and a 16+ (allowing 18 Dex, 16 Int, going to 20 Dex at level 4, for AC 21 / 26 with Shield.)
That's nice, but WotC can't be expected to balance classes expecting two fantastic rolls any more than they should be expected to have classes balanced for a terrible roll with nothing above an 11. That's not the baseline.

I let my players roll as well. I had two that rolled an 18 and had 20s at level 1! Odd, but it happens. It's always a possibility when you add random chance.

If you don't like that, the standard array is given in the same step of character creation and presented as much as a core non-optional rule...

Here I was exaggerating for effect. The point is, Bladesinger is a full-caster. No loss of Wizard power. Straight Wizard levels is the bar for power in D&D. Even without having tank AC and decent melee damage (with Green-Flame Blade).
You were "exaggerating" by invoking the decade-old Quadratic wizard trope. Which is about as useful and relevant to this conversation as a discussion on BAB, Fort saves, or multiclassing experience penalties. Or THAC0 really...
When discussing the power bar for 3e D&D, it was the cleric and druid. And probably the ranger and pre-errata control/ orb wizard in 4e. In 5e the bar is equally different.


Again, green-flame blade is adequate damage at best. Likely 1d8+ stat. Far below the twin weapon fighter, GWF, rogue, or archer. Really, it's on par with the sword-and-board fighter. Which is what you'd expect. And it's less if targeting a creature not standing right beside another enemy.

While the bladeslinger is a full caster, they're also using their spells for things like shield and mage armour, which is going to impact their damage over the day.

There aren't really three challenging combats per short rest, in any campaign I've yet seen.
They don't have to be challenging.
A few incidental encounters can weaker the character. And the bladesinger doesn't have that many hit points to really take a few unnecessary hits.

Huh? Fighter is capped at 21 unless they find magic armor. If Bladesinger finds magic Studded Leather, they switch to it. The odds of light magical armor are the same as those of heavy. If Bladesinger takes ASIs at 4th and 8th, they gain a point over the heaviest martial, even before casting Shield.
+1 studded leather just brings them to par with mage armour. That's not a boost, just a single extra spell slot. To actually improve they need +2 armor.

You do correctly identify that their weakness is hit points. They'll probably want their third highest stat to be on Constitution. Most Wizards I've so far seen, put their second highest stat on Constitution.
Which assumes they rolled three great stats.
Three great rolls will always break the balance of D&D regardless of class.

The thing is that unlike the heavy Fighter, the Bladesinger can choose to take a caster role, against things that look likely to be able to hit them, and move to a melee role against other creatures (where GFB becomes better, with bounces). Casting is still the strongest strategy in D&D. Why should a caster be anywhere near a martial at melee, without sacrifice?
You mean apart from the sacrifice of a spell slot every day? And the benefits of their other subclass features. The bladesinger isn't getting any of the bonuses other wizards get. It's not going to sculpt spells or increase cantrip damage or other cool things.

The player chose the tanky subclass option because they wanted to tank. If it wasn't effective at tanking, it'd be a trap option. And that would be worse design. It's strong, but I doubt it's overpowered. And its very frontloaded. The later features are okay, but really just allow it to take a few hits and deal expected levels of damage. It doesn't get dramatically better or do more cool things.

And, really, it's irrelevant if it's better than a tanky fighter or barbarian or not, because you're not going to see two tanks in one party. Comparisons are strictly theoretical. The only way to know for sure would be to run the same campaign with the same groups using the same die results and class combos and swap out the tank. But that's ridiculously implausible.
 


bganon

Explorer
That's nice, but WotC can't be expected to balance classes expecting two fantastic rolls any more than they should be expected to have classes balanced for a terrible roll with nothing above an 11. That's not the baseline.

Exactly this. In a game where ability scores are a fairly big determination of power, you simply cannot completely "balance" random rolls. Sure, two 17's happens a decent fraction (about 4%) of the time. But a character with no score above 13 happens over 7% of the time. There's no way to "balance" that without making ability scores pretty meaningless.

Or rather, there's a very obvious way to balance it: DM discretion.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
EDIT as Capn Zapp posted while I was working on this: Sure but isn't the complaint more that "if the game is balanced around the point-buy option, why is point-buy presented as an option"? Why say "hey you generate stats by rolling dice, but if you do, lol, the game is horribly unbalanced", THEN say "hey if you want a balanced game, use point buy instead, lol".*

*This sentence is not intended to imply that the writer thinks point buy is balanced, but instead, that the writer acknowledges many people feel that this is the case.
This is akin to how some people are fine with saying "if you use feats and multiclassing you're on your own" as if asking the game to be balanced with those two "options" was unreasonable or strange...

The truth is simply that you have two axioms to choose between:

"The game is balanced around rolling dice since that's presented as the default chargen method"

and

"The game is balanced around a maximum starting ability of 15"


It's your choice to make. I just feel the first one is a little bit too faith-based for my liking. It's not like it's a secret that WotC is pandering to what the customers want over the best interests of game balance.

To me it's simple. People WANT to roll dice when creating characters. WotC therefore makes it the default choice. End. Of. Analysis.

That WotC carefully weighed the balancing pros and cons of what chargen method to make the default borders on gullible, in my opinion. It was a marketing move, nothing more.

The truth is that point-buy is MUCH more balanced, but since WotC knows its customers doesn't like to hear that, they don't make an effort to tell us.

And it's not exactly as if I'm asking you to take my word for it either. I'm pretty sure y'all know deep down I'm right. It isn't very hard to see why the game just works better when your level 4 and 8 ASIs take you to a +4 and a +5 bonus - that is, that you truly have to choose between a feat and a +1 ability modifier increase to your prime stat.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Vonklaude, I hope you find peace with your changes.

As for myself, I would like to add that the Bladesinger to me reads as an "elite" subclass. I really am okay with it being strong; stronger than "regular" wizard subclasses. Otherwise why make a deal out of Bladesinging.

(Let's not bring up the poor Dwarf Battlerager though. I don't remember specifics, but that subclass read more like a curse than an opportunity...)

In the end, my take is that you just lucked out. Your player was allowed/rolled lucky stats and then chose one of the strongest subclasses of all. No wonder everybody is in awe.

As for your central cricitism that its too strong in melee, I don't see the worry. Each round a Wizard is waving around a hunk of metal is a lost round, after all. If you can get your Wizard to waste its potential poking people with a pointy stick it is per definition not overpowered.

The Bladesinger's OP-ness derives from stellar defense, not whatever martial prowess it's got. Despite the name and imagery, I believe it should be played like a regular Wizard - that is, as someone trying to avoid melee. It's just like with ranged builds, the game breaks when you aren't inconvenienced by melee.

And the Bladesinger's AC certainly means this Wizard is much less inconvenienced by melee than most. THAT is a problem.

But since it's an optional class in a splatbook, I can't get too worked up about it. Just don't allow SCAG anytime one of your more optimization-minded players decide to play an elf... ;) Then force the rest of your players to use point-buy and the subclass recedes enough to not be a greater problem than what we have discussed elsewhere (Greatweapon Master and the like).

Or nerf it. :)

Regards,
Zapp
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
A lot of the time, I think a class may look more powerful than it actually plays because it has more versatility. This may be the case with the Bladesinger.

On the surface it looks as if it can do everything that a wizard can do and nearly everything that a melee character can do, but really when it is used in play, the choices and opportunity costs tend to make the PC play more evenly with others.

[MENTION=37579]Jester David[/MENTION] mentioned a lot in his posts that fit with this.

Keep in mind, to really be a Bladesinger that can survive, you'll need to make Intelligence, Dexterity and Constitution your highest scores. A fighter can get by with a high strength and constitution (or a dex fighter with dex). And this is just for combat with weapons. Bladesingers by and large will have so many less hit points (especially mid to higher levels), they will be vulnerable to area of effect spells and breath weapons. Sure, they can mitigate those types of attacks with counterspell or a protection from energy, but that means they have to keep that spell prepared and use a limited resource when the time arises. Do you know how many times playing a wizard I've kept spells in my back pocket and never used them because the situations never called for them? Quite often. The benefit of a fighter not having to make choices like that is actually pretty powerful, and fighters can use Heavy Armor Master and mitigate damage, choose other feats and fighting styles that benefit them more of the time than just a few spells cast or not cast throughout an adventuring day.

A lot of how a class plays is really in the DMs hands. If the players know what to expect they can optimize their characters. If they don't know what to expect, they may be woefully unprepared at times or they may be forced to diversify and not load up on specific spells.

In the game I'm playing in now, my 3rd level Bladesinger uses Mage Armor daily - sacrificing one prepared first level spell and one first level spell slot. She also prepares Feather Fall. The DM has made it clear that sometimes creatures will push or grapple and fly up with PCs so this character wants to be prepared if and when that might happen to someone in the party. That's another prepared spell sacrificed. Rope trick...for 2nd level is another one that I hold on to because it can save the party from TPK or give us a chance to rest even when we are deep in enemy territory. That's another prepared spell sacrificed until needed. That leaves me with 3 other to prepare daily - Burning Hands, Ice Knife, Sleep, Blur...oops that's too many. And, sleep is one of those spells that could be awesome in the right situation, but many times that situation never arises. This is the complexity of the issue that is often not accounted for in white room analysis.

I certainly would agree that the class may be the most versatile class.

Perhaps at 5th/6th level (again at 11th and 17th) there may be a slight power bump when using a blade and Greenflame Blade, but it isn't as big a bump as it seems. Even with 2 attacks, the Bladesinger must make a choice to attack twice or to use Greenflame Blade and attack once with extra damage on target and other target within 5', and by that time, the fighter is attacking 2x per round and can either use combat maneuvers to augment damage or they gain increased critical threat and other things that add to their damage.
 
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Why am I writing this? I want to say to WotC's designers, stop making casters that trivialise melee. It narrows the game. It's less fun.
Yeah, they tried designing a nominal D&D that wasn't that way. Didn't go over so well.
Good balance is objectively a virtue in good game design. That has been shown over and over again, across numerous game genres.
It's not such a virtue in good game marketing, though - The most successful RPGs have had indifferent to execrable balance...

...

The bladesniger is not so broken as you make out, it's melee ability let's it play at frontlining briefly, but it doesn't have the HPs to back it up. It's for show and feel of the classic elf.

And, it does capture the feel of the original bladesniger from the 2e Complete Book of Elves...

;)
 
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Perhaps at 5th/6th level (again at 11th and 17th) there may be a slight power bump when using a blade and Greenflame Blade, but it isn't as big a bump as it seems. Even with 2 attacks, only one of the 2 attacks can gain the benefit of the Greenflame Blade, and by that time, the fighter is attacking 2x per round and can either use combat maneuvers to augment damage or they gain increased critical threat and other things that add to their damage.
IIRC green-flame blade doesn't replace an attack. You cast the spells and make an attack as part of the casting. So you attack twice with Extra Attack or once with the spell. But the cantrip's damage increase.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
IIRC green-flame blade doesn't replace an attack. You cast the spells and make an attack as part of the casting. So you attack twice with Extra Attack or once with the spell. But the cantrip's damage increase.

Right. I haven't gotten to that level yet, but what you say makes sense since it is the spell as the action, not an attack action. Thanks. I edited my post to reflect the correction.
 
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Mort

Legend
Supporter
As I mentioned in another thread, my big problem with the bladesinger isn't a power issue.

It's that the best use of the bladesinger abilities is actually to just hang back and do the standard mage shtick (with better AC and mobility) than to rush into combat as a barely competent melee type.

Sent from my SM-G930V using EN World mobile app
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
As I mentioned in another thread, my big problem with the bladesinger isn't a power issue.

It's that the best use of the bladesinger abilities is actually to just hang back and do the standard mage shtick (with better AC and mobility) than to rush into combat as a barely competent melee type.

Sent from my SM-G930V using EN World mobile app

Interesting. To tell the truth, I've been having a bit of a struggle with this myself. Although I wanted my Bladesinger to be more of a brave swashbuckling fighter, I'm finding that she is definitely using her intelligence more often to stay away from too much trouble.

In fact, I've been debating whether to just take Arcane Initiate as a feat instead of Mobility next level since I may want to pick up Firebolt and Light spell, and be able to cast the Mage Armor 1/day from the feat rather than from my prepared list. The firebolt will allow me more range and I'll be able to get rid of my bow and arrows at 5th level when the firebolt does 2d10 damage from afar.

In the end, I'm going to go with mobility though to force her into the role she was created to play. We'll see how it goes.
 

cbwjm

Hero
I have a 5th level bladesinger, Dex 18, Int 16, studded leather +1 so I normally have an AC of 17, or 20 if I am bladesinging. Bladesong is pretty potent but not the ultimate win ability that some people seem to think it is. You get to use it twice/short rest which means you have to decide on whether or not to get in close or stand back and sling spells. If you are incapacitated, it stops. Get hit by a hold person and you lose it. As others have said, low hit points means that damage which requires a saving throw is going to wear you down and this can happen quite quickly.

Greenflame blade is a great damage cantrip. At level 5 I'm hitting for 1d6 (short sword) + 1d8 (fire) +4 (dex) against a single target with the chance to deal an additional 1d8+3 fire damage to a creature adjacent to my target. I've noticed during play how little this really happens. All too often, the enemies are formed in ranks and are instead a little spread out and this is just from normal gameplay, not my DM trying to lessen the damage output of my cantrip.

Also of note, the very first encounter I had as my new bladesinger (I created it at level 5) was a young remorhaz. A remorhaz is immune to fire and deals damage when hit in melee so my bladesong wasn't super useful for that encounter and neither was greenflame blade.

Bladesong is also just a straight combat boost, traps and other things can finish off a bladesinger pretty quick. We were jumping across pillars some of which collapse and dump you in acid and my dexterity saves were just rubbish. I'd be dead if not for DM retcon.

As is, that group fell apart so I'll never get a chance to try out the other two high level abilities that are also dependent on bladesong.
 

Mistwell

Legend
Why change a foundational rule (char gen) when one archetype could have been balanced better? That's really the tail wagging the dog.

In three years, yours is the very first post I can ever recall claiming this is an issue. And I am guessing you have not played very long with this PC to see how balanced or unbalanced it might be. I suspect this is mostlym though not entirely, theorycrafting. Regardless, your experience is definitely not representative of the experiences of the overwhelming majority of players of this game so far. While it is possible it's just a combination that's never come up so nobody every happened across how broken it is in three years, that seems unlikely. It seems more likely your sample is just too brief and not representative of that PC. It sure does not seem like a combination that would make for a melee combatant as good as a fighter, barbarian, paladin, or ranger. Certainly not as good in melee if one of those four classes also has two 20s by 4th level and a high third stat as well.
 
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AmerginLiath

Adventurer
If one character shows up with two 18s at level one and the concern is over balance, the answer is to reroll that character’s stats.
 


There aren't really three challenging combats per short rest, in any campaign I've yet seen.
You need to play with my group then. Today was 4 combats before taking a rest with level 1&2 characters. Challenging may be debated, but they were medium fights according the DMG (which is a measurement I seldom use). This really isn't uncommon with us, and in the other game we play (where I'm a player), we seldom take a short rest, because the opportunity cost is too high. We play based on a 24 hour world cycle, rather than the short rest/long rest/encounters per day setup, which removes abuse by short rest classes and the dreaded five minute work day.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
It's that the best use of the bladesinger abilities is actually to just hang back and do the standard mage shtick (with better AC and mobility) than to rush into combat as a barely competent melee type.
It appears a number of people in this thread have failed to understand that this is the problem I'm criticising: Bladesinger is a full mage (with better AC and Concentration saves and Acrobatics and mobility) who can also rush into melee as a competent melee type.

Full mages alone are the bar for power in 5e (less so than in earlier editions, but still so). A full mage who can compete in melee (with better AC than the heaviest armoured martial) is poor design. And avoidable. The class itself develops the concept wonderfully. It is flavourful and fun: I want to see better balanced archetypes in splatbooks because I want to see the game expand. If you didn't play 3rd edition, you missed the egregious power-creeping of its numerous splatbooks.

Power-creeping by design appears to arise from a myopic, commercially-drive belief that player purchase decisions are principally driven by munchkin behaviour. I believe that well-written, flavourful features, that do something different and valued, are more important to players than straight power options. In my experience, groups love embracing options that don't overshadow the content they've already invested in. With the value of hindsight, 5e can do better than 3e.

Finally, for those who think that balancing the game without taking the standard character generation system into account is fine, we're not going to reach a point where I agree with you. And that is independent of whether the game is easier to balance using points buy: stop conflating the arguments. I appreciate your input, but please don't recite the argument again here. If you'd like to explore it further, I encourage you to make your own thread.
 

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