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D&D (2024) Dear Team WotC: Better Pact Magic Fixes

VenerableBede

Adventurer
Team WotC,

The warlock should not lose Pact Magic. The warlock is one of the most interesting, unique, and fun classes to play in 5e specifically because of the trends it bucks in spellcasting. Fans of warlocks really like what makes the class different, and if it has an issue of identity then homogenizing with other casters will just exacerbate the issue.

As a player who really loves playing warlocks and who talks with a lot of other players who really love playing warlocks, yeah, we would like to be able to cast spells more frequently—you hit the nail on the head in that regard. But the solution in the current playtest is completely wrong. So I looked at a bunch of community threads, crunched some numbers, and came up with some solutions for you, each of which would be better than making the warlock a half-caster.


Fix Short Rests
Based on the playtests and the general move away from most features recharging on a short rest, this ship has probably sailed. But, I still think it's worth saying that making short rests 5–15 minutes would remove the narrative burden of the short rest and drastically increase the use of all features that rely on short rests. Few warlocks will be afraid of using their 1–2 spell slots in a combat if they know they can take a quick breather after (in most circumstances), which will effectively result in what we asked for, being able to cast spells more frequently.


Limited Rapid Recharge (Meditation)
If short rests have to go (and many people want to see them gone), warlocks can keep Pact Magic exactly as it is with just one change that fixes everything: rather than recovering Pact Magic slots on a short rest, instead warlocks can meditate for a minute and get all Pact Magic slots back. This feature can be used a number of times per day equal to X. (Obviously that number would change based on warlock level and how many spell slots of what spell level the warlock gets). This keeps the heart and soul of the warlock intact and provides a very simple, easy-to-implement solution that would be in keeping with the design philosophy of this revision of 5th edition.

Here's what this would look like if we used the warlock spell slot (and spell level) progression as it currently exists and applied this new mechanic:
Warlock Meditation Pact Magic Recovery.png

Let me explain how I made this chart.

First of all, warlocks are full casters. Pact Magic progresses in spell level at the same rate as full casting and provides the same value in spell slots that an average full caster gets—assuming the warlock gets 2 short rests per adventuring day (the assumed DMG average). Mystic Arcanum rounds this out by allowing warlocks to cast one 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th level spell per long rest. For the purpose of this analysis, we don't need to consider those spell levels, just the spell slot value of Pact Magic spell slots and levels (1–5).
So what do I mean by "same value in spell slots"?

The relative value of a spell level in relation to other spell levels has been calculated in the DMG in the Spell Point variant rule. It costs 1st-level spell are worth 2 points, 3 for 2nd-level, 5 for 3rd-level, 6 for 4th-level, and 7 for 5th-level. Traditional full casters spread this relative value out by having set spell slots of each level available to them, while warlocks concentrate all of this value into casting more spell slots of the highest spell level available to them (up to 5th level and per adventuring day) than a traditional full caster can at the cost of not having any lower-level spell slots. If these spell slots are all converted into spell points, traditional casters and Pact Magic warlocks are roughly equal in the spell slot value they have access to at any given level. When there is a disparity, it's normally the warlock falling behind. Thus, balance for a warlock is predicated on having about the same spell slot value as a traditional caster at any given level, at least with regards to 1st–5th level spells, while maintaining the spirit of Pact Magic's unique, innovative, and fun casting system; I kept this in mind as I crunched numbers.

To create a baseline average power level to measure any warlock Pact Magic revisions against, I totaled the spell points that a traditional single-class full caster would have access to at any given level, but only with regards to 1st–5th level spells. Then I divided those numbers by the spell point cost to cast a spell of the highest level available to a warlock at each level (and rounded down to the nearest whole number); these values I could use as a control group, as the relative value of the spell slots they represent would be equal with (or slightly below) the relative spell slot values a traditional full caster would get at those levels, even if the value is allocated differently. The result is the column titled No SR Slots: this column represents the number of spell slots a warlock would have on a given day if the warlock could cast all spells available to him at his highest spell level (up to 5th) but recharged all spell slots on a long rest rather than a short rest. I can use this column to compare against the effective number of spell slots a warlock would have if it were guaranteed a certain number of spell slots and spell slot recharges per day—the Effective Slots and # of Recharges columns—using the Limited Rapid Recharge (Meditation) mechanic. (The Spell Level and Slots columns already represent the spell level available to a warlock and the number of slots currently offered by Pact Magic.)

Now let's examine the chart, specifically the three columns that matter most (# of Recharges, Effective Slots, and No SR Slots), and explain why this mechanic is better than what we have now—and leagues better than the spellcasting proposed in Playtest Packet #5.

At most levels the current warlock only needs 2 rapid recharges per long rest for its number of effective slots to be about par with the spell slot value it should be at (represented in the No SR Slots column). That's significant—it shows that the idea behind the current short rest system works, with the only failure being the short rest itself. It evidences that the original warlock was excellently, elegantly, and efficiently designed to be about equal with other full casters while providing a completely different kind of experience. In other words, the warlock ain't broke, so don't "fix" it; fix the recovery mechanic.

Rapid Recharges (probably better represented in-game as "meditation" for about a minute) are the best fix for using Pact Magic without short rests. There are several reasons for this. First, recovering all spell slots after a minute of rest takes long enough that a warlock can't get its spell slots back for free during action (such as a chase or a battle), but it's short enough that the warlock still can recover its spell slots between moments of action, which doesn't happen with the current short rest system. This fixes all issues and concerns the warlock community has with, effectively not having enough spell slots. Second, limiting the amount of times a warlock can recover spell slots per long rest keeps warlocks on about the same power level as other full casters in the rare party that takes a short rest after every encounter. Third, limiting the amount of times a warlock can recover spell slots prevents shenanigans that keep certain spells from being added to the warlock spell list, such as create undead. Fourth, it keeps the spirit, intent, and flavor of Pact Magic intact, which warlock fans deeply care about.

It's worth noting that there are three spots on the above chart where the warlock spell slot value does not perfectly match up with where we might expect it to be: level 2, levels 8–10, and levels 17–20. Let's take a look at those levels and see why this isn't a problem.
  1. Level 2: The warlock gets one spell slot more than might be expected. For level 1 or 2 spells, a variation of 1 slot is not game-breaking at all, and it's not a big enough difference to overshadow or invalidate traditional full casters. (In addition, some full casters have mechanics that let them recharge a limited amount of spell slots per day, such as the wizard's Arcane Recovery, which bridges this gap.)
  2. Levels 8–10: The warlock falls up to three spell slots behind at these levels. That's a bit of a bummer, but casting 4th and 5th level spells up to 6 times per day (rather than 2, which is what most warlocks are currently doing, or 0 if they are too afraid to use those slots in the first place) is still a huge improvement from where warlocks currently are.
  3. Levels 17–20: The warlock gets on average two spell slots more than might be expected. This is the final tier of play, most players never experience these levels, and other traditional casters are at the strongest they will ever be (and often considered stronger than the warlock anyway), this small difference in spell slot power is not an issue.

In short, a system of rapid recharges, applied something like I've presented in the chart above, fixes all of the pain points the warlock class currently faces while also removing some of the multiclass-related pain points some players had with the warlock. The solution is as simple as the warlock is simple, helping the warlock remain a good first experience with spellcasting for new players but still being deep enough for returning players to get excited. The solution also gives the warlock more control over its resources and allows the warlock to cast spells more. Really, this is the best solution for the warlock class.

It also helps that this solution fits in really well with the other proposed warlock changes in Playtest Packet #5. For example, the new version of Mystic Arcanum helps to solve one of the few pain points of this solution, being having less spell slot value at levels 8–10 than might be desired.

I'm going to stop here for now—this has taken way more of my day than I had time to give it. But I have more experimental ideas for "fixing" Pact Magic (ideas that I think will appeal less to the WotC team and the 5e warlock community in general, but will all be better than making warlocks generic half-casters) that I may share in future comments in this thread, if I get the time and if there appears to be the interest.

Team WotC—in the miraculous event any of you read this—and anyone else who took the time for this long analysis, thank you for you time, and I hope you found this enlightening and engaging.
 

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Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Feels a bit clunky. Why not half your caster slots proficiency bonus times a day? I believe that would result in fewer slots than the current expectation at low levels but more slots than the current expectation at higher levels (I think starting at 13th level it's 2 more, and 17th it's 4 more?)
 
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They're full casters in terms of spell level progression, at least up until 9th level. A revamped spellcasting system for them shouldn't come at the cost of delaying their access to higher-level spells.
They build high rather than building wide. A warlock doesn't have the same foundations as other casters and can't for example spam Shield or Absorb Elements. A normal half caster has the foundations but not the height, the warlock's built tall but lacks foundations and width. A normal full caster gets both.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
They're full casters in terms of spell level progression, at least up until 9th level. A revamped spellcasting system for them shouldn't come at the cost of delaying their access to higher-level spells.
This. They're a normal full caster in terms of spell level access. They get a new spell level every odd level (barring 19th), just like the other full casters.

They're definitely dissimilar from full casters in terms of the breadth of their options, although they come pretty close in terms of total spell levels expended assuming two short rests.

I would agree that the combination of their invocations and eldritch blast means that their overall spellcasting potential from spells should be less than that of the other full casters.
 

VenerableBede

Adventurer
Disagree.

Warlocks have to pay for their invocations, and they do so with less spells.
You can disagree, but that's how the math works out. If you want I can share a chart with you showing the evidence, but in short Neonchameleon described the right idea for why warlock spell slots look different.

Invocations are the warlock's main class feature (after Pact Magic). They don't lose out on spellcasting for having class features any more than wizards for arcane recovery, sorcerers for sorcery points, or druids for wild shape.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
Invocations are the warlock's main class feature (after Pact Magic). They don't lose out on spellcasting for having class features any more than wizards for arcane recovery, sorcerers for sorcery points, or druids for wild shape.
I don't know if I'd go that far. Pact magic lacks the ability to nova that standard spellcasting has, and also lacks the breadth of utility options that low-level slots brings. They're pretty similar in terms of total capacity, for sure, but I definitely normal spellcasting has a higher overall power level.

And I definitely feel like invocations + eldritch blast are strong enough class features that they make up for the difference.
 

mellored

Legend
You can disagree, but that's how the math works out
I did the math a long while ago. Warlocks can't out damage a wizard without a lot of Eldritch blast spam. And that assumed 2 short rests per day, which tends not to happen.

I would qualify the 2014 warlock as 2/3 casters. More than half, but not full.

Though the 3.5 warlock was far more at-wills.
 

Reef

Hero
I like the idea of Meditation (or Channel Patron, or what have you), but I don't think there's any point limiting them to one at low levels. Right now, it's (theoretically) expected they can take 2 Short Rests per long rest. I think that's how many Meditations they should get. Keeps it simple, and I'm not sure why they'd have to end up with less casting than they (are supposed to) have now.
 

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