D&D 5E Free Upcasting By Tier: A House-Rule


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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Possibly. It always comes down to the spell. Player picks the right spell and suddenly you regret your life decisions :)

That’s why I think the best approach is for you to pick spells you think this would be appropriate on and allow that as a house rule, rather than giving players cart blanc choices
This is really table dependent. I personally don't care what they pick and can work to design challenging encounters regardless of the spells they pick. Others will see it as too powerful, yet more caster goodness that leaves martials behind, or too much trouble and not want to do it.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
How does this affect half (and third) casters? The way it's written it seems like they will get the full increase. So Paladin Smite spells will overtake the Divine Smite feature, etc.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
What's your take on this and inter-class balance? I know you like tinkering, I'm not going to assume this is made in a vaccum. Are there corresponding buffs to non-casters (or nerfs to casters) to keep the classes in line with each other?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This existed in 3.5e. It was called "caster level." It was a bad rule then, and I'm fairly sure it's a bad rule now.

Casters do not need to be made more quadratic. If anything, they need to be made less quadratic.

Edit: As a specific mechanic--not something added to spells generally, but specific to certain spells or certain (sub)classes, this could be fine.

Given the relative weakness of the Sorcerer compared to the Wizard, this would make a lot of sense as a unique Sorcerer mechanic, for example. They may know fewer spells and cast fewer spells total over the day, but because they "specialize" in those spells only, they get inherently better at casting them, when feasible.
I don't think you can make them much less quadratic than cantrips only. :p

5e doesn't really have any quadratic spellcasters. Cantrips are so weak that if they didn't scale you'd be taking away most of the caster's damage, since 5e is a resource drain edition and casters would be forced to burn through all of their spells in a few fights. That would make them nearly useless for most of the fights in the adventuring day. Since cantrips are the only spells that I can think of that scale with level, quadratic spellcasting is gone.

What @DND_Reborn is proposing doesn't create truly quadratic spellcasters in any case. The scaling wouldn't be per level like it was in 1e-3e and caused the issues. It's much more limited and while it's an increase, isn't nearly large enough to bring back "quadratic."
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
  • conjure woodland beings (and probably other conjure/summon spells like it): At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using certain higher-level spell slots, you choose one of the summoning options above, and more creatures appear: twice as many with a 6th-level slot and three times as many with an 8th-level slot.
Ok, I'll tackle this one first.

As a 4th-level spell, conjure woodland beings would be as a 5th level slot in tier 3 (no impact on the spell), but in tier 4 it would be as a 6th-level spell, so yes it would double the number of summoned creatures once you reach 17th level. If you wanted to get three times as many creatures, you would still have to use an 8th-level spell slot.

  • Create undead has some interesting upcast results that might need some thought.
As a 6th-level spell, create undead would be as a 7th level spell in tier 4. If you wanted to upcast it at 8th or 9th-level, you'd still need to use a higher level spell slot. So, all you'd get "for free" would be one extra ghoul since you can make up to three normally.

  • Shadowblade: A hexblade EK (or any gish with multiple attacks) upcasting shadowblade might be an issue depending on the math
As a 2nd-level spell, your damage would automatically increased.

It would go from 2d8 to 3d8 when you reached 5th level as the spell would upcast for free as if you used a 3rd-level spell slot.
Then it would go from 3d8 to 4d8 when you reached 17th level as the spell slot would be as if you used a 5th-level slot.

2nd-level spells never get upcast for free past 5th level slots, so you'd never get the highest 5d8 damage unless you used an actually 7th or higher level slot.

Spiritual weapon+spirit guardians+cantrips: I'd check the math at a couple points to see how it adds up since it's one of the few stackable spell combos.
Hmm. Not sure what combo this really is, but the individual spells:

spirit guardians is a good spell to start with, so this definitely makes it stellar IMO. Damage begins at 3d8 (using the default 3rd-level slot). It would increase to 4d8 at 11th level and 5d8 at 17th level. A nice boost, certainly, but creatures HP at that point can handle an extra 3 or so damage per round (6 or so at 17th level).

spiritual weapon as a 2nd-level slot improves more, at 5th, 11th, and 17th levels by 1d8 per bump, so a whopping 5d8 at 17th level, but again this is only for one attack per round.

In more dire battles, these spells freely upcast will be strong, no doubt, but at those higher levels utilizing your higher level spells will likely take priority IMO.

Fly adds targets when upcast (so does blind banish & some others like invisibility). Might be worth giving those some thought.
fly as default 3rd-level gets the same bumps at 11th (two targets) and 17th (three targets). Neither will be a big deal at those levels IMO. Useful, very likely, but not huge.

mass suggestion & planar binding dramatically boosts duration when upcast
mass suggestion would get a maximum boost to 10 days. Potentially interesting, but in all likelihood if you aren't screwed by 24 hours of being hit by this spell, I doubt the extra 9 days will screw things up too much.

planar binding gets a bigger potential boost, up to 30 days, but personally I still don't see any issues with it.

Glyph of warding has this footnote in upcasting "If you create a spell glyph, you can store any spell of up to the same level as the slot you use for the glyph of warding." I'd think hard about possible interactions if you allow that with the upcasted slot or the original slot that got expended
Now, this one is very interesting and a good example! As a 3rd-level spells, it would be bumped to 5th-level maximum at 17th level. I could see some interesting things with that, but by that time even 5th-level spells aren't generally that much more of a deal than the 3rd-level spells.

So, some nice examples, but so far nothing that makes me think this will be too crazy...
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I love the idea of all spells scaling like cantrips using your system, however I don't think I'd implement it because the system wasn't designed around it.

I'd be all for a system designed from the ground up using that as a base rule....maybe it would give the sorcerer an interesting niche if nothing else.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
How does this affect half (and third) casters? The way it's written it seems like they will get the full increase. So Paladin Smite spells will overtake the Divine Smite feature, etc.

The table gets adjusted to match their spell progression of course, with two possible options:

Option A, they get adjust just like full casters:

1658630894967.png


Option B, they get it at "half" the full boost, so a bump ever two tiers:

1658630986191.png


I think Option B is probably better, personally, and would certainly keep smite spells from ever overtaking Divine Smite.

Third-casters would probably only see the increase in tier 4.

What's your take on this and inter-class balance? I know you like tinkering, I'm not going to assume this is made in a vaccum. Are there corresponding buffs to non-casters (or nerfs to casters) to keep the classes in line with each other?
Honestly, I just came up with this idea today so I haven't had time to really give that thought yet, but if I pursue the concept (after discussion with my group), I certainly will!! :)
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I love the idea of all spells scaling like cantrips using your system, however I don't think I'd implement it because the system wasn't designed around it.

I'd be all for a system designed from the ground up using that as a base rule....maybe it would give the sorcerer an interesting niche if nothing else.
Yeah, I kind of like the idea myself and as @Maxperson says, it is a boost to spells without bringing back the (so-called) quadratic issue.

Personally, I wish WotC had implemented it from the start, too. 🤷‍♂️
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
What's your take on this and inter-class balance? I know you like tinkering, I'm not going to assume this is made in a vaccum. Are there corresponding buffs to non-casters (or nerfs to casters) to keep the classes in line with each other?
Really quick before I log off for the night:

My first thought would be to keep weapon damage scaling for non-casters. So, since most already get Extra Attack at 5th level, I would add an additional weapon damage die at 11th and another at 17th.

Now, this might be too much, just throwing it out there as a thought.

I'll give it some more consideration, though.
 

I don't think you can make them much less quadratic than cantrips only. :p
Er...okay. Except for the fact that their spells scale up in damage and their slots scale up in damage and their cantrips scale and they can upcast old spells...

Yes, they're a hell of a lot LESS quadratic than they were in 3e. That doesn't mean they aren't still quadratic. The Battle Master has a fixed set of maneuvers which only grow linearly in power (and which they will choose the best options from right away, meaning each additional maneuver gained is of diminishing marginal utility.) Spellcasters don't just get more spells, they also get better spells.

5e doesn't really have any quadratic spellcasters. Cantrips are so weak that if they didn't scale you'd be taking away most of the caster's damage, since 5e is a resource drain edition and casters would be forced to burn through all of their spells in a few fights. That would make them nearly useless for most of the fights in the adventuring day. Since cantrips are the only spells that I can think of that scale with level, quadratic spellcasting is gone.
Sorry, just don't agree on any of that. Casters already do excellent damage if that's what they choose to focus on, especially due to the 5MWD problems in 5e. The quadratic is still there. It's just less than it was before, because before it was completely ridiculous such that even 5e's designers, as enamored as they were with 3e ways of doing things, couldn't justify it.

What @DND_Reborn is proposing doesn't create truly quadratic spellcasters in any case. The scaling wouldn't be per level like it was in 1e-3e and caused the issues. It's much more limited and while it's an increase, isn't nearly large enough to bring back "quadratic."
It totally does. They're just more slowly quadratic. They gain both more slots (scaling linearly) AND more powerful slots (scaling linearly). If you have two different linear scaling methods that amplify one another, you have quadratic scaling. That's literally what "quadratic" means--that you have two different values, both based off the character's level, that multiply their bonuses together. Having more spell slots, which also have amplified effects, is explicitly that, because you now have more slots which also automatically do more stuff.

And it absolutely would be per level. It's just "per level/5" (more or less) rather than "per level" flat. That's still a number which scales based off level. Like, let's rephrase this rule a different way. This makes a level-based (because tiers are based on levels) rule that effectively gives Wizards four pseudo-2nd-level slots, three pseudo-3rd-level slots, and two actual 3rd level slots. At 11th level, it gives them four pseudo-3rd-level slots, six pseudo-4th-level slots, two pseudo-6th-level slots, and one actual 6th-level slot. In other words, this is literally giving spellcasters three times as many effectively-6th-level spells than they could ever cast in a single day, and WAY more powerful hits for their 1st-level spells.

And all of this is before factoring in Arcane Recovery! With these rules, Arcane Recovery (or Natural Recovery for Land Druids) allows a Tier 4 Wizard to recover multiple effectively-6h-level spells a day, every day, with just a single short rest.

That is objectively an ENORMOUS power increase, one that grows substantially with level.
 

cbwjm

Legend
One option I thought of a while back was that 1st level slots become 2nd level slots at 5th caster level, and 2nd level slots become 3rd level slots at 11th caster level. It means you end up with eventually 10 3rd level spell slots at level 11 which allows you to make better use of your 1st and 2nd level spells but also means that you have 10 slots for fireballs.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
Er...okay. Except for the fact that their spells scale up in damage and their slots scale up in damage and their cantrips scale and they can upcast old spells...

Yes, they're a hell of a lot LESS quadratic than they were in 3e. That doesn't mean they aren't still quadratic. The Battle Master has a fixed set of maneuvers which only grow linearly in power (and which they will choose the best options from right away, meaning each additional maneuver gained is of diminishing marginal utility.) Spellcasters don't just get more spells, they also get better spells.


Sorry, just don't agree on any of that. Casters already do excellent damage if that's what they choose to focus on, especially due to the 5MWD problems in 5e. The quadratic is still there. It's just less than it was before, because before it was completely ridiculous such that even 5e's designers, as enamored as they were with 3e ways of doing things, couldn't justify it.


It totally does. They're just more slowly quadratic. They gain both more slots (scaling linearly) AND more powerful slots (scaling linearly). If you have two different linear scaling methods that amplify one another, you have quadratic scaling. That's literally what "quadratic" means--that you have two different values, both based off the character's level, that multiply their bonuses together. Having more spell slots, which also have amplified effects, is explicitly that, because you now have more slots which also automatically do more stuff.

And it absolutely would be per level. It's just "per level/5" (more or less) rather than "per level" flat. That's still a number which scales based off level. Like, let's rephrase this rule a different way. This makes a level-based (because tiers are based on levels) rule that effectively gives Wizards four pseudo-2nd-level slots, three pseudo-3rd-level slots, and two actual 3rd level slots. At 11th level, it gives them four pseudo-3rd-level slots, six pseudo-4th-level slots, two pseudo-6th-level slots, and one actual 6th-level slot. In other words, this is literally giving spellcasters three times as many effectively-6th-level spells than they could ever cast in a single day, and WAY more powerful hits for their 1st-level spells.

And all of this is before factoring in Arcane Recovery! With these rules, Arcane Recovery (or Natural Recovery for Land Druids) allows a Tier 4 Wizard to recover multiple effectively-6h-level spells a day, every day, with just a single short rest.

That is objectively an ENORMOUS power increase, one that grows substantially with level.
I agree with what you say here, and have already said I wouldn't use this idea unless the system were built around it...but...the value of scaling spells is not the same as getting that extra jump of slot power as if it were an extra spell.

Two fireballs is a much greater output of damage than one fireball with 3 extra dice. Upcasting is objectively better, but rarely does upcasting let you make a low level spell equal in power to a native spell of the slot used.
 

I agree with what you say here, and have already said I wouldn't use this idea unless the system were built around it...but...the value of scaling spells is not the same as getting that extra jump of slot power as if it were an extra spell.

Two fireballs is a much greater output of damage than one fireball with 3 extra dice. Upcasting is objectively better, but rarely does upcasting let you make a low level spell equal in power to a native spell of the slot used.
Though I think we can at least agree that having all spell slots (beyond 1st, anyway) upcast to 5th level or higher is too powerful. Since, y'know, that feature is literally half of the entire Warlock kit. It justifies why they only get 4-5 spell slots TOTAL. And they can't even apply it to upcast to anything higher than 5th, while the above system would let Wizards et al. upcast to having multiple upcast-to-7 and upcast-to-8 (and heck, even one upcast to 9th!)

So perhaps that's a better way of phrasing it. This proposed house rule is literally making every standard spellcaster have the strongest Warlock feature in the game, for free, enhanced significantly and applying to all spell levels that can be upcast, while giving Warlocks and non-casters nothing.

Really quick before I log off for the night:

My first thought would be to keep weapon damage scaling for non-casters. So, since most already get Extra Attack at 5th level, I would add an additional weapon damage die at 11th and another at 17th.

Now, this might be too much, just throwing it out there as a thought.

I'll give it some more consideration, though.
I assure you, this proposed change to weapon damage would be a pittance compared to what you are proposing for spellcasters. Your fears of making the weak classes too powerful are not well-founded.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
One option I thought of a while back was that 1st level slots become 2nd level slots at 5th caster level, and 2nd level slots become 3rd level slots at 11th caster level. It means you end up with eventually 10 3rd level spell slots at level 11 which allows you to make better use of your 1st and 2nd level spells but also means that you have 10 slots for fireballs.
This was something I thought of this morning but immediately nixed.

I don't want actual higher-level slots because then you can cast more higher leveled spells. But free upcasting keeps 1st-level slots using 1st-level spells.

I assure you, this proposed change to weapon damage would be a pittance compared to what you are proposing for spellcasters. Your fears of making the weak classes too powerful are not well-founded.
I think you are incredibly over-valuing the impact this free upcasting would have. In tier 2, which is as high as most games get, your 1st- and 2nd-level spells would be cast as 2nd- and 3rd-level spells. Not a big deal, really.

(Nice to know we disagree again... All is right with the world. ;) )

As for the changes to martials, that was just a first thought and until I have time to look at the numbers, I cannot truly say how much or how little impact it would have. And ultimately, I might do something else--or nothing at all. :)
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
My only real complaint is that I think the table itself is a little complicated. If I wanted to implement the idea, I'd probably just a spell level floor. At level 5, any spell slot below 2 counts as a 2. At level 9, any spell slot below 3 counts as 3, etc., up to spell level 5 at level 17. Of course, this scaling would only be for purposes of upcasting, you still can't use the level 1 slot to cast a 5th level spell.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Basic progression:
Code:
1    2
2    3
3    4  2
4    3  3
5    3  3  2
6    3  3  3
7    3  3  3  1
8    3  3  3  2
9    3  3  3  3  1
10   3  3  3  3  2
11   3  3  3  3  2  1
12   3  3  3  3  2  1
13   3  3  3  3  2  1  1
14   3  3  3  3  2  1  1
15   3  3  3  3  2  1  1  1
16   3  3  3  3  2  1  1  1
17   3  3  3  3  2  1  1  1  1
18   3  3  3  3  2  1  1  1  1
19   3  3  3  3  2  2  1  1  1
20   3  3  3  3  2  2  2  1  1


Slots-level-up mode:
Code:
1    2
2    3
3    4  2
4    4  3
5    4  3  2
6    2  4  3
7    0  5  3  1
8    0  3  4  2
9    0  1  5  3  1
10   0  0  6  3  2
11   0  0  6  3  2  1
12   0  0  4  4  3  1
13   0  0  2  5  3  1  1
14   0  0  0  6  4  1  1
15   0  0  0  4  5  1  1  1
16   0  0  0  2  6  2  1  1
17   0  0  0  2  6  2  1  1  1
18   0  0  0  0  6  3  2  1  1
19   0  0  0  0  3  4  3  2  1
20   0  0  0  0  0  5  4  3  1

To be clear, this slots-level-up mode is weaker than the OP's proposal I think.

...

So the basic combat effectiveness math of 5e is "baseline action use" (attack action, or cantrip), then you work out how much excess power you can generate based on what resources.

In T4, the baseline action use of a cantrip is a 4d10 or 4d12 spell. For warlocks it is a bit more.

Then you can take your spells and look at which of them exceed this. The fact that low level spells don't exceed this power budget is part of the ways that 5e casters reduce quadratic explosion (low order quadratic terms are ok; higher order ones explode power levels).

"one target, save negates" spell balance is roughly 10 damage per spell level. So a T4 cantrip is roughly equivalent to a 2nd level spell.

So your daily excess power budget is 3+3*2+3*3+2*4+2*5+1*6+1*7, or about 490 single-target damage.

Now "single target, could miss or do nothing" damage is a poor use of spell slots; those spells tend to suck (disintegrate anyone?) unless you do a combo to set them up. So in practice these numbers are lower than how effective a spellcaster is by a good margin.

But the point is that the lower level slots age out and become marginal for use in combat as damage. They remain useful as utility slots, or as tools to spread out the options the spellcaster has; casting fly to allow the barbarian to reach the foe turns concentration + a low level slot into a bunch of continuing damage.

Also doing this in units of 10 points above cantrip gives pretty poor DPR. If we use Rogue as our baseline, a Rogue TWF can easily deliver sneak attack damage at 95% and 75% of a short-swords weapon damage per round (between crits and hits) for about 40 auto-damage per round equivalent; this is worth about 60 "could miss" damage.

A 9th (90) + 8th (80) + 2 7th (70) + 2 6th(60) is 4 rounds; we then can do 2 5th (50) and a 3 4th (40) for 650 "could miss" damage over 11 rounds, or 59 "could miss" damage per round. In theory similar to the Rogue; in practice, better, because you use more efficient spells than "single target, could miss" ones.

With the changes in the OP, you end up with dozens of rounds you can do something similar to this. The rogue becomes pretty pointless; even the stuff they are good at gets far outclassed by a naive single target blaster mage.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
To be clear, this slots-level-up mode is weaker than the OP's proposal I think.
Definitely not weaker. You are giving a lot of higher-level slots for use with more powerful spells, especially in later tiers.

So, not only do you now have the option to upcast lower-level spells with these new higher-level slots, but you can cast higher-level spells with them as well.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
One option I thought of a while back was that 1st level slots become 2nd level slots at 5th caster level, and 2nd level slots become 3rd level slots at 11th caster level. It means you end up with eventually 10 3rd level spell slots at level 11 which allows you to make better use of your 1st and 2nd level spells but also means that you have 10 slots for fireballs.
13th Age does that, but they also reduce the number of spell slots gained. You add spell slots slowly, going from 5 at 1st to 12 at max level, but even your lowest level slots are getting better since every single spell upcasts and it does so on-level. So a 3rd level spell upcast to 5th is as good as a native 5th level spell.)

(13th Age is a d20 from a lead designer of 3ed and the lead designer of 4e. It's only a 10 level game so this chart seems reduced. It also calls the spell levels the same as the class level you get them, so you have 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th level spells.)

Wizard Level1st level spell3rd level spell5th level spell7th level spell9th level spell
Level 15
Level 26
Level 334
Level 426
Level 5144
Level 628
Level 7145
Level 838
Level 9156
Level 1039
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I agree with what you say here, and have already said I wouldn't use this idea unless the system were built around it...but...the value of scaling spells is not the same as getting that extra jump of slot power as if it were an extra spell.

Two fireballs is a much greater output of damage than one fireball with 3 extra dice. Upcasting is objectively better, but rarely does upcasting let you make a low level spell equal in power to a native spell of the slot used.
A hold person who get 2 targets is better than two hold persons - it has the same effect but uses less action economy to cast. A number of buffs and debuffs spells increase targets with upcasting. It's like free Twin metamagic.

But even for fireball, it's quadradic. We get more spell slots either way. Making those same spells do more for the same resource. More slots and more effect - multiplying two things that both increase is the definition of quadratic in RPGs. It doesn't matter that a fireball isn't worth two fireballs, as long as we are multiplying one thing increasing by level (slots) and another thing increasing by level (free upcasting), it's a quadratic increase in power.
 

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