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

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
That is highly debatable. They do have some disadvantages (lack of caster level scaling), but OTOH AD&D had much easier spell interruption (you rolled initiative each round and anyone who beat you on a given round could interrupt your spell - and if they managed to inflict a single point of damage before your turn the spell was gone), and if by some miracle you did manage to get a spell off at higher levels saves scaled in the opposite direction in AD&D to 5e; high-level AD&D characters almost always made their saves.

3e got rid of most of that, without adding anything really to replace it, for that on other reasons it is fairly uncontroversial to say that 5e casters are weaker than 3.x and PF1 casters. OTOH, caster supremacy and quadratic wizardry in 4e were negligible to non-existent, so 5e did not nerf casters, it buffed them.



All that said, I actually like the idea in the OP. While it is obviously a buff to classes that probably do not need buffing, my feeling (as someone who does not claim to be a 5e expert) is that it is not a huge deal. More of a quality-of-life improvement than a big increase in the power ceiling. If you gave martials something decent to compensate, you might end up at a more balanced point overall than RAW.

I am considering doing something similar in my personal heartbreaker, should I ever get around to actually writing the thing (which I probably won't - fiddling around with bits and pieces of mechanics is fun, but actually forming them into a coherent whole is a lot of effort)!

_
glass.
I'm going to agree with DND_Reborn. A lot of things were different then so there's no perfect comparison Yes 2e & 3.x were different but getting attacked while casting a full round cast or getting popped with an AoO because your casting provoked an AoO were important threats that 5e simply does away with. The risk was so extreme that casters did everything they could to avoid being at risk of near melee range opponents & there was interplay between caster/noncaster to manage that risk as a team. A weak mook may only take 1-2 hits & be of no real threat but 2-3 of them wandering around chasing a caster was an unacceptable risk that pushed the group to split up dealing with them and the big guys rather than just ignoring them & dogpiling the biguy.

With that loss it became easier to justify the kind of problems that thishouserule addresses but the loss is not an improvement for casters
 

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glass

(he, him)
It depends largely on if you are talking 2E or 1E. In 1E, initiative and spell-casting worked differently. In 2E, with the addition of casting times and speed factors, it was a bit more of an issue, but not much.
That's fair, I was talking primarily about 2e. I do not really understand the 1e initiative system, so I should not have said AD&D without qualification.

Personally, IME casters in AD&D didn't have the issues you're talking of because they avoided melee as much as possible, and like the advice in the DMG, resorted to wands, staves, and rods while in melee, which could not be disrupted.
And IME, you simply could not avoid attacks (note not just melee - arrows were just as capable of disrupting).

Yes, the saves at higher level were more likely made (part of what bothers me about 5E--look at the most recent Vecna battle and how often the PCs failed those saves! It was rare when they made one...). But for many spells in AD&D, making the save was more important due to SoD effects. You made saves more often, but when you failed them the impact was often drastic!
I think you are understating how much better how much better saves were (at least in 2e). A high level Rogue makes a save vs breath weapon on 11+ (50% chance), but that is an extreme outlier (and really bizarre now I look at it). Conversely, at the opposite extreme Priests saved against PPDM on 2+ (95%). Aside from Rogues, people's worst saves are typically between 5+ and 8+. All straight from the table, before any modifiers for high ability scores, items, etc.

Conversely, a 5e character's worst save has a non-trivial chance of being +0, vs DCs which have scaled into the high teens if not 20s (the latter being literally impossible for such a character AFAICS).

Concentration is on way too many spells IMO, although making the check often isn't too bad if you get hit. But, it prevents the "combos" so many people dread which made casters so powerful in AD&D. Much of that power has been nerfed, all things considered.
Once again, 4e nerfed casters. 5e added a lot of the old power back (just not all of it).

I like the idea, of course, but there are ramifications which I am still thinking about. Also, I don't know about the martials. I don't see this as a power boost to casters, more about bringing lower levels spells up a bit to keep them viable at higher levels in the game.
It literally is a power boost. The only really question is "how big?"

_
glass.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I think you are understating how much better how much better saves were (at least in 2e). A high level Rogue makes a save vs breath weapon on 11+ (50% chance), but that is an extreme outlier (and really bizarre now I look at it). Conversely, at the opposite extreme Priests saved against PPDM on 2+ (95%). Aside from Rogues, people's worst saves are typically between 5+ and 8+. All straight from the table, before any modifiers for high ability scores, items, etc.
No, I'm not understating it at all. I am well aware of how good the saves were, here's the chart which I made when I was trying to reverse it so 5E was equitable to 1E (showing the average of their saves):

1658872843958.png


Fighters had the BEST saves overall by the end, which is why I argued Indomitable in 5E should really be a Legendary Save (auto-make not reroll).

But, as I said, the SPELLS were harsher:
1658873373859.png

At the point when PCs might encounter this spell, without items, etc. they had about a 50/50 chance of death, instantly. Of course, magic items helped a lot, but ability scores rarely did.

So, the trade-off was much better saves in general, vs. much harsher effects. HP was so much lower, that even if you saved a high-level spell could kill magic-user!

Conversely, a 5e character's worst save has a non-trivial chance of being +0, vs DCs which have scaled into the high teens if not 20s (the latter being literally impossible for such a character AFAICS).
Yep. PCs in 5E generally have their two good (or at least decent) proficient saves, sometimes a third due to a feature or feat, but otherwise the rest suck. However, with more HP and the fact many spells allow multiple save attempts, this really isn't a big problem generally.

It literally is a power boost. The only really question is "how big?"
It depends on your game IMO. The "power" the house-rule is suggesting (upcasting) is already in the game. In that sense, it is not a power boost. If your game often draws out so that casters find themselves depleted of spell slots, then this is a good boost. If you don't, then it is more a substitution (you can still use the lower-level slots but now for slightly higher-level effects).
 

glass

(he, him)
At the point when PCs might encounter this spell, without items, etc. they had about a 50/50 chance of death, instantly. Of course, magic items helped a lot, but ability scores rarely did. So, the trade-off was much better saves in general, vs. much harsher effects. HP was so much lower, that even if you saved a high-level spell could kill magic-user!
An average of 75 damage (with die on zero) is strictly worse than killed outright, but hardly "much worse". An 11th level Wizard is probably dead either way if they fail the save (which is DC 17 so even with a ridiculous generous Dex they a 55% chance of failing, and it could easily be 80%). I don't know about you, but if it is going to kill me either way I'll take the better save odds (even if it is only 5% better and that is an extreme case).

A martial has a decent chance of surviving the damage if they have not taken any damage already, but it does not take much preexisting damage to tip them into save-or-die, which again they are unlikely to pass unless they are Dex-based.

And even if they survive the damage, they have still taken a bunch of damage and are closer to death. Neither version does anything at all on a successful save (the 3e version did), but successful save is the main failure mode of the 1e version and not rolling high-enough damage is the main failure mode of the 5e version.

It occurs to me that this is mostly talking about its being cast at PCs, and a more relevant case would its being cast by PCs. But I do not have a 5e MM so I do not know how likely a typical 11th-level monster is to make their save or how many hit points they are likely to have so it will have to do).

(Odd that it is a Dex save in 5e - I never noticed that before. I would have expected Con.)

It depends on your game IMO. The "power" the house-rule is suggesting (upcasting) is already in the game. In that sense, it is not a power boost. If your game often draws out so that casters find themselves depleted of spell slots, then this is a good boost. If you don't, then it is more a substitution (you can still use the lower-level slots but now for slightly higher-level effects).
OK, if it is literally never used in the course of the campaign, it arguably makes no difference. As soon as it is used once, that is by definition a power boost (albeit a small one at that point). I am assuming you are no going to all this trouble for a house rule you anticipate never being used.

_
glass.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
And even if they survive the damage, they have still taken a bunch of damage and are closer to death. Neither version does anything at all on a successful save (the 3e version did), but successful save is the main failure mode of the 1e version and not rolling high-enough damage is the main failure mode of the 5e version.
Right, which is the trade-off I was talking about: better saves vs. hit point bloat.

It occurs to me that this is mostly talking about its being cast at PCs, and a more relevant case would its being cast by PCs. But I do not have a 5e MM so I do not know how likely a typical 11th-level monster is to make their save or how many hit points they are likely to have so it will have to do).
CR 11 creatures average about 170 hp. So, the spell would hardly be equivalent for non-PCs as far as damage.

(Odd that it is a Dex save in 5e - I never noticed that before. I would have expected Con.)
You're dodging the narrow beam, instead of resisting the magic after being hit.

OK, if it is literally never used in the course of the campaign, it arguably makes no difference. As soon as it is used once, that is by definition a power boost (albeit a small one at that point). I am assuming you are no going to all this trouble for a house rule you anticipate never being used.
I guess you're not seeing the point. I'll explain more later.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
That's fair, I was talking primarily about 2e. I do not really understand the 1e initiative system, so I should not have said AD&D without qualification.


And IME, you simply could not avoid attacks (note not just melee - arrows were just as capable of disrupting).


I think you are understating how much better how much better saves were (at least in 2e). A high level Rogue makes a save vs breath weapon on 11+ (50% chance), but that is an extreme outlier (and really bizarre now I look at it). Conversely, at the opposite extreme Priests saved against PPDM on 2+ (95%). Aside from Rogues, people's worst saves are typically between 5+ and 8+. All straight from the table, before any modifiers for high ability scores, items, etc.

Conversely, a 5e character's worst save has a non-trivial chance of being +0, vs DCs which have scaled into the high teens if not 20s (the latter being literally impossible for such a character AFAICS).


Once again, 4e nerfed casters. 5e added a lot of the old power back (just not all of it).


It literally is a power boost. The only really question is "how big?"

_
glass.
Technically, the Thief did apply their defensive adjustment from Dexterity to Breath Weapon saves. The justification being, Thieves get so much out of Dexterity, that their highest ability score will always be Dexterity (Gary's assumption, not mine!), and they will always have a hefty bonus to this saving throw that other characters might not have.

Plus, the vaunted "super fast" xp progression of the Thief needed a check to ensure that they got less out of their levels compared to most other classes. I'm well aware that this assumption falls flat on it's face if you ever have to play a 14 Dexterity Thief, or someone decides to make a ranged Fighter with 17 Dexterity, but that's basically the size of it.

Thieves weren't allowed to be good at anything because they could do things no one else could, all day long.
 

TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
An average of 75 damage (with die on zero) is strictly worse than killed outright, but hardly "much worse". An 11th level Wizard is probably dead either way if they fail the save (which is DC 17 so even with a ridiculous generous Dex they a 55% chance of failing, and it could easily be 80%). I don't know about you, but if it is going to kill me either way I'll take the better save odds (even if it is only 5% better and that is an extreme case).
I don't think I would do that. An 11th level wizard with a 14 Con (pretty normal from my experience, and the poll we had a few weeks ago about Con bears that out) has 68 HP if they aren't rolling. That means to die, the wizard has to both fail the save, and the caster has to roll 68 or more on 20d6, which is only about a 63% chance. If the wizard has more than a 20% chance to succeed on the save (so a +1 against a DC 17), then they have better survival odds than the 50/50 coinflip save.

Now, granted, this is only for a wizard at full hitpoints; an injured wizard will definitely want the coinflip odds.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
OK, if it is literally never used in the course of the campaign, it arguably makes no difference. As soon as it is used once, that is by definition a power boost (albeit a small one at that point). I am assuming you are no going to all this trouble for a house rule you anticipate never being used.
Ok, sorry I couldn't reply this morning. Maybe you got it, but I'll expound just in case. If you don't agree with me, that's fine of course, I just want to make certain there's no confusion (for either of us!).

Upcasting is already in the game. Let's say you're a 7th level caster, so you have the following spell slots: 4 / 3 / 3 / 1; a total of 11 spells a day.

If your game has you always using all your spell slots before you rest, then this is a more powerful boost than otherwise. If your game routinely has you with some higher level slots remaining, those slots could have been used to upcast anyway.

As an example, suppose after the "day's encounters" and your long rest, you had 2 / 1 / 1 / 0 slots remaining. The 2nd and 3rd level slots could have been used for upcasting as normal, in which case you might have had 3 / 1 / 0 / 0 slots remaining.

Now, with the house-rule, instead of using the 2nd and 3rd level slots to upcast a 1st level and 2nd level spells, respectively, they would be upcast automatically.

Either way, a 1st-level spell is upcast to 2nd-level, and a 2nd-level to 3rd-level. So, no increase in power at all.

But, a lot depends what your game-style plays.

Since upcasting is already in the game, it is not a power-boost (IN THAT SENSE... which is what I wrote before). Also, as a said before, if your game typically exhausts all a caster's spell slots, it is a good boost. If not, it is just substitution (as I outlined above).

Whether or not the rule is ever used can vary from session to session. I've had sessions where casters are depleted of spells, and many when they aren't (more typical). Either way, the more important thing is it opens the caster up to more options. If a caster wants to upcast a 1st to 2nd level, they don't have to use the 2nd level slot necessarily, which frees them to use it for something else.

That, IMO, is the real power this unleashes.
 

FireLance

Legend
Rather than free upcasting, I would allow spellcasters to convert lower-level spell slots to spell points and use the spell points to recover higher-level spell slots, in the same way and at the same cost that sorcerers can already convert spell slots to sorcery points and vice-versa.

So, at 11th level, spellcasters can convert 1st-level spell slots to spell points and use the spell points to regain 2nd-level spell slots.

At 17th level, spellcasters can convert 1st- and 2nd-level spell slots to spell points and use the spell points to regain 3rd-level spell slots.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Rather than free upcasting, I would allow spellcasters to convert lower-level spell slots to spell points and use the spell points to recover higher-level spell slots, in the same way and at the same cost that sorcerers can already convert spell slots to sorcery points and vice-versa.

So, at 11th level, spellcasters can convert 1st-level spell slots to spell points and use the spell points to regain 2nd-level spell slots.

At 17th level, spellcasters can convert 1st- and 2nd-level spell slots to spell points and use the spell points to regain 3rd-level spell slots.
My goal isn't to allow casting of additional higher level spells, but to have lower level spells be more effective without having to sacrifice the ability to cast higher level spells.

To be clear, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with your suggestion as a house-rule, but it doesn't accomplish my goal.
 

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