I could say the same about an "orb wizard" - except that transmutation, the changing of one thing into another, which reflects both alchemy and shapeshifting, is actually more strongly based than the symbolism round the orb. And this only makes the point that the worst
of the old school schools is about as thematic as the best
of the implement wizards.
So you picked one of the eight schools and you picked the worst one - and even to you that's about a match for one of 4e's basic three implements. But if you don't find the transmuter thematic of anything then why in the name of the little black pig did you pick it?
This reminds me of the people who had decided that 4e was stupid before they played it and picked the most stupid options they could to "prove" their preconceptions.
And I do mean you picked out the single worst school in 5e. If we look at the RPGBot breakdown of wizard subclasses
they're rated on a red, orange, green, blue scale. Literally the only red rated wizard subclass in 5e is the transmuter - and the only orange rated one is the school of graviturgy from a Critical Role book.
If he wanted to be a wizard who had a penchant for getting into the thick of things he could have chosen to be either a Bladesinger or a War Wizard. Or, if you were restricted to the PHB, he could have been an Abjurer who as their second level feature gains some temporary hit points every time they cast an abjuration spell. Now that's both more thematic than anything either the transmuter or the staff wizard gets and would have been a better fit for your character.
The idea that the schools are no more mechanically significant than the implements simply isn't true - it's just that Transmutation
in specific is the worst school; I've mentioned the abjurer. Some highlights:
- The Diviner at level 2 gets to roll two dice at the start of a session and swap any dice rolled in the session with those
- The Enchanter gets a hypnotic gaze at L2 and the ability to redirect attacks at L6
- The Necromancer gets to raise better undead with Animate Dead at L6 and gets to heal when they kill things at level 2.
- The Illusionist gets to make their illusions part real at level 14
- The Evoker gets to protect their allies by sculpting their evocations at L2 and does more damage with them at L10.
All of these are meaningful mechanical differences that underline the character concepts and are both more interesting mechanically and thematically than the orb/staff/wand of 4e. Yes, the transmuter was a bit of a turkey.
Because there's very little thematic resonance to the implements. So they couldn't really be fixed - but being able to be a Pyromancer Evoker was fun and thematic in a way that the orb wizard never was. You could play the striker burninator wizard.
The genuinely bad thing about the mage and why I avoided them was that they didn't come with Ritual Caster.
False. In both 4e and and 5e any wizard can cast any spell from the wizard list if they know it and mage spells were wizard spells and wizard spells were mage spells.
If you wanted to be a staff wizard with a rack of necromancy spells you could. It wasn't weird
that the school specialism was grafted on to the school specialist version of the wizard.
And honestly the necromancer specialism in 4e was pretty bad. At level 1 you gained two temps for hitting foes with necromancy (the 5e version where you regain hit points for killing (2* spell level or 3* spell level if a necromancy spell) is IMO more evocative). At level 5 you gained +2 to two skills. And at level 10 you got to ignore necrotic resistance. You could play a perfectly good necromancer with none of that.
And all the necromancy spells in that book work with non-Essentials wizards as well. Where's the problem?