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Maxwell's Silver Hammer: On Spells, Design, and the feeling of Sameyness in 5e

Do you think the spellcasters and spells in 5e are too "same-y?"

  • 1. Yes, they are too same-y.

    Votes: 29 29.6%
  • 2. They're really same-y, but I'm okay with it.

    Votes: 8 8.2%
  • 3. Maybe a little, but it's a good design choice.

    Votes: 43 43.9%
  • 4 No. I don't know what you're talking about.

    Votes: 12 12.2%
  • 5. I have VERY STRONG OPINIONS that cannot be captured in a poll.

    Votes: 2 2.0%
  • 6. Smash the control images, smash the control machines.

    Votes: 4 4.1%

  • Total voters
    98
  • Poll closed .

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Celebrim

Legend
I don't have enough experience with 5e to really comment.

I will say that what you complain about here is one of the reasons I've not bothered to acquire experience with 5e.
 

Wiseblood

Adventurer
I agree. These are all part of the reasons I fiddle around with classes as much as I do. It is also the reason for the desire to see F,T,C and M-U lineup. Because they are different from each other.

I love and hate cantrips.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I can see why it might feel same-y, but I kinda prefer these spell lists to the ones in 1E, where there are all these listings for the same spell with relatively minor differences; I even prefer it to 3.x where a spell might be level X for one class and level Y for another. Given that one of the core intents (principles? maybe) seems to be streamlining things, it makes sense that (to pick a spell) fly has exactly one entry in the spells list, and is always a third level (I think? away from books at the moment) spell.

I think there's enough differentiation between the full-caster classes that they don't have to feel the same. Certainly clerics and wizards don't feel much alike to me, and druids don't really feel like either; bards are supposed to be all about flexibility so I don't feel as though their lack of unique spells damages them, particularly. Warlocks don't really work like any other full-caster, and the half-casters (and less) seem as though they're pretty well-differentiated by other (non-spell) abilities and themes and stuff.

Do I like the design principle? Well, it's my favorite edition of D&D, but there may be some amount of comfort-zone-residence there. I don't think it means I agree with every design choice they made.
 

Tonguez

Hero
I’ve always thought DnD had too many spellcasters but agree that 5e has gone beyond that and that there is too much Magic, when even your Fighter subclasses are sparkling with magical lighting things have gone too far.
Also the magic initiate feat is a big offender that I look at and think - uh if I can get any spell then whats the point?
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
So I checked my true feelings but it was a real struggle not to vote with the Burroughs quotation. Niiiice.
 


DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Everything in the game is samey. Especially after you play it for years on end. Hell... the game was samey out of the gate because its just a new version of D&D-- the same game we've been playing for 40 years. Yeah, there are some changes here and there... but it's still D&D. There hasn't been a single edition of D&D that I've played that hasn't felt like D&D.

Yes, 4E was probably the most different... but that's just in degrees. It's not like I played 4E and thought "Wow, this feels like World of Darkness, not D&D! What happened?" Neither 4E nor any other edition has ever felt different from the totality of the Dungeons & Dragon game. Not like how playing Shadowrun, or 7th Sea, or GURPS, or Talislanta have felt totally separate from Dungeons & Dragons.

But then again... I don't play D&D so that it doesn't feel like playing D&D. And I don't select specific classes because they supposedly feel different than other classes. They don't. None of them do. When I'm playing a wizard in combat and make a spell attack roll, it feels exactly the same as playing a fighter making a melee attack roll. And a wizard spell that forces a saving throw is no different than a fighter ability that forces a saving throw. The mechanics across the entire game are practically the same both now and in generations past. And thus I don't go looking for D&D to be different.

If I want my characters to feel different... then I play them differently. I don't ask the mechanics to do it for me. It's personality, needs, desires, loves, hatreds. That's what makes characters different, not the mechanics.
 

toucanbuzz

Adventurer
Does 5e's magic feel same-y to you? The spellcasters?

Unfortunately yes, but I don't have a good solution. I prefer each class to bring something unique to the table so the player gets a chance to shine. Mixing together magic so everyone can do basically the same thing is part of why I avoided 4E, and I'm not a fan of seeing the same effect reskinned (save or take 1d8 damage, attack and do 1d10 damage on a hit). It's why I'm not a fan of the Bard. I originally liked the idea of a full-casting class, but then I saw the list (wizard spells minus the boom-boom). That's "meh." Perhaps the solution is simply a smaller, but unique, spell list that interplays with the class features, such as the Paladin got.

However, this can swing the other way. I initially wasn't a fan of anyone, not just the rogue, finding and disabling traps, though now I understand the idea: rogues used to be mandatory in a group, and we don't want to force someone into a mandatory role. So, I get it.

Cantrips: I'm not a fan of the damaging ones. Cantrips originally were nuisance spells with occasional strategic use, and now, they've morphed into unlimited primary damage abilities that eventually surpass slotted spells. While I understand the idea - let casters contribute every round in combat like the fighter does because sitting around doing nothing or using a weapon that sucks so bad you'll never hit stinks - there was a cost: blending of the classes into feeling somewhat the same.

And do you like the design principle (spell equivalent) of 5e?

As to spell-like abilities for various classes, I'm okay. Barbarians probably should be supernatural. If the only way to express this is to mimic an existing spell, so be it.
 


ninjayeti

Explorer
You could make exactly the same argument about martial classes. The only difference between a fighter hitting with a longsword and a barbarian hitting with a battleaxe is that the fighter gets a +2 damage bonus from a fighting style whereas the barbarian gets his +2 damage bonus from rage.

I'm not saying you are wrong. But if this is an issue for you then I think you are looking for a fundamentally different game than 5E.
 

BrokenTwin

Explorer
I'd have been happy if they reduced the amount of full casters instead of increasing them.
Make the sorcerer a half caster with more sorcery points and knowing all the metamagic. Maybe give more power to their bloodlines.
Return bards to being half casters and increase their Bardic Inspiration pool and what they can do with it.
Make Rangers spell-less with a casting subclass, ala-fighter. Make them the pet class. God knows it would give them an actual mechanical niche.
Make druids half casters, and improve their Wildshape features.
Basically, make what makes the classes unique stand out more.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Does 5e's magic feel same-y to you? The spellcasters?

And do you like the design principle (spell equivalent) of 5e?
The second one first - I think it is a good design principle for D&D. If I want to explore the differences in various approaches to magic, I'd probably use a different system that is better suited for it.

Does this lead to same-y magic and casters? Maybe? Right now, I am playing an artificer in a party with a caretaker warlock (from a 3rd party supplement - it is basically a warlock, with a couple of tweaks). The two characaters have very different styles and impacts on the party, so my current data says... not really.

I suppose if you play a lot of spellcasters, after doing it several times you might end up with that feeling.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
Let me think...how to approach your concerns while leaving the bulk of the game intact.

1) Dump all the spells in the game into a spreadsheet. Label each spell as either a wizard, cleric, or druid spell. No overlap. Those are the new spell lists.

2) Eliminate every damage cantrip in the game as a base choice. Cantrips become fun non-combat effects. (Cantrips earned from any higher level subclass features or other effects could still be allowed on a case-by-case basis.)

3) Wizards need a subtle boost to offset cantrips, make Arcane Recovery work every short rest to compensate.

4) Cleric domains are altered to only include cleric spells.

5) Make bards a half-caster class using the wizard spell list. Paladins use cleric, and rangers use druid. Bards need a boost here, some more inspiration points would be appropriate.

6) Sorcerers pick their spells from all spell lists. This gives them a mechanical niche different from other casters to compensate for their low spells known.

6) Warlocks only know their domain spells. Mystic Incarnum spells can come from any spell list, just have to fit the patron theme. Gain 1 invocation/level to compensate.

7) If you want deeper cuts, I'd cut spellcasting out of paladin, ranger, warlock, and bard. You'd need to build homebrew replacements, but they exist. Alternatively, just cut those 4 classes out of the game, and turn some of the more interesting abilities into new subclasses for the remaining 8 classes.
 


Saelorn

Hero
I've always felt that it would be better to differentiate spellcasters through their spell lists, rather than their casting mechanics. After all, a spell already represents a specific mechanical effect, which is unique to the class which can cast that spell.

Far too often, I've seen players choose their class based on the type of spell slot mechanics they want to deal with, rather than the role that the class is supposed to represent within the world. By giving everyone the user-friendly mechanics, and letting them differentiate by spell list, they could play who they want to play instead of what they're willing to deal with.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
So good, Twosix! It's almost like ...you've thought of this before.
Heh...I actually read your OP just before I had to jump in the car, so I was thinking about it while I was running some errands. The idea to have all spells be exclusive is one I've had before, I just had to think for a while if (Arcane, divine), (arcane,divine,druid), or (arcane,divine,druid,bard) made the most sense as dividing lines. Obviously, any decision comes down to a matter of taste.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
Let me think...how to approach your concerns while leaving the bulk of the game intact.

1) Dump all the spells in the game into a spreadsheet. Label each spell as either a wizard, cleric, or druid spell. No overlap. Those are the new spell lists.

2) Eliminate every damage cantrip in the game as a base choice. Cantrips become fun non-combat effects. (Cantrips earned from any higher level subclass features or other effects could still be allowed on a case-by-case basis.)

3) Wizards need a subtle boost to offset cantrips, make Arcane Recovery work every short rest to compensate.

4) Cleric domains are altered to only include cleric spells.

5) Make bards a half-caster class using the wizard spell list. Paladins use cleric, and rangers use druid. Bards need a boost here, some more inspiration points would be appropriate.

6) Sorcerers pick their spells from all spell lists. This gives them a mechanical niche different from other casters to compensate for their low spells known.

6) Warlocks only know their domain spells. Mystic Incarnum spells can come from any spell list, just have to fit the patron theme. Gain 1 invocation/level to compensate.

7) If you want deeper cuts, I'd cut spellcasting out of paladin, ranger, warlock, and bard. You'd need to build homebrew replacements, but they exist. Alternatively, just cut those 4 classes out of the game, and turn some of the more interesting abilities into new subclasses for the remaining 8 classes.
A lot of this is good stuff TwoSix!

My only suggestions would be to make Sorcerers half-casters and give more for them, and allow Bards to choose from all the lists. This would reflect more the idea to me of a bard learning from all sources whenever he can. Sorcerers can benefit from more metamagic or something?
 

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