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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 .

Frozenstep

Explorer
To me there's a huge difference between "I can do something similar" and "that type of monsters all went to school at Wizard-mart" which is what spell-like abillities do. Even the name is backwards - you shouldn't get spell-like abilities so much as ability-like spells that were created to try and fake certain natural abilities.
For me, I can get over it and imagine things like that without the need for the game to specifically call it out. There's not a huge difference because the game doesn't specify things like that on purpose. Maybe in one world every wizard spell in some way came from studying what a monster did and how they did it, and then figuring out how to do it yourself. Or maybe we independently came up with some of it.

I can see why you might think the way you do because of the presentation, but out of character it makes for a simpler organization of abilities, and in character humans are human-centric, we compare things to what we know. I could totally see a wizard copying a spell from a beast, and then later his apprentices come across the beast and sees the beast and say "Hey! That beast is copying our master's spell!".

And I find it no more weird to have magical creatures that could use natural affinities and biology for better charming than a human can manage by faking it via spells than I find it weird that a dragon, through its biology and magical affinities can breathe fire in a way no human wizard can manage by faking it via spells. The strength of wizards is versatility, not focus and specialism.
I agree, that's why a lot of abilities describe stuff as "it's this spell, but it has these key differences which probably make it way better or usable at-will".
 

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And those exist. Dryads and vampires come to mind. The magical charming creatures, I mean.
The 3.5 Vampire explicitly dominates as per the Dominate Person spell cast by a 12th level caster (and references gaseous form as a supernatural ability and spider-climb as an extraordinary ability) and the 3.5 dryad is almost entirely supplied by Wizard-Mart with everything being a spell-like ability except the way they are tied to a tree.

5e I agree isn't anywhere near as bad - the 5e vampire's charm is its own thing and significantly stronger than Charm Person - as is the 5e dryad's Fey Charm (the spell is similar to both but attacking a victim breaks the charm rather than offers a save). It takes things further than I'd like in the things are spells rather than abilities front but isn't anything like the extremes of 3.X.

The other reason I object to spell like abilities as DM is that I don't want to be flicking between rulebooks.

(And none of this is to say I mind vampires who've spent a century or more burying their nose in a spellbook being powerful spellcasters as well as having their own abilities - but this is a different matter).
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
Thanks for your input.

@TwoSix , would you like to continue this here or start a new thread?
Either is fine. I don't feel like we're necessarily diverting this thread, since differentiating spellcasters was the overall topic, but we have moved in a specialized direction. I'll leave it to your discretion.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The 3.5 Vampire explicitly dominates as per the Dominate Person spell cast by a 12th level caster (and references gaseous form as a supernatural ability and spider-climb as an extraordinary ability) and the 3.5 dryad is almost entirely supplied by Wizard-Mart with everything being a spell-like ability except the way they are tied to a tree.

5e I agree isn't anywhere near as bad - the 5e vampire's charm is its own thing and significantly stronger than Charm Person - as is the 5e dryad's Fey Charm (the spell is similar to both but attacking a victim breaks the charm rather than offers a save). It takes things further than I'd like in the things are spells rather than abilities front but isn't anything like the extremes of 3.X.

The other reason I object to spell like abilities as DM is that I don't want to be flicking between rulebooks.

(And none of this is to say I mind vampires who've spent a century or more burying their nose in a spellbook being powerful spellcasters as well as having their own abilities - but this is a different matter).
Fair enough. I don't mind monsters using the same mechanics and rules as PCs, for simplicity's sake, but I might be tempted to narrate it as not-a-spell, if there wasn't a good reason not to.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
Either is fine. I don't feel like we're necessarily diverting this thread, since differentiating spellcasters was the overall topic, but we have moved in a specialized direction. I'll leave it to your discretion.
I think I will move it then. I like to have the OP something I can edit to update the work in progress as it goes along. I was also thinking it might be best to first go through the list by spell level, and work out all the spells for that level before moving on.

I'll update this post with a link to the new thread. Of course, I hope anyone who has been following will also keep contribute if they wish.

Here is the new thread:
 
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TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
I think I will move it then. I like to have the OP something I can edit to update the work in progress as it goes along. I was also thinking it might be best to first go through the list by spell level, and work out all the spells for that level before moving on.

I'll update this post with a link to the new thread. Of course, I hope anyone who has been following will also keep contribute if they wish.
No problem...I've gotta take a pass at my spreadsheet to update based on discussion points.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
No problem...I've gotta take a pass at my spreadsheet to update based on discussion points.
Cool. When I have the new thread I will post the spell lists and let me know if anything needs to be changed on your side.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
No problem...I've gotta take a pass at my spreadsheet to update based on discussion points.
New Thread:
 

Helldritch

Adventurer
Ok, let me start with: I really like 5ed. But the homogenization of the casting and non casting classes is entirely our fault.

Let me explain. In older edition Pre 4th. You had to meet minimum requirement stats, alignement, race to do some classes. No elven paladin, no half orc ranger, no elf monk and so on. Let's take the paladin as a first example. If we take the unearthed arcana, the paladin had to be human, be lawfull good and have at least 15 in strength and constitution, 10 in intelligence, 13 in wisdom and 17 in charisma. This meant that the paladin class was very rare. Even with the unearthed arcana method or rolling dice, you could end up playing a "simple" cavalier. Remember that players were rolling stats but it was also entirely possible to be unable to do a class because of poor die rolls. This meant that some classes were extremely rare (bards, monks, paladins). Other were rare (barbarians, cavalier, druids, rangers), other were uncommon (assassins, illusionists, and thief accrobat).

The rarity of some classes were deeply felt by some players who wanted to play the class. Something akin to bring the person, not the class in WoW nowadays. Some class were design to start really strong (fighter, paladins etc...) other were starting weak but would be devastating at higher level (wizard here you are). The stronger you were at the start, the less your increase in power was felt at higher level. Experience varied also to mitigate the power curve a bit. A thief rose in levels very fast in part to compensate for the fact that many demi-humans had thief as one of their class and could rise in that class without limits. Up to some classes that were forced to fight for high level as some classes had limits to the number of high level individuals could exist (druids, monks, assassins). And non humans had some restrictions in levels depending on their races.

These facts made some people dissatisfied with 1ed. In 2ed and 3ed, some restrictions were alleviated (or at least lessened) but they were still somewhat present. Yet, many people were of the grain:"I want to do what I want, whenever I want it!" And with some spell casters so above the martial classes, the abuse of 3ed and it number bloat a lot of people were asking for something not too broken. Wizard listened and tried it in 4ed, albeit unelegantly as all class felt the same.

5ed went back a bit and rethought the homogenization process, shook it, blend it, cooked it and served it to us. It is what most of us wanted (or thought we wanted).

The homogenization of the classes rolled back but not too much. With this homogenization, all spell casters feel the same because everyone rise in levels at the same time. Everyone starts with the same power! That is good in the sense that everyone has a chance to shine every game. But it also means that some sacrifices had to be made. No longer will you see a wizard/sorcerer cast 2 or 3 meteor swarms. You will no longer see 20d6 fireballs thrown at normal spell slot. No more mazinga! magic missile for 10d4 +10 dmg when cast a normal spell slot. Simply because fighters and non spell casting classes can now do a bit of the wizard's damage. With hindsight, this is not a bad thing either. As most games ends around level 12 to 14 anyways, we never truly see that kind of mega powers. Giving a chance to everyone to shine in everygame is better story telling wise. The only down side is that some classes that were supposed (historicaly) rare, are now commonly seen in many groups. This is also a reason for the Paladin's hate. But that is another topic.

Yep, 5ed is a bit bland because of the homogenization, but it is now to the players to make their character unique. They can do that through role play only now. The short cut of I am a monk/paladin/ranger/etc is now a thing of the past.

Edit: Or do like me! Change edition once in a while! ;)
 


TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
That seems like another agenda, entirely, from escaping the 'sameyness' of 5e's same spells, different structures approach to class differentiation.
Well, one of the OP's stated points was that he disliked the current version of "cantrips"; removing the damage cantrips only means that the existing class feature is still relevant, but still accomplishes most of the OP's needs. It's a targeted house rule for OP's concerns, which are broad enough that a relevant and interesting house rule would probably be of interest to other players with similar aesthetic concerns.
 

Well, one of the OP's stated points was that he disliked the current version of "cantrips"; removing the damage cantrips only means that the existing class feature is still relevant, but still accomplishes most of the OP's needs. It's a targeted house rule for OP's concerns, which are broad enough that a relevant and interesting house rule would probably be of interest to other players with similar aesthetic concerns.
Whether it's a separate agenda from the same source or not, it's still separate. ;) Removing attack cantrips entirely doesn't reduce sameyness, at all, not anymore than removing spells entirely would. Shuffling them so that each class or Source has their signature cantrips and spells both, would.
And, if not all classes need have cantrips, then that's a possible differentiation, as well.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
I look at it this way. The reason things look the same is because duplicaton of effects is kind of silly. Especially on monsters. Why does monster need a special ability if there an ability that already does the same thing?
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I'd like to see the blasting spells get a boost in overall damage frankly. Shizz like fireball, outside of scaling, which is also an issue, just isn't that impressive. If you take away the damage cantrips I think it might be appropriate to embiggen the booms.
 




A page they could have taken from ancient D&D is the idea that almost every spell takes time to cast. Back then it was segments; today, imagine 5e D&D where efficient spells take 2 actions to cast.

And as they have 2 actions of power budget, they have boombiggen.

Cantrips that also take 2 actions make them feel different than weapon attacks.
 

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