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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 .

akr71

Adventurer
Bless you, for taking the time to explain that to your children.

You are truly doing the most important work of all.
I could also make an argument that we don't need bards or sorcerers and that the line between clerics and warlocks is hazy at best.
 

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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I get the old school nostalgia bit where cantrips are somehow a bad thing. Maybe when I played older editions we just did implementation a little differently.

Basically spell casters after the first level or so always cast spells anyway. If they ran out of slots/memorized spells then they resorted to scrolls or wands.

On the other hand, a really simple way to make wizards feel more unique would be to have them really specialize like they used to do. Ban entire schools in opposition to their chosen school(s). Easy to implement, no custom list needed. Limit bards to illusion/enchantment schools. Give them divine evocation so they can be a backup healer.

Keeping cantrips just means my wizard is still a caster, just means they don't have to rely on toys to make them casters.
 



dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
I’d rather go the other way. Why make half-casters more samey amongst each other?
Actually, for me it is the time-kill involving selecting spells to prepare when it comes up. It basically stops the game for everyone else--fortunately it doesn't happen that often.

Also, since 90% of the time people stick with the same, preferred spells, IMO I would just make those the known ones.

While I can appreciate the 1E idea of preparing spells and the formula is sort of etched in your mind, erased when you release the magic, I like that. But, more modern play seems to favor known spells in the idea that once you know how to cast a spell, you don't forget it. What is "drained" is your ability to harness magic before you rest again.

One thing I loved about SWSE was the tie-in of force powers to Vitality (i.e. HP). Using the force drained you a bit. I've toyed with the idea that spellcasting lowers your HP maximum (1 point per spell level) and getting rid of spell slots and spell points altogether. When you get a long rest, your HP maximum is restored, as normal.
 

houser2112

Explorer
And this basically means that the only DMs that should happen are railroad DMs.

When running it is entirely normal that my players are going to take a look at the situation and head off in a direction that I do not expect. In order to follow your guideline I would have to have memorized every ability of every monster both in the the hexcrawl sandbox and the three possible dungeons. I literally couldn't run a sandbox with spellcasting monsters the way you propose.

Also I have in the past two sessions revolutionised the experience of two of my new players by rewriting their character sheets. They look a lot uglier now - but by putting the actual spell rules onto the spell part of their character sheets they are no longer flicking between spell cards and getting confused about what their spells actually do. And no, I don't blame the players here - I blame the game and blame myself for not stepping in earlier.

That sauce you want to apply has been kept unsealed and unrefrigerated for weeks, and I don't want to risk food poisoning for anyone. Character sheets and monster statblocks alike should be written so you don't have to look things up in other sources.
No, it doesn't mean every DM needs to railroad. You just need to be reasonably prepared for what the players could reasonably be expected to do.

Unless your players are the kind that might say "Fvck it, I'm gonna plane shift to the Happy Hunting Grounds!" in the middle of a dungeon (and by the fact that you "revolutionized" their experience by writing the full text of their spells on their sheets, I doubt this is the case), how odd of a curveball could they really throw at you? I've had DMs stop play to look things up when players throw a curvevball, and I've had DMs end the ssession early when we've gone faster than he thought we could through his prepared material. It's ok, and nobody begrudges him when it happens.

Rewriting spell blocks everywhere they appear is a waste of space, paper, and ink.
 

No, it doesn't mean every DM needs to railroad. You just need to be reasonably prepared for what the players could reasonably be expected to do.
And have a boring setup where there aren't many people with odd abilities you haven't memorised.

And there's that phrase "reasonably be expected to" - I have some pretty creative groups. In my third session DMing as an adult their plans involved throwing a horse blanket over a dragon wyrmling they'd turned, stealing a cart and disguising it as a plague cart, and crossing town with it. This wouldn't even have been possible without a natural 20 on a diplomacy check.

Does this sound like anything that could have been prepared for within reasonable expectations? Especially by a then-new DM. Because it's not even close to reasonable to me - and the game is much more fun from all sides because of it.

I've had DMs stop play to look things up when players throw a curvevball, and I've had DMs end the ssession early when we've gone faster than he thought we could through his prepared material. It's ok, and nobody begrudges him when it happens.
And I've seldom had to do the first and the only time I've ever done the second has been after a meaningful death (either a BBEG or a PC) with about half an hour left of the session and it felt like a natural end. So possibly in your game no one begrudges the DM - but were I that DM I'd be kicking myself hard if it ever happened to me.

Rewriting spell blocks everywhere they appear is a waste of space, paper, and ink.
Not rewriting spell blocks everywhere is a waste of everyone's time and effort - something which is more valuable than space and paper. Not rewriting and tweaking the spells so that your monsters don't all appear to be fighters and wizards with prosthetic foreheads makes your world significantly blander. And a bad workman blames his tools - but a good workman knows the value of investing in good tools.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
On the other hand, a really simple way to make wizards feel more unique would be to have them really specialize like they used to do. Ban entire schools in opposition to their chosen school(s). Easy to implement, no custom list needed. Limit bards to illusion/enchantment schools. Give them divine evocation so they can be a backup healer.
As someone who has actively resisted playing specialist wizards since the early 1980s, I object to mandatory specialties; the only way this would be OK is if there existed a generalist subclass. There are third-party options, I know, and one could always write it oneself, but the option would need to exist.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
As someone who has actively resisted playing specialist wizards since the early 1980s, I object to mandatory specialties; the only way this would be OK is if there existed a generalist subclass. There are third-party options, I know, and one could always write it oneself, but the option would need to exist.
Yep, I agree there should be a generalist. Along with beefing up the specialists a bit to compensate for the lack of flexibility.

I just think it's an easier solution than a custom spell list. Since it would also limit cantrips, it seems like a simple answer.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
Yep, I agree there should be a generalist. Along with beefing up the specialists a bit to compensate for the lack of flexibility.

I just think it's an easier solution than a custom spell list. Since it would also limit cantrips, it seems like a simple answer.
War Mage is the closest right now to a generalist concept. Part offense, part defense, no tie to a specific school, but still no quite there.

I've got one somewhere that I wrote up because that was my biggest dissatisfaction with the Wizard in the PHB when it was published, but I don't know where exactly.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Yep, I agree there should be a generalist. Along with beefing up the specialists a bit to compensate for the lack of flexibility.

I just think it's an easier solution than a custom spell list. Since it would also limit cantrips, it seems like a simple answer.
Fair enough. It's not a bad idea, to be clear; I just wanted to point out the obvious-to-me objection (which is easily solved, once seen).

As for me, I don't see much of a way to make the spellcasting classes different from each other that wouldn't make the mechanics more complicated. Since much of what I like about 5E is the way it's streamlined, it's not a thing that seems worth the doing to me; obviously, people will have different preferences.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
War Mage is the closest right now to a generalist concept. Part offense, part defense, no tie to a specific school, but still no quite there.

I've got one somewhere that I wrote up because that was my biggest dissatisfaction with the Wizard in the PHB when it was published, but I don't know where exactly.
If I were playing a wizard, and the DM insisted that I use something from the published books, I'd probably go with War Mage, because (alert! incoming tautology!) it's more of a generalist than the specialist subclasses. Of course, the one kicking around in the Character Chage in my brain is more of a Fog of War Mage focused on illusions and divinations, but ... I'm a little odd, sometimes.
 

houser2112

Explorer
And have a boring setup where there aren't many people with odd abilities you haven't memorised.

And there's that phrase "reasonably be expected to" - I have some pretty creative groups. In my third session DMing as an adult their plans involved throwing a horse blanket over a dragon wyrmling they'd turned, stealing a cart and disguising it as a plague cart, and crossing town with it. This wouldn't even have been possible without a natural 20 on a diplomacy check.

Does this sound like anything that could have been prepared for within reasonable expectations? Especially by a then-new DM. Because it's not even close to reasonable to me - and the game is much more fun from all sides because of it.
Throwing a horse blanket over a wyrmling grants them random SLAs now? I didn't know that, forgive me.

Perhaps you couldn't have foreseen they'd do something like that, but that's beside the point. They didn't do something that required you to look up spells you weren't prepared to use.

Not rewriting spell blocks everywhere is a waste of everyone's time and effort - something which is more valuable than space and paper. Not rewriting and tweaking the spells so that your monsters don't all appear to be fighters and wizards with prosthetic foreheads makes your world significantly blander. And a bad workman blames his tools - but a good workman knows the value of investing in good tools.
Agree to disagree, I guess. It only makes sense to repeat if there's something different about the monster-in-question's implementation of the spell, and even in that case, I'd say it's better to say something like "As magic missile, except the missiles each deal 8d8 poison damage".
 

tetrasodium

Hero
Supporter
I think that what twosix and dnd4vr are working on is removing the attack cantrips but keeping the other cantrips while differentiating the spell lists etc.

And then, of course, there's the possible later project to make magic ... um ... oh boy. Make it okay to boom again.

#BOOMBIGGEN
#OKBOOMER!
That would be an improvement. Attack cantrips could still act like the old wand of $LowLevelSpell thing and even come in overtuned versions like acid splash+1. As it is, the same wand that any butler might use to prestidigitate the tablecloth clean & water cold is also the same wand that an assassin uses to instantly murder the ambassador & his entire staff with a fireball before the guards can even react.
 

Perhaps you couldn't have foreseen they'd do something like that, but that's beside the point. They didn't do something that required you to look up spells you weren't prepared to use.
My PCs won't do what I expect or can prepare for reasonably and in detail and I like it that way. Preparing for everything is impossible.

I've never needed to look up spells I wasn't prepared to use as DM because back when I used published modules, if the module half-assed things by not writing out the spells that the monsters (including the mages) had) I would go and put in the legwork myself by rewriting the stat blocks as part of my game preparation.

Agree to disagree, I guess. It only makes sense to repeat if there's something different about the monster-in-question's implementation of the spell, and even in that case, I'd say it's better to say something like "As magic missile, except the missiles each deal 8d8 poison damage".
On the contrary. The only point of "agree to disagree" is that we can agree that what you consider expected for DMs is something I would consider myself to have failed miserably as a DM if I ever needed to do - and am consequently am unimpressed when a DM does to me (as has happened twice in the past ten years, and that I can remember both events tells you how impressed I wasn't) because I'm used to the other side of the table. We can agree that our standards are different I suppose - but I'm saying that mine are objectively higher.

All this in the name of saving paper and ink (or pixels on a tablet which is where my notes generally are). If I were that worried about paper and ink I'd choose much smaller games than D&D that didn't have multiple 200 page hardbacks for the basic rules.
 

akr71

Adventurer
...

On the other hand, a really simple way to make wizards feel more unique would be to have them really specialize like they used to do. Ban entire schools in opposition to their chosen school(s). Easy to implement, no custom list needed. Limit bards to illusion/enchantment schools. Give them divine evocation so they can be a backup healer.
Yes please, let's have choosing a school of magic mean something. I like hard choices in my character design.
 

Nebulous

Legend
Yes please, let's have choosing a school of magic mean something. I like hard choices in my character design.
Ah, yes, I forgot opposed schools couldn't be cast in earlier editions. Sucks they cut that out. Or am I misremembering older editions?
 




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