Should bring back diverse spellcaster level design.


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Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
The problem, as I see it, is that while the bard might be balanced against the wizard at levels x, y, and z (assuming they get balanced features to make up for the gap in spell level progression), as soon as they get to level (z+1) and gain a new level of spells they're arguably imbalanced, because they have spells just as good as the wizard AND those features as well. It creates a jagged progression (whereas I'm of the opinion that, while perfection is unattainable, good design should aim for as smooth a progression as is attainable).
So the Bard loses out on 2nd level wizard spell equivalents, right? Gets a cool thing equal to having 2nd level wizard spell equivalents. Then gets their next level of spellcasting and gets the same level equivalent as 3rd level wizard spells, maintaining the parity of their spell levels, but retaining the thing that they got in place of 2nd level wizard spells! What's the Wizard get?

2nd level spells.

The Bard misses out on total spell slots available, and relies on the ability they got instead of 2nd level casting to be equal to, not greater than, the wizard.
Additionally, this creates an issue with the spell levels themselves. There are already issues with the existing 1-9 spell level system, where some spells are too good and others aren't good enough for their spell level. A system with only 5 spell levels (meant to account for 20 character levels of progression) will undoubtedly have significantly greater issues with respect to such. I'd much rather see a spell level progression that paralleled character level progression.
That is a really good point. That spells aren't really that well balanced against each other, or even at their own level.

You'd need to spend time working out some kind of formula to make their costs similar. Which WotC either hasn't done or did poorly. But that's less an issue with this idea and more an issue of WotC's balancing metrics.
That said, I wouldn't be opposed to greater caster differentiation per se. However, I think this approach adds undue complexity without opening up much (if any) actual design space.
Disagree, but I'm interested in your ways of doing it!
If you want to differentiate the casters, then as I see it, there are two routes one could take.

The first would be to create entirely different casting systems for the different caster types. While this would undoubtedly add significant complexity, the resulting extra design space might be worth it (assuming it was done well).
Definitely interested. Honestly I think Warlock is the only caster who is remotely interesting in 5e because of their reduced spell slots recovered on a long rest and most of their exploration and social pillar casting shunted off into Invocations which creates this great dynamic of "Combat Magic" and "Noncombat Magic".

Honestly, if WotC embraced that they would certainly have an easier time of balancing spells in a given level...
The second would be to (for example) modify the casting classes to use the existing system in unique ways. For example, clerics might only be half casters, but could gain Thaumaturgy features that grant them the ability to perform miracles that the existing spells cannot accomplish (perhaps in this paradigm, healing spells are no longer spells, but rather a Thaumaturgy feature). This would also open up design space, while encapsulating added complexity within individual classes, but at the cost of less reuse of (high level) spells. Admittedly, if your goal is differentiation of casters, that's arguably a pro. However, in terms of effective use of page count, the less high level spells are shared, the less worthwhile it is having a lot of them in the rule book.
Making them Half-Casters just makes them Paladins, though. And Druids into Rangers.

Okay, you could argue that they'd have different class abilities separate from their martially-oriented counterparts, but take a look at your expansion of the Thaumaturgy cantrip to also function as Lay on Hands (In addition to healing it eventually gets status-effect removal and stuff, like higher level cleric magics)

It's a reference to the fact that Gary Gygax thought that 9 levels of spells was a good number for wizards to have. It's purely a legacy thing.
Huh! I did not know that. It's a good, solid, number, for certain! Evocative. Three and Three and Three for double layered mysticism.
 


steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Sure but then the progression is weirder. You start with 2 levels of spells, and gain a new one every 2 levels except at 19th when you don't.

And um, I can't be the only person who thinks starting numbering at "0" is a very strange decision.
How do you think people would respond if the list of cantrips (or spells of vaguely "cantrip-level" descriptions were made "Level 1 Spells?" Then level 1 become 2nd level spells, 2nd become 3rd, etc...If you didn't get Fly or Fireball til 7th level...I think there would be riots in the streets.

At the same time...we could just drop off the top level. Folks do seem to have questions with there being 9 levels of spells. Now there'd just be 8! :D
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Personally, I'd be totally fine with just nixing level 9 spells. Altogether. Make them magics that the mortal species simply can not deal with/work with/comprehend. They're "god magic." Or something.

Need a Wish? Find/trap a djinn or efreet.

Seek out/steal the god of time's hourglass to Time Stop.

Find the demi-plane vault of the ancient three headed "gold diamond" dragon that holds/guards the only grimoire that contains the Meteor Swarm spell that no mortal has ever cast or seen or (mostly) knows exist since legends of the fiery cataclysm that ended the last age.

Make the truly powerful and rare magic, truly powerful and rare (if not entirely unattainable).
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
This is exactly how Fantasy Craft works, btw. You start with 0-level spells and don't get your first level spell until 3rd level. Though they persisted in calling them 0-level spells for, uh, reasons.

A change that could be made is, instead of having at-will spells that do very little, make them stronger and while you can cast them many times, they need to recharge. Either after a set number of rounds, or use a "recharges on a roll of X" on a die.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Personally, I'd be totally fine with just nixing level 9 spells. Altogether. Make them magics that the mortal species simply can not deal with/work with/comprehend. They're "god magic." Or something.

Need a Wish? Find/trap a djinn or efreet.

Seek out/steal the god of time's hourglass to Time Stop.

Find the demi-plane vault of the ancient three headed "gold diamond" dragon that holds/guards the only grimoire that contains the Meteor Swarm spell that no mortal has ever cast or seen or (mostly) knows exist since legends of the fiery cataclysm that ended the last age.

Make the truly powerful and rare magic, truly powerful and rare (if not entirely unattainable).
... oh that is so amazing as a concept!

A game in which where monsters and otherworldly beings are the ones with the crazy powerful spells but not a whole lot else going for them as a basis for people to specifically seek them out for various purposes?

Epic.
 

Well it probably made more sense when Wizards could hit 36th level (a number divisible by 9).
IIRC the 9-levels standard for wizards first appeared in AD&D 1st edition (when they were called magic-users). In that edition there were no level limits for (human) wizards.

The 36th-level maximum was introduced in the "BECMI" version version of D&D by Frank Mentzer.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Really, many high level spells should be rituals that aren't learned or memorized, but are found in ancient, forbidden tomes, and are a massive undertaking. Do you think Sauron just popped the One Ring into existence with a Wish spell? It had to be done at the right time, the right place, and no doubt required incredible amounts of preparation.

There should, however, be a sliding scale for this. Some games like high magic. So there should be three campaign options presented: low magic (nothing above 3th level is castable, everything else is powerful rituals), medium magic (nothing above 6th level), and high magic (9th level is castable).

Then have a 10th tier that is NEVER castable, only rituals. Some of which can take days, weeks, months, even a year and a day to perform!
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
IIRC the 9-levels standard for wizards first appeared in AD&D 1st edition (when they were called magic-users). In that edition there were no level limits for (human) wizards.

The 36th-level maximum was introduced in the "BECMI" version version of D&D by Frank Mentzer.

I wasn't sure about the exact timing there- when I started playing D&D both AD&D and Mentzer were published products, I'm pretty sure. As for AD&D not having level limits, it didn't, that's true, but the rulebooks only supported 20th level. Higher level rules were found elsewhere (reaching the logical...ludicrous conclusion with The Throne of Bloodstone). Even Dragon Kings, the high level rules for Dark Sun, only went up to 30th level (kinda. The way to become a Dragon or Avangion was...strange and required dual classing).
 

Dausuul

Legend
I really liked the subtle differences in spellcasting mechanics that different core classes had for a short time during 5e playtest, but I am not so sure about different max spells level... I don't see a particular value in that kind of variety.

I mean, it could be different (and I would not care much if multiclassing becomes more complicated) but it wouldn't feel important to me.
I agree, I would not want to renumber spell levels. It's already bad enough that we have "character levels" and "class levels" and "spell levels," without having spell level mean different things to different classes.

However, you don't actually need to renumber the spell levels for the OP's proposal to work. It's just a matter of pruning spell lists and removing spell slots. For example, you could strike all spells of levels 2, 4, 6, and 8 from the bard list, and remove all slots of those levels from the bard progression. The result would be equivalent to what the OP proposes; bards have five levels of spells instead of nine, opening up headroom for more nonspell class features. It's just that the bard spell levels are numbered 1,3,5,7,9 instead of 1,2,3,4,5*.

*It is true that either solution would completely break spellcaster multiclassing. To which I say: Meh. Multiclassing already doesn't work well in 5E, it didn't work well in 3E, and it didn't work well in AD&D either. Broken thing stays broken. I have thoughts on how 5.5E should handle multiclassing, but this is not the thread for that.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I'll say the quiet part out loud. Bring back Dual-Classing! It's hard to qualify for, and makes your character function as a member of their new class, only allowing them to mix and match abilities at higher level.

(Am I serious or joking? I'll never tell).
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Hmmm, the wheels are spinning... spitballin' on a Wed. afternoon... for a possible framework for lessening spell dependency of certain casters and differentiating caster types...

Mages, and other magic-users who access Arcane Magic spell lists learn/study/practice their spells. The standard spell progression we know. Casting mech's are basically the same. Spell levels 0 (cantrips)-thru-8. Cantrips are still at will. Intelligence is still the casting ability. Except for cantrips, which have no limit, you may only ever learn/know/have as many spells, per spell level, as your Int. modifier + Prof bonus. Specialist concepts: Illusionists, Conjurers, etc... operate by this method as well, with slightly different class features and individual spell lists. They have the same cantrips and unlimited access to their spell lists, but can only ever know Int. mod. spells that are not on their particular specialist magic list. Illusionists, for example, will have all of the same illusions, enchantments, some conjurations, that the general mage can know, but also have other illusions, enchantments, etc... that a general mage would never get access to. But things like Magic Missile or Fireball would be outside their spell list and so, require taking one of those limited spots.

Clerics and other magic-users who access Divine Magic spell lists channel holy/positive (or unholy/negative) energies. Their spell use does not kick in before 3rd level. They receive a more limited spell progression - their lists only go to/through 6 circles. You have access to all spells of the 1st and 2nd circle. Cast them as needed with your available channels. Beyond 2nd level spells, you know only those you select, cast with your channels, "Spells known" casting, in the 5e vernacular, specifically granted magic. Channeling different powers and bonus/domain spells form an added "final" circle of magic, giving them the divine number of 7 tiers of magic, all together. You number of channels per day is bolstered by your Wisdom modifier.

Druids and other magic-users who access Nature Magic spell lists attune and intuit to the primeval energies and mystic ways of the natural and physical world. They have a spell progression that begins with cantrips, but then only progresses to 6 spell levels. You know all spells on your list but are limited by your slots, as most casters of arcane magics. Additionally, they know how to invoke (channel) the spirits and powers of the elements and natural forces to channel magical effects upon themselves: moving unseen, tranforming to beasts, opening pathways to the land of faerie, etc... Your Charisma modifier is added to your spell slots per day.

Psychics and others who may access Mental Powers lists draw power from within their own expanded or enlightened minds, bizarre bloodlines, and/or awakened souls. They use a power point system that fuels the manifestation of their powers that range from "0" point cantrip-style abilities to powers equivalent in power to 8th level arcane spells. Your Int. modifier adds to your daily points.

Warlocks and others who may access Mystic Powers lists draw power from an external, non-divine, source: a powerful magical being (fae , demon, dragon, etc...), cosmic force, universal ideal (alignment), or some combination thereof. You use a power point system to fuel the manifestation of the powers you are granted by your source (or siphon from the cosmos or absorb through some mystical connection). So you have a list of specific powers(features) that you channel and set spell slots, with specific/chosen "spells known." You receive cantrips (usable at will) at level 1. Other spell progression doesn't kick in until 3rd level and doesn't extend beyond 5th level spells. Your additional magical powers are granted by your source to give powers/access at higher levels to chosen singular effects equivalent to 6-8 level spells. This model would produce those who are "magical" primarily with/due to supernatural powers, and spell use is a secondary or tertiary consideration for the class. Warlocks (the arcane) can still spam eldritch blast and receive patron flavor powers; Bards (the nature) still inspire/bolster allies and enchant foes; Paladins (the divine) still smite and have invoke combat bonuses and defensive auras; and Shamans (the psychic) can entreat spirit allies and invoke various powers through the different entities they befriend (or enslave!); all are part of this group. Your Charisma modifier adds to your magical powers -either allowing additional channeling or bonus points.

I dunno. I think that's a solid system. The last group, just by virtue of having the combination of mechanical options, is a "more complex" class...but then, those classes are supposed to be more unique and rare individuals. Doesn't seem/sound "too" complex...to me. Doesn't seem like a "3e" style of confusion or option paralysis.
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Actually, I just had my 1e PHB open due to another discussion, and the xp table for Magic Users only went up to 18th level!

EDIT: Oops, I missed it "375,000 xp per level beyond 18th". Well then, as I was!

The 2e PHB, which I'm more familiar with, only went up to 20th.
 

ehren37

Legend
This strikes me as a solution in search of a problem.

I do think half caster spells should be balanced to be relevant when they are gained. Junk like ranger damage spells need to be worth their action economy. You do see this with Paladin spells somewhat. No surprise, since the devs bent over backwards to shower them with goodies.

The solution to casters feeling the same, is to gut casters (the solution for all balance and flavor issues). D&D casters do WAAAAY too much. Restore spheres. Limit Wizards to 4 schools. There, no casters feel unique and it helps martial balance.

Also, having magical abilities that are not spells will achieve this better than having a spell with a different level depending on the class. Book of 9 Swords "encounter based" classes. Psionics in the 2nd edition model. Incarnates. While we're at it, bring back the Binder.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
It's better than 2e Paladin spellcasting, where it was barely worth doing. Though I do miss 3e Paladin and Ranger spells, they had some really neat options.
 


Horwath

Hero
5th level spell should be at power level of 5th level spell, if some class gets 5th level spells later than other, well, sucks to be them in that department. We can only hope that other class features make up for the difference.

But, I agree that there could be more caster level progressions than full, 1/2 and 1/3. 1/3rd casters seems a bit slow, might convert it to 2/5th casters(as in new spell level every 5 levels instead of 6), they still only get 4th levels spells, but at a little more reasonable rate.

Class levelFull caster 1/12/3rd caster1/2 caster2/5th caster
111--
2111-
32111
4 2211
53221
63222
74322
84322
95332
105432
116433
126433
137543
147543
158543
168644
179654
189654
1910754
2010754

Yes, I belive 10th level spells should be a thing. Just a nice penultimate class feature at 19th level.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
The other way, of course, if people don't like breaking down/differentiating casters by their "kinds" of magic, then it could be done by -properly- changing where classes sit in the "full-or-some percentage" caster across all kinds of magic.

That is, what I mean is, give every "type" of magic its 9 levels. How much of those 9 levels you gain access to is purely a matter of class. I would further attach the spell casting abilities to help even those out.

Full Caster: Int.
(9 spell levels)
3/4 Caster: Wis.
(access 7th level)
Half Caster: Cha.
(access 5th level)
1/4 Caster: any
(access 3rd level)
Arcane MagicMage/WizardWitchSwordmage/Bladecaster (PF style "Magus")"Eldritch Knight,"
"Arcane Trickster"
Divine Magic"Invoker/Incanter?"
(some all-caster priest/cleric)
ClericPaladinMonk
Nature MagicDruidShamanBardRanger (if you insist on spell-ranger)
Occult MagicPsychic/Psion"Dragon sorcerer," Psi-Warrior, et al.Warlock"Shadowalker,"
"Soulknife," et al.
 

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