• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

D&D 5E The core issue of the martial/caster gap is just the fundamental design of d20 fantasy casters.

In a sense more limited and thematically focused casters sounds appealing both aesthetically and gameplay wise. Then again, the mastermind wizard that get to choose the tools needed for the task and that has to go to search scrolls for new spells is very appealing too. šŸ¤·
The Mastermind Wizard searching scrolls for new spells sounds fun to play - but requires a lot more work by the GM in both worldbuilding and in play with loot drops to justify than literally any class currently in D&D 5e does. If we want to go back to random loot drops it's a great idea.

As for the Mastermind Wizard in general who has opted for breadth not focus, again that's appealing. But when their thing is breadth the subclasses don't really work. This is why I say that the Mastermind Wizard Who Gets Their Power From Books And Preparation should for both thematic and gameplay reasons be a subclass of the Spellcaster Who Gets Arcane Magic From Random Stuff - i.e. the Sorcerer. The Mastermind Wizard is a thematically focused arcane caster whose focus is on versatility at an opportunity cost.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I think the analysis of casters is typically done in a hypothetical, cherrypicked way that highly overrates the caster's ability to have the right spell on hand all the time. We tend to do power comparisons of individual encounters, usually solo creatures with a clear vulnerability, where the caster has all their spell slots available, and has already picked and prepared the appropriate spells for that encounter.

We then argue that the spellcaster also will always have the right loadout of utility (or healing, etc) spells, even when we were assuming, merely paragraphs before, that they were loaded for bear with combat spells.
Yup. Isn't that always the way in these kinds of conversations? Like how the Wizard supposedly makes the Rogue superfluous because they can just cast Knock and remove one of the prime activities the Rogue can do?

But exactly how often are Wizard players actually voluntarily stepping on their fellow Rogue player's toes by always preparing Knock and always casting it, even when that perfectly serviceable Rogue is in the party to take care of the issue? Especially without them needing to alert the entire dungeon with the massive gong sound when the Knock spell gets cast?

Is the Wizard player really taking Knock and supplanting the Rogue in the group (rather than using that prepared spell for something more useful), or is it just that we think in the general sense the Wizard as a class CAN supplant the Rogue (even though in actuality they almost never do) and we get all persnickety about that? Are these issues actually happening at tables, or is it all just whiteroom theorizing (like so many complaints actually are) and we feel the need to "solve" these whiteroom issues that don't actually show up during gameplay for 99% of tables out there?
 

I think the analysis of casters is typically done in a hypothetical, cherrypicked way that highly overrates the caster's ability to have the right spell on hand all the time. We tend to do power comparisons of individual encounters, usually solo creatures with a clear vulnerability, where the caster has all their spell slots available, and has already picked and prepared the appropriate spells for that encounter.

We then argue that the spellcaster also will always have the right loadout of utility (or healing, etc) spells, even when we were assuming, merely paragraphs before, that they were loaded for bear with combat spells.
This is a critique that is sometimes accurate. What broke the wizard sideways in 3.X wasn't the actual individual spells, but the loose leaf ring binder full of low level utility spells that generally cost less to upkeep than the fighter would spend replacing their sword and armour with better stuff. Good adventuring day analyses include following the recommended rest cycles and listing the entire loadout, and the notorious 3.5 Class Tier List was based on a multiple encounter obstacle course for level 13 characters (relationships between classes changing as you level).
Yup. Isn't that always the way in these kinds of conversations? Like how the Wizard supposedly makes the Rogue superfluous because they can just cast Knock and remove one of the prime activities the Rogue can do?

But exactly how often are Wizard players actually voluntarily stepping on their fellow Rogue player's toes by always preparing Knock and always casting it, even when that perfectly serviceable Rogue is in the party to take care of the issue? Especially without them needing to alert the entire dungeon with the massive gong sound when the Knock spell gets cast?
In 3.5 the gong didn't exist - and a Scroll of Knock was 150 GP. You could get 15 of them for the cost of a +1 shortsword. How many locks do you really run into that need opening and can't be crowbarred?

In 5e Knock is less overwhelmingly better than picking the lock - but there's less niche protection for the skills. Just about everyone has a Dex of 14 or even 16 (it's too much of a god stat) and at least one or two of those characters are going to get a Thieves' Tools proficiency from their background even if they don't get Expertise. You don't need a rogue for the easy locks.

And this is the other side of the problem. There's now nothing that a rogue is needed to do; the Ranger's way better at stealth (Pass Without Trace desperately needs a nerf in OneD&D), others can open locks, and others can do damage. Meanwhile the Rogue is never going to learn to fly under their own power or clear out a room in a single fireball.
 

TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
Is the Wizard player really taking Knock and supplanting the Rogue in the group (rather than using that prepared spell for something more useful), or is it just that we think in the general sense the Wizard as a class CAN supplant the Rogue (even though in actuality they almost never do) and we get all persnickety about that? Are these issues actually happening at tables, or is it all just whiteroom theorizing (like so many complaints actually are) and we feel the need to "solve" these whiteroom issues that don't actually show up during gameplay for 99% of tables out there?
I don't think it happens in 5e nearly as much. Most of these issues around the caster/martial disparity really ramped up in 3e, when replacing Fighters and Rogues and other non-casters with spellcasting classes and PrCs was definitely a thing.

It doesn't take a lot of optimization know-how to realize that a couple of scrolls of knock, invisibility, and silence can handle the scouting and trap-handling needs of a normal adventure.

Granted, 5e has greatly reined in casters, such that bringing a fighter or a rogue isn't a sucker's game like in 3e, but it hasn't quite changed the calculus that a caster class can fill in for the function of a rogue or fighter much more easily than the converse. Especially at higher Tiers, the 2x cleric, 2xwizard party is much more flexible and powerful than the 2xfighter, 2xrogue party.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So i saw a post by Michael Sayre(A PF2e designer) on Twitter, that talks about the issues with Casters in DnD,


This got me thinking about this point to where I reached an interesting point...

The core issue with the Martial Caster gap is just, the design of casters in dnd-like games, they are classes designed around doing everything on a limited resource, with few other downsides but that, with decent planning or smarts you can just...not care, and be ready for most situations. And if you wanna balance it, you have to nerf down casters to a point where the fact that they have to use limited resources to just weak things feels terrible in play, and they only get worse the longer they play.

The core design of these classes is the issue, and the best fix is simply kinda reworking them entirely to make them either more specialists or far more limited with more restrictions(like how they used to be).

Back in older editions, this used to be mitigated by casters being artillery and being cumbersome like them, so their spells were powerful but limited, they genuinely were bad at combat, they had no weapons and few low health, and most importantly, it was HARD to cast a spell in combat, you had to declare the spell cast at the beginning of the round and if you were hit before your turn, you lost the spell.

This stuff is what MADE the idea of Martials in the frontline and Casters in the backline, and 3e kinda got rid of that, and the game has never recovered, because Casters were Artillery, Slow, Cumbersome, hard to upgrade because they leveled up slower, and martials were the soldiers, clerics were the medics. Without this downside Casters are now arent just artillery but are now just heavy soldiers for the most part.

Unfortunately, i don't think WoTC can fix this in a satisfactory way, i feel like there is only two ways forward for them,

Nerf casters spells to the point where most options are generally situational and damage kinda meh compared to martials, making them more support classes(The PF2e Solution), this is the best fix they can do, but this leads to the issue if, classes who spend their resources to do things that isnt much better then classes that dont, which will lead to a bad experience for the class, and kinda have to lock them in support roles, because if spell slots can solve problems they then can only help solve them, and if they can't do as good damage as martials and CC cant reliably end encounters, then damage can't be too good outside of AoE and control can only basically just be supportive generalists which to be frank,(especially looking at hows that gone for pf2e and its community) I dont think people want to be just that with their casters.

or 2. which i think is the likely route WOTC will go, nerf spells to where they generally make the game easier to run getting rid of most of the exploits and game-breaking stuff, but the core of the power is still there. This is an alright compromise, as it makes them less game-breaking and makes having one in the game easier to run without completely shifting the design fo the class, but doesnt solve the core issue of the gap.

This is no easy solution to this that i feel people would be happy with, some may argue just give martials superpowered stuff, but honestly...it wouldn't fix it, it'd make them more fun(which might be all we need to be fair), but in the end casters just kinda...can do anything and more often with a far wider scope of abilities, they are just way more powerful in every way even if you gave them every single feature from 4e unless you specifically kinda make them do the exact same thing, which at that point why even bother with the class system? Just make spells generic powers anyone can take, like and even doing this is far beyond the scope of 5e and requires a whole new edition to do.

I dont really know what else to say, but i think the core design of d20 casters after 2e is just...screwed? its just kinda junk design for how we wanna play today, and fixing the issue in a satisfactory manner(not saying there is no fixes but all those fixes have a lot of core downsides im not sure will sit well with people), is just impossible.

I say the idea of the D20 mage should go, and we should have more specialist casts, not wizards, but evokers, or illusionists, who mainly do just that with maybe a few general tricks in there.

TLDR: The core design of casters in fantasy is doing almost anything except one or two things, the scope of design of these classes is just far beyond others, their is no easy wa yot fix it in a satisfactory manner without someone getting a worse experience, i feel the core design simply needs to entirely change, because right now, the main ways to fix it is basically just shoehorn them into basically being support generalist classes, which i dont think even fits the fantasy people want from the classes to begin with, or bring back the heavy downsides to casting like the artillery example, which both of these im not sure will feel good to change, its a weird issue.

ASIDE

Personally,I feel Mages should go back to having the downsides of being artillery classes that leveled spells could be interrupted in combat, or they cant cast them if they are hit, it won't fix the gap, but it gives martial class's a raison d'etre, in a traditional way, plus i think it fits the fantasy of these classes and idea of them way more, but clearly this is not for everyone and it just makes them feel way worse for a lot of people, but ill make another topic on that another time.

Whats your thoughts on this? Do you think 5e can fix this is a satisfactory way that doesnt make a majority of classes in the game? Or is that beyond the scope, outside of an edition change?
For those interested, here's Michael Sayre's full thread (that I can find and easily repost):

1/ An interesting anecdote from PF1 that has some bearing on how #Pathfinder2E came to be what it is:

Once upon a time, PF1 introduced a class called the arcanist. The arcanist was regarded by many to be a very strong class. The thing is, it actually wasn't.

2/ For a player with even a modicum of system mastery, the arcanist was strictly worse than either of the classes who informed its design, the wizard and the sorcerer. The sorcerer had significantly more spells to throw around, and the wizard had both a faster spell progression-

3/ and more versatility in its ability to prepare for a wide array of encounters. Both classes were strictly better than the arcanist if you knew PF1 well enough to play them to their potential.

What the arcanist had going for it was that it was extremely forgiving.

4/ It didn't require anywhere near the same level of system mastery to excel. You could make a lot more mistakes, both in building it and while playing, and still feel powerful. You could adjust your plans a lot more easily on the fly if you hadn't done a very good job planning-

5/ in advance. The class's ability to elevate the player rather than requiring the player to elevate the class made it quite popular and created the general impression that it was very strong.

It was also just more fun to play, with bespoke abilities and little design flourishes

6/ that at least filled up the action economy and gave you ways to feel valuable, even if the core chassis was weaker and less able to reach the highest performance levels.

In many TTRPGs and TTRPG communities, the options that are considered "strongest" are often actually-

7/ the options that are simplest. Even if a spellcaster in a game like PF1 or PF2 is actually capable of handling significantly more types and kinds of challenges more effectively, achieving that can be a difficult feat. A class that simply has the raw power to do a basic-

8/ function well with a minimal amount of technical skill applied, like the fighter, will generally feel more powerful because a wider array of players can more easily access and exploit that power.

This can be compounded when you have goals that require complicating solutions.

9/ PF2 has goals of depth, customization, and balance. Compared to other games, PF1 sacrificed balance in favor of depth and customization, and 5E forgoes depth and limits customization.

In attempting to hit all three goals, PF2 sets a very high and difficult bar for itself.

10/ This is further complicated by the fact that PF2 attempts to emulate the spellcasters of traditional TTRPG gaming, with tropes of deep possibility within every single character. It's been many years and editions of multiple games since things that were actually balance points

11/ in older editions were true of d20 spellcasters. D20 TTRPG wizards, generally, have a humongous breadth of spells available to every single individual spellcaster, and their only cohesive theme is "magic". They are expected to be able to do almost anything (except heal), and-

12/ even "specialists" in most fantasy TTRPGs of the last couple decades are really generalists with an extra bit of flavor and flair in the form of an extra spell slot or ability dedicated to a particular theme.

So bringing it back to balance and customization:

13/ if a character has the potential to do anything and a goal of your game is balance, it must be assumed that the character will do all those things they're capable of. Since a wizard very much can have a spell for every situation that targets every possible defense,

14/ the game has to assume they do, otherwise you cannot meet the goal of balance. Customization, on the other side, demands that the player be allowed to make other choices and not prepare to the degree that the game assumes they must, which creates striations in the player-

15/ base where classes are interpreted based on a given person's preferences and ability/desire to engage with the meta of the game. It's ultimately not possible to have the same class provide both endless possibilities and a balanced experience without assuming that those-

16/ possibilities are capitalized on.

So if you want the fantasy of a wizard, and want a balanced game, but also don't want to have the game force you into having to use particular strategies to succeed, how do you square the circle? I suspect the best answer is "change your-

17/ idea of what the wizard must be." D20 fantasy TTRPG wizards are heavily influenced by the dominating presence of D&D and, to a significantly lesser degree, the works of Jack Vance. But Vance hasn't been a particularly popular fantasy author for several generations now, and-

18/ many popular fantasy wizards don't have massively diverse bags of tricks and fire and forget spells. They often have a smaller bag of focused abilities that they get increasingly competent with, with maybe some expansions into specific new themes and abilities as they grow in

19/ power. The PF2 kineticist is an example of how limiting the theme and degree of customization of a character can lead to a more overall satisfying and accessible play experience. Modernizing the idea of what a wizard is and can do, and rebuilding to that spec, could make the-

20/ class more satisfying to those who find it inaccessible. Of course, the other side of that equation is that a notable number of people like the wizard exactly as the current trope presents it, a fact that's further complicated by people's tendency to want a specific name on-

21/ the tin for their character. A kineticist isn't a satisfying "elemental wizard" to some people simply because it isn't called a wizard, and that speaks to psychology in a way that you often can't design around. You can create the field of options to give everyone what they-

22/ want, but it does require drawing lines in places where some people will just never want to see the line, and that's difficult to do anything about without revisiting your core assumptions regarding balance, depth, and customization.
 

Voadam

Legend
In Chainmail wizards were literally artillery and mustard gas stand ins with fireball, lightning bolt, and cloudkill. The base magic was explosions and lines of destruction and clouds of poison effects to take out a whole unit. Big combat stuff from the back lines. Other magic was variations on this baseline (phantasmal terrain, etc.)

This carried over to D&D with individual spells (fireball, lightning bolt, cloudkill, sleep, etc.) and the vancian slot system making spells powerful but few shots of ammo for the artillery. Spells soon became different varieties of things from various sources but on those base power level (charming enemies, doing different effects)

Fighters however were either the individual members of the units (level 1) in chainmail or at higher levels the elite hero leaders who were equivalent to multiple soldiers on their own.

D&D magic user wizards are not primarily based on Gandalf as part of an adventuring group, but on magical howitzers as their baseline. So D&D spells are more fireball in combat as the baseline and less Gandalf style magic based.
 
Last edited:


Voadam

Legend
It's been a thing and a clear problem since 3e.
I played in high level AD&D games and high level AD&D wizards in my experience became more and more versatile with levels and bunches of spells and depending some on items which could allow memorized spells to focus on other areas. It has been a thing for a long while.

3e made versatile casters fairly easy at relatively low levels, particularly with things like crafting and buying your own wands so a cleric could devote their spells to non healing if everybody has healing from cure light wound wands, or a wizard could load up on a relatively cheap knock wand at 5th level and have 50 charges of autosuccess lockpicking rogue replacement while saving their prepared spells for other combat and utility things. The exponential levelling costs and gold acquisition by level meant it was trivial to load up on 50 charge wands for low level utility spells after you hit mid levels in 3e.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Yup. Isn't that always the way in these kinds of conversations? Like how the Wizard supposedly makes the Rogue superfluous because they can just cast Knock and remove one of the prime activities the Rogue can do?

But exactly how often are Wizard players actually voluntarily stepping on their fellow Rogue player's toes by always preparing Knock and always casting it, even when that perfectly serviceable Rogue is in the party to take care of the issue? Especially without them needing to alert the entire dungeon with the massive gong sound when the Knock spell gets cast?

Is the Wizard player really taking Knock and supplanting the Rogue in the group (rather than using that prepared spell for something more useful), or is it just that we think in the general sense the Wizard as a class CAN supplant the Rogue (even though in actuality they almost never do) and we get all persnickety about that? Are these issues actually happening at tables, or is it all just whiteroom theorizing (like so many complaints actually are) and we feel the need to "solve" these whiteroom issues that don't actually show up during gameplay for 99% of tables out there?
Well, the out of combat stuff I think is mostly a fighter problem. The rogue is fine.

In combat is where the problems are less hypothetical, and more just perspective and group dependent.

But the thing is, there are a metric ton of ways to bridge the gap for folks who experience the issues, without screwing up the game for those who donā€™t.

I donā€™t think anyone is gonna cry about the fighter being able to break magic walls, craft a masterwork sword that isnā€™t magic but act as magic, do physical tasks at the level of real humans (the rules are often below that bar), etc.
 

But these threads are in no way, shape, or form representative of players on the whole. This statement is like going to the Annual Purple Convention and being salty about how everyone seems to like purple, and nothing else.
Or like going to a forum of hardcore players and people that care about balance and arguing that fighters are popular, so they donā€™t have balance problems? šŸ˜€
 

Remove ads

Top