D&D General Thinking about Cantrips (building from 3.5/PF/4e/5e/A5E)

Staffan

Legend
This part of cantrips is awesome.

It's the impact of unlimited ranged weapons that is off-putting to me, still after so many years of 5e. The combat cantrips "so they don't just keep using a crossbow" are more effective than any crossbow.
They might be more effective than a crossbow in the hands of a wizard, but they're nowhere near as good as the attacks of a martial. Martials get to add ability score to damage to each attack, often have magic weapons, and usually have abilities that make their attacks even stronger. A 5th level fighter with a longsword and dueling style makes two attacks that each deal 1d8+6 (plus magic) points, one who's an archer makes two attacks at 1d8+4 but at +2 to hit, while a 5th level caster casting a cantrip makes one attack dealing 2d4 to 2d10. The fighter is way ahead, and that's as it should be, but it's nice for the caster to have something to contribute while either out of spells or if conserving spell slots.

Okay, I've been wondering about this for years, but I've always kept my mouth shut because I don't think I'm informed enough about the different D&D editions to make this judgment. What I've wondered--and it relates to the complaints about casters being overpowered--is the following: what would happen if the game got rid of all damage-dealing cantrips?
Being a low-level caster would be less fun, but it wouldn't really affect higher-level casters much because their proper spells are where their power is.
 

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It's the impact of unlimited ranged weapons that is off-putting to me, still after so many years of 5e. The combat cantrips "so they don't just keep using a crossbow" are more effective than any crossbow.
In general, cantrips aren't more effective than a crossbow, except for the caster themselves. A martial with a weapon is going to out damage cantrips until at least level 11, and at least the fighter will continue to do so until level 17. Cantrips often have kicker effects to make up for this loss of damage, with the lower damage dice cantrips generally having better effects. Cantrips primary benefit is to remove the reliance on a secondary "attack ability score," such as Dex. I keep using the word general, because there are exceptions, such as Toll of the Dead, which annoyingly break the mold.

If you have such an issue with the attack cantrips, you can simply ban them as a DM. This will force PC casters to fall back on crossbows, but they'll likely be dealing similar amounts of damage (they're just less likely to hit). One likely consequence will be an increased desire for Long Rests, since they're going to use spell slots more frequently. I saw the idea of completely removing damaging spells, which I think is a really cool idea for certain campaigns (although it does neuter certain sub-classes).
 

In general, cantrips aren't more effective than a crossbow, except for the caster themselves. A martial with a weapon is going to out damage cantrips until at least level 11,
Unlimited vs limited, so even if the damage is slightly better at 3rd level. The fighter runs out and the wizard doesn't.
 




Unlimited vs limited, so even if the damage is slightly better at 3rd level. The fighter runs out and the wizard doesn't.
If you're a ranged focused martial, you should never run out of ammo (barring stuff being destroyed). Your standard quiver/case holds 20, and you can recover half your spent ammo. You can easily carry an additional 2-3 "reloads" packed away to use between combats. This means that you can have up to 90 shot during an adventure, not counting any ammo you take from fallen enemies. You're technically correct, but actual gameplay shows this difference negligible/irrelevant.
 

The problem with nerfing or removing damage cantrips in 5ed is that it was done for a balance reason. Spells no longer scale with level and got their damage fixed to slots. Spell slots were drastically reduced compared to their 1ed and 2ed counter parts. Magic items were also drastically reduced. Wands had 100 charges and could be used until they ran out of them. The user of a wand of fire was not limited to 7 fireballs per day but could cast up to 50 if needed.

The same goes along with the lessen spell slots, a 20th level 1ed wizard could cast 5/5/5/5/5/4/3/3/2. Compare this to the pitiful 4/3/3/3/3/2/2/1. And the fact that the fireballs of the 1ed wizard would do up to 20d6, his magic missiles would do 10d4+10. The 5th edition wizard without cantrip simply can't do the same amount of damage. Upcast is great, but hardly on par with what the 1ed wizard could do. All this was to give a fighting chance to the wizard. With only 1 attack per round, if the wizard misses, it's over while the martial can have at least two chances to hit and be meaningful. Even the rogue can use a bonus action to get a second chance for a sneak.

The wizard came from being the main damage dealer of a group at high level to a support cast better at control than damage. Even his ability to boost the other offensive capacity or his own defenses have been reduced through the concentration mechanic.

So... what is the problem with having powerful cantrips when the wizard has been, in all but name, almost completely defanged? And here you could add the sorcerer too.


Yes they are still pretty much powerful, that much is obvious. But they are no longer on the scale of 1ed. If you truly want to reduce or remove cantrips then you have to augment the amount of spell slots and make damage from spells not only rise by spell slots but also by level. Otherwise, the casters will no longer be a treath. Unless that is your goal and not see anyone eager to play a caster?
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
The same goes along with the lessen spell slots, a 20th level 1ed wizard could cast 5/5/5/5/5/4/3/3/2. Compare this to the pitiful 4/3/3/3/3/2/2/1. And the fact that the fireballs of the 1ed wizard would do up to 20d6, his magic missiles would do 10d4+10. The 5th edition wizard without cantrip simply can't do the same amount of damage. Upcast is great, but hardly on par with what the 1ed wizard could do. All this was to give a fighting chance to the wizard.
Speaking as someone who only plays martial character most of the time, even I would have preferred if they'd pick one of the ''nerf'': less slots OR no auto-scaling with level.

I personally dislike that cantrips, the lesser of all spells, can auto-scale to beat the damage of slot-restricted spells.

Maybe one option could have been to reduce the spell slots like they did, and have the spells auto-scale, but not with the caster's level, but with their Proficiency bonus.

Ex: a fireball deals 5d6 + 1d6 per PB point. Magic missile is 1 missile + a number of missile equal to PB.
 

Speaking as someone who only plays martial character most of the time, even I would have preferred if they'd pick one of the ''nerf'': less slots OR no auto-scaling with level.

I personally dislike that cantrips, the lesser of all spells, can auto-scale to beat the damage of slot-restricted spells.

Maybe one option could have been to reduce the spell slots like they did, and have the spells auto-scale, but not with the caster's level, but with their Proficiency bonus.

Ex: a fireball deals 5d6 + 1d6 per PB point. Magic missile is 1 missile + a number of missile equal to PB.
I too find that cantrip autoscaling is not very elegant, but is is better than nothing. Considering that the casters have been nerfed in spell slots, damage and also through the concentration mechanic.

The fact that cantrips will outdamage low level spells is not that bad either though. It just means that at some point, the caster will shift the spell selection toward utility spells and rely on cantrips for damaging his opponents. A high level wizard will use most of his 1st level spell slots on shield spells anyways... And so far, Blur is the most used 2nd level spell of all with misty step a very close second. So many choices reduced to only two...
 
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HammerMan

Legend
So, thinking about Cantrips for a world that isn't designed to be too magical (say spells cap out at 3rd or 4th level usually and magic isn't directly widely integrated into day to day life of most people to the point that stereotypical medieval level tech and commerce seems strange to have)...
yeah I DON'T see D&D (any edition) as a real medieval setting, any more then I see Harry Potter or Harry Dresden as a modern setting. They are HIGH Fantasy takes on those with anachronisms and out right just strange things.

The Artificer and Warlocks really cement those thoughts
In PF, 4e, and 5e, the cantrips have the unified idea of the things the wizard knows well enough to just do. (Whereas in 3.5 they're just adding a 0-level to the usual Vancian thing). The power level of the three with actual cantrips seems to go 4e < PF < 5e.
tbf 4e ALSO had damage at wills (magic missle, heck scorching burst we used to call 'I can't believe it's not fireball'
It feels odd to me to be able to cast any of them for hours on end with no side effect. I mean, sure, the warrior can do that with sword swings, but I don't picture a market for that like there might be for light spells or mending. And for the more potent firebolt or acid splash, it doesn't seem to fit with a lot of the inspirational fiction I'm used to.
I don't know. In most stories (out side of dying earth by jack vance) we don't see casters really need to prep or strain to cast that much... and like you said, fighters swing an axe all day.
What if the cantrips used something like the exertion pool that martial characters use to power combat maneuvers in A5e?
Dont know what that is, but sure you could limit them... my first gut reaction would be Int mod + prof times per short rests, with 1 combat one remaining at will (be honest after 1st level 5+ times per short rest is pretty much at will... and at 20th that is 11 times each per short rest)
  • As the caster levels, gradually being able to add 1st level spells to the cantrip list?
this I love. especially I think Detect Magic should be an at will
 

Magic weapons and the mechanics of them are very much within RAW, as is the simple fact of who does more damage when between weapon users & can trip casters . What are you trying to say?
The assumption that every martial will get the exact weapons to maximize their build isn't supported by RAW.

Whereas damaging cantrips are explicitly unlimited, explicitly increasing in damage, explicitly with riders. None of that is true for a weapon attack. We don't need to pretend it is
 

HammerMan

Legend
my default is to remake wizards/clerics/Bards/sorcerers/druids (all full casters) as half casters... sort of.

Take the warlock chasie, a small handful of spells per short rest, 1 really good damage cantrip, and then give them mini feats to get other ways to get at wills (including things like Detect magic, maybe even detect thoughts, but the speak w/____s)(pactt of the tome gettting ritual caster 'all' and a handful of out of class cantrips. Do this with the artificer chart of what levels they can cast (so again 5th or 6th level spells max)

where does this leave the warlock... shrug, no clue. but artificer infusions and warlock invocations I think is the way to go for more limited low magic
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
The assumption that every martial will get the exact weapons to maximize their build isn't supported by RAW.

Whereas damaging cantrips are explicitly unlimited, explicitly increasing in damage, explicitly with riders. None of that is true for a weapon attack. We don't need to pretend it is
You are placing the goalposts on rollerskate's and zipping them about. None of that was implied. The only build specific element in post 21 was dueling fighting style & tashas even introduced rules to change fighting styles. Even if the fighting style is not changed though the disparity is great enough that the cantrip user in that example still loses to an option the martial wasn't built to maximize
 

payn

Legend
PF2e cantrips are even more powerful that 1e, though perhaps it balances out with 5e since they gain in power, more or less, with each slot level gained. So the cantrip electric arc deals 1d4+spellcasting mod to up to 2 targets, at level 5 this would be 3d4+spellcasting mod. There are some differences, acid splash gains in power every other increase but it also deals splash damage and if it cries it deals a small amount of persistent acid damage. You can also cast them at will as in 5e. I'm sure the damage is in line with expected numbers in PF2e but it would still fail for expected output for those that think it spellcasters shouldn't be able to continually cast them.
Another thing with PF2 is that cantrips are often better than the actual spells in severe/extreme fights. A lot of this has to do with the +/lvl system since it makes higher level foes have massive defenses. For some, this makes the game more tactical, and gives martials a stronger feel in combat. For me though, it feels strange for cantrips to outshine higher level spells.

I did like it better in 5E than I thought I would. In past editions, it was always a guessing game as to which spells to prep for the day. With unlimited attack cantrips it took the pressure to prep offensive spells off a bit, so utility spells felt better prepping.

My point I guess, is that cantrips are not just a fictional element in the game. Playing around with how they work makes system differences that also need to be considered.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Okay, I've been wondering about this for years, but I've always kept my mouth shut because I don't think I'm informed enough about the different D&D editions to make this judgment. What I've wondered--and it relates to the complaints about casters being overpowered--is the following: what would happen if the game got rid of all damage-dealing cantrips?

In the old days what happened was the low level wizard was a small sack of meat that needed to be protected by the fighters and could contribute to the battle sometimes by throwing a dagger every once in a while and maybe getting a lucky hit in. If you were a wizard whose DM "allowed" you to pick your own spells or if you rolled randomly well enough, you could throw out a sleep spell to shut down a single battle.

If you could get your sack of meat to survive until 5th level then you were far enough into the exponential curve that by that point you could start out fighting the fighter in battles, but since a) wizards needed more XP to get to 5th level and b) lots of games didn't last much beyond 5th level you often didn't get to see that part of the curve.

In 3e it got a bit better in that wizards were allowed to use crossbows (poorly) and the unified XP table meant that you got to 5th level when everyone else did and as a consequence you got that part of the power curve. But the first few levels even in 3e are still basically hiding behind the fighter as judiciously using your spells only when needed until you are far enough into the exponential curve to start making an impact.

If the game went back to such a model, wouldn't many of the complaints about overpowered casters kind of go away? Because in this case the martial classes really would be needed. Or am I misremembering this and damage-dealing cantrips were in there right from 1e??? I just don't recall ever seeing them, you know?
No, because the problem that damage dealing cantrips solve is a low level problem while casters don't get overpowered until higher levels. The damage from cantrips scales roughly the same as the damage that fighters do (actually IME through at least level 10 the fighters are out damaging any caster that is primarily using cantrips to attack instead of using more powerful spells - since I have one caster who will only use cantrips until it absolutely becomes necessary that she use a slot to cast a spell and I watch this dynamic in action).

It's the impact of unlimited ranged weapons that is off-putting to me, still after so many years of 5e. The combat cantrips "so they don't just keep using a crossbow" are more effective than any crossbow.
Is this really an impact in play rather than in theory? I've never had a game where players ran out of ammo even when we actually track it. I could have exceptional players who are on the ball and always calculate how much ammo they should buy, but given that the group I'm thinking of actually managed to enter a dungeon without anyone putting rope on their character sheet I highly doubt it.
 
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In years of playing, I never had an archer close to say "I about to fire my last arrow". At four arrows per round, an archer needs 40 arrows to last 10 rounds. Two quivers are enough. A friend can carry some more and the mending cantrip ensure that more arrows are recovered after every fights. At higher levels, a bag of holding or a quiver of Ehlonna will make sure that you will never have a lack of amunitions.

Also, it is often seen that an archer learn the skill.bowyer/fletcher and make replacement arrows/munitions during travel time and during rests.

If you want to see more martial and less casters or less multiclassing into casting make cantrips level with class level and not total levels. These 1 or two level dips of paladinlock and sorlock will disappear very fast.

And maybe bring back minimum stat to cast certain spell levels might do. Int minus 10 would tell you the maximum level you could hope to cast. Or put a minimum stat to actually be able to do a class. A pure caster might need a 15 in its relevant stat? A half.caster might need only a 13. This would further reduce the amount of casters and half casters.
 

HammerMan

Legend
In years of playing, I never had an archer close to say "I about to fire my last arrow". At four arrows per round, an archer needs 40 arrows to last 10 rounds. Two quivers are enough. A friend can carry some more and the mending cantrip ensure that more arrows are recovered after every fights. At higher levels, a bag of holding or a quiver of Ehlonna will make sure that you will never have a lack of amunitions.
this is why I stopped tracking it... like, if YOU want to, cool, if not cool too. Everytime I say "We are going to track XXX" it just turns into a race to find ways that you never run out of XXX... time that could be spent doing other things.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Speaking as someone who only plays martial character most of the time, even I would have preferred if they'd pick one of the ''nerf'': less slots OR no auto-scaling with level.

I personally dislike that cantrips, the lesser of all spells, can auto-scale to beat the damage of slot-restricted spells.

Maybe one option could have been to reduce the spell slots like they did, and have the spells auto-scale, but not with the caster's level, but with their Proficiency bonus.

Ex: a fireball deals 5d6 + 1d6 per PB point. Magic missile is 1 missile + a number of missile equal to PB.
yeah, is there a reason that most cantrips can't just scale with stat?

Fire bolt starts as 1d8 fire... at level 5 becomes 1d8+int mod fire. at level 11 becomes 1d10+int mod fire, at level 17 become 2d8+int mod fire.

Heck make eldritch blast start t 1d8, and still give it an extra attack at 5,11,and 17 but add the +cha mod right in from the start
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
yeah, is there a reason that most cantrips can't just scale with stat?

Fire bolt starts as 1d8 fire... at level 5 becomes 1d8+int mod fire. at level 11 becomes 1d10+int mod fire, at level 17 become 2d8+int mod fire.

Heck make eldritch blast start t 1d8, and still give it an extra attack at 5,11,and 17 but add the +cha mod right in from the start
That doesn't actually accomplish much to fix the problem. Wotc pointed at a problem that existed in 3.x under some conditions & identified a few ways that they could each address it individually then implimented all of them
 

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