D&D 5E [+] Ways to fix the caster / non-caster gap

Scribe

Legend
Yes it can be defined.

Now I admit I'm a newbie here at Enworld but my understanding is that the point of a plus thread is that the OP is allowed to make certain assumptions and then we argue as if these assumptions are true.

I'm fine with the assumption at a high level. I'm curious about the detail so that some educated answers in regards to the assumption can be made, thats all.

The Devil is in the detail as they say. :D
 

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CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
martials need more skills/tools and bigger bonuses for them, skills/tools need to be capable of more and there needs to be set guidelines for what can be accomplished with them, like in previous editions where a rogue could balance on a cloud with acrobatics or whatever the equivilant was then, or if you have an athletics bonus of +10 you get +5ft movespeed and a climb and swim speed of 15ft, at +20 athletics those speeds increase, smith's tools can be used to add an extra edge to your weapon, make sure there's an actual array of viable poisons to use with the poisoners kit, or salves with herbalism kit.

there ought to be a much more extensive system of standard combat maneuvres/mechanics, make tripping, shoveing or goading viable combat choices not last resorts and let you perform one per attack, plus alot of neat tricks are locked behind feats that should just be baseline, this includes stuff you can do with weapons, like the piercer, crusher and slasher feat effects or defensive duelist's 'parrying' reaction when using a finesse weapon.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The only nerf to casters I'd be willing to support are making spellcasting more interruptible.

Action spells could have opportunity attacks, and war caster could make it so you can cast without them creating a feat cost to being a caster in the thick of it

Mage Slayer feat should interrupt the spell and force a save to avoid wasting the action

More defense against spells....spells, especially group defense spells. Let the casters nerf eachother a bit

Add more special options to feats and martial classes that let them interfere with enemy actions

Maybe make some combat spells go off later in the round than when they're cast

Let weapons harm and break persistent spell effects, and thieves tools and arcana training to mess with complex persistent magic

Do some or all of that, and let martial characters do more. Every tiny bonus to movement, make it dramatic. Explicitly let skills increase speed, jump, ignore difficult terrain, etc, just for a baseline. As martials level, they can do things like climbing like an Assassin's Creed character, jump over 20ft gaps, etc.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
First, applause for making this a "+" thread so it (hopefully) won't get bogged down in the same old debates.

The short answer: get rid of Vancian spellcasting.

The long answer: the issue between magical and non-magical classes is, at it's core, based on a perceived difference in resource allocation. The classic "martial" doesn't have many abilities that are per diem; what resources they expend (other than the ur-resource, hit points) are generally far more easily regained than spell slots.

Because spell slots are a limited resource, design follows that they have a large impact when used; the Fighter does more damage consistently each turn all day long than a Wizard's fireball, but the fireball has a huge splashy impact on the battlefield to make up for it.

(Obviously, some classes skirt the line here; the Barbarian is based around a powerful daily resource, and the Warlock is based around getting spell slots back easily.)

So the first step in this solution is to get everyone on the same resource track. If everyone is balanced against doing their "thing" each turn/encounter, there's not going to be an issue where a spellcaster can use more resources than intended, ie, a low or no-encounter day, where they can transform their excess spell slots into out of combat advantages and increased narrative ability.

The second step is to sit down and decide, once and for all, what magic can do, and what magic cannot do, and what it means to be magical in a world where everyone is magical. Quote:

Player's Handbook page 205

"The worlds with in the D&D multiverse are magical places. All existence is suffused with magical power, and potential energy lies untapped in every rock, stream, and living creature, and even in the air itself. Raw magic is the stuff of creation, the mute and mindless will of existence, permeating every bit of matter and present in every manifestation of energy throughout the multiverse."

In this context, saying that one character can do things "because magic" and another cannot seems a bit strange- it likely could be that anyone can perform feats that only magic can enable, under the right circumstances. Obviously, there are some who don't want explicit magical warriors flying through the air and launching energy blasts at one another, and that's fine- but some baseline of "at some point, we expect everyone, even the Fighter, to augment their natural abilities with innate magic to accomplish superhuman feats, once the game has reached a point where one would need to be superhuman".

With boundaries clearly set in place, then step three is simply to decide what sacrifices must be made to balance what a semi-magical character (as eventually everyone will be, even if not initially) can accomplish vs. what a purely magical character can accomplish.

Rather than lean on the traditional balances of AC and hit points, which I feel are woefully archaic, perhaps a system where one where spells have a hit point cost (call it strain, and have it be a kind of damage that only resting can cure, not magic)?
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Make ALL Spell casting require Skill checks (via Spell attack bonus) - so no more autosuccess spells
Either nerf the utility spells or make them Ritual only.

Give out more skill feats to martials eg use medicine to heal, use intimidate to frieghten opponent
More skill feats eg let a archer use a bonus action+action to shoot a Barrage of Arrows
 

Oofta

Legend
I don't know exactly why some people hit this issue. It was absolutely a thing in 3.x - at a certain level casters completely dominated the game. So all I can do is describe what I do and what I've seen.

In no particular order:
  • Don't have a 5 minute work day. I typically have between 4 and 8 encounters (which may not be combat but use up resources) between long rests. I use the alternate rest rules where a short rest is overnight and a long rest is several days, usually a week and has to be in a relatively safe location. I do compensate by saying that any spell that lasts 30 minutes or more has the duration multiplied by 4.
  • Limit access to new spells. Other than the 2 spells you learn as a wizard when you level up, I rarely give out spell scrolls as treasure. In addition, I don't give a ton of gold to begin with so purchasing a scroll and scribing it into your spellbook is minimized simply because of the cost.
  • I nerf teleport and banishment a bit. This is also related how my campaign world works, but long distance teleport is extremely limited. You can banish summoned monsters as normal to send them back whence they came, but monsters that are not there temporarily are typically just put into a pocket dimension. You don't automatically learn any sigils for Teleportation Circle when you learn the spell.
  • Pay attention to what a spell does. A fireball starts unattended items on fire and is probably not a good idea to cast in town unless you're really into urban renewal. A person that was charmed remembers they were charmed. It's a short term gain for a significant long term penalty of creating enemies whenever you use it.
  • Enemies don't ignore the caster just because there are fighters in the room. That guy standing in the back is going to be the target of a flanking attack, at least now and then.
  • Use spells like Inner Sanctum and Hallow to prevent teleportation and, for Sanctum, scrying. These spells can be made permanent, so they're fairly common in places of power. Yes, they're expensive but so is a castle.
  • As a DM set up situations where magic simply isn't the answer, or at least not the only answer.
Other than that, I can't think of what I could be doing differently. I'm always conscious of who hasn't had the spotlight lately and trying to ensure that different people get their fair share.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I don't think I'd nerf casters, assuming this is for D&D (and not a heartbreaker).

What I would probably do is expand martial skills at low levels, to make them more versatile and well rounded. Around 5th level I'd begin introducing both combat and skill elements that are the peak of what a master might be realistically capable of (someone like Odysseus). At 11th level and beyond, I would have martials be explicitly superhuman in both skills and combat, ike Gilgamesh.

If I were designing a system from scratch, without the need to consider sacred cows, I'd change casters to be less versatile. You might have a pyromancer or an illusionist, but no generalist wizard. I'd set it up so that there was synergistic multiclassing across those classes, so that someone who wants fire magic but also illusions could have that, at the cost of being not as good at either of those schools than a more focused caster.

As for martials, they would probably be wuxia-inspired from the start, with a good base of skills to provide out of combat utility in addition to combat capabilities.

I suppose an easier way to balance martials might be to give them significantly more magic items than casters. I wouldn't go that route though, because I prefer a character to be defined by their class abilities more than their gear.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
One of the foundational changes to correct this is a mindset issue. Many players & DMs apply real-world simulation to parts that are not magic. "You can only long jump 20 feet*", for instance. With that * indicating "without magic". Casters and non-casters will never be equal in the various pillars of play as long as the people around both the gaming table and the design table mistakenly apply real world simulation as something that belongs anywhere near a game that should never be simulating the real world, instead should be simulating [heroic] fantasy tropes. A 30' giant can hit a barbarian with a literal perfect blow (crit, roll max damage) and the barbarian keeps fighting. That's not mimicing the real world. The tier 2 fighter can fall down 50' feel and always get back up and continue fighting. This is heroic or high fantasy.

That mindset needs to be changed if casters and non-casters are ever going to be on-par in the various pillars of play. A realistic mindset for simulation is toxic in perpetration of allowing magic freedom to do anything it says but reining in all skills and non-magic. It perpetrates the have and have-nots of manipulating the narrative.
 

Oofta

Legend
One thing I'm going to be trying with our next campaign (just had a session 0, and the only caster is a war cleric :oops: ) is to give everyone a feat at first level (variant humans will have 2). A lot of feats seem to help martial characters more than casters (maybe?) so it might be something to try. Alternatively just give fighters/barbarians/rogues a bonus feat.
 

On the basis of making more minor adjustments rather than actually-new-edition levels of change:

Give martials a pool of non-combat abilities to choose from. The issue with feats is that players will tend to prioritise combat capabilities until they are happy that they can keep themselves and their party alive during the most dangerous part of the game.
Having character choices that aren't directly combat-related would allow further growth into the other two pillars of play.
Such abilities should include options for a range of concepts from "I'm experienced, and just that badass", to those who favour spiky hairstyles and massively overcompensatory weapons, and they should either scale or have better options available at higher levels.

More enforcement of a full adventuring day at higher levels. If casters have to ration their spells rather more than a 3-encounter day pushes them to, then using spells slots for non-combat utility becomes much more of a cost/benefit analysis decision.
One poster who commonly comments in these threads has changed the basis for their game by using the gritty rest variant and making a lot of additional healing available. This has stretched out the martials' endurance compared with the spellcasters to the point that they no longer have a martial/caster disparity.

Introduce a new martial class with non-combat utility on par with a spellcaster. Actual mechanics and specific abilities would be different of course, but the level of options and overall capability would be of the same degree.
 

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