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

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Thanks for the responses so far. Rather than quote everyone or make a dozen replies, here's one with a few broad responses.

Mundane equivalents. While that is a good idea in general, it doesn't solve the problem. Taking 1 action and burning a spell slot to achieve what would otherwise take 100s of gold or weeks to months to accomplish can't really be balanced against each other. Besides, there's nothing stopping the wizard from spending 100s of gold or weeks to months to accomplish those same things. So focusing on that isn't a buff to martials in any real sense.

Expanded martials. While I really love the idea, there's only so far you can go before you get into explicitly magical territory and, unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are resistant to the idea of magical martials. I don't agree, but I get it. So taking the martial as far as possible while keeping them non-magical is something I'd like to see done. Trouble is, at best you could only get within striking distance of the wizard this way, not actually reach parity.

Take three spells as an example. Fly. Even expanding the fighter to near-magical proportions, the closest you could get to fly would be something like the monk's wall running. As long as you end your turn on a flat surface or somewhere you can hold on, you can run along surfaces. But that still falls short.

Fireball and Lightning Bolt. Basically the same spell with swapped damage type and AoE templates. For the fighter, this could easily be something like a swift attack down a line of movement (lightning bolt) or among a cluster of enemies (fireball). But this quickly runs into the "disassociated mechanics" problem. If this is something the fighter could do, why can't they just keep doing it? Limiting things with some kind of resource spend will always elicit a "that's just magic with a different word" style response.

This problem gets worse the higher level you get. There's just no way to balance wish against anything a fighter could do.

The more resistant wizard players are to nerfs the more of a problem this becomes. If the casters can't be reigned in, even a little, then the non-casters have to be buffed a lot.
The wizard can easily respec any day by just picking different spells. It is more flexible and more powerful.
To me, this is the core of the problem. This is where the modern version of LFQW comes from. The fighter just gets better at fighting. The wizard gets better at fighting...and accumulates an incredibly vast amount of utility via spells. To the point that some other classes are made redundant.
 

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ichabod

Legned
One thing I've done which has helped a little is to say that all spells with somatic components provoke attacks of opportunity. And if the attack of opportunity hits you have to make a concentration check. I have two exceptions to this: spells that involve a melee spell attack and spells that have an area of effect starting next to you.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
A few concrete changes I would make:

# Encounters before regaining spells. Number one issue. I know that a "recharge after six encounters" type of non-narrative approach like 13th Age won't fly, but then bring in Gritty Rest as the default. Set expectations for 5-8 encounters between getting spells back, with sometimes less and an equal number of times more.
OR. Nerf combat magic. Right now high level slots are multiple times as efficient per action then at-wills, so we need multiple actions of cantrips to bring down the per-action average. If combat spells did less, this wouldn't be nearly as much need to run casters out of slots and have cantrips in play. But I'm not looking to nerf, so the first one is my preferred.

Enable heroic fantasy trope levels of skill usage. There are plenty of different choices of where to gate this behind, but up what can be done with skills. Tier 2 or 3 characters proficient in athletics or acrobatics should be able to do what we see in wuxia films - great leaps up, fighting while balancing on tree branches, etc. A T1 character with proficiency in Animal Handling could stop animals from going hostile. A T3 with expertise should be able to calm a charging mother bear and cuddle with the cubs. Some of this coolness should have mechanical effects in combat, and not just ad hoc ones from a DM.
 

Zubatcarteira

Now you're infected by the Musical Doodle
They're not strictly a caster/martial issue, but I'd say the two biggest ones would be:
  • Too much hard crowd control, a lot of spells make the target just be able to do nothing for a while, and that's from level 1. Makes it too swingy against enemies, and horrible against players when half party disappears against an upcast banishment.
  • Too many saving throws, with three being the main focus (Dex, Con and Wis), but at least two more having horrible effects that can end you immediately (Cha and Int). You pretty much can't cover them all, and Resilient Con or Wis are quite mandatory at higher levels. Even then, you can reasonably wipe a high level party with some very low CR mages, in a way that low CR martial enemies never could with the same numbers. Monsters can have arbitrarily high saves and LRs to save them, but I've found players pretty vulnerable to save or suck spells at higher levels.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
5e kinda designed against the path used to avoid problematic gaps that once prevented creating a new one when it tried to make magic items "optional" & pretty much made consumables permanent or bust by making so many of them self recharging rather than a set number of charges.

Having it linked to magic items under the control of the GM was important in how it allowed the GM to grease the wheels in ways that fit the table in a balanced way while making them consumable allowed adaptive growth with excess eventually correcting itself. It's easy to say that people who don't see the stated problem should just "move on", but any "fix" that fails to account for it being a nonuniversal problem is just inverting things for people at tables who don't see it
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Note this is a plus thread.

If your response to the thread title is any variation of "nothing" or "there is no problem" or "I haven't experienced this problem" or "I like that this is a problem," then this thread isn't for you. Please keep that comment to yourself and move on.

The premise of the thread is: in D&D 5E there is a caster / non-caster gap and casters dominate non-casters.

If you want to argue against the premise of the thread, then this thread isn't for you. Please keep those comments to yourself and move on.

#

So the question is: what specifically can D&D 5E do to fix this problem?

The two obvious broad solutions are varying degrees of nerf the casters and buff the non-casters.

Cool. But how?
Do you mean WotC (as in, WotC needs to do this), or will you entertain 3pp or honebrew solutions?
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Let non casters be heroic without needing magic. In a fantasy world where crazy stuff can happen, it makes sense that mundane skills can do fantastic things without people needing to justify it with, “oh, they must be magical in some way, or the son of a deity”. In a fantastic setting, not every skill needs to follow natural physical laws because, ina world of magical beasts, physics doesn’t always work the way people would expect.

Once people can bridge that gap, then fighters and rogues can be given abilities and powers that aren’t copies of existing spells but, instead, powerful tools that can do mythic things.

I’m all for boosting non casters rather than needing magic.
Assuming mundane isn't mundane is definitely not a solution that will work for everybody.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
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 the 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)?
The 4e solution is absolutely not going to work for everyone.
 

Expanded martials. While I really love the idea, there's only so far you can go before you get into explicitly magical territory and, unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are resistant to the idea of magical martials. I don't agree, but I get it. So taking the martial as far as possible while keeping them non-magical is something I'd like to see done. Trouble is, at best you could only get within striking distance of the wizard this way, not actually reach parity.

Take three spells as an example. Fly. Even expanding the fighter to near-magical proportions, the closest you could get to fly would be something like the monk's wall running. As long as you end your turn on a flat surface or somewhere you can hold on, you can run along surfaces. But that still falls short.

Fireball and Lightning Bolt. Basically the same spell with swapped damage type and AoE templates. For the fighter, this could easily be something like a swift attack down a line of movement (lightning bolt) or among a cluster of enemies (fireball). But this quickly runs into the "disassociated mechanics" problem. If this is something the fighter could do, why can't they just keep doing it? Limiting things with some kind of resource spend will always elicit a "that's just magic with a different word" style response.
People don't seem to have an issue with the BM and other fighters getting non-magical resources back on a short rest. There is already a caster that gets fireballs back on a short rest.

This problem gets worse the higher level you get. There's just no way to balance wish against anything a fighter could do.
Maybe not Wish, but an ability replicating Foresight sounds like something a legendary martial could just have. Likewise deflecting or avoiding all damage for a period, executing someone below 100HP. Even Time Stop sounds like simply the next stage of Action Surge's evolution. A single blow that cuts clean through an object or a person sounds like a martial equivalent of Disintegrate. Blade Wind is already a spell that steals the Fighter's schtick, so the fighter getting a non-teleporting equivalent shouldn't be an issue.

While the usage mechanics might be different, many spells can be mined for concepts and to establish a power level for other abilities.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Two solutions I like:

1. Go back to TSR-style spellcasting restrictions and/or dangerous spellcasting. Obvious it doesn't have to be exactly the same, but making it harder to learn, find, and cast spells provides balance without having to do a lot of nerfing of spells (probably a little nerfing though). Combine this with actually letting fighters be the best at fighting (through higher numbers, bringing back a multiple cleave mechanic, or some other way), and Bob's your uncle.

2. Use better martial classes. I recommend Level Up's fighter, marshal and rogue. If that's not enough, add in a magical martial who gets to choose from a wide array of supernatural abilities as they level, with subclasses covering various themes.

Either option sounds workable from my perspective, depending on what flavor of D&D you want to play.
 


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