D&D 5E Why Has D&D, and 5e in Particular, Gone Down the Road of Ubiquitous Magic?

S'mon

Legend
Having ubiquitous magic is a good way to justify having a third of the Player's Handbook made up with spell lists.

With regards to 'spell-less Rangers' and the like from 4E, did they have Powers or not? Aside from the nomenclature, most of the spells tend to do the same thing as the powers did. Maybe the issue is just in calling them 'spells'.

4e PHB Ranger powers are stuff like "shoot 3 arrows at once" or "strike with both blades for
lots of damage" - some have control effects but it's mostly just MOAR DAMAGE. :D
 

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Libramarian

Adventurer
That's a matter of perception, and I find yours to not seem very clear considering that you acknowledge that they are the class with access to the "best" magical spells - but you omit that in every other case of what they have (historically speaking, since it isn't as true in 4th and 5th edition as the editions before those) it is the least of what any classes get.

Smallest hit dice. Fewest armor and weapon proficiencies. Worst THAC0/BAB scaling. Even the worst saving throw progression in the TSR era.

They get spells, albeit the "best" selection, and they get (basically) nothing else - I can't think of anything other than focus to call that.

Wizards are weak without their spells because magic corrupts in some sense. It has a cost.

Wizards use magic as a technology*. They are not beings of magic (that would be the Sorcerer).

*Not to say that magic is a science. The original idea (inspired by sword & sorcery literature, particularly Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories) was that wizards covet and hoard spells like indigenous peoples traded for guns.

Remember that in old editions magic was the only way to get spike damage and "this happens now" utility abilities. That was worth feeling like an old man in a bathrobe most of the time.
 


It's hard to be all cool and magical, when after the first encounter, you kinda just shoot a crossbow. It takes away the whole cool and magical thing really quick. There really isn't much more to say.
It's hard to be cool and magical, when magic isn't cool anymore because it's so commonplace. At-will magic would have been incredibly impressive in AD&D, in the context of powerful spellcasters who could only prepare a handful of spells each day. At-will magic isn't impressive at all in the context of 4E or 5E, where every wizard can cast all day, and each spell is strictly less impressive than an equally-accomplished swordsperson just wailing on a guy. Even though modern wizards look super powerful at first glance, the change in context means they really aren't so much.

(A similar issue occurred with healing. One of the goals of 4E was to kill the heal-bot archetype, which was widely considered to be unpopular but mandatory. A healer in 4E was supposed to be more versatile, because basic healing was a swift action and everyone had healing surges to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, due to the change in context, the actual healing spells stopped being impressive at all - the basic implementation was only allowed the potency of a swift action, and the actual spend-an-action Cure spells couldn't fix anything that wouldn't heal naturally overnight anyway.)

It's all because players thought they knew what they wanted, but failed to account for the required changes to context that would bring them about. And so we're stuck with at-will magic that hits roughly as hard as punching someone in the nose. And that's unlikely to change anytime soon, because most players lack the foresight to understand that limiting their magic would allow it to be more impressive - you would never be able to sell them on going back to X spells per day, because they would understand the loss of at-will magic but wouldn't understand how much more magical those spells would seem.
 
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Libramarian

Adventurer
To you, it was worth it. To many people, clearly, it absolutely was not.

Sure. But I don't think the fact that the game has gone in a certain direction over the years evidences without a doubt that that's how most people would prefer things. I think people underestimate how much the evolution of the game has been the result of the prejudices of a handful of designers.

It would be stronger evidence if the early editions did not sell well, and it was only after these changes were made that the game exploded in popularity and influenced fantasy gaming forever. But of course that's not really what's happened.

I like 5e but I would be very surprised if people are still playing it in 35 years the way that there are still people playing AD&D today.
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
And that's unlikely to change anytime soon, because most players lack the foresight to understand that limiting their magic would allow it to be more impressive - you would never be able to sell them on going back to X spells per day, because they would understand the loss of at-will magic but wouldn't understand how much more magical those spells would seem.

That's more than a little condescending isn't it?

As someone who enjoys playing casters and has done so across several editions, I understand full well that at-will magic makes magic a more frequent occurrence when casters are present to cast spells.

However, your argument has a few flaws in it.

Yes, at-will spells are not terribly impressive because they are an at-will resource and are designed not to be overwhelming when used every round. And yes, the more restricted spells have much greater potential for impressive effects than at-will spells do because of how powerful they can be when properly designed around the expenditure of limited resources. However, the fact that lesser magic exists and can be used more often than powerful magic does not make magic as a whole less impressive. If it did, then the presence of first level spells would also be making ninth level spells less impressive.

Magic is a lot like fireworks in this regard. At-wills are sparklers and the more restricted spells are the mortars: and no one thinks that sparklers detract from the impressive detonations of the mortar-style fireworks.

Also, your remark that magic is more impressive when you don't normally see it could easily apply to anything else: food tastes better when you haven't eaten in a week; encounters are more exciting when you go six adventures in a row without having any of them; and a small pouch of coins is more impressive when you've completed dozens of quests without any rewards.
 

RCanine

First Post
It's driven, I expect, by the McDonald's Effect.

While this post is phrased pejoratively, I think it's generally right. The better way to say it, I think, is that it's bad design to make a game whose core premise is that half of the players feel useless at any given time. As D&D has matured and the designers have gotten better at their craft, the later editions are designed so that everyone can feel powerful throughout the life of the game.

Now, I think that's all well and good, but the problem with the Potterization of D&D is the option missed by this post:

And for some, it isn't even exactly that it is "more fun" - just that there are two options available, and it seems like there is no reason not to go with the second option.

For clarity, these are the options I speak of:
1) Make characters that focus on magic use (i.e. wizards) use non-magical means more often than they use magical means.
2) Make characters that focus on magic use (i.e. wizards) use magical means more often than they use non-magical means.

The third option being:

3) Let characters that focus on magic use (i.e. wizards) use magical means as often as they want, but magic is fickle and dangerous to use.

The problem I see with a lot of the magic in D&D is it's 100% good at what it does. There's no risk​ in dropping a fireball. A +3 weapon is just better than a non-magical version. There's no risk or opportunity cost. There's no chance of loss or damage. As a result, magic becomes humdrum because there's no reason not to use it.
 

Also, your remark that magic is more impressive when you don't normally see it could easily apply to anything else: food tastes better when you haven't eaten in a week; encounters are more exciting when you go six adventures in a row without having any of them; and a small pouch of coins is more impressive when you've completed dozens of quests without any rewards.
That doesn't make it less true, though. Traditionally, magic is impressive at least partially because it's rare. When it's not rare, it stops being impressive on that merit, and so you're left to judge it by its utility function.

That's the topic of this thread. Magic doesn't feel magical anymore, because it's everywhere. I don't know how we could possibly make it feel inherently awesome - aside from its utility function - without making it much less common.

You could also make food and money seem more special, if you greatly restricted access to that in the game, but the difference between that and magic is that people have real-world experience with food and money. Most players, in the real world, have enough food and money to get by; making their characters suffer in that regard makes them seem less capable than the players are in the real world, which is a hard sell for a game that many use as a power fantasy. For contrast, a wizard who can cast one Fireball per day is still infinitely​ more magical than anyone is in the real world.
 
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MechaPilot

Explorer
That doesn't make it less true, though. Traditionally, magic is impressive at least partially because it's rare. When it's not rare, it stops being impressive on that merit, and so you're left to judge it by its utility function.

That's the topic of this thread. Magic doesn't feel magical anymore, because it's everywhere. I don't know how we could possibly make it feel inherently awesome - aside from its utility function - without making it much less common.

It's worth asking the question whether or not making magic impressive through rarity is worth doing, because one certainly could apply that to other areas of the game (as I mentioned). Is what you get worth what you lose? Naturally, that's a matter of opinion, there will therefore be no hard and fast answer that applies to all people.

I think you and I might agree that only getting one little pouch of coins after doing a dozen quests might make monetary rewards more impressive, but the trade-off is likely not worth it as the characters (and very possibly the players) will get sick of risk with little chance of any reward. Removing at-will magic is a similar thing. Sure, it might make the big outbursts of magic more impressive, but there are certainly some players who will wonder why they aren't playing a non-wizard if they're going to spend most of their time with a crossbow in their hands.
 

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