Monday, July 23, 2012

Fighters vs Wizards, A Simple Solution

One common complaint about D&D 3.5 is that spell casters completely outshine physically based characters (such as fighters, barbarians, rogues, rangers, etc.) at higher levels. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to the first group as “wizards” and the second group as “fighters.” In my experience, however, this isn’t much of a problem around levels 5-8. Below that level, if anything, wizards are weaker than the fighter type characters. This is one problem I think everyone would like to see fixed in the new version of the game.

The first question that must be answered is “why does this happen?” The idea that I would like to get across in this blog post is that fighters gain power relatively linearly, while wizards tend to gain power exponentially. As the fighter levels up, he gains some new abilities, which he can probably use fairly often, and he gains higher accuracy and damage. The wizard also gains similar advantages when leveling up in the form of new, more powerful spells. On the other hand, a wizard is built so that he or she can only use these abilities, spells, once a day each, though they are significantly more potent to make up for this fact. However, as the wizard levels up, the number of spells he or she gets each day keeps increasing. This eventually leads to wizards being able to use these super abilities almost as often as fighters get to swing their swords. Additionally, eventually the wizard's lower level spell slots are no longer needed for combat spells and can be dedicated to utility spells, allowing the wizard to usurp the roles of other classes. For instance, a wizard can use the knock spell, reducing the need for the rogues pick lock skill, or use divination to usurp the scout role.

However, this analysis of the problem suggests a simple solution: don’t continually increase the number of spells a wizard gets each day. For example, a 7th level wizard receives 10 spells a day, not counting bonus spells and zero level spells. Suppose we cap the number of spells a wizard can get in this manner at 10. Hence, at 8th level, when the wizard gains 3rd and 4th level spell slots, that wizard would also loose two first-level spell slots. Similarly, at 9th level, the wizard gains a 2nd level spell and a 5th level spell and thus would loose the remaining two first level spells slots. The wizard can still prepare 1st level spells with higher level slots as usual, perhaps taking advantage of metamagic feats. After this, the wizard would loose his or her lowest level spells slot each time he or she gains a new higher level spell slot. This, by my logic, should keep the wizard in tune with the fighter. It also allows a wizard to prepare utility spells that infringe on the roles of other classes without a problem, since it requires some sacrifice on the part of the wizard (less damage dealing spells) and there’s a limit on how many times the wizard can do it each day.

If this were to be used as a patch in a 3.5 game, you'd have to figure out what to do about bonus spells. Domain and School spells might only be received from spell levels that you have slots in, which stays true to the principle of capping the number of spells the wizard gets each day. As for the bonus spells gained from having a high ability score, a character might only get the four highest level bonus spells they would otherwise receive.

Finally, there is the problem that it’s no fun being a wizard that’s out of spells. To fix this, it would be good to have something like “zero level spells are at-will.” This would give the wizard something to do when he or she has spent their last spell or when they are trying to conserve spells for later. However, if this scheme is used, the damage dealing zero level spells will need to scale as the wizard levels up, otherwise they’ll become useless and the problem will reappear at higher levels. To be clear though, whatever at-will utility spells are available need to be strictly limited to keep them from letting the wizard do other classes’ jobs better, at-will.

For example, invisibility is a useful buff spell that should never be made at-will because it would usurp the stealth skill. However, a wizard might gain “x rounds of invisibility” where x is at most four, as a high level, at-will spell, since this is not as good as being a real master of stealth, but does make a good escape spell for the wizard.

Feel free to post your opinion. I admit that I’ve only been in a few high level games, so this only addresses the issue as I understand it. It would be good to hear from people with more experience with this problem as to whether or not this is a workable solution for future versions of the game. I'm not 100% sold on it myself, but I think it's an interesting idea.


  1. I still think that fighters and wizards are pretty comparable as they scale up for the simple fact that the fighter's feats are always "on" whereas the wizard's spells run out or need specific requirements in order to be successful.
    The truly broken class imo is the cleric, as they get no arcane spell failure, a decent hit die, can auto-switch to healing spells, and have the ability to change out spells every day.
    Frankly, one of the most annoying things to keep track of with spell-casting classes is the spell list. What I'd like to see is a mini-book of spells for each class with spells divided from 1-20 (and beyond?), corresponding to each level. Ditch the 0 level spells and turn them into the 1st level spells. The character can cast spells of their own level and below with a mana pool system (with the total number of points being dependent on level and wis/cha/int, plus other various modifiers). Level 1 spells cost 1 point, level 2 spells cost 2 points, etc. Perhaps Wizards could pick a school and cast their school spells an unlimited amount of times or for half points. Even the card system from 4th ed was great for spell-casters, if a bit cheesy.

    1. Kaellynn, thanks for the response! By the way, did you ever read my response to your post here?

      I didn't mean to pick on the wizard, I'm just using them as a place holder for all primary spell casters. But yes, I can see why a cleric is more broken, regardless of whether wizards are. I've also heard a lot of complaints about Druids, which are primary spell casters, get an animal companion that can outfight the fighter at high level, and can wild-shape on top of all that.

      My Skype group has been talking about running a high level game just to see which is really more broken, spell casters or martial classes. The problem is that everyone wants to play rather than DM and we already have a back log of games we want to play.

      By the way, have you ever tried Savage Worlds? I've only tried it once, last weekend, but it was a simple and fun system and the spell casters do use a mana pool system, though I haven't read though any more rules than I needed to build my character

  2. I think you missed several more reasons for the power discrepancy. It's not just that wizards get both more spells and more powerful spells. There are some other issues I've read about.

    1. Wizards, Duids, Clerics, and some others have access to an enormous range of spells. While they only prepare a fixed number each day, the pool they can choose from is (or becomes) huge. Giving them fewer castings per day would still allow them to usurp the rogue one day, the scout the next day, and the fighter the day after that. This is actually what places wizards a tier above sorcerers in the long run. I think limiting spells/day would just shorten the adventuring day, rather than nerfing the wizard.

    2. Casters can use Use Magic Device to use a "Wand of ___" to get those utility spells back anyway. This functionality would need to be nerfed.

    3. The most OP casters don't do damage. They mainly use save or die effects and so forth (remember how borked Tasha's Hideous Laughter was without even optimizing for it?) Casters getting to ignore HP is a huge part of the problem.

    1. Zaq, thanks for the comment! Your right, I hadn't thought about those things, though I never meant to claim that what I proposed above was a panacea for spell caster problems, just potentially a major step in the right direction.

      1. I'm fine with a wizard casting, say, mass invisibility one or even more times a day. This lets the whole party be steath types for a while, but the point is that it would carry a much higher cost to the wizard than in the current system.

      Also, remember that not everyone runs their games like you where the party gets one, maybe to fights in before an extended rest. If you're in a dungeon, you might have to face 5-10+ encounters before you get a chance to rest and regain spells. Then, there are ambushes, random encounters and wandering monsters that might hit the party even after then retreat to rest up.

      2. You're absolutely right about items, I hadn't thought about them. Thanks for bringing them up.

      3. I guess some spells should be rewritten, though I feel that if casters get less spells per day, there will be more leeway for those spells to be broken. Also, Pathfinder already has patches for some of those spells.

  3. I think my beef with spell casters is multi-tiered. Most of the problems have been covered by Zaq already. However one thing that must be said is that while spellcasters and their utility spells can be handy to have at times, there is always a danger that they become the go to person for any solution and that could potentially lead to problems.
    My own personal issues have to due with certain aspects. My first problem are the defensive spells. Some of them like mage armor are understandable and practical and don't snap the system in half like a twig. The break down comes when spell casters get certain spells that take their supposed weakness and break them over their knees. Take polymorph, flight, some of the wall spells and in particular the miss-chance spells and teleportation. Some of these are purely utility spells and some of defensive. However when you fully examine them you realize that almost completely remove the faults of spell casters. Polymorph negates the need to actually have physical stats (in 3.5 I believe), flight laughs at those fighters who specialize in melee and usually have comparatively awful ranged attacks (in 3.5 fighters generally specialized or sucked). Teleportation laughed at those pathetic melee characters who weren't charge 150 feet on a pegasus (you know who you are), wall spells made the already difficult task of reaching a spell caster even harder when they can literally tear the battlefield apart and rearrange it like Legos. Finally there are the displacement spells. I hate miss chance abilities so much. Primarily the hatred stems from the simple fact that its already difficult enough to merely get the melee attack. Then you stack a miss chance to that and its like a slap to the face.

    Now it would probably alright if these abilities were toned down a tad or melee characters encouraged to become decent switch hitters or some such compromise. However the single thing about DnD and the way it represents magic that bugs me the most is how automatic it is. While Vancian has its own issues; in DnD magic,if prepared or known, works exactly as advertised all the time no matter what. The mere fact that magic never fails to trigger (effect is another story) bugs me considerably. Taken together magic allows for automatic, infallible results on command. This would not be so bad if it wasn't standing next to the poor chump attempting to make a jump check over a crevasse with a chance for failure. Now if magic could fail or miss cast I would not feel so annoyed by it. A compromise I would accept would be if they cast the spell in the morning with a chance for failure, with actual consequences, and then if they succeed then it can work as advertised.

    1. Thanks for the response Alastair! My idea was that by limiting the number of spells a spell caster has access to, we're raising the cost of using defensive spells like these. For instance, a high level wizard wouldn't be able to just dedicate a 3rd level spell slot to flight and have twenty higher level spells to nuke opponents with. They only have ten spells to work with so each defensive spell they prepare cuts down on their attack power. Still, nine spells is a lot, if they can eliminate all their weaknesses with the first one, so you may have a point. we'd have to test play it.

      One house rule might be to give all spell casters a base arcane failure of 5% and have it so spells cast on a spell caster give additional arcane spell failure chance, say 5% x spell level. This would discourage wizards from making themselves invincible, but it would also add another role into the game, which has a time cost. ( I don't think I've ever seen someone make an arcane failure roll.)

      Also, some spells might need to be nerfed or eliminated.

    2. I've been playing Earthdawn recently, and while the spells feel more realistic, they also drain a ton of game time. At most, 2 rolls should be made for spells. 1st for casting (touch attack/ranged/etc), and the 2nd for effect or damage dice. Otherwise the game will get bogged down fast.

  4. A couple of comments:

    First, I am not particularly concerned about wizards and utility powers. The wizard has to give up something to do them and while it might be fun to be able to jump farther than the fighter or open a door that the rogue could pick, in many situations it is a poor tactical choice to replicate what another class can do instead of doing what only the wizard can do. Nevertheless, the ability to take some of those utility spells acts in a similar manner to having the ability to heal without a cleric -- it reduces reliance on a particular class if no one wants to play a rogue. It also could provide a path forward if the party is stymied by a bad skill roll. Some of them are just iconic to the field of fantasy -- like flight and teleport.

    Second, I like the idea of reducing the scaling of the number of spells a wizard can prepare. It becomes a flatter progression of higher level slots and choosing to use them for a lower level spell having a metamagic effect like you suggest provides an exciting option for the wizard without giving him more spells to use in a day. It should not be as limiting as it was in 4th ed though. Bonus spells and such can be integrated and balanced -- making it a really important decision for spellcasters whether to concentrate on having a high primary casting score (risking low saving throws and skills) or spreading their abilities and losing bonus spells.

    1. Thanks for the response, Dagus! I think I agree with you on all of that.

  5. I remember some people doing this back in the 3e days but for logistical reasons. It simply wasn't worth the bother to keep track of all those cantrips once you hit 12th level or so.

    As to at-will powers, I make spells that gave the caster at-will attacks for a very long time (8 hours IIRC). This way the player has to make a choice; does he want one fireball that does 10d6 points of damage or the ability to do 1d6 fireballs at will.

    1. Thanks for the reply!

      Hmm, if casters are doing this anyway just to keep things simple, it would suggest that what I'm proposing wouldn't have much effect.

      I like your idea of having spells give casters at-will powers for some duration. I think I thought about doing something like that once upon a time, but I never got around to trying it.

  6. Thank you everyone for all the comments. They've given me some delicious food for thought. I hope to write some individual responses but I haven't had the time yet with my job search and moving out of my apartment at the end of the month. Hopefully I'll get to it in the next couple days.