Posted by : David Guyll March 03, 2012

So there has been a lot of talk about how 5th Edition wizards are going to go back to the pseudo-Vancian magic system. Personally I have never liked guessing which spells are going to be useful (which goes for preparing, selecting, and casting), or basing the adventure schedule around remaining spells. Hell only a handful of games or literary works even include it, and even then it is often only one facet of how magic works. I guess the silver lining here is that only wizards get saddled with it, though they can crib the Reserve feat mechanic from 3rd Edition, or that it is only one proposed magic system.

Personally I would like to see wizards being required to focus on a few schools of magic as opposed to potentially equally good at everything. This models real life in the sense that no one is good at everything, and I remember something like this being played out in The Name of the Wind, the Dresden Files novels and RPG, Mage: The Ascension, and more shit that I am not thinking of. With this model you can get the wizard that is really good at evocations, but not so much at illusions due to a lack of patience or artistic talent or whatever, or something who prefers using ice or fire magic. Note that specialists might only be good at one school and might know a thing or two from something else (or not, depends on what is available), and would get some other benefit like the mage from Essentials.

From these schools they would choose a few rotes, which are spells that are so simple and/or have been practiced so often that they have become almost reflexive. Encounter spells would go away entirely, and daily spells would be the sort of complex magic that they have to cast ahead of time and retained. Rituals would be the utility stuff that keeps spell prep from turning into guesswork, and I would allow the expenditure of healing surges or something to help power them, or charge surges anyway. Actually for the grognards that do not like how many of the spells are combat-focused (I guess ignoring rituals), why not turn daily spells into the number of rituals that a character can store at any given time? This way something like knock could be used as a ritual, but a wizard could also pre-cast and store it for an impromptu use.

I would also allow wizards to draw in will, mana, energy, or whatever, allowing them to charge up their at-will spells. This would take a turn, extra action, or cause some kind of stress (like psychic damage or whatnot, though burning healing surges from exhaustion is still a possibility), and potentially leave the wizard vulnerable to attack, adding a level of tactical complexity and drama to a wizard that decides to turn her magic missile from a single bolt into a salvo; enemies might decide to directly target her in order to disrupt the spell. Some spells could also require multiple actions or rounds to cast.

Finally I really dig implements, and would like to see them stick around. Instead of a specialization bonus like the wizard gets, or having them largely not matter at all, you might penalize a wizard for not using one when casting. I would like to see implements of special materials granting a benefit without demanding a feat. The spellbook would mostly be used for rituals instead of spell prep.

Ultimately depending on what martial classes can do, I see these changes giving a wizard a lower average baseline, some good spike opportunities, and flexibility on how to handle things. Ideally martial classes would have a more "middle-ground" approach, with scaling damage and exploits to give them some tricks up their sleeves.

Too-Long, Didn't Read Highlights

  • Wizards pick from a handful of schools that they can cast. Feats could add in others.
  • Wizards know a smattering of rotes (at-will) spells. These do minor things.
  • Rotes can be charged up through time, penalty, and/or resource.
  • Daily spells would still be in and be quite badass, but fewer in number (like, maybe 1 at 1st-level).
  • Rituals are still in, but drain healing surges and/or require specific components.
  • Implements are still in, and are more required.
  • Wizards would be able to create new spells, more easily learn new spells, and potentially modify them.

{ 7 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I mostly agree but I'd like to see/keep the wizard having access to a wide variety of spells instead of a tight focus. You might have some specialist wizards (or just reward focusing through feats) but I think sorcerers, warlocks and their ilk should be ones who have a limited set of tools they can use repeatedly.

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  2. When it comes to arcane casters wizards would still have the most flexibility. I did not mention feats, but I would allow feats to add in more schools, add more rotes/daily spells, specialize further in schools, focus in rituals, allow you to charge up one or more rotes without taking extra time, construct/summon a minion, etc. Not to mentioned the potential benefits that a theme could add in.

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  3. I think this kind of compromise approach within a single class is likely to please nobody. If it were me, I would create one class that was more traditionally Vancian (and required preparing spells) and a separate class that was more flexible and had things like the at-will powers. There are a number of ways to balance such classes, and then everyone would be able to play the kind of wizard they liked. There are a number of structures in previous games that you could hang this on, like perhaps the wizard (scholarly) versus sorcerer (natural talent).

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  4. The wizard I am proposing can still prepare fire-and-forget spells, but can also use rituals, which gives her plenty of flexibility. I am just not a fan of a generalist wizard that can learn basically any spell. It makes magic seem too universal and simple, especially in a game where it is divided into schools (and keywords). The standard wizard would choose from several schools and have the option to learn more, while specialists would get like, one.

    In the model I am envisioning, wizards still have supreme flexibility: they can juggle their daily list, use rituals, and even have options to more easily modify their magic (akin to Metamagic feats from 3rd Edition). Sorcerers would be severely limited and focused, run out much more slowly, and probably not use implements or have rituals as wizards know them (might have things that act like rituals?).

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  5. Good ideas.

    One problem that stuck with D&D for a long time was that wizards (casters in general) were just too versatile and powerful. Early on, they were also just boo limited, but that changed quickly.

    4e addressed both problems in one way, and was rejected. 5e will have to find another way. Greatly narrowing focus would allow casters to still have powerful spells, and still be playable (not too heavily limited), without being chronically game-breaking.

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  6. Another option, following Anonymous' comment, would be to restrict very powerful spells to single-use items (scrolls, or an equivalent). Thus, a referee would be able to allow the wizard to use powerful spells without the assumption that they would be able to continue to use them in perpetuity. This is more or less how I do things in B/X D&D (where the most powerful magic-user spells that can be prepared are sixth level). One could also phrase this as rituals with a cost, but I prefer items because the ref has more control over their scarcity. It would still be a class power of the wizard because no other classes would be able to use the scrolls.

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  7. @Anon: I am hoping that the reduced power curve makes it "okay" to have big damage spikes without making fighters obsolete. I would probably avoid mega things like wish, time stop, shapechange, etc, or at least make those things that wizards have to be really good at doing (perhaps requiring specialization or a feat tree).

    @Brendan: Ritual scrolls are good, and I use those in 4E as well. I think that by making rituals require specific components (kind of like how certain powerful spells in older editions demanded them) that you can limit it that way as well, as opposed to generic components or residuum.

    This would ideally give wizards flexibility without making them consistently too powerful.

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