Stating that the wizard "casts spells" is basically a 30-year old mission statement. We got that figured out. What I want to know is how, and I would preferably like that how to make sense from a narrative perspective.
In 2nd Edition wizards had to study their spellbooks to "memorize" their spells. When they cast it, the spell was wiped from their minds and they had to go through the whole process again, and again, and again, because no matter how many times they memorized a spell they could never actually remember it. There was also the bit about not being able to wear armor for vague reasons that ranged from the metal content (which ignored non-metal armors) to it disrupting hand motions (whether or not the spell even had somatic components).
3rd Edition wizards still had to study their spellbooks, but this was rationalized that the wizard had to prepare her magic, casting all but the very last part of the spell ahead of time. So spells were basically stored in the wizard's head, waiting for the last word and gesture to wrap it up. They even provided a feat, Spell Mastery, as an option for players that wanted to represent wizards who knew how to prepare a spell from memory. Given that the number of spells was low and everyone was pretty much feat-starved, it was considered a pretty crappy feat. At least they were not illogically hampered by armor; each suit of armor had a spell failure percentage that only affected spells with somatic components.
4th Edition wizards largely did not need their spellbooks for their day-to-day magic: at-will spells could be cast as often as they pleased, and encounter spells recharged automatically. I think even daily ones did, too. The only reason you even had a spellbook was to swap out daily magic and to cast rituals. Unfortunately there was really not enough flavor material to explain how this all worked. Did encounter spells recharge because a wizard gathered up magical energies to unleash it again? If so, why could a wizard not just continue to gather up energy for the same encounter spell? Why could a wizard not prepare multiple daily spells of the same thing?
Basically each edition had problems, some more than most.
Currently 5th Edition wizards will continue to have at-will spells, which will be called cantrips, but unlike traditional cantrips will be a "bit more powerful". So...basically 4th Edition at-wills by another name. I have heard at least one cry of "oh noes everyone will be awesome all the time", but given that they will not be explicitly called at-wills and Paizo copied it already, I wonder if it will be better accepted this time around.
They are also looking at keeping spells under control, with the example being how wonky skill bonuses, Difficulty Classes, and scaling can really screw up your game. I had a similar problem when running Age of Worms, where 12th-level characters had Will saves ranged from +5 to +15. Initially I felt that this disparity seemed absurd, until they came across a trap that required a DC 30 Will save to avoid being instantly killed by.
Then it became extremely absurd.
As for reducing spell slots, I am curious as to what edition is being used for their barometer. Over a lengthy period of time 3rd Edition wizards got quite a bit, and while 4th Edition had very few daily spells they had at-will and encounter spells, and rituals to top it off. I am guessing that we will see something like 4th Edition wizards sans encounter spells, which I am totally fine with.
We already knew that spells will have better effects depending on what level you slot them. I really like this, because it helps avoid having spells that are just higher level variations of the same thing, which 3rd Edition literally did with the orb series of spells: you had least, standard, and greater, and one of each energy type. So that is like, what, 15 different spells that all did largely the same thing? 4th Edition practiced this model already with powers that scaled depending on what level you chose them at, which was better than having a bunch of multi-leveled whirlwind/trip/knockback exploits (though to be fair, it also had a bunch of multi-leveled whirlwind/trip/knockback exploits).
Unpredictable magic can be a tricky thing, and I would hope that they would provide several different optional mechanics for us to work with. Personally I would like to see disrupted spells doing something random instead of just not working, with the option to try again later. Kind of makes it feel less dangerous and more unreliable. They could better mirror past editions by giving spells with a casting time of longer than one action, and/or the option to spend multiple rounds charging up the spell; it would add in a more controlled risk, similar to weapon breakage in Dark Sun.
I really do not like the current idea for scrolls. You write a spell down, and then expend another spell to make the scroll work? I could see it if the spell had to belong to the same school or something (perhaps allowing a wizard to be able to convert a variety of spell schools instead of just anything at all), but the idea of dropping any spell to charge up a scroll just seems odd. Ultimately it is a nice investment that avoids wizards drastically cranking up the number of spells they get, but it does not make much sense to me.
As for wands, I preferred 4th Edition's implements. Makes more sense and better captures the feel of magic that I am used to. I do not mind if they can store spells, but I do not want them to go back to fire-and-forget devices. I would be okay with implements having an affinity for various types of magic.
Finally, it is good to see that buff spells will not allow classes to outperform another class at what it is supposed to be good at.
After reading up on even more RPGs and talking it over with my group, my ideal wizard goalposts have been moved to include the following:
- Wizards pick several schools that they know how to use. Specialists would instead pick one, or sacrifice one to be better in another.
- Wizards start out knowing cantrips. They can cast these at-will.
- Daily spells instead represent a wizard's growing aptitude with their at-will magic. As they level up, they get to choose how to improve their magic (improving damage, targets, area of effect, effects, etc). A good comparison would be how skills improve in Mass Effect 3.
- When you cast a spell, you can choose to focus energy and cast an improved version of it. This takes time, and the spell can be countered (disrupted the spell or delaying you) or interrupted (potentially causing a mishap).
- After casting a spell, it takes awhile before you can start casting another spell (kind of like the recharge mechanic from 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana). You can choose to do so anyway, becoming fatigued for a number of rounds equal to the amount you were supposed to wait. If you cast a spell again, you instead become exhausted and can barely do anything at all. Wizards might also be able to suffer hit point damage by exerting themselves too much.
So she can cast firebolt as a standard action, or spend the entire round casting the level 2 version of it, lumping on the benefit that she chose. Alternatively, spells might just have their own levels. So firebolt level 1 might do one thing, while firebolt level 2 might do more damage, and firebolt level 3 might hit multiple targets. This, I think, helps emphasize in the game's narrative that the wizard is studying an improving her magic.
If the pyromancer is trying to cast a level 3 version, which has, say, a casting time of 3 rounds, and she gets hit, the spell might explode (dealing Int fire damage to herself and nearby targets). Another wizard that knows evocation might try to disrupt her spell, making an Arcana check or something to extend the casting time by another round.
This helps make counterspelling something viable (you do not need to ready an action and have a specific spell), while also adding tension when the necromancer is gathering dark energies to conjure up a bunch of wraiths.
Rituals would remain, possibly costing healing surges or hit points or the like, as well as specific components. Implements would also stick around as they were.