What in the heck to do about Wizards..?

So, while I continue to ponder what the heck to do about Elemental Domains for Clerics, I continue to be troubled with what to do about Wizards in 5E.

To be clear, we’re not talking “game balance” here exactly – except that I think that getting spells is way too easy, and takes away from one of the prime motivators for adventuring mages (getting spellbooks).

  1. Beginning spellbook of six player-chosen spells
  2. Can prepare spells equal to level + Intelligence modifier.
  3. Ritual Casting for special spells at will
  4. Automatically learns 2 spells per level, plus anything they can scavenge.
  5. Also has three Cantrips at first level, unlimited casting of Cantrips. Cantrips are powerful, combat-effective, spells.
  6. Spells can require Verbal, Somantic, and/or Material Components
  7. Material Component Pouches are “ever full” – except for certain specific items mentioned in the spell description (that may or may not be used up in casting).
  8. Arcane Focus can substitute Material Components
  9. No rules or guidelines for character spell research.
  10. Familiars are a sensory aid with no drawback, and actually seem to be an extension of the characters magical will (due to lack of independent action).
  11. Magical item creation must be researched (no rules or guidelines) but is non-level bound, nor is it restricted to spellcasters.
  12. Only restrictions on armor use is due to training.
  13. No restrictions on multiclassing (or dual classing) as a wizard.
  14. Wizards have Cantrips for consistent magical attack ability.
  15. Mages can potentially cast up to three spells per round, Regular Action, Bonus Action, and a Reaction.

In my AD&D game, where I spent a considerable amount of time on Wizards in order to both balance them a bit but also create a certain flavor for various mages in my game. To recap:

  1. Codices were collected “training manuals” of spells, most players started with a basic one. Grimoires were the personal spellbooks of the mage themselves.
  2. Spells memorized according to the rules.
  3. Ritual Casting for all spells with an increased casting time and the presence of a spellbook and ritual kit.
  4. Automatically learned one spell per level, subject to rules for learning spells.
  5. Had AD&D Cantrips memorized equal to Intelligence, plus level, unlimited casting. Cantrips are minor magics, with little combat value and more focused on flavor text and day-to-day utility.
  6. Spells must have a Verbal Component, and may have a Material and/or Somatic Component.
  7. Material Components are generic by level and must be bought, per use – except for certain specific items mentioned in the spell description (that may or may not be used up in casting).
  8. Wands (or other racial equivalents) can store magical energy that can substitute for generic Material Components.
  9. Relatively clear rules for character spell research.
  10. Familiars are independent beings, with independent actions, and there are clear and severe penalties for their loss/death. Their presence is automatic for human wizards.
  11. Magical item creation must be researched (explicit rules) and it both level-bound and restricted to spellcasters.
  12. Armor use restrictions based on race.
  13. Clear racial restrictions on multiclassing.
  14. Mages start with twin “kris” – very minor magical knives/daggers that provide them with a consistent magical attack and which can be used as Material Component similar to a Wand.
  15. Mages are limited to casting one spell per round.

The further observation is that while the range of available memorized spells that any wizard can cast is increased the pool of actual spells that are cast is much more limited in 5E as opposed to 1E. This looks like a game balance decision in service to notion that each character should be roughly equivalent (something that I personally could care less about, but it is certainly a driving goal for 5E).

Looked at side-by-side, I think there are certainly places where things can be tweaked to find a sweet spot that still feels like “my campaign” rather than generic 5E. One significant change in 5E is that the resource management is actually reduced a fair amount through fewer spells, increased versatility in spell selection, and unlimited Cantrip use. I don’t think that this is a bad thing automatically, but I also think that there has been a drive to far in the pursuit of “Suitable 12+ Years in Age” that dumbed things down too much.

I like Material Components as a potential resource management tool. I like powerful Familiars. I like Wands and Kris as tools and flavor text. I like Codices and Grimoires.



Categories: Campaign Development, Game Design, House Rules | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “What in the heck to do about Wizards..?

  1. I, too, want familiars to be independent beings. I like the idea that familiars exist outside of the wizard who summoned and bound it.

    • Yeah, it seems like they nerfed Familiars in service to “simplicity” and that was a mistake. Kind of like how they utterly broke the Beastmaster ranger archtype – I can’t for the life of me figure out why did it the way that they did. My simple fix is to say that the beast gains HD at the same rate as the Ranger, and always uses the Rangers Proficiency – plus maybe grant they feats/stat bumps at the same rate as the Ranger (kind of like my quick-fix for Familiars but without the damage penalties).

      I was initially kind of iffy about the “can’t kill a familiar” but I think that it’s a reasonable explanation of what benefit there is for the familiar in the spell.

      That also said, I think I may have two spells – “Summon Fetch” which gets you the 5E version of a familiar, and then a “Bind Familiar” which gets you the more 1E version. The idea of the potential of a the “purely spiritual” Familiar isn’t a bad one, it just isn’t the tradition of D&D.


      • Summon Fetch…Great idea. I’m going to steal that one.

      • LOL! Excellent! I mean, the 5E “Fetches” are a fine idea, just not as “real Familiars” 🙂


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