Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wizards in D&D Next

I made the mistake of trying to read up on D&D next wizards, only to find a 40 page rant on the WotC forums. There were a few kernels of goodness in it, mostly hidden by overheated arguments reflecting different playstyles.

I understand that some people are disappointed by "Vancian" magic system still, despite the fact that it is anything but now. Spells are not fire-and-forget, though they are still a daily resource. Wizards have fewer spell slots and fewer spells prepared. They also gain a few cantrips, which are at-will spells, some of which are at-will attack spells. Utility spells are listed as rituals, which can be cast without consuming spell slots (i.e. mana), allowing the wizard to memorize a small number of blasting spells and more utility spells. Arcane Recovery is also a mechanic where a wizard can recover a low-level spell slot during an adventure when the party rests.

One huge difference from earlier editions is the class balance. Things are not precisely (and boringly) balanced like 4e. And the wizard suffers few possibilities of losing spells being incredibly weak as in AD&D 2nd Edition. The designers also are keeping the 4e's goal of having only options, and few limitations. Thus there are no barred schools for the specialty wizards. Overall I think this works fairly well, though the wizard is currently lacking some of the oomph that the druid has. I'm not quite sure a bit more variety in spell selection outranks the Druid's Wild Shape, better hit points, and better weapons.

They might be able to add in a few tidbits to make Wizards more comparable to Druids. Perhaps a free Magical feat, or training in a lore skill. Or, since druids might be overpowered, taking them down a little in terms of spell slots.

I really like one aspect of the new spell design, which is spell flexibility. The Create Water spell is a great example, because it gives a few different options on how the spell might be cast or used, such as putting out fires or for drinking water. I wish they would expand that to the combat cantrips a bit, allowing Ray of Frost to target a foe's legs to reduce his speed, the ground to have a chance to knock him prone, or the face which might cause disadvantage on attack rolls or skill checks requiring one sense (eyes, ears, nose, mouth?).  If we could get Exterminate as a necromancy cantrip with applications for delousing, killing tiny creatures (no damage, just outright kill if less than half level + 1d4 hp?), and damaging swarms (1d12?) that would also rock. If each cantrip has a few different options, that means a wizard will have some nice "always on" options, but they'll be broader than just zapping people.

Another aspect of flexibility is the option to use higher level slots to power spells with a bonus to the effect. I think it would be cleaner to only have one kind of magic point and let spells get boosted directly by character level, but this works well too. We only need one Cure Wounds or Monster Summoning spell and staples like Magic Missile or Burning Hands can continue to be viable through the whole career. This is going to need more development to make sure that some spells aren't strictly better than others, but I suspect that the ability to power Magic Missile with any spell slot might be useful over just one use of Meteor Swarm.

One little regret is the philosophy of "no penalties" means that every wizard still has access to every wizard spell. I like the idea that Illusionists master illusions to such a degree that they can't master every other type of spell. On the other hand, I really hate just having one set of "master illusionist" powers that no one else could possibly access (a la 3.5 Psionic disciplines), so maybe this is something I could slightly live with. Though, for many of the specialists, being able to cast your specialty school spells as rituals for the low-low price of losing 3 other schools of magic might be worth it, or eventually learning a first, second, or third level spell as a cantrip maybe.

The design of this wizard class is something I could definitely live with. They need a few more spells on their list, and to work out the math kinks, but it seems fairly solid.

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