Wednesday, August 6, 2014

5th Edition Wizards

I've played the playtest rules as a wizard a few times now, and while the rules are generally quite close to 2nd edition or 3rd edition, I still find the magic system a little disappointing. To a smaller extent I have the same problem with Pathfinder/3.5, but wizards are no longer defined by their spells.

I mean this in two ways. Both their ability to cast spells as the undisputed masters of magic, and the number and variety of spells.

First, it  seems like everyone and their mother also gets spells. Now, this was somewhat true in 2nd edition or earlier since Paladins and Rangers did get a couple spells at higher levels, but they were so few as to be completely unmemorable for me. We'll know for sure when the PhB comes out, but it looks like Rangers, Paladins, Bards, Druids, Clerics, not to mention Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks, but also the Eldritch Knight fighter and Arcane trickster thief get spells. Meaning its mostly Barbarians, Monks, and some fighters and thieves who don't get spell access. That's a lot of magic!

Second, the playtest wizards have very few spells they can cast. 1 + wizard level. In the basic rules this is increased to Intelligence modifier + level, which I think is going to be a nice little boost, but Clerics also get Wisdom modifier + level. Wizards do get ritual caster, but the number of spells castable as rituals seems quite low (mostly low-level divinations in the Basic rules) and their casting time makes them a little prohibitive. But they are, at least, options.A wizard basically has room to take a few combat spells that they'll continually cast (including the boring blast cantrip, a damaging area of effect, and a single-target damage spell) and then its whatever utilities they can manage that might also have combat uses. It seems like a master of magic should be casting more variety. I suppose as a sorcerer I'd just feel more limited? Or maybe there'd be a 2-4-1 deal on spells of your specialty, so enchanters actually had an incentive to prep enchantment spells? 1+level would be great if you got to prep Intelligence modifier bonus spells of your specialty. I suppose this is partly my beef with some of the more modern design theories: I'd rather Wizard class features support their spellcasting rather than be fixed thematic powers related to their specialty. Because now every illusionist casts invisibility as their reactionary spell instead of being able to do blur or whatnot, and Necromancers will probably get some "steal your soul" deathknell type feature rather that whatever thematic spell specialty which uses the rules which are already pretty much in play.

Finally, the spells themselves seem much more focused and combat focused like the powers of fourth edition. I suppose some would count that as a feature, but I felt it as sheet blinders. Just like in 4e where you focused on the small set of powers you had, in the playtest rules I felt constrained by what my small number of spells allowed me to do. Invisibility, for example, can only be cast on a creature. The new Levitate can at least be cast on unwilling targets. Maybe its nostalgia, but AD&D spells seemed to all have variations or possible combat uses. Light, for example, could be cast in the dungeon as usual, might negate magical darkness, or cast on someone's eyes to blind them. Sure, its not the best use of a first level spell but its an option for a combat use of a non-combat spell. Now light is just a cantrip that means you don't need a lantern. They're good about letting most combat spells level up, but few utility spells have text explaining what happens with a spell when cast at a higher level, which is a huge loss. Small "spell chains" like Hold Portal and Wizard/Arcane Lock could have been linked with one just being the higher level version of the other. Similarly the various illusion spells could all be one spell, gaining additional senses or volume with higher level slots. Overall, it seems a little silly that Prestidigitation can't affect enemies in any appreciable way, yet ray of frost can do quite a bit of damage and slow the enemy (but can it create an icy patch on the floor so your enemies might slip and fall? or keep your beer cold?).

It all culminates with a loss of what I see as one of the great funs of wizards: a crazy list of kookie spells (particularly when you have to seek out strange and new spell effects). We don't need a Bigby's Gentle Wipe (or Vigorous Wipe) spell and dungeon necessities like Banish Excrement (taught in three versions, the Baatezu version which transports it to the Abyss, the Tanar'ri version which transports it to the Nine Hells, or the Athar version which transports it to a randomly selected deity's domain). Moreover, you don't have room to memorize Mordenkainen's Fluffy Pillow (or soft bedroll, or even full-on bed). I guess you can still use prestidigitation and thaumaturgy that way, but even those have a bullet point list of options, not a list of inspiration.

I'm not sure 13th Age or Pathfinder got it right with their cantrip rules and spell lists either though. And, frankly, AD&D was a bit of a mess. I guess my ideal wizard game still might not be out there.

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