Sunday, April 14, 2013

D&D Next March Playtest - The Wizard

There's not much to say about the Wizard, at least not without discussing individuals spells in more detail than I'd like to.  Spells, and having the most versatile and powerful spell list in particular, is the bulk of the Wizard's schtick.  Wizards can simply bend the laws of reality more than a Cleric or Druid, despite the fact that those two classes have plenty of spells that are comparable.  They just don't seem to have such a vast array of potential offensive options as the Wizard.  Plus being able to recover spell slots gives them more daily resources, a distinction that only the Circle of Oak Druid shares with them.  It's pretty clear that the designers put a lot of stock into this ability if you consider the Druid.  Assuming thought was put into balancing Circle of Oak with Circle of the Moon, since this spell recovery ability is largely what replaces the combat-ready Wild Shape forms.  I'm actually not convinced, as I think Circle of the Moon is the better choice, with the spell recovery feature being a little underwhelming.  Which puts a major class feature of the Wizard in the "underwhelming" column as well.

Other than that, the Wizard traditions are the only other thing that the class gets.  Unfortunately, only Illusion is particularly impressive.  The Scholarly tradition lets you prepare an extra spell at each spell level, and lets you learn more spells when you level.  But your raw power isn't boosted since you still have the same number of spell slots as any other wizard.  You're just a little more versatile, so you'll probably feel a little better about preparing one of those situational utility spells.  Evocation lets you designate creatures (read: allies) to ignore the damage from your AoEs, which is awesome for spells like Fireball. Of course those spells are traditionally less valuable than control spells, and then you've got the spells that are a combination of damage and status effects (Evocation doesn't allow allies to ignore a spells non-damage effects).  Some of the most iconic "evocation" spells fall into this category (sleet storm, stinking cloud).  Finally, we're given the Illusion tradition, which is easily the best of the bunch.  Not only to Illusion spells typically offer some of the most powerful control effects, but the tradition's signature ability boosts the DCs to resist such spells by two (which is the equivalent of a +2 attack bonus; pretty impressive in a Bounded Accuracy system!).

The biggest problem is that an individual tradition pretty much just grants one ability.  Compare that with other spellcasters:  Druid Circles are roughly comparable to Wizard Traditions, but Druids also get Wild Shape and are far less squishy; Cleric deities grant channel divinity, a specific "Disciple of..." ability, domain spells, and sometimes different armor/weapon proficiencies (and once again the Cleric is far less squishy than the Wizard.

So "the spell list makes the Wizard," since Wizards appear to have a better spell list (though this is arguable, and would need playtesting to verify) and fewer useful class features.   Where I foresee running into problems is for spellcasting classes that are traditionally similar to the Wizard, notably Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Bladesingers.  Sorcerers and Bladesingers in particular have shared the Wizard spell list outright, but both classes have a lot of potential for features well beyond the Wizard traditions.  The problem, obviously, is that if Wizards don't have much outside of their spell list, then there's not much that the designers can "trade out" when designing (and balancing!) similar classes.

Like Druids and Clerics, I can foresee most of the other spellcasters just being flat-out more interesting than the base Wizard.  Whereas those classes have "spell list + a bunch of cool stuff," Wizards have "spell list + weak, tacked on stuff" and they're much squishier to boot.  Even if I'm right about the Wizard spell list being better (which might be justifiable from a balance perspective), it's a bad solution to the problem.  What if a Wizard player doesn't choose the right mix of spells, or the best spells?  Or, on the other end of the spectrum, what happens when new spells are released and the inevitable power creep ensues?  Hint - Wizards (spellcasters in general) become more effective than martial classes.

I guess the main things I'm taking away from this initial reading is that the designers need to tread carefully, and Wizard traditions should be more comparable to the features that other classes get.  Just like "better armor/weapons" isn't a good way to balance Fighters against classes with more "interesting" features, "better spells" is a bad way to go about balancing Wizards with other classes (albeit for somewhat different reasons).


  1. You might want to take another look at the Scholarly wizard. For one, you learn more spells automatically. Not a huge deal, but especially in a game with low access to spells, it can be very useful. And I wouldn't knock the added versatility of more spells prepared. Even if you have the same number of spells per day, the Wizard's spell list has tons of options, and having more spells prepared means you can be ready for anything.

    But the REALLY big benefit of playing a Scholarly Wizard is in the rituals. Normally, you can only use a ritual version of a spell that you have prepared... but the Scholarly Wizard can use the ritual version of ANY spell in their spellbook. Ritual spells have no extra cost other than higher casting times, so a Scholarly Wizard has unparalleled versatility. Figure out the baseline spells that you'll want to prepare every day, then fill the rest of your spellbook with every single ritual-ready spell you can. It may take ten minutes to cast most of them, but your ability to pull out any spell needed for a given situation (assuming you have time to cast it) will be a pretty huge bonus.

    1. Hmm, to be honest I hadn't really looked too closely at the Ritual rules; that does bump Scholarly Wizards up a bit.

      As for having low access to spells, perhaps I missed something, but I'd assumed Next would handle spell acquisition in much the same way as other editions (besides 4E) did; if you found an enemy spellbook, or a scroll, you could try to copy the spell into your own spellbook. So while Scholarly Wizards learned more spells naturally as they leveled, nothing would stop Wizards from other traditions from going spellbook hunting to "catch up."

      Admittedly I've always preferred having a handful of "signature spells," which is why I would have preferred the Sorcerer in 3.5, if he wasn't such a slow learner. And why I didn't mind the "limitations" of the 4E Wizard. Writing down a huge list of spells that I might use once or twice just never appealed much to me, so maybe I'm a little biased against a Scholarly-style Wizard ;)

  2. I've actually tried out the Illusionist Wizard and found it far weaker than the Scholarly Wizard. Not because of the features themselves - you're right in saying the Illusionist class features are very powerful - but because as the spell list currently stands, there just aren't very many illusions to use them with, and many of those (like Blur and Invisibility) don't benefit from the class feature because they don't use a saving throw.