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Buffing casters under alternative rules playtest

Buffing casters under alternative rules playtest

I’ve messed around with the rules of 5e to make them more exciting and tactical, essentially mixing it up with some of my favorite parts of 3.5. As a result of this, bounded accuracy has been widened significantly - I am prepared to deal with the consequences of this.

The short version of the changes goes as follows:
1. Feats have been separated from ASIs. Each character gets a feat at third level, and every three after that (with a possibility of getting an additional feat at level 1 with a variant race). Many 5e feats have been tuned down or removed, and many classic feats from 3.5 have been imported with reduced prerequisite bloat.

2. Ability Scores are no longer capped at 20.

3. Attack Maneuvers (Disarm, Shove, Bull Rush) have been made much more effective. The charge attack option has made a reappearance.

4. Damage dice for weapons scale upward with increased size, as they used to.

These changes have resulted in melee characters that are doing 1.5-2x their regular damage a round at lower levels. Here are some level 3 examples:

Large Barbarian with Monkey Grip and Polearm Master DPR:
3d8 (huge halberd) + 4 (str) + 2 (rage) + 1d8 (huge polearm hilt) + 4 (str) + 2 (rage)
Avg: 19.5 + 10.5 = 30 damage

Medium Pugilist with Pulverize Foe DPR (using “the old one-two” to make two unarmed attacks as a bonus action.)
1d6 (base) + 2d6 (base + PF Damage) + 2d6 + 12 (3x str)
Avg: 17.5 + 12 = 29.5 damage

So the melee characters are sitting quite pretty. They can do a lot of damage in a round and inconvenience foes with effective tactical maneuvers.

The question then, is where does this leave spellcasters? Do they need to be buffed in order to fit the new power curve, or will base 5e Wizards still completely outscale melee? I don’t have overly optimizing players, but I do want the casters to also feel like they can do exciting things in this system compared to base 5e.

There are good feats available to spellcasters, but most of them don’t have the ability to boost damage as much as the melee feats. There is one feat that allows you +1 damage per die on one spell you know, which is not insignificant - and other ways to boost spell DC. Another lets fire spells ignore fire resistance, and treat fire immunity as regular fire resistance.

I’m not sure if this is enough, especially at low levels when neither of my caster players has any of the mentioned feats. Full casters have always been better off building for battlefield control than for damage, but I think that a caster should be able to match damage with melee if they put the proper resources into it.

Here are some additional changes I’m considering, with an eye towards buffing casters to a similar degree that the melee characters were.

1. Remove the clause that prevents a caster from casting a quickened and a regular spell in the same round. In the base rules, a quickened spell can only be followed by a cantrip. This would allow a quickened spell to be followed up by another spell - full stop.

2. Revert Empower to its 3.5 rules. Instead of rerolling low dice, an empowered spell will do the normally rolled amount of damage x 1.5.

I have one sorcerer who could make use of both of these, and one wizard who could get an empower spell 1/short rest as well as some bonus class features.

I’d like to get the opinion of the forums on this.

How much stronger will these two changes make casters?
What are unforeseen consequences of allowing two spells to be cast in a round?
Do casters need to be scaled up to balance them against stronger melee classes, or are they already powerful enough to compete with fighters hitting twice as hard as they should be?

At the risk of stating the obvious, low-level spellcasters don't have a whole lot of spell slots. If they're casting two full-power spells per turn, they're going to be completely tapped out really fast.

Could you maybe adjust the damage that spells do, instead, so they only have to cast once, and they can stay in the fight, but they still get the benefit you're trying to offer them? For instance, maybe if a spell does direct damage, you add one more die to the roll? (If a spell doesn't do direct damage, it's probably fine as-is. Either it's not a combat spell, or it's setting up an attack from an ally.)

FWIW, I'm still pretty new to 5E. I'm sure you'll get much more substantive responses from more experienced players.

I don't think you need to make any more adjustments for spellcasters.

In terms of damage, you have to see that casters are meant to disperse damage to multiple targets on a scale that melee warriors cannot hope to match. If you look at the total amount of damage they can do, considering all of the targets that they hit, then they outclass melee warriors.

Like you've noted, casters are better off as controllers, leaving all of that damage optimisation to the warriors who can just have at it all day. Remember that an enemy that has been reduced from 100hp to 10hp is still as strong as it has ever been and can still harm PCs, but an enemy that has been disabled by Tasha's Hideous Laughter or Banishment is out of the picture altogether and can no longer harm the PCs or even waste their resources. In this way, casters will better appreciate boosts to their Spell Save DCs than to their damage output.

Also, splitting feats from ASI's actually favour casters more than martial combatants. You've mentioned that you consider this to make combat interesting, but the entire concept of a caster is already interesting universally, just from the sheer amount of capability and versatility that their spells provide. They can shine both in and out of combat. By splitting feats from ASI's, you're allowing them to expand on their capability without sacrificing their spellcasting power.

The Warlock can now pick up Spell Sniper and Crossbow Expert, all without slowing down his Charisma progression so you essentially have a caster who is wielding a longsword two-handed and hitting enemies anywhere within 240 feet without penalty. The warrior needs a bunch of feats to be a good grappler and lockdown one foe, but without feats, the caster can lockdown multiple targets with a Mass Hold Person/Monster spell - with a feat or two to boost his save DC, he becomes even more effective at this.

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