Big Five FAQ

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Should I use this FAQ?

Times when you might want to use it
If the games you're involved with - as a player, as a DM, whatever - are suffering due to balance issues, you've come to the right place. This FAQ tries to address the most widely-recognized balance discrepancy in D&D 3.5: Fighters vs The Big Five. If you feel like casters consistently and remarkably outshine fighters, this FAQ should help explain why, and will give you some tools to help.

Times when you might NOT want to use it
"My group is having fun without any balancing. Why should I implement this?"
You shouldn't. The point of balancing is the make the game fun for everyone. If your group is already having fun, why change a thing? This mod is designed to work for the greatest number of groups possible. If you're enjoying yourselves, you don't need it.

Given the common occurrence of Fighter / Big Five threads on MW, I thought that a general faq might be useful. This tries to answer some of the basic questions and issues surrounding both underpowered and overpowered classes in DnD 3.5e. Dakar

This is not an evenhanded treatment. It is the arguments of the balancers that are primarily presented here. This is just a compilation of all of the major arguments and responses and not a comprehensive analysis of the subject. This does not however detract from its potential usefulness.

Big Five

What are the Big Five?

The Big Five are Archivist, Artificer, Cleric, Druid, and Wizard. Some also add Erudite, especially the Convert Spell to Power variant.

Why are the Big Five overpowered?

The Big Five are overpowered because of how their magic works. They can prepare any spell they know if they have the appropriate slots available and they draw from a spell list of over 1,000 spells (out of non-setting books, only 10 books don't expand the spell lists of these classes: the Monster Manuals, DMG's, MIC, ToB, and Rules Compendium). This means they can have the silver bullet (sometimes called an "easy button") for almost any imaginable encounter, a spell which either ends or drastically weakens the encounter. For example, levitate and hold person are both silver bullets against a charger. With a single well-designed caster in the party, almost every encounter can be planned for.

Why would a caster have the right silver bullet that day?

Most encounters have overlapping silver bullet. Glitterdust and Grease both are extremely effective against both individuals and groups of enemies. Fly is effective against any unit that can't fly and doesn't have a ranged attack. Charm / Hold Person can stop any humanoid. Generally, any SoL (Save or Lose) is useful in a wide range of situations.

The earliest core Save or Die is the Phantasmal Killer, and mass SoD is Circle of Death. Wouldn't caster versatility be reduced before getting these spells?

SoLs are concerned with ending the encounter, not instantly killing the target. After being blinded a monster is almost completely useless and can be dispatched at your leisure. Most Big Five characters have a wide variety of means to kill the disabled foe (such as summoned monsters or animal companions), or another party member can coup-de-grace or sneak attack.

Wouldn't a caster eventually run out of spells?

A level six wizard has at least 8 noncantrip spells, more if he's a specialist and/or has enough intelligence. All of them can be devoted to silver bullets if necessary. This leaves two spells for each of the four encounters in a typical adventurer's day, which is enough to severely affect the deadliness of each encounter. Generally this isn't too smart (some spells should be reserved for defense and general utility), but even using a single spell per encounter can be very unbalancing. The number of needed spells doesn't really change over time, so a tenth level wizard with at least 14 noncantrip spells is deep into overkill territory.

Combine the number of silver bullets each caster has available with multiple casters per party (typical parties are likely to have a cleric and a wizard) and most casters don't have to worry about running out of spells. Running out of high-level spells can and will happen, but many silver bullets are low level anyway.

If the party is ambushed at night, casters will have few spells remaining and won't be as effective.

The casters will actually be somewhat more effective than the rest of the party, because they can immediately start slinging spells. The fighter will have to waste valuable time grabbing his equipment. In any case, by ninth level a wizard can create a rope trick that lasts long for a full night's rest and hour of spell recovery. After that point ambushes aren't a problem.

Many creatures have spell resistance or spell immunity. Would this stop the Big Five?

Not really. A lot of silver bullets aren't affected by spell resistance. Area of effect spells such as Web and Grease will tie up enemy actions without requiring a spell resistance check. Other silver bullets, such as flight against an enemy that lacks flight or ranged attacks, are centered around the caster, not the foe. Finally, spell resistance is easily broken (Assay Spell Resistance gives +10).

Wouldn't antimagic fields be a problem?

Most casters have working legs and can walk out of the field. Often, the user of the antimagic field (who is likely to have 12 levels in a caster class or spell-like abilities to be able to use the effect) is just as disabled by the antimagic field as their opponent, if not more so.


You could restrict the spells a wizard can gain.

The DMG permits wizards to buy any spell in a city that costs less than the city GP limit. Cities without spell scrolls wouldn't have magical items either, which means that fighters lose out a lot more than the wizard does. Cities without spells but with magic items are generally treated as being unfair, as they're a targeted "screw you" to wizards. Even if the wizard is completely restricted from spell access he will still have 4 spells known a level and with the restricted access the wizard will be inclined to take the more powerful options.

The DM is free to ban or alter spells, but this is labor intensive and it's effectiveness will vary depending upon which spells are banned.

Couldn't you weaken a wizard by removing his spellbook?

Removing a wizard's spellbook doesn't just weaken him, it makes him only a little better than a commoner. Like spell restriction, this is seen as very unfair. However, it's not even always effective. Some wizards can mostly circumvent spellbook problems with spell mastery, while others keep a backup.


Could you weaken a cleric by having her god refuse to grant some spells?

This is somewhat similar to wizard spell restriction and is also seen as unfair.


Why are fighters considered underpowered?

Fighters are underpowered for two main reasons. First of all, they don't scale very well. It's very difficult to make a fighter without resorting to a niche build that can take and deal damage to a level-appropriate monster. For example, a level 7 fighter will generally lose to an elephant, a nymph, or an earth elemental. More reasonable combat classes, like warblades and duskblades, are usually capable of winning.

Second, they lack versatility. They have few class skills and limited skill points. Their only class features are the bonus feats, which don't contribute to much more than hitting harder and not dying as quickly. This leaves them with only a limited set of options which they aren't even that good at. Because of this, fighters can't contribute nearly as much as other party members.

Fighters are supposed to be versatile and able to do many different combat actions.

While true from a design perspective, this doesn't play out well with the rest of the game. Feat progression forces them to be narrow if they want to be good at anything. A fighter who spends half of his feats on ranged combat and half on melee combat will be good at neither. Not that they'll be great if they specialize, though.

Fighters are supposed to tank enemies.

This falls into the same problem as versatility. A fighter can't effectively focus on attack and defense at the same time. A fighter without attack can't pose enough of a threat to tank, and a fighter without defense gets splattered too quickly.

What about using niche builds, like uberchargers?

Niche builds can certainly work. Unfortunately, they only work in a limited number of cases. An ubercharger, for example, is useless against anything that flies or restricts your movement. At higher levels, the number of monsters that can break the niche rapidly increases.

If a fighter got a larger share of the loot, he becomes more useful.

While this does increase the competence of the fighter, it decreases the overall competence of the party. Other classes can use the same GP to better ends than a fighter can.

Couldn't the fighter be more useful if played creatively and intelligently, such as flooding dungeons with magma?

This would make the fighter more useful. However, this is caused by the player, not the fighter itself. Just because the player is creative and resourceful does not mean the class mechanics are in any way balanced. The same player could make a commoner very useful, or a caster incredibly powerful.


Isn't the game dynamically balanced, with fighters being better at lower levels and casters at higher levels?

First of all, it's debatable if this is even true. Even at low levels casters can outshine fighters. More importantly, dynamically balancing a cooperative game is a fundamentally flawed way of doing things. It's essentially saying "you can't have fun now, but he can't have fun later."

Could I balance the game by readjusting every spell available?

This is certainly possible, but more trouble than it's worth. The core wizard has over 300 spells. Balancing each one is tedious and time-consuming. Adding in supplements increases the problem.

What's the easiest way to balance the game?

Ban the Big Five and allow the Tome of Battle. The ToB classes are stronger than the core melee, while the remaining casters are much more balanced.

What if I can't buy the Tome of Battle?

Unfortunately, this isn't really addressed by most people. One possibility is to find a set of balanced classes posted online. This might be somewhat difficult, though. The Warblade and all Manuvers can be found for free on the Wizards website, however.

What if I want to play a wizard archetype?

The Archetype is just as easily represented by a psion, wu-jen, warmage, generic spellcaster, int-based sorcerer, beguiler, etc. Just because your class isn't mechanically a wizard doesn't mean people in the setting won't recognize you as a wizard. Similarly, the fighter archetype can be represented by a warblade or rogue, a divine caster archetype by a favored soul or spirit shaman, or a priest archetype by almost any class.

What about the druid archetype? Favored souls and such don't capture the flavor of a nature-based caster.

Some balancers suggest a druid using the shapeshift variant in the PHB2, along with the spontaneous divine caster variant from Unearthed Arcana.

If the main structural weakness of these classes is the number of spells they can cast a day, couldn't a balance minded DM just have more encounters than usual? Martial classes can attack all day and will become more useful with more encounters.


Who can I contact for more information?

People in favor of this balance include Viletta Vadim, Hyudra, snakeman830, and windscar18. Any of them can go into much more detail than this faq does.

Some people believe that these balances are unnecessary. This group includes magmer, Zelphi, and many others.

I want to add something to this FAQ, or get my name removed.

This is a wiki. Feel free.