Spellcasters vs Martial: Adjustments to Balance

Each of the titular spellcasting systems has its own benefits and drawbacks. Mana (video game style) is usually reduced to spell points. Spell points are a high-flexibility, high-five spell slot system. Pact Magic offers rechargeable spell slots, sort of a mix of spell slots and mana.

What if we could move every spellcasting class to a Pact Magic system with variations?

Certain classes could have more slots per day, different bonuses or ways to twist the spells (not necessarily invocations). You might argue that Druids, Clerics, Bards, Sorcerers, and Wizards gain double the number of spells per shirt rest for instance, maybe less since they have recharge abilities. Paladins and Rangers get an equal amount and Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters gain some amount less. (Blood Magic for sorcerers, Oath Magic for Paladins, Nature Magic for Druids, Song Magic for Bards, Blade Magic for Eldritch Knights, Scholar’s Magic for Wizards, etc. would be the simple wording.)

While this might rob the Warlock of uniqueness, it puts an interesting limit on casters and pushes short rests up in value.

We could entertain new class features for the dedicated casters.

It allows spells to automatically be cast at the highest available level.

While casters are greatly reduced in total available spells per day in any one instant (say start of day), we could investigate new at-will and per day abilities and such for the other casters like the Warlock has. I easily think this is what makes the Warlock so attractive as a casting class. Even the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster could be moved to the system.

Bookkeeping for spellcasters would be monumentally easier.

Any thoughts? Reactions?

I’m not super familiar with Warlocks. I like the idea of pact magic but I guess I am not super sure what exactly you were thinking on how this might work on individual spell usage.

Essentially the thought was less spells available at once but faster to recharge. I’m sort of aiming for a cross between mana (like in video games) and spell slots (like in D&D). The idea would be you have much fewer spells available at once, but they are always cast at max level. You can then recharge them through a short rest or possibly through a class ability.

EDIT: The other side of this would be that since the spellcasters no longer have as many spells (thus bringing their power level down a notch), new abilities can/should be added to give them a little more oopmh.

I’m quite content with the current spellcasting system. The proposal above is more of an overhaul than small quality of life changes, which then means we have to memorize, and become intimate with, 2 completely distinct spellcasting systems, one of which is extremely unlikely to be exercised in the majority of the campaigns/games we play.

Converting all spellcasters to a Pact Magic type system would be a heavy nerf to utility casters and a heavy buff to damage casters. With few spell slots, but cast at max level, damage casters can frontload their damage in a very short time. On the other side of the coin, utility casters will be wasting the full effect of their max level utility spells, and are denied their agency in varying the potency of their magic.

Additionally, for Clerics, Druids, and Paladins, since they choose their spells at the start of the day (when they regain spell slots), the amount of spell slots on a Pact Magic system would be severely dwarfed by the number of spells prepared for the day. Though, it could be argued that these classes get to re-spec their spell list at the end of a short rest. But then, the net result is quite similar to the original system.

In all, I think overhauling the system like this will introduce many new problems, and the workload to balance it all will increase several times over as we make individual adjustments to classes just so they remain viable in the competitive spellcasting landscape. The current system differentiates spellcasting classes well, and is one that everyone is well adjusted to already, and still gives players a sense of agency over how powerful their spells ought to be when cast.

A recharging mana system is a compelling idea, but should be made to work within the current system, instead of changing the current system to work with it. The scope of balance and adjustments is then constrained to only the mana system, and not to the entire overhauled system. This makes mana a nice system that can be opted into very easily, has a relatively small workload and scope, and keeps its usage purely voluntary on the user’s end.

So throwing out a quick idea on mana:

Spell points or spell slots?

If spell slots, I would think spells in the lowest tiers would regenerate first and would slowly increase, maxing ouat at 5th level. Spell points could easily be some flat number (1 per x rounds)

It depends on what kind of power fantasy the mana system is trying to achieve.

The power fantasy that warlocks deliver on is a damage+control mage that excels in a game setting where combat situations are frequent in a given day. Thus, max-level casting and short rest recharge are appropriate for this power fantasy.

In my opinion, a spell point + spell slot hybrid system would be appropriate for a mana-based spellcaster. More specifically, make the spellcaster expend spell points to cast a certain level spell slot. For example…

2 points = 1st level
4 points = 2nd level
8 points = 3rd level
16 points = 4th level
32 points = 5th level

Thus, a mana-based spellcaster would spend that many points to cast a spell of the respective level.

I’d even recommend having the spell points regenerate on a minute-basis rather than a round-basis. This limits how many extra spells can be dumped in any given combat encounter due to the regeneration, while not choking the spellcaster on how many spells can be used in a combat encounter without the use of per-round regeneration.

The DMG already offers a spell point system. It could easily be modified and mana could be used to regenerate the points. I wouldn’t want regeneration of spell slots/points without first reducing casters in some way.

One idea behind a “Pact Magic for all” was a direct nerf to bring casters more in line with martial characters. I would think any system that benefits spellcasting would have to bring some kind of negative.

One thought would be to remove long rests as a way to recharge all spell points and they simply slowly regenerate across the day.

All in all, spellcasting is nowhere near as strong as it was in 3.5, but it still outclasses martial characters.

TL;DR - I think buffing martial (rather than nerfing magic) would be a more reasonable solution.

Based on 5e gameplay experience, here is what I have observed:

  • Martial fighters rely on melee attacks or ranged ammunition attacks for their damage output. Because of these constraints, they rely on a large® health pool than the average spellcaster.
  • Spellcasters gained access to the magical variant of martial weapons in the form of cantrips. Spellcasters are proficient in the use of their repetitive damage source (cantrips), which is something they struggled with in previous editions.

With the above points…

  • Spellcasters match martial fighters in having access to a cheap, repetitive damage source.
  • Spellcasters also gain AoE, zone control, and mind-affecting magic. They have other ways to express themselves in combat besides just dealing damage.
  • A martial fighter’s increased health pool and multiple attacks are not enough to match the utility of spellcasters.

I think it would be a good idea to give martial fighters more combat utility. Buffing martial damage is boring, which then causes an issue with “damage creep”. However, combat specific buffs/actions/feats would be some good routes to explore, as well as expanded weapon types that offer more variety besides different damage types and # of dice.

As far as direction for buffing martial combat, I think there are a few focus points for any homebrew innovations:

  • Gap closing
  • Self protection
  • Resisting magic (skill contests?)
  • Affecting multiple targets
  • Zone control or character expression via supernatural/extraordinary actions (instead of magical effects)
  • Expanded selection of mounts for mounted characters
  • Weapons with special actions
  • Greater attention to environmental factors and objects

Definitely good things in there, and several we have already discussed elsewhere. What about in non-combat scenarios. Clearly spells are hard to create a martial equivalent, but what might be done in exploration/roleplaying scenarios?

I think in non-combat scenarios, spellcasters and martial fighters tend to be balanced between one another.

Spellcasters have spells that martial fighters cannot match, and martial fighters have class features and boons that spells can’t necessary replicate.

Non-combat scenarios are also the times in which game mechanics are much more relaxed, and gives both spellcasters and martial fighters level ground to compete on, based on the respective players’ ideas, actions, and plans.

Going with that line of thinking then, between the new combat maneuvers/actions which have been added, the new weapons and weapon properties being added, and some of the other adjustments that have been made should be the continued veins to follow.