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A note to the developers:
Sorry that we all are only throwing negative comments your way...That is the nature of a Playtest, constructive criticism.
I have striven to be polite about it though and hope that we can patiently and calmly hear out each others arguments before coming to a solution.
That said, lets get on to the topic at hand! The main focus of this post will be Blasting...But the changes I'm suggesting are far more broad then that. Many people have approached this problem and argued over minor parts...I'm going to try not to.
A couple things to note first before I address my suggestion:
1: Proficiency doesn't do much in regards to spells apart from increasing the DC.
2: Heightening has replaced a spells ability to grow more powerful with Caster Level
3: Heightened spells are made to not be as powerful as a spell of the level they are Heightened to.
Now, I'm not going to ask you to remove Proficiency or Heightening as I see potential in them...But I will be asking, not demanding, for some small tweaks if it is possible.
Let's talk about number 2: I liked spells advancing with caster level and I will explain why. (remember, I'm not asking you to change it back)
First of all, I liked that spells improved as you leveled because lower level spells weren’t strictly inferior to higher ones, just different. (Note that this was true of non-blast spells as well. Things like Jump, True Skill, and Enlarge Person stayed useful even after stronger spells came around)
Blasts were a special case because lower leveled spells can achieve greater damage through metamagic, even considering the level increase.
So while Fireball was the go-to damage spell, Fire Snake could do interesting things like curving around walls and people and Delayed Fireball can do yet another interesting thing.
It was a higher level spell for a reason; while you could buff a Fireball’s damage into the skies it was still just a Fireball. A higher level spell has something intrinsically more complicated than just more intense damage.
The problem that occurred, was that the damage of lower leveled spells started far outstripping the utility of the higher spells. In part this was because Metamagic Rods work best on spells below level three, the other part was that metamagic just added so much damage to a spell.
Notice, the problem wasn't that it did more damage, just the extent of the difference. Thus, higher damage is not the problem.
For instance, Intensified Shocking Grasp may do more damage than Scorching Rays...But you have to touch the guy... Scorching Rays is still valuable because it can attack multiple targets at a distance.
The problem with Heightening, is that the current system has, basically, the same spell with a bit more damage at each level. Nothing terribly interesting happens when it becomes a higher level spell. This also makes lower leveled versions of the spell just seem like an inferior replacement.
So what do I suggest?
I advise a sort of hybrid system. I suggest that individual spells get a little more powerful as your spellcasting proficiency increases. (This addresses notes 1 and 2)
So, in the case of blasts, when you reach Expert Proficiency your spells will gain a bit of a damage boost to keep them relevant over cantrips. Then, you can heighten them to gain, not only further damage, but also something worthy of a higher tier.
For instance, Fireball gaining the option of being Delayed once it’s been heightened past a certain level. Or maybe, Scorching rays can add additional rays and become Contagious, then have the option of merging them all together into a Fire Snake?
This has what is, in my opinion, the added benefit of reducing the amount of necessary fire spells. Only a handful of each type of spell is needed. Each spell is just a chassis for a Mage to learn and improve on. The same chassis will be used for a higher spell but overhauled.
Now it might be best if higher options, like upgrading Scorching Rays to Fire Snake, did a bit less damage then using it the normal way in exchange for the versatility in targeting added to the new form. But don’t overdue this or people won’t us it. The math part I will leave to you guys because only you can make that part work.
One last thing, I would also advise that a 5th level Fireball be equal in power to a normal 5th level spell as opposed to the current model. This was done intentionally because you wanted to incentivize taking higher level spells instead of just reusing your old spells.
In my opinion though, at least for a spontaneous caster, a 5th level Fireball already is a higher level spell of its own. After all, you have to learn it as a separate spell anyways. Therefore, it should be treated as a 5th level spell in all ways.
Of course, if you’re worried that Wizards learning all levels of a spell would make this overpowered, then just make them learn it individually like everyone else. Each level is unique now so it actually feels like a new spell!
P.S. If someone has further insight, questions, or clarifications then please do not hesitate to write. It feels as though we argue so much that we aren't willing to come up with any solutions or new ideas...