Balancing Spell Casters

Homebrew and House Rules

Some thoughts on controlling a primary caster's power:

I love playing wizards and I love the power they bring to the table, but it can hit a point where an encounter amounts to nothing more than "I win initiative, I check off this spell, they're all dead even on a save. What's the loot?"

I design nice blasters.

I feel like magic should be an incredibly powerful tool, but not one that you can use all day without resting. For that matter, the 8 hour rest / spells per day seems arbitrary too. That's another idea I'll add at the end.

I was thinking of having spells draw on a pool of points based on their spells per day, after which they could draw on a caster's hit points. Hit points cannot be used if the caster has enough spell points to cast the spell.

(This would thematically work better on a Wound point / Vitality point system, but that's another discussion.)

This limits the spells available at any time, but allows rest and healing to restore spells during a fight or between fights.

Spells cost (spell level + caster level) points to cast.
A 5d6 fireball costs 8 points
A 5d4 burning hands costs only 6 points.
Cantrips cost 0 + caster level points (minimum 1).

A spell caster gets a pool of spell points equal to (spells per day x spell level) For example, a 4th level wizard has (4x0)+(3x1)+(2x2) = 7 spell points. Calculate the bonus spells from the casting stat the same way.

This can be used for 7 Burning Hands (cl 1), or 2 Scorching Rays (cl 3) and one Detect Magic, or 1 Burning Hands (cl 5) and Disrupt Undead, or whatever combination the caster chooses.

After these points are depleted, Hit points (or vitality points) can be spent in the same way.

A tweak is needed: Prepared casters get a slight boost here. They can prepare a number of spells equal to the usual spells per day limit, but the spells are not expended on use (similar to the Arcanist). Spontaneous casters can already cast any spell they know.

Changing prepared spells and restoring the spell point pool still happen once per day.

Effects and consequences:

All casters are more versatile, but spontaneous casters still get more points per day.

Spellcasters may choose to cast at a lower caster level to save power against weaker enemies (fewer damage dice, shorter durations).

Spells with a damage cap can be cast for maximum effect without wasting points.

Caster level bonuses are now a resource with a cost. (Sure, I can cast a 9D fireball at level 5, but do I want to? It makes me tired!)

Healing in combat can now be a desirable strategy to empower the casters.

Casters have more reason to avoid melee, and melee have more motivation to protect them.

Mages who blow through their whole arsenal aren't necessarily out for the rest of the day. They can heal up to get some spells back, though not full power as if they rested.

Healers can renew their own spells, but since this is usually divine, why not? God likes 'em.

That covers the basics. I haven't playtested this yet, but what do you think?

ADDENDUM: Just spitballing on this one, but 1/day powers and 3+(stat mod) / day powers. What if they cost a percentage of hit points (or vitality) points as well? Then you would want to rest or heal before using it again, but it's not necessarily once per day.
For example: 1/day powers cost hit points (or vitality points) equal to twice your level. 3+ per day powers cost your level per use.
Just a thought to make hit points (or vitality points) a resource other than abstract damage soaking.

Aren't spells/day already a limited resource? Even though YOU build nice blasters, people in your games might not have the same skill. Between having to live long enough to acquire the right Traits/Feats/Class Abilities to become an OP blaster/caster, only being able to use my spells 3-6 times out of every 24 hours and me in real life having to be a research master to find the build or make it from scratch that MAKES my character potentially so mega, there's a lot of hoops to jump through already.

That being said, I'd say go "Dark Sun" on everyone. When casting spells you drain a number of points that eventually suck up all life around you; casting a lot of spells or more powerful spells is an instant-win but whole regions wither, animals go extinct, the caster turns to dust in the process, etc. Dark Sun btw is an old TSR game, a kind of variant to D&D.

I think there's spell point variant rule sets out there so you might not need to make one from scratch. Another easy one is just to have the caster always make a Will save vs the DC of the spell their casting. They'll win most of them but on the off chance they fail they suffer Ability damage to their casting stat. Without magical healing (which would cause the OTHER caster to put themselves at risk) the afflicted caster would take days to recover their casting stat. You could set it at 1 pt of ability damage/level of the spell (that's casting slot level, not ACTUAL level when looking at spells affected by metamagic).

Liberty's Edge

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Ok, forgive me for this, it probably going to be rough to read.

First, your idea does nothing to stop the problem that you outline in the beginning which is "spell caster wins initiative, marks off spell, wins encounter."

Second, I didn't think it would be possible to make low level casters less fun to play, but you managed it. 2 spells per day at fourth level and not using your full caster level?

Third, at high levels, spell points won't matter at all.

Fourth, figuring out spell points looks extremely tedious and annoying.

In short I believe this completely fails at pretty much everything it wanted to do.

The problem is high level spells are world defining, game breaking abilities no matter how often or what they cost to use. If you want balance you'll either want something like E6 or E8 or you'll have to throw the entire casting setup out and rewrite it from the ground up like Spheres of Power did.

Converting the existing spells per day into a spell pool was really an after thought on this, and done to account for casters getting lower HD, skill points, etc. I was much inspired by the starwars d20 vitality point cost for force powers when I thought of this.

@Mark Hoover 330
I considered the existing point system, but it didn't account for caster level. I feel like more power behind a spell should have more cost.

Fair point on unoptimized casters. It's been a long time since I played with someone who didn't optimize.

The problem with the Dark Sun approach (awesome setting) is that evil casters, or even good ones, will do what they must without regard for surroundings. In my current campaign, arcane magic is outlawed, and the players are still arcane casters.

Spheres of power is on my eventual reading list. I've heard good things.

Thanks for the tough, but polite, feedback. That's just what I'm looking for. These points are to clarify, rather than argue.

The first problem, it's a partial fix. Rather than cutting loose with a full blast at the start a mage has to consider how much power to put in. Even then he might need a rest afterward. The essence of role playing is difficult choices after all.

It's not 2 spells per day, it's 2 spells till you rest or get healed. This encourages reliance on healing and discretion in spell use. At 4th level there's also the hit points to draw on (9-24 points not counting con mod) That can be a lot of magic missiles (up to 31 at cl 1 or 10 at cl 3). high powered spells burn points faster.

At high level, the higher caster level actually makes most spells cost more, but then I've seen a 15th level wizard who mostly used magic missile and animate rope do wonderful things under the standard rules.

Yeah, figuring points is annoying. I wanted to preserve the sorceror's edge in extra points. At least you only do it once per level. A sticky note in the margin of your book means you can do it just once.

I ran an E6 kingmaker game in my last campaign. It was amazing! Full support there.

I know this isn't for everyone and many won't like it. What holes still need patched? What unintended consequences might I have missed?

I don't know how you'd go about doing it, as this is just a spitballed idea, but perhaps reduce the number of 7-9th level spells that casters can use each day (by say, 3/4 after bonus spells per day, minimum 1). In return though, as casters level up, their lower level spells 1-3 (maybe 4th) can gain additional time/damage/whatever effects and/or be cast more often. Just off the top of my head that seems like it would really make those high level casters choose whether to use their 'NUKE' spells. It would allow them to basically use lesser spells more effectively (basically when a high level wizard is asked about low-level spells, 'oh yeah, those are easy to cast, basically a cantrip at this point').

Just spitballing as well:

Maybe make casting times go up with the spell's spell-level? If your problem is "One And Done" the simplest solution seems to be making it impossible to cast a combat-ending spell on the first turn.

I thought about the replies received so far and I began to get the feeling I hadn't clearly described my problem with casters (which I still love). As I continued to think about it and process data on a spreadsheet I realized that what's bothering me is the quadratic nature of wizards.

I don't mind the disparity between martial and melee so much, simply rolling for stats tells us that not all characters are balanced against each other. Rather, I find that the quadratic expansion of power creates a very narrow window of the endorphin rush that comes of gaining that power. The excitement of the "ding" or "bwoosh", whatever.

Right around 5th or 6th level, any full caster comes into their real power regardless of build, for divines maybe level 7 with the acquisition of raise dead. Past this point you still refine and improve, but a corner has been turned and progression becomes faster and faster.

Here is the real quadratic problem: (spell level)*(caster level)=power.

See, I like being able to cast a 5d4+12 burning hands at level 1, but I feel unsatisfied that it's no harder than casting a 1d4 burning hands. When I intensify the spell with magical lineage that power grows, but still doesn't get any harder. Logically, it should. Literature and films are full of spell casters pushing extra hard and feeling drained.

Whenever I tinker with the rules, I try to use the existing data, just in a different way than intended. This allows everyone to still use their own books and maintains fidelity to the game system. The math behind core spell progression is actually pretty elegant, though a bit wobbly at the first and last 3 levels.

wiz level...sp/day (core)...points(my system)...(with max hp)...cost to cast all core spells
1........................1..........................1...................... ...7.........................2
2........................2........................2........................ 8........................6
3........................3........................4........................ 16........................13
4........................5........................7........................ 19........................27
5........................6........................10....................... .28........................40
6........................8........................15....................... .33........................63
20........................36........................183.................... ....237........................900

Formatting a table here is tricky, so I'll leave it there. This data doesn't account for any ability score modifiers, but that's easy enough to add in.

You can see that the total power a wizard has in a day at level 20 is 900 (CL x Sp level) divided among 36 spells. By accounting for caster level and using points (including hit points) a wizard can still throw those big blasts, but will need a rest between them. At level 20 the spell points account for 60% of his total casting power, so even getting healed only brings him back up to 40% between battles. This is also why I feel like vitality points are a better representation for this than hit points.

A wizard can still bring a gun to a knife fight, but if he goes full auto he'll have to reload sooner.

I hope that clarifies what I'm shooting for.

Y'know, I'm just putting this out there but... another way to control the "winning" of arcane casters is to control their spells.

I know, it's not on point for this thread and it's a bit heavy handed as a GM tactic, but I wanted to mention it. With any spellbook-based caster they have to research spells, even if it is handwaved between adventures, in order to have a specific spell in their tomes. Witches receive their spells from a mysterious Patron which in this case is the GM. Heck, you could even just dictate to spontaneous casters that THESE are the spell lists they can choose from, take it or leave it.

Another thing, to cut down on the amount of world-bending spells they're tossing around every day: LOTS of attacks.

At 10th level a Wizard is a truly frightening force of the cosmos. For all their fury however they have 2 5th level spells, plus any bonus for high Int. What if they're attacked by 3 CR 12 encounters in a day? Better yet, what if it was 9 encounters?

So perhaps the way to address your concerns isn't necessarily a different way of PC spellcasting, its a different way of GM'ing?

This is one of those situations where my subconscious was telling me the solution to a problem that my conscious hadn't recognized.

Like I mentioned in my last post, the thing that was really bugging me was the quadratic expansion of power.

I'm actually okay with the power level of mages. Gaining the power too quickly and without having to make a trade off is what irritated my internal logic.

The points system above basically turns at will blasting into encounter blasting. Casting a spell at the highest possible caster level takes more energy than using the minimum caster level for that spell. No reason to put 5d4 of energy into burning hands if I'm just using it to start a campfire, right?

It's funny to look at it now and realize that I've basically recreated the psionics system, which people said was overpowered, as a way of reducing a wizard's power.

Liberty's Edge

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The only people who ever said psionics were over powered either never used psionics, never used arcane magic, or didn't actually read the rules for psionics.

It was interesting to note that in psionics the power point cost of a power equals the caster level. You can then spend a few extra points to "augment" the effect. Pretty similar concept, really.

I did have one issue at my table when the power specified "see the target" rather than line of sight or line of effect. The Psion teleported the aquatic boss monster into the room they were scrying it from and the beat the fish out of water to death.

Awesome moment though. :)

You're attacking the wrong problems which are basically a dozen or so specific spells, and archetypes and classes which get around casting times for summons

Dark Archive

Honestly, just play mutants and masterminds. It does exactly what you want.

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