Magic is Broken Part 1: Scaling

The title says it all. “Dungeons and Dragons,” and most fantasy games for that matter, have broken magic-using classes. My main issue with them is scaling and advancement.

Scaling is the amount of damage or impact on an encounter a given class has in relation to their level. Melee classes, such as the iconic fighter, hit slightly harder or more often at every level. The progression is arithmetic, 1+1=2, 2+1=3 and so forth. Over time, each successful attack delivers more damage and is more likely to hit. This type of damage progression is applicable to most classes, save the magic users.

Magic users also arithmetically progress, but their increases are in spell slots. Each level allows them to throw more spells, with more powerful effects. On paper, this seems like an equitable system. It is not.

The problem arises because the fighter is always doing “hit point” damage. When fighting a creature, a fighter whittles away at hit points. He really has no other option. A magic user, calling on the powers of the universe, can literally end an encounter by melting the creatures brain or turning its nervous system to jello. Saving throws do not balance this out either. Since the casters always know they have to beat the enemy saving throw, most use items to increase the save number or min/max their casting stats. Sure a 20th level fighter can dish out damage, but the 20th level caster levels moutains in his spare time for fun. There is no parity.

In terms of story, casters should be more powerful than melee fighters. Take “The Lord of the Rings” books as an example. Gandalf is the baddest bad-ass in all of Middle-Earth. He killed a Balor single-handedly, after falling a few thousand feet and then came back from the dead. Tell me that Aragorn, clearly one of the best melee fighters, could do that? It works in fiction, but not in an RPG.

In game terms, uber-powerful casters are a disaster. All too often dramatic encounters fall victim to a spell, ending them prematurely. Personally, I have seen entire parties come to depend on the casters to do the heavy lifting and then go in for the clean-up with melee weapons. It makes PC parties lazy and complacent.

Arcanis has a nice solution. It involves an evil island nation that enslaves spell casters. It makes the casters more subtle in their approach. Cast a fireball in a big city and you might get “harvested.” It is a nice solution, but I think I can do one better.

I have an idea to radically alter spell-caster progression to make the casters more balanced overall.

Check out tomorrow’s entry on “advancement” for more details.

Trask, the Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.