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So ask any optimizer and they'll almost always tell you the same thing: in 3.5 classes that prepare spells are better than spontaneous spellcasters. It's generally not thought of as even a contest. There's a few reasons for this (never mind that prepared casters usually get better class features than their spontaneous counterparts), but the most often quoted are the slower casting progression and lack of versatility. All spontaneous casters get for their loss of power and versatility is ease of play. My players just finished a campaign with an Archivist and a Druid and they ended up fatigued by all the extra work. They like the idea of spontaneous casters but they don't like feeling like they're being punished for choosing a clearly inferior class just because they don't want to waste everyones time choosing spells.

Of all the things I have thought to try to fix this imbalance, the simplest seemed to be speeding up the spell progression of spontaneous casters to match the progression of the preparatory spellcasters. There had never seemed to be a good reason for this anyway unless Wizards really overestimated the value of spontaneous casting. This seems to help get those spontaneous casters on almost the same foot as prepared casters. I actually think they still wouldn't be as good, but it would close the gap significantly, which is what I'm looking for. Does anyone have any experience trying something along these lines? Or any thoughts or other ideas about closing this gap?

Oh, and I know that "spellcasters don't need any help." I find the tier system instructive but take its recommendations on party composition with a pretty significant grain of salt. I'm not interested in how the Sorcerer stacks up against the Barbarian, because the two serve totally different roles. I'm much more concerned with how it compares to the Wizard. In my mind, the two should play differently but not have such a significant gap in power.

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Just to build on @durron597's comment, Pathfinder's Advanced Class Guide is about to come out, and one of the new classes it's introducing is a sorcerer/wizard hybrid that strikes a really nice balance between them. Even if you don't want to switch to Pathfinder, you can look at it as an example of how to fix it. –  Bobson May 20 at 17:38

5 Answers 5

up vote 21 down vote accepted

These are bascially listed in order from “smallest and easiest” to “biggest and hardest.”

Step One: Eliminate the lost spellcasting level at 3rd

There’s literally no reason for it. At the time, it may have been believed that there were advantages to spontaneous casting that demanded it as a balancing factor, or, as rumored, Monte Cook may have just hated sorcerers (see here for a search for the real reason), but experience and hindsight have demonstrated it to not be the case.

Step Two: Rapid Metamagic

One of the natural and fitting advantages that spontaneous spellcasters should have is the ability to apply metamagic on the fly, but the increased casting time for this ruins that. So eliminate that.

Step Three: Consider More Spells per Day

This is the advantage that spontaneous casters have, but the difference isn’t all that large: usually about 1 spell per day per spell level. It could be bigger, to make it worth a little more. That said, spells per day is rarely a meaningful limitation on spellcasters past level 7 or so (and even that might be generous).

Step Four: Consider More Spells Known

It definitely reduces a major stumbling block for them, and considering that prepared spellcasters have spells known of “all the spells,” they aren’t likely to be threatened by it. For example, sorcerers know spells in a distribution very similar to the wizards spells per day, which means that the sorcerer has to “prepare” the same number of spells as the wizard, he just has to prepare for the rest of his life while the wizard only has to prepare for the next day.

Bonus: Sorcerer specifically

The sorcerer really deserves a better chassis and class features. 2 + Int skill points, on a Cha-based class? That’s just mean. For that matter, a Cha-based class, with only Bluff as a Cha-based class-skill? Why? Give them Intimidate, at the least. Some more knowledges would not be amiss. And some class features, even if it’s just Eschew Materials at 1st and bonus feats as the wizard gets. Some of Pathfinder’s bloodlines are ridiculous, but some of them are fair enough.

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You should absolutely remove the dig at Cook if you don't have a source for it. There's a lot of disinfo about his work on D&D out there that gets passed around like the gospel. –  starwed May 31 at 16:51
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@starwed There's a lot of stuff about Cook's work that deserves the criticism it gets, but I agree that statements like that need back-up; I'd intended, originally, to get it, but forgot to/never got around to it. Is my replacement fair? –  KRyan Jun 17 at 21:07

Slower Progression, But More Spell Slots

Sorcerers get two more spell slots per level than Wizards do. The tradeoff is that they go up the spell levels a bit more slowly (exactly one level later). Is that trade worth it? If you don't think so, you can switch it around and it won't make a big difference. Wizards also get bonus feats that Sorcerers don't get, so even with identical spellcasting the Wizard is still ahead.

The Real Problem: Versatility

That said, your solution won't fix imbalance between the classes because you're not addressing the real problem. Wizards are better than Sorcerers because Wizards can prepare for literally anything. They can prepare any spell they can get a copy of into their spellbook, which tends to be a very large list once you get to higher levels.

A Sorcerer gets to cast more spells per day, but he gets 3-5 spells per level that he knows, and that's it. If none of those spells happen to address something he wants to do... too bad. Go buy a scroll.

A Wizard will almost always have a much larger array of spells. There's very few things she won't have a spell for. If that happens, she can just go get that spell and put it in her book (or use a scroll).

That's the real problem between them. A Sorcerer who specializes their spell selection in doing one thing is just as good at that thing as a Wizard, and can do it more times a day. The Wizard will also be capable of doing fifteen other things the Sorcerer can't.

That's the trade you make for spontaneous casting. If your goal is optimizing, it's not a trade worth making.

Closing the Gap

Instead of speeding up the spell progression, give the Sorcerer a larger pool of spells known. Every one of those you add will make the Sorcerer more versatile, which is the thing they lack compared to Wizards.

Of course, if you go overboard on that, you will create a spellcaster that can spontaneously cast so many spells that it'd make the preparation classes weak (and a pain to play) instead. It's a tricky thing to get right.

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One solution that I've seen used is to allow Sorcerers to switch out their spells a lot more easily. By RAW, Sorcerers can only switch out existing known spells with new ones once every other level. If you allow Sorcerers to unlearn a spell known and replace it with a spell from a scroll, you give them a reasonable amount of extra versatility while still keeping the separation between Wizards and Sorcerers.

Here's how I'd implement this idea:

Spell Learning: Sorcerers may switch out existing spells known with new ones. This requires a scroll of the new spell to be learned, and a 1 hour ritual. Once the ritual is complete, the scroll is expended, the Sorcerer forgets one of their existing spells known, and they learn the spell from the scroll. The spell from the scroll must be an equal or lower level spell than the spell to be forgotten.

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This looks really good indeed. It is much less dreadful to select a spell when you know you can swap it later in the game, and even affords you the ability to test-drive. –  Matthieu M. Jun 19 at 15:56

I found this Giant in the Playground Post to be quite helpful. Basically, they talk about this issue; it seems most people acknowledge that sorcerers are the "weaker" class, but not by much. Besides, a lot of prestige classes (like dragon disciple) can be easily entered into by a sorcerer, and never by a pure wizard. People recommend playing sorcerers just for the problem you mentioned; wizards can be crazy awesome, but require constant planning!

You should also not neglect warlocks in this discussion or other spontaneous casters like spell-thieves or bards. Those other spontaneous casters can be super fun, and they can fulfill varying roles more spectacularly than the sorcerer. Sure, they're not the "rewrite the universe" kind of spellcaster, but that's okay. (We play to have fun, right?) Unless you engage in hardcore, olympic-level-of-competition min-maxing, spontaneous spell-casters shouldn't be falling that far behind and can be super fun.

If you're still concerned that spontaneous casters are getting the shaft, the DM can take steps to highlight the benefits of spontaneous casting but still play with the rules-as-written. Running adventurers ragged, keeping up a lack of information, and preventing all resources from being available are all situations where spontaneous spell-casting is better.

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In DDO which is based on the 3.5 rules they use a spellpoint system and Sorcerers have significantly more spell points than Wizards making them much more powerful in combat. They also gain twice as many spell points from the same gear as Wizards.

There are too many different spellpoint systems to go into a specific one at this point but that may be a useful way to balance the various classes.

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protected by Oblivious Sage May 31 at 16:42

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