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There are plenty of half-casters whose progression is hindered quality-wise, i.e. a paladin at level 5 has 4/2 spells while a cleric has 4/3/2 spells.

I wonder how unbalanced (i.e. would it then make no sense to play a full caster) it would be to have a restriction on quantity instead: the paladin would get 2/2/1 spells (which is the equivalent of 15 sorcery points while 4/2 is 14 - or, 9 spell levels vs 8 spell levels).

My motivation is to have a half caster that can still provide effects of a similar level as a full caster but has fewer spell slots to spend.

As far as I know there isn't a class/subclass that supports that, and using magic items is not quite the same, especially given the limited availability.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are we talking about paladins specifically, or all half casters? How will you address the fact that paladins cap out at 5th level spells? \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Apr 20 '18 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire mostly interested in a paladin, and there wouldn't be a cap. at level 11 they'd get a lvl6 spell but vastly fewer spell lower level slots. \$\endgroup\$ – falsedot Apr 20 '18 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage but wouldn't the same apply for a sorcerer that converts all the low level slots to the max level? I do recognize that it's an intentional design though and that's possible that the correct answer is "don't do that it breaks everything) \$\endgroup\$ – falsedot Apr 20 '18 at 18:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @falsedot The spell list for paladin only goes up to 5th level, as does the cap on divine smite. If they can go to higher spell levels, will they have a higher smite cap? How will you decide their spell list above 5th level? \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Apr 20 '18 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @goodguy5 rather than "how can I play" it's more like "can this be balanced if I homebrew it to be possible" \$\endgroup\$ – Kamil Drakari Apr 20 '18 at 19:38
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What you're describing is a Warlock

A Warlock has a very limited number of spell slots, but gets access to spells all the way to 9th level. They have a bit of a different mechanic where they recover slots after a short rest and can cast them all at their highest level (max 5th), but otherwise they do what you want.

TL;DR: It depends on what their other half is.

Warlocks work because while they have powerful (but limited) magic, their non-magic half is generally weak. A Warlock determines what they want their other half to be when they pick a Pact Boon, either Blade (melee combat), Tome (slotless spellcasting) or Chain (RP). Even a Hexblade, Blade pact Warlock will be weaker in a straight up melee fight than a paladin.

Paladins and Rangers work the opposite way, their weaker magic half augments their stronger martial half. Taking a Paladin who can fight almost as well as a dedicated Fighter and giving them 9th level spells that they can just end encounters with won't be balanced. Why be a Cleric when the Paladin can do all the cool stuff you can, and then hit people afterwards too?

If you were to reduce the Paladin's martial ability to compensate for the increased power of their spells (and replace smite with something better, since they won't have enough slots to effectively use it), then you could probably make something that could be balanced and fun. But at that point, why not just make a Warlock and flavour him to be kinda-paladiny?

Aside

My understanding of the design behind 5e was that they specifically avoided these kinds of class designs. A class with high-level spells but few overall spell slots would be very powerful once or twice a day and very weak otherwise, which would make it unfun for other characters (when this class is single spelledly ending encounters) and then unfun for the PC (when this class can't do anything but cast cantrips the rest of the day).

The Warlock gets around this by having strong cantrips (augmented by Invocations) and recovering their lower level slots after a short rest, meaning they get 1 or 2 moments to really shine but those moments have to coincide with their extremely limited selection of spells known and can still contribute after their Mystic Arcanum are expended.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it would be a great idea to have an order of "paladins" that mechanically were just celestial warlocks with Pact of the Blade and a very careful selection of spells and invocations. \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Apr 20 '18 at 22:33
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I don't see a way to balance this while also being fun.

If nothing else, this would shift the balance of power in the Paladin's smite slots (which is already regarded to be a strong feature).

Right now, a 5th level Paladin gets 4× first and 2× second slots. In terms of smites, that means +2d8 four times and +3d8 two times.

With this change, they would get 2× first, 2× second, and 1× third. +2d8 twice, +3d8 twice, and now access to +4d8 once. Which can be (and will be) used on a crit.

But let's look all the way out to 20th level. Instead of 4|3|3|3|2, we get 2|2|2|2|2|1|1|1|1. For the purpose of smite, we'll count all slots higher than 5th level, as 5th level (since that's as high as they go). The Paladin now has access to effectively six 5th level slots (+6d8 each) instead of their normal two. The loss of a few lower level slots is menial, since they didn't want those anyway.

"Then, let's not allow these slots to be used for divine smite."
Now you're making rules to cover up your rules, but okay. we'll go with it. Now The Paladin can focus all of their spells into those last 4 slots, since they can't use them for smites anyway. Worse yet, they use something like Branding Smite to add 7d6 onto their next attack, along with the 5th level smite's 6d8.

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