Perhaps this has been answered already: searching returns only the opposite question, how to bypass a vancian system.

I quite like the idea of preparing spells. As in, you have 2 fireballs and 3 magic missiles, not 2 lvl3 and 3 lvl2 spell slots you can use to cast fireballs and magic missiles; it truly separates wizards from sorcerers. It also makes it easier to run an NPC wizard (fewer options to consider; they either have a fireball or not). And lore-wise, the current system is even harder to rationalize.

Is there a wizard variant that could be used like that in 5e? And if not, how it could be balanced? My first thought would be to bump the number of spell slots (50%?), as some of the spell slots would be "wasted", or giving the spell slots of the next level (assuming there's no tier crossing e.g. from 4 to 5), but it seems pretty arbitrary.

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    \$\begingroup\$ At first glance this seems just like the 3.5 Wizard way of preparing spells. Are you familiar with that version? If so, are there any fundamental differences in what you are trying to do? \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Apr 20 '18 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage yes, I'd like that type of preparation but in 5e. Yet imposing the restriction without giving any extra benefits seems wrong as it would be strictly worse mechanically. \$\endgroup\$ – falsedot Apr 20 '18 at 18:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure where you got the idea that D&D 5e doesn't work this way, see page 114 of the PHB - "Preparing and Casting Spells" \$\endgroup\$ – fiend Apr 23 '18 at 12:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ 5e has a much better delineation between wizards and sorcerers (and warlocks) than 3.x's "prepared vs spontaneous (vs not spells)". I don't think you need to change anything (else), just make sure to get as many extra rituals into the spellbook as possible \$\endgroup\$ – Caleth Apr 23 '18 at 13:03

It's Not Hard.

Let's examine what we mean by "balance". In a combat situation there are only three factors to consider: the average damage per round, the "nova" damage per round, and the frequency of "dead" rounds (where the character has little to contribute). In non-combat situations, there are just two things: the frequency of being able to contribute and the magnitude of the contributions.

That's all "balance" is. It is simply about the player feeling that he usually has something to contribute, and that sometimes he gets to contribute something big.

So, let's see what would happen if you simply change the 5e wizard to Vancian slots, with no other changes. We will assume that cantrips remain RAW. The "nova" damage would not change at all - a Meteor Swarm still does the same damage. The average damage per round would not change at all, either, until the wizard started running out of slots. However, as the wizard runs out of slots, he starts having "dead" rounds. In non-combat situations, the magnitude of his contributions is exactly the same, but the probability that he can contribute is significantly less, as the variety of spells he has available at any given moment is diminished.

So we have two areas to address: dead rounds in combat and fewer non-combat actions. One way to approach this would be to accept this and improve the class in other areas to compensate. This is a valid method, but it's trickier for two reasons. First, it tends to lead to love-it-or-hate-it classes such as Warlock (which, scanning this web site seems to exist almost entirely for characters to take "dips" in.) Second, whether the result is balanced depends a lot on the game style. For example, the Warlock class does little "nova" damage but rarely has a dead round. But if you DM likes to have one big battle per game instead of a sequence of battles with occasional rests, the Warlock is completely overshadowed by the "battle-casters".

The other approach is to address the specific deficiencies. @KorvinStormast suggests a variety of ways to address the "dead round" problem - magic items can address this very specifically. Another idea would be to beef up the flexibility of cantrips - adding range, adjusting damage types, increasing the number, etc.. (Note that I do not suggesting bumping up their damage - we are trying to eliminate dead rounds, not increase the damage-per-round). Note that simply adding more spell slots has an unwanted side-effect: it increases the number of times the character can go "nova" at least as much as it decreases the dead rounds. Given the choice, most players are going to load up with fireballs!

The non-combat flexibility can be addressed with similar measures. Scrolls are a particularly good mechanic for increasing the variety of actions available to a wizard - one idea would be to drastically reduce the cost of creating scrolls for the Vancian wizard, but with the limitation that only the author can use the "discount" scroll and some additional limitation regarding their use in combat.

Here's an easy idea to playtest.

The scroll idea alone may be enough. I personally like the flavor of scrolls in a Vancian class and this would be simple to implement. I would start with just this: A Vancian wizard has the same spell slots and other traits as a conventional wizard, save the Vancian mechanic. However, a Vancian wizard may scribe a scroll that only he can cast from for 10% of the normal price (per XGE pg 133). Casting from such a scroll requires extra a full Action to prepare, followed by a full Action in the next turn to cast, and no other actions (Move, Bonus, or Reaction) can occur in the interim. (This last clause limits the ability to abuse the rule for combat, while still giving it some combat utility.)

If there are any big holes in this idea, I'm sure we'll see in the comments. But this should be easy to playtest and can't be too far from balanced.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I'd completely misunderstood the 10% of the normal price as 10% off of the normal price. Ok, this might change my position. My bad. Still, combat-wise they seem underpowered. You are actually decreasing the number of prepared spells (as a Vancian wizard has prepared spells = spell slots, and you can prepare more spells than you can use for most levels, currently) and insanely decreasing their versatility in a given day. I am not sure a simple cost and time reduction for scrolls that let's be fair are not actually usable on combat is worth it. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Apr 21 '18 at 18:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ A playtest will tell, but I think it may be the other way-round. At the end of the combat, the Vancian wizard may have a few unused spells whereas the standard wizard will have used more slots. But if the Vancian wizard knows that combat is coming, he can cast buff spells from scrolls in advance at no slot cost. At 5th level, he can start every combat with Blink going. That's . . . pretty potent. \$\endgroup\$ – pokep Apr 21 '18 at 18:51

There isn't a way to make this well balanced

There is no spell caster in 5th edition that works with specific instances of memorized spells anymore, which is a dramatic departure from every earlier edition of D&D (with the possible exception of 4th, which I skipped entirely). All spell casters either have a permanent limited list of spells known (Ranger, Warlock, Sorcerer, etc.) or they have a larger list of spells (Spell book for wizards, all spells for Clerics and Druids for instance) and they create a sub-list of spells available. If a spell is on their list they can use a spell slot to cast it and it remains on said list; the act of casting the spell never changes the list.

Modifying how magic works is as impactful as removing the maximum natural attribute limit of 20 or creating a skill points per level system. You're playing with a core concept and the amount of work that would be required to check all the edge cases for munchkin-ing or unattended side effects would require an entire team.

That said, Rule 0. Just don't expect to be able to balance it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 23 '18 at 18:46

You can make this easier for yourself, as a DM

What you propose is worth a try, but you really should play test it.

To present a given wizard with more options, as a DM you can make magic items like wands, staves and scrolls more present, findable, and available for trade (not necessarily for purchase) or as another kind of reward.

The core premise of D&D 5e is that magic items are less common than in some previous editions. One of the things that made a pure Vancian caster far more effective in the older systems that I played (Original, 1e AD&D, 2e, BECMI) was when that precious wand or stave showed up. Likewise with rings (or other items) of spell storing.

What is nice about 5e wands is that they recharge themselves. At dawn. So do most staves. The wizard still has to prepare spells with an estimate toward the future, but making wands more available counters the loss in flexibility when the daily choice of "what do I prepare?" arises. If you don't do that, the curb in flexibility nerfs the wizard significantly.

Beyond that, the wizard has cantrips. Those can be cast at will

As the classes/characters go up in level, staves are likewise a way to mitigate the lack of flexibility that purer Vancian magic imposes on the wizard. You don't have to give them away: make them work for it. The wizard still has to pick which wands, rings, or staves to attune to. That's fine. The Quadratic Wizard/Linear Fighter issue is still present in this edition, though not to the extent that it is in other editions.

Another feature needs to be retained: ritual casting. This feature mitigates the problem of preparation requirement for a variety of very useful utility spells. Keep that feature, or you will punish the wizard unnecessarily.

Rings of spell storing

While the wizard still has to consider attunement slots, making that magic item more accessible will likewise offer more flex for the wizard who has been forced to make more hard choices.


While these are a consumable, the wizard needs to make a choice: put it in the book or save it for "I need this now" situations? Making choices, and their consequences, are a core part of this TTRPG.

Will you have tipped the balance?

Yes, but it may only crop up in unusual circumstances. You have the discretion as DM to tweak any of these options if you find that it hampers the wizard too much. See DMG p. 5. (Master of Rules).

Size matters

In a party with three characters, the differences will probably manifest themselves more than in a party with 5 or 6 players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ An additional consideration is the campaign setting. In my campaign I get teleported from one side of the world to the other frequently so it is difficult to know what enemies are being faced. This is a massive nerf to your proposed Wizard. On the other hand if they know exactly the content of the campaign they can better make use of that choice, albeit still less than a normal Wizard. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 23 '18 at 9:16

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