I have been running a game of D&D and the group is split with two non magic users (Fighter, Barbarian), one quarter-caster (Paladin), one half-caster (Bard), and two full casters (Cleric, Wizard). The game was going rather well as I had started them from level one, however the group has reached level five and the wizard and the cleric have started solving everything which has been making everyone grumpy. Wizard summons are better at tanking than the barbarian and Paladin. Cleric is far better at buffing the party and talking compared to the bard.

I don't wish to just go, "You guys walk into a dead magic zone. None of your fancy magic works now." What can I do to distribute the spotlight equally among the party members?

I was asked for examples. For prime example whenever there is a combat encounter the wizard casts alter self to gain a high natural armor combined with mage armor causing the wizard to have an AC equal to the paladin removing the whole squishiness disadvantage. The wizard also has spell focus conjuration and augment summon so his creatures are actually as good as the fighter and paladin during combat situation.

As for the cleric he has the divine metamagic feat focusing on persistent spell so he is able to give out two buffs that last all day long so the bards song bonuses are pretty much negligible.

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    I'm assuming the question is "within this game system"? Also, are you planning to rise more in level? This problem is going to get a lot worse. – Erik Sep 13 at 12:18
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    @MaikoChikyu: How amenable would the Cleric be to reselect their feats? Persistent Spell and metamagic cheapeners (Divine Metamagic, Incantatrix, ...) are just game breaking; would your spellcasters be open to remove some feats from the game? (Persistent Spell, Invisible Spell, Extraordinary Spell Aim, ...) – Matthieu M. Sep 13 at 17:27
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    @MatthieuM. Makes a good point: the cleric's playing up. Further, I recommend auditing that cleric: a human cleric 5 (without flaws) could have the feats Extend Spell, Persistent Spell, Divine Metamagic (Persistent Spell), and Extra Turning and Cha 20, that's still only 5+3+4 = 12 turn attempts per day, and it costs 7 attempts to persist 1 spell. Is the bulk of the cleric's 4,300 gp WBL spent on gear granting more turn attempts? (Also, it's silly to persist spells that negate the bard's abilities; instead, the cleric should be persisting spells that complement the bard's abilities!) – Hey I Can Chan Sep 13 at 20:10
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    @HeyICanChan I think you forgot domains: planning domain for extend spell, one of the turning domains for bonus turnings, extra domain for another = (5+3)+(5+3)+(5+3) = 24, which is three spells instead. Better guess though is that he's still using the Tome & Blood Persistent Spell, which was just +4. – fectin Sep 14 at 3:20
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    @fectin O, sure, it can be optimized even harder, but if the cleric is optimizing to that degree and not helping the other players be equally awesome with their PCs then there's a lot more wrong at the table than the question's saying. :-) – Hey I Can Chan Sep 14 at 3:34
up vote 47 down vote accepted

So, there is definitely a systemic problem here, that is impossible to fix and difficult to work around, as Theik says, and it’s certainly true that E6 will help keep things from getting worse, as kviiri says, because things are very much liable to get worse at 7th and beyond.

But that’s not the whole story.

I think you have systemic problems compounded by player problems. To wit, the stronger classes (read: easier to get working well, requiring less optimization skill) are being played by those optimizing more, rather than those who are optimizing less, which might help to balance out the situation. In particular, Divine Metamagic is probably much-too-high-power for a game in which the barbarian and fighter aren’t optimizing much and falling into many of the myriad traps before those classes.

And on the flip side, the weaker classes (read: harder to get working well, requiring greater optimization skill) are being played by those optimizing less, rather than those who were optimizing more. It’s counter-intuitive, since the weaker classes are also branded the “simpler” ones, but they are actually harder to play. There are just so many traps for a fighter or a barbarian.

Which they must have fallen into, because a simple summon monster with Augment Summoning shouldn’t be enough for a summoned creature to be superior to a barbarian or a fighter. Are there options out there for a wizard to summon things so powerful that nothing a barbarian or fighter can do will help? Yes, there are—but they’re more involved than just the one feat.

For the bard, there is probably plenty of room for improvement just in feats and spells. This Q&A might be of assistance there. The bard isn’t cleric or wizard, but they can still definitely contribute.

The barbarian, fighter, and paladin are going to have a harder time.

So what I would recommend here is to consider suggesting that the barbarian, fighter, and paladin play better (read: easier to get working well) classes. Specifically, Tome of Battle was something of a revolution in D&D 3.5e design, finally working hard to ensure that there were no traps and things worked as well as they sounded on paper, giving martial characters nice things that enabled them to fight as well as mages cast (well, almost), and they’re pretty newbie-friendly.

Specifically, in my games, I have encouraged players’ class choices as follows:

  • fighter → warblade,
  • paladin → crusader, and
  • barbarian → also crusader, but with the Devoted Spirit discipline swapped for the Iron Heart discipline
    • (and, if desired, the White Raven discipline swapped for the Tiger Claw discipline, though White Raven can work quite well for a barbarian and Tiger Claw is mostly only useful if you’re interested in dual-wielding).

These classes match the fluff and narrative role of these classes very well, to the point that they’re often considered just replacements for those classes (and third class in the book, swordsage, is a replacement for the monk or ninja classes). So what I recommend is that your 5th-level paladin, fighter, and barbarian become 5th-level crusader, warblade, and “crusader,” instead. The characters can stay the same, and gain substantially improved combat ability.

Tome of Battle also multiclasses very well—5 levels of barbarian, fighter, or paladin is hard to countenance, but the first 2 levels of each of those classes is quite good. That allows the barbarian to keep his iconic rage, the fighter to keep his armor and shield proficiencies as well as all but one of his bonus feats, and the paladin to keep detect evil, smite evil, and divine grace. Levels of non-Tome of Battle classes count half towards Tome of Battle “initiator level” (similar to caster level), so those levels also help their maneuvers (I have also had success with allowing fighter levels to count full for initiator level; fighter is a weaker class than barbarian or paladin). So these characters, if they did keep 2 levels in their original classes, would start with IL 2nd, get IL 3rd at their 2nd class level, and so on, allowing them to choose higher-level maneuvers sooner.

You can actually go further and take 4 non-initiating levels, so you start at IL 3rd and can select 2nd-level maneuvers and stances with your initial set of maneuvers, but this is minor and the three classes we’re discussing don’t get a whole lot at 3rd and 4th (the paladin’s doing a bit better than the others, and grabbing the aura of courage and turn undead might be worthwhile—and then they could go for the ruby knight vindicator prestige class, adapted as necessary, in the same book).

So I think if your party had a 2nd-level barbarian/3rd-level crusader, a 2nd-level fighter/3rd-level warblade (or just a 5th-level warblade, honestly), and a 2nd-level paladin/3rd-level crusader (or 4th-level paladin/1st-level crusader or 5th-level crusader or whatever), you would likely be in a much better place at 5th level than you are now.

The spellcasters should not have a lot of trouble with this; spellcasters are still more powerful classes. And they’ll still get (a lot) more powerful still at 7th level and beyond—E6 would still be a good idea. If you do that, I would lift the 3× restriction on Martial Study, and definitely suggest to the paladin that taking more than 2 levels of paladin (and thus never hitting IL 5th in 6 levels) would be very costly (and I might allow some feat to “catch up,” à la Practiced Spellcaster, though I would have to think carefully about what would be appropriate there because that might make their aura of courage and turn undead seem rather like freebies).


Note, Tome of Battle doesn’t spell it out and I think it should: the way to handle crusader maneuvers is with a little deck of cards. Wizards of the Coast made a free set you can print, if you want, or you can just pull scraps of paper out of a hat or just grab some playing cards and write down that the Ace of Spades is your mountain hammer or whatever. Point is, the crusader has some randomness with their maneuvers, and dice are the wrong tool to use to figure them out. With cards, you just draw cards as you get maneuvers, and then when the deck’s run out, you reshuffle the deck and start over: easy. With dice, you have to worry about odd numbers, and then which number is which maneuver discounting those already granted, and it’s just not worth it—cards are the way to go.

And if you do print out the maneuver cards, those have the extra advantage of having the full rules text of every maneuver right there in front of the players. They’ll know exactly what they can do and how it works, physically on the table in front of them. This is great for players who are daunted by the idea of resource management and special powers. These advantages, in fact, apply to all initiators, not just crusaders—swordsages and warblades never have to shuffle, but they certainly can keep cards in front of them to remind themselves what they have readied, and flip them over as they use them.

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    @Erik Uh, there isn’t any; yeah that’s probably easier than d6 rerolling 6s, I just didn’t think of it. But d7 is still problematic, but you only have to deal with that at 20th. – KRyan Sep 13 at 13:34
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    I played a Crusader with the cards and I agree that they are just GREAT. So great that I would consider printing the cards for a Warblade or Swordsage too. Lay the cards in front, flip those that are expanded to immediately what's available, awesome. – Matthieu M. Sep 13 at 17:19
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    @Ethan No, that is false, and I hyperlinked that statement to the Q&A we have on subject; please see that (and if you want to disagree, do so there). – KRyan Sep 13 at 17:22
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    @EricNolan Correct, replacing the class is precisely what I suggest. These classes are very similar to the original classes—just with more and/or better abilities with similar thematics. They are often described as “what [the other class] should have been.” So changing the class here should not be very disruptive; it certainly hasn’t been for me. I’ll add a bit to make that clearer. – KRyan Sep 13 at 17:32
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    We ran into this problem in my group, and I found the Tome of Battle classes to be the perfect solution, for all of the reasons you spell out. When 5e came out, I felt comfortable with the melee classes, because it was clear WotC had realized how boring they were and implemented some of the Tome of Battle buffs/tweaks from the start. – relt Sep 19 at 19:14

In addition to KRyan's answer, our group has found three more ways to reduce this issue:

Encourage teamplay

This is a solution that depends on the personalities of your players, so it may or may not help. But fact is: A buffed fighter will fight better than a buffed cleric. A wizard casting "grease" and "haste" to support his allies will by far outdo one casting magic missile and fireball. It's less personal glory for the casters, but the team as a whole will be stronger.

More encounters between rests

This one depends on your campaign, so YMMV. But we've found that with four encounters a day, a caster will barely have to worry about conserving spells and thus their strongest abilities will come to play all the time. With six or eight encounters? Maybe that group of goblins isn't worth a fireball. Maybe that self-buff will be needed later in the day. Suddenly, the casters have to play a resource-management minigame - and the fighter and bard can shine all the more.

Do try to find a balance there though - a tapped out wizard trying to hit things with a light crossbow for 1d8 damage if he hits with his half-level base attack bonus isn't having fun either.

Present counters... in measured doses

"You walk into an anti-magic field" would be an extreme example, and should be used very sparingly. But you mentioned the classic cleric with divine metamagic - do you know what works very nicely against that? A single wizard of level 5 or higher. Would a wizard living in a world where their enemies can cast powerful buffs ignore "dispel magic"? I know I wouldn't.

A group of level 1 characters will face random monsters - at level 5, they might already be somewhat famous. Their enemies might be plotting against them, preparing specialized counters to their most common tactics (unless they've gone to great lengths to not let their tactics be known). Play those enemies who are supposed to be intelligent (like a wizard with an 18 in the stat, or a cleric with divine guidance and the wisdom to listen to it) with more forethought than random monsters and it will at least mitigate some of the cheesiest things.

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    Welcome to this stack! Take the tour. Some of this is advice I was going to offer, especially considering the game was playtested at low levels using the 2e paradigms of dungeon-rushing (completing as many encounters as possible before resting so that reinforcements won't occur) and too many enemies ("Hey, look, its 100 goblins!"), so thanks! As an aside, consider using real headers (prefacing them with #, ##, or ###) instead of faking them with boldface and linebreaks. Thank you for participating and have fun! – Hey I Can Chan Sep 13 at 14:07

Try E6

DnD 3.5e is well-known for having these issues with class balance on higher levels. If you want to stick to the same core system, the easiest option is to never get to those levels at all.

E6 (superbly explained in this answer) is a modified ruleset for DnD 3.5e where the maximum level for player characters is six. After this, they grow in power slowly by gaining new feats, but don't gain the significant increases in raw power levels represent.

It should be noted that E6 also changes the overall feel of the game towards a grittier style of fantasy, which is not necessarily to your taste, but is still likely better than trying to come up with appropriate challenges for gritty muggles and epic wizards separately. I would not balance the game through anti-magic fields or such - having a part of the party be useless is not fun, even if they take turns.

If your group wants to retain the higher levels, you could try to convince them to switch to a later edition of DnD. 5e and especially 4e generally balance casters and non-casters much better at all levels of play.

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    While I don't disagree that E6 is great for balancing purposes, it doesn't actually really help the OP with his current problem, because they're currently level 5 and already have players feeling too weak. Stopping at 6 doesn't 'fix' the current issue. – Theik Sep 13 at 12:35
  • @Theik Thanks for pointing that out, my brain somehow managed to understand they're at level 15 instead of 5. I guess I'll try to pry OP for more info :) – kviiri Sep 13 at 12:37

Not much, really

D&D 3.5 is notorious for its "linear fighter, flying eye-lasering wizard" dilemna. At some level all of the non-magical classes fall off pretty much entirely and a wizard or cleric will do anything they do, better.

You can try to help your players that are feeling underpowered by showering them with magic items, but there's really only so much you can do because you're fighting a system in which pure casters reign supreme.

You could try having them fight magic immune enemies, but even that only goes so far, because there are plenty of spells that will not be bothered by those enemies either. (Summons, grease, etc.)

Don't mix T1 casters and non-casters

It's that simple. Instead of trying to make your Barbarian (or Crusader) try to compete with the Wizard, just... make a party of either a Wizard, a Cleric, a Druid and an Artificer, or of a Paladin, a Fighter, a Rogue and a Barbarian.

It doesn't suit every gaming table out there, but shuts down the power disparity and lets you, the GM, set the appropriate challenges.

For example, many GMs in my area (Moscow, Russia) just ban full casters (both spontaneous and prepared), because allowing them into a game changes it significantly.

  • (Another option those in your part of the world may consider: In the two campaigns I'm DMing now, I limited PC advancement by saying that PCs can't take the same tier 1 class two levels in a row. (So if a PC at level 1 takes a level of wizard, the PC at level 2 can take a level of anything but wizard.) It's worked out well and has made for some interesting PCs.) – Hey I Can Chan Sep 14 at 2:43
  • @HeyICanChan Gestalt E6. One class mandatory T1 or T2, the other one mandatory T5 or T4 respectively. – Baskakov_Dmitriy Sep 14 at 9:41

I suggest two factors to consider:

  1. The scarcest resource in D&D combat is the action. This was particularly driven home to me while playing a cleric. I had lots of options every round, but I had to choose only one of them. There are a couple of ways to address this.

    1. Consider creating encounters with more numerous enemies. Considering that casters often have area-of-effect spells that can affect large numbers of enemies, you may have to increase the number a lot. Also, smart enemies will use tactics that will limit how many of them will be caught in an area-of-effect.

    2. Try creating encounters where there are more things going on. e.g. Besides just enemies that the PCs are trying to defeat, there's a fire that threatening some innocents and an NPC trying to escape with a McGuffin that the PCs need.

  2. While 3e did increase the amount of magic casters have available in a “day”, it is still limited. Whereas the fighter’s and barbarian’s attacks (ignoring for a moment their own resource-constrained abilities) are just as effective after any number of encounters. And, in general, if the party still has resources left when they’re resting (the fighter’s and barbarian’s abilities that they didn’t get a chance to use), then there’s room for you to increase the pressure so that they have to deplete more resources before resting.

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    The first point is absolutely true, but tends to play in spellcasters’ favor—casting a spell is a far more potent action than swinging a sword in almost every case. In fact, it’s a big part of the reason why the second point tends not to matter so much: what matters is how much you can get done in one turn far more than how many turns you can keep doing that. – KRyan Sep 13 at 14:46
  • @KRyan: I agree with spellcasters being able to affect more enemies at once, however a Wizard rushed by enemies on 3 sides can still only block one group with a summon/wall/..., leaving 2 other groups to deal with. Small consolation if the Wizard and Cleric deal with a group each and then help the other 3 clean-up the last group though. – Matthieu M. Sep 13 at 17:23
  • @MatthieuM. In that situation the Wizard can teleport, cast a semi-circular wall that doesn't block casting (e.g. wall of fire), cast a spell that targets multiple areas (e.g. Summon Monster for several different slightly-weaker creatures), render themselves completely immune to all said enemies but still able to attack them next round (e.g. Etherealness, Fly, Polymorph, Wild Shape), or set up non-wall punishment that affects all the groups if they approach (e.g. Symbol of Death via scroll or otherwise). – the dark wanderer Sep 13 at 17:48

Some in gamplay suggestions:

Surprise them

Their attackers soon find out that the wizard and the clerics magic is too strong. So they realise they have to ambush them while they rest. Maybe the Bard discover them and gets a head start in the fight. Just enough to alert the others and starting the buffing. This might give the others a chance to shine.

Split them up

Sidetrack the wizard and the cleric. Let them fall into a trap and end up in a cave/dungeon. It sounds to me that you have enough of a balance with them in two teams. Maybe they have to fight their way from two sides to be able to team up again.

Pesky minions

Have them being attacked by the bosses sidekicks. Either it is a semi strong one or multiple annoying small ones. Wait until the duration on the buffs are almost out as well and then set the fight in motion.

Interruptions

Find something to interrupt them while they are trying to recast their spells. Maybe minions that harass them or a sudden trap that they spring.

  • You can't surprise them mid-rest because of spells like Rope Trick and Alarm. You can split them up with some work, but only for around another two levels. You can't send enough minions to hold up a party with 24 hour buffs active until said buffs are out without killing or driving off the party members and maxing out the casters' exp if they don't die. You can't interrupt a rest because of spells like Rope Trick. – the dark wanderer Sep 14 at 16:33
  • It is not impossible for someone to attack while your party is sitting in an Inn drinking beers or any other time while they are preoccupied and unbuffed. Maybe some creatures attack when you are just about to recast your buffs. Also the minions does not have to be strong but annoying. And they don't have to be preoccupied for 24 hours only when the buffs are about to go. Splitting a them up is also easy. Traps, land slides, falling rocks, shopping in a village/town. Different rooms in an inn etc etc. – Janspeed Sep 18 at 8:38
  • You can only attack them while they are drinking beers unbuffed if they go and drink beers while unbuffed. They have no reason to ever be unbuffed in public (and if they somehow do, nystul's magic aura ). 'When you are just about to recast your buffs' is 'while I am in a secret extradimensional pocket no one can enter with my party and numerous defensive spells'. Traps don't split the party because the party has Find Traps. The other two are dependent on marching order, and also don't work because Stone Shape. Shopping and different rooms only work if the players feel like it – the dark wanderer Sep 18 at 18:24
  • I gave you game play suggestions. If you can't steer or control the game play in any way then I guess they are not for you and your only option is to cancel all magic as the poster wanted to avoid. Also you are nitpicking some of the examples I presented and ignore the rest. Nobody can control everything. Nature, Falling rocks, land slides, old bridges, failing magic, stronger magic and other elements are still available and effective. If you ask me it sounds like you are using a lot of excuses to not having to use your imagination. My answer is still valid though. – Janspeed Sep 20 at 11:30
  • Actually, T1 casters can control everything. That's why they're called T1 casters. I can drop it, though, sorry my explanation wasn't helpful. – the dark wanderer Sep 20 at 18:31

In this universe Spell casters are obviously powerful, so any creature that wants to pass on it's genetics that is being attacked by a party with spell casters in it will attempt to target the spell casters first. Evolution might have devised creatures that feed on the power of a cast spell reducing it in some way. Also anyone who wants to wake up the same shape they went to sleep is likely to surround their bed with subtle and devious traps that will hinder spell casting.

protected by the dark wanderer Sep 14 at 16:33

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