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In the Unearthed Arcana article "Prestige Classes and Rune Magic" (pdf link), they introduce the idea of prestige classes, a class with only a few levels and more multiclassing prerequisites, borrowed from earlier editions.

I decided to have a go at creating a prestige class based on one from 3.5e, the Red Wizard (note that my knowledge of 3.5e and the Red Wizard prestige class comes exclusively from Neverwinter Nights 2; here's a link to their implementation of this prestige class in their video game).

Given that I only have experience with 5e outside of that video game, I hope that I've translated it to 5e adequately. I've also researched into the 3.5e version, and found that there's something called Circle Magic, which appears to raise caster levels. I wasn't sure how to apply that directly to 5e, so I instead modelled it off of the sorcerer's Metamagic feature, but with restrictions so that it isn't just stealing the sorcerer's thunder.

Are there are any major balance concerns with it, and does it still match the flavour of what this prestige class was going for in 3.5e?

I've attempted to balance the first/second level features that give you +1 to spell related d20 rolls by bringing back the old arcane school restrictions (since Red Wizards apparently have extra restrictions in 3.5e, I thought it made sense to add one here), and giving wizards a sorcerer's Metamagic without multiclassing's spellcasting problems should hopefully be offset by the fact that you have to decide ahead of time, unlike the sorcerer who can do it whenever they like to whatever spell they like.

Anyway, here is the prestige class description, and anything in italics is my commentary on something, rather than a proper part of the description.

Prestige Class: Red Wizard

(I'll include some descriptive text here, probably mostly borrowed from here) $$ \begin{array}{c|l} \textbf{Level}& \textbf{Features} \\ \hline \text{1st} & \text{Spellcasting, Enhanced Specialization} \\ \text{2nd} & \text{Specialist Defense} \\ \text{3rd} & \text{Circle Magic} \\ \text{4th} & \text{Ability Score Improvement} \\ \text{5th} & \text{Improved Circle Magic} \\ \end{array} $$


Prerequisites

In order to advance as a Red Wizard, you must meet the following prerequisites (in addition to the multiclassing prerequisites for your existing class):

  • Race: Human. Only humans are allowed to join the ranks of the Red Wizards.
  • Class: Wizard, with an Arcane Tradition from the Player's Handbook. Red Wizards focus their studies on one of the eight known schools of magic.
  • Alignment: Any non-good. Red Wizards are known to be morally questionable slavers, demonologists, and magical experimenters, and often received support from demons, devils, and drow.
  • Character level 5th. Red Wizards only accept those who are already dedicated to and have experience with studying a school of magic.
  • Proficiency in the Arcana skill. Red Wizards only accept those who are already experienced in matters of the arcane.
  • Intelligence 16. Red Wizard only accept the brightest into their ranks (I know this seems somewhat redundant, but I was thinking of a multiclassed character who just have the basic 13 INT to multiclass into wizard; I wanted this to be more wizard-oriented than that, but without just outright banning multiclassed characters).
  • Appearance change. If you had hair, your head is shaved and have red wizard tattoos applied to your bald head upon taking your first level in this prestige class.

Class Features

As a Red Wizard, you gain the following class features:

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d6 per red wizard level
Hit Points per Level: 1d6 (or 4) + your Constitution modifier per red wizard level

Proficiencies

Tools: Alchemist's supplies

Saving Throws: None
Skills: None

Equipment

When you take your first level in the red wizard prestige class, you gain some red wizard's robes.


Spellcasting. When you take your 1st level in this prestige class, it counts as a level in the wizard class for the purposes of learning and preparing new spells. For example, if you are a 5th-level wizard, when you take your 2nd level in this prestige class, you would be able to learn and prepare spells of a 7th level wizard, which includes adding two new spells of 4th-level to your spellbook.

Enhanced Specialization. Upon becoming a red wizard at 1st level, you become even more skilled at casting spells from your chosen school of specialization. You gain a +1 bonus to your spell save DC and spell attack bonus when casting spells of your chosen school (as per your Arcane Tradition), but you can no longer learn spells of the opposing school of magic (see this Q&A for a table of opposing schools of magic, specifically the "Direct Opposition" from KRyan's answer). You may still cast spells that you already know from that school of magic.

Specialist Defense. At 2nd level, you gain a +1 bonus to your AC and saving throws against spells of your chosen school.

Circle Magic. Starting at 3rd level, you learn two metamagic options as outlined in the sorcerer's Metamagic class feature. At the end of a long rest, you may apply these metamagic options to your prepared spells, either one metamagic option to two of your prepared spells, or both metamagic options to one prepared spell.

When you cast these spells before the end of your next long rest, you may chose to cast the it using the previously applied metamagic. If you chose to apply both metamagic options to one spell, you must choose which one to use on that casting. Once that spell has been cast in this way, you must reapply that metamagic at the end of your next long rest.

Improved Circle Magic. When you reach 5th level, you learn one more metamagic option and the number of spells you can apply your metamagic options to increases from two prepared spells to three prepared spells. You must otherwise still follow the restrictions outlined in the Circle Magic class feature. (Is this enough for the capstone? I was otherwise thinking of changing long rest to short rest, but that might make it too powerful. Other thoughts were learning two new metamagic options, but still only being able to apply three of them per long rest.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 12 at 23:45
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I'd like to preface this with the fact that I'm usually a GM and have only seen my players use high level wizards before, so you know where I'm coming from.

Probably underpowered

The things you're giving up from being a level 20 Wizard are not made up in the prestige class. I'm making the assumption that you're meant to supplement your wizard levels with some levels in this class. There could be a combination of Wizard/Red Wizard/some other class that could make this over powered but I can't currently think of any.

Things given up

The things you're giving up for 5 levels in this class are:

Spell Mastery

This is a very good ability that allows you to use a first and second level spell as cantrips. You can even change the spells around if you know you're going to be fighting something else, or you can even take utility spells if you don't think you'll be in combat all that much.

Signature spells

You get to prepare 2 level 3 spells for free and can cast each one once without expending a spell slot. Free fireball or lightning bolt for you, or even a free counterspell!

Other notes

Depending on your school of magic you chose this class may never be viable. If you player chooses a school that is opposed to Evocation or Conjuration are probably never going to take this class. Missing out on Magnificent Mansion or Meteor Swarm is huge. I suppose you could get around missing out on MM by not taking any levels in this class until 15, but then you might as well just be a regular wizard. Prestige classes are strange, and while I loved the 3.5 versions of them I don't know how well they'll work in 5e. Another thing to note is that the Meta Magic is stepping on the toes of a Sorcerer a bit. If I'm wrong and the Meta Magic ends up being good it would be frustrating as a Sorcerer for the Wizard to be better at almost everything.

I could see a player giving up signature spells for the first two abilities, but I don't see any player giving up both of them for 5 levels in this class. I think that the limitations of applying the meta magic to only 2 spells (max of 3 spells at level 5) would turn people off. As it's been pointed out, a 3 level Sorcerer gets you as many Meta Magic options, you get enough sorcery points to use them the same amount, and you can convert spell slots into points to use them more.

My suggestion:

I think you should have a required level to take more levels in Red Wizard (you can only become so good as a Red Wizard without being also a great Wizard) so that you can buff the abilities to allow it to make up for the two very powerful abilities you're giving up. Maybe you need to have 4 levels of wizard for every level of Red Wizard you have?

or

You could not have it be a prestige class (I saw your comments and I realize this is the less cool option) and make it a tradition. This would allow you to keep the abilities somewhat the same power level they are and allow your player to get the "I'm an Archmage now!" abilities.

If I have time in the coming week I might play test this with one of my players and I can edit this with the results of that.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd also note...Circle of Magic looks pretty inferior to just taking a 3 level dip into Sorcerer. You get 2 Metamagics at Sorc 3, enough Sorcery Points to use most of them 3 times, can apply them to any spell you cast, not restricted to picking them when you Prepare, AND you can cash in spell slots for more Sorcery Points. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Feb 12 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for this answer; up until now, I've been stubbornly thinking "yeah, I know prestige classes don't really work in 5e, but I want to make a prestige class!", but now, trying to balance between making this not a weak option for wizards (missing out on their capstones as you point out) and not stealing all of the sorcerer's power (as guildsbounty points out above; I could make Circle Magic stronger, but then I'm crippling the sorcerer class by giving it all to these Red Wizards!), also balancing for lower and higher levels, I guess this is precisely why prestige classes don't work in 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 12 at 14:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS I am curious as to whether a mutliclass prestige class would work. Arcane theurge or similar class that needs levels in 2 classes before being taken \$\endgroup\$ – Glenn Driver Feb 12 at 15:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps, I suppose all this really proves is that my prestige doesn't really work (as-is, at least) as a 5e prestige class. Having to take two classes beforehand might allow for the prestige class to be stronger... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 12 at 15:04
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The limited metamagic is very niche, and you'd have to search hard to really find combos that are worth investing many levels into this class for. The worst thing I can think of is twinned simulacrum, but you can already do that (albeit at 3 levels higher than this class would enable). However...

The one level dip

For the cost of never being able to learn spells from one school of magic, you can get +1 to attack and saving throws on your school of magic.

For some schools, that's pretty bad early on (especially divination. Almost no benefit, and you can never learn higher level teleportation spells), and for others, it's a mixed bag. However, due to the nature of still being able cast lower level spells, as you rise up a one level dip becomes more and more tempting.

This is probably overpowered for evocation wizards, as they benefit the most. It's worth taking as your 6th or 7th level. It's easy enough to live without higher level enchantments. It's just too much of a no-brainer take.

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