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The concept of Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards is an issue that makes Fighters less useful in later editions. There is a question on here talking about the issue in 5e, and the issue in 3.5e is well known, starting as early as level 5 (or even earlier according to some.)

But what about 2nd edition AD&D? The system is still somewhat new to me, and I'm trying to figure out how much of an issue this is in 2nd edition. Does it have the same issue of Linear Fighters and Quadratic Wizards, or are the two classes more balanced?

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A More Gradual Power Curve

In 2e (and 1e and Basic), though it's still a thing (by design) that fighter types are more powerful early in the game and wizards more powerful late in the game, it's less of a dramatic gap between the two because the power curves are more gradual in general. Similarly, the difference between levels isn't as extreme (a level 7 character in 2e isn't as much way-better than a level 5 as in later editions, which is why level-mixing was accepted practice then and decried as "unfair fun-killing" in 3e+).

XP Tables

The different XP progression tables mean that those other classes progress a little more quickly but the conclusion is a little more surprising. At wizard level 15, which requires 1.875M XP, the fighter is level 15 at 1.75M, but he's still a ways away from the 2M required for next - a priest is level 16 and a rogue is level 18 though! So those XP tables are used to normalize power, but the assumption is that the fighter is a lot closer to the wizard in power than those coming from later editions might assume.

Class Disparity

The same dynamic holds between classes - at early levels, a fighter has a lot more hit points and can hit things decently hard. The wizards are a LOT weaker - d4 HD, none of this "4 at first level" softball stuff. None of these additional powers to "make the wizard not feel bad when his spells are gone." And no crossbows for you. If you're a first level wizard, you cast your one magic missile and then you hide your 2 hp butt with your knife behind everyone else. They have proportionately a lot less power.

Even at higher levels, when they can do earthshaking things, they have fewer spells (and hit points, and powers, and magic items) than they do in later editions so the "my sword works all day" feature of the martials is more valuable; also they are more dependent on other party members due to the lack of Concentration and other special abilities that make them more able to independently kill. So it's still linear/geometric growth (the commonly-quoted "linear vs quadratic" premise is really a misuse of the term quadratic, which implies a parabola), but a much more restrained slope on those curves, with a lot less effective difference and a lot longer wait to be "way better than a fighter".

Being a Wizard is Hard

Fighters can just cut you. In all that lovely 1e/2e magical lore, there's a lot more restrictions on wizards. Spell components were definitely a thing. You had fewer spells and had to find more, you couldn't just make them up when you leveled. Magic item creation was pretty much totally infeasible. Things were a little more Gandalf (the article Gandalf Was A Fifth Level Magic User might as well be rewritten in 4e as "Gandalf Was A First Level Anything, Or Maybe a Commoner In The Forgotten Realms"). Many of these restrictions were removed either by rule (free spells on level) or by convention (spell components, how un-fun!) in later editions. If a wizard doesn't have to spend a lot of their time and effort scraping together magical power to get by, and can just do whatever whenever, then sure they get more powerful.

With no feats or Concentration checks or abilities to pump up saves or magic resistance, the wizard's spells just plain failed a lot more of the time. This played into the general "made do with what we have" exploratory nature of the game then; mundane equipment, player tactics, and other personal cleverness were a much larger part of play than "PRESS MY KILL POWER BUTTON".

Conclusion

3e tried to power up everyone by multiplying each class' power by 2, but that causes a much sharper gap between the class' power curves because of MATH. A wizard in 1e/2e might be able to bend the laws of space, time, and nature, but he's pretty vulnerble otherwise and really needs a team with him (until he gets to be like Mordenkainen level).

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "If you're a first level wizard, you cast your one magic missile and then you hide your 2 hp butt with your knife behind everyone else." \$\endgroup\$ – Jesuisme May 9 '15 at 1:33
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AD&D took an interesting approach to this—the classes don't advance in levels at the same pace. It is still likely a level N wizard will be more powerful than a level N fighter, but if a fighter and a wizard have the same amount of XP, then the wizard will be of a lower level than the fighter.

This is most evident when comparing the Wizard and the Rogue: to attain level 2, the Wizard needs double the XP the Rogue needs.

I'd say the Fighter–Wizard power progression difference is not as big as linear vs. quadratic (@Yora's answer addresses that well), and the XP requirements progress with a similar difference. So I'd say the party will not get so imbalanced, precisely because the members' levels will reflect the relative power of their classes better.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out the all important XP rate differences of ye olde days \$\endgroup\$ – Rob May 7 '15 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not that I expect it, but would the downvoter care to comment? I'd be happy to try to improve the answer if there's anything wrong with it. \$\endgroup\$ – Reinstate Monica May 7 '15 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not the downvoter, but my main problem with this answer is that it's wrong - wizard and fighter levels based on the XP tables do not differentiate in the manner you claim (see my answer for details). \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica May 9 '15 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of all the game differences, XP award is surely one of the most trivial to house-rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Sobrique May 9 '15 at 20:57
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At very high levels spellcasters do become significantly more powerful than noncasters. However, compared to 3rd edition there are some important differences.

For one thing, there is no Concentration skill and no 5 foot step. Also you have to announce your intention to cast a spell at the begining of the round. If anything hits you before it is your turn, the spell is lost. This makes spellcasting near enemies a lot more dangerous.

Also, while there are plenty of high level spells that can instantly kill or incapacitate an enemy, the saving throw to resist it is generally a lot easier for monsters and noncasters, making these spells a lot less effective. Saving throws are fixed, they don't become more difficult if the spellcaster has a high level or high ability scores.

Spellcasters also get fewer spells per day and no bonus spells for high Intellience or Wisdom.

There also are no convenient 50 charges wands to be bought or made. This significantly reduces the ability to cast any given spell multiple times on the same day. (Even given its price, a wand with 50 fireball spells is extremely powerful, and there are much more dangerous spells.)

While spellcasters can become very powerful at high levels, it is significantly less of an issue in AD&D.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a sort of extension of the magic-items-not-sold-off-the-rack thing, some DMs enforce a degree of manual material component tracking. Not having an ever-full Spell Component Pouch can be limiting, depending on what spells you know. Also, a 2e wizard doesn't necessarily just learn spells "from nowhere" on level up, and may have to find spells on adventures, instead - Though, some 2e GMs do still like to handle it the 3e way. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 7 '15 at 11:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ My impression was that the whole "linear fighters, quadratic wizards" thing in 3e was more about options than raw damage output or dudes killed per round. I.e. Wizards can fly, turn invisible, teleport, planeshift, and a host of other things that mundane characters can't really answer. How does that aspect of it fit into AD&D? \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 7 '15 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon Well, expanding on my earlier comment, 2e wizards (other than specialists, and even then there's some caveats) have no inherent ability to gain access to any spell in the books; They have to rely entirely on finding sources to learn those spells from in-game - so 2e wizards may have a harder time collecting the spells that make them so powerful and versatile. It depends heavily on the DM, though. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 8 '15 at 4:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe While that was well worth noting, it doesn't really answer the question one way or the other. "The system is fine, as long as the DM cherry-picks which spells the player gets" is pretty obviously a cop-out :) \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 8 '15 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon More "The system is probably fine, as long as the DM doesn't let players pick their own treasure." 2e's default method of determining which spells players get access to after level one is the dice, which means that collecting specific spells takes either a lot of luck or a DM willing to give players what they ask for in a way that the books don't seem to assume. In other words, rather than being a case of "It's broken, but a good GM could fix it" it's "It's usually fine, but a bad GM could break it." You're right that it's not a complete answer, though. It's a comment. :) \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 11 '15 at 0:13
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Great answers so far. Let me add another factor.

AD&D tends to more more “challenge the player” instead of “challenge the character” than 3e and 4e. It also tends to be more rulings than rules than those editions. So, the question tends to be more whether the player is useful than whether the character are on par on paper.

This is really a play style issue. It may apply less to a particular 2e game and more to a particular 3e game, but the systems tend towards these play styles. And a classic D&D game tends towards “challenge the player” and rulings even more than AD&D.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps using examples, could you address how the Challenge the player not the character paradigm specifically affects the idea of linear fighters/quadratic wizards? How does the paradigm enable the fighter (who has no spells) to contribute as much as the wizard (who has spells)? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 7 '15 at 17:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ I’ll have to think about an example, but the gist of it is that casting spells and doing damage (or anything else resolved by rules) are less important than thinking and collaboration (and things that are resolved by rulings). \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Fisher May 7 '15 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this answer (knowing fire charm doesn't make you better at solving riddles or fast-talking orcs than the warrior-poet), but I also agree it could do with a couple of examples, ideally drawn from published second edition adventures. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe May 8 '15 at 4:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ In our old AD&D games, we viewed the wizard in two ways; he was the suitcase nuke (a capability we reserved for challenges the mundane-types couldn't manage on their own due to spells/day limitations), and (assuming the player knew how to be a wizard player) a swiss army knife for assisting in puzzle-solving. The more spell minutia they knew, the more effective the party was at solving problems. If a player didn't know how to play a wizard, they only brought the "suitcase nuke" capability.. still useful, but not a power multiplier. \$\endgroup\$ – Gus May 8 '15 at 17:34
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The two big difference between D&D 3e and AD&D 2e for spellcasters was saving throws, and volume.

In 3e, your saving throw goes up with level (fast for some saves, slow for others). The wizards DC also goes up (with spell level, and their stat).

In practice, the DC goes up at a speed matching, or exceeding, the good saving throw of the target, when using top-level spells, and the DC growth matches or exceeds the poor saving throws of the target when using even their lowest level spells.

This means that at higher levels, targeting a poor save with a medium-high level spell has a higher chance of success than you had at low levels.

In AD&D 2e, the saving throws of individual foes (be they dragons or fighters) got uniformly better. The chance of landing a spell decreased. There was little you could do (and nothing happened automatically) to aid in landing a spell.

In both 3e and 2e, higher level spells had worse consequences. But in 3e, they where also (in practice) easier to land against challenging foes.

The math in 2e was that probability of landing the spell, times consequences, did not climb that fast (if at all) for save-or-suck style spells.

Spells that had effect even on a failed save, or did not require a save, thus became more powerful. Most of such spells are damage spells: they interact with a foe by the same mechanic that fighters do (lower the target's HP).

The other big effect was volume. 3e imported most of the 2e spells, rewriting them for 3e (with the better success chance, higher number of spells per level, easier wands and scrolls, etc) often without reducing their power. Then even more spells where written.

Each time a new spell arrives, there is a chance that a constraint is removed off the wizard. Maybe there are no good save-or-lose reflex based spells in the game: then a spell that wraps the target in a cocoon is added on a failed reflex save, and now targets with weak reflex can now be taken out by the wizard on a single failed save.

Metamagic, increased spells/day, ease of creating magic items that boost spellcasters (wands and scrolls), ability to plunder every monster manual for stats on some spells & monsters scaling faster than "naked" fighters: these are all just icing on the cake.

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The brief answer is that modern D&D is more geared towards roles within set-piece encounters, thus the relationship of class should be considered by role... this was clear in 4e. Thus the power curves are more closely linearly-related than in previous editions, when the class generally had a single role (Hybrid classes blurred this.)

A slightly different perspective is survivability:

Considering whether a campaign is 'hardcore' is also important. If there is a real risk that hours (days/months/years?) of time, invested into a particular character, will be lost because you chose to expose your caster to a bow attack, you may be more hesitant to do so.

The power of characters in the early editions should be considered in the context of the gaming of those eras. A team of people were playing a single-shot game (1-iteration of the Nash type games.) Since the cost of a loss could either be costing thousands of gold (rare in most campaigns) for a raise dead/resurrection.... plus having reduced constitution (affecting all future combat), survivability was more important. (the other outcome was permadeath - and then there was the host of curses and stat losses from monster effects) The rust monster from the tutorial dungeon was the player first introduction to the costs of their decisions.

The Magic User class had to be the most selfish class, due to armor, health, and just pure uselessness (x spells and done.) However, when the Magic User did participate he did so intelligently and changed the course of important battles.

The probability that a mage (av hp 10-ish @ lev 5, AC 5) would survive to level 15 was low relative to the fighter (av hp 30-ish @ lev 5, AC -2). Considering that 1 round of concentrated attack would kill the mage at any level, and that the game was balanced such that the fighter could sustain the attack for many rounds.

The meta-game context:

The context of modern games is such that they are competing for mind space with World of Warcraft and Skyrim. Mages are now 'DPS' in scripted and balanced encounters. Players also expect to have an opportunity positively contribute (to their own expected version of the game) often... at least several times per encounter.

So finally:

Was it a problem in 2e? No... players can choose their class, just as in every version of D&D. The 'problem', as is usual, is a difference in expectations. A player base that is unfamiliar with editions before 4e won't recognise the expectations built into 2e.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This starts out with even-handed perspective, but towards the end becomes increasingly critical of how and why some people choose to play RPGs. The wording is unnecessarily divisive and could be improved while retaining its point. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 8 '15 at 14:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ fair enough.... but to OP opens the discussion to opinion when he questions the utility of a specific class within a class based system... not sure if my response is unnecessarily divisive, unless you are suggesting that stating an opinion runs that risk. In which case your opinion about my opinion is unnecessarily divisive. \$\endgroup\$ – EndGamer Jul 24 '15 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're criticising people here, not games: “The 'problem' as is usual, is inherent to the player. Power-envy and short memories create a player base that demands more balance and D&D5e gives it.” Criticising games is fine, but it's not fine to label entire segments of the RPG community as “the problem.” I've not yet edited it out because I prefer you to fix it properly so the answer remains whole than for me to make a big hole in your answer, but if you prefer, I can do that for you. And in future, please take advice from moderators a bit more seriously than you have in your response just now. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 24 '15 at 20:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ I gave this an edit so you can see how your point can still be made usefully without engaging in unwelcome edition warring about it. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 26 '15 at 23:56
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For those saying that there was a big difference in levels between fighters & wizards, I disagree. Looking at the minimum XP to reach reach level, The fighter will reach levels 2 thru 6 somewhat ahead of the wiz (by 20 or 40% of the wiz's needed experience). But then the wiz will reach each of 7 thru 13 before the fighter, including reaching 11 while the fighter is still 9 (1.5 levels behind). They both reach 14 at the same time, then the fighter reaches 15-17 1st, and 18-20 while the wiz lags at 16-18. As the table goes linear in those high reaches, the fighter will continue to gain 3 levels for every 2 of the wizard's thereafter. Not that I've ever seen a campaign reach such lofty heights. Indeed, at 660,000 XP, at which point linearity has set in for everybody but the weird druids, the rangers & fighters are 2.8 and 2.36 levels behind rogues, while wizards are only 1.24 levels behind.

As non-spellcasters mainly get some incremental boosts (5% chance to hit, a few percent climb, etc.) while spells do more damage to more people/area, the small difference in level is trivial.

Yes, 2nd ed. suffered the same effect of spellcasters getting much better than non-spellcasters at high level. In fact, it's hard to see how that could not happen.

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