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Fixing D&D Spellcasters? I Just Don't Get It

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There's a thread on '"Fixing" Vancian Casting' on RPGNet. While I've never had a real problem with Vancian casting (nor with using a decent spell point system in its place) in D&D, what I found confusing about the thread was a couple of comments on specific types of spells that need to be -- in the opinions of these posters -- either removed or greatly reduced in power.

Take away flying, teleportation, and mind reading. To me, these are the spells with the most potential to allow casters to work around encounters and generally foil the DM's plans. If you do allow them, they need heavier limitations.

The reason given makes no sense to me. Players are supposed to be able to work around encounters if they want to do so instead of fighting. And they certainly are supposed to be able to foil any plans the monsters or NPCs the DM is controlling might have. The PCs may or may not succeed in avoiding an encounter or foiling NPC plans, but they idea that spells need to be removed from the game because they help PCs to avoid encounters and/or to foil NPC (aka DM) plans simply makes no sense to me. Unless one is running an adventure so railroaded that the PCs are basically actors reading from the DM's previously written script, I can't see anything very negative about players avoiding encounters or foiling DM plans or about spells that can help them do so.

Long duration flight is a problem. Short term flight can be a problem if you want to throw in challenging terrain features.

I've never seen a problem with long duration flight spells (or magic items). Claiming they are some type of universal problem makes as little sense to me as complaining that airplanes are too common in a modern world game because they make it too easy for PCs to get from London to Brisbane. As for short term flight being a problem, it's true that flight spells can be a way around terrain issues, however the ability to handle problems that would slow or stop common men is one of the hallmarks of being a magic-user -- or a higher than first level character of any class. A defense that would stymie a 0 level town guardsman simply can't be depended on to stop or even really slow a 5th level character.

While I am sure the people who posted these comments see these issues as real problems in their games, they've never been a problem any game I ran or played in. Nor do I think I would enjoy playing in games where the DM and/or the other players saw them as problems as a style of play where they would be problems would probably be very alien to the styles of play I enjoy.

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Andrew said...
June 13, 2013 at 6:21 PM  

I think the "problem" here is one of style. What kind of game do you want to run? How do you want it to feel? If you want to do fantasy, but a little different than D&D standard, then some spells don't fit the tone.

Talysman said...
June 13, 2013 at 6:28 PM  

I don't have these problems, either. But I've heard the complaints before. I suspect they come from people who play (a) high GM-plot games, and/or (b) high detail combat-focused games. The idea is that the GM has made something for the players to deal with, and anything that bypasses it or makes it extremely easy is "wrong".

I didn't comment on the objections to those spells, just the topic of the "15-minute workday". But it seems from reading objections to Charm, "mind-reading", detection, and Teleportation that some people interpret many spells of those types very generously. Or perhaps the spell descriptions really have changed drastically in recent editions. I've never had a character high enough to use Telepathy or Teleport (*maybe* ESP or Dimension Door, but I don't think I ever found or used either spell. and they never came up when I ran games.) I don't read Charm Person or the detection spells as broadly as some interpret them, nor do I use ESP as identical to Telepathy, but with the bonus of being able to mind-read hostile opponents. I've never seen "scry and fry" in actual use. I don't see how Clairvoyance or the crystal ball could be used for anything even approaching errorless teleport.

Randall said...
June 13, 2013 at 10:18 PM  

@Talysman: For the record, many of the spells mentioned are far more powerful in 3.x than they were in TSR D&D. For some reason the 3.x designers removed many of the limits on magic-users and spells that were in the various TSR editions. Limitations that really did help to keep magic-users from automatically dominating the game. For example, Teleport in most TSR versions has a chance of being instantly fatal if you basically do not know the target area like the back of your hand. 3.x turned that into 1d10 points of damage.

Gregory Guldensupp said...
June 14, 2013 at 1:21 AM  

I've never had a cause to hate these spells in my game. I've tweaked a few spells to add flavor to my game, but I have never felt the need to "punish" the spells for being too good.

While we are on the topic of flying, why do so many people have problems with winged PCs that actually fly? Dungeons pretty much stop any one from flying, so why fret over having a flying character?

Capheind said...
June 16, 2013 at 4:01 PM  

I once played an Aarakocra for a while in a AD&D 2e game. All flight did was remind everyone how very effective archery can be.

Tori Bergquist said...
July 2, 2013 at 6:31 PM  

@Talysman I think this is true. A lot of current-gen DMs, especially in 4E, construct elaborate scenarios and locations, lay it all out, then grimace if they hear the words fly or teleport. Anytime I see someone complain about that I chalk it up to bad or inexperienced DMing instead of a rules issue with the spells.

@Gregroy Guldensupp flying is a fact of life outside of the dungeon; 80% of my campaigns are either in cities, open air, or areas where flight could provide an advantage. That said....a good DM is permissive, but remembers that he's got someone with flight in the group and take that in to account. Otherwise, what Capheind said: fly+archery = fantastic combo!

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