Casters are overpowered in Pathfinder. It’s not exactly a controversial statement. They’re less overpowered compared to non-casters than they were in D&D 3.5, but that’s not saying much. Wizards were demoted from Gods, to merely Demi-Gods. Finding ways to creatively nerf wizards has become a side hobby of mine. I’d like to bring them in line with the other classes, without taking away of the flavor which I view as central to the class.
In early editions of D&D, Magic Users gained their spells at random, and that served as an effective balancing device. And while I think it’s a really cool idea, I don’t think it fits into the Pathfinder mythos very well. A Pathfinder wizard is a scholar; there is nothing random about how they go about their business. I’ve suggested before simply removing any spells that a wizard gains by leveling up, and instead offering the wizard spells as treasure. I still like this idea a lot, but I understand that not everyone can get behind such a large nerf. It has also recently been suggested that any spell a Wizard casts from a scroll should count against their total spells per day. I quite like this idea as well, but obviously it’s not sufficient to completely balance the class.
While reading a recent post over at Brendan’s site Untimately, I struck upon another idea. What if the spell slots of the Wizard (or any other Caster) were not level specific? According to the current Pathfinder rules, every time a wizard gains a new spell level, they have only 1 spell slot for that level. At the next level it goes up to two slots, two levels after that it goes up to three slots, and three levels later it maxes out at four slots. By level 20, a Wizard is able to prepare four spells from all ten spell levels each day, for a total of 40 spells every day. If they like, a lower level spell can be placed in a higher level spell slot, but that always feels kinda wasteful, doesn’t it?
Using this idea, a wizard will still have spell slots, and still prepare their spells using a Vancian “fire and forget” system. But instead of having X number of slots for Y level spells, the caster will instead gain generic spell slots which can be used to memorize spells of any level. The catch is that each spell requires a number of spell slots equal to its spell level to memorize. So a fifth level spell will require five spell slots.
The way the system scales is really quite interesting. Using the official Pathfinder rules, characters who reach a new spell level can only prepare a single spell of that level until they gain a new character level. Using system, however, characters probably have enough spell slots to prepare several of their highest level spells as soon as they gain access to them–but at the expense of only having a few spells to cast for the day.
I feel like I’m writing ‘level’ and ‘spell’ a lot.
Another interesting thing about this system is that it becomes remarkably easy to scale the wizard’s level of power until you find a good fit for your game. If you’re running a low magic game, Wizards start with 4 spell slots, and gain 2 new slots each time they gain a class level. If you’re running a game with more magic, wizards start with 3 spell slots, and gain 3 each time they level.
The system seems elegant to me, but I haven’t play tested it yet. I wish I could claim credit for coming up with the idea first, but it appears Brendan beat me to the punch by almost a year. And apparently an old sourcebook called The Principalities of Glantri Gazeteer beat him to the punch by several decades. Still, I think the idea deserves some consideration.