Since I’ve been talking about magic a lot lately, let me continue to talk about magic. 😉
One thing that’s long bothered me–and this is not edition-specific–is the fact that it’s almost always best for spellcasters to throw some of their most powerful magic early in any major battle. Call it "going nova," call it "alpha strike," call it whatever current meta-game term might be in vogue. Doesn’t matter. Fact is, sure, it’s often best, tactically, to open with the big guns–but I’d like to see things tweaked so that it’s not the best option quite so often.
I was thinking that an interesting way to accomplish that, and to give spellcasting players some more meaningful in-combat choices, would be for many spells–not all, not even most, but many–to have different riders depending on when they’re used. Here’s what I mean.
(For purposes of this exercise, assume that the next edition has something comparable to 4E’s "Bloodied" condition–that is, the creature is down half or more of its total hit points. Also, the following examples haven’t been worked out for balance or anything, so feel free to ignore the specific numbers. I’m just tossing them out there are theoretical examples.)
Disintegrate remains a single-target spell. It deals some ugly amount of damage, say 12d6. But, if the target is already bloodied, and if the spell deals damage equal to half or more of the creature’s remaining hit points, the creature turns to dust and dies instantly.
So, what’s the best use of the spell now? Break it out early, and do a chunk of damage? Or hold it in reserve, in hopes that later in the battle, it won’t only do a chunk of damage but might kill when it otherwise wouldn’t?
Fireball remains a broad area effect spell, and deals, say, 5d6. But, if the fireball actually kills one or more of its targets, those creatures burst into flame, dealing an extra 2d6 to all creatures adjacent to them.
So, it remains a no-brainer to start with if you’re dealing with a huge horde of really weak creatures, but that’s what it should be for. When it comes to stronger creatures, do you use the spell early, when they’re charging in and therefore grouped? Or do you wait until they’ve been weakened, so that the spell might kill and therefore do extra damage, at the risk of never catching as many of them together as you otherwise might?
Not only can tweaking spells like this present interesting tactical choices and cut down on "going nova," but it can also be used to partially solve another problem people often have with spellcasters–namely, that they overshadow everyone else. This can be somewhat corrected by tweaking some of the spells so they work better in conjunction with other PCs. Again, for instance…
Finger of Death: This spell deals 10d6 damage to the target, any time the creature suffers an injury from any source, it takes an additional 1d6 damage. (Save ends, or for 1d6 rounds, or however the new edition measures variable duration.) If the target is already bloodied when the spell is cast, the damage dice (both initial and lingering) become d8s instead.
Again, use it early so you’re dealing a lot of damage up-front? Or save it, in hopes of squeezing more damage out of it, but perhaps have the spell active and helpful for less of the total combat?
Knock: For the next minute, all Thievery/Open Locks/whatever rolls to open the targeted door are at -10 DC.
So the wizard hasn’t suddenly stepped on the rogue’s toes. He’s just made the rogue’s job easier.
Again, this is all just me spitballing, and I’m not saying that any of these specific examples are necessarily the way to go. But they show off the kinds of tweaks that I think would make the spells and combats more interesting, and would cut down a little on the "overshadowing" problem.