Monday, March 28, 2016

Can We Stop Making "The Batman Argument" For Wizards?

Character classes are designed so that they each have something to contribute to a game. The goal is for a party to be able to handle any challenge that comes its way, and for the members to combine their efforts in order to be more than just a bunch of individuals. A party should, ideally, be a team that works together like a well-oiled machine to defeat the cult, slay the dragon, or accomplish whatever other goal has been set before them.

No matter how unsettling that goal happens to be.
Despite our tacit agreement that every class has its place, and that in the hands of a skilled player any class or class combination can be used to make a good character, there is still this inane urge we have to talk about the "strongest" classes. In what boils down to a "my dad can beat up your dad" style debate, a faction of players will insist with absolute authority that wizards are the most powerful class. When asked why they feel this way, the players will say that it's because a 20th level wizard, given time to cast and the resources for necessary spell components, is an unstoppable force. They'll throw out the ability to teleport across the map, or the power to summon creatures from the ether, or the ability to create pocket dimensions, but no matter the lyrics, the tune being played is always the same.

I am now referring to this protestation as "The Batman Argument," and I would like to ask anyone tempted to make it to take a moment to look at why it's ridiculous.

What is The Batman Argument?


Batman is one of the most competent characters in the DC comics universe, if not in all of fiction. A master detective with a genius intellect, and perhaps the world's most accomplished martial artist, Batman's writers have also created a rule for the caped crusader's stories over the years. The rule says that no matter how powerful the foe, if given enough time and resources, Batman can craft a solution that lets him emerge victorious.

Because all I do is win.
This is the sort of logic that some players will use to justify their opinion about wizards being the most powerful character class. Because, they will argue, a sufficiently accomplished wizard can alter time, permanently alter his form, and create small armies of followers while guarding himself completely against any outside threat.

Which sounds great... until you realize the same sort of argument can be made for nearly any class.

Every Class Is An Epic Threat At Level 20


If you set the same parameters for other classes that you do for a wizard (a huge budget, home turf advantage, and unlimited prep time), then you can create similarly difficult threats with any class, and a bit of creativity. A 20th level ranger claims a huge swath of forest, along with several strongholds inside it, and sets up traps to catch the unwary. Or a swath of desert, or a network of caverns, or even an entire neighborhood of a city. Within that area he can move like a ghost, springing deadly ambushes on anyone who enters his realm, and vanishing before his enemies can hit back.

Pick a class, and you can come up with similar arguments. A high-level rogue or ninja can ambush even the wariest of parties, picking them off in the night, or assassinating them in their beds, sneaking unseen past locked doors and booby traps. Give a 20th level fighter time to prepare for every contingency, and the equipment to handle it, and you'll find yourself hard-up against a master of war on her home turf. A 20th level barbarian is a storm of fury and frenzy, and even the lowly bard can create a deadly fun house that will have even competent adventurers jumping at shadows.

Of course a wizard that's allowed endless time to prepare, is given a huge budget, and is allowed to choose the place where the confrontation happens is going to be a gigantic threat. That's why so many end-of-campaign bad guys are wizards with a page and a half of precasts. But time and resources, put in the hands of any other class, can be just as dangerous.

Besides, how much harder is it to operate when you don't have the time and resources you need to prep? When you aren't given time to rest, and when you run out of fuel for your higher-level tricks? What then?

Everything Has A Weakness


Something that often gets overlooked in the pointless discussion of whose favorite class is better endowed than the other is this gaming truism; everything has a weakness.

Everything.
Paladins are an unstoppable force, when you put them up against evil creatures that rely on fear effects. If you have them fight creatures that aren't evil, though, they're fighting with their hands tied. Rangers are a deadly threat when they're in a familiar terrain and fighting a favored enemy... when they're out of their element, though, they lose a lot of their power. Rogues who can't get their sneak attack off aren't going to do a lot of damage, and fighters or barbarians who can't overcome damage reduction or escape a colossal foe's grapple, are going to be in quite the tight spot.

What about wizards? Well, wizards have weaknesses just like any other class. As I mentioned in How To Shut Down Spellcasters in Pathfinder, wizards' primary weaknesses are refreshing and preparing spells, required components, familiars and bonded items, and concentration checks. If you can keep a wizard from getting the time required to rest and re-prepare spells, disrupt the spellcasting process by planting an arrow in the caster's shoulder, stealing a bonded item, or snatching away necessary material components (particularly important for high-level spells where the components can't be ignored with Eschew Materials), then you have taken the bullets out of the gun.

The other weaknesses wizards have to deal with is that they have to choose spells for the day, and they can only cast so many of those spells. Choosing the wrong spells for a given situation is just as disastrous as firing off one spell after another, until you're shooting blanks. And, lastly, a wizard needs to be able to get their spells off. Sometimes all it takes is a good initiative check for you to cripple your foes before they can harm the party... and sometimes all it takes is a bad initiative check for you to find yourself on the ragged edge before you managed a single somatic component.

Everything Is Situational


None of this is to say that wizards, or any other spellcasters, are weak classes. They simply have different pressure points than other classes do. And, while you should plan for those blind spots so you know what to do if they come up in game, people in glass houses ought not to throw stones.

No matter how badass your glass house is.
At the end of the day, though, how effective a character, or a party, is depends entirely on the campaign they're put in. For example, A brute squad made up of a front line of skull crushers, an archer, a battle caster, and a chaplain are going to decimate the enemy on the battlefield in a straight-up fight, but if they have to pursue a more subtle, political plot they'll be fish out of water. A powerful enchanter or illusionist might be able to defeat foes through trickery and domination, but if every enemy in a campaign is immune to their spells because their minds are beyond the reach of magic, these casters are completely out of their element.

At the end of the day, it's perfectly okay to have a favorite class. By all means, talk about the things you like, and why you like them. But if you ever feel the need to break out a ruler and start comparing sizes, just remember that you're not Batman.

I hope this week's Monday post didn't ruffle too many feathers! If you enjoyed it, and you'd like to help support Improved Initiative, then why not stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon Page to become a patron? As little as $1 a month will keep the content flowing. Also, if you haven't already, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?

3 comments:

  1. Neal, I feel the greatest argument against a wizard is the classes ability to do it all. A wizard can replace almost any class niche and leads to a negitive play experience for others. Spells like knock and mage hand can easily steal the spot light from a rougish class. The expert warrior can only dream of dropping foes at the rate of a well placed fireball. With a charm spell the wizard instantly takes care of certain social issues. It's not about equal level power or whether I can win a fight one on one. It is about a class that with little to no creativity can replace another party members roll in the group and lead to a sense of worthlessness. Fighter "Oh man I gained an extra attack with my sword!" Wizard "That's cool I can summon a hurricane... A God damn hurricane.

    Unfortunately it's not about balance it's about time and access to the spotlight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Wizard can replace the rogue for a few traps, but at the expense of versatility. Every door they unlock is another spell they can't cast. It's a trade off.

      Delete
  2. Neal, I feel the greatest argument against a wizard is the classes ability to do it all. A wizard can replace almost any class niche and leads to a negitive play experience for others. Spells like knock and mage hand can easily steal the spot light from a rougish class. The expert warrior can only dream of dropping foes at the rate of a well placed fireball. With a charm spell the wizard instantly takes care of certain social issues. It's not about equal level power or whether I can win a fight one on one. It is about a class that with little to no creativity can replace another party members roll in the group and lead to a sense of worthlessness. Fighter "Oh man I gained an extra attack with my sword!" Wizard "That's cool I can summon a hurricane... A God damn hurricane.

    Unfortunately it's not about balance it's about time and access to the spotlight.

    ReplyDelete