The Wizard is almost certainly going to be the next iconic class to get the design goals treatment. They already touched on balancing the Wizard, but that’s more about the Wizard in relation to other classes than what the Wizard is supposed to be. I wanted to get out ahead of them because critiquing someone else’s product is always less difficult than doing original work; Even if you’re being entirely positive, you’re still building on their effort.
That said, I recognize that the Wizard is easily the most problematic of the classic classes. People like big explosions, open-ended abilities and play styles that openly reward creativity. The challenge is balancing this with the other classes. I do not accept the notion that it’s okay to say that “some people like imbalance” and call it a day. Every class should have readily apparent strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, the history of Wizards is that they’ve been given spells to counteract their vulnerabilities. They’ve also been given too much agency.
In my view, what distinguishes a Wizard isn’t the damage they can do – though they can do a lot of damage – it’s the depth of their toolkit. A properly played Wizard walks around with a golf bag full of solutions. There are two kinds of problems that it’s okay for a Wizard to fix: special situations and gaps in the party. A special situation is something that is made far easier if you have the proper tool for the job. Killing a troll is an excellent example. Having access to fire or acid damage prevents the regeneration. Having the ability to cover a hole in party composition is trickier to balance, but is satisfying for many players. Things work best when the Wizard prevents the party from getting screwed, but doesn’t have more agency than the other characters.
1. Wizards practice the science of magic.
Wizards use scientific theory to discover new spells. They use reagents and formulas to achieve repeatable results. They summon, control and harness the energies of the world.
2. Phenomenal cosmic power, Itty-bitty living space.
Damage (****): Wizards have the capability to do a great deal of damage, but they are strongest exploiting their enemies’ vulnerabilities to specific types of damage. Wizards have the greatest access to area of effect abilities.
Utility (****): Wizards’ spells can solve many problems, both in and out of combat.
Control (***): A Wizard’s ability to control the battlefield can take many forms. They can create blocking, hindering or damaging terrain. They can influence the minds of their enemies. They can use area spells to punish enemies for grouping together. A Wizard is likely to concentrate on a specific type of control, however.
Support (**): Wizards have limited access to spells that support their allies. (I know that, traditionally, Wizards have had a fair number of boost spells like Bull’s Strength. I think that Next would be stronger if this aspect was limited to a specialization of Wizards or another class entirely.)
Defense (*): All that power comes at a cost. Most Wizards have very limited defenses and prefer to use their spells for other purposes.
3. When you don’t have a screwdriver, a hammer will have to do.
Wizards can use magic to make up for a lack of a specialist, such as concealing spells when the party doesn’t have a Rogue, but those powers will never equal a master of a craft. Their flexibility works best at covering up the party’s weaknesses.
4. Wizards take the long view.
A Wizard is strongest when the enemy is known and there is time to prepare. Given enough time, a Wizard can be almost unbeatable. Conversely, a Wizard that is unprepared can be in serious trouble. Wizards also have to manage resources more tightly than most other classes. They are usually looking for the clutch moment to use their abilities.
5. A Wizard recognizes the limits of magic.
Magic can do many things and people have developed defenses in response. Magic can be detected, as can the residue of a spell. An enchantment can be unwoven. The wise Wizard remembers that magic is not always a substitute for mundane abilities.
6. A Wizard is always searching.
Be it for a new spell, lore or just power itself, a Wizard is always seeking something. There is always something new to discover, something to learn, something to conquer.