How new changes created the 4 most annoying spells in Dungeons & Dragons

In Dungeons & Dragons, if you play a rogue, the class description describes your key powers. All rogues make sneak attacks, cunning actions, and use evasion. If you play a spellcaster, your powers sprawl into the spell list. Every wizard tends to prepare the same powerful spells on the list. Once wizards reach fifth level, they all start casting fireball. Spells also appear as a monster powers, turning some spells into foundational abilities that span the game.

magic-circleI’ve asked D&D players and dungeon masters what spells they find the most annoying or the least fun in play. Four spells dominated the list of annoyances.

All of the annoying spells offer enough power to make them common in play once characters can cast them. Like sneak attack, these tend to appear in most fights, but unlike sneak attack, these spells sap a little bit of the fun out of play.

Some readers will ask, “So what? Just ban the spells from your game.” But DMs in the Adventures League cannot ban anything. At best, authors of adventures can concoct ways to discourage the spells. In Barovia, Banishment fails. In the D&D Open, players lose points for using spells like Hypnotic Pattern.

Curiously, none of the 4 annoying spells bothered players of previous D&D editions. I wondered why. When I investigated the origins of these 4 spells, I discovered that all introduced critical changes that turned them from forgettable to aggravating. None of these spells even appeared in the playtest documents. Now they’re enshrined in the official rules.

So what are the 4 spells and what makes them so irritating?

Hypnotic pattern

What makes it so annoying?

Hypnotic Pattern forces every creature in its area of effect to make a Wisdom save to avoid being incapacitated. Few monsters boast good Wisdom saves. With half or more of their foes incapacitated, a party can focus fire on the few that still pose a threat, picking off the outnumbered monsters. By the end of the encounter, player characters go from one beguiled victim to the next, raining attacks on the defenseless pinatas. As a DM, I may be biased, but I think the least fun scenes in the game come when PCs beat helpless foes to death.

Why did it work before?

Hypnotic Pattern started as the Illusionist class’s answer to the Sleep spell. Like Sleep, an ally could break a victim’s stupor. Like Sleep, Hypnotic Pattern only affected a limited number of total hit dice. The spell never proved more troublesome than Sleep.

Third edition tinkered with the spell a little. Victims could no longer be roused, but the caster needed to concentrate—and in 3E, concentration demanded a standard action.

Where does it go wrong?

The fifth-edition designers removed the hit-die limit. Perhaps someone decided on a simulationist approach: If everyone in an area sees the pattern, they all should save. Now every creature in the area of effect faced a Wisdom save to avoid becoming incapacitated. Few monsters boast good Wisdom saves. As with the original spell, allies or damage can rouse hypnotized creatures, but those allies face an entire party working to block them. The spell still requires concentration, but concentration in 5E costs no action.

How should it have worked?

The spell should have followed the pattern of Sleep and kept a hit-point limit.

Counterspell

What makes it so annoying?

Part of the fun of Dungeons & Dragons comes from casting imaginary spells to bring down terrible foes. Part of the game’s challenge comes from facing evil wizards that rock the battle with spells. Counterspell drains the fun out of those confrontations. Instead of casting spells, you don’t. Instead of battling against spell effects, nothing happens.

Meanwhile at the table, everyone gets mired in a rules dispute over whether the wizard who just had his spell countered can counter that Counterspell. (Yes, wizards casting a spell can counter the Counterspell that counters their spell.)

Why did it work before?

Up to fifth edition, D&D lacked a spell named Counterspell. Instead, Dispel Magic could counter spells. In the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, Dispel Magic can “counter the casting of spells in the area of effect.” But the game offered no clue how countering would work in play. Rather than inventing rules for readied actions or reactions decades early, players did the sensible thing and ignored countering.

Third edition introduced the readied action—the foundation players needed to use Dispel Magic as a counterspell. To counter, spellcasters readied a counterspell action and watched for something to counter. If the round passed without anyone starting a spell worth blocking, you wasted an action. In practice, wizards never tried to counter. Better to just cast a spell of your own.

Where does it go wrong?

The counterspell function of Dispel Magic hardly fits the spell’s disenchant role. By splitting Counterspell into a separate spell, the 5E designers let the spell work as a reaction. Instead of reading an action to counter, wizards could counter any time, even on their own turn, even as they cast another spell.

Countering spells turned from a process that demanded one or more standard actions, to something wizards could do without losing time for another spell.

For the first time ever, D&D introduced the Counterspell duel. Instead of doing something, dueling spell casters do nothing. Turns out nothing isn’t much fun.

Sly Flourish worked to salvage some fun from Counterspell by adding colorful descriptions. He’s still making chicken salad out of something other than chicken.

How should it have worked?

In 5E readying a spell such as Dispel Magic costs the spell slot even when the spell goes unused. If Counterspell were gone, and if Dispel Magic worked as it did in 3E, no one would counter spells. I think everyone would be content with that.

Banishment

What makes it so annoying?

The Banishment spell forces targets to make a Charisma save to avoid being sent to another plane.

Banishment lets players split combat scenes into two parts. In part one, the wizard or cleric banishes the toughest foes so their party can gang up on the outnumbered mooks in a one-sided romp. In the second part, the banished creatures spring back into reality and the party ambushes them. A potentially compelling fight turns into a rout followed by a dreary murder scene.

Once 7th-level players gain access to Banishment, it becomes a key factor in encounter design. If any monster enters the battle looking like a boss, he’s sure to be banished. Every boss now needs one or more allies of similar power.

Why did it work before?

In The Dungeons & Dragons spells Gary Gygax never meant for players, I told of Gary’s tendency to add every magical effect from fantasy to his game. This urge led him to include a spell that banished creatures to whatever hell they came from. Unearthed Arcana introduced the 7th-level spell Banishment along with a 4th-level version called Dissmissal. Because the spells only worked on visitors from another plane, they both rated as weak. Unlike Dismissal, Banishment capped the number of hit dice it could affect, but it offered ways to reduce the target’s save. Banishment and Dismissal served a narrow use, so they seldom reached play.

Where does it go wrong?

Someone on the D&D design team must have fancied the notion of banishing enemies from the battlefield. They championed changes that turned Banishment from something no one ever casts into an inevitable opening move. Not only does the spell drop into Dismissal’s 4th-level slot, but it also banishes natives from their own plane. I suppose the designer figured that if these banished creatures bounce back after a minute, then the spell would be balanced. Nope. The return just gives one-sided battles an ugly coda.

How should it have worked?

D&D thrived for 11 years without Banishment. The game would have thrived without it.

The 5E version of the spell might be fun if banished creatures returned in 1d8 rounds at a point of their choice within line of sight of their last location. This change would add enough uncertainty to avoid the pinata treatment.

Conjure Animals

What makes it so annoying?

Conjure Animals belongs to a class of annoying spells including Conjure Minor Elementals and Conjure Woodland Beings. The spells imply the caster gets to choose which creatures appear. This invited broken options. For example, conjuring 8 challenge rating 1/4 elk created an instant stampede. Eight challenge rating 1/4 pixies might cast at-will spells like Fly and Phantasmal Force for you.

In a clarification, designer Jeremy Crawford wrote that players only select the number of creatures to summon. The DM chooses the specific creatures, selecting creatures appropriate for the campaign and fun for the scene.

Nonetheless, as soon as Timmy summons 8 of anything, the game screeches to a halt. Suddenly Timmy manages his own actions and those of 8 proxies, taking more actions than the rest of the table combined.

Why did it work before?

Summoning spells came as a recent addition to the game. Originally, druids outdoors could call creatures from the wood, but then the Druid still had to make friends. None of this worked in a fight. At least the forest friends could tidy a cottage during the span of a musical number.

Third edition added actual summoning spells, but none created more than 1d4+1 creatures. Instead of 8 woodland friends, Timmy got about 3. Still, the problem of Timmy taking so much time on stage prompted the 4E designers to avoid summoning spells.

Where does it go wrong?

Somehow in the process of striking all traces of 4E from the D&D, the 5E designers forgot the problem of summoning spells.

How should it have worked?

Spells like Conjure Animals should never bring more than 4 creatures, and the options should favor single creatures.

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57 Responses to How new changes created the 4 most annoying spells in Dungeons & Dragons

  1. apearlma says:

    This is actually a problem with 5e’s spell casting system – which highly rewards situational, unbalanced spell choices – which in previous editions would leave the caster at risk of having picked a situation that never happened.

    As examples from above – what if you ran into a bunch of mindless undead for the entire day? What if you only ran into large numbers of weak creatures, none worth a banishment spell? At that point, you’d be out a spell slot. So smart players tended to focus on the mostly useful choices.

    Another very problematic spell is Animate Objects – daggers make excellent use of the option and are actually quite dangerous due to OAs.

  2. Adam says:

    Let me start by saying I haven’t played 5e. Started with 3e, enjoyed 4e, and now I play many different RPGs. I almost always GM, and I appreciate this kind of analysis.

    4e summoning was interesting. It approached this problem by allocating the caster’s actions to the summon. The concept seemed good though I never had a player use it. Deserves a mention.

  3. alphastream says:

    Great analysis, David. I can’t say enough bad things about these spells and what they do to the game, especially when groups become used to using them – where it becomes almost a mindless video game pattern of “mash button 1, mash button 2, get loot” rather than the creative situational tactics that 5E is otherwise so good at producing. It really is a shame that these spells are so prevalent.

    I played with a table at Winter Fantasy that really captured this problem. The wizard would banish the strongest thing in each and every encounter. As someone that does a lot of encounter design, I was cringing – there is no way on earth any encounter in 5E will be a challenge when you strip away the strongest creature. Mathematically, it is just a ridiculous blow to the challenge level. Hypnotic Pattern is the same. It is an instant “boring” switch. All the players other than me were from the same gaming group, and really nice and otherwise fun people. I asked them why they did that, and they said they take turns DMing and doing it to each other at home. They all hate it when they DM, and all do it when they are players. So, why not stop? They had no answer… I am still scratching my head.

    As an aside, our area did see heavy use of Dispel Magic in 3E during the Living Greyhawk campaign, but only at high levels were spells were absolutely horrifying. During the toughest interactives and adventures it was common for the spellcasters (plural) to do nothing but ready dispel magic to be able to stop a spellcaster. And, the very tough monsters would have a Hand of the Mage magic item, so they could have three rings worn to let them stop three of those dispel attempts when needed. It was a bit nuts, but part of the metagame as the spells at those levels were absolutely insanely terrifying for players. A similar bizarre thing in 3E was the Delay Death – absolutely necessary during high level play because the damage spikes could be insane no matter what PC you were playing.

    For me, these “must haves” are always indications that the game has lost its way. It has departed from the land of imagination and creativity and ended up with aspects of a board or minis game. I would love to see 5E officially fix these spells, even if just as official optional alternatives for DMs to use in their campaigns.

    As an author, I almost never take these spells into account. The solution for Banishment isn’t to add more monsters. If WotC won’t fix it, players should be the solution and not DMs or authors. Players need to realize they don’t need these spells in 5E and that the game is more fun without them. If authors and DMs try to change the challenge, it creates an escalation that is very bad for the campaigns. It justifies the player behavior and encourages them to do even more, while teaching new players that the game isn’t for new players, only for hardened uncaring unimaginative ones. You won’t find any of my PCs using the above spells.

    • I’ve made arguments below about these spells but it seems like certain people didn’t know the rules well enough. The spell Banish shouldn’t be usable on every strong monster, the wizard simply wouldn’t have the material component (Something distasteful to the monster) for everything he encounters and unlike other material components you can’t hand waive that by saying you have a components pouch, because that only covers so much, you can’t say a simple pouch covers everything distasteful to everyone AND all other material components you ever need.

      As for Hypnotic Pattern it effects your allies, and should be forcing the DM to make the party choose more tactical choices as the monsters react to it. It seems like your experiences come from a DM who doesn’t know how to react to the party enough and from players who don’t know the rules of the game.

      • alphastream says:

        Do the rules support the DM saying the caster lacks a component without a price? That seems like really thin ice and the kind of arbitrary ruling that players dislike.

        Yes, Hypnotic Pattern is AoE, but I generally see it used before anyone closes ranks. It’s cast while the foes are further away, during the first round. Of the cases where I’ve seen it cast, more than 75% actually involved no more than one foe making their save – an entirely neutered encounter, and utterly boring.

        Keep in mind that organized play usually sets forth encounter constraints, such as the locations of foes. DMs can make some changes, but then we get into that escalation issue. I’m not looking for spells to require DMs to have tons of experience mitigating them. I’m looking for spells to work well, for any DM.

        • To be fair RAW you can cast Banish with just a component pouch or spell casting focus as it has no associated cost. That said I do think it’s a bit silly that it has so specific a material component but no cost attached to it, that would be a good fix to the spell.

          As I don’t run or play Organized dnd it’s a bit hard for me to comment on it. I prefer playing and running home games, Organized play from what I can tell is good for two kinds of people from what I can tell. Those looking for a good way to start getting into D&D in a public environment or those who don’t have the time or place to run or play a game with just friends.

          The thing is with D&D though is as a player and a DM you can constantly be improving your play. Some spells in D&D are going to be complex, and if you can’t deal with them then you should have a talk with your group, if you find Hypnotic Pattern to be an issue in a home game you can either ban it or talk to the players about it’s usage.

          In Organized play it’s one of the evils you have to deal with, if a player has it then maybe one of the Enemies spends it’s turn rousing it’s allies instead of attacking the players, or all of the monsters not hit by hypnotic pattern focus fire the mage, causing the spell to break and there for the combat to get more interesting, again it sounds like a DM not being able to solve the problem with an easy solution provided by the game. A DM for Organized play should have rules like concentration and how they work memorized well enough to deal with it.

          In the end any game will have ways the players can abuse it and make it no fun. But there can typically be solutions to the problem, heck even in organized play you could politely ask some one not to cast Hypnotic Pattern if you hate it that much, however they could of course refuse you.

      • Skywalker says:

        I agree with what Johnathan says above… and figuring out and finding a “distasteful item” could be an (awesome) adventure in its own… this is what the game is all about: improvisation and story telling… there is no situation the DM can not rectify or balance, the tricky part is doing it without seeming arbitrary… but damn, think about it: there are consequences to everything!

        If the party wallops the first few encounters… great, doesn’t mean they can’t get their asses kicked after that… crazy powers have a way of attracting the wrong kind of attention… right…?

    • David Hartlage says:

      Hi Alphastream,
      Thanks for another deeply insightful comment. I’ve been thinking about the qualities that make a spell good for the game, and I think you nailed one quality: Good spells contribute to creative, situational tactics. I love when players find a cunning use for a spell that breaks one encounter. I’m vexed when a spell provides a routine solution for every encounter.

      I’m always fascinated by your tales from the days when I wasn’t involved in organized play.


      Dave

    • Timothy Park says:

      “Players need to realize they don’t need these spells in 5E and that the game is more fun without them.”

      To a point I agree with this. The culmination of many shifts in mechanics have resulted in these “optimal” spells that can dull or ruin the drama of an an encounter. Although this happens even with some relatively benign spells. (Recalling our finding a dozen sleeping ogres. Someone cast Silence and we murdered them all in their sleep. Good solution. Frustrated the hell out of the DM. He made us work for every kill, but, of course, if they survived the rain of blows their cries for help went unheard ….)

      On the other hand, between the often artificial limitation of Concentration, and the fact that there are fairly strong limits on what is available to other classes of spellcaster besides Wizard, often some of these spells are the only option available.

      I am currently running a Bard who is 5th level. Among the Bard spells are very few that have a strong influence on combat. Many buffs, of course, but little that does anything direct. When Hypnotic Pattern (which really does suit a Bard, although it might ought to be “Hypnotic Song” for them with some other tweaks) is one of the few serious options a character has to influence a melee and he’s the primary caster in the party “don’t need these” looks like a weaker argument.

      I’ve run into similar with a Warlock character who faces similar limits. Shatter looked tempting, but we were in a series of adventures where a measure of stealth was necessary and there is nothing like Shatter to announce your presence as was demonstrated by the Bard in the party … twice. So he went with Darkness, which, for a Warlock, can be rather broken when coupled with Devil’s Sight. Even the party complained at how deadly the combination became and the DM came up with many questionable responses to the tactic. Which caused me to come up with still more tricky ways of implementing the spell because it wasn’t like I had a lot of options to work with.

      As someone pointed out in a very intelligent critique of the Warlock class “the game begins to unravel when you limit a player’s meaningful choices”, or words to that effect. He was talking about Agonizing Blast as an Invocation for Warlocks: you’re pretty foolish if you don’t take it which means you really don’t have a very meaningful choice when selecting Invocations. Couple that with Concentration which is slapped onto pretty much any useful spell and the choices, especially for the non-Wizards, get artificially limited and difficult.

      Why shouldn’t you be able to be invisible and fly at the same time? Why not have Darkness and Invisibility running concurrently? The Invisibility is already going to go away when the character does anything significant. For example.

      When you’re not a wizard and have less than a double handful of spells to have at hand selected from an already limited list, the other problem created is that if some of these spells are weakened it rather weakens those classes who have few other potent options. Wizards have “a bigger golf bag with more clubs” so they have less excuse for relying on a few overly potent spells.

      I’m not saying the issue shouldn’t be addressed, but the situation has larger effects than simply “tweaking” a few spells at the official level.

      Two things that I miss from 1E that I’m not sure how to implement successfully in the 5E environment that would help would be 1) much more DM interaction with what spells a character gets and 2) perhaps going back to having to specifically fill individual spell slots — “Yes, you have two 3rd level slots and you could take Hypnotic Pattern for both if you want no other options.”

      I hated the later as a player but there were points where it kept the game on track.

      And back when Wizards and Clerics were the only casters, the way it worked was that the DM was strongly controlling what spells were available to fill slots with. You didn’t get to pick from the whole book for “known spells” or whenever you level to fill your spellbook. When a Cleric prepared spells the DM was informed what the Cleric wanted and approved or disapproved, potentially. The gods might grant different spells and, occasionally none if the Cleric had gotten particularly out of line. Sometimes this was the DM telegraphing what was ahead because “the gods would know”.

      With Wizards one started with all of 4 spells in their spellbook. Often we rolled these randomly for the challenge of making do with what came up. We also tended to disregard having to “memorize” for particular slots because being tied to what’s in your spellbook was a pretty stiff limit in practice. But what that meant was that you only got more spells by finding scrolls and spellbooks, finding a school or another wizard to teach you, or doing a lot of expensive research to develop a spell yourself. Which in practice kept the “broken” spells out of the game and let the DM feed the spells that would be helpful into the game via treasure finds.

      The *point* of all the spells in the book back when was to provide the mechanics for different magical effects, or at least some ideas for how to reasonably put those effects into the game. Something like Banish might be there to provide the means for an incredibly powerful opponent or ally to do so *occasionally*. Or to provide means for a cool effect. For example I’ve never used or seen a player use Magic Mouth, but it’s a cool “trick” to weave into a location or object. The spell listing is a reasonable way to communicate to DMs designing situations how to do cool things.

      But in the current culture around 5E the whole list of spells is wide open to every player to pick as they like and there is strong pressure in the community of players to not limit their choices. So any 1st level Wizard can pick any six spells from the PHB and such. And every time that Wizard levels they can pick any two more spells from the book as long as it’s a level they can cast (RAW doesn’t even seem to require that they spend money and time on the deal, they just get the spells with no ink or time to work on them). Which means, yes, unless there are limits on *what spells can be chosen* there will be situations like this.

      In my newest campaign, I’m going back to the old way of having to find spells and let the DM know so the gods can have some say in the spells of divine casters and such. We’ll see how much guff I get.

  4. John du Bois says:

    Story Time from the Living Greyhawk days:

    Who remembers Holy Word/Blasphemy from 3.5? I do. Nasty spell. Did all kinds of awful stuff, in a radius, with no save, based on the difference between your caster level and your foe’s Hit Dice. Worse if you got crap like Beads of Karma. Even worse if you took the template from the *base Monster Manual* that gave you Blasphemy with your caster level equaling your HD as a spell-like ability, because if you put that thing on a monster that got four HD per CR increase, suddenly you had some very mean, very blasphemous bears.

    Monster advancement in 3.5 was both onerous and very hard to balance.

    This got really bad in one region, the Bandit Kingdoms, which was an in-game region run by the big bad demigod Iuz.

    The authoring team for the region actually negotiated a Holy Word/Blasphemy ceasefire with the players because of how unfun the spells were – you don’t Holy Word our demon hordes, and we won’t bring in a blasphemous half-fiendish sheep to kill you all at a battle interactive. (I don’t know if they actually used a half-fiendish sheep. I do know that region had a half-dragon sheep in one adventure, because Morginstaler would make half-dragon babies with *anything*.)

    So yeah. Every edition, something seems to get bad enough that it needs fixing. It just warms the hearts of all my gnome ex-PCs that this time, an illusion got a piece of the brokenness.

  5. nesticle says:

    Hypnotic Pattern like most aoe spells effect even PCs and drop after being hit. If anything banishment is worse because it’s a fail and your out for up to a minute. Of course the balance is these are both concentration based so one caster cannot do both.

    Counter spell as well as dispel works tons better in 5e than previous editions. Having to make a spell craft check and then hope your memorized matched or had an equal cs or dispel ready was a nightmare. The trade off of course is that it does use spell slots as always and becomes a real tactic finally in this edition.

    Also summons spells while seemingly pointless – in a true 5e game within bounded accuracy they are still pretty good. depending on rolled stats and magic item economy yea they can become pointless (as well as gm tactics ie trying to ignore them) but at the same time you get better ones lol.

  6. Nerdarchy says:

    Hah, it’s funny that this article should drop today as we did a similar video yesterday! Each and every ongoing effect spell would be remedied by having a saving throw each round for the spell to continue to effect it’s targets. You could have Banishment only banish non-native creatures if that creature failed 3 saving throws- that’s going to add a lot more tension to every saving throw die roll! -Nerdarchist Ryan

  7. Pauper says:

    The addition of Counterspell to the 5th edition spell list also points up two other problems regarding 5th edition spellcasting:

    1) If a monster attempts to cast a spell, a DM with a player capable of casting Counterspell will inevitably ask, “What’s the spell?” If the DM is new to D&D with 5th edition and decides to try to figure out what rule is involved with identifying spellcasting, she’ll be shocked to discover that there are no rules for identifying spellcasting in D&D. The rules cover the different kinds of magical components, but don’t actually say that viewing the somatic or hearing the verbal component of a spell allows you to identify the spell as it is being cast.

    If the DM started during 4th edition, though, it’s likely she’ll simply name the spell being cast, as in 4th edition there was no reason not to name the powers that monsters were using against the players, and naming the power might even clue in a player that he might have an interrupt or reaction ability on his character to use against the power or the monster using the power.

    If the DM started during 3rd edition, it’s likely she’ll require an Arcana check (or Religion check, for divine spells) to identify the spell, assuming the character can see the somatic components or hear the verbal components of the spell being cast, since that was the rule in that edition. Though the check to perform such identification was often trivial in 3rd edition, the rules for skills in 5th edition are such that such a check will be much less trivial if called for.

    The key is, though, that technically any of these methods is ‘correct’ under 5th edition rules: a DM could call for a skill check, simply announce the spell being cast, or even say, ‘You have no idea what spell is being cast’ and require the character to cast Counterspell ‘blind’.

    2) The text of Counterspell makes it plain that the spell counters other ‘spells’. However, some monsters have both spells and abilities that duplicate spells but are not explicitly spells. An example is the dryad from the SRD: it has innate spellcasting and can cast a small number of druid spells, but can also use the spell effects Tree Stride and Charm Person/Charm Animal on each of her turns. Since the description of the latter abilities does not make any mention of their being ‘spells’, they are therefore uncounterable.

    Thus, Counterspell might well be the most argument-provoking spell in all of 5th edition, and maybe in all of D&D since the AD&D ‘wish’ spell.

  8. Ian says:

    DM solutions for most of these spells: Most DM’s roll behind a screen, so they can flub rolls to fit the scenario: including saving throws. Also, most of the listed spells are concentration. So attack the spellcaster.

  9. The spell I find most annoying is forcecage…

    • David Hartlage says:

      Hi Brandon,
      Forcecage ranked as the runner up in my informal polling. I left it out because it remains essentially unchanged since its first appearance in Unearthed Arcana.

      I’m sure from among all the 1000 or so spells published for past D&D releases, I could find a 7th-level replacement that offers more fun than Forcecage.

      Dave

  10. Dirk Collins says:

    I haven’t played 5e, however I always thought the Banishment spell worked only on extra-planar creatures, meaning that the target creature (or person) had to be from another plane of existence in the first place, and once the spell was cast you would be banished from the current plane, and back to the plane of your your origin.

  11. Alex says:

    Whether its the system or the dm, there is a problem. If I make a wizard, I hate fireball and damage only spells, so I never played wizards in previous editions. Inexperienced dms can’t handle a controller at all, and I’ve had to leave three campaigns because of it. When I dm, it doesn’t seem difficult to deal with. I was going to enter an enemy camp invisible , and look for a comander of one of the units, there were about 1000 enemies. I was going to cast suggestion or dominate person, and get him to attack another group. DM decided it was better to charge me 1 minute per foot of travel, so my invisibility wouldn’t last long enough than deal with it.

  12. Alex says:

    another situation happened when every named villain had legendary resistance x 3 . not boss, every one with a name. a 4th level rogue and I was level 9 wizard, and it took more than 3 spells to mess with him…. sorry, if you want a gish class, then make it and I will play rogues.

  13. Amrehlu says:

    How are any of these a problem? I read what you had to say and you didn’t have a single convincing point. As the DM you just create a reason they don’t function in a given situation or punish overuse or heavy reliance on the spells that are “broken.” Make it clear that because all of the enemies spent the entire encounter helpless the party only gets 1/4th exp because the encounter wasn’t as difficult as it should have been. A good DM alters exp per encounter dynamically anyway based on how it goes. Make them scroll-only/wand-only spells with limited uses. The “Boss” is a Boss because he isn’t shit at his job, why would he not prepare defenses against being affected by spells like those; make it a part of the encounter that if the wizard wants to Banish anything, the party needs to destroy some sort of defense system or just give him bonuses to his rolls or make up a mechanic that you must succeed 3 times in a row to affect the extra powerful creature.

    Counterspell is totally fine, fun, and useful… you only get 1 reaction per round, it costs a spell slot to use, and if the spell being countered is too high of a level you can easily fail to counter it. Nothing is wrong with it at all. Saying counterspell is bad is like saying AoO are horrible and ruin the game.

    Banishment requires an item that is distasteful to the target as a Material component which means simple or dumb creatures are going to be easier as long as you know what they don’t like, but a human or intelligent creature? Good luck guessing that and if they don’t need to guess than they must have put the work in to figure out what they would need to use the spell beforehand. Also it is a concentration spell so they are paying for that by not being able to use any other concentration spells while it is active and it is only 1 creature unless you use a high level spell slot. Also good luck using it on something that doesn’t understand the concept of distasteful, the spell flatout won’t/shouldn’t work on mindless anything (undead and constructs for example).

    Conjure Animals takes a spell slot, is concentration, and anything lower than CR 1 is going to die very quickly and do 1-3 damage IF they manage to hit. 2 CR 1 creatures will be okay for absorbing some damage for the party and hitting a little bit, but they won’t even nearly throw a properly balanced encounter too out of wack and they will still die fast and probably will have a hard time hitting anything. Even 1 CR 2 isn’t going to be that amazing. It is help, but it doesn’t just win the encounter for them by any stretch. 8 CR 1/4 creatures have a single initiative and it isn’t hard to roll 8 dice at once or 1 die 8 times quickly and list off the results. If it takes a huge amount of extra time, that is on the player and DM being bad at the game, sadly, if they took the spell they should have been prepared to use it.

    If your players are killing enemies with a single attack, then Hypnotic Pattern isn’t your problem. They wake up when they take damage, they are not certain to fail the save and all it takes is 1 of them not failing and just shaking his buddies awake to make it worthless. The spell is nothing more than a time buyer to give 1-2 turns for the party to make it into range or to stop a ranged assault, ect. If the spell poses a problem for a campaign, that just means the DM is bad, there is no reason 1 or even 3+ uses of Hypnotic pattern should ruin any encounter. Also, why does a party have to fight every thing? They could just use the spell to incap the foes, walk by, and drop it, fuck a good DM would be proud of players thinking like that and give them exp for avoiding the encounter.

    It just seems like only a DM that is either bad at DMing or takes an adversarial approach to DMing would actually think any of these are game ruining. You’re not against the players, your job is to ensure the players have fun and give them a world and encounters in that world, and maybe a bit of a story. What is wrong with a player sometimes feeling powerful? Even though none of these spells could ever lead to that really, again unless the DM is truly terrible.

    None of these have a problem mechanics/system-wise; the only source of problems from these spell would be bad DMing or a very poor relationship with your players that breeds some kind of Player vs DM thing that would drive the players to desperately abuse the spells in some aggressive manner. Even if they tried it wouldn’t do much because, again, none of these spells is broken or remotely powerful, they are at best, kind of useful or fun.

    • Cameron says:

      For Counterspell, instead of having all these cool spell effects going around you get nothing and nothing. Its not really overpowered, it’s just boring.

      Changing Banishment’s material components does seem a bit off, but the spell as is does have problems. It prevents the DM from designing any encounter with a big monster with some smaller ones. The players banish the big guy, beat up the rest, the big guy comes back after the minute and is really hurt by a pile of readied actions.

      Conjure Animals is really only a problem for AP prone players, but its otherwise fine.

      For Hypnotic Pattern, the players don’t need to kill it in one attack, all but one of them can ready their actions to after the first attack goes off. If the monster survives an attack from everyone in the party, it is still surrounded by players and would have to take several opportunity attacks to wake another.

  14. Xdad says:

    Is your next article going to be “You kids git offa my lawn?”

  15. Dave Wile says:

    If your PCs are relying on specific spells all the time, remember, NPCs can cast them too. Nothing frightens a well prepared party than a spellcaster. Use them, and that solves every problem listed. 5E spellcasting is different from other editions in that its very balanced, despite claims the contrary. Stop bemoaning how it USE to work, and update your thinking for THIS edition of the game. Change what you’re doing with your NPCs, and the PCs will stop running ripshod all over them.

    I’ve been DMing for 35 years, and two of my players the same length. One is annoyingly quite the wiz at finding a game’s number crunching, and drilling you with it. It was a trial by fire, but I changed up my tactics, and that solved every problem you mentioned. Its not the game, its you. Sorry.

    • Timothy Park says:

      Have to agree. Although I’m not quite that nasty. I read “Banishment” because I have never used it or seen it used.

      I think my players would scream if it came up. If I read it right, if the spells goes it’s full duration whatever was banished (could be a PC) ends up stuck in a demi-plane, period. Fail your save, caster’s concentration doesn’t break, caster doesn’t elect to end the spell … and you’re in limbo indefinitely.

      So tempting to let the nemesis Warlock have that one … but given how upset everyone was when they ran into Yellow Mold Zombies in a retro module I would probably be at least tarred and feathered if I pulled that.

      • Ilbranteloth says:

        The never return result is only if the creature is from another plane. It’s very clear in the first paragraph (regarding creatures from the plane you’re on), that they return when the spell ends.

        Having said that, if you’re party is exploring the Nine Hells, why wouldn’t the devils banish you if they could, the same way wizards banish them from the material plane?

        • Timothy Park says:

          You’re quite right: thank you. I had to reread the spell. It isn’t quite so clear to me, but with a more careful reading I did suss out that it’s not an indefinite period in limbo should the spell simply end.

          That said, eliminating a prime player from a boss fight by the boss before the fight got started would not go down well. Turning a player into a spectator for a minute of combat while “realistic” would be taken as punitive at my table.

          And that’s one of my tests for a spell: if it was turned around how would the players react?

          Unfortunately, they don’t react well when I try to limit the spells in the book. Every spell that turns up in the core books or supplements is considered fair game, and my attempts to guide things tend to meet with resistance if I don’t apply some finesse.

          As I have said before, I rather miss the First Edition mechanic of wizards starting with 5 1st level spells and having to acquire anything else. I was never mean about that (in several senses of “mean”). As a DM it helped keep things simpler. Less experienced players weren’t taking spells they thought would be useful and winding up rather frustrated. More experienced players welcomed the challenge of figuring out how to use unfamiliar or even familiar spells in creative ways. As a player I welcomed the later challenge. “Optimally” I was inclined to take certain spells. The random 4 plus read magic forced me to think outside the box.

          In many regards the well defined spells and clear mechanics for magic in 5E limit that. When we relied on the referee more for both what spells we had and how they worked it also admitted more creativity. Now they’re “subroutines” with fairly predictable results. Then things were “fuzzier” and we’d try things that were outside the bounds of RAW. Does anyone else remember Light being used offensively to blind an opponent? Now it’s a cantrip and that’s “overpowered”. When it might be my one spell of the day and things were more flexible, making the orc’s retinas glow to blind him was more acceptable. As a for instance.

          Clearly I still have mixed feelings about spells in 5E. There are times when Concentration feels very arbitrary and punitive. (I am in the process of discovering that the vast majority of Bard spells require Concentration. At 5th level I rarely use my full allotment of spell slots because once I cast my “buff” for the fight, I’m pretty much done and relegated to sniping with my crossbow to avoid the injury that would remove the buff. And the creative combinations of the past no longer happen. Darkness to hinder an overwhelming enemy and Invisibility to make your escape? Not quite so possible anymore. Things like that.

          It certainly makes it easier to play. More people who would not have tried a caster character in 1st edition will give it a go in 5E because it isn’t quite the brain bender that it was back when. But I see what it does otherwise. Folks tend to a narrow range of spells they know work. When I play I’m considering things like “OK, I”ve got all these concentration spells. What can I take that would be useful that isn’t going to require that out of a narrow range of options?”

          In some ways we’re also dealing with two different casting “agendas”. The traditional casters are looking for a solid “golf bag” to have available. The newer classes — warlock and sorcerer — and some of the archetypes are looking for a handful of broadly useful spells to cast repeatedly.

          It’s gotta be hard writing rules to manage such diverse desires.

  16. Sam S. says:

    As a potential solution to the Banishment problem, you could use the Chrono Trigger trick. Players enter a boss fight. There’s one huge, frightening looking enemy in the middle, and two smaller enemies, one on each side. The natural assumption is that the big one is the toughest and the other two are the henchmen, but it is actually one of the two smaller ones that are the real problem. It doesn’t have to be two, it can be one big guy and a dozen small ones, the main point is that the real threat is disguised by his appearance and the players’ expectations.

    Your player wastes his spell slot and concentration on the “big guy”, while the real fight begins. You can do this two maybe three times (spread out of course) before your players catch on, but even then, as long as you mix it up, it forces the players to enter the encounter more strategically, testing their foes before committing huge spells on them.

  17. I don’t disagree with the points in your article but as a DM I don’t think these spells are quite as powerful or annoying as you put forth in your argument.

    I would like to preface my argument with the rules for Concentrate and Reactions as they are important to my points.

    Concentrate: You may only have one spell requiring concentration active at a time.
    Also if you take damage while concentrating you must make a DC 10 or a DC equal to damage taken (What ever is higher) CON save. (Wizards don’t tend to have high CON, though some classes might like Eldritch Knights or some Sorcerers.) It also breaks upon unconsciousness.

    Reaction Action:
    You may make only one of these until your next turn in combat when it refreshes.

    Now I will go through and make my counter points.

    Hypnotic Pattern:
    It’s a 30ft cube, as long as your monsters are spread out enough this isn’t going to necessarily take out half your monsters, in addition to that it effects your party members. Also I would find that after having their forces affected this much by the parties caster the monsters would either focus them, effectively breaking the concentration of the spell through sheer damage or dropping the caster, or they would flee to bring back a better strike force to eliminate the party, focusing on the caster first of course. A group of archers waiting to sneak attack the caster before the rest of their allies strike the other party members would work wonders here.
    And this line “The spell ends for an affected creature if it takes any damage or if someone else uses an action to shake the creature out of its stupor.” which you addressed above means the party really only gets a few turns to deal with the rest of their foes before facing them all once again.

    Counterspell:
    While really strong it only effects spells, there are a ton of supernatural powers that counter spell doesn’t get around in the end. Additionally it costs a reaction, so the caster who used it now doesn’t have one for other also potent spells and abilities.

    Banishment:
    Again it’s a concentration spell, a few well placed attacks on the caster and the big bad monster is back and is pissed at the caster who banished it, bye bye caster.

    Conjure Animals:
    This one is tricky, and still annoying regardless.
    But they are only friendly to the players, they aren’t totally loyal.
    So yes they will fight for you and you can command them to do things, however the DM controls them, as a group I might add on one initiative count, so they all act together. They might not be willing to break up and attack all eight of the orcs you are fighting, instead favoring to attack one of the orcs together because it has better odds for them living. Or in the face of a deadly situation like a fight with a Dragon, they might prefer to try and convince the party to run, not wanting to die themselves, if they party won’t they might only stick around for one turn, then high tail it leaving the party to die.

    So in the end I agree with you, they are powerful and pretty annoying spells. However there are ways a DM can circumvent them, but doing so all the time is bound to frustrate the party, who is there to have fun and be badasses as their characters, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.

  18. alphastream says:

    Folks, keep in mind that DM David has been DMing for decades. He’s not saying he can’t figure out what to do in a home campaign – he’s saying he shouldn’t have to for these problematic spells. When he’s identifying these as problematic, he’s doing so based on running tables for players from all over the US (and probably some international) at both local stores and the biggest US gaming conventions.

    I run and play at these conventions too. These spells come up all the time and really do cause problems with game balance and enjoyment.

    Organized play is also a different beast from a home campaign. A DM has latitude to make some changes, but not drastic ones. They can’t make house rules or create entire new/additional encounters, etc. Before you say that is the problem of organized play, almost all the other spells are just fine. These (and arguably 1-4 others) are really the big problems. These spells behave unlike the others, with very specific impacts on play. As David shows, there isn’t a historical reason for the design, and the design is often out of line with other similar spells. For example, there is no reason why Banishment should suddenly affect everything _and_ also behave completely differently than Hold Monster or tons of other spells that take a foe out of combat.

    • David Hartlage says:

      Well put. Thanks Alphastream!

      Dave

    • I suppose that is a fair point not a lot of people have experience with Organized/Convention play, I sure don’t. I do however realize that you are under certain constraints while running them.

      In cases like these where spells were developed for flavor reasons and are perfectly suited to a home game and not Organized play, then there should be some sort of feedback given at the end of Organized play “seasons” where in the DM’s and Players of organized play take a survey and also add in their own personal feedback to help the Organized play’s balance. Things could then be altered and rebalanced with Organized play in mind.
      Either through hard and soft bans on something or making alterations and special errata just for Organized play to things to help them better support the style of game being played, video games do that kind of thing all the time.

      Not quite related to Organized Play but it would be interesting to see some sort of Living Campaign like Living Grey Hawk or the like do this with their own story arcs and seasons to see what would change over time. In both cases you would see the game altered and balanced around the type of game being played, which in the case of Organized play might be necessary because D&D 5e isn’t at it’s core balanced around the idea of that style of play.

  19. mstickler says:

    Regardless of Sage Advice or any official ruling I would not allow a caster who is casting a spell to counterspell an opposition caster who countered their spell… why… Because counterspell occurs during the casting of the spell. If wizard A is casting fireball and wizard B sees it and counters, wizard A would have to interrupt the completion of the spell to cast counterspell against wizard B.

    Same scenario but wizard A has an ally (wizard C). Then I would allow wizard C to use his reaction to counter wizard B’s countering of wizard A.

  20. Your point about counterspells makes me think of everything that frustrates me about the newest edition of WizWar. It’s the same kind of feeling. You really feel proud of yourself and look forward to unleashing your spells on the other guy, especially if you’ve got some sort of combination in motion. Then he whips out some kind of “no you don’t” card and totally takes the wind out of your sails. In this and in D&D, as you mentioned, it is disheartening and discourages the player from wanting to play again.

  21. Conversely, I consider the first two spells a massive nerf from their 3E counterparts.

    Banishment (or Polymorph) affect one target, 3E Fear affected everything.
    Hypnotic Pattern breaks immediately on damage, 3E Color Spray or Glitterdust were available even earlier and lasted multiple rounds.

    Counterspell is certainly new and demands new tactics (e.g. Wizards not standing within 60 feet of one another.)
    Conjure animals… sucks.

  22. Strangely, through this entire article, I found almost nothing to agree with. Hypnotic Pattern? It makes sense. Summoning animals? My sister loves playing minion masters. Banishment? I often consider magic to be too limited in scope, but banishment made sense – you see it in books from time to time, where the bad guy sends the PCs off ‘someplace’ as a show of force. And counterspell makes perfect sense.

    Balanced? I don’t care much about that. I care about what makes sense.

  23. jod says:

    i have been a home brew DM for years… the solution is simple: fight fire with fire! my PC druid keeps summoning 8 panthers on my enemies with summon animals. so guess what? i use an npc on him that casts summon animals right back on him!

    my wizard keeps countering my spells… guess what? an npc wizard can counter his spells too! the barbarian dishes out tons of damage? so does an npc barbarian of the same level. or HIGHER!

    as DM remember : “You have absolute power!” (funny yoda voice)

    • jod says:

      it seems like many other people basically said the same thing as i did now that i am reading all of the other comments… but i think i said it nicer… have a nice day

  24. Dan says:

    Hate to say it, but you’re dead wrong about summoning spells. The Monster Summoning line of spells first appeared in the Greyhawk supplement in 1975 and stuck around all through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd edition. You’re correct that it couldn’t give you 8 creatures, but that 1d4+1 was also more comparable to modern CR 1/4 and 1/2 creatures, of which a 5th edition summoning would give you 4 or 2. Also, it didn’t require any sort of concentration like it does now, so you could cast it multiple times to get more and more summoned creatures. The new version is more streamlined, but absolutely not without precedent or more powerful than it was in the past.

    Hypnotic Pattern is quite a good spell, but also nowhere near the game breaker you make it out to be. Let’s be real, it always affected a lot more enemies than Sleep. In AD&D, Sleep affected 2d4 hit dice of monsters with no individual target greater than 4+3 HD, whereas Hypnotic Pattern did a flat 24 with no limit on how strong the individual targets could be. Realistically, that would be pretty much every target in its 30 foot cube, since 24 HD would be a half dozen ogres or three hill giants. Plus, it breaks on damage, doesn’t render them helpless and subject to free critical hits (or free out-of-combat insta-kills in older editions) like Sleep and Hold Person do, requires concentration (which, although less onerous than in previous editions, is still breakable and precludes the casting of other powerful spells that require concentration), and has been bumped up to 3rd level, forcing it to compete for slots with Fireball, Counterspell, Haste, Slow, et al. It’s also worth noting that while it does affect an area, it’s a smaller area than Fireball. If the enemies are clustered enough to hypnotize, then they’re clustered enough to fry.

    Counterspell barely comes up unless you frequently have players engaging in PvP combat. Not many monsters or NPCs cast spells, and even fewer know Counterspell. In almost all cases, this one just comes down to rewarding the paranoid PC who prepares it every day on the rare occasion that someone casts a spell on him. Every other day, it’s just a waste of a prepared spell. The much-talked-about Counterspell Duel is vanishingly rare unless you habitually make every villain a wizard.

    Banishment and Polymorph are unarguably powerful – and being able to banish non-extraplanar creatures is pretty weird – but honestly, that’s hardly grounds to criticize 5th edition. In previous editions, Polymorph gave one saving throw and after that was PERMANENT. No need for concentration back then, either. It has always been the case in D&D that the DM should expect some of his best monsters to just get “magicked away” in mid- to high-level play; not at all new or without precedent.

    • David Hartlage says:

      Hi Dan,
      Thanks for setting me straight about Monster Summoning’s start in the Greyhawk supplement. I assumed when I should have checked. I suspect that I never saw anyone use the Monster Summoning spells in Greyhawk because they strike me as weak. The summonings only last 6 melee turns.

      As for the 5E summoning spells, now that we know that the DM chooses what gets summoned, I see them as balanced. My beef with the spells isn’t their power. Rather, they tend to slow the game by giving one player too much to do. One player gains too much time in the spotlight. If you favor narrative combat or if your summoner plays fast, the spells may work fine.

      I agree that Counterspell is situational and that in most sessions it never comes up. The 5E rules make the spell easy to prepare just in case. In 5E, even if you never need Counterspell, you can still spend all your spell slots casting Fireball, Fly, and Haste. My gripe is that enemy spellcasters make interesting foes and that adventures often feature them as the primary enemy. If all their spells get countered during their few rounds in battle, then they do nothing. That said, I created this list by asking convention players what spells they found annoying. Of the four, I find Counterspell least annoying.

      I like the dynamic created when heroes and monsters target a spellcaster to free a banished or polymorphed ally. I hate when my monsters are too stupid to know to target the spellcaster.


      Dave

      • Dan says:

        Hi Dave,

        Yeah, I could see it being overwhelming if you give the player square-by-square control over each individual creature. Personally, I wouldn’t let them divide summoned creatures into more than two “teams” for the purpose of carrying out orders, unless they wanted to spend their whole action giving detailed instructions to their minions. So “the two of you go attack the enemy leader and the rest of you guard me from attack” would be okay (and quick to run), but if they wanted to do something complicated like “Creature #1 go flank with the rogue, #2 and #3 go block off that 10′ passage, #4 and #5 attack the enemy spellcaster, #6 break down that door, and #7 and #8 stay here as my bodyguards” then they’d have to sacrifice their own action.

        As one last note on Counterspell, the easiest way to keep enemy spellcasters immune to it is simply to be out of range. A screen of minions can easily make sure that the leader in back is at least 60 feet away from the PCs for the first 2 or 3 rounds.

        On the last point, I guess we just have differing tastes. I like it when effects don’t just get knocked off after 6 seconds of beating up the caster; I like Dispel Magic actually being important and useful.

  25. Timothy Park says:

    I posted earlier and have been kicking the issue of these spells around since then as the day has gone on. I’m going to disagree a bit.

    Most of the examples given sound like they’re primarily from the perspective of Wizards doing the casting, possibly clerics.

    Where characters have a wide range of spells available to them and total freedom to select spells from the official materials, yes, these spells are a problem. Given the nature of “official play” the only solution is an official solution.

    I do think that some of the issue is a bit more situational. Banishment, for example, is a 4th level spell available to only two classes. In most of the games I play in 4th level spells rarely come available because the games tend to stick with lower levels. As the use of a characters one 4th level slot or as a scroll spell, no big deal. I do get that in higher level play this would change.

    However, I think the problem is more broad than a few overpowered or “broken” spells and grew up from more sources. Many little changes have brought us to the place where the choices for spellcasters are not as meaningful as they should be or could be. Further the mechanics — especially that of Concentration — place what I feel is often an artificial limit on creative use of and combinations of spells. Because of all of that I don’t think the solution is going to be as simple as reworking a couple of spells.

    My main reason for saying so isn’t the Wizards and possibly the Clerics, but more the other casters, particularly bards, warlocks and arcane tricksters. When the number of spells you can actually know are limited your choices become very precious. Of course you’re going to go for the most potent and generally useful spell you can find. Warlocks in particular who for the bulk of their “career” are looking at selections which are going to be worth 50% of their spell power between rests have special pressure to select for potency and broad applicability. But they also have one of the shortest lists of possible spells. Neutralizing some of the more effective spells in their limited arsenal begins to unbalance other things.

    Of course my Bard took Hypnotic Pattern. Bards have few choices for spells which do much in terms of battlefield control or any other kind of direct influence on a battle. There are perhaps three third level spells which qualify: Hypnotic Pattern, Fear and Stinking Cloud. All three have the Concentration Tax and pretty much do the same thing. They’re cast and the party either concentrates on the enemies who are still a threat or turkey shoots the ones running.

    I suspect, however, that if Hypnotic Pattern were eliminated I’d just use Fear instead. And the same problem would result.

    That’s part of the problem: for the classes with limited choices, those spells are rather unnaturally more desirable than many others.

    But a big part of the problem is RAW and “culture”.

    It is presently accepted that players have full agency to select from the full range of spells available at certain points in their character’s development. So there is no limiting access to whichever spells they want in official play.

    In 1E this was much less a problem because “RAW” was that the DM had final say on “prepared” spells for divine casters, and full control over what magic-users had in their spellbooks with the possible loophole of spell research at higher levels.

    If the “gods were not pleased” a cleric might not get the spell they want.

    And the rule was that as a Magic User you started with 4 spells in your spell book, often determined by random roll. *Any other spell had to be found.* Yes, I did have some higher level magic users who didn’t have spells for their higher level slots (and back then you couldn’t use higher level slots for lower level spells: most frustrating).

    I love player agency. However, I don’t thing all the spells in the book are really there to be cast by players. At least not regularly. Part of why Gygax put the spells there in the first place wasn’t so much (especially at higher levels) for players to throw around, but to give the DM *ideas*. “Here’s a mechanic for having inanimate objects talk” and we have Magic Mouth. I’ve never seen any player cast it in 30 years but it’s been around. Describing it as a spell is an efficient way to communicate the potential and a mechanic for refereeing the potential to DMs.

    But we’ve gotten away from “just because it’s in the book doesn’t mean the players get it to use”.

    This is part of why I avoid official play: everything is on the table. So there is little focus and strange stuff happens.

    Probably the simplest solution would be to simply remove certain spells from the PHB and move them to the DMG if it has to stay official.

    But in my campaign I’m going back to the 1E method. Wizards will start with 6 spells that I approve. Anything else? Good luck finding the books. scrolls and mentors who will help you to new options. Same for other casters: you have to find the spell somewhere.

    Warlocks and divine casters still have to check with me on what’s prepared/known.

    Easiest way to deal with Banishment? The players don’t get access to it unless I want them to have it.

    Which doesn’t mean it won’t be there.

    It does mean that it might be on a scroll. Or ritual only.

    I don’t want these spells gone: I like the potential and the notion that there are mechanics for fantastic things because it helps me come up with reasonable ways to create fantastic things for the folks at my table to experience.

    But just as I don’t feel slave to the dice, I’m not slave to the book either.

    Now if I could just figure out what the hell to do about Concentration. (What do you mean I can’t be Invisible and Fly at the same time???)

    • David Hartlage says:

      Hi Timothy,

      After I wrote this post, I realized that Hypnotic Pattern probably got a power boost because the designers needed a Bard/Illusionist spell similar in power to Fireball.

      Your tale of magic users needing to find spells fascinated me. Having MUs search for spells always struck me as a good source of plot hooks, treasure, and a possible balance to the power of higher-level MUs, but I never saw the limit used in play.

      I agree that Gary created spells like Magic Mouth and Glyph of Warding to give DMs a toolbox for dungeoneering.

      Thanks for another thoughtful comment!


      Dave

      • Timothy Park says:

        You’re most welcome. I was running from memory, but his morning took the time to pull out my dusty 1st Edition DMG. You might want to take a look starting on page 38 “Character Spells”. There is more there than I mentioned. Page 39 is especially of interest to the topic with “Acquisition of Magic User Spells”.

        My take from reading the whole section is that Mr. Gygax, fairly typically, had in mind some of the issues you bring up here and penned the section with control of higher level spell powers by the DM firmly in mind. Indeed there were more limits in play than I recalled: character intelligence limited the total number of spells known in each level and determined the character’s chance to acquire a new spell. So even if the character has a scroll there was a chance that transferring the unknown spell to spellbook could go awry….

        I thought then and still do that some of the additional difficulties were a bit harsh and arbitrary, but my experience of play and of the posts here and elsewhere is pointing me back to the base assumption: a magic using character embarks on their adventures with a limited supply of available spells and one of their chief motivations will be the acquisition of specific spells to increase their options.

        I note too that while clerics have rather free range of whatever 1st and 2nd level spells they wish to prepare, beyond that requires some fairly active communication with divine entities.

        The starting spells table on pg. 39 creates the potential for our poor, 1st level, magic user (who, of course, wound up with a single hit point) to perhaps be stuck with the injustice of Read Magic (remember it cost a first level spell slot to even *read* a spell), Light (which did have offensive uses then), Ventriloquism and Write as the contents of their precious spell book. Not a very useful mix.

        “Finally, the ramifications of spell scarcity are bound to aid your campaign, ….”

        When creating and maintaining what I consider to be my best campaign (despite a great deal of old school silliness) I pride myself on a couple things. The first was the then unknown notion of taking “dungeon levels” into the outdoors (drew range bands on the map from the starting location and populated them with increasingly difficult monsters the farther folks wandered from “home”), but more than that the second was taking time to not just use the tables for treasures but to carefully consider likely future events in the campaign and select scrolls, spell books and magic items that suited the current and future situations as well as the environment. While this kept “troublesome” spells out of the mix, what my players appreciated was that rather than being on their own to figure out what might be useful *the available scrolls and other documents and items were there because they would be helpful*.

        Sorry to go on, but thought you might appreciate the reference.

  26. KellyC says:

    One spell that has constantly bothered one of our DMs is Spirit Guardians. If you can cast it as a cleric, you will use it every major combat. Yes, it’s most definitely a concentration spell, but you can carve a wide swath through enemies when they start their turn in a 3d8 radiant, or necrotic zone of death.
    It takes some extra work by the DM to adjust encounters to deal with the spirit guardian’d cleric running around and getting the 15′ radius to overlap the largest amount of enemies.
    It’s not impossible to overcome, but just like Hypnotic Pattern, or Conjure Animals, it’s one that you have to learn to deal with as a DM. And the thing is, the bad guys can cast it too.
    Fun times!

  27. Pingback: How To Deal with Counterspell in 5e D&D

  28. aviose says:

    I actually have no problem with Counterspell.

    The most it EVER means is that the original caster and the counterer both waste a spell slot AND their reaction (unless your allies and their allies are willing to burn a ton of spell slots so that one spell can get through).

    Spell slots are still a precious finite resource, so it still isn’t likely to cause a lot of drudgery anyway, but with only one reaction, it isn’t like counters will last all day.

    • alphastream says:

      It’s a bit more than that. Spells are how enemy spellcasters provide threat. They are often low on hit points, so getting a few spells off is what they are there to do. When the spells don’t go off, they are a useless part of the encounter math used to construct the combat (assuming we are using the guidelines, which is true of published works and organized play). In other words, the encounter ends up being far less challenging than the game mechanics intended. Outside of published works, a DM can compensate, but it still hurts the game’s balance as written.

      • aviose says:

        It’s even less of a problem with enemy spellcasters.

        Typically speaking, a player’s spellcaster must carefully measure when to use those precious resources (spell slots) that can easily run out in the course of a single ‘dungeon’. An enemy spellcaster doesn’t have this restriction. They can burn every spell slot that they have in one fight to ensure that they do as much as they desire.

        Even separating it from that, you are looking at the action economy of the players and the fact that the player spellcaster has chosen to use that finite resource of spell slots on counterspelling a caster with no idea what’s coming up before they can rest again. When does the player burn through the spell slot when infiltrating a cult to a dark god? Early, chancing not having valuable spell slots when they get to the leader? Then they are stuck using cantrips against the boss. Late to ensure they are prepared for the final fight? Then they are FAR less efficient within the encounters prior to the boss, putting more strain on the rest of the party.

        Ultimately, it all revolves around the players and how everything impacts them. There’s not even a reason to start most enemy spellcasters off missing more than a slot or two from their total spell pool most of the time (exception being a rival adventuring party or a prepared spell). This means that the entire impact is focused on the players’ action economy (forcing them to use a spell slot to counter another spell) and their usefullness in a fight.

        The thing that makes it trickier, however, is what the DM decides to do with incoming spells and knowledge of them prior to them being successfully cast. If the party spellcaster never knows, then they are unlikely to use Counterspell. If they always know, then they will use it sparingly. If they have to make a check to know, then they have to gauge it based on a myriad of factors.

      • aviose says:

        It’s important to note that the player spellcaster using a slot to counterspell is dedicating a slot that could impact an entire group (such as fireball or an enhanced sleep) to stop a single spell from harming the party.

  29. Pingback: How To Deal with Banishment in 5e D&D

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