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.
I’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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That sounds like what they did for the beastmaster ranger in 5e, the class build that everybody hated.
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.
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.
Why don’t you literally just add a monster?
If banishment is going to be used every time. Just add another monster.
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…?
Party wants to play burst and burn through their spell slots send wave based encounters where small groups get added every round or add a spellcaster of your own and counterspell yourself lots of ways to disrupt this just be creative yourself and if your players aren’t getting the idea maybe discussing this out of game will help
Magic focus circumvents the need for any component without a cost
So much this. A good DM reacts to these situations and makes it more fun. Maybe if a creature is banished, role a die to see if when he returns he is accompanied by any extraplanar creatures, or something!!
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.
“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.
If you do want to have fun as a DM when you have a banish heavy party, you can do something like the Priest and his Ass of Sitting.
You have your Big Bad room where your villain sits with a team of 4 warriors ready to take you on. The Main is a CR Char-Lvl and the minions are all Cr Char-Lvl/8. There are cages of monsters magically sealed. By the bad guy sitting on a button that holds them down. Normally he can disable this before standing up but doing some basic fiddling with the seat.
Party goes in, sees they are out matched. Banishes the big bad. Watch as 8 cages open of CR Char-Lvl/2 who are ravenous and hungry as they tear apart the enemy team in less than a turn and immediately come for the party. The party now has 10 rounds to clean up the mess before they are completely railroaded by the big bad. Also, good luck holding your concentration against 8 creatures with multi attack.
Or, any time you have a big bad, you just have the minions not be idiots and actually focus on the biggest threat. 2 arrows can stop a spell casters concentration pretty fast and now you have a group of enemies laser focused on the caster. Even dumb creatures are pretty well understanding of magic instinctually. They can tell who just booped their mother to another dimension.
So I’ve bin dming for 6 or so years I also play with players who have bin dming since 3rd edition I have 2 disagreements with this article one being counter spell it says in counter spell you have to roll for any higher spell than what you cast this spell at so unless you memorized all the spells in 5th edition which I find highly impossible once again I have dms from all the way into 3rd edition and they don’t remember the level for every spell so this gives a high chance for counter spell to fail and as far as summoning spells if you have someone getting 8 1/4 challenge rating creatures they are pretty week most of the players I have had don’t bother with anything over 4 because they just get eliminated so quickly other than those two spells I highly agree with banishment and hypnotic pattern.
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.
Ha, ha! I love that the admins negotiated a cease-fire. I would do that with my organized play tables in a heartbeat.
Half-dragon sheep? F’n dragons will mate with anything!
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.
I don’t think the problem is their power, but just the amount of combatants just skyrockets and suddenly, every turn takes forever. There are only two ways out of this. Focus fire the caster or roll with it. As gnomish puppeteer of furniture, I understand that it’s both nice, powerful and sometimes (depends on usage I guess) very frustrating for the DM.
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
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.
Would the ability check in 5e to know the spell take an action?
By RAW I believe it should.
This is all detailed in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, page 85. In short, it costs an action / reaction depending on when you are identifying (during cast or after the fact).
It will be an arcana check (DC 15+spell level). If you’re the same class, you get advantage on the roll.
Thanks! That’s the way I tend to play it: use of a skill takes an action. Mostly. Exceptions for Stealth which I allow concurrent with Movement, and Perception and sometimes Insight.
I don’t know how Counterspell can be addressed in official play, but this talk about Arcana checks to identify the spell (from XGE page 85) gives me ideas for how one could homebrew a funner version of Counterspell. Here’s a way to introduce some additional uncertainty into whether Counterspell will work, and make the contest more like a duel of spellcasting knowledge, talent, and power rather than an automatic “nope” button.
Everything is the same as Counterspell—spell level, range, trigger, and so on—except that the description of the spell is as follows:
“You attempt to interrupt a creature in the process of casting a spell. Make an Intelligence (Arcana) check with a DC of 15 + the spell’s level; you have advantage on the check if the spell is cast as a class spell and you are a member of that class. If you succeed on the Intelligence (Arcana) check, you identify the spell.
Make another ability check using your spellcasting ability + 3, contested by the target’s spellcasting ability or Intelligence (Arcana) check (the target chooses the ability to use) + the spell’s level. If you have identified the spell, you have advantage on the ability check. If you win the contest, the creature’s spell fails and has no effect.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, add 1 to your spellcasting ability check for each slot level above 3rd.”
You’ll notice this spell does not automatically counter a spell of its own level or lower. Instead, it always requires a contested check, but you can cast it at a higher level to offset the difficulty of contesting higher-level spells.
This spell gives an advantage to a caster who immediately knows what spell is being cast and therefore has a better idea of the most appropriate way to negate it. This gives you a mechanical justification for Sly Flourish’s “colorful descriptions” of Counterspell: if you know a Fireball is coming, you know to adroitly abjure it with water or shunt the bead of flame into a pocket dimension, but if you can’t identify the spell in an instant, you have to try a clumsier method.
But since Contest Spell has to be cast in an instant, the Arcana check is simply part of reflexively crafting the best foil; you don’t get to learn which spell is being cast and then decide whether or not to counter it. (If the target caster is under the effects of a Slow spell, you can use a normal Arcana check to identify the spell as described in XGE.)
The contested check just like shoving and grappling contests that use Athletics/Acrobatics. If the targeted caster uses their spellcasting ability, they attempt to simply overpower you, similar to using the brute force of Athletics in a shove contest. If the targeted caster uses Arcana, they try to cleverly twist the spell to avoid your counter, as if slipping away from a grapple using some deft Acrobatics. If the targeted caster rolls a tie or better, Contest Spell fails.
This way, when you foil an enemy’s spell or get past his counter, it’s more satisfying because you overcame a challenge. And when an enemy spellcaster shuts you down or slips past your counter, it feels like that caster earned it: he knows his stuff. That makes him a more interesting villain. Maybe he gloats about how easy it was to outmatch your ham-handed, underpowered magic; or he huffs that you just got lucky; or he gains a grudging respect for your craft.
Whether the spell succeeds or fails, the DM has a good reason to describe how the caster duel is resolved in a dramatic way.
Note: I followed XGE in allowing advantage on identifying a spell if the spell is cast as a class spell and you are a member of that class, but I’d think a Wizard who doesn’t know how to cast Disintegrate would naturally be at a loss when trying to identify the spell instantly, even if another Wizard is casting it. One alternative would be to only allow advantage if the spell is a spell you know (and in the case of Oath of Redemption Paladins, a spell you have prepared), but that requires the DM to keep track of which spells each player can cast.
Overall all you’ve done is add an extra die roll. Although if you were already using the XGE approach you would have made that roll anyway.
The problem? Players want to know what the spell is ahead of time so they don’t “waste” a spell slot (and their turn) countering something insignificant. That is, they want to make the check to decide whether to cast counterspell at all.
I prefer that it’s always a contested check (that is, it doesn’t automatically counter a spell of the same level or lower), but I think that the current approach is both in the spirit of 5e, and so they at least don’t waste it on a low level spell.
Counterspell is one of those things that works well in concept but depending on the players, not always in practice. At least not in the current turn-based spell slot magic system.
Ilbranteloth: “The problem? Players want to know what the spell is ahead of time so they don’t ‘waste’ a spell slot (and their turn) countering something insignificant. That is, they want to make the check to decide whether to cast counterspell at all.”
If an enemy caster wants to blow his action economy on an unimportant spell in the hope that you’ll burn a more valuable spell slot and use up your reaction for the round, that’s a legitimate tactic but only effective in a few situations.
And you can do the same thing to an enemy who has Counterspell: privately write down which spell you’re casting and don’t reveal it until the enemy decides whether to interrupt you.
“Overall all you’ve done is add an extra die roll. Although if you were already using the XGE approach you would have made that roll anyway. […] I think that the current approach is both in the spirit of 5e, and so they at least don’t waste it on a low level spell.”
I think this is the crux of our disagreement. In XGE, identifying a spell requires your reaction or action, so you can’t also cast Counterspell unless the spell has a casting time longer than one action.
And I hope I can persuade you that I’ve done more than add an extra die roll. If everyone had Contest Spell instead of Counterspell, it would change many things.
(1.) When deciding at what level to cast Counterspell, you want to aim for exactly the level of the spell you’re countering. Say you’re countering (what turns out to be) a 5th-level spell. If you cast Counterspell at 4th level, you have to roll the same spellcasting ability check as if you’d cast it at 3rd level. If you cast Counterspell at 6th level, you’re wasting an unnecessarily high slot.
But with Contest Spell, casting at a higher level always gives you a better chance of winning the contest. And you can potentially fail to stop a cantrip.
(2.) When you use Counterspell, you generally don’t know what spell you’ve countered unless the DM volunteers that information. At least with Contest Spell you can find out which spell you stopped—or failed to stop, because sometimes it’s not obvious.
(3.) Whether you’re casting or being targeted, Contest Spell rewards characters who invest in Arcana—which could encourage casters not to dump Intelligence. If you’re casting, Arcana can get you advantage on the contest; if you’re being targeted, you can choose to use Arcana for that proficiency bonus. Counterspell does not offer similar benefits.
(3a.) This means creatures with high Arcana modifiers are much harder to shut down than they would be with Counterspells.
For example, if you can cast Counterspell, you can stop a Lich’s most powerful spells with a 3rd-level spell slot (or two) and a decent roll; if you have Contest Spell instead, the Lich’s +19 Arcana modifier makes it a magical juggernaut.
Similarly for mid-level play, an Archmage, with Arcana +13, would be much harder to stymie than many other casters, which is reasonable to expect from a long career devoted to studying magic.
An Elder Brain (Arcana +10) or a Hashalaq Quori (Arcana +12) is a much more fearsome threat if you can’t reliably stop their once-per-day Dominate Monster/Person with a simple Counterspell. On the other hand, an unstudied caster relying on his other abilities, like a Vampire Spellcaster (no Arcana proficiency, Intelligence +3), can be outwitted much more readily—if you can stay within 60 feet.
Mind flayers, githzerai, and slaadi become harder to contain. Sphinxes will give you fits.
(3b.) This makes narrative sense. Casters who studied lore about spells and magical traditions should be able to quickly reckon which spells are being cast and how to efficiently stop them—or craft their spells to evade the usual counters. Wizards who spent decades or centuries building their arcane knowledge have something to show for it: 5th-level upstarts don’t have much chance to frustrate them.
(4.) All of this makes caster duels much more dramatic. (Granted, the best dramatic moment of Critical Role to date involved a Counterspell, but that was an unusual situation to say the least.) It’s lame to embroider an automatic “nope” button with colorful details, but with Contest Spell it’s not excessive to narrate the contest to emphasize the casters’ efforts and emotions, or describe how the spells clash based on whether they used Arcana or their spellcasting ability.
The DM might even make use of the player’s fear of wasting a spell slot: if you cast Contest Spell, successfully identify the spell, and learn that you’ve been suckered into contesting an insignificant spell with a high spell slot, the DM could twist the knife by having the enemy caster smirk at your overreaction. Don’t you want to hurt that enemy much more now?
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.
The spell I find most annoying is forcecage…
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.
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.
That was indeed changed in 5E. It’s a huge change. Banisment is immensely popular now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Arcane focus negates the need for the components though I do agree mindless things should auto save banish, I think the damage problem is their all gathering around one creature and attacking it at once but I do agree it’s not a actual issue any monster with decent int can be made to adapt to situations and even the dumb ones can get lucky or have smart bosses, do agree that bosses probably have counters prepared and if your summoning mass lots of small th things unless your dm is stupid enough to give you free casting your minions shouldn’t last a turn of two unless you choose really poorly this spells gonna get dropped outside specific uses, as a dm it’d your job to make the game fun and exciting for you and your players do sure let them mass kill a group once in a while but have things around learn and make countermeasures against it next time nos it’s another tactical resource that they might not want to use, counterspell rules aren’t fun described what’s happening Ben chants the words of as ancient power calling on all the destructive force of fire itself but cutting through his chant he hears the brittle toned of the enemy disrupting his spells effect on the weave thinking quickly he starts to weave in grater resistance desperately trying to save ed his precious spellwork before it’s too late. There’s a distinction between just rolling and actually painting out the picture for your players and as you start to get them to open up and do their own reactions this makes even the most pointless actions fun after all this is similar to any other action took outside of combat it’s all about how to make it fun
“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.”
A good DM punishes players for their efficiency. Excellent. Just excellent.
It reminds me how one DM I knew banned… ranged weapons. Because cowardly, fun-hating players tried to shoot enemies from safe distance. I wish I were joking.
Is your next article going to be “You kids git offa my lawn?”
Nah, I already did it. I called it “9 popular things in D&D that I fail to appreciate.”
You must be the absolute least fun person that ALL your friends know. I can’t imagine that anyone actually really wants to play D&D with your whiney, curmudgeon @$$ DMing.
I’m always reading his insightful articles, and taking much of his advice from them, in an effort to fix the brokenness that is 5e, so I think it would be fun to have David as a DM.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I much prefer the AD&D approach to spell acquisition (and is how it still works in my campaign, but then my campaign is probably as much AD&D as it is 5e).
A compromise would be to create a list of common spells that spellcasters could use to choose the spells they gain automatically when they go up a level, and the rest of the spells would then still be under the control of the DM.
This would be particularly easy for them to do for Adventurer’s League, and would actually go a step further. Since the rarer spells would still be found in the adventures published, anything they felt were a real issue they simply wouldn’t include in any published AL adventure.
It might not be popular, at least when implemented, but it could be done.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well put. Thanks Alphastream!
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.
The Living Campaign for 5e is called Adventurers League. We are just entering their 5th season.
His solution for at least two, if not three, of the problems he identified is “don’t fix the mechanic, throw it out”.
That’s shoddy thinking in my view. Fix the mechanic. Don’t praise a spell for being useless in the past and hate a spell for being too useful in the present, for instance. It’s clearly worse to have a useless spell that no one used than it is to have one that’s a bit too good.
Prescriptive attitudes about what should happen in combats also can ruin fun. “Oh, I created this combat and it just has to go one of three ways I’ve anticipated. If not, well, that’s terrible!” If people value reliable prescriptive gameplay maybe they should stick with video games. Part of the fun of dynamic play is that the full spectrum of human ingenuity can be used, instead of preprogrammed options. There are a lot of prescriptive attitudes that can degrade the game for others at the table. Don’t mistake personal preferences for universal truths. Often they aren’t. I’ve seen plenty of bad GMing, including about Hypnotic Pattern (in Pathfinder). Whiny GMs who think it’s cool to kill things in a certain way and just so unfun to do it in another get on my nerves. “Oh, illusions are so unfun. Let’s nerf them. If the player doesn’t like it we’ll call him a rules lawyer!”
I would also like to know something, everyone keeps saying “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.”. While that is true, I mean so what, re we suppose to assume that every mook out there for some reason as arcane knowledge sufficient enough to understand how a 3rd level wizard spell works, what it looks like, and how to break it, once every now and then maybe, but every encounter, come on.
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.
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.
It sounds like the 5e team was influenced by a Magic the Gathering player. Counterspell is just so big in that game, at least it was the last time I played it — eons ago.
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.
1e’s Monster Summoning I summons up to 8 monsters, so the idea that only 5e can summon a lot of spam is suspicious.
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.
Consider that it’s magic. So, by definition, it doesn’t really make sense. That would be science.
There is a big issue in D&D-type gaming — this conflict between being interested in fantasy and being interested in realistic simulation. One example of this is the idea that undead have some kind of life sense. One author I read said, flatly, that that’s BS. However, it does “make sense” for undead to be able to sense living since they don’t have functioning eyeballs and such. They don’t have ears to hear with. How are they (e.g. skeletons) going to have any idea what’s happening? Why should a skeleton care, at all, about anything in the first place? How would it move? It has no muscle tissue, etc.
What this all comes down to is the importance of game designers to be very careful to cover all of the important angles. It’s very difficult. I’ve written spells and they end up being very long most of the time. If it’s not explicitly stated people can assume more than one thing about a variable, leading to the inevitable GM/player conflicts and the dreaded “rules lawyer” complaint from the GM and the “nerf bat” complaint from the player.
There is so much in D&D that doesn’t make good sense, at least in terms of actual reality. Elves, for instance… Anything that lives that long that has a human-like mind is not going to stay immature and human-like to the degree they do in this game. Yet, we’re supposed to believe that they’re “chaotic” and childlike in some ways. Early D&D was really hilarious with the level caps for them. They are supposed to be just as intelligent, or even get a bonus (in 2e or Krynn, for high elves, as I recall) but they can’t manage to learn things as well as humans can in a much shorter lifespan? Yeah, right. I can go on for quite a while about the problems with elves. Personally, I think elves should be relegated to NPCs and should not be living in human settlements. The notion that elves are so beautiful is another mistake but I’m not going to keep going.
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)
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
Or just not get your feathers ruffled and move on to something else in the game.
Congratulate the player for doing something effective and move on? Is that so tough?
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.
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.
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.
It might be overwhelming at first but with practice comes speed. Have the players play some old Gold Box 2e D&D games (like the Dark Queen of Krynn and Pools of Darkness), where they have to not only control the entire party but also deal with hordes of monsters. As I recall, if you give each party member 18 in every stat you get huge numbers of enemies to deal with.
If they can’t handle 8 summoned creatures after that then they need more practice.
“One player gains too much time in the spotlight.”
Unless you’re running a prefabricated mod, I don’t see how the GM can’t manage this by giving other players the spotlight at other times in the session.
One of the keys is to not make every character feel the same at all times. From the complaints I’ve heard, 4e made this mistake. Excessive uniformity = monotony.
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???)
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!
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.
“And the rule was that as a Magic User you started with 4 spells in your spell book, often determined by random roll.”
That system works when the spells are decent, both in terms of power level on their own and in terms of power level when with other spells. However, in the vaunted 1e your 4 spells could be:
Affect Normal Fires
Nystul’s Magic Aura
No, not fun. And not cool either.
“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*.”
Oh please. The reality is that Gygax was brilliant but brilliance does not mean perfection. 1e is tremendous in many ways and falls horribly flat in others. That spell list above is a great example of horribly flat. Another wizard in the same party could have this spell list instead:
There are no good excuses for this. It’s simply a big flaw in 1e.
As for liking player agency. If you like player agency you would compromise and let the players choose half the spells and have the other half be chosen by you. Choosing all of them for them means you DON’T like player agency so much.
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.
Pingback: How To Deal with Counterspell in 5e D&D
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pingback: How To Deal with Banishment in 5e D&D
I always though Wall of Force was a bit overpowered (create an impassable dome, no save). It’s encounter-splitting abilities are far more powerful than Banishment (Legendary Resistance, anyone?)
I think what you’re running into here is it places restrictions on your encounter design which you don’t like.
|| Counterspell || It’s an emergency button for the player. If you don’t need it then you’ve wasted the slot (vs Barbarian Warlord). If you do need it then the spell DC is likely rather high. The mob can have it as well (vs Wizard). But if you fight a counterspell battle too hard you’re going to use up precious spell slots. The only real downside is when the friendly magess outnumber the enemy and haven’t used many spell slots in the encounters leading up to the fight. You can also splash levels of Wizard on some random Barbarian and make them an effective Mage Killer (Or roll an Arcane Trickster). And of course Spell Thief is even more OP. Basically just make magical encounters longer, simple enough. This is really there for the cautious player. My current character has this slotted and all we’ve been doing is fighting mages. So I NEVER USE IT, “It’s gotten bad. But.. what if it gets WORSE?!?!” I’ve used it once and we desperately needed it to work… and it didn’t so we almost wiped. (Had to use False Life to prevent an entire party of Undead from failing their last saves)
|| Banishment || This one is fairly balanced. It’s a breather. Sometimes it’s OP for mob sweeps (vs Barbarian). Sometimes it can be used against you to force solo encounters or get rid of your healer (vs Wizard). But against someone prepared with a Contingency or Ward (vs Barbarian/Wizard) it’s a useless trick. Against mobs that can’t prepare it should be fundamentally useless. A breather against a Tarrasque doesn’t mean anything and random mooks should be in large supply anyway.
|| Hypnotic Gaze || Okay I haven’t played with this one. Seems legit OP. Almost no mobs are gonna ever have it and it’s pretty devastating. Would need a leader with high Will and squad tactics to rouse on top of that. Still, it basically results in a free turn for the remaining PCs. On the flip side, the random mob that DOES have it is scary as all hell to the non-Spellcasters in your party. (Spellcasters have their own banes). Also, in hand with this, you don’t inherently have the dungeon on your side. ALMOST ALWAYS the NPCs DO. The fact that you have to do so much to balance this one is what really makes it ring OP and hence annoying.
|| Conjure Animals || Not OP. Definitely annoying. We’ve had group splits over the amount of players. And we’ve had group splits to re-balance the heavy RPers so that we can get more time in for everyone instead of just 3 people. Having a single person instantly take half of the combat rolls… even if they’re not overly effective, is a real drag. That said every class has it’s way to do this madness and the Fey act mostly as a single INT-less group anyway (They use plural pronouns when describing initiative and how they accept commands, also you can get up to 32 for a single spell. RAI it’s clearly a group mob, RAW it’s ambiguous over whether you can ask them to split or make commands specific enough that they obey them as individuals.). But if you really try you can get a character with an insane amount of rolls so this is really about play-style. A Halfling Lv18 Sorcerer(Wild Magic)/Lv2 Wizard(Divination)/Lucky Feat can roll at least +5 times for a single spell and re-rolls 1s and 20s. Yes a single spell creating this much drag without planning is annoying. But aoe-wielding mobs can make this a quick kill and discourage overuse if you dislike it.
I will try to be diplomatic here, and probably fail. I like some of the spells you hate in this post. Banishment? Sure it upsets the table temporarily, but the target gets a save, and IT WORKS BOTH WAYS. Try letting the villain banish the Barbarian or the Wizard as his opener, and suddenly the PCs are the ones on the defensive, pinata side. When a villain is banished, have him return invisible, or in Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere. Just because the baddie is gone, doesn’t mean he/she suddenly becomes stupid or helpless.
Counterspell? One of the best spells in the game. If you want an interesting duel between mages, this thing rocks. Nothing is more dramatic than causing the evil necromancer’s Disintegrate Spell to fail, or a PC’s high level spell, carefully selected for just this foe, to fizzle. And counterspell against a counterspell (yup, totally legal)? Mage Battle Royale!!!
This whole column seems like “things that annoy me as a DM because I didn’t prepare contingencies, and I’m too nice to use them against the PCs”…
The article’s point, and one I agree with, is that causing a spell to fail is /not/ dramatic, because /nothing/ happens. Do you see it otherwise?
Are you suggesting that using an annoying spell more often and in a way that isn’t “nice” is a way to make the spell better?
The article is still dumb.
Animate Objects (with a bag full of cutlery as tiny creatures) is more annoying than Conjure Animals, in my opinion.
Late discovery. You are the first person I’ve played with that didn’t like the inclusion of counterspell. It made spell dueling more interesting provided more strategic depth against spellcasters. For myself and my players and other GMs, counterspell was a great addition to the game. Interesting read in any case. Thanks for your perspective.
I’m not sure I agree about banishment. Yes, it has a potentially powerful effect, but there are a few caveats. Also, Polymorph has basically the same effect (knock a single enemy out of the combat for a while by turning them into a snail or whatever), and that’s been in the game since forever, and you’re not complaining about that.
Banishment some limitations:
1) It allows the target a save. If the target passes, it does precisely nothing, and you’ve blown your turn and a fourth level spell slot achieving nothing.
2) It only affects one target. Between that and legendary resistance, it’s useless in boss fights.
3) It requires concentration. The target’s allies can attempt to beat up on the banisher to get their ally back, and the caster can’t do anything else that requires concentration for the entire combat
4) It costs a 4th level slot. You state that it happens ‘every combat’, but 7th level characters only get one 4th level slot, so it can only do it once per day. Yes, you can cast it through a higher level slot, but that has the opportunity cost of not letting you use your other high level spells, and it’s not until 12th level or so that a wizard has enough 4th and 5th level slots to do it routinely (and even then, the wizard is not doing other useful things). It’s only really an issue if your party has a 15 minute adventuring day.
Sure, it’s powerful, but I disagree it’s broken. I’d argue that spells like Wall of Force, Leomund’s Tiny Hut and Forcecage are worse, as there is practically nothing an opponent can do about them (apart from dispel magic, and even that doesn’t work against a Forcecage).
Hypnotic pattern is powerful too, but it’s not party friendly so only works if you have a mob that starts some distance away from your party. It’s pretty useless in cramped confines, if the enemies start near the party, or if you’re surprised or lose inititative. Also, enemies wake up after taking damage, so unless your party is one-shotting them, it’s helpful but not an auto-win. And again, it requires concentration.
Powerful, yes, and it will win encounters in some situations, but frankly, fireball is an auto-win for a lot of encounters against mobs, and no-one complains about that.
Oh, and hypnotic pattern is a charm effect, so doesn’t work on enemies that are immune to charm, which is quite a lot.
Limits to these spells are built into the game already. Hypnotic pattern for example is in the category of spells that do nothing if the monster makes it’s saving throw. Legendary Resistance, guarantees that your big bad monster stays in the fight until their resistance is worn down.
My god, this article is so freaking dumb. If you don’t like anything in D&D, then just freaking homebrew it for god’s sake.
I previously played a tempest cleric in a party of 6 that went all the way up to level 20 over a two year period. I don’t think these spells wrecked the game at all. They were simple tactics among a myriad of tactics being used by each character in the game, and if anything gave the characters employing them the chance to briefly shine in an otherwise epic story we all got to create and share in.
Counterspell duels were the stuff of legends, and the DM frequently put casters up that countered our spells just as much as we countered theirs. There were occasionally wistful “what ifs”, but the rules were accepted without angst.
Those affected by hypnotic patterns rarely stayed affected for longer than a few rounds. Groups were spread out far too much to all be affected, and the DM was creative in breaking minions out of their stupor (e.g. a giant bashing the ground with his club to rouse them all or a character shoving one dazed player into another).
Banishment worked a few times, and the paladin tended to focus on using it frequently. Yet, legendary resistances and outsiders frequently having high charisma saves meant that it was rarely successful as we rose in level. My cleric in the party usually had better things to focus on such as trying to maintain Spirit Guardians or up-cast Bless spells rather than focusing on spells like Banishment.
Minionmancy came up occasionally, with up to 4 zombies and skeletons running around as cannon fodder. The party rolled with the play style, and the DM made undead difficult to use for anything other than a dungeon crawl. The Bard in the party made frequent use of Animate Objects, which was quite powerful. We all stood up and paid notice when he was actually able to contribute to effective damage in the party, and let him shine on occasion.
Admittedly, using Spirit Guardians was probably a lot more challenging for the DM, but it was only generally used when large numbers of mooks were running around. Whenever my character used it, almost every free opponent made sure that they would target the cleric…a heavy price was certainly paid. By level 13, it was almost never used as having a couatl in service with Conjure Celestial was just so much more useful. Later, Holy Aura trumped the spell.
A stand-in control wizard rarely lasted long when his Walls of Force would split the enemies. Unlike the more defensively-oriented cleric, wizards don’t do so well when they are the target of focus-fire.
Yet, probably the most awe-inspiring and OP spell was the Moondruid using Shapechange to become a Balor or Dragon. This spell completely outclassed any of the other PCs and made the battles legendary stories to remember.
“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.”
Personally, I think that intentionally designing a spell to be useless is worse than pointless. Leave out a classic part of magical counterplay or make it something worth casting at least sometimes, but don’t intentionally make it a useless trap option. Duh.
That was kind of my thoughts, being nerfed into a trap is not much of a improvement, it should simply be nerfed so it not the only option forever.
Also read at least one suggestion hordes of summoned be managed by all the players, summoners giving extra summons to other players seems like a nice fun thing to do.
“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.”
That’s not 3 summoned creatures, that is 3 summoned creatures PER TURN.
You haven’t lived until you have fought a 6hr set piece boss fight against the Wizard and his 30 merry Azata Bralani.
It marvels me that nobody mentioned Labirinth yet. Remove a creature from combat until it passes an intelligence check, and as 3e as a spell could be (albeit it was like level 8 IIRC).
“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 play that out? If it’s clear that their opponents stand no chance, montage it instead of rolling the dice. “So, your opponents are all helpless as long as your wizard keeps up hypnotic pattern. Are you guys intending to kill them all?” “Yeah.” “All right, easy enough to do. Once they’re all dead, what next?”
“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.”
Just have Timmy use mob rules. Simple.
Every spell can be used by the DM. Counterspell can be counterspelled, the stampede of 1/4 critters can be taken out by the hypnotic pattern. Spellcaster that banished the Big Bad just drew a target on themselves, because it’s a concentration spell, and any damage has a chance to disrupt it, bringing the Big Bad back instantly – guess what the minions are going to do? If you hate a spell – USE IT. And let the players teach you how to deal with it.
The best answer to hypnotic pattern is for all of the unaffected monsters to immediately target the Mage who is obviously doing the casting. Even some of the dumber monsters should be able to work that out. Wizards don’t have great armour classes, and they lack hit points. Without a fabulous co-ordinated party protecting the wizard, if he is focussed by all of the remaining monsters it’s going to force him to think about using the spell next time.
At a guess some percentage of the monsters will pass a savings throw.
It’s a bit of labour for the DM – but you could also consider rolling initiative for each of the monsters individually, that will at least get a few attacks off before the party respond – or before the hypnotic pattern is even cast.
All of these spells are limited resources, so pack out the adventuring day. 1 – 3 encounters and they can be used all the time. 4 – 6 encounters and that’s far less realistic.
Hypnotic Pattern – competes with counterspell and fireball for slots for example. Use some higher wis monsters or ones with charm res or immunity. Weak AoE damage from an ally can wake multiple at once. Spread out the monsters. Have them ambush. Have an encounter start at point blank range. Use blind monsters
Counterspell – limited uses. Have a caster outside 60′ or out of sight. Don’t use caster monsters, counterspell the counterspell. Use higher level spells that aren’t auto countered. Discuss how you know what is being cast and whether to use it. Effectiveness is reduced if you don’t know if the spell is fireball, scorching ray, fire bolt or wall of fire, it’s a gamble.
Banishment – don’t have one big boss and useless minions. Equalize the threat across multiple monsters. Use counterspell, have some high charisma big bads, they are often leaders after all. Use magic resistant monsters for advantage.
Conjure Animals – AoE, multi- attack. If there’s lots they’ll be weak. Or ignore them as they will do limited damage. Talk to the player about how they manage the rolls. They’re all the same and you can realistically only give one order at a time so roll multiple at once, perhaps colour coded dice for targets. Give the player a time limit for deciding on actions if they’re taking ages explaining you need to keep the game moving.
As with all concentration spells, hit the caster frequently or hard.
If the Adventures don’t allow for this without excessive changes, the problem is adventure design, not the spell mechanics.
If certain spells are being used frequently, make their spell components become scarce; if the party wants to cast Banishment every combat then maybe they have to go out and look for the components. Perhaps shoving creatures into another plane so frequently attracts the attention of a creature much worse than the ones being banished. Maybe bosses get wind of the party’s SOP and kit themselves out with appropriate magical defenses.
These options shouldn’t be necessarily punitive, I think they’re better seen as plot hooks.
David: I disagree with your choices for 4 most annoying spells. The ONE TIME I ever cast Dismissal as a PC, the party was facing three demons from another realm: the Abyss. My mage managed to banish one of the three demons, and my party cheered. I agree with you on this: that’s the way this spell is SUPPOSED TO work–ONLY on monsters from ANOTHER PLANE of existence! When I read the 5e version, I thought it must be a typo, and vowed to use the 3.5 version rule if it ever came up in game play when I was DM. Also in 3.5, “Counterspell” was a SKILL the character had to LEARN how to do, and there were simply too many other far more valuable skills to learn first! Even then, Counterspell was supposed to be used as a reaction to another wizard getting ready to cast a major spell that would blow the whole party away–and the PC mage who cast counterspell obviously was NOT allowed to cast a spell of his own–he’d just used his concentration and psychic energy to counter the disintegration ray the enemy was about to cast. Either way, a wizard should only be able to cast ONE spell per turn. The spells we found the most “annoying”: Tasha’s Hideous Laughter and Stinking Cloud. Most other players in the 80s and 90s found Magic Missiles to be annoying–but I never did. What’s wrong with a spell that hits its target every single time–unless the monster is under cover or a necromancer casts shield at the last second?
In a magic rich world no creature is surprised when magic is used against them, that should be obvious. Any opponent powerful enough to be a target for Banishment, for example should expect to be Banished and will be ready for it. Even the most unwise of creatures will develop tactics to counter spells that are so commonly used against them. There are hundreds of ways a creatures lair might be prepared to deal with spells that every caster in the world uses if they can. Why is any banished creature thinking “wow, never saw that coming”.
Counter what spell? the big hitter or the trivial stuff your apprentices cast first. AoE? why are all in a small room and/or so close together, this is your lair yeah? etc.
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Wow. there seems to be a LOT of misconceptions.
First, hypnotic patterns power is overstated.
Hypnotic pattern does not cause unconsciousness or paralysis. while it does incapacitate, that does not in itself trigger the auto crit and auto advantage. ONLY paralysis and unconsciousness trigger that. You only get one NORMAL attack against the victim’s NORMAL AC, and then it wakes up if you hit. Hypnotic pattern lasts ten rounds at most. For it to be useful, the party must focus on one opponent at a time to keep the others stuck. If more than one opponent saves, it quickly breaks down, as they will wake up one each.
Also concentration isn’t an action but it breaks when the wizard casts another spell, or sometimes if the wizard gets hit, which wakes everyone up.
It’s a nice crowd control spell when it works, but does not in any way make it’s victims easier to attack.
Banishment. Yes, this is a nice single target crowd control spell. The other allies can’t wake it up. Yes, the RAW is silly about being able to cheese it’s material component. The concentration rule affects it too. you can only banish one opponent at a time, and they can attack your banisher to try to break concentration to undo the banishment. Or try their own crowd control on the wizard. Which any minions of any intelligence will try and do.
Counterspell, on the other hand, really is pretty OP. round 1 opening hypnotic pattern. enemy wizard who hasn’t even acted in the combat says NO. (there’s no such thing as flat footed anymore)
As long as you use a slot of equal or higher level than the spell being countered,it just works. there’s no save vs. counterspell. And it doesn’t take your spell for the round, because there’s no spell limit per round. If counterspell becomes a problem, I would house rule that it can cannot be cast if you have already cast that round, and if you do cast it you can’ cast again that round. This still leaves it a viable option against opening cheese, but makes it a bit more costly.
As for the last spell… well… yeah… that’s just annoying. 🙂
Okay concentration isn’t quite as bad as i thought. but more spells than not that have a duration longer than 1 round require it. Crowd control? concentration. summoning? concentration. self only held attack? concentration. invisiblility? concentration. BLESS? Concentration.
“Once wizards reach fifth level, they all start casting fireball.”
If they’re terrible at the game, sure.
Simple, easy fix for banishment – stop ignoring the material component.
You need an item distasteful to the target. What’s distasteful to them? You can either guess and risk wasting an action and a spell slot, or research the boss to get a good idea. It becomes a way to reward characters for good preparation, instead of an automatic use fight-cheapener.
Don’t ignore spell components, folks. Not everything can be replaced by an arcane focus.
Banishment requires an item a specific monster finds distasteful. That’s prior, specific knowledge personalized to each potential target. It’s a big spell, with a HUGE RP requirement to cast it. It’s not enough to just have a pouch, your caster must know PRECISELY what component they need.
So how do they know? Do they have Demon Instagram? Were they daydrinking with the Fiend’s ex past night? Have they spent weeks researching every possible opponent? If so how do they recognize the individual? Do your caster they know them? Personal rival, or friend? They have the Supervillian’s timesheet for the day, and shift rotations? Is the abberation Dale or Dale’s brother Alan?
Unless your wizard personally knows the target, they’re gonna have to show how they know all this, and why they have the exact material and how they knew to bring it. If they prepared for a hundred foes, they have to find it. If not, they have to roll a pretty difficult Arcana or History check, if its even possible, and luck out having the right supplies. Which all takes time, and a shortvir lobg rest flipping through tomes and notes.
The material component doesn’t have to be expensive to be restrictive. It’s specific to the individual target on purpose. It’s only “too easy” if as DM you let it be. If something seems imbalanced or un-fun, emphasize certain aspects to make it less so. Its a story.
I just want to point out: you can’t cast counterspell on a turn you’ve already cast a non-cantrip spell. The rules strictly prohibit that—no cure wounds and healing word on the same turn, and you can’t counterspell during any turn that you’ve already cast a leveled spell. This includes not being able to cast shield to avoid an AOO if you’re moving on your turn after having cast magic missile.
Axios, I was intrigued by your claim regarding Counterspell, but I don’t read the RAW the same way. PHB 5E, p.202, a spell cast as a *bonus action* limits the caster to casting only any cantrip with a casting time of 1 action during the same turn. However, there is no such restriction in the RAW for a spell cast as a reaction, which Counterspell is. Perhaps it would be worth tracking whether the caster cast a bonus action spell since the beginning of their last turn, but that seems pretty situational.
“D&D thrived for 11 years without Banishment. The game would have thrived without it.”
Kneejerk conservatism seems to be rife in your analysis.
Plenty of players resent spells like hypnotic pattern because they expect fireballs and magic missiles
Hold Person and Sleep were staples (at least in early editions), despite your claim that killing incapacitated foes is so un-fun.
Maybe the worst D&D spells are the ones everyone always used, like fireball and the annoyingly generic-named Magic Missile. Not only did it get boring to see the same spells chosen over and over (to the point of players being criticized for not prepping them or having them), they became an intellectual barrier against spell creativity. Why have a new spell when “D&D thrived for X years without it”?
The only spells that are broken are spells the DM isn’t equipped to deal with (i.e. inexperience). As for spells that are so weak that no one uses them — that’s a big vote in favor of houserules and against organized play like Pathfinder.
Personally, I’m a fan of the power of the original incarnation of Charm Person (very powerful in effect and duration), for example, and not a fan of everything being watered down, all edges sanded into equivalent +1s. I’d rather trot out my 3 HP wizard with powerful magic and face being killed by a housecat versus running largely the same class with a different coat of paint.
Conservatism ruins everything.
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This is old but I wanted to point out it is erroneous in regards to summon spells. They are not recent editions to the game and have been around since the original greyhawk supplement.
Most of these spells are completely find in practice. This sounds like it was written by a DM who’s butthurt that he can’t “beat his players” at the game. Counterspell exists as it does to make spells like PWK, Wall of Force, and other powerful spells not instantly end an encounter. As a 3rd level (or higher with upcasting) spell, it’s a solid resource investment, and if it’s not cast at an equal or higher level than the spell it’s countering, it comes down to a dice roll.
TL:DR- get over yourself and adapt.
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Correction : Bad wizards cast Fireball. Or any other evocation spell.
Also : if your players’ characters are using a tactic that seems powerful, then your characters should either a) develop a counter tactic, or b) use the same tactic.
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I’m jumping into this thread 6 years late. However, I will share that I found this thread when searching “dnd 5e polymorph banish broken spells,” because I agree–at the level at which they appear, they’re overpowered and fun-sucking.
I returned to DMing and playing 5E after largely skipping 4E. For the most part, I find 5E streamlined, reasonably balanced, and fun. By “balanced,” I mean, each of the PCs in different classes typically get their moment to shine, and Challenge Ratings generally serve as a reasonable guide to encounter difficulty (I follow Sly Flourish’s quick-and-dirty calculations: Total monster CR = 1/4 of total party level until level 5, and 1/2 of total party level thereafter).
I haven’t seen Hypnotic Pattern used often. But Banish, Polymorph, and Conjure Animals (and at higher levels, Force Cage/Force Wall) can detract from enjoyment of the game for everyone, both DM and players. The reason, IMHO, is that those spells place the focus of the game on the caster instead of the group. And, sure, as a DM I could focus enemy fire on the caster to try to break Concentration–which rarely happens–but now the encounter is about all of the monsters v one PC rather than the group, and the other players all know it. That’s not fun for them.
Conjure Animals comes up less frequently because I’ll have an open conversation with a player that wishes to be a summoner and explain the dilemma. For the past 3 years, we’ve been playing online, and it’s not difficult to explain how unenjoyable it is for the other players to wait 10-15 minutes each time the summoner’s turn comes up to resolve the actions of all the summoned creatures. Between that, the DM’s right to choose which creatures appear or are available, and Concentration, Conjure Animals tends to be less of a problem for me.
Not so Banish and Polymorph (and Force Cage/Force Wall), which–when combined with a high spell DC and a debuff such as Vicious Mockery or the like–can often set up a tough opponent for a nat-20-or-fail. Sure, I can and do plan for lots of minions, or multiple copies of the same big-bad, but that often comes at the expense of a good encounter design. And if the anticipated Banish-Polymorph doesn’t come, the encounter can be imbalanced in favor of the monsters–which can leave folks dissatisfied, too.
The solution I’ve seen employed by another DM, and one I’ve started to use myself, is to give more low-level monsters Spell Resistance, and more BBEG’s Legendary Resistance, even if it’s not in the monster stat block. I’ll save the Legendary Resistances for the big save-or-suck spells like Banish and Polymorph. Once the players realize that those save-or-suck spells are going to fail the first few times out in a big encounter, the PC’s tactics tend to shift.
I try to adopt an open dialogue with my players, and in Session Zero invite folks to consider and rebalance things if we observe a rule (like these spells) detracting from our collective enjoyment. That works okay; everyone wants to have fun. By way of separate example, we had instituted the (5E optional) flanking rules, but found them to lead to “conga lines of death” (and tended to favor the monsters, who are both more melee-oriented and more coordinated overall). As a group, we discussed the rule and modified it: now flanking grants +2, not advantage, and once a creature is flanked any melee opponent receives the +2 against it. That worked better, and our group agreed it was a good change. Open and regular communication about the game is crucial, these problematic spells included.
PS I totally agree with an earlier comment that these spells mimic WotC’s other system, Magic: the Gathering. “I summon a creature”; “I Banish!”; “I Counterspell!”; “I Counterspell your Counterspell!”; “Okay, everyone, let’s go back in order and resolve all the spells on the ‘stack.'”
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“Third edition added actual summoning spells”
Come on, they existed from at least AD&D1! Though, yes, they were weaker – but also more versatile. You only got 1HD hobgoblins, i.e., as a 5 level wizard, but you could order them around for some time, allowing help in exploration, carrying, etc.
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