I made a character who can short-circuit adventures and force dungeon masters to do some fast thinking. Does that make me a troublemaker? I feel guilty as charged, but I blame curiosity. I wondered how experienced Adventurers League DMs accustomed to quick thinking would manage the character. While I haven’t played Poggry enough for a statistically significant sample size, I have made DMs visibly pause and ponder ways to make success in social encounters a bit less sudden.
My sorcerer Poggry favors spells like suggestion that influence the unwise and weak-willed. Normally, in a Dungeons & Dragons world, suggestion raises the anger of folks who prefer to keep spellcasters out of their heads.
According to the Player’s Handbook (p.203) spells like suggestion with verbal components require “the chanting of mystic words.” After making that incantation, the caster gives the suggestion in what D&D designer Jeremy Crawford calls “a separate, intelligible utterance.” Most Dungeons & Dragons worlds make magic common enough for ordinary folks to recognize spellcasting when it starts. In a D&D world, suggestion starts fights or finishes them. Unlike charm person, targets of suggestion don’t necessarily know they succumbed to a spell, but the mystic words reveal the magic.
So Poggry took the Subtle Spell metamagic option. “When you cast a spell you can spend 1 sorcery point to cast it without somatic or verbal components.” Suggestion still requires a material component like a spellcasting focus, but the caster just needs it in hand, so sorcerers able to hide their hands under something like a cloak can cast spells without notice. No wonder evil sorcerers favor capes. And just as real-life magicians sport bare arms to show that they have nothing up their sleeves, perhaps spellcasters in D&D worlds keep their hands empty to appear trustworthy.
Aside from the need to hide a focus, Subtle Spell turns suggestion into a sort of Jedi mind trick. If a target saves, they just ignore a bad recommendation. If they fail, they follow the suggestion and feel persuaded. The Sage Advice Compendium explains, “Assuming you failed to notice the spellcaster casting the spell, you might simply remember the caster saying, ‘The treasure you’re looking for isn’t here. Go look for it in the room at the top of the next tower.’ You failed your saving throw, and off you went to the other tower, thinking it was your idea to go there.” You can never know the source of the impulse, although a rash enough action might imply magic at work.
As a bonus, sorcerers boast real charisma, so when a subtle charm person seemed like too much, Poggry could charm to persuade. He combined a talent for deception with disguise self. I like heroic characters, so I imagined Poggry as a positive fellow from a bad situation who gained such talents for survival. Sample dialog: “It’s nice that you get to sleep on top of beds here. Where I come from, we always had to hide underneath them.”
If you opt to explore evil impulses by combining similar magic with a sociopath, share your plans with the rest of your group and gain their consent. A darker take on a manipulative sorcerer makes establishing hard and soft limits as described in Tasha’s Cauldon of Everything especially important.
Players of sorcerers commonly complain that their characters’ know too few spells, and choosing spells like disguise self over attack spells makes that limit even tighter. For a more versatile alternative with the same spellcasting tricks, you could design a caster such as a bard with Subtle Spell from the Metamagic Adept feat. Pick the College of Eloquence for maximum persuasion.
Using suggestion to tell enemy combatants to go jump in a lake gets old. When I played Poggry in combat-intensive adventures, he proved a bit dull. When I finally played him an adventure with a masquerade ball, intrigue, and exactly one fight, he became a delight. My poor DM for that session might disagree.
Spells like a subtle suggestion can potentially reduce an adventure full of diplomacy and intrigue to a few failed saves. Combined with a knack for deception, a spell like disguise self can turn an assault on a stronghold to retrieve some mcguffin into a solo milk run. Either spell can wreck the expectations of a written adventure. Such magic can force DMs to imagine ways to reward a characters’ talents while leaving room for the rest of the party to contribute. Think fast! (Or just call for a break to dream up new complications.)
“Suggestion still requires a material component like a spellcasting focus, but the caster just needs it in hand, so sorcerers able to hide their hands under something like a cloak can cast spells without notice.”
This assertion stands in rather stark contradiction to XGtE: “To be perceptible, the casting of a spell must involve a verbal, somatic, or material component. The form of a material component doesn’t matter for the purposes of perception, whether it’s an object specified in the spell’s description, a component pouch, or a spellcasting focus.”
I.e., the suggestion that one can hide a spell focus from view to cast a spell with an M component without being noticed affords experienced AL DMs a saving throw. Or perhaps they can reject it outright because it doesn’t “sound reasonable.” ?
Ah, but that’s what the Sleight of Hand skill is for. It *should* be a simple statement (“I grasp the spellcasting focus hooked to my belt, inside my cloak.”), but if the DM wants to get up in your face, then you can always offer the skill check. I know, DM = god, but still – you aren’t a paladin or cleric trying to Turn Undead, boldly presenting your holy symbol. Honestly, how many spellcasters have to hold the spell component pouch? It stays safely hooked to your belt as well, and the components “disappear” as they are used.
As the player of an Aberrant Mind Sorcerer who took Friends, Disguise Self, and Suggestion, and focuses on social skills (and “enhancing” effects from Minor Illusion and Prestidigitation), this sounds like it’s right up my alley! I currently have Empower (for Sleep and Fireball) and Quicken (because of course)… but I’ll be giving Subtle Spell a strong look now!
As a DM myself – yikes! I have a player who always seems to have characters who can cast Disguise Self, and it makes things rather awkward. He even recently created a half-orc character. Now in my campaign, there is a history of centuries of conflict between the Darokinians and the humanoids who live to the north, and so orcs and half-orcs tend to be mistrusted and feared (and used as enforcers by the Thieves Guild). But this player has taken the Magic Initiate feat for his half-orc and continually casts Disguise Self, thereby gaining the benefits of a half-orc while avoiding the downsides.
Mind you, now that I’m working through comparing all the playable races in 5e, I can see why no-one wants to play a human any more. They definitely come out as the poor cousin. See the thread following https://melestrua.net/2021/05/31/the-question-of-race-part-2-comparisons/
That website WAY underrates ability score increases and feats. If they want to weight a skill proficiency at +2, then 1 point in an ability score should be +3 and a feat should be valued at +6, since a feat is considered equivalent to a two-point Ability Score Increase and the Skilled feat grants proficiency in three skills. I think a number of other things are overvalued as well – for example, dwarf weapon training is definitely not on par with a skill training, nor is the bonus to stonework-related History checks. I’d say the whole dwarf “Cultural” section – not counting the Constitution bonus – is worth maybe +2 or +3 put together. But the undervaluation of ability score increases and feats is the most significant problem by far.
Of course these ratings are subjective, and I probably need to go back and review the PHB races and the feats in light of my experience with rating the later sources (see the following posts).
However I stand by my relative rating of ability score versus proficiency. An ability score increase of 1 has a 50% chance of improving your chances on a roll by 1; it takes an increase of 2 to guarantee any effect. Therefore statistically it is an increase of 1/2. A proficiency gives you an immediate +2 at level 1, rising in higher levels. So based on the numbers I’ve under rated proficiency. The ability score can apply to multiple skills though, so that brings it back a bit. I’m sticking with 1:2.
In D&D you operate as a team; four players who all have no racial skills and nobody playing a thief, ranger, or bard will have 16 skills among them at a bare minimum. There are 18 skills. There will be some redundancy as multiple people want “powerful” skills like Perception, but typically 10 to 12 skills will be “covered” and the ones not taken will be the highly situational, rarely used ones like Performance or Animal Handling. So bonus skills means either having someone gain proficiency in one of these leftover skills, or having more redundancy of multiple characters with the same skills.
On the other hand, in addition to applying to multiple skills, ability scores apply to all kinds of non-skill rolls. For me and people I’ve played with, tool proficiencies come up more often than Medicine or Performance. Initiative, armor class, carrying capacity, saving throws, attack rolls and spell save DCs as well. Higher ability scores are also one of only two ways to improve your skill bonuses beyond the slow, fixed progression provided by your proficiency bonus. The second way is of course expertise, which is either gained as a class feature and outside the scope of what can be gained from your choice of race, or gained from a feat – which is established to be valued equivalent to two points in the ability score(s) of the player’s choice, or alternatively equivalent to proficiency in three skills via the Skilled feat.
At the end of the day, all expertise/advantage granting abilities being equal, a party where every member has an extra skill is almost indistinguishable from a party without those extra skills, whereas extra ability score points at least occasionally turn a failure into a success. I might reconsider the values if you were talking about a two-player or solo game, but a party of four or more PCs already has all the bases more than covered without any extra racial skills.
“Hmm you look closer and it looks like that human guard was really a half elf. Looks like his whole dang half elf family got employed here.”
Poggry is a good kid. Just misunderstood. I like Poggry.