Thursday, April 21, 2016

Escalation



Had a great time DMing last night. However, there was one frustrating encounter where the players were surprised by a Remhorhaz. The wizard's response was hold monster, and that was pretty much the end of the encounter. The monster was not proficient in any saving throws whatsoever, meaning it needed a natural 18 or higher in the die to break free. My challenging battle had become a game of teeball. What was the real problem here? Was it that the monster had no proficient saves? Or was the real problem spellcasting itself?

I've been fortunate to have a dedicated group of players in this campaign for the past year and a half. It was my first 5e campaign and longest running so far. I'm planning to wrap this one up by the fall, and this leads me to think ahead to the next campaign. Naturally, my mind goes to what problems were there in the past that I want to prevent in the future.

The largest problem I saw was the cleric's ability to end an undead encounter with a single d20 roll. My group experimented playing without a cleric the past several levels. Undead became a challenge and encounters were dangerous again. As it is the CR system is inaccurate. In order to provide a decent challenge nearly every combat is deadly and 2-3 levels above the party (add in that I've been very stingy with magic items). With limited healing, I feel that I found the right balance for the game.

Now the party is about to hit level 13 and powerful high level spells are coming. It's time to up my game before every encounter becomes defanged by magic. Before making up any new rules let's consider the options: creatures with proficiency in saving throws, creatures with advantage on saves against magic, dispel magic, anti-magic spheres, counterspell, and items/abilities that replicate the previously mentioned spells.

There needs to be a variety of tools used and infrequently, since we don't want players to feel like they're being nerfed all the time. Out of all the tools mentioned, what sticks out the most are counterspell and dispel magic. Both are low level spells. Consider the following:

All spellcasters (except rangers) have access to dispel magic.

Arcane casters (except bards) have access to counterspell.

Preparation casters (clerics, druids, paladins, and wizards) are at a disadvantage compared to spontaneous casters. They must anticipated the need of dispel/counterspell, whereas spontaneous casters are capable of effectively canceling magic 24/7 as long as they know either of those spells. Those that prepare spells are punished quite severely at low levels with their preparation limit, but as they hit mid-tier that punishment becomes much less noticeable.

This strikes me as a problem. The archetypal wizard can be completely nullified by a sorcerer (who has more spell slots), and the wizard can't nullify the sorcerer since he has less slots. It just doesn't sit right with me that a powerful wizard needs to be afraid of a powerful sorcerer. I think a feat could level the playing field, and provide a new tool for NPC casters to be challenging encounters again.

Negation Adept/Counter Caster
Prerequisite: The ability to prepare spells, counterspell and dispel magic must be known spells to you.
When casting counterspell, you may choose to spend multiple spell slots to interrupt the casting of a spell. If the spell slots spent have a total number of spell levels equal to or greater than the spell being interrupted, that spell has no effect.
When casting dispel magic, you may choose to spend multiple spell slots to end a spell. If the spell slots spent have a total number of spell levels equal to or greater than the spell being interrupted, that spell has no effect.

I think this settles the problem. Now a wizard can cannibalize multiple low level spells to keep up with his counterparts who have more spell slots. At least with this feat, a wizard or preparation caster withstand the higher level spells thrown at them, but in the end they'll probably have to tough it out with low-level spells. Also, I couldn't decide on the name so call whatever floats your boat.

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