D&D 5E Heat Metal Spell. Unfair to Heavy Armor Wearers?

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Heat Metal is a 1 action casting 2nd level concentration spell which damages someone holding or wearing a manufactured metal object.

It has a range of 60 feet. Which will be relevant to this conversation.

It does 2d8 fire damage each round the caster uses a bonus action to cause that damage. It lasts for up to 1 minute. So over 10 rounds that's about 90 HP damage.

The spell is frequently cast on PCs wearing heavy armor. Heavy armor cannot be removed within the 10 rounds, even with help. There is no save to avoid this damage for armor you're wearing (there is only a save to hold onto a weapon rather than drop it.)

Here's the key: The spell does not specify you need line of sight, or need to stay within range, during the duration. And the rule for that kind of spell in the Player's Handbook is, "Once a spell is cast, its effects aren't limited by its range, unless the spell's description says otherwise." There are some spells which do include in the description that it ends if you move out of range, such as Witch Bolt which says, "The spell also ends if the target is ever outside the spell’s range or if it has total cover from you." But spells like Heat Metal don't include that kind of description and are similar to the Sleep spell where, once cast, you just stay asleep even if the caster leaves line of sight or range.

Which means a caster can just cast this spell on someone in heavy armor and just run away. As long as they expend a bonus action every turn while they flee, the target will eventually take 90 HP damage from this second level spell. They could even teleport away. I think they could even go to another plane of existence and the still would continue to do the damage for the full minute?

The reason I think the spell might be unfair is because it's particularly damaging to PCs in heavy armor. Yes, of course it could be used by a PC on a foe, but the odds of running into a foe in heavy armor is typically pretty low. Most casters who can prepare the spell, choose not to because they go too many days without being able to use the spell as effectively as other second level spells.

Which means this spell is more often used by enemy spellcasters. And it's most often used by them against PCs with heavy armor, if they're around, because they cannot remove that armor in time to avoid any damage.

It's already not particularly optimal for a PC to wear heavy armor given its cost, strength requirement, speed reduction, stealth reduction, fact that you can't easily wear it while long resting, etc. Players who make PCs with heavy armor are often already doing it for aesthetics and could have possibly made a slightly more effective PC focused on Dex instead (even if it's just a 14 Dex and medium armor). This spell is often, by the circumstances of actual play, likely punishing those heavy armor Strength based PCs further for being a Str based PC in heavy armor. And I don't like that.

How do others find this spell to be in their games?
 

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darjr

I crit!
It can be tough to deal with. Though I haven’t found it ti be a complete breaker.

I bet it gets revised at some point.
 

My NPC usually get this spell cast on them.
Most humanoids and some undead wear metallic armor. Meaning easy damage. Cast on a non armored foes, the spell will effectively disarm foes. A fire giant might not mind the spell, but a frost giant will hate it.

Hobgoblins from the get go have chain mails.
Even a gladiator will be vulnerable as studded leather has... studs. Metallic ones at that.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Funny, I am having a conversation about this spell on Twitter right now.
In one of those instances where I found out I was running it wrong, but prefer the way I run it: I ruled that in order to do the bonus spell damage you need to be in the 60 foot range.

But even if you don't play it that way, it is only one person at a time and is a concentration spell - so not that bad.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I would have HAPPILY used it against the PCs in my group - but no one in that group wears metal armor.
I did cast it on someone in my other group once (so far) - but the party managed to break the caster's concentration in the second round.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Everything should have its upsides and downsides. One downside of having heavy armor and a high AC is that you're less able to stealth around and you're vulnerable to spells like this. The damage might be a bit high, sure. But it's no more unfair than any of a dozen other OP low-level spells that end fights with a cast.

If the PC's party doesn't focus fire the caster of heat metal, to at least break concentration, if not outright kill the caster, then they deserve to lose their party member.
It's already not particularly optimal for a PC to wear heavy armor given its cost, strength requirement, speed reduction, stealth reduction, fact that you can't easily wear it while long resting, etc. Players who make PCs with heavy armor are often already doing it for aesthetics and could have possibly made a slightly more effective PC focused on Dex instead (even if it's just a 14 Dex and medium armor). This spell is often, by the circumstances of actual play, likely punishing those heavy armor Strength based PCs further for being a Str based PC in heavy armor. And I don't like that.
And yet, not a single PC that can wear heavy armor opts not to wear heavy armor. I think you're overselling the downsides here, by quite a lot. Armor only reduces speed if you don't have the STR for it. Having difficulty sleeping in armor is an optional rule from Xanathar's. I'm the only referee I know that's ever used it.

As stated, it's not only heavy armor that has metal. There are three armors in the game that might not have metal. Padded, leather, and hide. You could make a solid argument that they require metal clasps, fasteners, etc. But assuming they don't...that's three in the game that aren't vulnerable to heat metal. All but one medium armor is just as vulnerable as heavy armors.
 



iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Any time I've seen it used, including one time where multiple lizardfolk shamans cast on various armor-wearing PCs in one encounter, the focus of the group changes to dinging the casters to make them roll Constitution saves for Concentration. Even one running away, short of any intervening terrain, is likely to get nailed by a cantrip or arrow. (In the lizardfolk encounter, I hit a bunch of them at once with lightning arrow, which caused more than half to lose concentration.)
 

Reynard

Legend
Any time I've seen it used, including one time where multiple lizardfolk shamans cast on various armor-wearing PCs in one encounter, the focus of the group changes to dinging the casters to make them roll Constitution saves for Concentration. Even one running away, short of any intervening terrain, is likely to get nailed by a cantrip or arrow. (In the lizardfolk encounter, I hit a bunch of them at once with lightning arrow, which caused more than half to lose concentration.)
Anything that makes a fight into anything at all besides standing their whittling away at the other side is a-okay in my book.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Everything should have its upsides and downsides. One downside of having heavy armor and a high AC is that you're less able to stealth around and you're vulnerable to spells like this. The damage might be a bit high, sure. But it's no more unfair than any of a dozen other OP low-level spells that end fights with a cast.

If the PC's party doesn't focus fire the caster of heat metal, to at least break concentration, if not outright kill the caster, then they deserve to lose their party member.

And yet, not a single PC that can wear heavy armor opts not to wear heavy armor. I think you're overselling the downsides here, by quite a lot. Armor only reduces speed if you don't have the STR for it. Having difficulty sleeping in armor is an optional rule from Xanathar's. I'm the only referee I know that's ever used it.

As stated, it's not only heavy armor that has metal. There are three armors in the game that might not have metal. Padded, leather, and hide. You could make a solid argument that they require metal clasps, fasteners, etc. But assuming they don't...that's three in the game that aren't vulnerable to heat metal. All but one medium armor is just as vulnerable as heavy armors.
There are absolutely PC's who can wear heavy armor that choose not to. I've seen it with my own eyes, and even played such a character (archer Fighter).
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
1) "Unfair" is probably a strong word. I do agree that it's weird that a 2nd level spell can one-shot a CR 5 humanoid soldier/knight type just by running away and kiting.

2) I do allow for some counters to the spell. Applying water or some other cooling agent will suppress the damage for 1 round. So simple submersion will stop the damage, if it's expedient. I also allow the control flames cantrip to halt the damage, again for 1 round. So repeated casting can also stop the damage.

3) I do agree with the assertion that heavy armor wearers are already at a general disadvantage; for that reason, I don't have NPCs use the spell against PCs.
 

Heat Metal is a 1 action casting 2nd level concentration spell which damages someone holding or wearing a manufactured metal object.

It has a range of 60 feet. Which will be relevant to this conversation.

It does 2d8 fire damage each round the caster uses a bonus action to cause that damage. It lasts for up to 1 minute. So over 10 rounds that's about 90 HP damage.

The spell is frequently cast on PCs wearing heavy armor. Heavy armor cannot be removed within the 10 rounds, even with help. There is no save to avoid this damage for armor you're wearing (there is only a save to hold onto a weapon rather than drop it.)

Here's the key: The spell does not specify you need line of sight, or need to stay within range, during the duration. And the rule for that kind of spell in the Player's Handbook is, "Once a spell is cast, its effects aren't limited by its range, unless the spell's description says otherwise." There are some spells which do include in the description that it ends if you move out of range, such as Witch Bolt which says, "The spell also ends if the target is ever outside the spell’s range or if it has total cover from you." But spells like Heat Metal don't include that kind of description and are similar to the Sleep spell where, once cast, you just stay asleep even if the caster leaves line of sight or range.

Which means a caster can just cast this spell on someone in heavy armor and just run away. As long as they expend a bonus action every turn while they flee, the target will eventually take 90 HP damage from this second level spell. They could even teleport away. I think they could even go to another plane of existence and the still would continue to do the damage for the full minute?

The reason I think the spell might be unfair is because it's particularly damaging to PCs in heavy armor. Yes, of course it could be used by a PC on a foe, but the odds of running into a foe in heavy armor is typically pretty low. Most casters who can prepare the spell, choose not to because they go too many days without being able to use the spell as effectively as other second level spells.

Which means this spell is more often used by enemy spellcasters. And it's most often used by them against PCs with heavy armor, if they're around, because they cannot remove that armor in time to avoid any damage.

It's already not particularly optimal for a PC to wear heavy armor given its cost, strength requirement, speed reduction, stealth reduction, fact that you can't easily wear it while long resting, etc. Players who make PCs with heavy armor are often already doing it for aesthetics and could have possibly made a slightly more effective PC focused on Dex instead (even if it's just a 14 Dex and medium armor). This spell is often, by the circumstances of actual play, likely punishing those heavy armor Strength based PCs further for being a Str based PC in heavy armor. And I don't like that.

How do others find this spell to be in their games?
The key issue you didn't mention there is that it's Concentration-based.

So if you can break their Concentration, the spell is gone.

And the vast majority of enemies who cast this spell, are fairly easy to break Concentration on. I can't think of any enemies with Advantage on CON saves, or similar stuff that would protect their Concentration the way some PC casters can do it too.

As for the "running away" strategy, the issue that's massively sub-optimal, tactically. You're abandoning all your buddies to get killed, in the hopes that maybe you do enough damage to kill a PC. If you stuck around, you could still do damage, still cause a distraction, and so on. Your side's overall performance would be much, much higher. It's essentially a 1:1 sacrifice at best. It's very likely, with magic in the equation on the PC side, that you don't kill them. Fire Resistance (the most common resistance, fairly routinely possessed by PCs) or Absorb Elements (a level 1 spell) both halve the damage, and turn it from a 90 HP murderer to a 45 HP "ouch but I lived" scenario (pretty sure there are CR1 monsters that with a crit or three can do 45 damage in a single round, let alone ten). Dispel Magic stops it dead.

On top of that, running away is hard in D&D, unless you just bomb it immediately. And again, if you do, you effectively died for purposes of that combat. You will have no further impact beyond that 2d8/round damage, when if you'd stuck around, you could do 2d8/round + whatever attacks you made (plus people trying to kill you so letting the other enemies live longer).

I've used it from NPCs, but never had it last more than two rounds, because PCs always, without fail, break Concentration on the caster. They jump on it. And NPCs running from PCs is like the mailman running from a dog. They will chase. They will throw EVERYTHING they've got into catching you, and every ranged weapon and spell will IMMEDIATELY target your butt for running. (This is because players know any NPC who runs during combat is very severely "up to no good", and thus goes to the top of the "aggro list" lol)

Breaking Concentration is extremely easy - damage, various conditions, or death all break it. So I don't find it to be the huge threat it in theory could be.

2) I do allow for some counters to the spell. Applying water or some other cooling agent will suppress the damage for 1 round. So simple submersion will stop the damage, if it's expedient. I also allow the control flames cantrip to halt the damage, again for 1 round. So repeated casting can also stop the damage.

Yeah exactly. We're playing an tabletop RPG with a DM for a reason. If you can stand in a lake or pond like an overheated Battlemech, you're going to make a lot of bubbles, but you shouldn't be taking damage from this, and I like the idea of making Control Flames more useful this way lol.

I've personally found the spell to be a death warrant for the NPC who casts it, so I do have NPCs cast it on heavy armour wearers, but only if I accept the NPC likely won't live to see the next round.
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
"Unfair" might be a bit of a bold statement; the players use it just about as frequently as their opponents do. And what's good for the goose is good for the gander, amirite?

It's a critical druid spell for our group--like warlocks and Eldritch Blast, I've never seen a druid not prepare the Heat Metal spell. They relish every chance they can find (or invent!) to use this spell in combat, and will argue with me over and again about all of the points that you made in your original post.

"Nope! You don't get to make a save throw, Mister DM! And there's no way he can take his armor off in time! Ha ha! And I don't even have to stay in range either!" The players practically cackle with glee every time they fight an armored opponent.

But I don't mind. If the druid is concentrating on that spell, chances are he isn't concentrating on other more useful (and possibly more annoying) spells like Moonbeam, Hold Person, Call Lightning, etc. And not only that, the target now has a very urgent incentive to focus its complete and undivided attention upon the immediate removal of the druid's soul from his body. So, 🤷‍♂️ it all balances out.

"I cast Heat Metal!"

Sure thing, buddy. Paint that 'kick me' sign on your back.
 
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We use a MAD answer to the big show stopping spells and this 2nd level one counts. If the PCs (and we normally lead by PCs) don't ever or once every few levels cast a spell like this, then NPCs just don't... if PCs cast it 3 or 4 times in 2 or 3 games then NPC casters start using it too.
the same with counterspell. at the tables I am used to shutting down others is seen as a bad idea... especially since the DM has infinite oregano...

Any time I've seen it used, including one time where multiple lizardfolk shamans cast on various armor-wearing PCs in one encounter, the focus of the group changes to dinging the casters to make them roll Constitution saves for Concentration. Even one running away, short of any intervening terrain, is likely to get nailed by a cantrip or arrow. (In the lizardfolk encounter, I hit a bunch of them at once with lightning arrow, which caused more than half to lose concentration.)
yeah this is what I mean... I can't imagine purposefully making that encounter at random... but if the last three knights the PCs fought got cooked in there armor I would think this would be the 'turn about' that is fair play
 



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