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How do you keep track of spells for multiple NPCs?

robus

Explorer
I'm running a game at a high level and in the next session there's a chance that a variety of mid-to-high level drow casters might be running around each with a different set of spell combinations. I find this to be a challenge on two fronts:

1) Simply remembering what each spell does and its limitations (we're talking about 40 spells that could be cast)
2) Tracking which slots for each NPC caster have been used up as the encounter(s) progress.

This is generally fine when I'm running a single caster but when there are more than one? The set of spells to reference and gets quickly out of hand!

Anyone have any tips for smoothly managing this in the heat of battle?
 

aco175

Explorer
I use the monster stat blocks that I print out for encounters. I just place a dot next to the spell level where it tells me the number of slots they have. I also have colored rings from soda bottle tops that I place on the mini to show effects that are ongoing. This helps the players know if they are slowed for example and know that they can save again.

Another point is that you do not have to worry as much if you miss something. The players won't now if you pre-cast mage armor or if you cast one too many lightning bolts. Have the fun keep rolling is more important.
 

Harzel

Explorer
I use spell points, which, for me, are much more manageable than slots. But that might well be objected to if your players are using slots, since that would be a distinct advantage for the NPCs.

For spell (and other ability/feature) descriptions, I use a shorthand that eliminates as much text as possible, e.g., a range of 120 ft. and an effect that is a 20 ft. radius sphere becomes (R120/S20). Some of it comes out looking like code:
~ DEX save ? 8d6 fire : 1/2
A few idioms like that cover a lot of the spell descriptions. It puts a lot in a small space and gives me a form I can read very quickly. There's no formalism behind it, though - just whatever compact description will remind me what it does.

Those things said, I have only run one encounter of the complexity that you are describing, and it definitely felt like a reach-exceeding-grasp situation for me - I didn't feel the NPC opponents performed up to their potential. However, I don't think the players noticed; they were quite terrified to be facing multiple casters, at least until things began to turn in their favor. Getting counterspelled seemed to be a particular shocker.

I think one thing that was helpful and I should have done more of as part of my prep was to take each of the caster NPCs and go through some generic tactical scenarios, thinking about how they would handle them.

Good luck.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Most combats last 3-5 rounds, and nmost of them last no where near long enough to reduce a full casters entire spell selection. Nor with multiple casters are they all likely to cast every turn, some will be in melee, or whatever. It sounds weird but unless those NPCs are escaping and showing later that same day, you can probably just have them cast some shizz every turn off a group list and you'll be fine. I don't think there's a huge need to track every single spell slot, not even if combat is going twice the normal distance.

How many casters are you anticipating in a single encounter and with what levels?
 

Oofta

Explorer
I have notes on my encounters such as what monsters and how many appear. When I have spell casters, I use one of two methods.

First method is to list out the spell level and number of slots which I just check off. If I have multiple spellcasting monsters of the same type I just make multiple columns.

For monsters I'm going to use again, I write up monster cards. All the stats I need all go on an index-card sized sheet (1/4 of a standard piece of paper) that I laminate. That way I can use a dry erase marker to do the spell level and number on the card itself.
 

Larnievc

Explorer
I just give them two or three spells they might use in combat. Out side of combat I just use their level as a guide to what they can produce magically.
 

iserith

Explorer
It doesn't matter if you keep track, really. The PCs should be counterspelling everything anyway.
 

mortwatcher

Explorer
Look at their spell list. Pick 3-4 spells they are most likely to cast, as they will not be casting more than 5 for a regular combat. Print spell cards for those. If you happen to cast something else when appropriate situation calls for it, you can look up few of those.
 
Try to avoid doing that, for one thing.

One big problem that the D&D system has always had is that if you throw enough save or suck spells at a PC, they'll eventually fail a save. For example, seven 1st level spellcasters each casting 'Charm Person' has a very high chance to charm most PCs.

The second thing I would suggest to you is even if you find the situation requires it, don't try to track NPC spells like you would if they were PCs. The work load will be overwhelming.

Instead, list how each NPC begins the fight buffed (or not in the event of surprise), and then list roughly as many spells as the NPC will cast before dying in roughly the order they'll cast them if opportunity arises. This will mean you only need to track 3-4 spells. Then you're tracking much shorter lists.

If for some reason you get off script and the NPC finds themselves in a situation where they need some other spell, simply decide that they have it and add it to the list of spells. Rarely when you wing it like this are you going to differ much in what happens than if you choose all the spells ahead of time and were crossing them off, and the whole approach can be justified by the fact that most NPC spellcasters are geniuses who would have prepared the best and most useful spells available in the first place. Remember, the players are unlikely to be tracking the NPCs that carefully either.

As for knowing what spells do, it's the duty of a GM to know the system at least as well as anyone else at the table. If you can't wing a spell, then don't - cast a spell you can wing. Otherwise, make sure you've prepped ahead for the spells you are likely to use. Spell note cards are something I recommend for all PC spellcasters, and they can be handy in situations like this when you are running NPCs as well.
 
Look at their spell list. Pick 3-4 spells they are most likely to cast, as they will not be casting more than 5 for a regular combat. Print spell cards for those. If you happen to cast something else when appropriate situation calls for it, you can look up few of those.
This is the tl;dr version of my post. Excellent and succinct (something I could work on) advice.
 

Flamestrike

Registered User
I'm running a game at a high level and in the next session there's a chance that a variety of mid-to-high level drow casters might be running around each with a different set of spell combinations. I find this to be a challenge on two fronts:

1) Simply remembering what each spell does and its limitations (we're talking about 40 spells that could be cast)
2) Tracking which slots for each NPC caster have been used up as the encounter(s) progress.

This is generally fine when I'm running a single caster but when there are more than one? The set of spells to reference and gets quickly out of hand!

Anyone have any tips for smoothly managing this in the heat of battle?
???

How many casters exactly.

Ive run games of over 20th level (epic boons) with a 5 man party dealing with a half a dozen encounters per long rest featuring death knights, Liches, Vampire shadow dancer mooks, undead Cleric 'leaders' and so forth.

Examples include:

Encounter 1:

A) Death Knight boss (add +50 percent more HP, remove spell casting trait, add +2d8 necrotic damage on weapon attacks, include legendary action (3) 1 x sword attack, add legendary resistance (3), add Leadership trait, Add Misty Step 3/ short rest. AC 20, +2 to hit and damage, Greatsword +2, Full plate +2).
B) Lich (remove legendary actions and resistances, double HP, increase Dex to 18, Mage armor cast, Foresight pre cast, Contingency precast (Mirror image timed to go off when a quickened spell is cast or a spell from the Lich, that targets the Lich) 9th level slot regained, swap Time stop for Psychic Scream, Add Quicken spell ability 3 times per SR, add: Bracers of Armor and Ring of Protection, AC 20)
C) 2 x Undead Clerics (As WarPriest - change type to Undead, resist SBP from non magical weapons, Immune: Necrotic, Poison; Poisoned, Exhaustion. all Undead within 30' gain advantage on Saves while the Undead Cleric is alive and not incapacitated),
C) 10 x Vampire Spawn 'Shadowdancers' (Vampire Spawn, bonus action to Hide as Rogue or teleport to darkness as Shadow Monk (with first attack made at advantage) when in Dim light, +9 Stealth bonus, reduce HP to 60, add extra claw attack).

Encounter conditions: Magical Gloom (dim light) enforced on area (dispelled by light of 5th level or higher). Ruined building with water cascading from roof, in forming a river of sorts running through the building. One wall to neighboring building on east side has collapsed allowing access to that building (unbeknownst to the players, the Vampires have yet to be invited into that building).

The Undead clerics would pair off with the Vampires in groups of 6, while the Lich and DK went after priority targets.

The biggest PITA was tracking the Vampires regeneration.

My advice is never include more than 3 (max) spell casters in an encounter. You dont need them. Just whack on Boss or Leader types with aura effects (like Leadership, or save boosting effects).
 

robus

Explorer
For spell (and other ability/feature) descriptions, I use a shorthand that eliminates as much text as possible, e.g., a range of 120 ft. and an effect that is a 20 ft. radius sphere becomes (R120/S20). Some of it comes out looking like code:
~ DEX save ? 8d6 fire : 1/2
A few idioms like that cover a lot of the spell descriptions. It puts a lot in a small space and gives me a form I can read very quickly. There's no formalism behind it, though - just whatever compact description will remind me what it does.
A spell digest would be a useful DMs Guild product.
 

Greenfield

Explorer
Like most of the above responses, I use paper and pencil.

If you want a hard mechanic for it, go to a craft store and buy a bag of "wooden nickles", simple wood disks with blank faces.

Now, mark one disk for each spell they have prepared, or for each spell slot they have for each spell level. Mark the other side with a number, referring to which NPC caster they belong to. DO NOT try to arrange them in neat stacks. They won't stay neat in play and you can't see anything but the top marker. Instead, get a few paper cups, bowls or some such and dump one caster's set in each bowl, spell/spell slot side up.

You could use pieces of paper or squares of cardboard, but the wood disks are easier to handle and keep organized.

Now, as an NPC casts a given spell, pull the appropriate chip from the bowl. You can use the chip to mark the center of a given spell, or to mark it's manifestation if it moves. (Summon Monster, anyone?)

If you have players who get conveniently forgetful about spells or spell slots used, have them use the same mechanic.

If you have poker chips around they work well too: Color marks the level, and the spell name can easily be written on them. Also, if you use a standard water based marker, like you probably use on the battle mat, they're easy to erase and re-use.
 

S'mon

Hero
Had a battle yesterday with a bunch of Great Old One Warlocks, 14th level casters.
Never played or ran a Warlock before, though I've seen them played a fair bit so I know eg Eldritch Blast is a good fallback.

I just looked up the spells that seemed useful during the fight and cast those. I also took advice from a player ("Don't bother with Crown of Madness, it's crap in this edition"). We're all friends and trust each other, obviously this wouldn't work with an antagonistic group. No one scolded me for not having the 5e Warlock spells memorised. :D

I do miss 4e and the powers being detailed in the NPC stat blocks; wish 5e would do that more.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
If I had the money to buy WotC I would force every dev to edit all monster stat blocks to clearly indicate which spells are Concentration.
 

Li Shenron

Adventurer
I'm running a game at a high level and in the next session there's a chance that a variety of mid-to-high level drow casters might be running around each with a different set of spell combinations. I find this to be a challenge on two fronts:

1) Simply remembering what each spell does and its limitations (we're talking about 40 spells that could be cast)
2) Tracking which slots for each NPC caster have been used up as the encounter(s) progress.

This is generally fine when I'm running a single caster but when there are more than one? The set of spells to reference and gets quickly out of hand!

Anyone have any tips for smoothly managing this in the heat of battle?
I just focus on important spells.

I've never played 5e at high level, but I would write down a list of maybe 10 spells prepared and ignore the rest as if the NPC had prepared other spells for out-of combat use.

Of those 10 or so, I would focus on highest level spells. If the battle lasts so long that the NPC runs out of slots and has to use low level spells, he either tries to flee or I can default to comnon spells like Magic Missile.

I would however keep track of slots exactly.
 

jgsugden

Explorer
Pen and paper stat blocks that list the spells they have available to cast. Use check boxes for slots/spells per day.

Use a magnet board for initiative. Put the spells on the board as their own magnets if there are events that trigger off of an initiative order event.I do this for on round duration spells, etc....

If using miniatures, put markers on the miniatures to show where someone is under a spell if it moves with them, or on the battlemat to show if it is an area.
 

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