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5E Is it fair to cast save-or-suck spells on the players?

Hey all,

In my game yesterday, the players went up against seven enemies, including three arcane spellcasters with access to level 8 spells. (If you're keen, you can see more details here.) During the fight, I naturally tried to use cool Wizard spells to win the fight, while the players for their side relied on anti-magic fields to protect themselves. One thing that came up quickly, and which was repeatedly complained about, was the consequence of these spells for a player.

One character was mazed, and since it is an Intelligence Check, not a Saving Throw, his Monk is basically unable to escape any time soon (Concentration checks with +11 keeps the spell up). Another, the Rogue, was hit by multiple Finger of Death spells until he was weakened, and then Power Word Stun was used to put him out of commission for five rounds of combat. A third, the Champion Fighter, was hit by Prismatic Spray, which rolled an 8, meaning two rays, which generated a 1 (some Fire damage) and 7 (save vs Blind, save again next turn or be Banished permanently and instantly to your home plane). He failed both saves, and thus returned to the Material Plane, to presumably retire in safety while the rest of the party fights in a dungeon in the Astral Plane. We ended the session with the combat still running, since a fight with 13 complex combatants at level 19 takes forever.

So, that's the situation. One player in particular was quite upset by these spells, and declared them to be 'design failures' for meaning that player characters would be put out of the game, leaving the players nothing to do. This was specifically worse than hit point loss, he stated; I believe the argument was that hit point loss could be responded to by, e.g. healing or resurrection magic, whereas the Prismatic Spray in particular had no chance of being undone in combat. I had numerous counter-arguments, which I won't get into here; what I'm interested in is hearing the thoughts of others. Do you agree with the players?
 

Mephista

Villager
There are two sides to this. First? If players have access to something, there is no reason it can't be used against them. And vice versa - no reason that NPCs should get shinies that PCs couldn't as well, even if its through a polymorph spell.

That said, the job of the GM is to provide a fun and challenging environment to overcome obsticles. If the players were feeling like they had no chance of winning? That does take fun out of it. In this particular case, its just bad luck, and not anything under player control. Which does feel bad when its all a failure and out of player control.

So, that's your answer. If players aren't having fun, its not fair. If they had fun, or could regroup after somehow, and get revenge, it could be. It always comes down to what's most fun for the group.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
If your players were hitting their enemies with Maze, Power Words, and Prismatic Sprays, would they be complaining that the spell worked as intended?

Sounds fairly well like whiny entitlement to me.

No, there is absolutely NOTHING "unfair" about using those spells on your players. High levels = Higher stakes = Highest Risks.

As they always say, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the Astral Planar Dungeon at 19th level."
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
Hey all,

In my game yesterday, the players went up against seven enemies, including three arcane spellcasters with access to level 8 spells. (If you're keen, you can see more details here.) During the fight, I naturally tried to use cool Wizard spells to win the fight, while the players for their side relied on anti-magic fields to protect themselves. One thing that came up quickly, and which was repeatedly complained about, was the consequence of these spells for a player.

One character was mazed, and since it is an Intelligence Check, not a Saving Throw, his Monk is basically unable to escape any time soon (Concentration checks with +11 keeps the spell up). Another, the Rogue, was hit by multiple Finger of Death spells until he was weakened, and then Power Word Stun was used to put him out of commission for five rounds of combat. A third, the Champion Fighter, was hit by Prismatic Spray, which rolled an 8, meaning two rays, which generated a 1 (some Fire damage) and 7 (save vs Blind, save again next turn or be Banished permanently and instantly to your home plane). He failed both saves, and thus returned to the Material Plane, to presumably retire in safety while the rest of the party fights in a dungeon in the Astral Plane. We ended the session with the combat still running, since a fight with 13 complex combatants at level 19 takes forever.

So, that's the situation. One player in particular was quite upset by these spells, and declared them to be 'design failures' for meaning that player characters would be put out of the game, leaving the players nothing to do. This was specifically worse than hit point loss, he stated; I believe the argument was that hit point loss could be responded to by, e.g. healing or resurrection magic, whereas the Prismatic Spray in particular had no chance of being undone in combat. I had numerous counter-arguments, which I won't get into here; what I'm interested in is hearing the thoughts of others. Do you agree with the players?
3 wizards with level 8 spells is probably a bit much especially with other enemies present as well. It's not the save or suck spells. It's the amount of save or suck spells you were throwing at them. Maze + Prismatic Spray + Multiple Finger of Death's is pretty ridiculous.

Also, PC's generally have to pace themselves against NPC's since they can have another fight in the day. NPC's have no such issue. So having 3 level 15 Wizards spam all their highest level spells at the start of a fight is crazy strong and that wasn't even all you were having them deal with.

Yea, I'd been aggravated too. You had enough firepower to totally remove 2 characters from combat (1/3 to 1/2 of the party) and then you still had enough firepower to focus fire finger of death on one of the remaining characters.

Generally speaking the concentration spell was probably fine as it could be broken and the player released. The prismatic spray probably shouldn't have been used by you as it had a chance of causing the character to leave the combat for good with no chance of coming back.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Not only is it fair, but it's encouraged :devil:

I actually prefer to use them, myself. Damage spells are good for wearing down the party, but final battles are awesome for save or suck spells.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Not only is it fair, but it's encouraged :devil:

I actually prefer to use them, myself. Damage spells are good for wearing down the party, but final battles are awesome for save or suck spells.
 

Croesus

Villager
3 wizards with level 8 spells is probably a bit much especially with other enemies present as well. It's not the save or suck spells. It's the amount of save or suck spells you were throwing at them. Maze + Prismatic Spray + Multiple Finger of Death's is pretty ridiculous.
This.

As I don't know how powerful the PCs are, I can't say if this was unfair, but when using spellcasters, you need to watch out for numbers. In one of my PotA combats, the enemy had seven casters who could each cast fireball. Sure, one or two fireballs don't really do a lot of damage, especially to 10th level characters, but seven? Even with party-wide fire resistance, that hurt a lot. Now imagine if those had been clerics throwing hold person spells every round...

I generally find that two or three major spellcasters is plenty. If there's just one, the party will focus fire and drop him pretty quickly. More than three, you run the risk that the party misses too many saves in a single round. Even with just three, you had a lot of spells flying - maybe should have dropped one wizard from the opponents' ranks, or lowered their levels.
 
I'm wondering why the three spellcasters wasted their time with the other spells when they could each cast banishment in an 8th level slot and target 5 PCs each ... 3 saves each. The entire party probably would be at home relaxing. :D
 

Sadras

Explorer
Firstly they pursued this extremely perilous path when they did not have to.
Secondly they must have had a good idea of the challenge they would be facing to overcome this particular BBEG.
Thirdly they didn't complain when their save-or-suck spells worked on previous NPCs. I mean they have been high level for quite some time so its not as if these spells are now new material to them, funny how they are design-failures now.
Fourth this campaign conclusion makes for an awesome retelling in the future.
Fifth every table has its crybaby who tries to ruin it all with their whine. Best advice 'Carry on regardless'.
 

Kobold Stew

Adventurer
Yes, it's fair. I would add the following caveats:

1. The spell list should make sense for the enemy spell caster's day, and not simply as something for the encounter. Why have three spellcasters prepared all different spells? Do they have utility spells, etc., that they would normally need? For me, a fully-statted castor does become unfair/unbalanced when the spell selection is eared towards a single combat.

2. Similarly, if there are magic items in the treasure, they should be used against the players in the combat (if relevant, appropriate for the soma type of the enemy, etc.).
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
My first comment was in jest. I'll trot out my well-worn advice:

If the players know how deadly the peril is and send their bold adventurers to confront it anyway, then it's fair.

All the DM has to do is make sure they're reasonably well-informed.

(Whether or not it's fun and what makes a thing fun is more complicated.)
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
Firstly they pursued this extremely perilous path when they did not have to.
How do you know this?

Secondly they must have had a good idea of the challenge they would be facing to overcome this particular BBEG.
How do you know this?

Thirdly they didn't complain when their save-or-suck spells worked on previous NPCs. I mean they have been high level for quite some time so its not as if these spells are now new material to them, funny how they are design-failures now.
Taking an NPC out of combat and letting him sit there twiddling his thumbs isn't unfun. Sitting there twiddling your thumbs after 1 ability takes you out of combat with no hope of getting back into it before you really do anything. Yea that's not fun.

Fourth this campaign conclusion makes for an awesome retelling in the future.
Maybe. Or from the sound of it his players didn't find the outcome very fun.

Fifth every table has its crybaby who tries to ruin it all with their whine. Best advice 'Carry on regardless'.
Not all complaints are illegitimate. OP should have had the evemy wizards use some slightly different spells. Prismatic Spray was not a good call. Maze wasn't as bad as the party likely could have broken the concentration on that. The enemy mages focus firing one of the party members left in the fight may not have been the most fun thing either depending on the amount of healing the party could quickly dish out. It's a game. It's about fun. Whether something is fair or not doesn't impact it's fun value

Now if they were playing dungeon gauntlet 40000 and all expected a tactical no holds barred masterpiece... well then I'll stand corrected!
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
My first comment was in jest. I'll trot out my well-worn advice:

If the players know how deadly the peril is and send their bold adventurers to confront it anyway, then it's fair.

All the DM has to do is make sure they're reasonably well-informed.

(Whether or not it's fun and what makes a thing fun is more complicated.)
In handling enemy spell caster's they may not have been well informed if most spell casters to date had primarily been blasters and such.
 

hastur_nz

Villager
There are two questions here:

1) is using these "save or suck" spells fair / balanced?
2) is throwing three high level spell casters, with four helpers, against 6 PC's, fair?

Question #1 should have been resolved BEFORE you or the players started using them in anger. Complaining that spells are not fun, only once they are used upon you, is just poor form IMO.

Question #2 is a DM judgement call, and well covered by others above, but personally I'd be loathe to throw that much power even at 19th level PC's, unless I was pretty sure the players were asking for it (e.g. does your group also have 3 full-level spell casters who can trash groups of monsters without breaking a sweat, and even if they do is 'fight fire with fire' the most fun approach?) The 5e encounter guidelines fall apart way before 19th level, so judging what a good challenging fight is, becomes very much an art not a science.
 
Hey all,

In my game yesterday, the players went up against seven enemies, including three arcane spellcasters with access to level 8 spells. (If you're keen, you can see more details here.) During the fight, I naturally tried to use cool Wizard spells to win the fight, while the players for their side relied on anti-magic fields to protect themselves. One thing that came up quickly, and which was repeatedly complained about, was the consequence of these spells for a player.

One character was mazed, and since it is an Intelligence Check, not a Saving Throw, his Monk is basically unable to escape any time soon (Concentration checks with +11 keeps the spell up). Another, the Rogue, was hit by multiple Finger of Death spells until he was weakened, and then Power Word Stun was used to put him out of commission for five rounds of combat. A third, the Champion Fighter, was hit by Prismatic Spray, which rolled an 8, meaning two rays, which generated a 1 (some Fire damage) and 7 (save vs Blind, save again next turn or be Banished permanently and instantly to your home plane). He failed both saves, and thus returned to the Material Plane, to presumably retire in safety while the rest of the party fights in a dungeon in the Astral Plane. We ended the session with the combat still running, since a fight with 13 complex combatants at level 19 takes forever.

So, that's the situation. One player in particular was quite upset by these spells, and declared them to be 'design failures' for meaning that player characters would be put out of the game, leaving the players nothing to do. This was specifically worse than hit point loss, he stated; I believe the argument was that hit point loss could be responded to by, e.g. healing or resurrection magic, whereas the Prismatic Spray in particular had no chance of being undone in combat. I had numerous counter-arguments, which I won't get into here; what I'm interested in is hearing the thoughts of others. Do you agree with the players?
Emphatically NO, I don't agree with your complaining player.

I'm a pretty pro-player "let's have a good time" non-antagonistic kind of DM, but going up against the Githyanki Lich-Queen at 19th level? If you player is getting surprised by the powerful spells she's throwing down, then your player hasn't been paying attention.

A few specific thoughts...

  • Maze really *should* rely on Intelligence saving throws. I consider the requirement for a check to be a mistake, and house-rule it to be saving throws. However, for a character not proficient in Intelligence saves and/or without a saving throw boosting magic item? Same difference. Personally, when I run maze effects, I like to prepare "side quests" involving the PC's exploration of the maze...this is a real art because you want it to have some depth to make it more interesting than "roll a save", but you also don't want to eat up a lot of table time devoted to one player.
  • 5 rounds stunned due to Power Word: Stun? That is, what, 5 failed saving throws? That's crazy bad luck. Why didn't anyone in the party lend the poor Rogue a hand with his saves?
  • When any kind of banishment is possible against the PCs (or any other severe party-splitting measure), it's good to have some kind of plan in place. An easy plan is to have a familiar/animal companion/henchman the player can temporarily take over & some action the PCs can take to either (a) bring their banished friend back into the fight, or (b) bring the fight to their banished friend.

If I was in your shoes, looking over Vlaakith's spell list before the game, I'd immediately think to myself: "Hey, she has lots of stun-locking / banishing spells." Whenever I see that in a game, I generally add a layer of my own design on top of it to make those scenarios more interesting than just rolling dice... For example, maybe a PC in the maze finds an old portrait that reveals clues about a weakness Vlaakith has. Or a banished PC arrives at the ramparts of their home city only to find a flight of red dragon mounted githyanki knights attacking...and the warlock at their head just happens to have some kind of planeshifting staff. Or a PC hit by power word: stun faces a sort of "hero's flashback Hollywood moment" where dead NPCs/allies visit the PC offering cryptic riddles or some kind of an ethical dilemma which, if answered correctly, restore the PC to the present moment (ending the stunned condition). That sort of thing. Really REALLY helps make those sorts of spells not be fun-killers.

EDIT: An example from my Dragon Mountain 4e game -- in the final showdown, the red dragon Infyrana could open up gates to the "Kobold Proving Grounds" which was basically a special elaborate trap composed of 9 traps the PCs had previously encountered exploring Dragon Mountain. I played it loose and fast, so the 2 PCs who entered it could surmount each obstacle simply by recalling what they'd learned of the dungeon (e.g. don't just jump an obvious pit because there's a hidden pit trap just beyond it). It made the ~2 rounds the PCs were trapped in the "maze" much more thrilling and didn't take up too much time.
 
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hafrogman

Villager
I think it's not an issue of fairness, as others have stated, these are available spells.
It's not an issue of challenge/difficulty, that's a personal issue between you and the party, more information than we have.

It's an issue of fun. At any level, being unable to do anything for a round is boring. The fight progresses and you do nothing, again. Maybe a single save at the end. I waited a full turn for a single roll, which IF I make it, still nothing happens until the next go round. Out of comission for 5 rounds? How long was that in time? Depending on party size and number of monsters that could be nearly an hour. Your players were bored, plain and simple.
 

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