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

How difficult was the encounter as calculated, if I might ask? Deadly?
5 x 19th-level PCs: Storm Cleric, Four Elements Monk, Devotion Paladin, Champion Fighter Archer, Arcane Trickster.

Monsters:
CR25 Lich (all wizard spells known, 473hp)
2 x CR18 16th level undead spellcasters (same spell list as a Lich),
2 x CR10 spectral Githyanki Knights
2 x CR17 Adult Red Dragons without wings (possibly without Legendary Actions?)

The Lich-Queen Encounter
Total XP: 162,800
Adjusted XP: 407,000

Encounter XP Thresholds for this party
Easy: 12,000 exp
Medium: 24,500 exp
Hard: 36,500 exp
Deadly: 54,500 exp

Adventuring Day XP for this party
30,000 per 19th level PC
30,000 * 5 = 150,000

The technical term would be "Very Deadly" B-) or possibly "Metal."
 
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Draegn

Explorer
With the exception of special opponents I give the players the same that they give various NPCs. I may change things a bit for fun. Having an enemy mage cast a ball of water as an opposite to the player elementalist's fire ball.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
I remember playing the old Baldur's Gate PC games where if your character died, you had to reload. There were a few battles where if you didn't have the correct defences on you then you were suddenly seeing the game over/reload screen. A lich encounter really stands out in my mind as being crazy annoying and having me go back to my spellbooks to seek out defensive spells that might let me live long enough win the encounter.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
Yes it's fair. And it should be expected.

Me? I'd finish wiping the floor with the active PCs, coup-de-grace anyone still twitching, & send a hit squad to eliminate that banished fighter. HE can't return to the Astral plane. But he could rally help. And it'll keep him active in the game a few minutes more. Besides, bad guys that powerful aren't known for being nice/playing fair.
 

Sadras

Explorer
How do you know this? x 2
Check out the link to the thread the OP provided.

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.
Are you implying entire generations were not having fun in the 70's, 80's, 90's and the 2000's?

Maybe. Or from the sound of it his players didn't find the outcome very fun.
Two questions: How long have you been playing D&D? Are you a badwrongfun advocate?

Not all complaints are illegitimate.
Agree.

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!
Well, check out the thread the OP links to - the majority of those that replied (I'm assuming most were DM's) informed him to go full out. Guess you knew better and they were advising much badwrongfun? :confused:

Just to point out my post that you replied to did not even mention the word 'fun'.
 
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S'mon

Legend
Guess they should've brought someone with Counterspell... :p ...Or not attacked Vlaakith.
If they complain at that, imagine how much they'd've complained about Forcecage!

(BTW if I were running this I'd have stuck to 1e lore that Vlaakith does not allow any Githyanki above 10th level - unless maybe they were mindless extensions of herself. That would have made running this faster & more fun IMO.)
 
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Fanaelialae

Adventurer
By your own admission in the other thread, this fight was intended to be unfair.

The spells themselves aren't unfair (although overuse of them is unfun IMO) but using 3 high level arcane casters to spam them against a relatively low magic party was not a good call, IMO. Furthermore, it doesn't make sense as the lich queen is famous for removing any who might challenge her. I think the fight would have been fine without the two liches.
 
So, thanks for the replies all! This kind of blew up while I was sleeping, so there's lots to respond to here. Others have already answered queries about overall difficulty (insanely high, which was not the source of player complaints) and observed that the players had the option of freely walking away [1]. It's fair to note that the triple high level spellcaster is a pretty hellish thing to face, but I think we should also note that it wasn't the concern expressed by the players.

The party is actually winning this fight, I should note. We had to end with it still ongoing - 3 hours of dice rolling wasn't enough, sigh - but the players have killed both dragons, both Kr'y'izoths (16th level Liches) and one of the Tl'a'ikiths, with the other on 12 hp, while Vlaakith herself has no spells above 5th level left and is down to 240hp. Even with the party heavily battered (so that they've each lost ~100hp, having used most resources) and down two party members, I think it's fair to say that they'll win in a couple turns unless the dice go abnormally badly for them. My tactics got very shaky towards the end of the fight - it was a mentally exhausting one to run - but with Concentration used on the Monk's maze it is unlikely that I'll be able to do anything particularly clever beyond just spamming high damage cantrips and counterspelling anything the Cleric tries to do. The party got to this point by using twin anti-magic fields and splitting up enough that AoEs were worthless, while focusing down the threats one at a time.

The Power Word Stun was abnormally effective because the Rogue has Con 8, and it's a DC 21 save. So, yeah. The Paladin eventually ended it with some special ability of his, but he had to kill a Dragon to clear a path. The Cleric didn't help since he was inside his own Antimagic field. Them splitting up so much, and using two separate Antimagic Fields, had the result that I had to rely on single-target spells to affect the three viable targets, meaning that I was using save-or-suck more than I normally would. Hence why they got hit by such potent ones with such frequency. I actually picked Prismatic Spray just because two players were standing in a line, and it was the highest level line or cone effect that I could find; I didn't even know it did banishment effects!

Uhm, I've talked too much again. But in short; the players were complaining about being hit by these spells that they often had no realistic ability to escape from quickly. We might fairly say that their complaints were touching on the way 5e saving throws are allocated. I countered by observing that these are player spells, and that I'm loath to nerf them since that starts us on a route of nerfing all player abilities; but the player in question responded that what was fair to use on an NPC is not necessarily fair to use on a PC, because it might mean a player gets to do nothing. This is... true, but the consequence is that NPCs never use very common PC tactics like stun-lock or banishment.


[1] I often have BBEGs make a boastful, "Why don't you flee now?!" comments, so the players usually ignore it. However, they were actually fairly tempted by it this time. When they walked into the room, and the illusion covering the bad guys faded so that everyone could size each other up, Vlaakith stood up and said, "I know you are here because you want to free the Hobgoblin slaves. If you walk out of here now, you can achieve that goal - I will free them to you directly - and nobody has to get hurt." They trusted her word, and gave it due consideration - but they decided that they wanted to kill her regardless. It was an interesting moment though, watching the players decide whether they wanted to just skip the rest of the dungeon I'd spent days preparing :D
 
Furthermore, it doesn't make sense as the lich queen is famous for removing any who might challenge her. I think the fight would have been fine without the two liches.
You'd have to take that up with Chris Perkins, to be honest; I'm running the fight exactly as written in his adventure, only updated to 5e as elegantly as I could manage.

Edit: I was a bit harsh there, sorry. From Power Score, here's why she has so many weird and powerful servants:

This adventure is about Vlaakith (a descendent of the original lich-queen. There have been many Vlaakiths). She devours githyanki souls with an artifact called the crown of corruption, tuning them into undead servants:

  • Tl'aikith: Incorporeal githyanki knights wielding spectral swords.
  • Kr'y'izoth: Former warlocks and gish, now entities of flickering black flame in tattered robes.
Part of my prep was writing up the crown as a fairly insane little artifact, which I'm imagining the players will be deeply unhappy to acquire.
 
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Sadras

Explorer
Thank you [MENTION=32659]Charles Rampant[/MENTION] for the update.
Well done on playing the bad guys true and well done to your players. ;)
 

hastur_nz

Villager
...in short; the players were complaining about being hit by these spells that they often had no realistic ability to escape from quickly. We might fairly say that their complaints were touching on the way 5e saving throws are allocated. I countered by observing that these are player spells, and that I'm loath to nerf them since that starts us on a route of nerfing all player abilities; but the player in question responded that what was fair to use on an NPC is not necessarily fair to use on a PC, because it might mean a player gets to do nothing. This is... true, but the consequence is that NPCs never use very common PC tactics like stun-lock or banishment.
Crikey, its not easy being a DM in a high level game, and your players want you to play with one hand tied behind your back? I mean, I dont advise an arms race between dm and players, but this is sounding silly... all the decent players I know, not only expect me to play by the same rules as they do, in fact they demand it.
 

MarkB

Hero
Are you implying entire generations were not having fun in the 70's, 80's, 90's and the 2000's?
Speaking from experience, yeah, frequently. Any time a player has to sit around for an hour unable to contribute to the game is likely to be an unfun time for them.

When players tell their DMs "throw everything you've got at us, we can take it" they're generally talking about challenging their characters' capacity to withstand peril, not their own capacity to withstand boredom.
 

Sadras

Explorer
Speaking from experience, yeah, frequently. Any time a player has to sit around for an hour unable to contribute to the game is likely to be an unfun time for them.
And despite this frequent risk of 'unfun time' players kept playing the game. :confused:

I'm not judging anyone's preferred system/mechanic for what fun is or is not. I take issue when the 'design-failure' gauntlet is thrown down by players when things arent going their way. I guarantee you that none of this would have been an issue had the saving throws been made or had the spells been counterspelled. We would not have heard the words 'design-failure'

When you have had access to the spell list and it has worked perfectly for you for your fun, when the same spells (from the same spell list) are being directed at you, you'd best save or suck-it-up!
 
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JonnyP71

Explorer
Since when did it become 'unfair' for a player to be deprived of combat turns?

Since when did 'playing the game' just mean 'taking turns in combat'?

In my day Ghouls paralyzed you for half an hour or more, and if you dropped below 0hp your character was out of action for a whole week - if you were lucky and the DM was using the optional 'die at -10hp' rule! And we still enjoyed it and came back for more. They failed a few saves? And they are crying because it meant their PC didn't get to swing a sword for a little while? Well excuse me while I break out some kleenex as my tears are welling up for them...

This pervading sense of player entitlement is worrisome, they should be thankful that the DM let their PC live....
 
Welcome to high level play. There's nothing 'unfair' about that at all. Rushing into combat against that level of opposition is fundamentally dangerous. There's no design flaw because, guess what, the PCs can use these abilities, too, if they have access to them. Prepare and plan better.

Complaints like this make me wonder if such players complain about how broken Monopoly is when they land on Boardwalk with a hotel on it. It's part of the game.
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
Welcome to high level play. There's nothing 'unfair' about that at all. Rushing into combat against that level of opposition is fundamentally dangerous. There's no design flaw because, guess what, the PCs can use these abilities, too, if they have access to them. Prepare and plan better.

Complaints like this make me wonder if such players complain about how broken Monopoly is when they land on Boardwalk with a hotel on it. It's part of the game.
A game doesn't have to be symmetrical to be fair nor is symmetry needed for fun! In fact s&I'd lacks symmetry. I can't play an ancient red dragon for example. So saying an enemy should get the same abilities as players is crazy when players can't get half the abilities that enemies get..
 
A game doesn't have to be symmetrical to be fair nor is symmetry needed for fun! In fact s&I'd lacks symmetry. I can't play an ancient red dragon for example. So saying an enemy should get the same abilities as players is crazy when players can't get half the abilities that enemies get..
Shapechange handles a lot of that desire. Also most enemies don't have access to PC special abilities. In the case I cited it was all about the spells, which yes, players can conceivably have access to in the game.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
OP summary my players "waaaa! the npcs are fighting as smart as us! waaaa!"
my response.
RULE 0.5 SOMETIMES THE MONSTERS WILL USE THE SAME SPELLS ON YOU. AKA the monsters want to win too.
edit to add
This is just not high level play. In season 4 I had people fail a horror/ madness roll, then gripe their pc was out of combat for a WHOLE MINUTE. Combat last 3 rounds and very few pcs took damage.
 
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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?
He's wrong. Prismatic Spray can be countered by Counterspell or Indomitable or Lucky or proactively by Anti-magic Field (as he indeed attempted). It can even be "Undone" by a Gate spell from another PC, or by the targeted PC Plane Shifting + Teleporting back into combat, or by everyone else Plane Shifting out temporarily to rejoin the targeted PC. (BTW, you could get the same banishing effect from Banishment, as well as Prismatic Spray.)

Furthermore, his design goal is incoherent. Putting a player "out of the game" for a few minutes of game time isn't a design failure in the first place, and if it were it could still happen with HP loss anyway--there's no guarantee anyone will resurrect you anyway. (Revifify has a short range, and your Revivify caster may be busy with other things during combat. Furthermore, consider PCs who are e.g. swallowed by the Tarrasque.)

He's just wrong.

However, if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. If you're going to squish the PCs like bugs, it shouldn't take multiple game sessions to do so. (Although who knows, this may be his own fault for taking up too much time with "numerous" arguments and counter-arguments.) I could buy the argument that it's a bit of a design oops on the DM's part that the combat lasted longer than one game session, putting the player's (or players'?) desire to attend the next session at risk, since he might very well spend the whole time sitting around spectating if the combat runs even longer. I doubt you intended for the inevitable loss on the players' part to take more than one session--from the previous thread I thought they were going to lose quite quickly, at the rate of about 1-2 PCs per round (depending on whether Vlaakith was done with AMF or not).
 
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