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D&D General Martial/Caster balance and the Grease spell

Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
3) Blocking Terrain or a PC (5ft +) on the other side of Grease can’t be jumped over in a horizontal jump.

4) You can’t land in a square of Blocking Terrain.

I'm just going to focus on this part, because you keep missing the point. I haven't disagreed with either 3 or 4. What I've pointed out is that IN ADDITION TO THAT, blocking terrain or an enemy on the other side of grease can't be walked into. So if the grease can't be jumped across, it ALSO can't be walked across, so there's no reason for the 'giants' to try to walk past it. Saying 'ah-ha, you can't jump over this obstacle because there's solid walls on the other side, you'll have to walk through it' begs the question of why you'd want to walk through it if there's solid walls on the other side.
 

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Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
If I understand correctly, the setup was this one :

....................WALLS WALLS
Line GREASE
of GREASE INCOMINGFIREGIANTS
PC GREASE
................ WALLS WALLS WALLS

The grease was cast underneath the lead fire giant (who covered in fact, being a 2x2 creature, all of the greasy area) and was prone.

If this is the correct setup then:

1. By RAW, even without grease, the Giants would not have been able to push through the PCs. In this setup the big tactical advantage was the presence of walls, so the PCs would face the giants one after the other. The first of them being prone is a mild situation benefit compared to the hug benefit of having to fight a string of CR9 creature at level 17 instead of a group of CR9 creatures.

2. The prone giant #1 covering the greasy area couldn't be leaped over, not because he was there (allies don't count as obstruction, as pointed out already) but because of the PCs standing just behind him. Grease didn't increase the chokepoint's value here. If there was a space between the Greasy, giant-occupied area and the PCs, they other giants could have jumped over their comrade-in-arms, negating the threat of grease. Edit (since the ability to jump over the Grease area was questioned after this post): a STR 25 fire giant can do long jump of 25 feet per the rules. With a DC 10 Athletic checks (and with +11, it would be easy), he can clear an obstacle a quarter the length of the jump, so 6-7 ft. A prone large creature is certainly less than 2m high...)

3. Regularly intelligent, trained soldiers would certainly retreat and take the fight to a more favorable position instead of dying one after the other at a very disadvantageous bottleneck, wouldn't they?

4. To save the fight's epicness, they giants might have just shot at the wall with their 4d10+7 pew pew gun. A single attack could very well destroy a 10x10 section of it (based on the stats of the wall of stone in the wall of stone spells) to make a larger opening and remove the bottleneck. You probably envisioned something more like a steel wall, but then since they are reskinned as giant robot of doom, giving the rock attack the Siege Weapon quality could have been done on the fly to improve the game experience.

5. The ony actual benefit of grease seems to be that first fire lemming was prone instead of standing. Which is nice but hardly game changing (if they are ready to use a bad portent roll, the fighter could have shoved the giant on the first attack and made two subsequent attacks over the same action).
 
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pemerton

Legend
It's not even close to being as broken as in 3.X because prone is so different.
Sure. I think I said something along these lines in my OP, and also noted the change in the "save" mechanic.

Martials can knock prone without even needing a resource. It just costs them a single attack (not attack action) on a turn to attempt it. Does that make martials more broken than grease? :unsure:

Seriously though pemerton, this is probably some of the worst analysis I've seen you do - and all in service of trying to make a negative point about a game you don't even like. Makes it feel more like a hit piece than anything.
I'm not the OP, but I'm pretty sure you're missing the point.

The Wizard can spend a single action to AoE prone people at range. In theory, this is between 1-3 times a day.

The Fighter spends an attack to prone a single creature within reach that is no more than 1 size larger than you using a skill check instead of your primary attack mode where the target has a choice of two better defenses. In theory this is at will.
In addition to what Vaalingrade has said, there is the following:

Either, (1) Grease and other first-level debuffs are not very useful especially in limited numbers, in which case low-level wizards are underpowered.

Or else, (2) Grease and other first-level debuffs are useful, in which case higher levels wizards have this thing which was useful even in limited numbers essentially on-tap. Hence higher level wizards are overpowered.

This doesn't occur with damaging effects, because hit points scale with level and hence damaging effects decrease in utility with level. The issue pertains to debuffs whose effectiveness doesn't scale down even as the resource cost of deployment decreases to (effectively) zero.

In AD&D OA, warriors (7th level kensai, 6th level samurai) had an ability to cause 1 HD or fewer foes to flee or surrender in fear. The HD limit is fairly harsh (although less so in AD&D than in more recent versions of the game, because of conceits in early D&D around the role of guards, soldiers, bandits etc and how they are to be statted up), but this shows how high level warriors can be given AoE debuffs that are genre-appropriate.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
If I understand correctly, the setup was this one :

....................WALLS WALLS
Line GREASE
of GREASE INCOMINGFIREGIANTS
PC GREASE
................ WALLS WALLS WALLS

The grease was cast underneath the lead fire giant (who covered in fact, being a 2x2 creature, all of the greasy area) and was prone.

<snip>
Nope, Turns out the fire giant is Jeane Claude VanDamme and doe the perfect splits, effectively standing on the walls.

Which is as valid in the rules as having them step over it with impunity.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
in my experience playing up to 15th level so far a lot of low level debuffs actually grow more powerful as levels rise. A lot of which has to do with the busted saving throw math and the unfortunate decision to move to neovancian spell casting allowing what I view as too much flexibility with those low level slots. At our level tossing out a slow spell against a group of big bruisers is extremely potent and extremely cheap. When those slots were more precious for damage output it was much less of a potent use compared to enemy saves.
 

I'm just going to focus on this part, because you keep missing the point. I haven't disagreed with either 3 or 4. What I've pointed out is that IN ADDITION TO THAT, blocking terrain or an enemy on the other side of grease can't be walked into. So if the grease can't be jumped across, it ALSO can't be walked across, so there's no reason for the 'giants' to try to walk past it. Saying 'ah-ha, you can't jump over this obstacle because there's solid walls on the other side, you'll have to walk through it' begs the question of why you'd want to walk through it if there's solid walls on the other side.

To start. Here is my contention after GMing a Swashbuckler + Champion + Diviner for probably 150 hours intermittently from levels 4-7 then a ton from 11-20 (various intervals...again, I was filling in for a GM to make sure a group of teenagers' game got played) back in 2016-2017.

Grease is fine at low level.

Curiously, the problem comes in at high level because (a) of spell proliferation making the opportunity cost of loading it out miniscule (and therefore having a huge answer for a specific encounter situation - chokepoint management + kiting enabler via amplifying a terrain configuration vs low Dex Brutes) + (b) the spell DC is so high + (c) having answers to all encounter types in your enormous suite of answers (+Signature) + your enormous gastank (massive # of spells, huge gastank with spell slots + Recovery + Mastery + Rituals) is what makes high level spellcasters overpowered. Portent is just the icing on the top for Diviners.

Now, onto what is being missed here:

* Your optimal path of movement to a high mobility + kite-capable target is (say) 6 squares (within your move).

* A spell that plops down a 4 SQ control zone which connects other pieces of continuous terrain punishment then turns your 6 squares of movement into 8 or 9 (as you have to reroute from the prior optimal path)...now you're screwing with action economy sufficient to equal action denial of melee multiattack by proxy. Your left with a catch 22 of spending action economy to Dash and hope you can close to melee to deploy multiattack...except the Swashbackler can just dance away without OA and the Wizard has Misty Step at-will (so both have AoE avoiding Dash at-will). So you're in a position of pretty much being locked out of multiattack...so your potential damage output is wrecked.

* This terrain-abuse (lets call it) makes you hugely kiteable (which crushes your potential dps output).


Finally, no you can't just horizontal jump over anything that is prone. The alien ATST proned in the hall because of a readied Grease is the obstacle. How are a bunch of ATSTs leaping over a prone ATST in a 10*10*15 corridor? That is some beyond Matrix level wire-fu there. The PHB says you can attempt to clear a "low obstacle" and puts the clearance max for the low obstacle to a horizontal long jump at 1/4 the jump; otherwise you hit it. There is no way a Large or Huge creature proned in a hallway on Grease is a "low obstacle". This basically means that somewhere around 5-7 ft is pretty much going to be the absolute max a reasonable creature can clear in a horizontal long jumps (basically the world record longjump in our world...which is what DC exactly in 5e?...when it doesn't have a ceiling for a 12 ft ATST to contend with?) and you're putting a huge DC on the Athletics check (or they hit it) or you're outright ruling you can't jump it (because its not a "low obstacle"). These tanks would weigh an absolute F-ton and their girth would be huge even if prone. Clearing that looks to be outside of what should be reasonable or at least a significant Athletics DC if you can even try it. Couple with the corridor for the ceiling? If you're a GM who is allowing that outright or putting a low/medium/or even high DC on that I_never_ever_ever want to hear about punishing DCs for Fighters or Rogues when they're trying to do epic level athletic/acrobatics maneuvers (their power : weight ratio compared to these tanks is PROFOUNDLY in the favor of the Epic Fighter/Rogue....yet, these ATSTs are supposed to just pull off a simple leap move here?).

If they can't jump it and you're ruling that they can indeed treat it as "difficult terrain", then they're saving against Grease (which, personally, I think that is a hugely contentious ruling...out in the open, not in a corridor, not a creature who takes up nearly all the space of a corridor, w/o a terrain hazard like Grease...sure...when everything is pointing the opposite direction...questionable ruling in my opinion). Either way, its a train-wreck of action denial by the Tanks. That is how Grease can create a huge chokepoint and debilitate the action economy of reinforcing large creatures w/ bad dex in a dungeon corridor.

And linking terrain features by way of a strategically placed 4 SQ zone which complicates your path to your potential melee multiattack targets by even +15 ft (or 3 SQ) can create action denial and turn melee multiattackers into single target ranged attackers as they're forced to deal with terrain + movement enabled kiting.


+++++++++++++++++

Again, the problem isn't low level Wizards with Grease. Its high level Wizards with Grease (because it gives them a hugely effective, nil-cost, tool in the toolbox to seriously damage encounter archetype (which is exactly what you're looking for as a high level Wizard...Rock for when Scissors is thrown at you, Paper for when Rock is thrown at you, Scissors for when Paper is thrown at you, the ability to surveil so you know enemy weaknesses/what problems you're going to face, the ability to dictate Long Rest Recharge, and tactical Nukes when you feel like it).
 
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Teemu

Adventurer
I haven’t found higher level wizards or other spellcasters to dominate fights in 5e simply because classes like fighter and rogue can deal a lot of damage, particularly to those important boss-type targets. Yeah, wizards have much better area control and really strong debuffs, but they typically can’t deal as much damage. You often also have to deal with elemental resistances and immunities, magic resistance, and of course the dreaded legendary resistance.

Now, out of combat, higher level spellcasters absolutely do steal the spotlight.
 

Wizards don't need to maintain their 1st level spell slots. The low level slots need to disappear as they level up, so they are spending higher level spells if they wish to have this effect.

(Or if that seems counter-intuitive it's not that they lose slots, it's that their slots upgrade - like Warlocks. See the 13th Age progression for Wizards as an example. They cap out at 12 slots total).

Of course, this should really go along with reducing the numer of encounters expected per long rest.
 

MarkB

Legend
If I understand correctly, the setup was this one :

....................WALLS WALLS
Line GREASE
of GREASE INCOMINGFIREGIANTS
PC GREASE
................ WALLS WALLS WALLS

The grease was cast underneath the lead fire giant (who covered in fact, being a 2x2 creature, all of the greasy area) and was prone.

If this is the correct setup then:

1. By RAW, even without grease, the Giants would not have been able to push through the PCs. In this setup the big tactical advantage was the presence of walls, so the PCs would face the giants one after the other. The first of them being prone is a mild situation benefit compared to the hug benefit of having to fight a string of CR9 creature at level 17 instead of a group of CR9 creatures.

2. The prone giant #1 covering the greasy area couldn't be leaped over, not because he was there (allies don't count as obstruction, as pointed out already) but because of the PCs standing just behind him. Grease didn't increase the chokepoint's value here. If there was a space between the Greasy, giant-occupied area and the PCs, they other giants could have jumped over their comrade-in-arms, negating the threat of grease. Edit (since the ability to jump over the Grease area was questioned after this post): a STR 25 fire giant can do long jump of 25 feet per the rules. With a DC 10 Athletic checks (and with +11, it would be easy), he can clear an obstacle a quarter the length of the jump, so 6-7 ft. A prone large creature is certainly less than 2m high...)

3. Regularly intelligent, trained soldiers would certainly retreat and take the fight to a more favorable position instead of dying one after the other at a very disadvantageous bottleneck, wouldn't they?

4. To save the fight's epicness, they giants might have just shot at the wall with their 4d10+7 pew pew gun. A single attack could very well destroy a 10x10 section of it (based on the stats of the wall of stone in the wall of stone spells) to make a larger opening and remove the bottleneck. You probably envisioned something more like a steel wall, but then since they are reskinned as giant robot of doom, giving the rock attack the Siege Weapon quality could have been done on the fly to improve the game experience.

5. The ony actual benefit of grease seems to be that first fire lemming was prone instead of standing. Which is nice but hardly game changing (if they are ready to use a bad portent roll, the fighter could have shoved the giant on the first attack and made two subsequent attacks over the same action).
Just to point out, a creature can move through enemies' spaces if it is at least two size categories different than them. So a huge fire giant with strength 25 and a running start could clear not only a grease patch but also the line of medium creatures standing beyond it in a long jump. It might need to double-move to make that jump, but if that leaves the PCs between it and its ally that's following along behind, that seems like a reasonable trade-off.
 


In addition to what Vaalingrade has said, there is the following:

Either, (1) Grease and other first-level debuffs are not very useful especially in limited numbers, in which case low-level wizards are underpowered.

Or else, (2) Grease and other first-level debuffs are useful, in which case higher levels wizards have this thing which was useful even in limited numbers essentially on-tap. Hence higher level wizards are overpowered.
Or else (3) Grease and other low level debuffs are highly situational and you can't rely on them. Grease e.g. is a fine spell for dungeon crawling when you can use it to mess up a corridor but it's not great most of the time. This doesn't make it useless, especially when it's not one slot to one spell.
This doesn't occur with damaging effects, because hit points scale with level and hence damaging effects decrease in utility with level. The issue pertains to debuffs whose effectiveness doesn't scale down even as the resource cost of deployment decreases to (effectively) zero.
The low level spells that stay relevant and scale well are the defensive ones like Mage Armour, Shield, and Absorb Elements and the utility spells. Being able to halve incoming fire damage or gain a +5 to AC both do scale effectively and I think Featherfall gets more useful at high level. You don't need every spell to scale for the combined kit to.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Either, (1) Grease and other first-level debuffs are not very useful especially in limited numbers, in which case low-level wizards are underpowered.

Or else, (2) Grease and other first-level debuffs are useful, in which case higher levels wizards have this thing which was useful even in limited numbers essentially on-tap. Hence higher level wizards are overpowered.
There are rarely only 2 options. So let me walk you through the 3rd option.

At level 1 you can prepare 4 spells and there are significantly stronger spells for low level characters to take. Sleep or Magic Missile or Burning Hands or even Silent Image all come to mind as strong general purpose level 1 spells. Grease is only very strong in very particular situations and offers very mild benefits otherwise. For example, one often can go whole campaigns and never have a setup where grease was as useful as it was in the Fire Giant encounter described. A level 1 Wizard also only gets 3 slots in the day (counting arcane recovery). He had better make those slots count and it's very unlikely using grease at low level is going to do so.

At higher level, (1) Level 3+ Concentration spells are the real powerhouses and you can only have 1 of those up at a time. (2) You end up with more than enough slots to cast 1 high impact level 3+ concentration spell every encounter (with plenty of slots left over). (3) Damage spells become relatively weaker (even at level damage spells start to fall off compared to the % of hp they take away from enemies). (4) A higher level wizard has enough spells to know/prepare that he can use some on situationally strong+efficient spells. (5) Grease and other non-concentration spells like blindness/deafness (blind grants advantage/disadvantage and many spells require sight) have additional strong use cases at higher level as they can be paired with strong concentration spells and (6) you have enough slots to do so without fear of too quickly running out.

TLDR: option 3 is that grease and other non-concentration non-damage spells tend to be very mediocre on low level wizards, while becoming relatively stronger on higher level wizards primarily through spell and slot proliferation, high scaling hp of enemies, and non concentration status. Even then, such non-concentration spells most often serve as helper spells to the more generally strong concentration spells and very rarely are situationally strong enough to use by themselves in any encounter of note.

*Of note: I agree that higher level Wizards are more powerful than fighters, just not because of grease.

This doesn't occur with damaging effects, because hit points scale with level and hence damaging effects decrease in utility with level. The issue pertains to debuffs whose effectiveness doesn't scale down even as the resource cost of deployment decreases to (effectively) zero.
Which ends up being a big part of why your analysis fails IMO. And resource cost isn't effectively zero. Your low level slots remain the most efficient slots to use for defensive spells and such spells will still be in competition with spells like grease.

In AD&D OA, warriors (7th level kensai, 6th level samurai) had an ability to cause 1 HD or fewer foes to flee or surrender in fear. The HD limit is fairly harsh (although less so in AD&D than in more recent versions of the game, because of conceits in early D&D around the role of guards, soldiers, bandits etc and how they are to be statted up), but this shows how high level warriors can be given AoE debuffs that are genre-appropriate.
IMO, There's a reason the game went away from such abilities.
 
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TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Wizards don't need to maintain their 1st level spell slots. The low level slots need to disappear as they level up, so they are spending higher level spells if they wish to have this effect.

(Or if that seems counter-intuitive it's not that they lose slots, it's that their slots upgrade - like Warlocks. See the 13th Age progression for Wizards as an example. They cap out at 12 slots total).

Of course, this should really go along with reducing the numer of encounters expected per long rest.
Or Warlock style casting should simply be the standard.
 



Grease specifically is fine balance wise because all it does it make it slightly easier for the PCs who do lots of damage to do that damage. Accuracy is already high so advantage is not really as much as a big deal as it may sound (unless you're fighting something overlevelled or with unusually high AC. Monsters main defence is bags of hit points.

And it's usually going to be the Martials to do the damage and take advantage of Grease.

A character that gives other people the chance to be awesome is not really much of a balance problem.
 


TwoSix

Unserious gamer
IMO. They would just rest alot more. Could actually make them more powerful.
I haven't seen that too much, even in parties with multiple short resters. Now, if every caster was on a short-rest schedule, you might see a "one encounter, rest for an hour paradigm" emerge, that's true. But not having access to the the low-level defensives like shield and mirror image still hurts wizards quite a bit.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
The big problem with the "casters become really powerful when low level slots are more available" is that the continual slowdown of slot progression ensures that never really happens while preventing the from gaining much growth in high level slots after the first
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  • Level five is anything but "high level" and is where the slowdown begins when they fail to gain their 4th second level slot. It's not that they gain it later, a level 20 full caster still only as 3 second level slots.
  • Level seven is a decent level but probably not what many typically consider "high level". Here too they fail to gain a 4th 3rd level slot that never comes. Instead they gain one 4th level slot rather than 2 like when they got 2 first second & third level slots at 1 3 & 5
  • Level eight the slowdown continues as they gain a second level 4 slot a level late.
  • Level nine the slower progression of 4th level slots continues with casters gaining the 3rd 4th level slot a level late and continue with the slow 1 slot start on 5th level spells
  • Level ten could be considered high level with casters gaining one 6th level slot & not gaining the second until level nineteen A caster might gain one 7th one 8th and one 9th level slot but they are effectively frozen where they were a level or two ago
  • Level 11 fighters gain 3rd attack and caster spell slot gains are basically frozen.
Back in 3.5 casters got a lot of power as they accumulate lots of spell slots with powerful spells, 5e took aim at the spells as well as the slot progression, removed the hit penalty on second/third/fourth attack, added concentration, tuned monsters to thwart the 3.5 caster
 

Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
* Your optimal path of movement to a high mobility + kite-capable target is (say) 6 squares (within your move).

* A spell that plops down a 4 SQ control zone which connects other pieces of continuous terrain punishment then turns your 6 squares of movement into 8 or 9 (as you have to reroute from the prior optimal path)...now you're screwing with action economy sufficient to equal action denial of melee multiattack by proxy. Your left with a catch 22 of spending action economy to Dash and hope you can close to melee to deploy multiattack...except the Swashbackler can just dance away without OA and the Wizard has Misty Step at-will (so both have AoE avoiding Dash at-will). So you're in a position of pretty much being locked out of multiattack...so your potential damage output is wrecked.
You just jump over the grease effect if it's in your optimal path. If someone does the readied spell thing to catch the first 'giant', then that giant slips and falls blocking the hall... then uses it's action to dash, which lets it stand up and move 3 squares out of the way and clears the hallway for its buddies. So you've used an 18th level spellcaster's action to block one enemy from getting attacks for a turn. That might be a reasonable trade, but it isn't 'wrecking' anything about the action economy, you're trading one PCs main action and reaction (and, again, in a lot of level 18 fights giving up the ability to counterspell for a round is a big deal) to stop one enemy's main action.

If you're they can't jump over it because you've decided the roof is too short, I'd say that the scenario is too contrived to be a general rule. I'm also not really sure how the 4 giants with a 30' move the lead one of which needed at least 20' of movement to get to a PC who is in an area that's generally 10' wide were going to gang up on a PC without grease blocking one. It sounds like the best they could do without grease is get one giant engaged with a PC and the rest stuck behind him, or maybe have one squeeze next to the PC and a second one engage the PC with the other two behind. 30' move large creatures can't gang up very well in 10' wide corridors.

* This terrain-abuse (lets call it) makes you hugely kiteable (which crushes your potential dps output).
Move 30 creatures against level 18 PCs are generally highly kiteable unless there's something about the terrain that forces the PCs to fight instead of kite. The grease spell doesn't have anything to do with that.

Finally, no you can't just horizontal jump over anything that is prone.

You're wrong about this, but I deliberately cut those points out of my response because I'm not interested in arguing about the jumping rules, and literally none of what I'm discussing involves jumping over a prone creature. There's no reason for one of the giants to lay prone in the grease, they can always dash, stand up, and clear the way for those behind.

And linking terrain features by way of a strategically placed 4 SQ zone which complicates your path to your potential melee multiattack targets by even +15 ft (or 3 SQ) can create action denial and turn melee multiattackers into single target ranged attackers as they're forced to deal with terrain + movement enabled kiting

Again, it doesn't complicate their path. If one gets caught by a readied action casting then he dashes to clear the way (effectively trading one PC's action and reaction to stop one enemy's attack sequence), and the others just jump over the grease. I don't think that using the dash action and 'no roll required' jumps is anything special, and 18th level characters kiting 30' move enemies who are in a space that is more confined for them than for PCs is generally going to be pretty easy.
 

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