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5E Monsters charming PCs during combat

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
I have run a couple of combats now against antagonists that are able to charm PCs. I like the flavor of the ability, but I feel like it runs a severe risk of being unfun by virtue of taking one or more PCs out of the fight completely, leaving the players to sit out in boredom. I'm thinking of things like the Dryad's fey charm or the Vampire's charm ability. Once the charm takes effect, the target doesn't get any more saving throws; the only way to even get a chance of breaking the charm is for the monster or its allies to harm the PC.

Now, a vampire might want to bite the PC, but a Dryad has no reason to harm a target she's already charmed, right?

How do you handle monsters with charm abilities? Do you typically find a way for the monster or its allies to harm the charmed PC?

Do your players enjoy or resent being charmed?

Do you typically grant extra saving throws? Allow other party members to snap the charmed PC out of it?

If you run it by the book, do you find that this leads to combats ending in a TPC (Total Party Charm)?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
If there's an NPC with the party, I like to target the NPC first as it creates a more interesting situation in my view. Failing that, I target a PC and hold them to the effect of the spell.

As always, I try to telegraph to the PCs that they may encounter creatures with these abilities which allows them the opportunity to prepare accordingly. Calm emotions is something clerics in my game regularly take. I never see that spell in other games I play.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
A typical battle is supposed to take around 3 rounds and should take up to 20 minutes.

It's really not that not that long to sit out.

The monsters who have dominate abilities tend to be rare. If your campaign is full of them then it might be worth changing it out to something else.

Otherwise I think having a risk of a PC being taken out of combat by a charm once or twice a campaign is fine.

If you find that combat takes a long time to resolve then that might be the source of the problem rather than the charm itself.
 


MarkB

Legend
I don't find it much of a combat assets, so my NPCs tend to go for more offensive spells. Vampires have better options than Charm Person, anyway.
Charm is a pretty powerful option in combat for a vampire. It instantly eliminates a threat, turning them into an asset, and also allows it to auto-succeed on a Bite on them on subsequent turns. For a standard non-spellcasting vampire, I don't think there's anything in its stat block that will turn the battle in its favour as effectively as using Charm.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Well, there's your two schools of thought right there. To be fair to JD I'm just assuming he's indexing the more damage oriented stuff, he might not be. The grapple-bite combo is, IMO anyway, weaksauce compared to the charm. It's the DC 17 that makes that tick, even 13th level characters might actually fail that occasionally. Even though the charm victims won't attack their friends they are out of the fight (no more saves, no dispel, nothing for 24 hours). Layer on a cunning plan and you see a foe that might actually live up to it's CR. Maybe.
 

Jd Smith1

Explorer
Charm is a pretty powerful option in combat for a vampire. It instantly eliminates a threat, turning them into an asset, and also allows it to auto-succeed on a Bite on them on subsequent turns. For a standard non-spellcasting vampire, I don't think there's anything in its stat block that will turn the battle in its favour as effectively as using Charm.
Nah. if a vampire isn't a spellcaster, it has lost if it engages in a stand-up fight. Sure, it might sideline one PC, but it will die in the volley of actions directed against it in the same combat round.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Divide and conquer is what makes a Vampire encounter tick. Single monsters generally fair poorly in 5e if they just stand and deliver, and the vampire is no exception. Vamps are mobile enough to make things more complicated than a 1 round tko too.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
Nah. if a vampire isn't a spellcaster, it has lost if it engages in a stand-up fight. Sure, it might sideline one PC, but it will die in the volley of actions directed against it in the same combat round.
If a vampire engages in a stand up fight then the DM has messed up.
I found Strahds greatest strengths to be his mobility in combat. His Charm is a powerful addition to the arsenal. He’s also a bit of an outlier.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
I love to use charm in my combats, it makes them so much more dynamic I find, the saves have weight!

Though I don't try to force PC's to fight each other (unless it's dominate). I do the same "your good friend is being fought by your other friends, how do you handle that?" and let the players figure that out for themselves.
 

Unwise

Adventurer
One thing that a lot of people in my games forget is that being charmed does not mean that people now hate their friends. It can be fun being in a situation where your new best friend is fighting your other friends. A PC could validly be healing both sides of the battle while trying to talk people down. Putting themselves between the fighting parties makes sense too.

We had a PC charmed by an evil wizard know that his friends were massively badass and would undoubtedly kill the wizard. As a result, he grappled the guy, through him over his shoulder and ran away, barring the chamber door behind him. When alone and frustrated, the wizard them vampiric touched him for critical damage. The PC then tore the wizard's arms off, thus re-enforcing the idea that the wizard had badly underestimated the party.

We had a wizard get charmed by a vampire's spell in a cramped combat in a small area. Through some cool RP he was convinced that his old friends must be under some kind of charm, to be attacking this clearly innocent and righteous vampire. As a result he cast dispel magic on the room, freeing himself but also revealing that one of the party was an enemy in disguise. Confusion and hilarity ensued.

This being said, Charmed is less fun normally than Dominate. My players love smacking other party members, so they are fully invested in the game when dominated. Being merely charmed just makes them sit out the fight unless they find a way to make it interesting.
 

MarkB

Legend
Vampire Charm can be a little tricky compared to standard charm because of the extra caveats it adds - that the subject feels a need to help and defend the vampire, and sees their instructions in the best possible light.

It's basically super-charm - the vampire isn't just your new friend, they're your best friend ever, the charismatic one who you always find yourself going along with even when you know it's a bad idea.
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
Otherwise I think having a risk of a PC being taken out of combat by a charm once or twice a campaign is fine.

If you find that combat takes a long time to resolve then that might be the source of the problem rather than the charm itself.
Well, the first time this happened to me, it was the endboss of a whole campaign (Esmae Amarantha in DDAL season 4). She had another of those super-charm abilities, where the target would just freeze and be enthralled by her beauty. [ETA: I misremembered; the target wasn't compelled to freeze. Her charm ability works almost exactly the same as the vampire's ability.] The problem wasn't so much the length of time needed for the combat as the fact that she charmed a couple of PCs right off the bat and they didn't get to participate in the final battle at all. I think the players found that seriously unfun.

Looking back, I probably should have had one of the boss's allies unwisely use an AoE spell or something like that, to jolt them out of it.
 
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Jd Smith1

Explorer
Though I don't try to force PC's to fight each other (unless it's dominate). I do the same "your good friend is being fought by your other friends, how do you handle that?" and let the players figure that out for themselves.
Exactly, Charm simply negates a PC.
 


ad_hoc

Hero
Well, the first time this happened to me, it was the endboss of a whole campaign (Esmae Amarantha in DDAL season 4). She had another of those super-charm abilities, where the target would just freeze and be enthralled by her beauty. The problem wasn't so much the length of time needed for the combat as the fact that she charmed a couple of PCs right off the bat and they didn't get to participate in the final battle at all. I think the players found that seriously unfun.

Looking back, I probably should have had one of the boss's allies unwisely use an AoE spell or something like that, to jolt them out of it.
Was there any way for the players to learn of her charm powers ahead of time?

Having a chance to learn that kind of thing and then leaving it up to the players to prepare for how to deal with it might be a fun way of handling it.

I think it is good design to work in extra successes that the players can make which will make their time at the end easier.

This allows for failing forward early on. Get enough of those failures though and the end of the campaign ends up being tough.

Tyranny of Dragons did this with weakening Tiamat.
 

jgsugden

Hero
D&D is an RPG - a role playing game. Characters play a role in a story.

When charmed, their role takes a turn. Encourage the players to embrace their new story and really get into it. Read them the text of the charm ability/spell and then describe the feelings they have towards their 'new ally', and a bit of guidance abot how they feel about their 'true' allies. Then let them go and have fun.

What if they twist and cheat the charm so that it isn't what you described? My advice is to just let it go and let the story they are telling unfold unless they're blatantly ignoring the charm.... as long as they're trying toplay up the charm, even if it isn't how you see it, just let the story unfold and join the players on the ride.
 

dave2008

Legend
Exactly, Charm simply negates a PC.
What other attack can a vampire use that will negate a PC (assuming about 10th level) in one round? You act as if taking a PC out of combat for the entire fight is a bad thing. Isn't that the whole point of combat? In one round the vamp can eliminate a threat that could damage it, and it doesn't have to worry about damaging that character so it can focus on the rest of the party. It is a great option for a vampire. Any other attack would only take about 24 HP of damage. You would probably need to do that at least for 2 rounds to be as effective as a charm. What option do you think would be more effective?
 
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