5E Ways to tackle etherealness

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
So my players are pretty high level and etherealness is an excellent way for them to glide through trouble. They’re going to be riding on a carpeting the next session and will encounter a massive dust storm (like they get in deserts, see Mad Max: Fury Road) and I would like this to be an exciting encounter, but my fear is the cleric will cast etherealness so they avoid it. I guess one answer is to try and make the cleric burn their high level slot before they encounter the storm, but that is quite a gamble. The storm of course could last longer than 8 hours... and then they’d trying to fly through it in the dark...

Wondering if any of you experts had some better ideas?
 

uzirath

Adventurer
Ah, at their level, this storm is clearly more than meets the eye. While the storm seems mundane enough on the material plane, it is actually bleeding over from a far worse ethereal maelstrom. Perhaps when the characters go ethereal, they are separated rapidly in the chaos. If they re-materialize, they will no longer be on their carpet and will have to spend time and resources regrouping.

Edit: Upon further consideration, if you go this route, you might introduce some clues to the ethereal origin of the storm or even have some sort of action that the party needs to take at the storm's epicenter to stop the interplanar leakage. Something to make it feel less like a "gotcha" trap designed to short-circuit a useful spell.
 
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Wondering if any of you experts had some better ideas?
Personally, I'd simply allow the group to spend a high level spell slot to avoid the challenge. Assuming they don't have an opportunity to long rest before the rest of the adventure, the cost of the spell slot is perfectly acceptable for such a challenge.

If you HAVE to have the party interact with the storm, I'd make it a magical conjunction between the mortal plane and the elemental chaos. Since the conjunction would take place through the ethereal plane, everything in it would be part of the ethereal plane (the spell wouldn't be cast, unless outside the storm). I'd give indications that the storm is magical/unworldly in nature as the party approaches, giving them options on how to handle it. As for how/why such a storm takes place, that's up to you, but it also doesn't have to be anything to do with the players either.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
I’m also worried the other players are going to start getting annoyed that challenges are too easily circumvented. I.e, only the cleric is getting a chance to shine.
 

NotAYakk

Adventurer
I am going to frame challenge.

A storm is not a challenge suitable for 15th level characters. 15th level characters are at the cusp of transitioning from paragons to frankly superheroes.

A mundane dust or sand storm is background, texture; not a suitable challenge at this point.

While 5e is much flatter than most previous versions of D&D, the kind of challenges you use need to change as the party gains levels. Some tricks have to fall out of your playbook.

A dragon flying in a continent-scale sandstorm, descending on cities and eroding them to dust? The city of brass hiding in the storm? A series of chaotic portals to other worlds that have unleashed a mixture of blizzards, sandstorms and lightning filled hellscapes?

In every case, the storm is background behind the real threat or problem.
 
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FreeTheSlaves

Explorer
An Adult Blue Dragon flying in a lightning and dust storm, with enhanced blindsight, and spell casting (See invisibility, Blink, Planeshift or Etherealness), acting on advice from a Divination to thwart the characters.

Er, what NotAYakk said.
 
One way to look at it is don't think of the storm as a challenge but a question. What caused the Strom? Where is it coming from/going? Is it a threat to others?

An encounter just for the sake of it will always be lacking.
One trick is to think of the storm as an NPC with goals/flaws/and so on. It helps to frame and present it better.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
Make the storm originate in the Etheral plane like @Shiroiken suggested.
Have three portals inside the ethereal to elemental plane of earth and air and to limbo for the chaotic aspect of it. It manifests there as well.

You see, that is why I am always so skeptical on handwaving these "trivial exploration gimmicks" which seem to be expectation for every setting (e.g. Fly, levitate, featherfall, Ropetrick, tiny hut, all sorts of teleportation and gating and you got etheralness, wind walk etc.)

In some campaigns they are the topping on the cake and do not cause much trouble. In others they destrpy the whole pillar of exploration and dangerous travel, act like an access all areas backstage pass, a go free out of prison/manacles/ every situation.

Other such spells (with less impact but still diametric to some themes) are have your weapon available all the time /and eventually it is even magic (bladelock), summon free disposable eye in the sky super drone with telepathic radio (find familiar) which in former editions always had some drawback and now are mostly a whenever you so desire thing.

There is also something called an etherstorm google for it, I cannot look it up atm. It would be another alternative to make your storm challenging.

Some standard procedures are fine, like the rogue checking for traps, or a fixed situational marchorder. But if Etherealness is the first thing to for the group to use in every nontrivial travel situation, then you might as well install fixed teleporters at all your campaign locations, it does not make any difference.

To help you more it would be good to know some more detail of your campaign, since it seems to be a reccuring pain for you as DM.

Edit: have some 5th magnitude ghosts going crazy on them for disturbing them in the ether plane all the time if nothing else helps (You have to homebrew these though 5e mm won't help you, just include hefty 4d20 years aging attacks!). Send them to Ravenloft the next time they try the trick "unjustified", maybe they triggered a planar anomaly.

Do only use every hampering theme once, then they cannot complain. Give them a hefty encounter without the possibility to rest, so hefty, that the cleric has to burn his slot.
 
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Random Encounters on the Ethereal Plane
  1. Aerial Servant (needs conversion) or Invisible Stalker
  2. Ghost using Dael Kingsmill's ideas
  3. Cavalcade of 3d6 wraiths astride skeletal warhorses, responding to a mysterious hunting horn
  4. Medusa with shattered misty court, basilisk pets, ethereal filchers stealing for her (needs conversion), and statues which she can animate as stone cursed (MToF)
  5. Phase Spiders (2d6) and homebrewed huge Phase Spider Matron with lair/legendary actions
  6. Weird monster from past editions (d10: 1-2=Xill, 3-4=Dhour, 5-6=Terithran, 7-8=Thought Eater, 9-10=Dharculus), needs conversion
  7. Procession of jann genies (2d6) headed to or from the City of the Jann, needs conversion
  8. A genie (d4: 1=dao, 2=djinn, 3=efreet, 4=marid)
  9. Illusionborn (illusion spell made permanent and sentient)
  10. Shedu, Lamassu, or Foo Lion (use ki-rin stats from VGtM)
  11. Beholder, Death Tyrant
  12. Night Hag Coven
  13. Evil adventurers astride Nightmares
  14. Succubus/Incubus
  15. Ethereal marauders (1d4), need conversion
  16. Devourer (VGtM)
  17. Ship of neogi (2d6; VGtM), each with a charmed umber hulk or veteran, led by a neogi master (VGtM)
  18. Pack of yeth hounds (2d6; VGtM) awaiting call of their archfey master
  19. Nagpa (MToF) in search of ancient relics amidst misty lost civilizations
  20. Ether Cyclone (see DMG p.49)
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Thanks for the ideas folks, the party is already on an adventure to retrieve a mcguffin so I’m not interested in starting a whole new threat, just trying to throw some obstacles in their path so that the journey is memorable and challenging. The storm is not intended to be the entire adventuring day but a reason to seek shelter in an ancient temple that provides its own set of challenges.

I like the multi-planar storm and perhaps that’s a hook for some follow on adventure? But the players are at level 20, so I’m looking to wrap things up with this final adventure :)
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
I figure the ethereal plane is a good place for encountering outsiders on their way to and from the material plane. Ones who haven't shown up in your campaign can be surprising (slaadi are often unexpected and the Ygorl, the Lord of Entropy just got statted up (at CR 23) in Mordenkainen’s Fiendish Folio, Volume 1: Monsters Malevolent and Benign, which is official WotC product for Extra Life on the DM Guild, so you can have a high level slaadi present).
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I'd make the storm the result of a struggle between powerful djinns on the ethereal plane. Going to the ethereal plane means going from the frying pan into the fire.

When one of the djinns notice them they get thrown out into the temple.

Or the spell simply doesn't work but because there is no valid target, the spell slot is not wasted.
 
One trope it might be useful for your players to learn is that magic shouldn't be used for trivial purposes.

So the sandstorm should pose minimal threat if the PCs take conventional precautions. But if they go ethereal they encounter all sorts of ghosts and monsters.
 

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