5E What's up with Vicious Mockery?

The problem that I've found in practice when using Vicious Mockery against big, dumb heavy hitters - which is where you'd think it would be the most effective - (such as the zombie t-rex in ToA) is that while they're likely to fail the Wis save, they're also likely to land attacks even with disadvantage due to really heavy melee attack bonuses (like +10). Disadvantage isn't that great against something that is going to connect with an attack roll of like 5 or higher. Basically, I do think it's a pretty great cantrip in tier one, but it hits the wall HARD at tier two.
The two CR7 giants both have a +9, so to hit on a 5 your melee combatants need to only have 14 AC in Tier two. Heavy armor types like STR fighters, Paladins, and melee clerics should have at least splint by then, giving them 17/19. Dex types should be around 15-16 (Studded leather plus 3-4 from Dex). Medium armor types should be 16-17 if they do a +2 dex and shield. Moon druids and barbarians will probably be in that 14-15 range since they rely on resistance or form HP, while Ranged attackers and casters should endeavor to stay out of melee. General buffs and reaction spells like shield can mess with this too, but I think it's fair not to worry about an EK rocking 24 AC for this comparison. When you take the +9 up against AC17, it's still quite effective (hitting on an 8), but that's a 65% chance of a hit normally vs a 42% with disad - it's not the drop from 50 to 25 that you get at 11, but I'd say it's still a pretty effective reduction. Down at 5 it's 80% normal 64% with disad, where I'd agree that it's not overly effective. As the long-running 11 vs 20 argument shows there's a lot of variation in opinions of how good disadvantage is, but I think that it's not unreasonable for a party to have good enough ACs in melee that disadvantage is still effective even with +9-10 attack bonus.
 

Burnside

Explorer
The two CR7 giants both have a +9, so to hit on a 5 your melee combatants need to only have 14 AC in Tier two. Heavy armor types like STR fighters, Paladins, and melee clerics should have at least splint by then, giving them 17/19. Dex types should be around 15-16 (Studded leather plus 3-4 from Dex). Medium armor types should be 16-17 if they do a +2 dex and shield. Moon druids and barbarians will probably be in that 14-15 range since they rely on resistance or form HP, while Ranged attackers and casters should endeavor to stay out of melee. General buffs and reaction spells like shield can mess with this too, but I think it's fair not to worry about an EK rocking 24 AC for this comparison. When you take the +9 up against AC17, it's still quite effective (hitting on an 8), but that's a 65% chance of a hit normally vs a 42% with disad - it's not the drop from 50 to 25 that you get at 11, but I'd say it's still a pretty effective reduction. Down at 5 it's 80% normal 64% with disad, where I'd agree that it's not overly effective. As the long-running 11 vs 20 argument shows there's a lot of variation in opinions of how good disadvantage is, but I think that it's not unreasonable for a party to have good enough ACs in melee that disadvantage is still effective even with +9-10 attack bonus.
This is quite true. I guess I'm viewing it through the prism of my low-AC Tomb of Annihilation party where my bard (AC 15) is working with a tiefling tomelock (AC 13), Circle of Shepherd lizardfolk druid (AC 16), and a tabaxi scout rogue (AC 15). All level 5, and we tend to get hit by everything. More often than not, if I can save people a beating it's not by imposing disadvantage with VM, it's with Cutting Words.
 

Stalker0

Adventurer
One thing I keep seeing in this theoretical analysis is a comparison of "hit on an 11" vs "hit on a 20".

Thing is, only hit on a 20 just doesn't really happen in this edition. Monster ACs don't scale that much. Even a 1st level character can hit CR20+ creatures on more than a 20.

So that scenario doesn't really have any bearing to the effectiveness of a mechanic, doesn't matter if its an optimal math scenario or not.
 
This is quite true. I guess I'm viewing it through the prism of my low-AC Tomb of Annihilation party where my bard (AC 15) is working with a tiefling tomelock (AC 13), Circle of Shepherd lizardfolk druid (AC 16), and a tabaxi scout rogue (AC 15). All level 5, and we tend to get hit by everything. More often than not, if I can save people a beating it's not by imposing disadvantage with VM, it's with Cutting Words.
Funny how that works, I'm in the opposite situation in my TOA game. My Cleric 1/Warlock 5 character is the low AC one at 16. The other regulars include two clerics who sport splint and shield for 19 (they love to cast guardian spirit and wade into the middle of enemies) and a wizard (with 1 level of cleric) who wears splint and shield AND has the shield spell on speed dial, so effectively has 24 most of the time.
 
I love this thread. The funny part is as a re-entry DM (back to doing it after a long hiatus from RPGs) I got caught off guard with my rather large party of 7 players (all level 2) including 2 Bards. VM made it hard to get a hit in against the players and they just mopped up the rather large party of ghouls. so much so I thought I would look around to see thoughts on it. I don't want to be that DM who specifically adjusts encounters to fight a particular tactic but I am looking for suitable monsters with better wisdom saves...
 

Dausuul

Legend
I love this thread. The funny part is as a re-entry DM (back to doing it after a long hiatus from RPGs) I got caught off guard with my rather large party of 7 players (all level 2) including 2 Bards. VM made it hard to get a hit in against the players and they just mopped up the rather large party of ghouls. so much so I thought I would look around to see thoughts on it. I don't want to be that DM who specifically adjusts encounters to fight a particular tactic but I am looking for suitable monsters with better wisdom saves...
Generally, when the PCs have specialized in a particular tactic, I respond by cranking up the overall encounter difficulty, and designing most (but not all) encounters to be vulnerable to the chosen tactic, so it will bring the difficulty back down to "normal" level. This allows the players to really work their strategy and to feel that they made a good investment, while keeping things challenging and exciting for all concerned. Meanwhile, the few encounters where the tactic is not effective keep them on their toes. :)
 

Mistwell

Hero
Interesting to see the evolution of this thread over years.

For my part, a shield spell, one of the most popular spells in the game, gives a +5 AC, uses a reaction, and is a first level spell. It does last for all attacks for that round however.
A successful Vicious Mockery effectively gives roughly a +5 AC to the next person attacked by that target, AND does damage, though it does not last beyond that first attack and is cast as an attack instead of a reaction. However, it's also just a cantrip rather than a first level spell.

It's good. Darn good. Disadvantage on the next attack for a cantrip is a really effective use of your turn from range sometimes. It can save way more damage to someone than an ordinary attack cantrip can cause to a target.
 
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Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Generally, when the PCs have specialized in a particular tactic, I respond by cranking up the overall encounter difficulty, and designing most (but not all) encounters to be vulnerable to the chosen tactic, so it will bring the difficulty back down to "normal" level. This allows the players to really work their strategy and to feel that they made a good investment, while keeping things challenging and exciting for all concerned. Meanwhile, the few encounters where the tactic is not effective keep them on their toes. :)
So many other DMs would go the other way but I really applaud you going this way. If they've doubled down on the feature, let it feel like it's making a real difference.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Interesting to see the evolution of this thread over years.

For my part, a shield spell, one of the most popular spells in the game, gives a +5 AC, uses a reaction, and is a first level spell. It does last for all attacks for that round however.
A successful Vicious Mockery effectively gives roughly a +5 AC to the next person attacked by that target, AND does damage, though it does not last beyond that first attack and is cast as an attack instead of a reaction. However, it's also just a cantrip rather than a first level spell.

It's good. Darn good. Disadvantage on the next attack for a cantrip is a really effective use of your turn from range sometimes. It can save way more damage to someone than an ordinary attack cantrip can cause to a target.
To compare it to Shield, it would need to force a reroll of the next hit, rather then d20 of what could both be misses. Because Shield doesn't even have a chance to trigger without a hit, so it's never wasted.

But yeah, it's quite good.
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
A successful Vicious Mockery effectively gives roughly a +5 AC to the next person attacked by that target,
It does not do this. I do wish I could completely stomp this out. It's not just technically wrong, it's also just misleading.
 

Mistwell

Hero
It does not do this. I do wish I could completely stomp this out. It's not just technically wrong, it's also just misleading.
Are you arguing disadvantage is not the rough equivalent to -5, or that -5 to the attack is not the rough equivalent to +5 to the AC they're attacking?
 

Mistwell

Hero
Why is disadvantage not the rough equivalent to -5? The PHB lists the value as 5 for passive checks from advantage/disadvantage.

From here, where they crunch the math, "The general rule of thumb that in the mid range of the d20 (from success on a 9+ to 12+) advantage grant roughly a equivalent to a +5 bonus and disadvantage a -5 penalty. "

and

"The PHB provides a short cut for applying advantage via a +5 modifier to supplant the roll. Coincidently

6.650 - (6.650-3.325)/2 = 4.9875 ~ 5"
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Why is disadvantage not the rough equivalent to -5? The PHB lists the value as 5 for passive checks from advantage/disadvantage.

From here, where they crunch the math, "The general rule of thumb that in the mid range of the d20 (from success on a 9+ to 12+) advantage grant roughly a equivalent to a +5 bonus and disadvantage a -5 penalty. "

and

"The PHB provides a short cut for applying advantage via a +5 modifier to supplant the roll. Coincidently

6.650 - (6.650-3.325)/2 = 4.9875 ~ 5"
Well, as I said, it's technically incorrect. For starters, you can't map a triangular distribution to a flat bonus without losing lots of information (which you are). Secondly, the impact is not the same. If the disad target needed an 16 to hit you, shield makes you unhittable except on a crit, but disadvantage does not (it reduces your chance of being hit from 4/20 to 16/400, or from 20% to roughly 4%. This is actually a titch better than shield in this regard. If the target can only hit you on a 20, shield does nothing for you, but disadvantage makes the odds of hitting you go from 5% to 0.25%.

On the other side, if the target needs a 7 to hit you, shield changes your chances of being hit from 70% to 45%. Disadvantage changes those chances from 70% to 49%, or almost a full "point" less than shield. This is, of course, misleading again, because shield doesn't protect you from crits, but disad does no matter what the target number needed is by strongly reducing the chance of a critical hit.

On to the mean! The mean of advantage is 13.82 with a standard deviation of 4.71. This means that roughly 67% of all rolls with be between an 18 and a 9. Contrasted with a straight d20 with a mean of 10.5 and an sd of 5.77, making 67% of all rolls between 5 and 16 (which is 13/20 options or 65%, so, duh). The difference at the edges is 4 at the low end and 2 at the high end. This doesn't at all look like a flat +5.

And, while at exactly 10, the chances of rolling at least a 15 on advantage vs a straight +5 matches very closely, it quickly diverges. By the time you get to the chance for rolling a 21, they're infinitely far apart. This does, however, illustrate the +5 to passive rolls mechanic of advantage -- considering that you're assuming a roll of a 10 already, this is a very quick and fairly adequate shortcut, but it holds only on assumed rolls over time (like passive scores are meant to represent). If you actually roll, the differences are quickly apparent.

So, yeah, it's technically wrong on many counts, but it's also misleading because the +5 comparison only holds in specific circumstances in a very narrow range (pretty much 9-12) and if you're far outside this (like say near 18) it's an assumption that will mislead you pretty badly as to what your actual chances are. It needs to die as a meme.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
Why is disadvantage not the rough equivalent to -5? The PHB lists the value as 5 for passive checks from advantage/disadvantage.

From here, where they crunch the math, "The general rule of thumb that in the mid range of the d20 (from success on a 9+ to 12+) advantage grant roughly a equivalent to a +5 bonus and disadvantage a -5 penalty. "
It's the equivalent of -5, if you're operating at the middle of the die range, but who does that? Characters don't often take actions that have an even chance of success or failure. Most gameplay involves specialists doing the thing that they're specialized in, or using abilities that target someone's worst save.
 

Eubani

Explorer
Keep in mind that Bards are magically designed for buffing, debuffing and indirect magical effects instead of damage. If everybody did close to the same amount of damage the Fighter may as well go hang himself as that is all he has. The spellcasting Bard is a tool of subtlety not a beat stick.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Rough equivalent does not mean exactly equal in 100% of circumstances.

The typical use case for vicious mockery is a PC casting it on a monster. The monster is seldom a versatile combatant choosing from a wide array of options. It usually has few if any options other than "beat somebody over the head." It can also be expected to have a midrange attack bonus giving it somewhere around a 50-65% chance to hit (depending on the monster and the target). Disadvantage will reduce this by somewhere between 22.75 and 25 percentage points.

Thus, "roughly -5" is a perfectly good estimate in this scenario. In fact, it is a fairly good estimate in most scenarios. Crits have a negligible impact on overall damage unless you have a special ability to exploit crits in some way (e.g., a vorpal sword or paladin smite), and standard deviation is irrelevant when there are only two possible outcomes ("hit" or "miss") and the probability of each can be computed exactly.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Rough equivalent does not mean exactly equal in 100% of circumstances.

The typical use case for vicious mockery is a PC casting it on a monster. The monster is seldom a versatile combatant choosing from a wide array of options. It usually has few if any options other than "beat somebody over the head." It can also be expected to have a midrange attack bonus giving it somewhere around a 50-65% chance to hit (depending on the monster and the target). Disadvantage will reduce this by somewhere between 22.75 and 25 percentage points.

Thus, "roughly -5" is a perfectly good estimate in this scenario. In fact, it is a fairly good estimate in most scenarios. Crits have a negligible impact on overall damage unless you have a special ability to exploit crits in some way (e.g., a vorpal sword or paladin smite), and standard deviation is irrelevant when there are only two possible outcomes ("hit" or "miss") and the probability of each can be computed exactly.
I disagree strongly with this assessment of the usual roll needed. The CR system means that parties are often facing solo or duo threats that are significantly more likely to land attacks or threats that have smaller bonuses but are nunerically superior. It also ignores that many parties have a large disparity in ACs, usually larger than the sweet spot is wide. I find this to be a flawed assumption.

And crits are often bad from the monster side when facing solo or duo threats. Sure, that mob of kobolds, not so much. A hill giant walloping you for 4d12 is not negligible. Crits break the assumption of how many more hits/rounds ypu can last, and I've had more than one combat go suddenly wrong for the players due to a crit.
 

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