Any problem spells in 5e?


5th Edition (And Beyond)


In 3.X, we used to complain about broken, problematic, or just plain useless spells all the time.

What spells have you come across in 5e that are broken, problematic, or useless, from either a GM or Player perspective? And I guess it would help if you explained why.

I'm not sure of any myself (yet), but I also haven't done any detailed analysis. I'm just trying to generate conversation.


You know, the only one I've really had a problem with (they've done pretty good at reigning a lot of them in) is bless.

It is an incredibly potent spell but what bothers me is that even if your cleric or pally has tons of other spells they will be concentrating on this one 90% of the time (I think I've seen shield of faith another 7% or so), because that extra 1d4 to saves and attacks is massive.

To me, it doesn't actually feel like the rest of the game. Getting boosts like that is generally very difficult. And this one even as a first level slot affects multiple people for an entire combat. I've strongly considered bumping the spell up a few levels, reigning in the number of targets or something similar but thus far haven't decided what to do with it just yet.

I won't pretend to be a math wiz or to have done the numbers but I'm absolutely sure it skews the bounded curve in a fairly substantial way.

Player's that try use Guidance on every skill check is a similar situation and harder to avoid due to it being a cantrip/orison. Just glad none of my current have done so.

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Yup, Bless and Guidance got considerably stronger, not just in general (from +1s to +1d4s), but also because it's in a bounded accuracy system.


Sleep is still hugely problematic - especially now that there's no saving throw. Unless you want to have Elves as the exclusive bad guys of your campaign it can trivialize a lot of low level encounters. (Our Sorcerer single handedly ended a goblin encounter in the AP that came in the Basic set.)

Also not the spell itself, but the combination of Eldritch Blast with Eldritch Spear and Agonizing Blast can get really annoying for a DM. Suddenly a lot of fights take place in cramped hallways.

As a player I hate pretty much every Enchantment spell that isn't sleep. The odds of most of them sticking in the first place are roughly 50/50, so they're already a terrible gamble and then allow a saving throw every round on top of that. This is a good thing when enemies or NPC's try it on party members, but it makes the entire school a complete non-starter as a PC.


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In my view:

1. Bless is too good relative to the other 1st level spells - I'd have made it one target/spell slot. It's hard to justify using any of the other first level cleric spells most of the time.

2. The charm spells are too weak (especially those which leave the target knowing it's been charmed and hostile after the fact). I'd have much rather they'd granted bonuses to charisma (persuasion) checks.

3. Counterspell has proved supergood against spellcasters, given it's automatically successful on spells up to third level. (Though we give the counterspeller a chance to determine if the caster is casting a cantrip or a proper spell - without that houserule, perhaps it wouldnt be so great).

4. Healing magic is a little underpowered (I'd like it if in combat healing was more often the best choice - as it is, it seems rarely right).

5. The paladin being able to choose to divine smite after a hit seemed too versatile to us - the value of being able to deliver monstrous damage at crucial times meant our paladin rarely used his spells for anything else. Like bless, if one option becomes "default" then I think it's overpowered.


Aleron, Petty Alchemy, and Steve,

So far, my players have ignored guidance and have cast bless once (to help with a terrain challenge on a cliff ledge, if I recall correctly). But I can see the argument presented in the analysis. I've yet to see bless cast in combat.

Belulzebub and Steve,

I haven't seen any charm spells cast; probably because of the weakness. Although my players did lament their hold person spell ending sooner than they'd like due to the per round saves.

And I haven't seen sleep used at my table yet. I'll try to keep it in mind when it pops up and remember to compare to your analysis.

Steve,

3) I can see that. My players haven't even attempted Counterspell (nor have I as a GM), probably because we're so used to it not working from pervious editions. Maybe I'll give it a try and see how it works. Or plant a bug in the ear of a player and get them to try it on bad guys.

4) I feel that this is ok; it prevents clerics from being regulated to in-combat healbots. And tactically, healing was never a good option as a primary during combat; it should only be used when necessary. Here, we have to find a balance between being good enough to be used in combat emergency situations, but not so good that it's an "always chosen" option. Once we get close to the latter stage, we create a dynamic with the players that the cleric haractwr always has to be the healer - something many people do not like. (Of course, if you want to play that type of character, you should).

5) I feel that a paladin's primary role is combat and secondary role is spells (aside from the moral and leadership roles). With that mindset, I feel that a paladin using the vast majority of their spells to amplify their combat abilities is right on target.

------------

The spell I've seen cast most often has been Thunderclap. Our Bard and Druid both use it frequently and in every combat they consider to be challenging, even if they can only target a single foe.

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I know I'm kind of bored casting bless all the time, but it's so potent, it's almost sabotaging my party when my cleric doesn't cast it. I don't think it's overpowered, especially for larger parties that are fighting level-appropriate CRs, adjusted for party size. For example, I'm usually using a 4th level spell slot to target all 6 PCs with bless.

I play a Life cleric, so I get a little boost to my in-combat cures, but the Preserve Life ability is really annoying, because it only works on targets at less than half their hit points. Paladins get a similar ability that affects just wounded PCs. It's just awkward.

Probably something I would houserule when I DM. But I don't think any of my players are choosing the Life domain.

One of our players has had 2 characters (an arcane trickster and a fey pact warlock) that has tried using sleep, but she kept using it as an opening volley spell instead of an encounter ending spell, so she got frustrated with it and has stopped using it for the most point.

But we're dusting off the warlock tonight, so we'll see what happens.

EDIT:

Some of the 1st level spells cause so much damage, they can one shot 1st through 3rd level PCs. I had to homebrew a bunch of weaker spells (or effects) when I wanted to throw a coven of witches or minor hags (before I had the MM) at some low level PCs.

I like the save each round spells because it's more fun for players targeted by them. They're not out of the fight due to a single bad save, and it can build tension by saving every round.


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bookrat wrote:
I haven't seen any charm spells cast; probably because of the weakness. Although my players did lament their hold person spell ending sooner than they'd like due to the per round saves.

This is definitely an expectation one needs to shift when moving from other editions to 5E. Just as we don't all walk around with loads of buffs - the debuffs we do manage to land don't last more than a couple of rounds as a general rule (although there are several exceptions).

Quote:
And I haven't seen sleep used at my table yet. I'll try to keep it in mind when it pops up and remember to compare to your analysis.

I actually like the way sleep works. In my day (AD&D) sleep was the 'kill lots of things without much finesse' spell. The thing I like in 5E is that you don't get to choose the targets - it's creatures from lowest current hit points up. If you wait til near the end of the battle (when you're most likely to take out numerous enemy) you also run the risk of accidentally targetting an ally. (Though I guess if the other party members' hit points is public knowledge this may not be a real risk - it is at our table though).

Quote:

Steve,

3) I can see that. My players haven't even attempted Counterspell (nor have I as a GM), probably because we're so used to it not working from pervious editions. Maybe I'll give it a try and see how it works. Or plant a bug in the ear of a player and get them to try it on bad guys.

I'm playing an abjuration wizard and he's quite fun in a 'foil the DM' kind of way, although he does lousy damage. When he really shines though is when we fight magicusers - as I said though, we do allow an arcana check to distinguish between cantrips and "real spells", so that might be making counterspell seem better than it is.

Quote:
4) I feel that this is ok; it prevents clerics from being regulated to in-combat healbots. And tactically, healing was never a good option as a primary during combat; it should only be used when necessary. Here, we have to find a balance between being good enough to be used in combat emergency situations, but not so good that it's an "always chosen" option. Once we get close to the latter stage, we create a dynamic with the players that the cleric haractwr always has to be the healer - something many people do not like. (Of course, if you want to play that type of character, you should).

Yeah - I just think the line isn't quite right. I've played a few healbots and it doesn't feel like I'm doing enough to justify what I've given up to be an in-combat healer. If cure wounds was d10/d12s and healing word d6s/d8s or something (or if it varied based on the hit die of the target - another preference I have) then I think I'd consider it good enough without it being always the right option.

As it is now, it feels like an option which isn't really an option since there's nearly always something better to do.

Quote:
5) I feel that a paladin's primary role is combat and secondary role is spells (aside from the moral and leadership roles). With that mindset, I feel that a paladin using the vast majority of their spells to amplify their combat abilities is right on target.

Yeah, me too. The trouble is that we literally never saw our Paladin cast spells - what he was giving up in flexible damage dealing was just too great. I think it's too much and therefore (like bless) becomes an option that isn't really an option because you'll always do it.


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As a tangent - how would people rule a paladin's smite damage and criticals? The critical rule of "double all dice" seems to suggest they would be multiplied as well, but we ruled that it didn't (since you can choose whether to do it and how much to boost it by after knowing you've done a critical).


I'd make it similar to how Pathfinder words some things: You must choose to use this ability before you roll any dice. So, you choose to use the smite, then roll your attack, instead of rolling and then choose whether to use it or not.

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Paladin crits are scary because they can choose to smite after getting the crit, and indeed double the smite dice (much like a rogue doubles SA dice). It hasn't been a problem in my experience, and in general now the system doesn't want you to waste resources when you miss (ex. you use stunning fist after you made the hit).

Sleep could be thought of as Power Word Sleep.

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Sleep is a good clean up spell, but generally lousy as an opener after levels 1 or 2.

The warlock in my campaign used it 1 round too soon yesterday. But then she kept getting crits with her eldritch blasts, so it worked out well in the end.


Why is it a bad opener but a good clean up? Don't have the book with me right now.

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It puts to sleep 6d10 hit points worth of creatures (+1 or 2d10 per higher spell slot used).

So at the beginning of a fight, your opponent might have 70 hit points or effective immunity to the sleep spell.

Stab him a few times, and he might have 20 or 30 or 40 hit points, making him vulnerable.


You roll 5d8 (+1d8 for each spell slot above 1st you cast it with), and that's how much HP you put to sleep. So at 1st level, that's 5-40 HP worth of enemies. You start with the lowest current HP, subtract that from the total, and then continue on, going from lowest HP and subtracting each new monster until you can't put any more to sleep.

So, say you roll a 30, so you put 30 hp worth of monsters to sleep. If you are fighting 3 goblins (7 hp each), and a hobgoblin (11 hp), you could put each of the goblins to sleep (7 x 3 = 21, 30-21 = 9), but the hobgoblin would be awake. At higher levels it can be tougher to put creatures to sleep in the first round.


Count me in as among those who don't have a problem with Paladins mostly using their spells on Smite. To me, Smite is the main feature and the spells are a side benefit.

I have two paladin characters, one Devotion and one Vengeance. With the Devotion paladin, I regularly use Aid and have dropped a Sanctuary on a critically wounded teammate from time-to-time. For the Vengeance paladin I frequently use Hunter's Mark and Misty Step. The rest of the time, yes, I mostly Smite.

As for the Smite damage doubling on a crit (and the paladin being able to wait until he crits to Smite) those are both working as intended according to tweets I've seen from the Devs.

There's been nights where its allowed me to do huge damage, and other nights where I probably would have done better to Smite on a regular hit rather than waiting for the crit that never came. (I've also had a lot of "wasted" damage by dropping Smites on baddies that turned out not to be as big of a threat as they appeared.)

I will say, for the games I DM, Counterspell has been the biggest annoyance, as it means that single spellcasters (even with a bunch of body guards) aren't much of a threat because the party bard can just shut them down. But I don't see that as the spell being over-powered so much as I need to make a change in the challenges I present my party with.

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My next character will definitely have access to counterspell, be it as a mountain dwarf abjurer "magus" or a drow bard of lore "witch" or halforc draconic sorcerer "gish."

Or a druid. :-P


Can you Counterspell a spell-like ability from a monster? Do spell-like abilities exist in this edition?

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5th Ed has Innate Spells and Spells. I think. But spells none the less.

Basically, there is magic and stuff that isn't magic, and I think it mostly relies on the players' and DMs' common sense to differentiate between the two.

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bookrat wrote:
Do spell-like abilities exist in this edition?

All I own is the PHB, and the small handful of (sub)races that gain spells just say "you can cast [spell] X times per day as a Y-level spell" or "you know the [whatever] cantrip". Unless I'm forgetting something, there aren't any examples of differentiation between class-granted spellcasting and race-granted spellcasting. Spells are spells, or so it seems without looking at the MM.


The cantrips granted by race advance by character level, whereas the level based spells (like, spell slot spells) usually have the spell level function hardcoded into the character level advancement; I guess I'm thinking of the difference between high elves and drow in the PHB.

Look, I'm agreeing with you, Jiggy, I just can't post in a coherent fashion. :P

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Maybe look at hags in the MM? They might have both kinds of spellcasting from using their Coven ability.

Some monsters get X-spell 3/day and some monsters get 4 1st-level spells and 2 2nd-level spell slots per day, with a list of spells prepared or known, and can choose to use higher spell slots to cast lower level spells, with increased power if appropriate.


The spell system they have is arguably far less problematic than Pathfinder's, but it does have some spots that need ironing out.

First, damage spells don't scale correctly when upcast. There is no reason to upcast a burning hands spell to third level, since fireball easily out damages it. Sleep is problematic due to its power at low levels and its randomness at higher levels. Charm spells should not give target's magical knowledge about who enchanted them. The list keeps going on.

Personally, I think enchantment was a casualty of how they handled animal companions. They wanted some way of balancing it against pets and familiars when there was nothing to balance in the first place.


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bookrat wrote:
Can you Counterspell a spell-like ability from a monster? Do spell-like abilities exist in this edition?

Not formally.

There's things like the Mind Flayer's mind blast or the Kraken's lightning storm, I suppose, but I definitely wouldn't allow counterspell to work on things like that (no matter how spell-like they were).

The only real formal distinction on the magic front is between spellcasting and innate spellcasting (whose practitioners can't scale their spells up to a higher slot).

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I think counterspell would work on effects that are named the same and have effects identical to spells. I think counterspell would not work on other magical effects, like a dragon's breath weapon or a medusa's petrifying gaze.


Adjule wrote:

You roll 5d8 (+1d8 for each spell slot above 1st you cast it with), and that's how much HP you put to sleep. So at 1st level, that's 5-40 HP worth of enemies. You start with the lowest current HP, subtract that from the total, and then continue on, going from lowest HP and subtracting each new monster until you can't put any more to sleep.

So, say you roll a 30, so you put 30 hp worth of monsters to sleep. If you are fighting 3 goblins (7 hp each), and a hobgoblin (11 hp), you could put each of the goblins to sleep (7 x 3 = 21, 30-21 = 9), but the hobgoblin would be awake. At higher levels it can be tougher to put creatures to sleep in the first round.

So is the HP you put too sleep current (like Smilodan seems to imply?) or starting like the earlier/other editions.

Or is it being implied that by culling the weak creatures, then you can sleep more of the stronger ones. And is there a HD cap?

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There seems to be no HD cap, nor any saving throw, which is unusual for 5th edition.


spirit guardian makes me cringe as a DM and is more than challenging when a NPC uses it against the players.

I don't think it's broken, but it's a bit like haste in pathfinder; there are two categories of combat, those with spirit guardians and those without.

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Laurefindel wrote:

spirit guardian makes me cringe as a DM and is more than challenging when a NPC uses it against the players.

I don't think it's broken, but it's a bit like haste in pathfinder; there are two categories of combat, those with spirit guardians and those without.

My players recently finished a fight in the middle of a dungeon maze, 2 rounds into the 10min duration of spirit guardians, so they started hustling through the maze, exploding swarms of rats and such as they approached. Fun times.

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Sleep and Color Spray target current hit point totals.

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Jiggy wrote:
Laurefindel wrote:

spirit guardian makes me cringe as a DM and is more than challenging when a NPC uses it against the players.

I don't think it's broken, but it's a bit like haste in pathfinder; there are two categories of combat, those with spirit guardians and those without.

My players recently finished a fight in the middle of a dungeon maze, 2 rounds into the 10min duration of spirit guardians, so they started hustling through the maze, exploding swarms of rats and such as they approached. Fun times.

At least your cleric can't have both bless AND guardian spirits up at the same time....


SmiloDan wrote:

At least your cleric can't have both bless AND guardian spirits up at the same time....

no but the combo plate/shield + dodge action + spirit guardian + spiritual weapon is just as interesting. It makes for pretty consistent damage while keeping the cleric quite safe and unlikely to lose concentration. You pretty much have to hit him with AoE otherwise your orcs and goblins are toasted.

I've rarely seen our cleric concentrate on anything but bless or guardian spirits.

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I know. My dwarf cleric used that exact technique to kill 60 ogres.


So the more in pain & bleeding a character is, the more sleepy he is?
:P


DSXMachina wrote:

So the more in pain & bleeding a character is, the more sleepy he is?

:P

Exactly!

In all seriousness, I think the intent is that the more beat-up and weary the character is, the more susceptible to have his mind hammered by an enchantment spell he is.

...except other enchantment spells do not work that way...

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I think it's meant to take out multiple weak opponents, or take down a tougher opponent that has been whittled down a bit.

Or even take out multiple whittled down tough monsters.

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DSXMachina wrote:

So the more in pain & bleeding a character is, the more sleepy he is?

:P

If you suddenly realize you've swallowed a sleeping pill and try to resist its effects, I'm pretty sure you'd have a tougher time of it if I'd just finished beating the s$~+ out of you.


Jiggy wrote:
DSXMachina wrote:

So the more in pain & bleeding a character is, the more sleepy he is?

:P
If you suddenly realize you've swallowed a sleeping pill and try to resist its effects, I'm pretty sure you'd have a tougher time of it if I'd just finished beating the s@*% out of you.

Yep, with the adrenaline of a fight flowing like your blood; it does make you laconic. Of course that's if HP represents actual damage done rather than luck/skill/pain-threshold/endurance.

But it could make an interesting concept, beat up the Ancient Wyrm/Tarrasque/Cthulhu then put it back to sleep - which is pretty much in keeping with the mythology of the creatures. Plus you get to say you took it out with a level 1 spell :P


Laurefindel wrote:
DSXMachina wrote:

So the more in pain & bleeding a character is, the more sleepy he is?

:P

Exactly!

In all seriousness, I think the intent is that the more beat-up and weary the character is, the more susceptible to have his mind hammered by an enchantment spell he is.

...except other enchantment spells do not work that way...

More enchantments worked that way in one of the playtests IIRC. That idea was shot down, though, because that made them much more effective against wizards than fighters.


To throw another one out for discussion: pass without trace

In the system with bounded accuracy and greater focus on skills (e.g. the lack of knock), having a 2nd level spell that grants all allies within 30ft a whopping +10 to Dex (stealth) checks for an hour is a tad absurd.

In essence, a 3rd level druid or 5th level ranger turn any group into a competent infiltration team, and a group that was already competent becomes virtually undetectable.

This might not seem like a big deal at first, but it gives the PCs an overwhelming tactical advantage that you'll quickly want to stonewall with bright lanterns everywhere and alarm spells.

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Raynulf wrote:

To throw another one out for discussion: pass without trace

In the system with bounded accuracy and greater focus on skills (e.g. the lack of knock), having a 2nd level spell that grants all allies within 30ft a whopping +10 to Dex (stealth) checks for an hour is a tad absurd.

In essence, a 3rd level druid or 5th level ranger turn any group into a competent infiltration team, and a group that was already competent becomes virtually undetectable.

This might not seem like a big deal at first, but it gives the PCs an overwhelming tactical advantage that you'll quickly want to stonewall with bright lanterns everywhere and alarm spells.

Good catch, that is pretty outrageous. I could think of at least a few DM's using that against the players too.

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My Shadow Monk can ki-cast Pass Without Trace and it's pretty rad, one of the better options since as far as I can tell, Silence affects a point in space so you can't self-silence and stick to an enemy caster.

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I've also noticed that a lot of spells, particularly "escape-type" spells, do not have verbal components anyways.


Forgot about pass without a trace. It's another that made me go 'wow!' when I saw it. During an early portion of one of the campaign our group combined that and ambushed entire groups of enemies that should have took us out. It worked exceedingly well since the chance of them beating even someone with disadvantage was very low.

I gotta ask, I did look over spirit guardians and am not sure what the big deal is? What issue did it cause? I haven't encountered it yet and at least on a glance I feel like I'm missing something.


Pass without Trace is a really nice spell, but I like that it gives parties the option of being stealthy even if they're not built for it. I think it's more fun when they party can stay together when being sneaky is needed, rather than the cleric and/or paladin being forced to hang out and wait while the rogue and ranger do it alone.

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Spiritual Guardians is a great spell of attrition, and its relatively long duration (10 minutes) means it can be used on multiple encounters. It's really good against things with a tough AC (and poor Wisdom saves!) or lots of things with few hit points.

It's really good combined with spiritual weapon and the Dodge action (especially with full plate and shield--disadvantage against AC 20 is tough!).

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