Why the HP Threshold on Spells is a Bad Idea

In both the new playtest packet and the previous one, alot of spells use what I call the HP threshold mechanic. Example spells include Bane, Charm Person, Command, Ghoul Touch, Hold Person, Ray of Enfeeblement, and so on. These spells either won't work at all on targets with more than a certain maximum hit point total, don't allow a saving throw to targets with fewer hit points than that threshold, or have reduced effects against creatures with hp maximums above the threshold. This is a terrible game mechanic and I strongly urge the designers to stop using it. Here's just a few of the reasons why this mechanic is bad for the game:
  
* It forces players to guess at a monster's maximum hit point totals (or worse, resort to using metagaming or peeking in the monster manual). Guessing wrong and attempting to use the spell on a creature with too many hit points usually means you waste the spell with little or no effect. That's frustrating and not fun at all, and not for any good reason. At least when a creature makes its save, you knew there was a chance that you might have accomplished something, so you don't feel like a complete idiot for wasting your turn and prepared spell for nothing.

* Many of these effects don't even allow a saving throw, even though the conditions or penalties they inflict can be quite severe. A good example of this is Charm Person, which offers no saving throw if your hit point maximum is less than 25. Another example is Command, which offers no saving throw if the target's hp max is less than 30. This isn't even save-or-suck. It's worse! It's "have enough maximum hit points or suck," without a saving throw or any other way to resist at all.

* As characters increase in level, these spells eventually become worthless, since the threats the PCs will be typically fighting will have maximum hp totals above the limits of these spells. Why should some 1st level spells, like Grease, remain useful forever, while spells like Charm Person eventually become useless? This isn't the first edition of the game to have this problem. We saw the same problem with spells like Sleep in 3.x, which was overpowered at levels 1-5 but then became useless later because it couldn't affect creatures with more than 5 Hit Dice. The one extreme does NOT balance the other. It is NOT okay for a spell to be overpowered at low levels or any level. Making it useless at higher levels does NOT balance it out, any more than wizards being frail weaklings at low levels was balanced by them becoming godlike at high levels in past editions. Bounded accuracy helps somewhat to alleviate this issue, but it only delays the inevitable. Monsters may stay releveant longer, but they don't remain relevant forever.

* It punishes some classes more than others. Since your hit points are determined by your class, the result is that wizards end up being more susceptible to these spells than fighters are, and so on. That's ridiculous. At least Hit Die limits treat all classes fairly (not that I'm a big fan of that mechanic either).

*[EDIT] This mechanic is contrary to bounded accuracy. One of the design goals of this edition is that players and monsters don't get large bonuses to stats, attack rolls, saves, AC, etc. just because they're higher level. This gives lower level characters a chance against higher level creatures, but also allows lower level monsters to remain somewhat relevant threats against higher level characters. But there is one stat that does still greatly inflate with level - hit points. And by tying that to these spells, they alone are stuck with the old level paradigm, even though it clashes with the rest of the system.

This mechanic is awful and needs to go. Any spell, ANY spell, that debilitates a character in any way needs to have either an attack roll or saving throw, as appropriate. It's simply not okay to have such spells automatically succeed or fail. If a spell like Sleep is just too powerful as a 1st level spell without a hp limit, well, then make it a higher level spell! Sleep in particular has always been problematic, being effectively a low level save-or-die. Maybe it's just not appropriate for a 1st level spell. Maybe it never has been.

There are also many other, far better ways of balancing these types of spells. Players could be given multiple ways to break out of their effects, not the least of which should be a saving throw every turn in combat to shrug off a nasty effect. Spells like Charm and Suggestion can have reasonable limits on what they can make people do (like not being able to make them commit suicide or attack their allies) so that they aren't effectively save-or-lose. There's even the possibility of giving higher level beings a bonus on their saving throws rather than granting them outright immunity. There are plenty of other options. Almost anything is better than the hp threshold mechanic they're using now to "balance" these spells.
Totally agree with that.
Though I'm usually one to play devil's advocate, in this case I agree with you 100%. I hated the HP threashold mechanic even back when it was called Power Word (insert effect here).
I agree.  I understand where it came from.  But that is not enough to justify it.


Where it came from (as I see it):
1)  Some spells in the past had  an arbitrary cap on what they could affect.  Most of these were based on level, although a few (power word spells) were based on hit ponts.
2)  They had a somewhat innovative idea for spells in 5E which they abandoned. The idea was that one way of reducing the swinginess of save or suck spells was to give them current hit point thresholds.  If you wanted to use the spell on a powerful monsters you had to first wear it down to make it vulnerable.  This appears to have been abandoned.
3)  It is, in some cases, an attempt to balance the wizard as they go up in level.  If a spell is 'all or nothing' - and it continues to work at high level, you end up with a spell that - despite being low level can take out a high level creature.  That was not a problem in the days of scaling damage - because it serves the same purpose as scaling damage  - it makes the low level spell relevant at high level.  But scaling damage is part of the quadratic wizard problem and appears to be going away - and thus low level spells with non-damage effects on high level creatures are now problematic - and hit point thresholds are a way to balance them. 


However - #1 was always one of the less logical parts of the AD&D magic system (and that is saying something...) and #2 they have dropped as a factor.  The question is:  IF so, where does that leave #3?  Is the mechanic an adequate way of balancing those spells?


 In my opinion -Probably not.  It forces the players to think in terms of an abstract game mechanic  - and worse yet, one they cannot accurately evaluate (How many hit points does that creature have?) 

But worse yet, imho, it fall prey to one of the flaws of the current hit point system:  As long as ConMod is added to the hit point total - hit points are not an accurate measure of creature power. It is a measure of the creatures ability to withstand damage, yes.  But that is it.

The range of possible hit points both between classes (d4s or d6s versus up to d12s for dwarf fighters) and betwrrm low and high Con (25 point swing possible from 8 Con to 18 con) at L5 means that characters of the same level may have two, three, even four times as many hit points as another of the same level.
The range of hit points between the characters and the monsters (especially if part of the fix to the monsters 'being crushed'  is to raise their hit points) means that a spell that is balanced to affect a PC will be likely be improperly balanced against a monster (or vice versa).


Hit Points are just one measure of a creature's power and a particularly crude one at that.  It is not a good mechanic upon which to hang multple spells.

If these mechanics were written so that creatures above some cap had advantage on the save - at least that would remove the absolute dependence upon the mechanic and make it slilghtly better.       
If these mechanics were based on level or hit dice (not hit points) it would still be metagamey and dependant upon something that the characters could not perceive and force the characters to guess what would work when - but it would at least avoid some of the flaws of hit points (the only advantage to hit points is that they drop and thus you can use current hit points as a mechanic.  If you dump that approach, hit points as a metric should be dumped as well).


But what I think is the best approach (or at least a better approach) is this:


Stop basing saves on the primary ability score of the caster.  If you want that to matter - put it back into the damage figure.  Base saves on the level of the spell.  A high level creatures shouldn't be unaffected or less affected by a low level spell because of some arbitrary hit point cap.  It should just have a really good save because it is a low level spell.


This seems to satisfy the balance requirement (the low level spells are not very effective against the high level creatures) without the players having to judge someaarbitary cap - and the general idea of creatures saving - and some saving more often than others - has always been part of the game.  


Carl     
Unless I'm mistaken, saves based on spell level was the approach done with 13th Age (except given how it uses the 4E unified attack system, it's static bonus to hit unless you use a higher spell slot level).  In short, the idea's pretty solid
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The threshold allows everyone to participate in weakening an adversary (before the culmenating strike.) hence makes the save or die effect of these absolutist spell to become a team accomplishment .... In 4e terms a bloodied condition might be an example of a good target threshold its a detectable state and thus not a guessing game and its porportionate to the adversary and doesnt quit being relevant.

  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

The threshold allows everyone to participate in weakening an adversary (before the culmenating strike.) hence makes the save or die effect of these absolutist spell to become a team accomplishment .... In 4e terms a bloodied condition might be an example of a good target threshold its a detectable state and thus not a guessing game and its porportionate to the adversary and doesnt quit being relevant.




Except they dumped the idea of using current hit points and in most cases now are using max hit points as the threshold.


As I said - that was the one advantage of using hit points - you could use current hit ponts.  But then they abandoned that idea.

The only spell still using current hit points is sleep.  All other spells with a hit point cap use the hit point maximum.

 
Carl
The threshold allows everyone to participate in weakening an adversary (before the culmenating strike.) hence makes the save or die effect of these absolutist spell to become a team accomplishment .... In 4e terms a bloodied condition might be an example of a good target threshold its a detectable state and thus not a guessing game and its porportionate to the adversary and doesnt quit being relevant.




Except they dumped the idea of using current hit points and in most cases now are using max hit points as the threshold.


As I said - that was the one advantage of using hit points - you could use current hit ponts.  But then they abandoned that idea.

The only spell still using current hit points is sleep.  All other spells with a hit point cap use the hit point maximum.

 
Carl


And it doesnt mean that was a great idea.

  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

The threshold allows everyone to participate in weakening an adversary (before the culmenating strike.) hence makes the save or die effect of these absolutist spell to become a team accomplishment .... In 4e terms a bloodied condition might be an example of a good target threshold its a detectable state and thus not a guessing game and its porportionate to the adversary and doesnt quit being relevant.




Except they dumped the idea of using current hit points and in most cases now are using max hit points as the threshold.


As I said - that was the one advantage of using hit points - you could use current hit ponts.  But then they abandoned that idea.

The only spell still using current hit points is sleep.  All other spells with a hit point cap use the hit point maximum.

 
Carl


And it doesnt mean that was a great idea.





Granted - my point was that at least using current hit points gave the mechanic a justification.  It remained badly flawed - but at least it served a purpose.  But if it doesn't use current hit ponts, there is no longer any justification for using the mechanic. 



Carl

I don't fully understand why they ditched the idea of using current hp, really, but even if you use current hp instead of max hp you can get to a place where you're metagaming 'cause everyone's doing the math and seeing how many more hits before they can take something out.


I've hated effects that depended on hit dice/hit points from day 1. Power Word spells are friggin cool and have tons of flavour but nobody uses them because it's so restrictive and a lower level spell that's scaled up with your high level status will take out a group of weenies without using your high level spell slots.


Basically it's just a bad idea.


What I don't mind are spells that only affect targets of equal HD or less than the character with breaking points, ie "deals 10d6 damage, if target is 5 HD less it deals 20d6, if target is 10 HD less it kills." There are conventions in play that tell a player roughly whether they've got more HD or not; in the past some skills have allowed you to have a guess at how many HD a creature has (usually in the context of sizing up another PC race guy with a class).


The spell should always do something, even if it doesn't do much past a certain point.



But yes current sitrep = bad. Please fix

 

The spell should always do something, even if it doesn't do much past a certain point.



I think that is a separate issue with absolutist effects...  

 
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

I agree with OP, remove all HP thresholds on spells.

As for the Sleep spell...  it should grant a save (you fall asleap on a failed save, becomes drowsy on a success) give bonuses to the save if the targets are in combat.
If a spell is like sleep and basically takes out the adversary a thresh hold based on current hit points serves as a way to make it a team effort. 
 
I am not seeing any replacement for that... 
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

give bonuses to the save if the targets are in combat.


Is the concept is to make it impractical in combat?
ie to make it a ninja assassination move, you could give it a couple  round casting time too.

Makes sense that folk are riled up and less susceptable in a fight 
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

 

The spell should always do something, even if it doesn't do much past a certain point.



I think that is a separate issue with absolutist effects...  

 




Agreed but if I'm given the choice of a spell that does nothing past a certain point and a spell that does not much past a certain point, I will take the one that does not much every single time.


Basically having something that might be cool is better than something that can't be cool.

If a spell is like sleep and basically takes out the adversary a thresh hold based on current hit points serves as a way to make it a team effort. 
 
I am not seeing any replacement for that... 



The real problem with sleep is the ludicrously low hit point threshold.  You can sleep a few weak creatures - or just use burning hands and kill them all.


I actually like the idea of rolling a handful of dice - perhaps one per caster level up to the number of creatures - and then matching the lowest die up to the lowest hit point creature and if the die meets or exceeds its hit points it falls asleep, then the second highest die to the second most hit points, etc.  I"m not sure what the die size should be, but I'm leaning towards a d8, perhaps a d8+IntMod.  But that detail of course depends upon where the hit points per level formula stabilizes.

   
Carl
But what I think is the best approach (or at least a better approach) is this:


Stop basing saves on the primary ability score of the caster.  If you want that to matter - put it back into the damage figure.  Base saves on the level of the spell.  A high level creatures shouldn't be unaffected or less affected by a low level spell because of some arbitrary hit point cap.  It should just have a really good save because it is a low level spell.


This seems to satisfy the balance requirement (the low level spells are not very effective against the high level creatures) without the players having to judge someaarbitary cap - and the general idea of creatures saving - and some saving more often than others - has always been part of the game.  



The problem is, with the whole bounded accuracy thing and emphasis on ability scores, if you tie the save DC to spell level it makes low level spells too easy to resist and high levels ones much too difficult. Character's aren't gaining +6-12 bonuses to their saving throws from class anymore. And to be honest, I didn't like the way they included spell level in the save DCs in 3rd edition, either. 1st level attack spells just didn't get used at higher level at all because the saves were too easy.

The way I see it, the problem is having such potent save-or-lose type magic as low level spells. 1st level spells include things like grease and ray of enfeeblement. Neither of those things have the ability to totally incapacitate a monster. Spells like Sleep and Charm person seem awfully out of place when compared to those. Why are these spells the same level?
give bonuses to the save if the targets are in combat.


Is the concept is to make it impractical in combat?
ie to make it a ninja assassination move, you could give it a couple  round casting time too.

Makes sense that folk are riled up and less susceptable in a fight 



Yea, I like sleep better as an exploration spell (sleeping the guards sitting and playing cards in the guard room, with some luck they will believe they fell asleap by themselves) rather than an in combat spell.

By giving targets a bonus on saves (and a penalty if they are already sleepy) this is reinforced.

By making people drowsy (with some negative modifiers) on a save it still has some combat use but is not a 'I WIN-button' on itself. The drowsyness can actually be the same thing as a success in the exploration case, or have other interesting effects.

This is basically how I DM sleep spells anyways..

But what I think is the best approach (or at least a better approach) is this:


Stop basing saves on the primary ability score of the caster.  If you want that to matter - put it back into the damage figure.  Base saves on the level of the spell.  A high level creatures shouldn't be unaffected or less affected by a low level spell because of some arbitrary hit point cap.  It should just have a really good save because it is a low level spell.


This seems to satisfy the balance requirement (the low level spells are not very effective against the high level creatures) without the players having to judge someaarbitary cap - and the general idea of creatures saving - and some saving more often than others - has always been part of the game.  



The problem is, with the whole bounded accuracy thing and emphasis on ability scores, if you tie the save DC to spell level it makes low level spells too easy to resist and high levels ones much too difficult.



On the contrary - that's the point of doing it. 

Rather than a cap that says "If they are above this line it doesn't affect them" - they get a save they probably can't make (but can always get lucky).  

    

  



     Character's aren't gaining +6-12 bonuses to their saving throws from class anymore. And to be honest, I didn't like the way they included spell level in the save DCs in 3rd edition, either. 1st level attack spells just didn't get used at higher level at all because the saves were too easy.


Again - that is the point.

The problem is that these spells shouldn't be effective against high level creatures.  The current solution is an arbitary hit point cap.  The alternate proposal is a saving throw they will make almost every time.

   
I'd have to do the math - but I suspect this goes a very long ways towards solving part of the geometric wizard problem (not really quadratic anymore in 5E).  



Where it is a problem is at the high level end.  The spells at the high level end can't end up too difficult to resist. -
but I think the solution is probably to set the base save lower than it is now.  If you start out saving easily at low level you end up saving with moderate difficulty at higher levels. 


For example - currently the save DC is 11+AbilityMod.  If this was made 9+spell level low level targets would save more often (a different balance but one I like better - the PCs do too much damage anyway), but at L12 (L6 spells) the save would be pretty much as it is now versus a L6 spells - but the target would usually save against a L1 spell. 

It requires some tweaking of the math - but I think it can be made to work.  Better than hp caps at least.   

  
 

The way I see it, the problem is having such potent save-or-lose type magic as low level spells. 1st level spells include things like grease and ray of enfeeblement. Neither of those things have the ability to totally incapacitate a monster. Spells like Sleep and Charm person seem awfully out of place when compared to those. Why are these spells the same level?



Actually - all four of those are good spells.  Ok, the current version of sleep sucks.  But other than that, those are good spells.  Reduce a creature to minimum damage for the encounter (assuming the damage doesn't just kill it outright)?  Bye bye threat.  It might not be 'save or lose' - but it's pretty darn close.  Create a zone where your enemy can't move easily and has to save to avoid falling prone?  There are some around here arguing that it is actually broken - I'd call it situational.  Make an enemy into a friend?  Depending on how the DM works such things - can be awesome or really suck- at its best in a situation where the DM plays the creatures as more than bags of stats.  Sleep - awesome concept - really sucky implementation.  But it can be turned into something balanced.



Carl    

   


But what I think is the best approach (or at least a better approach) is this:


Stop basing saves on the primary ability score of the caster.  If you want that to matter - put it back into the damage figure.  Base saves on the level of the spell.  A high level creatures shouldn't be unaffected or less affected by a low level spell because of some arbitrary hit point cap.  It should just have a really good save because it is a low level spell.


This seems to satisfy the balance requirement (the low level spells are not very effective against the high level creatures) without the players having to judge someaarbitary cap - and the general idea of creatures saving - and some saving more often than others - has always been part of the game.   


I don't like that "spell level based" idea too much. Why should it be (nearly) impossible, that an incredibly powerful wizard couldn put a somewhat higher creature to sleep, just because the spell itself is easy to master (or whatever a low spell level is standing for)? You'd be as likely to suffer (or enjoy?) the spell effects whether it's Stupido the apprentice or Elminster of Shadowdale who is casting. I'd find this a little bit off. 

To me, the question (from a fluff persective) would be: How is the "spell level" reflected in fluff terms?
- Maybe a spell is a spell and if cast as written in the spellbook/on the scroll always has exactly the same properties (if you have this gun and this type of ammunition, the impact of the projectile at a range of x metres will always be y kilonewton)? Then I'd agree with Carl's idea that I quoted above - but then again a master wizard might be able to make a little tweak here or there on the fly to make the spell a little more potent (he being a master, after all).
- Or is it more a thing of complexity, with the caster bringing in his/her own abilities, for example how much magical energy can be acquired to "drive the spells effects home". For example: The expert olympian weightlifter using the same technique as a beginner does but being equipped with far more experience, training and muscle mass, thus being able to handle much heavier loads.
Personally, I prefer the second interpretation, because I like the "person's abilities" matter more than the "thing itself".
I was really unhappy with the thresh holds in the second packet, but I really liked them in the first.  Here's why:
* It forces players to guess at a monster's maximum hit point totals (or worse, resort to using metagaming or peeking in the monster manual). Guessing wrong and attempting to use the spell on a creature with too many hit points usually means you waste the spell with little or no effect.

In the previous packet, the spells still had an effect on creatures with HPs that exceeded the thresh hold, it was just reduced.  Sleep, for example, reduced speed, rather than knocking you unconscious.  It was a great way to ensure both that your action was never wasted and that you couldn't just CC a fresh, powerful enemy on round 1 with low level spells.

* Many of these effects don't even allow a saving throw, even though the conditions or penalties they inflict can be quite severe.

I agree, this is nonsense.  In the first packet, there was always a save if you were under the thresh hold--and there always should be.

* As characters increase in level, these spells eventually become worthless, since the threats the PCs will be typically fighting will have maximum hp totals above the limits of these spells.

Again, totally agree.  I even posted complaining about the obnoxious switch from Current HP to Maximum HP.  When it was Current HP, it meant you could use your low level spells as finishers.  I thought beating the Ogre up until it was susceptible to Sleep was a great design--I always hated spells being opening turn wins.  Go first and ruin an entire encounter?  Lame.  With Current HP as the thresh hold, you didn't get that--you got "I hope he's finally weak enough to Sleep..." which I felt was far more exciting.

* It punishes some classes more than others. Since your hit points are determined by your class, the result is that wizards end up being more susceptible to these spells than fighters are, and so on. That's ridiculous. At least Hit Die limits treat all classes fairly (not that I'm a big fan of that mechanic either).

Oh, I don't really understand why this is a problem.  I like it.  Fighters should resist magic better than others.  In fact, the HD sizes pretty well reflect how well I think the classes should resist.

So, yeah, I think Max HP thresh holds totally need to go, but I really liked the design of the Current HP thresh hold and hope it returns.

I don't like that "spell level based" idea too much. Why should it be (nearly) impossible, that an incredibly powerful wizard couldn put a somewhat higher creature to sleep, just because the spell itself is easy to master (or whatever a low spell level is standing for)? You'd be as likely to suffer (or enjoy?) the spell effects whether it's Stupido the apprentice or Elminster of Shadowdale who is casting. I'd find this a little bit off.


It would be, but not for the reason you stated. The difference between Stupido the Apprentice and the Sage of Shadowdale in this case, mechanically speaking, is that Elminster can prepare his Sleep spell in a higher level spell slot, while StA cannot. Think Heighten Spell but ingrained into the system and giving more benefits. Elminster has 12th-level spell slots, so he casts a 12th-level Sleep to knock out a dragon or the chosen of Sune or whatever.
I was really unhappy with the thresh holds in the second packet, but I really liked them in the first.  Here's why:
* It forces players to guess at a monster's maximum hit point totals (or worse, resort to using metagaming or peeking in the monster manual). Guessing wrong and attempting to use the spell on a creature with too many hit points usually means you waste the spell with little or no effect.

In the previous packet, the spells still had an effect on creatures with HPs that exceeded the thresh hold, it was just reduced.  Sleep, for example, reduced speed, rather than knocking you unconscious.  It was a great way to ensure both that your action was never wasted and that you couldn't just CC a fresh, powerful enemy on round 1 with low level spells.

* Many of these effects don't even allow a saving throw, even though the conditions or penalties they inflict can be quite severe.

I agree, this is nonsense.  In the first packet, there was always a save if you were under the thresh hold--and there always should be.

* As characters increase in level, these spells eventually become worthless, since the threats the PCs will be typically fighting will have maximum hp totals above the limits of these spells.

Again, totally agree.  I even posted complaining about the obnoxious switch from Current HP to Maximum HP.  When it was Current HP, it meant you could use your low level spells as finishers.  I thought beating the Ogre up until it was susceptible to Sleep was a great design--I always hated spells being opening turn wins.  Go first and ruin an entire encounter?  Lame.  With Current HP as the thresh hold, you didn't get that--you got "I hope he's finally weak enough to Sleep..." which I felt was far more exciting.

* It punishes some classes more than others. Since your hit points are determined by your class, the result is that wizards end up being more susceptible to these spells than fighters are, and so on. That's ridiculous. At least Hit Die limits treat all classes fairly (not that I'm a big fan of that mechanic either).

Oh, I don't really understand why this is a problem.  I like it.  Fighters should resist magic better than others.  In fact, the HD sizes pretty well reflect how well I think the classes should resist.

So, yeah, I think Max HP thresh holds totally need to go, but I really liked the design of the Current HP thresh hold and hope it returns.


Hmmm agree well completely.. this was a case of more loss than gain by a long shot.
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

I know the save situation is totally different in 5e but in 3e the save or suck spells got cornholed into this side category at high levels because monster saves were ridiculous.



Honestly this whole discussion hinges on how good the monsters are and the DM's inclination to play by the book. If the monsters have crap saves, then balancing it by saves is a waste of time because it'll work a lot. If they have crazy saves then casters just get to hate life and jump through hoops. If the DM agrees with said wounded wizard over their spells sucking too hard, they'll either tell them to suck up and play something else or they'll adjust the monster stats.



Why did they get rid of the current hp idea again?


But what I think is the best approach (or at least a better approach) is this:


Stop basing saves on the primary ability score of the caster.  If you want that to matter - put it back into the damage figure.  Base saves on the level of the spell.  A high level creatures shouldn't be unaffected or less affected by a low level spell because of some arbitrary hit point cap.  It should just have a really good save because it is a low level spell.


This seems to satisfy the balance requirement (the low level spells are not very effective against the high level creatures) without the players having to judge someaarbitary cap - and the general idea of creatures saving - and some saving more often than others - has always been part of the game.   


I don't like that "spell level based" idea too much. Why should it be (nearly) impossible, that an incredibly powerful wizard couldn put a somewhat higher creature to sleep, just because the spell itself is easy to master (or whatever a low spell level is standing for)? You'd be as likely to suffer (or enjoy?) the spell effects whether it's Stupido the apprentice or Elminster of Shadowdale who is casting. I'd find this a little bit off. 




He absolutely should be able to put him to sleep.


But he should have to memorize sleep as a higher level spell to do it.


The issues is that allowing low  level save or effect spells to work on high level creatures has a serious impact on the game that is part of the entire problem known as 'the quadratic wizard'.


At high level you have dozens of these spells -(OK, not 'dozens'  - but certainly 'severals')  and if they work on creatures of your own level, that makes you significantly more powerful than you ought to be.

A L1 save or effect spell should be less effective on a high level creature for the same reason as why damage spells no longer scale.   To correct the imbalance such spells created in the rules of older editions.


Carl            


At high level you have dozens of these spells - and if they work on creatures of your own level, that makes you significantly more powerful than you ought to be.




Carl            




Which takes us back to the question of what wizards do with their lower level spell slots....

It is clear that saving throws have their own issues, so here's one idea I want to try bouncing off you guys: what if compulsion spells (and similar effects) attacked a separate HP score? After all, while save-or-dies are a contentious issue, damage to HP is not. Lets call this new score Mental HP.

Any mind-affecting spell or ability would attack a creature's Mental HP. Even if a spell does not manage to beat the threshold to take effect, it would contribute to your next attempt – giving the "wearing down your mental defences" effect seen in a lot of stories. Spells have a certain effect if they beat the half-point, and a "win" effect if you take down the whole. Physical damage affects mental HP but mental damage does not affect physical HP – the status effects from the mental spells affect the creature instead, thus encouraging teamwork (a warrior's attacks shock and distract and strain the monster, allowing the mage's magic to take effect on its mind, which further give the warrior an advantage). This way mental damage and physical damage is mechanically different while still using simple HP totals to keep track of who's winning, allowing for easy balancing.

What do you think?


At high level you have dozens of these spells - and if they work on creatures of your own level, that makes you significantly more powerful than you ought to be.





Carl            




Which takes us back to the question of what wizards do with their lower level spell slots....





Option 1:  They don't have them.  The spell tables don't retain low level slots, they replace low level slots with higher level slots (just as 4E replaced low level encounter powers with higher level ones).
 -- not my preferred approach; I include it because it is an option.

Option 2:  He uses them to deal with the low level riff raff he encounters.  What in 4E would be 'minion killing'.  The hordes of koblds accompanying the Dragon, etc.
-- This is an important part of what is done with these spells.  Any high level wizard is going to have a few low level area effect spells for just this purpose.

Option 3:  They use them for utility spells which do not have attack rolls or saving throws amd thus are still useful despite their low level.
-- this is my preferrred approach; it makes the high level wizard the master of such utility magic without costing his major damage/ combat potential severely - because he doesn't really expect such spells to be that useful against high level creatures anyway he can afford to use the slots for non-combat magic.

In short - a bit of option 2 and a bit of option 3, the exact balance depending upon where the wizard is going and what the wizard is planning on doing.


Carl

Option 1:  They don't have them.  The spell tables don't retain low level slots, they replace low level slots with higher level slots (just as 4E replaced low level encounter powers with higher level ones).
 -- not my preferred approach; I include it because it is an option.

Option 2:  He uses them to deal with the low level riff raff he encounters.  What in 4E would be 'minion killing'.  The hordes of koblds accompanying the Dragon, etc.
-- This is an important part of what is done with these spells.  Any high level wizard is going to have a few low level area effect spells for just this purpose.

Option 3:  They use them for utility spells which do not have attack rolls or saving throws amd thus are still useful despite their low level.
-- this is my preferrred approach; it makes the high level wizard the master of such utility magic without costing his major damage/ combat potential severely - because he doesn't really expect such spells to be that useful against high level creatures anyway he can afford to use the slots for non-combat magic.

In short - a bit of option 2 and a bit of option 3, the exact balance depending upon where the wizard is going and what the wizard is planning on doing.



Carl



Yeah I was being facetious.


Still, that is something people don't seem to like about casts/day is they feel like they get these rubbish spells in spades and like 4 really powerful nukes.



Mental HP:I think what the designers are trying to avoid is another set of numbers to mess around with. There was a similar variant back in 2e to deal with psionics (basically ego whip could allow a lvl 1 char to take down a lvl 20 char without any fuss... caused a pain) where everyone got a mental armour class. It used to make me chuckle 'cause I had images of everyone in D&D running around with a Mac.


Anyway it was a reasonable solution but it was yet another value to figure out so I don't recall it being widely used.


Honestly, I think the best solution is to just use current hp. It's how all the spells are balanced and it's totally mad that they discarded it.

The problem is that these spells shouldn't be effective against high level creatures.  The current solution is an arbitary hit point cap.  The alternate proposal is a saving throw they will make almost every time.



I disagree. 

Why shouldn't a low level spell work against a high level creature? The higher level spells should almost always be the better option, but lower level spells shouldn't be useless! They should just be less effective than the higher level spells are in most cases. One of the things about vancian casting is that wizards have daily spells that cover a wide range of power levels. Once they have used up your highest level spells, then what? Are they supposed to just throw in the towel for the rest of the day? That's what they'd have to do if their remaining low level spells were of no use at all at that level. Also, players may choose to use lower level spells to conserve their higher level spells. That should be a valid strategic choice.

Also, one of the big goals of bounded accuracy is that players can not only fight low level monsters at higher levels and have them remain relevant, but also so that lower level players can have a chance against higher level monsters. You can't really do that when magic using classes can't participate because their spells are useless, but the fighting classes can still contribute just fine. That's just not right. In this system, a low level fighter can hit a high level monster, he just won't do as much damage or otherwise be quite as effective as a higher level fighter with higher combat expertise dice and more/better maneuvers. By the same token, a low level spell should work on a higher level creature, it just shouldn't do as much damage or be as debilitating as a higher level spell.
So, yeah, I think Max HP thresh holds totally need to go, but I really liked the design of the Current HP thresh hold and hope it returns.



Using current hit points instead of maximum hit points is still problematic. You shouldn't be able to automatically charm people without a saving throw just because you beat them up first, for one thing. For another, you still have most of the problems I mentioned. You still have to guess what a creature's hit points are, and if you guess wrong, it's a waste. You still have the problem of some classes being better able to resist these types of spells than others. Etc.
Whoa, didn't even notice that they'd switched from current to maximum HP.  That's gotta change back.  I liked the current HP system a lot, for reasons already mentioned in this thread (team effort, spells don't become obsolete, etc.).  Maximum is a baffling step backwards.
Option 1:  They don't have them.  The spell tables don't retain low level slots, they replace low level slots with higher level slots (just as 4E replaced low level encounter powers with higher level ones).
 -- not my preferred approach; I include it because it is an option.

Option 2:  He uses them to deal with the low level riff raff he encounters.  What in 4E would be 'minion killing'.  The hordes of koblds accompanying the Dragon, etc.
-- This is an important part of what is done with these spells.  Any high level wizard is going to have a few low level area effect spells for just this purpose.

Option 3:  They use them for utility spells which do not have attack rolls or saving throws amd thus are still useful despite their low level.
-- this is my preferrred approach; it makes the high level wizard the master of such utility magic without costing his major damage/ combat potential severely - because he doesn't really expect such spells to be that useful against high level creatures anyway he can afford to use the slots for non-combat magic.

In short - a bit of option 2 and a bit of option 3, the exact balance depending upon where the wizard is going and what the wizard is planning on doing.

But that generates its own problems where wizards (and clerics) outskill the rogue through the use of spells. In fact, I have seen more complaints about 3e utility spells than about those that disable monsters. Utility spells can break adventures unless you design all kinds of often convulated story reasons to circumvent them.

Mind you, I am no fan of hit point thresholds either. For me, you are probably better off removing these kind of highly effective remove-from-combat spells and change them to less powerful effects or making them more of a utility spell. I have had some very fun and cool RP sessions when the PCs charmed a NPC or were charmed by one out of combat, but more often then not within combat spells like sleep and charm person just were boring...
How to solve this problem

1) Phrase the spell as follows:

Roll x dice. The target makes a saving throw, if they make it, reduce the total rolled by 1/2.

If the dice total is greater than the targets hit points, it suffers the effect.

What's the logic behind this? Simple. If you could kill a creature (which is what would happen if the effect in this situation was "damage") then you could inflict a condition on it.

The dice rolled should be greater than if it were simple damage because it's an "all or nothing" situation, but the mechanism stays the same.
The problem is that these spells shouldn't be effective against high level creatures.  The current solution is an arbitary hit point cap.  The alternate proposal is a saving throw they will make almost every time.



I disagree. 

Why shouldn't a low level spell work against a high level creature? The higher level spells should almost always be the better option, but lower level spells shouldn't be useless! They should just be less effective than the higher level spells are in most cases. One of the things about vancian casting is that wizards have daily spells that cover a wide range of power levels. Once they have used up your highest level spells, then what? Are they supposed to just throw in the towel for the rest of the day? That's what they'd have to do if their remaining low level spells were of no use at all at that level. Also, players may choose to use lower level spells to conserve their higher level spells. That should be a valid strategic choice.

Also, one of the big goals of bounded accuracy is that players can not only fight low level monsters at higher levels and have them remain relevant, but also so that lower level players can have a chance against higher level monsters. You can't really do that when magic using classes can't participate because their spells are useless, but the fighting classes can still contribute just fine. That's just not right. In this system, a low level fighter can hit a high level monster, he just won't do as much damage or otherwise be quite as effective as a higher level fighter with higher combat expertise dice and more/better maneuvers. By the same token, a low level spell should work on a higher level creature, it just shouldn't do as much damage or be as debilitating as a higher level spell.

I aggree with you pretty much.  I would like to see a return to HD being used rather than hit points for threshold.
How to solve this problem

1) Phrase the spell as follows:

Roll x dice. The target makes a saving throw, if they make it, reduce the total rolled by 1/2.

If the dice total is greater than the targets hit points, it suffers the effect.

What's the logic behind this? Simple. If you could kill a creature (which is what would happen if the effect in this situation was "damage") then you could inflict a condition on it.

The dice rolled should be greater than if it were simple damage because it's an "all or nothing" situation, but the mechanism stays the same.



I agree, this is the mechanic I would go with.
The threshold allows everyone to participate in weakening an adversary (before the culmenating strike.) hence makes the save or die effect of these absolutist spell to become a team accomplishment .... In 4e terms a bloodied condition might be an example of a good target threshold its a detectable state and thus not a guessing game and its porportionate to the adversary and doesnt quit being relevant.




Except they dumped the idea of using current hit points and in most cases now are using max hit points as the threshold.


As I said - that was the one advantage of using hit points - you could use current hit ponts.  But then they abandoned that idea.

The only spell still using current hit points is sleep.  All other spells with a hit point cap use the hit point maximum.

 
Carl



If they get rid of this idea, they need to replace it with another mechanic for making sure that lower level spells are not effective on higher level monsters.  What would you suggest?   I tried to work it through monster level, but that didn't work.
I don't really like the system as is.  Personally the way Mearls (I think it was him) orginally explained it, the whole thing sounded better, but each version they released has been worse.

I also agree that most spells shouldn't be either an all or nothing thing (in the case of fire and forget casting, other types of casting will very). 

Personally if they are noting going to budge with the whole threshold idea, I would prefer spells to do something like Power Word Kill, this does does damage (half on a failed save) until you hit the hp threshold, then it has a chance to kill the enemy (failed save) or do full damage (successful save).
I'm not saying that the threshold is the only way to do it, but there has to be a point where level 1 spells are no long effective.  Otherwise the massive number of spellslots that a higher level caster gets unbalance things incredibly quickly.

My personal preference is that a caster maxes out with about 6-8 spell slots something like 4 spells of 2 spell levels under max, 2 of one spell level under max and 1 spell of their maximum spell level.  If they want to cast a lower level spell they can put it into one of those spell slots.

So at level 5 a wizard might have 4 level 1, 2 level 2 and 1 level 3.  At 17 they might have 4 level 7, 2 level 8 and one level 9.  If a 17th level wizard wants to cast invisibility he memorises it in one of his spell slots, probably 7th level. 
How to solve this problem

1) Phrase the spell as follows:

Roll x dice. The target makes a saving throw, if they make it, reduce the total rolled by 1/2.

If the dice total is greater than the targets hit points, it suffers the effect.

What's the logic behind this? Simple. If you could kill a creature (which is what would happen if the effect in this situation was "damage") then you could inflict a condition on it.

The dice rolled should be greater than if it were simple damage because it's an "all or nothing" situation, but the mechanism stays the same.



Works for me. Probably the best suggestion I've seen so far.
The problem: Save-or-suck spells means the casters and weapon-users are playing different games.  The caster is just throwing stiff at the monster until a save is failed.  Meanwhile, the weapon-users are whittling down hp... without the aid of their casters.  This also affects monster design, particularly if the casters have damage-dealing spells available (like magic missile, lightning bolt, etc.)  If  you assume casters are not whittling down hp, then you make it so casters will want to avoid s-o-s spells (liek using magic resistance, spell immunities, and ridiculous saving throw bonuses), and concentrate on hp damage.  If you assume they are, you make it so casters will shift to s-o-s spells and the weapon-users never contribute.  And combat feels like a slog.

The first solution: Impose "current hp" thresholds for save-or-suck spells.  Now the caster has the incentive to help his allies soften the enemies up.

The problem: It feels wrong.  People described it as "beating the enemies until they love you."  And it does feel weird that you could meet an ogre, have the wizard use charm person, it doesn't work.  So you zap him with a few magic missiles, cast it again, and lo and behold, the ogre thinks the wizard is his best buddy.

The next solution: Impose "max hp" threshholds

The problem: It doesn't solve the issue.  The caster is again playign a different game.  Except now he's playing two games: hp mitigation with high-level creatures, and minion mop-up with low-level ones.   

In the end, I don't know there will be a good solution.  You have two irreconcilable factors.  On the one hand, the weapon-users are only ever playing the "hp mitigation" game.  One the other hand, some classic spell effects don't map well to the hp mitigation game no matter how you try to force it.
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