Dealing with high-level spellcasters in D&D is extremely hard for many DMs out there. When dealing with high-level spellcasters you have the problem that they can do anything.
Dealing with high-level spellcasters in D&D requires you to understand not only the rules, but your world, and your universe. You should never just say no.
The never say no response is very important. If you say no, you are denying something extremely powerful that a spellcaster can do just for your own convenience. Luckily, we will go over how to say yes in a responsible way.
High-level spell effects
Dealing with high-level spellcasters in D&D is extremely hard for most DMs out there because of their effects. Spells of 6th level and higher become ridiculous. Some let you bypass whatever the DM wants with the use of creative thought, and others can keep you alive forever! Literally. Wizards can stay alive forever with the use of the clone spell, magic jar, or figure out how to become a lich.
So how do you deal with these high level spells?
There are 2 categories to look at. Combat, and outside of combat spells.
Each require a different approach, but have the same end result. You need to fairly stop the players from easily winning the game, but not stop them from creating memorable moments.
High-level combat spells
At first, you might be baffled by spells that just affect combat. Feeblemind can completely destroy your big bad guy, and a foresight will allow fighters or paladins with an extra swing to easily take on demon lords in martial combat.
For these spells, you can usually deal with them by using the following options.
- Dispel magic.
That is all. You only need those 2 mechanics, and some creativity in how to use them.
Counterspell will stop anything, but being counterspelled by a counterspell is a problem. You now are unable to effectively stop combat spells from going off, and the players have too many counterspells.
The best way to solve this is to stay out of 30ft range of whoever can counterspell. Stay out of that range, and counterspell or cast dispel magic. Dispel magic has a much longer range, and will destroy any troublesome buffs.
You might be wondering why I am not talking about how to deal with high level damaging spells. The answer is simple, they are irrelivant. Even if your sorcerer deals 15d6 in one round, the fighter is hitting 3-4x at 1d10+1d6+11 or some rediculous numbers. Those alone, if 3 hit (and probably will) will deal on average 18(3d10)+12(3d6)+33 damage per round. This is taken from the phb health averaging system, and would be a total of 63 damage. 15d6=60 with the same averages. High level damage spells will never break your game.
If you are caught with any status effect spells, you need to be creative.
You have now been caught in a forcecage. The players are within 30 feet of you to counterspell, and you are unable to just misty step out. How do you get out?
Dealing with high-level spellcasters in D&D isn’t simple, but you can be prepared. Most likely, you have a higher level enemy than the party to compensate for 1v4 or more. This is where you can use your higher level to gain an advantage, or have better items to solve this problem.
Speaking of items, how do you fight spellcasters with a fighter type enemy? Won’t they just get picked off and die by some stupid will or intelligence spell? This is where you use those items!
Have a sword that upon will can dispel magic, or upon striking dispel magic. You are high level by now, so why not give it a generous 5x per day it can be done or something like that. This way, your enemy cannot be counterspelled and they can dispel a buff, forcecage, or anything else.
For personal resistance to spells, the best thing we have is legendary resistances. Use these only when you need to, and you should be fine 90% of the time.
It is not outlandish for a wizard to have a wand like this, or even a dagger. You might at this point modify the staff of the magi to absorb spells upon touch, and have a spell attack to hit in order to absorb a spell.
Items are your saving grace when you are caught or unable to dispel/counterspell normally, so always have an item on hand to do so if your players consistently break the game.
Out of combat high-level spells
Dealing with high-level spellcasters in D&D is really troublesome when it comes to out of game actions. They might try to end the fight before it even begins with some creativity!
This is where you really don’t want to ‘just say no’ to your players. If you say no here, then most of the time it is unwarranted and disheartening. Instead, you should either say ‘yes’ or ‘yes but…..’ If the spell is too powerful, the ‘yes but’ phrase should be used often. Take for example the wish spell. We wrote an article on it here if you want to learn how to deal with wish specifically, but the principles are the same.
Out of combat spells almost always have a wider reach than the player’s think. Casting glibness might not just help them in a negotiation. If they are at a party, everyone will be attracted to them. In fact, it can backfire by giving such a good result that they cannot find the target they wanted to talk to! The players should be rewarded with new allies of course, but not necessarily the ones they wanted.
High-level magic is extremely powerful. You cannot just use it like a disguise self and expect it to work like every other low level spell. There aren’t many spellcaster who can even replicate what you are doing, so the effects might be bigger than anticipated.
This is where you find the middle ground. Unexpected results are generally better than disasters or things going too smoothly. Unexpected results can also lead to unexpected plot hooks.
This advice is for awe inspiring spells that will change the world around them or affect the plot, but how should you deal with non plot related high level spells?
Non plot related spells
Dealing with high-level spellcasters in D&D has so far been a harrowing task. You have to have contingencies, items, dispelling, tempered results, not being able to just say no, and having to think deeply about what to do. For non plot related spells, these are the easy ones to deal with.
For 99% of non plot related spells, just let it happen. Yes, they might have a cool idea that is extremely good, but let it happen. This is not worth your time and you should reward your players for their creativity in using spells that won’t just affect the plot. Most of the time it will affect their character’s roleplay. For that, you can let it slide.
If the spell is going to do more than just affect some roleplay, you might want to view it like a normal non combat high level spell. A player wanting to raise stats permanently falls under this category, but even if they use the wish spell there should be some unexpected results.
Here is an example of a more obscure and creative use of high level spells.
The player decides to cast control weather to have perfect crop harvests. They now are making quite a bit of money off of their harvest, employees, and don’t really have to do much except cast the spell once a day. It seems minor, but this spellcaster is ruining other businesses since they don’t have water. The side effect of control weather is that it takes moisture from surrounding places, and makes the spellcaster ‘s magic work.
Now the spellcaster has to figure out how to resolve this, and a whole new unexpected plotline might be created from these effects.
In general, do not make an unexpected result unless the player wants in game rewards that they can write down.
Dealing with high-level spellcasters in D&D is a hard task for most DMs. Even experienced ones have problems dealing with new spells that throw a curveball into the best laid plans.
If you are dealing high level combat spells, be ready with counterspell and dispel magic. Find ways to make them work in order to make your fight interesting, but don’t just cheese your way out of their combat ending spells.
For out of game spells that can change reality, you generally want to say yes, but have unexpected consequences if players are affecting the plot or their sheets. Any change in gold, stats, etc should have unexpected results, and spells interacting with the plots can have unexpected results if they would just make everything too easy.
Most of the time if spells are not directed at the plot or player sheets, but instead directed at roleplay they should be fine. Just let them happen, and let the players have their days in the sun.
A final note is that all of these precautions are only if the players are breaking your game with a spell. Most spells are okay to be used normally, but high level spells can completely destroy a campaign if you cannot deal with them.
I hope that this has helped you deal with high level spells in your game.
This has been Wizo and until next time keep rolling!