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Is Banishment Overpowered? How To Deal with Banishment as a DM

Aside from Counterspell, which I dealt with in an earlier post, another problematic spell in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is Banishment. In fact like Counterspell it also makes DM David’s top four irritating invocations in the game. In his words:

Banishment lets players split combat scenes into two parts. In part one, the wizard or cleric banishes the toughest foes so their party can gang up on the outnumbered mooks in a one-sided romp. In the second part, the banished creatures spring back into reality and the party ambushes them. A potentially compelling fight turns into a rout followed by a dreary murder scene.

This is exactly what happened when I was Dungeon Mastering the other day and I came across the spell as a DM for the first time. The party’s camp was attacked at night by a band of orcs, led by an orc eye of gruumsh and a pet cyclops. The fight started interestingly enough with my cyclops scoring a critical hit on the party’s almost indestructible paladin, but the minute the party’s sorcerer cast Banishment on the cyclops the fight was over as a contest. Orcs were routinely mopped out of existence after which the cyclops rematerialised surrounded and outnumbered. The subsequent dice rolls were pregnant with the weight of their own pointlessness.

Up in a puff of smoke…

I was pondering how overpowered and frustrating the spell was after the session and so looked it up to see if somehow we weren’t missing something… and indeed we were. A closer look at the material components of the invocation (p. 217 PH), reveals that “an item distasteful to the target” is required to cast it. Now, I’m a pretty liberal DM when it comes to components. If the costs aren’t prohibitive I assume the caster in question keeps a reliable stock of whatever bits, bobs, nuts and guts they are likely to need during the course of an adventure. However this component requirement clearly demands some knowledge of the intended subject of the spell and varies completely depending on the target. And so I’ve informed my players that if they want to cast this spell in the future they are going to do some legwork on their opponent and then after go out and acquire an appropriate ingredient for the spell to work. In other words it’s nerfed… and all according to the rules!

Of course it’s up to you as DM how strictly you want to enforce this rule, and what breaks you give your PCs… maybe some kind of nature or knowledge check could determine if a character for example knows that orcs hate elves, and therefore if they have something elven on them they could go ahead and cast Banishment successfully. But overall, a strict interpretation of this material component will help seriously reduce the otherwise over-effectiveness of a potentially very problematic spell.

One final thing to note is that Banishment does require concentration, so if the PC in question casts another spell that requires concentration the baddie they just banished will pop back into existence. Similarly if the bad guy’s buddies are smart and rain blows on the caster the chances are they will quickly lose concentration and the banished boss will reappear.

So there you are… problem solved? Let me know your thoughts and experiences!

Ps. if you feel the component aspect is too arbitrary and open to interpretation and you would rather go with a rules fix, I would suggest – something similar to DM David’s suggestion – that the Banished creature returns in 1d8 rounds, in a random direction, between 5 and 50ft feet (1d10 x5) of the spot they were banished from. And they must materialise in a space (not in a wall etc.). Or you could simply give them a saving throw to return at the end of each of their turns. Just give your players advance warning of any rules changes you want to enforce and allow them to change spells if they feel that they don’t like your amended version.

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12 Comments

  1. Alexey

    A character can use a component pouch or a speIlcasting focus (found in chapter 5) in place of the components specified for a spell. (PHB 203)Only if a cost is indicated for a component, a character must have that specific component before he or she can cast the spell.
    So any spellcasting focus renders this “fix” useless. And most spellcasters I know use foci and not component pouches for exactly the reasons “I have to explain to DM where I found this particular component”.

    • duncan

      Hi Alexey, you’re absolutely right. Of course as the DM you can rule that components are required, or at least required for this spell, especially as the component for banishment is something quite specific that seems to require the PCs to do some groundwork / research before using.

  2. XenoBard

    I use a different approach…let’s say the party is fighting creatures native to another plane…say fiends and the big bad is a Hezrou. BAMM the players banish the Hezrou back to its home plane. Since it does not indicate where on the home plane, I send it back to the spot it came from. All of a sudden it appears back in front of its master and he isn’t stupid. Casts Dispel Magic, threatens the Hezrou not to come back until his mission is complete and sends him back with a Glabrezu. I doubt the party will be using that spell too often.

    • duncan

      haha! Handy trick to have up your sleeve…

    • K the Wizard

      Alexey is completely right about components and focuses. If you want to suddenly impose a rule about strict component or knowledge requirements for this spell, there are two things as a DM I think you need to do:

      1) Be absolutely open that you are you are targeting this spell and ONLY this spell with a custom nerf by your choice.

      2) Allow the player to pick another spell immediately. If they prepare spells for the day, like clerics and paladins do, they get to immediately prepare a new one. If they have to select spells to learn, such as wizards and sorcerors do, they get to immediately choose a new spell. If the wizard opts to “unlearn” the spell and do something else, you refund them all money and anything else they spent to learn and transcribe the spell. No questions asked. No role play scenario needed unless they are into that. It just happens, because you’ve possibly just ruined the potential for their spell, so they get to freely compensate.

      I play a Wizard and the first session where I had this spell, our DM threw a single huge boss at us. I cast Banishment. It was a machine, so its charisma was not going to be up there. But to make double sure about that, I used one of my Divination Portents to make it automatically fail. And that was the end of that boss.

      You know what that was? Me schooling an unprepared DM. He threw a fit, but eventually accepted it and apologized for his outburst. He did not know what spells his players were capable of, and he did not recognize how devastating a well-rolled Portent can be despite having seen me use Portent for dozens of sessions. And we’ve never had another battle with a single enemy ever again. He adapted. Next time I tried to banish something, something else left behind attacked me, I lost concentration, and the big thing popped right back into existence. Wasted my one fourth level spell slot.

      A lazy DM will look at this spell the first time it’s cast and come up with all sorts of interpretations and nerfs to bring it back down to what they consider fair. A prepared DM will already be ready for the consequences of what his players can do and make the scenario work within that framework.

      (Also, casters in D&D have a hell of a time, already. The brawlers can just keep hitting and scoring huge damage over and over; we have to carefully consider the usage of our very limited spells and then pray that we hit with the spell attack or that the target fails their save. Don’t make things even harder on us.)

      • duncan

        Hi K

        Thanks for stepping up to represent the player’s POV!

        I totally agree, if you are going to change, ban or nerf a spell as a DM you should say why and let the PC choose another spell. Generally in these circumstances it’s best to play by the rules as written at the time, rather than have an argument at the table, and then have a chat after the game why you want to make a change going forward.

        I do feel Banishment is a real fun drain though… you said you were schooling a newbie DM, but did you consider that your fellow PCs might actually want to fight the big boss? It’s a big disappointment when the climax of an adventure is decided by one spell.

        Also I have a wildly different opinion on casters than you! I still remember the days of 1st edition when you really did have a limited pool of resources as a wizard. These days you get more slots AND cantrips, so you never run out of things do. Plus you get the mass damage and versatility of spells. Casters are so much more powerful than brawlers, especially if you play low encounter days.

        Anyway great comment, thanks. Hopefully DMs reading this are taking notes.

    • K the Wizard

      That sort of deus ex, behind-the-scenes reasoning sounds like a surefire way to successfully cast Banishment on your game. If I was a player that experienced that, my immediate thought would be that nothing predictably works anymore, so there’s no point to anything, because the DM can just create a scenario of his choosing to bend the game back to his will.

      IN FACT, I deal with a DM right now that’s EXACTLY like that. He’s getting a little better, but most of the game, if he wanted his story to proceed the way he envisioned it, your spells meant nothing against his creative license to come up with a reason why they don’t work. At a certain point, I adopted a “whatever happens” attitude, stopped trying to develop my character, and go into every battle expecting to die and kind of hoping it actually happens.

      In fact, I’m arguing with one of the other players in that game at this very moment about why I want to quit. Don’t be a capricious DM. You may think you’ve got a great justification, but ask yourself what your players would think. The first time you do something capricious that throws rules and logic and predictability to hell, you probably still have a chance to apologize, explain, discuss, and rectify. The second time you do it, they’re gone. They may not leave your game physically, but they’re not there anymore.

      • duncan

        Good point. It’s always better to let the players express their powers and change the course of the story, rather than dictate what happens by ruling against them. Whilst it can be frustrating as a DM when you planned a tight fight and it turns into cakewalk, players actually love that, and it’s not as if, as a DM, we run out of monsters or other sticky scenarios we can put our players in down the line.

        It takes a while for most DMs to understand that (or at least it did with me!). I would have a polite chat with yours and try to stress that as players you want to be able to influence the story, and that he shouldn’t be scared of the unknown / unplanned.

        One good thing to do as a DM is throw stuff at players that is harder than you think they can manage, and NOT have a plan how they might get out of it, or win the fight. Resourceful PCs have a way of dealing with these situations, no matter how tricky, and as the DM you can relax and enjoy their creativity.

        Just the other day, when DMing, I had a situation where a young dragon was bearing down on my 3rd level party and I was thinking “f&ck, they are all going to die.” All of the characters are complete noobs, but the ranger won initiative and asked what ensnaring strike does… suddenly the dragon was crash landing in front of them, instead of taking them out with its breath weapon. I think I enjoyed the fight more than they did!

        One of the best DMs I play with in a different group says he never has a solution to the problems he poses us. He just sets up the scenario and then sees what we come up with. It sounds like your DM does the opposite.
        Maybe encourage him to not have a fixed idea how the adventure should play out. It will also help him relax and enjoy the players’ victories rather than constantly stressing to keep the encounters as he thinks they should play out according to the pre-ordained drama he had planned.

  3. The Lovely Dr Dickpunch

    Quick fix would be to add “which the spell consumes” after the material cost.

    • duncan

      I’m not sure what that changes Dr. D!?

      • Bacon Awesome

        Doesn’t that mean you can’t use an arcane focus or component pouch and would have to actually have a distasteful item?

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