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Thursday, January 16, 2014

How Do You Handle the "Sleep" Spell in Your Campaigns?

Sleep is by far the most powerful spell a low level magic-user can cast. It can take out up to 16 adversaries (if they are low enough) and doesn't grant them a saving throw. Which is all fine and grand until you realize that same spell in the hands of your players opponents can bring the session to an awkward halt.

I have no problem hitting my players with a well deserved TPK, but taking them out without a save, even if it is to wake up tied up and captive instead of dead, just doesn't seem right. It's not all that fair, either, but I'm not so worried about fairness ;)

So, the options as I see it are:

- don't give NPC / monsters access to the sleep spell

- give Sleep a saving throw for all

- the players are special and get a saving throw against Sleep - the spell works as written for others

- allow for a save the moment the victim is touched (to be tied or killed)

The second option is probably the best I can think of, but I'm sure I've missed a few.

How do you handle "Sleep" in your campaigns?

35 comments:

  1. Another option is to have it just be "normal" sleep. I imagine what would happen if you were to fall asleep standing up - you would probably fall over and wake yourself. So, if sleep is cast on characters that are standing up they will wake up when they fall over. Noise from combat could also wake up characters.

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    1. That would make the spell completely useless.

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    2. No, standing opponents will still be out of combat for a round or two while they fall down and then get back up again. They just can't all be "insta-killed".

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    3. I'm inclined to this solution, too. I would just think that maybe they are 'magically' asleep long enough to even hit the ground and not wake up. They might even lower themselves to the ground, in an unstoppable fit of sleepiness. That way, the spell does what it says on the tin, but the target isn't effectively in a coma, and can be awoken by normal means. Whatever normal means.

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  2. I've only ever once had an NPC used a sleep spell on a PC and that was in a tavern where the NPC was trying to show her worth (and the player running the PC was being extremely rude and trying the "I'm just playing my character's low CHA score"). The PC fell asleep, the other PCs hired the NPC, and the rude player lasted a few more games before he just stopped showing up.

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    1. Hopefully the other PCs took out magic markers and drew moustaches and penises all over the sleeping PC's face.

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  3. I give creatures with a full hit die or better a saving throw now.

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  4. Sleep is nasty, but if your PCs have enough levels between them, or enough henchmen to pad things out, then Sleep won't get all of them. A couple of rounds of exponential face-slapping later, you most of the party is probably awake again, assuming they even let the wizard get off a spell in the first place.

    That's just my limited experience, though. I suppose my preference is to just not give the spell to NPC, or at least have them not cast it when the PCs have less than 16 HD and are all in view.

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  5. The problem with giving a saving throw is that it gimps the magic-user. Magic-users at low level do not have a lot of options. That is why sleep is so powerful - to compensate their low damage output at low level. If you allow a saving throw you would be making them even weaker.

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    1. If the DM isn't also using this Sleep against the party, he's "gimping" his monsters.

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  6. Give your NPC MU's Charm Person Instead...much more fun!

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  7. Allow a save otherwise it's a party killer that encourages too many elves in a campaign. No auto killing those slept unless one spends a whole round adjacent to foe killing a single foe. Run up to attack and it's a damage roll and they begin waking up. It works on just 2-16 total HD of foes and if a single high level foe is the target of this spell it functions (so long as the 2-16 roll is high enough).

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  8. Just like you don't force 1st level character to fight an elder dragon, you don't have NPCs cast sleep on a low level party. However, there are times when you would want to - such as when an adventure calls for the party to be captured.

    I prefer the first option, "don't give the NPC the sleep spell", unless a story requires it. However, it shouldn't be in use for the random encounter.

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  9. How about:

    - sleep = light doze + surprise upon awakening.

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  10. I stick with the RAW around Sleep and I give it to NPCs only when I am prepared to absorb the consequences if it gets deployed: typically this doesn't involve NPCs who view mortality as their first option -- capture for the purposes of torment, mockery, ransom, delighted engazement, etc, are all options here.

    This also makes for reasonable questy-plot possibilities: "Rumour has it that a tribe of Kobolds has a wizard and the tribe has recently captured a spell-book that includes Sleep! This is a disaster, obviously. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate the Kobold's redoubt, retrieve the spellbook by any means necessary, and restore the safety of the countryside and its sheep and sheepkeepers by ensuring the Kobold wizard can never cast sleep again."

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  11. I generally keep players from running into enemy arcane casters at 1st and 2nd level. Unless they intentionally irritate a sage or go looking to pick a fight with a wizard.

    By the time some have hit 3rd a sleep spell isn't a guaranteed TPK.

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    1. Also remember Elves aren't affected by sleep. Which means it is semi-likely somebody will be around to wake up another party member or two before they are all killed.

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  12. Saves all around... and that "save to wake up when touched" thing isn't bad either. I may adopt it.

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  13. How about this: if the players are putting all the living creatures I throw at them to sleepy time, I send some undead after dem bitches! ;-)

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  14. Nowadays we are using Pathfinder, which allows a save. It is pretty well balanced: Medium range (100 ft + 10/caster level) and max 4 HD of creatures in a 10 ft radius burst. From D20PFSRD: "Slapping or wounding awakens an affected creature, but normal noise does not. Awakening a creature is a standard action (an application of the aid another action)."

    Back in the day... we always had to have an Elf in the party, just for this reason. And the Elf had to be beefy, like a FT/MU or something, so they could survive waking everyone up. It was just one of those things we did back then, accepted as part of the game if you wanted to "play smart." And as was already pointed out, rising in levels quickly nerfed the spell's power.

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  15. No saves. Sleep is perfect for captured PC scenarios. But what I usually do is give them some advance warning that an NPC has access to that spell. I had one group that used a pretty good tactic, trying to split up and flank the mage's camp and then attacked in waves. The first group got put to sleep. The second group attacked a round later and took the mage out before he could get off another spell.

    I had one DM that rules ALL creatures in the area of effect are affected. That meant the mage's friends too. He started it at the range the spell was cast (the farthest target creature) and then worked backwards towards the mage. Something like that anyway.

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    1. Attacks from two or more directions would be an effective tactic, especially if your party has no Elves. Ranged attacks are also an option; bows have a longer range than most any low level caster.

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  16. I keep a tight rein on how often I let NPCs use it. When I do put sleep (or other things that could take out the whole PC party) into the game, I tend to "telegraph" it with so many hints/clues that the PCs know what they are/will be up against, so they can come up with a cunning plan to deal with it. Of course if they don't come up with a plan and just plow forward recklessly, well...

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  17. Pathfinder sleep is quite reasonable IMHO, and I use it as-is. Though to be honest, I don't tend to use it on PCs. Well, I did once, but it was so that a guy could give them to his "relatives" to eat. The players were unamused.

    But in my Swords&Wizardry game, I use Sleep as it's written, though I like the idea of giving anyone higher level (or with more hit dice) than the caster a save against its effects. The thing is, "Sleep" in S&W has a roll to see how many creatures are put down. I think that controls things to an extent. Our wizard generally gets all the targets, but a few notable exceptions have happened.

    As with Pathfinder, I don't really plan to use Sleep against the party, unless the NPC is setting up some "James Bond" like trap.

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  18. I just went with a saving throw for everyone.

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  19. My opinion: allowing a saving throw for sleep would lead to more TPKs than not doing so. This is the go-to spell for a 1st level mage and will be used every time it's available; it will hardly ever get used against the PCs. All those monsters suddenly making their saving throw are much more dangerous than the one-in-a-blue-moon enemy mage who survives long enough to cast it.

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  20. We also need to keep in mind how limited its use would be... a 1st level Wizard only has one spell in many rule systems. Even if the rules allow 2 or 3, how many slots will be devoted to one spell... Once that spell is used, the caster often becomes a bystander, and the enemies keep coming, room after room.

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  21. I the the Ad&d version with the save is a better idea.

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  22. No saving throw for beings of fewer HD/levels than the caster has levels; at 1st level caster this means 0-level humans/normal men, goblins, kobolds, and the like. Saving throw for those of equal or higher HD/levels; those of higher HD/level who save are unaffected, those of equal HD/level who make their save drowse for one round, losing their action, losing any Dex and shield bonus, and giving any attackers a +4 bonus to hit. Total HD/levels affected include those that make their saves (no double-dipping there).

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  23. Wasn't the purpose of replacing the saving throw with a hit die restriction to cut down on all the dice rolling? Why not just expand that concept? Monsters effectively get a predetermined number, based on hit dice, for their saving throws. The ref can use this whenever he doesn't feel like rolling dice (his decision should be based on the number of foes; not the odds, as that would be biased). That way there's no in-game difference between monsters and players. Just a convenient tool for the referee

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  24. No change. Pull no punches. A sleep NERF hammer only engenders poor players.

    Relevant other details:

    OD&D, Holmes Basic D&D, Moldvay Basic D&D: The spell gives no indication that it's selective. Range 240' might mean everybody within 240' is a potential target; a magic-user's allies are just as likely to be a target than his enemies. (Devil's advocate: Holmes and Moldvay examples suggest it is targeted. Adventurers worried about being slept can organize in two "waves" as they explore. The back wave is responsible for, among other things, staying out of sight (and thus not targetable), and rescues when the front wave gets slept, held, or whatever. My players often do this because it's a good general strategy.)

    AD&D, Mentzer Basic D&D: Sleep is limited in area: 30' diameter circle in AD&D; 40' square in Mentzer. Just don't clump up.

    Also: Bring retainers, hirelings, and henchmen. Every one of those means one more person unlikely to be slept, and thus one more person to help wake up.

    There are relatively easy player choices that happen to mitigate many sleep situations, but which (more importantly) are just good tactics in the first place.

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