D&D Helpline – Charmed, I’m sure

So we had no game last week, due to sickness and exams, but we’ll be back tomorrow.

Today, though, I’m tackling something that I’ve been meaning to for a while.  Specifically, giving a bit of help to Noumenon, who is looking for some workable rules (and more to the point, a second opinion) about casting spells during social encounters.

His problem:

I would like a better way to handle “Charm Person” type spells. I can never start spellcasting in a conversation without making the person so suspicious my DM wants to roll initiative. I don’t want to be reduced to casting a flavorful spell like Hypnotism from around the corner, and I don’t want to waste my feats on silent spells.

Well, unfortunately, I can understand your DM’s point, but he’s taking it a bit too far.

When you cast a spell while someone’s watching you, if it has verbal or somatic components they are going to know you’re casting a spell.

That said, they won’t immediately attack you, unless they’re already unfriendly towards you.

But really, the biggest problem with your DM’s handling of the situation is timing.

Let’s say Tim the Rogue is talking to an unfriendly town guard, and decides to pull a knife and stab him.  Fine, surprise round, stabby, roll damage, and (if the target is still alive) roll for initiative.

So let’s say Billy the Wizard is talking to the same unfriendly guard, and decides to cast Charm Person.  Same thing, surprise round, cast spell, roll saving throw, determine effect.  THEN, if the spell failed, roll for initiative.

If the spell succeeded, the target’s attitude towards you should increase by 2 categories, after which they wouldn’t mind you casting a spell on them, as they’re friendly now.

If the spell fails, however, I’d say there’s a good chance that the target’s attitude towards you might change from unfriendly to hostile (or indifferent to unfriendly).  If the target has allies around, who aren’t targets of the spell, to witness this, they will also likely move down one step.

That said, there are ways to prevent people noticing the spell.  The primary one involves using the Bluff skill to create a distraction.  This should effectively prevent attitudes from dropping, if the save succeeds and the spell fails.  The alternative is, of course, preventing the target from hearing and seeing you while you cast.  Around the corner works (as long as you still have line of sight), but so does just being further away, or in a crowd.

So this one really isn’t a houserule, but rather advice on handling the situation.  I hope it proves helpful to
Noumenon and his DM, as well as anyone else with similar issues.

I have yet to tackle Tommi’s request from back in February, mostly due to lack of time, and then forgetting about it. 😛  I may still, but it is quite the complex issue.  Additionally, I foresee at least some of that issue being dealt with by the new 4e rules.  We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, feel free to submit new questions the the Helpline, and I’ll do my best to answer them.


Noumenon  on April 22nd, 2008

The really good advice columnists (like Caroline Hax) always make sure to question their questioners’ motivations. Yes, I was sort of fishing for another opinion to appeal to my own DM.

I’ve never seen anyone just pull out a knife and stab someone in our D&D game. I called my DM and he says he does use surprise rounds, I’ve just never seen one. He doesn’t use them if they have enough reason to be wary of you.

I think there is enough protection against abusing Charm Person just from the fact that a) saving throws are easy to fail and b) you can immunize someone by surrounding them with lots of people.

Using Bluff will require me to get better at roleplaying since I’ll have to imagine scenarios where a bluff might work. Someone on another board suggested the “gee, it’s dark in here, let me cast a Light!” but I am going to do better.

Graham  on April 22nd, 2008

Well, the thing about surprise rounds…

If you declare you’re casting a spell, and he makes you roll for initiative before you cast it, if the enemy wins initiative and attacks you, they are attacking you before you STARTED casting the spell.

Basically, if you’re talking with someone, and they’re not fighting you yet, they shouldn’t somehow start fighting you before you’ve given them reason to by casting the spell.

The “gee, it’s dark in here” is one way to do the bluff, for sure. But there is a specific use of the bluff skill to create a distraction. This could be anything from “So, how about that hanging last night. It was pretty CHARM PERSON!” to “Hey, look, is that Drizz’t Do…CHARM PERSON!” to randomly spilling hot coffee on the person’s lap so that they don’t notice your couple seconds of mumbling.

Noumenon  on April 22nd, 2008

Hmm – I know there has been an unfortunate incident where a PC slapped our cleric and she stepped back and started casting a spell, so he impulsively won the initiative roll, pulled his sword and slashed her and we never even found out what the spell was. So I think my DM thinks spells are slower than other attacks.

Especially in the case of Hypnotism, that’s a full round to cast, so they’d have more time to react. Do you think a bluff would buy you enough time to do that one? It’s still a surprise “round,” that would be enough time.

Graham  on April 22nd, 2008

Firstly, most spells are a standard action. Attacks are also a standard action. Most spells take no longer to cast than an attack takes.

Hypnotism is a full round? Ok. You’re in a surprise round. Meaning that you can get a full round action off. (Actually, though, Hypnotism is not a full-round action. Hypnotism’s casting time is “1 round”, meaning you start casting it in the surprise round, and finish it at the beginning of your next turn, so no, it would not go off within the surprise round.)

In any case, combat doesn’t start until the act that initiated combat has completed. (In the case of Hypnotism, there is actually a chance that the opponent goes before you finish casting, but that’s one specific situation.)

But, let me say here, that the rules for surprise rounds are, indeed, sketchy as written. As written, it says you are surprised “if you are not aware of your opponents”.

Logically, if you’re not aware that the person beside you is your opponent, you’re not aware of you’re opponents, even if you’re aware of the person.

That said, another valid reason is that you are not surprised as long as you’re aware of the person, whether or not you initially considered them an opponent. This interpretation seems wrong to me, but it is what your DM is using, and it is a valid interpretation.

As such, I don’t know how much I can help you here, as your DM is playing in a way that is very restrictive for this situation. There’s no rules suggestion that I could make that would work when you aren’t allowed to cast without rolling initiative.


The example you gave is hypocritical.

(N?)PC slaps cleric. No initiative is rolled, despite an attack being involved.
Cleric casts spell, initiative is rolled.

A couple things could be happening here.
1) He is not abiding by his own ruling about surprise rounds, by granting his slapping character a surprise round, yet not your caster.
or 2) He does believe you can get an attack off in the surprise round, but doesn’t believe you can use a standard-action spell for some reason.

The first one is hypocritical and unfair. The second one is unfair, and inconsistent with the rules of the game.

Seriously, though, this is something you need to talk to your DM about. Only the two of you can come to a solution. Use the info I’ve given if you want, but it’s not my place to tell you your DM’s way is wrong. Just try to ensure that whatever is decided, it’s consistently enforced.

LokyCat  on April 23rd, 2008

This is a great discussion and I agree totally that is all about timing and surprise action. If is a private conversation then is a surprise action you can pull of a spell like charm person and if it succeeds it duos not initiating combat.

The thing that was touched on but no one addressed was:
What about if the target of the spell has friends or you cast in a public setting? Duos that initiate combat?

Me? As a GM I have 2 examples to demonstrate how Id handle a situation like that:

1) If the PC is having a conversation with 3 guards and the PC cast Charm Person and succeeds Id ask for initiative from the PC. Only 2 of the 3 guards roll initiative but the one under the control of the PC would go on the PCs turn. The guards don’t have spellcraft and don’t really know what the PC did but they know the PC just casted a spell. Weather they swing a sword and start combat with the PC for it or not is completely circumstantial but at that point Id go in combat rounds to reflect the quick thinking and reactions.

2) In most gathering like Balls and formal events there are guards keeping an eye making sure there is no trouble. If the PC is having a one on one conversation with a NPC and cast a spell is up to the guards or any bystanders to spot the spell being cast. In that case, knowing that the PC would be tring to hide the casting of a spell Id have the PC make a Bluff V.s. Spot/Sense Motive from the guards or any bystanders to see if they spot/sense a spell being cast. Usually there is music and noise at events so I would not worry about verbal components but using the bluff skill to make the somatic components look like “Vocal mannerisms” works well.

This are just 2 examples I used to explain what I as a GM would do and rule under different situation. The use of enchantments and there effects are usually circumstantial and open to suggestion according to the surrounding, specifics of the spell, target of the spell, ext. But just because you cast a spell don’t mean that it automatically leads to combat or initiative.=/

Graham  on April 23rd, 2008

Yeah, that was what I was getting at with my mention of allies, for sure. I just forgot to explain it. 😛

Good to see you around, Loky.

Noumenon  on April 24th, 2008

you start casting it in the surprise round, and finish it at the beginning of your next turn, so no, it would not go off within the surprise round.

Oh, you’re right. In fact, I looked up “surprise round” on d20srd.org and it said, “In initiative order (highest to lowest), combatants who started the battle aware of their opponents each take a standard action during the surprise round.” So a full round action would be right out, anyway.

let me say here, that the rules for surprise rounds are, indeed, sketchy as written. As written, it says you are surprised “if you are not aware of your opponents”.

I agree with you that not thinking of someone as an opponent means you are not aware of them as such. I’m taking that to the bank.

The example you gave is hypocritical.

I think the DM was surprised that the situation turned into a combat at all but called initiative without stopping to think. It was like “cleric learns what fighter’s been saying about her and spurns fighter’s bedroll with her foot”, (no initiative), “fighter jumps up and slaps cleric, but who knew he was going to do that many HP?” (maybe should have been initiative), and then, because spellcasting sounds like combat to him, he called initiative after that.

If you declare you’re casting a spell, and he makes you roll for initiative before you cast it, if the enemy wins initiative and attacks you, they are attacking you before you STARTED casting the spell.

What he could do is have them ready an action if they win initiative: “Grab him if he tries to charm me.” That would shut down Charm Person without pre-empting it. The fighter in my game should have readied an action, “Cut the cleric in half if she casts at me.” That would have forestalled the whole combat.

Lokycat, I think it would be just so much fun to try charming someone I met at a crowded ball! Like a duke, or a merchant I’ve been trying to contact. That would totally make all this effort to work out good hypnotism rules worth it.

LokyCat  on April 24th, 2008

A enchanter in a group I was in did just that.
The GM handled it a lot how I described. It was great fun trying to get out with the charmed noble, the guards were trying to catch us (The PC’s Bluff was hi enough for the surrounding guest but fell shot of the guards Sense Motive) but they did not want to let the other guest know there was any trouble. =P
Me being the Rouge/Wizard I hypnotized the guards that were closest(Bluffed to fool the guest I was just waving to a friend) wale the Enchanter casted invisible on the noble and him self. We made a clean get away with out rousing any of the other guests.

Ahhh…good times, good times.=)

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