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A player in one of my campaigns has incredibly high initiative (+14) and also Step-Up and Strike. He is a Magus.

This is causing me huge headaches anytime I place a spellcaster enemy in the game. At the moment, the enemy usually gets one spell off at best before being assaulted and constantly followed by the magus and unable to continue to cast properly.

What's a good counter to this for me as GM?

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Welcome, Lilligant, I've edited your titles to be a little more interesting and informative. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jun 6 '13 at 4:40
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Well, the guy has invested three feats to even get Step-Up and Strike, so it's good he's able to get some use out of it. But here are some (well, a lot of) counter-measures:

Best Option: Prevent the Magus from ever getting close

Simply design encounters such that the magus can't close with an important caster.

  • Design the environment so that there is literally no path to the caster; small rooms or narrow passages work well for this. So long as there are some minions between them, it'll be tricky for the magus to get up close. Encounters with different levels of elevation also work well at lower levels.

  • Cover prevents attacks of opportunity, even partial cover. So placing some strategic broken walls or flipped tables can provide the caster much needed shelter.

  • Some burly bodyguards who specialize in, say, trip attacks or grappling could simply grab onto the magus as he tries to close in, even if the path were otherwise clear.

  • Have the encounter start at a longer range; if they're out in an open field, the caster could get several spells off before the party's melee guys can close in

  • Conversely, have it start as a close range ambush. The bad guys have already prepared, and the magus's init doesn't help as much if he doesn't get to act in the surprise round.

  • Give the caster alternate movement; depending on the level, that could be flight, short range teleportation, or some means to pass directly through walls!

  • Attacks of opportunity can't be made against an enemy with total concealment. So an invisible caster doesn't need to worry about them; since you're at least a 6th level party, invisibility, darkness, and the like are definitely fair game for enemy casters.

Plan B: Once the magus closes

  • Have the caster take a move action back instead of a 5' step. The magus gets an AoO, but he'd get that anyway! And by the time the move is finished, they'll be far enough away to cast safely.

  • Let the caster simply make the concentration check to cast a spell without provoking. It's a tough check, but you could invest some of their feats and other resources into this.

  • As mentioned above, if they can gain cover or total concealment, there's no AoO for casting. Maybe a friend could do something as simple as pushing a turned over table between the two of them!

  • If one of their comrades steps in and grapples with the magus, he won't be able to follow you when you move away.

  • There are also tons of defensive spells that will help, such as mirror image.

Plan C

  • Have more casters!
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Do note that one's mileage could vary as to whether or not Step Up And Strike counts as an attack-of-opportunity. It uses one, but is not necessarily one. – Kyle Willey Jun 6 '13 at 5:18
@KyleWilley Hmm, it doesn't say it "uses one" it says it "counts as one of your attacks of opportunity for the round" -- I don't see much wriggle-room. In any case, it's the AoO prompted by spellcasting that's the real problem, and there's no ambiguity there! – starwed Jun 6 '13 at 5:28
That is very much true; if you can five-foot step there's probably not anything that would normally prevent an AoO, since it doesn't say you can bypass an obstruction or anything, and if you could via another feat you'd obviously be able to pass the obstacle. – Kyle Willey Jun 6 '13 at 7:04
If the Magus always does the Step up move, he will likely have a reputation as a wizard-killer. Wolf-pack him... but not all the time, or he'll smell a rat. – Pulsehead Jun 6 '13 at 12:47
I've had great success with concentration checks and Combat Casting. My players use it, why shouldn't I? – C. Ross Jun 8 '13 at 0:06

@starwed has a great open-ended answer, but I wanted to provide some specific spells and counters:

This is causing me huge headaches anytime I place a spellcaster enemy in the game. At the moment, the enemy usually gets one spell off at best before being assaulted and constantly followed by the magus and unable to continue to cast properly.

So what spell are they getting off?

These are "bread and butter" spell caster spells to specifically avoid getting into melee.

If you get stuck in melee, a caster over 3rd level can usually survive one AoA. Especially with the Magus who is just making a regular attack. That regular attack will deal limited damage because they don't get to use Shocking Grasp with it. That means the concentration check is not an automatic fail.

Two other spells can help nullify the situation:

  • Haste: I can run away from the Magus faster than he catch up
  • Slow: again, much easier to get away
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I'd recommend changing up your encounter design.

You probably have wide open spaces (or otherwise not terribly restricted wide corridors), and this is really simple for combat, but doesn't provide a lot of tactical opportunities.

Place obstacles.

Don't let your magus access the spellcasters. Place them above harm's reach on a ledge, or behind a grate/wall with a window/slit in it. Force anyone attacking the spellcasters to go around the obstacle, keeping them from directly accessing them, and have enemy forces be aware that this technique will likely be employed by putting a trap or guard between them and the easy route to the casters.

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A video game that does this well is Avernum-it's an old-school turn-based RPG that has lots of environmental design with ledges and drops, windows, and more that keep fighters from just wasting the enemy's archers or mages in the first combat turn. – Kyle Willey Jun 6 '13 at 4:51

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