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Foreword:

As it's my first post here, I can't insert more than a couple of links, so you'll have to find information on some of these feats and spells yourself on d20srd.

The Question:

Let's say in D&D 3.5E a party wants to get a number of artifacts1 from a cabal of wizards2.

Wizards in this cabal have the Improved Familiar feat and air elementals working restlessly as the alarm. They have other means of getting information of the moment when the party is approaching.

When the cabal knows that the danger is near, they get a fly speed from a spell (such as fly) or otherwise, get high in the sky and cast Rope Trick, hiding there and eventually winning against the siege.

How do I prevent the rope trick abuse of hiding characters and valuable items indefinitely long? Sadly, this problem can be reversed — how does a NPC group get the characters from a rope trick (linked above) of theirs?

Please note that I'm not asking about killing a party in a rope trick, I know how to do that, I'm asking about something more delicate — getting them alive/getting their items.

Footnotes

  1. i.e. the powerful magical items that are capable to impact the game dramatically
  2. a group of wizards, working together

Please don't post answers that copy the spell description and/or describe the same things but with different words, I can read. Also, please don't tell me that I have to appeal to the Golden Rule™, this is a last resort.

I need a hard counter to Rope Trick. If there is none, please answer "The closest counter to Fly Speed + Extended Rope Trick I know about is «X». But I don't think that it can be hard-countered". If there will be significant amount of answers of latter form I'll just ban Rope Trick.

Example

1200ft above the ground there is a rope trick interface behind which there is a young, yet powerful wizard Sauron, wearing the Ring of Awesomeness and a medium load worth of ropes and a wooden door. At a random moment of the duration of extended rope trick spell Sauron flies out from the interface under haste, (head first) creates another Rope Trick (within his surprise round) and climbs it. The round he gets in, he brings up the rope and closes the interface from the inside using
Your task is to get the Ring of Awesomeness from him. You haven't seen the moment of creation of the interface.

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6 Answers

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Effects Preventing Extradimensional Movement Stop the Rope Trick Spell

The spell rope trick [trans] (PH 273) creates an extradimensional space. Entering that extradimensional space requires climbing up a rope. Crossing from the rope to the extradimensional space is an act of extradimensional travel.

Extradimensional travel has a variety of hard counters, even in core.

  • The 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell dimensional anchor [abjur] (PH 221) grants the caster a ray that, if it hits, for 1 min./level stops the affected creature from using extradimensional travel. As a ray, it requires a ranged touch attack, and not!Sauron probably has defenses against those (e.g. ray deflection [abjur] (SpC 166), miss chance).
  • The 5th-level Clr spells hallow [evoc] (PH 238) and unhallow [evoc] (PH 297) can be cast so that they ward an area with an effect like the spell dimensional anchor for 1 year.
  • The 6th-level Clr spell forbiddance [abjur] (PH 232) permanently wards an area versus extradimensional travel but the caster can makes allowances for his buddies.
  • The 8th-level Sor/Wiz spell dimensional lock [abjur] (PH 221) for 1 day/level wards an area versus extradimensional travel.

All of these stop the wizard from entering a rope trick; none force him out of an in-place rope trick. Even if the DM disallows dispel attempts on the rope trick proper, the trick will expire eventually, and then it's a game of rope trick leap frog to catch not!Sauron if he's devoted enough resources to this tactic (which I applaud, by the way--how cowardly and underhanded!), even moreso if he's out in the open (which prevents forbiddance and hallow/unhallow). That's okay. We're talking a high-level dude who's devoted his resources to the spell rope trick and literally holing up, and that's weird.

A high-level dude teleports away--he doesn't rope trick. A high-level dude goes to his backup Batcave on another plane--he doesn't rope trick. The only reason he continually uses rope trick is if something he wants is nearby. That becomes the adventure: there's a reason not!Sauron chose rope trick--which in most cases is vulnerable and which everyone knows they can wait out--over just straight-up leaving. Find what he wants, and threaten the wizard into a (semi)fair fight.


The Question's Scenario

Day 1

  • Surprise Round: The rope trick spell ends. Assuming not!Sauron's maneuverability lets him hover, he uses the surprise's round's standard action to cast rope trick.
  • Round 1: not!Sauron wins initiative and takes a move action to climb the rope into the rope trick. Then he takes a move action to retract the rope. Combat ends if the DM disallows dispel attempts on the rope trick.
  • Remaining Day: The PCs go into town and buy a staff of dimensional lock (8th-level spell at caster level 15) (300 gp + 1,800 gp/charge; 4 lbs.). They use 1 charge on the area where the rope trick was cast.

Day 2

  • Surprise Round: The rope trick spell ends. Assuming not!Sauron's maneuverability lets him hover, he uses the surprise's round's standard action to cast rope trick.
  • Round 1: not!Sauron wins initiative and takes a move action to try to climb the rope into the rope trick; he can't enter, prevented by the dimensional lock. He takes a standard action to cast a spell, possibly eliminating a PC. The PC with the staff readies an action to activate it if not!Sauron casts a spell that the spell dimensional lock can prevent (an individual DM's interpretation of the ready action may vary). Remaining PCs attack wizard.
  • Remaining Rounds: Fight!

This scenario is vastly simplified and ignores infinite variables, but it's to show the means above in action.

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Detect and Dispel Magic are your friends here.

Rope Trick is a sor/wis 2 spell. Therefore, I'll limit the discussion to caster levels 2-3, as higher than that opens up typical high-level caster duels.

It has three significant features for this discussion:

  • The window is present on the Material Plane,
  • but it’s invisible
  • Those in the extradimensional space can see out of it as if a 3-foot by 5-foot window were centered on the rope.

Therefore, the spell is targetable from the material plane, so long as the caster has a means to see invisible magic. Given that detect magic functions in this manner, and the spell enumerates what cannot pass the barrier (spells and area effects), the trivial solution here is a ladder. Still, sticking one's head inside a window with 7 middling-level magi on the other side isn't wise. We'll set aside things like sticking one's finger through and casting cloudkill (or rope-trick) as well.

The next most obvious line of attack is dispel magic. The spell is present as a "invisible, opaque, window" and therefore exists. Dispel magic has no qualms whatsoever for attempting to dispel the window, though multiple attempts are probably indicated. It's likely wise to set up an unfortunate floor for the "descending" creatures first, like a wall of fire or equivalent.

Finally, the window can be covered with dimensional anchor, "locking" the space from the outside. This gives the attacker quite a few hours to prepare a reception for the recipients (again, setting aside plane shift).

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Dispel won't work. The target of dispel is the rope, the interface is one of effects. Once the rope is hidden rope trick can't be dispelled. –  DMunchkin Jan 14 at 11:25
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This discussion, as well as several others around, seem to consider the Rope Trick dispellable, (if spotted with Detect Magic first). The spell is cast on the rope, but the Dimensional Window is an interface existing on both planes which is the manifestation of the spell. –  lisardggY Jan 14 at 11:35
    
In short, they should have listed the window and extradimensional space as an Effect, but they neglected to do so. Easy solution, strongly-suggested houserule. But even if you argue that the text of the spell are also “effects,” the lack of an Effect entry still makes the spell as a whole not an “effect spell” as dispel magic requires. –  KRyan Jan 14 at 18:05
    
Relevant link to a chat between @Julix and I about this subject. –  KRyan Jan 14 at 18:25
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Rational for challenge: Like NPCs, cool and clever uses for a spells by NPCs exist merely for the entertainment of players and the telling of stories. These spells should be implemented only when they affordd the players an interesting challenge.

The rope trick is a challenge, and solutions exist to address it. The questions really are A. is it interesting enough of a challenge to be worth their time? and B. Does the party have access to tools to address this challenge?

Nature/review of challenge: 1. There's a living alarm system in place, and 2. as soon as it's triggered the wizards fly up to the clouds (using fly spells) and 3. flee into extra-planetary space using the rope trick, where they presumably rest (refreshing the fly spells if the caster of the rope trick has a high enough level to cover the time they need to rest). The spell expires at some point (after caster level hours) and dumps all the contents out (unless they leave before it expires), leading to a brief shower of wizards raining out of the sky - or feather falling if they have the spells prepared. Then they wander back from where ever they fell to that location with the air elemental I assume. If they're high enough level at this point they're well rested and could repeat the process if the party triggers the alarm again. -- If the casters who open the rope tricks aren't 8 or higher, then they'll need to resort to alternative ways to access flight if they haven't rested before attacked again! But they could still use alternative means to flight if they have them. Those could be limitless (artifact that grants flight, perhaps brooms? - to the same effect of CL<7) or limited.

Solution 0: Wait them out If they're limited but large in number that could probably be used up in a boring repeat until they run out kind of way. That would be a siege scenario - you ask the players do you keep repeating it and fast forward time until they decide to go look for an alternative solution or all the charges or uses of all the wizards means to flight are used up (at which point they haven't properly rested for a long time, instead sleeping a lot for few hours at a time, while our players got to take turns triggering the alarms and are fine). Also consider long before this point the wizards might get pissed anyways and try attacking, rather than allowing themselves to be disturbed in their important bidding all the time.

Note: Rope trick has components: powdered corn and a twisted loop of parchment. How much of that do you think they have as a group? Where do they get more from? If the players mess with access to the components they could do the siege tactic even if they rest (but not if they have infinite alternative access to flight).

Solution 1: Avoid or take out the alarm somehow. You didn't explain how the air elemental works as an alarm, but surely it could be tricked somehow. It has Listen +2, Spot +3, and 60 ft darkvision, but invisibility would probably work just fine. - Or just sneak up and kill the... blower. It has 9 hp. And even if the wizards still get away this time, getting a new familiar takes time.

Solution 2: Deal with the wizards before they flee *a.* Keep them from casting flight. I guess solution 0 somewhat did this the slow way, but what about a silence spell? A dispel magic spell? Other anti-magic sources? Interrupt their spell casting with an arrow in the forehead or what ever manner you prefer. Get them to need to take concentration checks by distracting them with poisonous gas traps that you prepared while they were hiding away. b. use solution 1: invisibility (plus slight of hand for getting the artifact) or hurting them. They're wizards, not clerics - so damage them as good as you can. Even if they can rest, they likely have low constitution so they heal slow enough that they won't recover much before coming back. c. Trap 'em. hide yourself (with an alarm) in their location waiting for them to return, and then lock the doors after they come in, or otherwise alter the environment so that they're trappped indoors even if flying. Make sure that if you make the entrance collapse you have means of leaving. d. get flying and while following them keep hurting them, basically extension of 2b.

Solution 3: don't let fleeing stop you a. If you can fly right away during their escape, follow them right into their holes while they're fleeing. If you didn't have the spell before, how about buying a scroll of flight? b. If you can't fly at all, but you have access to a spell that does go beyond the planes, find it from the ground. Then let projectiles do the talking. Build a rocket of sorts and launch it right under the hole. It's like shooting the side of a barn but from much further away... so a sniper rocket. While difficult to build, if they succeed and one would kill all the wizards, the dead bodies would fall out of the sky after the spell expires... pretty cool. c. Or find mundane means to fly and follow them later. Use detect magic to find the entrance as the entrance is invisible to the naked eye but still magic. It might be good that if it takes hours, because you can't look through the entrance of the hole, so you won't know what's going on inside. Of course if you rushed in right after them you know what's going on: they just arrived. But if you're late they might all be aiming their magic at the entrance, as they can look out through the entrance window (if they're not sleeping). - If you wait a little bit and assume they are in fact sleeping thinking that you don't have access to flight nor would find the entrance) you could sneak in and stab them all in their sleep. - muahahaha. d. wait outside. Since their peek hole is at the entrance, if you find it and have a long term source of flight (like an undead dragon? - or a hot air balloon) park it right above the hole and wait until they leave or start falling.

Solution 4: GM stops NPCs from doing it - ideal if they don't have the tools, or if the challenge seems boring a. Wizards are people too. Even if mechanically this works, they'll get bored of it or impatient. Perhaps have one of them say "You know what to do, Boys." and another says "Really? We're powerful! Why do we keep running away from these losers? Let's just deal with them!" -- unless they're all elven or immortal they might not want to delay their plans for weeks to play hide and seek with the party. b. Situation changes. They plan to use the artifact for something (that is deep in a dungeon thus they can't just fly away). Of course if the players don't have means of tracking them that'll be frustrating too, but at least it won't be boring. c. Come up with your own reason.

Solution 5: Don't worry a. Let the players figure it out. b. Break the 4th wall. If you did in fact limit their use and complained to them when they were using the rope trick, rather than figure out a way around it, the situation is unfair. Decide to ban the spell all together and make up a silly ingame explanation.

For example: let them have a conversation with a strange but powerful God. His avatar (form of a crazy person) says to them "You know what, this is getting boring. I've had an interest in you folks for a while now because you know... you're funny. But this stuff... Really wizards running away like that is just cheating isn't it?" - and if they agree with him (rather than or as well as being baffled by what he's talking about and how he knows their situation) he says "Would you agree this world would be a better place without the rope trick?" - And if they the party wizard (and all other wizards nearby if any) suddenly feel a pain. "It'll only hurt for a moment" the joker character says and runs of. If the wizard ever uses that spell again, he'll notice it works slightly different now. It summons a rope as before but at the top is a little note. If he climbs up to read it it reads somewhat like the kind of legal document you get when your service is cancelled because of something someone did (without claiming or denying that it was you). "This free service is temporarily unavailable, report error to plane administrator [and in fine print] The premium membership expired 2 milenia 4 centuries and 3 decades ago, thus shifting to the free version kindly provided by "Too infinity and beyond Inc." as per terms and conditions of use, which the plane administrator read and agreed to. Inappropriate, abusive behavior coming from your plane of existence has been reported, including trespassing and loitering thus violating the fair use clause of the terms and conditions of service. See section IV.9.c. paragraph 2. Until further notice entrance is closed. For upgrading to premium membership, contact us at our office, during opening hours. Sincerely, 2I&B Inc."

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First of all, it can never be "indefinitely long" since the spells duration is:

Duration: 1 hour/level (D)

And the items/characters can always be retrieved:

Anything inside the extradimensional space drops out when the spell ends

Secondly, the spell does not prevent non-magical entry into the hidden space, other characters could climb the rope (if it is left out of the space) or jump/fly into the space physically, even shoot or throw projectiles into the space.

Thirdly, there are some spells and effects that can enter into the hidden space:

Creatures in the extradimensional space are hidden, beyond the reach of spells (including divinations), unless those spells work across planes


So really, if the situation occurs then it would be up to the party (PC or NPC) to figure out what transpired (in the case where they arrive after the escape and the rope has been withdrawn) and how to deal with it - either by casting spells such as True Sight to see invisibility, and discovering the hidden window - or by simply firing non-magical projectiles all around (or even flying around and looking for the opening) - If they are powerful enough, they could even perform extradimensional scrying or locator spells (or teleportation spells, or retrieval spells) the list goes on....

It doesn't seem a like such a dire problem, the air elementals and improved familiars don't make the situation more or less difficult to deal with, they just make the fight harder. Often times you should leave a problem to be solved by the players instead of trying to solve it on your own - players are just as capable as you, and there are more of them, give them some credit.


Notes from the comments:

There will always be holes - you can either apply a solution to filling them, or stand there looking at the hole - and some people just go and make more holes. In this case, there are solutions to the hole here, and instead of embracing them, you start making more holes. Even if the wizards make a loop of featherfall/ropetrick there is still a round or two where they can be targeted. Calling something irrelevant is unproductive and only an opinion. As the DM you can either work with or against the players, but don't work against the game it will always find a way

I think the main conflict here is "Rules as Interpreted" because you are reading the spell as being broken/abusive/unbalanced and your interpretation of this spells elements, such as the window and the nature of the extraplanar pocket are affecting the game you are running. As long as you are deeming this spell "broken" it will be, only once you realize that each element of the spell (or indeed, all spells) are to be interpreted for the game in whatever way makes most sense, and advances the game in a direction of fun. I ask "Why not?", "Why shouldn't an arrow get through?"

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Firstly can be fixed with casting new rope trick under effect of feather fall. Secondly is fairly irrelevant as the rope trick plan doesn't have a defined area because it's not material. I'd rule this out as creatures in the rope trick have at least total concealment and potentially total cover, hence can't be attacked or (most certainly) can't be attacked trough the interface. –  DMunchkin Jan 14 at 10:26
    
Add to my comment on Firstly: Remember that the rope trick interface is high in the skies. Remember extend spell. Remember how painful is facing a well-prepared well-rested band of wizards. –  DMunchkin Jan 14 at 10:34
    
There will always be holes - you can either apply a solution to filling them, or stand there looking at the hole - and some people just go and make more holes. In this case, there are solutions to the hole here, and instead of embracing them, you start making more holes. Even if the wizards make a loop of featherfall/ropetrick there is still a round or two where they can be targeted. Calling something irrelevant is unproductive and only an opinion. As the DM you can either work with or against the players, but don't work against the game it will always find a way. –  Inbar Rose Jan 14 at 10:43
    
Can you please elaborate on useful transplanar spells? –  DMunchkin Jan 14 at 10:50
    
@InbarRose For attacking through the interface, may I recommend a discussion of the benefits of detect magic and combined with AoE "grenade" like weapons? –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 14 at 10:52
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Need a hard counter to Rope Trick? Make one.

The list of spells for DnD 3.5e is a list of spells that WotC created, but there is no reason you cannot make a spell yourself. Spellcrafting is a thing, and you could even ask your DM if you could rule-in a spell that can effectively counter Rope Trick if you're so inclined.

My suggestion - Gravity.


Gravity

Caster Level: Sorc 2/Wiz 2/Cleric 3

Duration: 1 hour

AoE: 100 ft. Radius

Effect: You create a sphere of enhanced gravity, such that ascending becomes far more difficult. Flight becomes impossible in this area, and all Climb and Jump checks suffer a -10 environment penalty.


This is a very rough idea of what the spell would look like (It would need a lot of modification for balance sake), but would likely do the trick for a Cabal of wizards abusing rope trick.

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It's been awhile since I've played D20 D&D, so I don't have good solutions for identifying WHERE the Rope Trick is cast, or when the cabal will have to jump to the next Rope Trick, but assuming you solve those, here's a mess of tricks to disrupt them from getting back into other dimensional space:

Wait, where is it?

Cast Darkness on the rope when they cast Rope Trick. Rope Trick covers 5-30 feet of rope, Darkness is 20 ft. effect. Doesn't stop them from finding the Window, but also slows down the process of them getting into it. They will also have to ditch the rope unless they want to sit in darkness or cast another spell in their hidey hole.

Pros: 2nd level spell, no save, lasts 10 mins/level!

Cons: Have to touch the rope - might make sense to use familiar to do so

Already Occupied!

Summon Insect Plague when the new Rope Trick is cast. Rope Trick can hold ONLY up to 8 creatures (any size) and well... a cloud of locusts will quickly fill that - leaving the cabal stuck out. You might be able to get away with Summon Swarm of bats instead, but the Insect Plague has better range and is pretty much guaranteed to fill it.

Pros: Unexpected twist of the spell's limits, distraction to the casters, no save allowed

Cons: Timing! Range if you use Summon Swarm.

Animate Rope

They have to cast Rope Trick on rope, right? Animate Rope to entangle one of the casters, preventing them from acting. It's a perfect trick for a low level follower, or hired caster to do.

Pros: Unexpected, cheap trick. 1st level spell. Ok range, 100ft-ish. No save.

Cons: Only affects one caster

Look at this!

  1. Cast Symbol of Pain on an object
  2. Cast Invisibility on the object, wrap the object in a cloth
  3. Tie object to the Rope, unwrap
  4. Fly away, quickly.
  5. If the cabal has any way to see Invisible, they now suffer Symbol of Pain if they're with in 60 ft. of it. (5-30 ft rope, so getting into the window will be tough)
  6. Otherwise, Drop the Invisibility, and now they can see it.

Pros: Screws up just about anything they're trying to do, pain continues 1 hour AFTER they get away from the symbol on top of that. Cons: Two spells, have to get to the Rope, Fort Saves.

The Anti-Magic Flyby

  1. Get a flying mount of some type. Trained Griffon, giant Eagle, etc. Summoned can work too, though a bit more of a pain.

1b. (summoned creatures only) - tie a rope from the flying creature to the caster, rope must be longer than 10 ft. distance between the two.

  1. Cast Anti-magic field on the caster

  2. Fly into the mass of the cabal as they exit the Rope Trick.

Disrupts any ongoing spells they have (Fly, Feather Fall, etc.) briefly, but enough to disrupt casting. Also if you can get a grapple or stay within range of them, it prevents them from casting the next Rope Trick while you try to deal with them.

Pros: Keeps you safe from their spells, disrupts their spells

Cons: Only while you're in range..., stops your own side's spell effects/summons

(edited to remove the Clown Car solution, upon re-reading Rope Trick rules...)

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