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The Conjure Woodland Beings spell says

You summon fey creatures that appear in unoccupied spaces that you can see within range. Choose one of the following options for what appears.

  • One fey creature of challenge rating 2 or lower

  • Two fey creatures of challenge rating 1 or lower

The DM has the creatures' Statistics.

Very recently I've discovered the DM is the one that chooses the creatures that appear. Per Sage Advice:

When you cast a spell like conjure woodland beings, does the spellcaster or the DM choose the creatures that are conjured? Some spells of this sort specify that the spellcaster chooses the creature conjured. Other spells of this sort let the spellcaster choose from among several broad options.

The design intent for options like these is that the spellcaster chooses one of them, and then the DM decides what creatures appear that fit the chosen option. A spellcaster can certainly express a preference for what creatures shows up, but it’s up to the DM to determine if they do. The DM will often choose creatures that are appropriate for the campaign and that will be fun to introduce in a scene.

However, me and my players are having trouble matching our expectations and even progressing the game quickly enough. The player will cast this with some expectation:

I need this for combat, I need crowd control, I need utility

How am I, the DM, meant to choose the creatures that appear without screwing over the player but also not giving him exactly what he wants?

Then, how do I make this a fast choice? Am I supposed to have a list available of all fey or all beasts or all elementals by CR? If so, should I, before each adventure, run through the list and decide which creatures should appear? Or make them random?

I'm having trouble with these decisions because they seem to contradict each other.

  • If I try to appease the player, I can't decide a basic set of creatures that get summoned.
  • If, to make it quick, I prepare this set, then the player's plans might be ruined and he just wasted a valuable spell slot (we have 2 Rangers on our party with Conjure X spells).
  • If I pick randomly, then it's random, so it might not make sense in the adventure.
  • If I have to prepare these sets of creatures, it's a lot of additional prep work. People don't like the Wild Magic Sorcerer because the DM has to remember to roll for Wild Magic Surges, this feels like something similar.

What are your experiences with these spells and how do you handle these situations?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you aware of the Monsters by Type listing(aid) provided by WoTC? All of the Fey are on page 3. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 23 '17 at 13:56
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I play a druid character who regularly uses conjuration spells. To make life easy on my DM I prepared a cheat sheet of all the summonable subjects. It's just a little sheet that has AC, relevant abilities and a hit point marker for each summoned creature. If there are 8 creatures summoned for that CR, then there are 8 hit point markers. He usually has me run them for him, but he still makes the decision. Each entry on the sheet has key words that can help him make a quick judgement call: underground, flying, darkvision, poison, etc.

When I cast the spell, I tell him what my character is hoping will appear, usually using a keyword. If I am hoping for air support, I might get owls, or bats. For poison, I might get snakes or spiders. Part of the fun of D&D is dealing with surprise results (one of the main reasons the game has dice).

So yeah, if your players intend on making a lot of use of these spells, some prep work ahead of time can be helpful. If you can convince them to do the heavy lifting (as I did for my DM) so much the better.

In general, the DM should make something appear that has some relevancy and helpfulness for the current situation. The player is expending a spell resource, after all.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you share this cheat sheet? They might not have the same Conjure spells as you, but it could be useful in the future \$\endgroup\$ – BlueMoon93 Oct 23 '17 at 9:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe something to add, but creating a % chance chart and allowing your PC to roll for what set of creatures would make it more fair IF you want to keep the randomness \$\endgroup\$ – Reed Oct 23 '17 at 12:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Reed which takes us back to OD&D and 1e DM checking for whether any creatures of that type are in the area ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 23 '17 at 13:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BlueMoon93 Not sure if sharing a file is protocol here, but someone will edit if not. docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/… \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Oct 23 '17 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note: That's for Conjure Animals. Another party member started using Conjuration, so I voluntarily stopped using that class of spells before I got high enough level to use the others, so our DM's head would not asplode. :) \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Oct 23 '17 at 14:47
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Cutting through the red tape

The most straightforward way to deal with this is just to let your players choose the creatures they want. In my experience, players casting these spells know what they want, and they're casting these spells to get that thing. A spell that summons some random creatures just isn't as useful or interesting as a spell that lets you summon creatures you choose. This is how I ran it in my games since long before the Sage Advice in question was written, and it's always worked fine.

But what about the invisible flying T-Rexes?

Making it the DM's choice does prevent players from abusing these spells. And let me tell you, there's some pretty crazy abuse to be had. With that said, it's simplest for everyone involved if you just reach an agreement with your players to not abuse them. They get the power and versatility that these spells have, and you don't have to do the extra work. When I've had this conversation with my players, most of them didn't really understand what I meant by "abuse" - I had to teach them the overpowered tricks in order to have them agree not to use them!

I just don't trust those sneaky players

Fair enough. In that case, I'd recommend telling them something along the lines of "you'll get what you want, unless it seems like you're trying to do something ridiculous". Having the player choice as the default option will save you a bunch of time. On the occasion when they ask for 8 pixies, or 8 quicklings, or something else that you don't want happening in your campaign, then you worry about choosing for them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And in case anyone is interested as to exactly how this one can be abused: Pixies are 1/4 CR. You can summon 8 of them with this spell. Pixies can cast polymorph. They can then turn the party into a T-rex or something. T-Rexes have 136 HP and make 2 attacks per turn of 4d12+7 and 3d8+7. Cha-Ching! \$\endgroup\$ – Shane Oct 23 '17 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Correction: T-Rex can make a bite and a tail attack, but not on the same creature. Not that 4d12+7 is something to just shake a stick at, but if you're facing a T-Rex it can't get you with both on its turn. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Aug 21 '18 at 0:21
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Am I supposed to have a list available of all fey or all beasts or all elementals by CR?

I believe that there probably won't be much of a way around this. To make a choice over whether or not what you summon is useful for your PC you will have to have at least some overview over each of the options. Though I'd guess it gets easier as time passes. Also it seems that the list of eligible creatures isn't that large.

How am I, the DM, meant to choose the creatures that appear without screwing over the player but also not giving him exactly what he wants?

Now, I'm not 100% familiar with the ingame lore of summoning, so I'm going to list the assumptions I'm making:

  • When a summon spell is cast, basically a call is made to whatever plane/place the creatures to be summoned dwell.
  • This call can include details as to the wishes of the caster, from 'I need someone to break down a heavy door.' to 'I need a pixie.'
  • The creatures in the plane don't know what's actually happening around the caster; the only information they (and you as DM) have to go on is what the caster adds to his summon call.
  • While the call is always answered (you never summon nothing, usually), the additional requests made by the caster need not necessarily be heeded. (This is where your question/discretion comes in.)
  • When the creature is unsummoned, it returns wherever it was summoned from.

And it remembers. You could turn this into an additional opportunity for roleplaying. If you give your summons just enough personality that they can interact with the PC that summoned them (if you wanted, you could go so far as to make certain summons recurring characters, but I wanted to stay basic for now), his/her reactions might make the decision of what is summoned next for you: if the PC treats his summons with respect, they probably will be more inclined to send something that will indeed help the PC out just as he needs it next time around. If he treats them poorly and/or just throws them into his enemies as cannon fodder, they might ignore (or subvert) his specific requests just to screw him over in the future.

I've had a look through the Fey creatures eligible for this spell (CR 1/4 - 2) and most of them seem to be at least sentient if not sapient and have their own preferences. e.g. Pixies, while pranksters, don't seem to like violence, so if the PC continuously asks for pixies in his summons and keeps calling them into combat (without specifying), they might just decide to not answer his calls anymore and send something else instead, even if there is no combat.

This way, whether you are giving the PC exactly what he wants or deliberately screwing him over (or something inbetween), the PC, through his behaviour towards his summons, will have a degree of control -- and, through the behaviour of his summons towards him, feedback -- over how much they/you will be inclined to make a choice that will help him as he wants it next time around.

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