I'm currently playing curse of strahd as a college of whispers bard, our party just hit level 5.

During our last encounter, I was getting swarmed by multiple ghouls and getting paralyzed every turn, leading to the party almost dying (as I'm our main support)

What could I have done to avoid getting targeted or help my party tank for me?

Enemies consisted of several ghouls, and a couple of stronger guys. I was hoping to cast fear on all the ghouls to hold them off but never got a chance to. AC is at a measly 14

Would appreciate solutions not involving "get better armor"

Specifically would like answers to involve actions or spells I can take in combat

My spells are

Cantrips - vicious mockery, minor illusion, message 1st - dissonant whispers, disguise self, hideous laughter, healing word, faerie fire 2nd - suggestion, phantasmal force 3rd - fear

outfitted with only a few daggers and light armor

For context,

Most of my party moved to engage the few bigger threats, leaving me and the wizard to get collapsed on by the ghouls. Wizard manged to avoid being hit with mage armor and mirror image, and cleared enough of the ghouls for me to get an action in and the fight was ok from there on.

More context,

I want to know about what I could do currently in combat despite having low ac. Currently I can think of hiding or minor illusioning obstacles around myself to have the ghouls target the other players, but would appreciate any more suggestions or comments on how well those two would work


Party consists of

Vengeance paladin/warlock - tends to bane, necrotic shroud, and smack people, also eldritch blast

Monk - gives baddie multiple fists

Arcane archer fighter/rogue - uses bow with grasping arrow a lot, scimitar if needed

Wizard - usually mirror image + shadow blade, sometimes arcane missiles

Barbarian - just joined our group, rages and hits with divine fury

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just wondering, where, in CoS, was this fight happening? From memory, the Ghoul fights we have are in Ravenloft and in Death House, but you are too low level for the former and too high for the later, so I can't deduce the location from that. Anyway you can also describe the map/formation a little better so we can help with actual tactics. \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    May 29, 2018 at 5:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ This was just outside of vallaki, we couldn't get in due to it being night and camped near the lake till the morning. \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2018 at 18:17

5 Answers 5


Better Teamwork

Bluntly put, the rest of the party are not doing their job if foes are attacking wizards and bards. The whole point of fighters and paladins and barbarians is to keep the baddies away from the artillery and support.

Remind them gently that if you are paralyzed by a ghoul then you can't cast that nice ranged healing spell or give them bardic inspiration (so the paladin can get off those wonderful smites). If the wizard is surrounded then she is going to be favouring short-range things (like burning hands) with chances of friendly fire (which isn't friendly).

Remind them that if you have to run back to avoid foes then you will be out of healing word range of the front-line fighters.

If they don't take the hint then just stop buffing them. Explain that if they are letting ghouls run past them then you are going to be spending your bardic inspiration dice on psychic blades, not inspiration, and you are going to be saving the healing spells for yourself.

Better Intelligence

You are the best character for scouting, with disguise self and good deception.


Minor illusion is the perfect ambush spell. Make an illusory barrel or crate or outhouse and hide inside it.

Optional Rules

If your game is using the shove aside, tumble and overrun rules from the DMG then you can get good use out of your Expertise in Acrobatics.


Fog cloud and darkness and similar spells can help keep your foes off you, or at least make it harder for them to hit you. Caltrops, ball bearings, and flasks of oil can also control where foes move. Illusions of bonfires can do the same - get creative with minor illusion.


You should be pushing for any magical light armour the party finds. The monk and barbarian won't be wearing it and the paladin and fighter will be in medium or heavy armour.

Being Passive-Aggressive

Wouldn't it be a shame if your fear spell happens to include a party member in its area of effect...

Wouldn't it be a shame if someone learnt the nasty little secrets that the party members have told you, in confidence, during those long hours on watch...


Remember that Jack of All Trades allies to Initiative rolls. This will help you go before your foes.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I love the passive-aggresive part LOL, although I don't think my party is intentionally doing anything bad, we're all fairly new to dnd so we're just figuring out tactics and whatnot. The fight in this case just popped up out of nowhere so intelligence gathering or ambushing wouldn't have helped :/ Very helpful suggestions within terrain as well though minor illusion is only 5ft which foes can just walk around. I'll wait till tomorrow to accept just for some more possible answers. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ May 27, 2018 at 2:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I strongly disagree with the start. Yes, melee should try to keep enemies off of the support, but in D&D it's hard to force that, especially against multiple attackers or ranged attackers. That means you will get attacked as support against any intelligent foe, and should primarily depend on your own defenses. \$\endgroup\$ May 28, 2018 at 5:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ I highly recommend against using an illusory outhouse as camouflage. In the wrong situtaion, someone could inadvertently try to use it while you're still hidden inside and NOT notice you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zourin
    Apr 15, 2019 at 8:14

While it's all well and good to say "that's the fighter's job", the truth is the DM can drop enemies in flanking positions in almost any encounter. Having somebody who can notice things is nice, but it won't work every time. Sooner or later, you're gonna have bad guys in the backfield looking for the quarterback sack.

That said, the ghoul situation seems to me like the worst possible scenario, because most of my suggestions involve having spells on standby to get away when this happens. Invisibility is the obvious go-to.

I mean, paralysis is a nasty one that even AC 18 fighters fear. I get that you felt like a pinata, but I don't think you did anything wrong in this case. Sometimes you get ghoul'd and there's not really a lot you can do about it.

Now where I could lay some criticism is to say this should not have been allowed to continue; if the rest of the party said "Bard is paralyzed and surrounded? Huh, sucks to be him..." then you have a serious party tactics problem. Defending the squishy is a basic part of the game, so if you get jumped, everyone should be running back to get the guys that got you.

  • \$\begingroup\$ yea in this case we did get flanked, one of the party up front got charmed so they had their hand full dealing with that. Invisibility and waiting until most of the ghouls were already on someone seems like a good option if something similar comes up again. Would you have any other spells suggestions? \$\endgroup\$ May 27, 2018 at 2:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, mirror image, misty step, and dimension door, but the bard only has the last of those, I think, and it's 4th level so that's a big cost to just get out of melee. Hypnotic Pattern can be great, but you have to get yourself out of the area or risk entrancing yourself, which sucks. Some magic items could help but of course those are always hit-or-miss in availability. \$\endgroup\$ May 27, 2018 at 2:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify the above: If you entrance yourself, you become incapacitated, which ends your concentration, so your hypnotic pattern is entirely wasted. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2022 at 19:38

I will disagree with the most upvoted and accepted current answer for the first part. As a DM, really, if we want to, our ghouls are going to get to those Bard and Wizard. And that's without any Deus Ex, particular hate or anything. Ambushes happen. Ambushes happen A LOT in CoS.

I have DM'd CoS and, specially in Death House (which is not the scenario you are probably currently playing as you are already 5th level, but nonetheless) it was pretty common for the Bard to be attacked. As I've mentioned in a comment, I can't figure out where you are, so I'll have to focus on a general situation (i.e. no specific knowledge of the map/scenario).

Obviously you should be constantly trying, as a team, to be in a formation where the squishies aren't being targeted, but that is not always possible. I will proceed with my answer as if things went bad.


These are two basic actions for combat. Disengage allows you to get out of there. Dodge helps you to get less damaged if you are being focused. Dodge essentially increases your AC by 5. You should then use this turn to regroup with the rest of your party and have a better formation where you aren't the one tanking.

Minor Illusion

I will paste the Minor Illusion entry from Treantmonk's Guide to God Wizard (google docs link). By the way, I recommend reading this guide for some good uses of spells, even if you are not a Wizard yourself. He also focuses on a Support Wizard, by the way.

Minor Illusion: They made illusions a forever use Cantrip? This should ALWAYS be on your list. If you are not overly creative, let me give you a couple examples that make it worth it all on their own. 1) Remember Blade Ward when I said “get out of dodge instead”? Make an illusionary stone wall between you and your enemy and back away. 2) Put yourself in an illusionary wooden box and cast spells out of it 3) The illusionary hiding Halfling with a shortbow makes a great distraction (to all those who say, “the spell says “object” Treantmonk, not “creature”), fine, it’s a hiding Halfling with a shortbow that’s been petrified.

My comment: Yes, a petrified creature is still a creature. Change that to "a statue of a halfling with a shortbow" - happy now?

Obviously this depends a little on DM Fiat, but usually it's fine. Ask them beforehand anyway.


Well, I'm not sure you wanted us to criticize your choice on spells, but I would easily change Phantasmal Force for Invisibility. Mainly in CoS. It's a great spell for both scouting and a free pass out of jail when you are in trouble.


Keeping the criticism on the spell selection, Thunderwave is a great spell for shoving enemies out. This might help when you are surrounded, so you can get away easier. This one might be harder to get a place to fill, though. Check if any of the other 1st level spells you have isn't being too useful.

Simply hiding (even before the fight)

This one depends on the mentioned scenario (which I don't know), but usually you should be able to find places to hide. Really, this is probably the best approach that doesn't spend Spell Slots and you probably won't be targeted to begin with. If you are in a place you know you are going to have fights constantly, unless it makes no sense for your character, be paranoid, constantly hiding. This way, even if enemies ambush you, they might not spot you and so they won't target you.

Erm... Get better armor?

It seems you got a +2 or max +3 modifier in Dex. This means medium armor helps you. I would recommend against using Heavy Armor despite the better AC because you are most likely going to be the scout of the team, unless the Fighter/Rogue does. This means a) You should get Invisibility b) You don't want disadvantage in Stealth.

I would honestly go with Multiclassing into Cleric. This won't hurt your spell slots (as Cleric's full caster as well) and will only delay your spell selection for higher levels by 1 level. If you finish CoS by 10th level (usual), you won't even notice any end-game difference. This should be a way better option than getting the Moderately Armored feat.

Note on chain paralyzed

Welp, if you got to this point, there isn't much you can do. It stops you from moving, using actions or reactions and gets constantly hit since they attack with advantage and even crit.

DON'T GET TO THIS POINT. If you did, you rely 100% on your teammates.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 purely for the spell criticism. A Bard without Invisibility is like a Warlock without Eldritch Blast. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    May 29, 2018 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ About the uses on minor illusion, I would argue that most of them are not all that useful when I am already in combat. A 5ft wide stonewall merely hinders 5ft of movement for melees, and popping yourself into an illusionary box when the enemy already sees you wouldn't fool anyone. As for the halfling, if they can see the image then they know its still and is not very convincing, if it is hiding then they cannot really see it and it is useless. The best uses I can think of is to make something that could affect more than 5 ft but isn't currently like a ballista or cauldron of burning oil \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2018 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that Invisibility is absolutely great, though I am very hesitant to give up phantasmal force, since it fits well with the character's thematics and can help proc Words of Terror. Don't know what else I'd swap out though. Also no proficiency in medium armor and with a +3 in dex I don't think it's worth it for the meager amount of gold I have \$\endgroup\$ May 29, 2018 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @THOR'SAWAY That depends on how your DM will handle the wall. Best case scenario it's a disengage and the enemy has to waste an Investigation check to notice it's an illusion. Worst case is just a disengage. But yeah, in combat the wall application is the most useful one. Anyway, I agree that they are about pre-combat planning more than in-combat. It's just a way that you can help yourself with that instead of relying in your teammates (similar to the Hiding advice). \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    May 29, 2018 at 18:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @THOR'SAWAY About the Phantasmal Force, this answer is purely from a somewhat optimization POV. If you think the flavor is worth it, be yourself. It's your character. I suggest the Cleric Multiclassing exactly so you get the Medium Armor Proficiency (as well as shield, if needed). By 5th level you shouldn't be running into gold problems for basic gear, but CoS is an outlier in that as well, from what I remember, so I can see your point. \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    May 29, 2018 at 18:54

Be creative with your action.

When things are looking bad, consider not casting a spell but retreating instead:

If you take the Disengage action, your movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks for the rest of the turn.

This is great for quickly adapting and repositioning before it's too late. Otherwise, stay on a safe distance (35+ feet from nearest enemy) and always have an escape plan ready.

You're probably less likely to want to stay put when ghouls are closing in, but just in case you do:

When you take the Dodge action, you focus entirely on avoiding attacks. Until the start of your next turn, any attack roll made against you has disadvantage if you can see the attacker, and you make Dexterity saving throws with advantage. You lose this benefit if you are Incapacitated (as explained in Conditions ) or if your speed drops to 0.

Although I strongly advise to get away as soon as you can.


You could also consider getting yourself the Shield spell.

An invisible barrier of magical force appears and protects you. Until the start of your next turn, you have a +5 bonus to AC, including against the triggering attack, and you take no damage from magic missile.

To do that you could take the take a level in sorcerer (or take the Magic Initiate feat) to gain the spell that way. The extra spell variety won't hurt either way (e.g. Mage Armor and Misty Step), but that raise of +5 AC by casting Shield as a reaction can prevent you getting paralyzed in the first place. It could be all you need, but no guarantee.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I would say a safe distance is usually 60ft as a lot of the time enemies are dashing in to get in melee of the gruop, agreed that I should probably use dodge more often. I do often use disengage, but it wasn't applicable in the scenario that led to this question as I was chain paralyzed. \$\endgroup\$ May 28, 2018 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @THOR'SAWAY, that's tough. In that case I'll add a suggestion to my answer. That spell helps with increasing your odds of not getting paralyzed, by being less likely to get hit (when you need it). \$\endgroup\$
    – Vadruk
    May 28, 2018 at 23:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Dodge may be better than Disengage if there's only one enemy next to you. The reason for this is that Dodge's benefit lasts until your next turn, giving EVERYONE disadvantage to hit against you, including the mook that just took an AoO when he gets a new turn to chase you down. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zourin
    Apr 15, 2019 at 8:18

Get better armor

I do not understand why you want to ignore the best and easiest solution, but this is the best and easiest solution.

Multiclassing or the Moderately Armored feat could give you better armor options, and a shield.
I would go with multiclassing1, Life Cleric or Hexblade2.

Get better magic items

A Cloak of Displacement for example greatly increases your survivability.

Get better party members

Remind them how useful yet vulnerable you are, leaving you surrounded is very bad strategy.

Low AC characters usually survive with the help and protection of the first liners. You managed to get to level 5 (if you started from 1), so it seems your party members mostly do this just fine.

Get better intelligence

Scouting ahead and gathering information can help a lot to avoid situations like this. The Wizard's familiar is a good option.

1) Bards are famous for having the worst AC;

  • Wizards and Sorcerers have access to Mage Armor
  • Warlocks can get it with an invocation
  • Rogues get the same armor, but are Dex primary
  • Monks gain AC from their two main stats
  • Everyone else gets better armor and shields

2) Life Cleric gives you Heavy Armor if you are strong enough, many spells prepared with a decent Wisdom, and great healing.
Hexblade gives you good enough armor, and the best damaging cantrip in the game. I would go with Hexblade.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I asked this question because I wanted to learn more about combat tactics and how others handled already being low AC, hence wanting to exclude "getting better armor" as a solution. I do plan on grabbing life cleric at level 7, but that is still a while away. \$\endgroup\$ May 26, 2018 at 21:38
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The Medium Armor Master feat doesn't give armor proficiency; it has medium armor proficiency as a prequisite. It just gets rid of disadvantage on Stealth checks, and increases the max Dex bonus on medium armor from 2 to 3. You're thinking of the Moderately Armored feat, which gives proficiency in medium armor and shields and increases Strength or Dex score by 1. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    May 26, 2018 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Getting intelligence would not have applied for this specific encounter, but I'll keep it in mind for anything in the future :) As for magic items, not really within my control as a player..... We did talk as a party about planning combats and whatnot so hopefully future fights will go better \$\endgroup\$ May 26, 2018 at 21:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @THOR'SAWAY most people handle low AC by grabbing Life Cleric sooner (1st level for the better saves) \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    May 27, 2018 at 6:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hexblade wouldn't fit this particular character thematically but I'll keep it in mind if I play another bard :) It doesn't really answer the question within the context of in combat though \$\endgroup\$ May 27, 2018 at 7:50

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