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New DM here. One of my players wants to be able to cast vicious mockery without doing damage (because his character became a pacifist after death and resurrection). I'm considering allowing him to cast it with a bonus-action casting time in exchange for the damage.

The only changes to the spell would be to its casting time (1 bonus action, instead of 1 action), and to its effect (it no longer does damage but still imposes disadvantage):

Choose a target you can see. If it can hear you, it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or have disadvantage on the next attack roll it makes before the end of its next turn.

Would this be overpowered?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Doesn't this player deal damage at all, does he/she? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Aug 6 '18 at 9:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ The way I see it Vicious Mockery is the perfect spell for a pacifist character to deal damage in combat. Remember the characters don't think of damage the same way we do. You may want to avoid hitting his face but you can hurt his feelings. \$\endgroup\$ – FenrirG Aug 6 '18 at 10:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Like FenrirG said, in D&D 5e hit points can represent "mental durability, the will to live, and luck". If he casts it on a fresh NPC, it likely won't kill, and if he casts it on a hurt NPC, that might be enough for them to just give up and succumb to their wounds. And it'll probably make the rest of the party feel a lot better about this player if his character can do damage. \$\endgroup\$ – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 6 '18 at 15:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried playtesting your idea out? As a DM I try to always do a playtest of a tweak before allowing it to become homebrew. Roll up your own bard with the tweak applied and play it out on a random quest, maybe escape goblin imprisonment, just to see if you approve of its balance. \$\endgroup\$ – Software_Programineer Aug 6 '18 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not worth an answer on to its own, but as mentioned above, hit points are more than bleeding damage. Just change the damage to non-lethal. It doesn't change the action economy and the player stays true to the character. Just track those hp deductions separately. So long as the rest of the party doesn't hurt the enemy by more than those hp, I would consider them "knocked out" from a combination of damage and succumbing to pain/anguish. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Aug 6 '18 at 16:39
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Yes, this unbalances the spell

Vicious Mockery is not particularly strong in the damage department to begin with. By allowing it to be cast as a bonus action in exchange for the damage, you're essentially giving your player a way to impose disadvantage on one attack every turn, except in the rare circumstances where they have something else to use their bonus action for, such as Healing Word.

Few things you do will actually require a bonus action, so being able to use that bonus action every turn to impose disadvantage is a huge buff.

The only real problem here is that it will stop you from casting any other spells during your turn, except for other cantrips. This might not be nearly as big a deal as it sounds, however, as you don't generally cast a spell every turn anyway.

Another thing this might fight for in a turn is using bardic inspirations, but once again, you don't use these that often.

So for a Bard who uses a lot of cantrips (like most casters) or who uses the attack option a lot, this is overall a big buff.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth noting that casting something as a bonus action does restrict the caster's ability to cast anything as an action: "You can't cast another spell during the same turn, except for a cantrip with a casting time of 1 action." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 6 '18 at 8:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ This (V2Blast's response) is why I'm not so sure about this, having it limit your ability to cast other (non-cantrip) spells or take other bonus actions seems like a pretty resonable trade-off. \$\endgroup\$ – uorbe001 Aug 6 '18 at 8:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Added a bit on the tradeoff. Let's be honest, if you were going to cast vicious mockery, you weren't casting any other spells either. Being able to cast vicious mockery + another cantrip means you're doing more damage than you were doing before in a turn you would have normally only used vicious mockery. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Aug 6 '18 at 8:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ VM is not an Easy Button. The creature still gets a save vis a vis the disadvantage on their next attack roll. NPC's with more than one attack only have a chance at disadvantage on one of their attack rolls. Please read the question again. cast vicious mockery + another cantrip means you're doing more damage The Character will not be doing damage. That is part of the problem statement: pacifist, not doing damage. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 6 '18 at 12:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Theik It's worth noting that the Mastermind Rogue does get the Help action as a bonus action with 30 feet range, effectively providing Advantage to an ally every turn. The VM hybrid would potentially provide disadvantage with the same resource, with a high risk of failure, while still preventing him to cast Healing Word, Bardic Inspiration, or other things. That Mastermind could still easily get his Sneak Attacks in, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Man_Over_Game Aug 6 '18 at 16:20
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No, this is fairly reasonable

By using the spell as a bonus action, this is going to cause your bard to lose out on several things:

  • Damage
  • The ability to cast larger spells
  • Bonus Actions for other uses (Bardic Inspiration, Healing Word)

Since you mentioned that he isn't planning to deal damage, he likely isn't going to be using his main action for an attacking cantrip or weapon attack. This leaves his main action to be used for skills, defensive spells, or Dodge, which are all pretty low effect in combat.

Compare this to the Mastermind, who can use the Help action at 30 foot range, who can:

  • Grant an ally guaranteed advantage every turn on their choice of action (Vicious Mockery requires a failed saving throw to do anything, and only impacts an enemy's attack)
  • Attack with the main action
  • Land sneak attacks with his main action (his primary class feature).

If you do this, realize that this bard is going to be losing out on a lot of utility he could normally use his bonus action for, like the best level 1 healing spell, Healing Word, and his class feature, Bardic Inspiration. Without this change, he would be able to cast VM and still use those two resources, but now that he cannot, he will be fairly limited in the low levels.

This change would have more value for someone who was aggressive (using spell slots to hurt enemies, uses main action to attack), but for a pacifist, this actually doesn't mechanically make him much better than any other bard.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You compare this to the Mastermind's Master of Tactics feature, but that's the core subclass feature for the Mastermind and a 3rd level class feature. It's not obvious to me in your answer if you mean that comparison to be fair or unfair, since you're comparing it to a cantrip. Are you saying it is comparable to Master of Tactics? If so, are you saying the proposed cantrip modification is balanced or not relative to that? \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Aug 6 '18 at 22:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder Fair question. I brought up the mastermind to compare the two characters as wholes. A mastermind can attack, sneak attack, grant advantage each turn without loss. A pacifist bard has a 50% chance to cause disadvantage without loss, and...that's about it. I mean to say, even with this benefit, a Mastermind is still much better of a choice. This bard wouldn't have access to his class feature during the same turns he'd use this spell, where a mastermind does. That's the part I was trying to compare. A mastermind does it better. \$\endgroup\$ – Man_Over_Game Aug 6 '18 at 22:30

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