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Consider the spell levitate (2nd level), which allows the caster to lift a hostile creature off the ground and hold it in place. It is easy to make the comparison to spells like hold person (2nd level) and hold monster (5th level). While the hold spells paralyze the creature, levitate prevents a creature from moving, and from making melee attacks.

My DM suggested that the target of levitate be able to repeat the save every turn, as he felt that levitate was too strong in comparison to hold person and hold monster. Is this balanced?

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    \$\begingroup\$ balanced against hold person or levitate or 'good 2nd level spells' or 'garbage 2nd level spells'? \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Feb 8 at 8:54
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The hold spells paralyse, levitate does not

The main difference I can see between hold person/monster and levitate is that the former paralyses the target, whereas the latter only lifts the target upwards.

From hold person (PHB, p.251):

The target must make a Wisdom saving throw or be paralyzed for the duration

And hold monster (PHB, p. 251):

The target must make a Wisdom saving throw or be paralyzed for the duration

Compared with levitate (PHB, p. 255):

One creature of your choice that you can see within range rises vertically, up to 20 feet, and remains suspended there for the duration [Concentration, up to 10 minutes] ... An unwilling creature that succeeds on a Constitution saving throw is unaffected.

A creature affected by levitate can still do many things, including making ranged attacks and casting their own spells that require saving throws, whereas someone who is paralysed can do nothing.

From the Paralyzed condition (PHB, p. 291):

  • A paralyzed creature is incapacitated (see the condition) and can't move or speak

From the Incapacitated condition (PHB, p. 290):

  • An incapacitated creature can't take actions or reactions.

Since a paralysed target is a sitting duck, it seems much more fair to allow them to make a saving throw each round to recover from this, since they have no other options; someone affected by levitate, on the other hand, can still do many things, just nothing that requires melee range or (depending on the room, since you can apparently move yourself around if you can "climb" along the walls/ceiling) movement.

So I'm concluding that, because the effects of hold person/monster are more severe, the target "needs" to make a save each round more so than someone affected by levitate.

Duration

The other consideration, however, is duration. Hold person and hold monster both last a minute, whereas levitate lasts for 10 minutes. Therefore, if someone doesn't really have a lot of options (for example, if a melee-focused character who has, say, run out of javelins) is potentially stuck in the air for 10 minutes, that will take them out of the fight for longer than someone who is paralysed (if they have literally no other options to contribute), although they will at least not be as vulnerable as someone paralysed (i.e. they can take the Dodge action, as Theik points out, imposing disadvantage on attack rolls against them, compared to the advantage and auto-crit imposed by the "paralyzed" condition).

That said, most combat doesn't last more than a few rounds, so in a typical combat, this will never be a concern. I'd still lean on the side of suggesting that allowing a saving throw each round for levitate would weaken levitate.

What about a Strength check rather than a Constitution save?

Another idea could be, rather than following the example of hold person, perhaps borrow from entangle or similar? Being held in the air against your will, whilst it doesn't actually restrain you with regards to the "restrained" condition, does effectively restrain a melee-focused character. Entangle restrains one or more creatures as per the "restrained" condition, and provides a different way to end that condition.

If someone affected by the levitate spell were to be allowed to use their action to make a Strength check to break free of the caster's hold on them, this might be more balanced; they'd still have to burn an action, rather than getting a "free" saving throw, but it does still give a melee-focused character suspended in mid-air an option to do something about it.

For reference, here's entangle (PHB, p. 268):

A creature restrained by the plants can use its action to make a Strength check against your spell DC. On a success, it frees itself.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ might also be worthwhile to consider the case of using it as a buff - and if you have to save against it every round (either with a save or a check), it's making it a very risky buff. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 8 at 14:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: I think if you were going to allow a save, you'd word it like "as an Action, you can attempt to break free of the levitation". (With wording appropriate to what kind of save you want: Con, Str (force your way out of the magic by pushing on?? Maybe only if you're in reach of something to grab?), Int (figure out a way out of the spell's magic).) So unless you spend an action trying to break it, it won't break on its own. That also makes it less of a nerf as a crowd-control spell, because enemies can't be trying to break it and throwing javelins or Dodging at the same time. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Feb 8 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes Good idea about using an action to try to break out; this makes it kind of like being grappled. For balance purposes I'd go with a Str or Con save, just because those tend to be highest on characters who are melee-oriented and so would be completely locked down. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Feb 8 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells: Great point about picking a save that melee characters would tend to be better at. It's a Con save to resist the effect in the first place, and that makes more sense to me than Str, because there's nothing to push against except air. Con is about your internal fortitude and resistance; if any physical stat is going to apply, it should be Con. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Feb 8 at 17:08
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It will ruin the innate balance of spells

Look at the two examples you've listed, hold person and levitate.

Levitate: When used as a hostile spell, if they fail their initial save, you're fairly capable of holding them there for ten minutes. They can still attack, they can still cast spells, they can still take the dodge action. You can take a melee-only opponent out of the fight, but that is it.

Hold person: You inflict paralyze on the opponent, one of the strongest effects in the game. They auto-fail on certain saves, they can't move, speak or act, any attack against them has advantage against them and any attack from within 5 feet is an automatic critical hit. This is huge; but the downside is that they get to save at the end of every round.

You are suggesting giving the only part where Hold Person is weaker to Levitate as well. If somebody can save against levitate after every round, why would anybody want to cast levitate instead of hold person?

There are certainly spells in D&D that will seem unbalanced, but trying to balance them yourself is almost certainly going to lead to new balance issues.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, Levitate has a huge avantage: It's useful when cast on yourself. \$\endgroup\$ – Masclins Feb 8 at 12:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Masclins But you don't save against spells that you cast against yourself. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 8 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Masclins I agree, Levitate is a lot more versatile. But the original question seems to consider it an "overpowered" spell when used offensively, so the flexibility of using it on yourself doesn't really matter for the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Feb 8 at 15:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ open5e.com/gameplay-mechanics/conditions.html#paralyzed is auto-fail of str and dex. Other saves are unaffected, not actually disadvantage on anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Feb 8 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why levitate instead of hold person? It works on any creature, not just humanoids. open5e.com/spellcasting/spells_a-z/l/levitate.html. I agree with your point, though, this would be an unnecessary nerf, even though Lev gives you the flexibility of using it for things other than crowd-control or turning someone into a punching bag / floating target. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Feb 8 at 15:28

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