TL;DR: As a DM, how can I prevent a full single-element caster from becoming almost useless against foes immune to his element of choice, without making him overpowered? To make the question more general, I wrote "caster", but in this case it's a Sorcerer.

I'm DMing a newly-started D&D 5E campaign with 5 new-to-the-game players, one of which ("Mark") chose to be a Sorcerer. Mark has a particular love for electricity in general, so he thought of a character obsessed with lightning to the point where he refuses to study (therefore to know) any non-lightning spell, thus all his attack spells will be limited to those dealing lighting damage (e.g., Lightning Bolt, Shocking Grasp). He doesn't want to change other damage types into lightning (i.e., no lightning Fireballs), he simply won't learn any attack spell that isn't already based on lightning and doesn't deal lightning damage. When there's no choice, he will opt for utility spells. Even further, he will never do any attack that deals any other damage type except lightning.

Now, that's great, I think there's good roleplaying potential for such a character. However, as a DM, I'm concerned about his combat usefulness against foes immune to lightning; I guess this comes from my inexperience. Yes, he could have a few utility spells, but I don't think they make up for the complete loss of damage. I warned Mark that enemies with resistance to lightning might show up, prompting him to choose Elemental Adept (Lightning) as a feat, which he understandably found fitting for the character anyway. However, I added that enemies immune to lightning might show up as well and Elemental Adept won't be of any help in such cases.

  • Mark said he doesn't want to give up the lightning-only trait of his character and would like to be helped figuring out something.

  • He is level 2, as the whole team is. I haven't considered magic items yet,

I want to find a way for his character to still be useful against lightning-immune enemies (e.g., the Kraken, which I plan to unleash further down the story), without breaking him in terms of power. I thought of different options, for example:
Elemental Adept ignores simple resistance and reduces immunity to resistance; at the cost of 1 Sorcery Point, he can choose to turn the damage type of lightning spells into force, but as this is my first time dealing with such a case, I'd like to hear some opinions and advices.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So he wants his cake and to eat it as well? \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jul 31 '19 at 11:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I understand that he should face the consequences of his choice, however, since (gameplay-wise) this choice is self-limiting, rather than empowering (he doesn't gain anything from it), I thought I could agree on a situational compensation. \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Jul 31 '19 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Exactly. He probably will never use any weapon, resorting to melee spell attacks for close combat and ranged spells for anything else. \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Jul 31 '19 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells As a newbie, he doesn't know what to do and seeks help from me. \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Jul 31 '19 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Indeed, the issue with lightning immunity still has to be presented. \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Jul 31 '19 at 15:10

You don't

If you don't use immune foes when you were planning on doing so then you are invalidating this players choice, and taking away the agency they showed during character creation.

You will also impact other players who might wonder why you aren't skirting around their weaknesses - or worse, why they bothered to create rounded characters instead of finding a niche and expecting you to cater to it.

Both the player, and the character will know that there are consequences to their choice of element, so just let it be.

This way you give the player the option to pick the Elemental Adept feat (Assuming you allow them) and double down on their niche. The player is thus empowered to overcome the weakness, rather than you simply ignoring it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Basically, you mean that they should face the consequences of their choice and that I should enforce this, as they are expected to come up with something? \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Jul 31 '19 at 13:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StackLloyd Figuring out solutions to the problems facing their character is traditionally the player's job. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jul 31 '19 at 14:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree, but since the player has asked for help, should I just say "that's your problem to solve"? \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Jul 31 '19 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @stacklloyd I think you can give advice to the player, but if his concept is 'craft a niche' then he has to accept what that means \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 31 '19 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StackLloyd: you could tell the player to read this Stack Exchange question and the answers, especially the ones about using buff spells like Twinned Haste. And also the other answers about how over-specializing was their choice, and it does mean they will have a hard time against certain foes, and that that's normal. Then after your player has read the community's thoughts and ideas, you can talk about it again with them to talk about your DM style and reassure them that you care about everyone at the table having fun in one way or another. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jul 31 '19 at 19:40

Multiple Roles

You indicated that the player has an interest in picking utility spells when a suitable lightning based spell is not available. I recommend steering the players towards spells whose utility can make a big difference in a fight - there are many useful spells in this category. Also, steer them towards metamagics that can increase their likelihood of working. This way when the opponent is not immune, they can be a damage dealer, and when an opponent is immune, they can assume the role of party enabler.

From my experience playing as and with high level Sorcerers, Twinned spells are extremely powerful and can't be easily replicated by other casters.

For example, a Twinned Haste can make a HUGE difference in a fight. The light might shine upon the party's martial combatants because of that spell, but the player gets to know that light only shines because of his actions. Thematically, maybe the player envisions the spell as surging electricity through the targets to make them move extra fast.

Hold Monster coupled with the Heightened Spell metamagic can really create a terrible round for a powerful opponent. Again, others will deal the big damage and that will all be enabled by the Sorcerer. Thematically, maybe the character envisions seizing the muscles of their opponent with electricity, similar to how when someone is being electrocuted.

Additional options can include Blink which has the extra boon of no concentration required, increases the caster's survival chances, and reduces the need for concentration checks on other spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for idea of imagining other non-lightning spells as working through the use of electricity. As any comic-book reader knows: lightning can do anything :) \$\endgroup\$ – PJRZ Jul 31 '19 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess he might risk to choose a few more utility spell instead of damage-dealing ones, sacrificing damage options for support options, for the sake of his teammates... It sounds good, but it doesn't involve me, as the DM, at all. Perhaps that's what it's supposed to be, but maybe the player will feel like I don't care and that it's just his problem to solve... Which it is, technically? Sorry, I'm a bit insecure. \$\endgroup\$ – StackLloyd Jul 31 '19 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StackLloyd Sorcerers get very few spells to pick from (maxing out at 15 barring origins) which is a pain in the neck and a major boon at the same time. No flipping through pages for the perfect spell, what you have is what you've got. Much less to learn. Regardless, a sorcerer will almost never be in a situation where they see the chance to use every spell they know, there's going to be a few go-to options (so maybe 6 good damage spells), a few handy to have (6 good utility/buff spells), and maybe 2 or 3 niche things (counterspell is a really good niche thing). That's it. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jul 31 '19 at 16:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StackLloyd having 12 damage spells is generally pointless since he's almost never going to be in a situation which needs that much variety. You can only make something so dead. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jul 31 '19 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StackLloyd To be blunt, it is his problem to solve. You can give him advice on utility spells and such, but the world shouldn't change just because he chose to handicap himself. \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery Jul 31 '19 at 20:15

1. Don’t use immune foes

Everything in your world is only there because you put it there. If this is a challenge you don’t want to throw at this character then ... don’t.

2. Don’t overuse immune foes

Assuming that you don’t want to go with option 1, use immune foes sparingly. An occasional encounter or even a small adventure where the sorcerer has to confront the limits of his power and other party members shine is OK.

And there should be some with vulnerable creatures to make him feel good.

3. Thunder goes with lightning

Maybe he could diversify a bit?

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    \$\begingroup\$ 3) this. Although Mark only wants "Electric damage", a diversification into Sonic would still fit the "Lightning" theme. \$\endgroup\$ – Black Spike Aug 1 '19 at 2:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ One minor problem is that all creatures immune to thunder damage are immune to lightning damage.Though the converse is not true. As blue/copper dragons are not immune(or resistant) to thunder damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Garret Gang Aug 1 '19 at 15:24

The first four ways are how to accommodate player while keeping the flavor and balance with the rest of the party even if the payer doesn't want to branch to support roles or other damage types.

Use mix of foes

Kraken in particular has lair abilities that summon water elementals and control aquatic animals. The sorcerer can deal with sidelines while the rest of the party concentrates on the immune foe.

Use environmental damage

As you enter the laboratory you see walls lined with jars full of green liquid one of which is broken by a fallen brick. As you look to ceiling you see that it is barely supported by rotten wooden beams barely held togather by iron fittings. As you enter you hear a distorted voice growling "Intruderssss...". You see a flesh golem shambling your way - what do you do?

Use alternate goals

The genie is surrounded by three floating pillars: Above the first is is an open portal from which air elementals emerge. The second is projecting a shimmering barrier around the center of the room, while the third directs a strong gust of wind to anyone who approaches. "You wont stop me from fulfilling the master's wish!" He shouts as he holds the knife to the throat of princess waiting for the comet.

Allow him to alter monster behavior

As you hit one of the shambling mounds you see that it deals no damage, instead it's tendrils knit back together and try to follow the lightning to it's source. The monster ignores your allies completely and starts shambling your way.

There are of course other ways to deal with the problem, but it seems he might not enjoy them so much:

Play support role

Let him use support spells and possibly reflavor them to lightning if needed

Lock him into a room with ochre jelly and a club

That should teach him to pick up other types of damage. When he learns that lesson you can give him some magic items such as beads of force or staff of fire to diversify his damage output.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Love that last point! A real adventurer who knew their life depended on themselves would never over specialise! \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 31 '19 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Additional flavor for the last point... give them a preliminary battle early in their quest against the final boss so they can see what they are up against. The Kraken is just toying with them, but they can learn HOW they will need to adjust as a team to defeat him the next time they meet in 10-15 levels. Part of that knowledge could be learning that electricity is ineffective. He can continue his path, or adjust. \$\endgroup\$ – Jammin4CO Jul 31 '19 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jammin4CO The character is currently level 2 \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 31 '19 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Have you done these things in your own games, or seen it done? How has it worked, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 15 '19 at 6:38

You don't

Part of being in a D&D group is having your own strengths and weaknesses.
Should the PC get into a situation where he ends up being "useless", he needs to do "something else": distract the enemy, help out the team in other ways, or take this as a hint to include a secondary role (and attack style).

DM's role as a coach/mentor

For this reason, I always recommend to new players to take two attack types: archers should have a melee weapon, and melee attackers should have a ranged option (even if you don't plan on using it), unless there is an in-character reason not to.

OP stated that the specific character has utility spells: when his lightning is useless, he can use those: buff the party (haste, enhance ability, enlarge, ...) or debuff the enemy (slow, ray of enfeeblement, black tentacles, ...). Explore with the player all of the various ways that the Sorcerer can use non attack spells to help the party or vex the enemy (slow, web, grease, banishment, etc).

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    \$\begingroup\$ "unless there is an in-character reason not to" Or alternatively, avoid having in-character reasons not to \$\endgroup\$ – Caleth Aug 2 '19 at 14:39

Combat is never the ONLY way of dealing with a situation.

Make sure he understands that ROLE PLAYING a character such as this could have some consequences, and it should. Him understanding that being a one-dimensional caster will put him in tough spots is all it will take for a good player to enjoy figuring out how to deal with those tough spots.

It sounds as though he is having a great time ROLE PLAYING this character. Those are the best, most fun, players to have. Do not let him get focused on what he can't do. Direct him toward ROLE PLAYING how this character will deal with the situation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jul 31 '19 at 23:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a particular reason that you used "all capitals" for the words role playing. (Bolding for emphasis understood). A common understanding in text based communications is that using all capitals is "shouting" and it's not necessary to do that. Also, when you say "is never" you are making an error. Some encounters can only be solved with combat in this system. I suggest your replace "never" with "not" \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 5 '19 at 16:14

This is a great opportunity for character development, and although it depends on the player buying in, it should be reasonable in a game of new players:

How will their lightning-focused character react to some negative result (like a party member or important NPC dying or failing a major quest) in part because they were not able to help during a fight against immune enemies? Will that death weigh on their conscious? Will it force them to reconsider their path?

They intentionally chose to forgo the ability to help in that situation. Give them a chance to explore the consequences and perhaps grow from that decision.

Ultimately, a fire mage dipping into other elements because a fire elemental killed his best friend would form an excellent narrative: never again.

We had this happen in one of our games and it was a pivotal moment in the campaign, where the paladin lost a party member & good friend because they previously spared the life of the murderer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You should clarify the central point of your answer (perhaps by adding a header stating what it is): presumably it's that there's no need for DM intervention, and that the player/character should accept/deal with the consequences of their choices. In addition, you should expand on your last paragraph and support your suggestion by citing your relevant experience. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 3 '19 at 5:54

The other answers already offer a lot of great suggestions. But I wanted to add an extra option:

Embrace It

It seems like your player is doing a good job at role playing and has made a rather interesting character. As a DM I would try to integrate that into the story.

Consider for example an evil henchman that your sorcerer almost zapped into oblivion. He might come back later as a BBEG searching for revenge. However, he learned from his mistakes and built some sort of protective Faraday cage/lightning attractor, thus gaining lightning immunity. It is now up to your party to find a way to neutralize these contraptions and make the BBEG vulnerable again.

Especially as the party gets a bit more renown, these things can become more common, with NPCs directly picking fights and using the players weaknesses. This usually leads to players feeling much more connected to the world and can strengthen the bond as a party.

As a word of warning, be careful though that you don't focus too much on that one player. For some players it might become bothersome if the story seems to revolve completely around a specific PC.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Have you done this in your games, or seen it done? How has it worked, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 15 '19 at 6:37

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