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I'd like to know some methods of curtailing the abuse of the Illusion wizard's Illusory Reality feature in a game.

Right now I have a player here running roughshod over the other GMs in the group by using it to pull off some highly destructive and, IMHO, questionable tactics. Things like making part of a castle floor seem to disappear, then making it real, dropping half a dozen soldiers to the next floor down; cue falling damage. He's even gone so far as to have objects crush high-level victims upon the object's return from the illusory state.

He generally has some impressive logic to back him up, but I get the feeling, watching him work that he's generally violating both rules-as-written (RAW) and rules-as-intended (RAI) on a regular basis.

He, admittedly, hasn't done this to me yet, but I run 3.5E and Pathfinder normally, which has its own potential for rule abuse.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The whole bit about vanishing floors seemed to be pretty descriptive. He has lots of excuses why his illusion isn't the item causing the actual damage. "The vanishing floor didn't hurt anyone. The fall to the next floor did." Things like that. \$\endgroup\$ – Joe L Sep 30 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not quite. More like: 1: area that has floor now appears to have none. 2: Illusory Reality makes the apparently gone floor now a real hole. 3: People fall 4: Floor reappears 1 minute later \$\endgroup\$ – Joe L Sep 30 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ related interpretation on illusion: Can you create an illusion of empty space? \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Sep 30 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ What illusion spell are they casting before using Illusory Reality ? \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Sep 30 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ JohnP: thank you. The concept of "air is not a visible phenomenon" is exactly the phrase needed to prevent some of this stuff. @PierreCathé The time being referred to in my original post, the vanishing floors trick, was accomplished using Major Image. \$\endgroup\$ – Joe L Sep 30 at 15:59
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Limitations of Illusory Reality

Illusory Reality states:

By 14th level, you have learned the secret of weaving shadow magic into your illusions to give them a semireality. When you cast an illusion spell of 1st level or higher, you can choose one inanimate, nonmagical object that is part of the illusion and make that object real. You can do this on your turn as a bonus action while the spell is ongoing. The object remains real for 1 minute. For example, you can create an illusion of a bridge over a chasm and then make it real long enough for your allies to cross.

The object can't deal damage or otherwise directly harm anyone.

In short, the Wizard can manifest an object which:

  • is real, inanimate, and non-magical
  • cannot directly harm anyone
  • disappears after one minute

Moreover, because the object manifested by the wizard is real, it follows all the normal rules for object detailed in the DMG's Objects section (p. 246-247). In particular:

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

This limits the complexity of what can be considered an object and excludes indiscrete things like gasses, liquids, and holes.

Finally, the Wizard cannot use Illusory Reality to disappear or transform a preexisting objects and the Wizard has no special control over the manifested object.

Curtail Illusory Reality by

Preventing its use

Anything that prevents the Wizard from casting spells, also shuts down Illusory Reality because the Wizard needs to cast an Illusion spell to create an object. Some relatively common examples which fall in this category and which specifically hinder casters are silence and counterspell.

Dispel magic can also dispel an illusion and prevent the use of Illusory Reality, but do note that dispelling the illusion after the Wizard has manifested an object will not cause the object to disappear.

Rolling for uncertain outcomes

The Wizard can manifest an object without fail within the limits of Illusory Reality, but that does not mean that the Wizard always achieves the desired outcome.

The DM should not try to undermine the player, but when an outcome is uncertain, the DM can (and often should) call for a roll, be it an ability check or a save. Referencing traps and spells can help to understand when a roll is adequate.

For example, the Wizard can create an adamantine dome using Illusory Reality, but whether that dome will capture a creature as it manifests is uncertain. The DM could rule that the creature is just captured like force cage or call for a save like wall of stone. Both are equally valid, though I would urge for a consistent choice on the DM's part.

Destroying the object

Once the object exists, the characters can destroy it. The Objects section mentioned previously offers some guidelines:

When characters need to saw through ropes, shatter a window, or smash a vampire's coffin, the only hard and fast rule is this: given enough time and the right tools, characters can destroy any destructible object. Use common sense when determining a character's success at damaging an object. Can a fighter cut through a section of a stone wall with a sword? No, the sword is likely to break before the wall does.

Of course, the objects only exists for one minute, so a thick wall or boulder is probably going to survive that minute no matter what the DM throws at it, but that is not the case for all objects.

The same section of the DMG includes tables to determine the AC and HP of objects. For example, an adamantine cart is a large object with 23 AC and 27 HP. Enemies suitable for a party of level 14 characters can easily destroy something like that in one round.

I recommend reading the whole Objects section in preparation for a Wizard with Illusory Reality.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would double down on the whole "What is an object" bit here. "A hole" is not an object. "A Missing chunk of floor" is not an object, it's the distinct lack of something. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Oct 1 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I generally agree with this, but I think that there's a logical problem. "These rules" in the quoted text means "these rules in this section", and the examples are objects to which these specific interaction rules apply. That's not necessarily a general definition of the term "object" for the game. I don't think a plain-English definition of "object" changes the basic point — I just think you're hanging it on the wrong thing. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 2 at 2:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty An interesting edge case then: If the Wizard created an illusion of a door in a wall, then used Illusory Reality to make the door read, would they be able to open it and walk through? \$\endgroup\$ – Chronocidal Oct 2 at 10:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chronocidal it would be like this door to nothingness \$\endgroup\$ – Pureferret Oct 2 at 11:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ "note that dispelling the illusion after the Wizard has manifested an object will not cause the object to disappear." source? It seems logical that the item should disappear too, no? \$\endgroup\$ – Charanor Oct 2 at 14:15
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When you cast an illusion spell of 1st level or higher, you can choose one inanimate, nonmagical object that is part of the illusion and make that object real. You can do this on your turn as a bonus action while the spell is ongoing. The object remains real for 1 minute...The object can't deal damage or otherwise directly harm anyone.

From the definition of Illusory Reality, I read this as saying it can create new objects -- not take away existing ones, like a floor, nor create weights to fall on people (as that would deal damage and harm people). This use of Illusory Reality seems against RAW.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This can be easily made RAW-abiding by replacing the stone with something that can be transpassed, like water or fog. Those are definitely not "empty space", thus allowing the trick. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Oct 1 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.Sar The problem here is this: "Is fog an object?" The DMG defines 'object' as "a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone--not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects." I would not rule that a cloud of fog, a body of water, or a hole in something is an object. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Oct 1 at 18:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty That is a fair point, but then again - a flimsy spider web, a very thin panel of glass or even an open door are all "objects" by that definition, aren't they? One could make make the case that you could, theoretically, replace the stone with something made of a very fragile material and then it real. Sure, maybe a body of water isn't "an object", but a thin sheet of ice is. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Oct 1 at 18:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you make an illusion of the floor becoming a trap door, and then having said trap door become real? ... Asking for a friend. \$\endgroup\$ – TheLuckless Oct 1 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheLuckless I, at least, would not allow it. Because the 'open space' inside of the trap door is not an object, and thus if you created a trap door, it'd just sit on top of the floor and open to provide access to the floor. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Oct 1 at 20:03
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Your specific descriptions of the Wizard's use of Illusory Reality is not supported by RAW

By 14th level, you have learned the secret of weaving shadow magic into your illusions to give them a semireality. When you cast an illusion spell of 1st level or higher, you can choose one inanimate, nonmagical object that is part of the illusion and make that object real. You can do this on your turn as a bonus action while the spell is ongoing. The object remains real for 1 minute. For example, you can create an illusion of a bridge over a chasm and then make it real long enough for your allies to cross.

Illusory Reality, Player's Handbook, pg. 118

Illusory Reality allows a wizard to create an illusion, and then make an object in that illusion real; it doesn't permit them to take an object that already exists and make it "fake" for the duration. So the following kinds of tactics would not be permissible:

  • Making an illusion of a hole in the floor and then making the floor not exist in the area of the hole to drop creatures/objects resting on the floor
  • Turning a large boulder/whatever illusory so it drops through a floor, then ending the illusion to turn it real again

However, it is possible to get very near to these tactics in a fully rules-supported manner

For example, the following tactics would be perfectly legal:

  • Creating an illusion of a stone floor across a chasm, making it real, chasing an opponent onto the floor, and waiting for the object to become an illusion again to drop them to their deaths
  • Creating an illusion of a net or bowl or whatever to hold up a heavy object, placing the heavy object on that [illusory] support, waiting until an opponent is under it, and then waiting for the illusion to end to drop the object onto the opponent for massive damage

So while this player is bending the rules a bit, it wouldn't be terribly difficult for them to be nearly as effective as they've been by just tweaking their methodology and planning.

Illusory Reality is a 14th level Wizard feature. Any character who gains access to this feature already has access to extremely powerful spells, being a spellcaster with 6th and 7th level spell slots. There's probably a lot of ways they could cause similar havoc without needing to specifically abuse this feature. So while I understand your trepidation, the reality is that these kinds of uses of Illusory Reality is probably not their most powerful feature, their flouting of the rules notwithstanding.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd contest your assertion that "it wouldn't be terribly difficult for them to be nearly as effective". Illusioning a hole underneath your foes just requires that you have a moment, and that they be standing on floor. Setting up the chasm drop illusion requires that you set up the illusory floor ahead of time, and then convince your foes to walk out on that specific piece of floor. Similarly, setting up the "crushing weight" using a rules-legit netting requires that you actually go to the trouble of acquiring a sufficiently large rock and positioning it overhead. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Sep 30 at 16:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I fixed the wording to avoid specifically suggesting the player could end the illusory object whenever they wanted. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Sep 30 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ What if you add weight to an already encumbered brittle ceiling to make it crack? If you are capable of seeing the part of floor above your enemy and it is already loaded with for example crates or used as storage space, adding like a really big illusory boulder could make the ceiling break. \$\endgroup\$ – Roybin93 Oct 1 at 9:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Roybin93 That looks like a valid question in its own right. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 1 at 12:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is hole even an object in DnD? Because it could be debatable whether an absence of anything is an object in real life. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnudiff Oct 1 at 20:06
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Even if this interpretation of Illusory Reality worked (RAW), potential answers to the question are resistance to the effect and a tactical response to the effect.

Up front, this is a questionable use of Illusory Reality. It's not obviously permitted from the feature's description as written, and interpreting it in a way that allows these uses starts stepping on other spells and abilities as well as risking imbalance in the game. Those reasons alone are enough justification for the DM to prohibit these effects.

However, the character in question is level 14. That indicates some pretty spectacular abilities, and while the effects described in the question are striking they aren't necessarily too far off other things a level 14 Wizard could do.

For example, casting fireball at it's lowest level (3) allows the Wizard to (potentially) do up to 8d6 damage, equivalent to 80 feet's worth of falling damage, to as many targets as fit in its 20 foot sphere of effect (easily 6 humanoid enemies). The spell's area of effect is similar to that of Major Image, which affects a 20 foot cube, and requires no setup or convenient layouts to create the 80 foot fall hazard. Upcasting it adds additional d6 to the damage. So even if the player is abusing Illusory Reality in particular, it's not necessarily granting their character outsize power.

At level 14, the game world should contain a huge number of cannon fodder opponents who can't meaningfully challenge the party and that the party can defeat with ease. For those enemies who need to provide a greater challenge, counters and resistances can make most of the difference.

Countering the Effects:

If the player is a powerful Illusionist, a creature which can more easily perceive illusions will frustrate any illusion-based trickery the player might come up with:

  • Some creatures have high stats which can counter illusions
  • Others have Truesight, and can immediately identify illusions for what they are
  • Still more might have access to spells like True Seeing, directly or via magic items, lair effects, or minions
  • The traps described in the question take time to set up. Depending on when the PC sets up their traps, any of these might be enough to render them useless.

Enemies which don't have abilities allowing them to deal with the illusions directly can still develop strategies to deal with an Illusionist. At level 14 the PC is probably at least moderately famous, and even if not famous in general a persistent enemy (or faction of enemies) will encounter the PC many times and observe how they do things.

It's not implausible for the antagonists to get better at dealing with this PC over time. Those enemies might develop tactical approaches to mitigate the danger:

  • They could just spread out so that something like the vanishing floor can't affect so many of them at once
  • They could send more enemies so that the vanishing floor won't be as decisive in the fight
  • They could send waves of enemies, with the first as a "decoy", causing the PC to spring their trap to deal with the decoy force only to find themselves trapless for the "real" squad
  • Sniper-type enemies might consider this PC a high-priority target, focusing fire on them to disrupt their concentration on the underlying Illusion spells or forcing them to spend more high-level spell slots to pull off these tricks
  • Sequences of combat encounters (among other types of encounters) consume PC resources, including spell slots. Circumstances might make using spell slots in this way unappealing, or there may simply be too many combat encounters for uses of Illusory Reality to be an option in all of them

The DM can also impose some more arbitrary hard counters on these tactics, though if the player is creative this will always be a lagging solution. If the combat area is on the top of a 60 foot mound of solid stone, you've put a ceiling on how much falling damage can be inflicted with the vanishing floor trick. If the DM decides that dropping a heavy weight on someone is effectively an Attack, the player may have to roll a d20 to determine a hit, or the enemy might have a chance for a DEX to avoid the hazard.


tl;dr:

A high-level character is expected to have lots of options in battle, and to be able to deal a lot of damage to multiple enemies per combat turn. This is not abuse. Powerful characters are powerful. Abuse is more a matter of rendering challenges irrelevant rather than beatable or easier.

Whether RAW-allowed or not, DMs have tons of options to respond to player strategies, including but not limited to forbidding those which make the bulk of the game irrelevant.

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