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In my session I have a Warlock with a Charisma score of 20 that's been using the Eldritch Blast spell with the Agonizing Blast eldritch invocation to rather spectacular results, decimating everything that I've thrown at the level 8 party.

At first I was pleased at the party's success in difficult encounters, however I've discovered over time that the consistent, high, and nigh-uncounterable force damage of this cantrip tends to trivialize most encounters, eliminating the need for creative thinking. Combine this with a School of Evocation Wizard and I've found that most encounters are swiftly concluded with an initial Fireball and a final barrage of Eldritch Blasts, with any significant damage being eliminated by their druid's healing.

Unfortunately I've found that my current approach to dealing with their combat effectiveness has led to increasingly volatile encounters. I've been forced to serve them encounters meant for significantly higher level parties, and I've found it difficult to find a middle ground where the party is challenged but not always at risk of being totally wiped.

What is a strategy that I, as a DM, can use to counter the effectiveness of the Agonizing Blast Warlock?

I should emphasize that I'm not interested in crushing my players. I simply am looking for a way to force the party out of their singular, overwhelmingly effective approach to encounters.

I'm not interested in making the Warlock useless either. This is a spotlight issue, as the Warlock's build often allows him to be the singular source of damage for the entire encounter. Unfortunately this tends to invalidate the contributions of the other players, so I'm mainly looking for a way to reduce his effectiveness so that everyone involved can feel valuable and engaged in a fight.

Bonus points if you know of a strategy that fits into a primarily undead/fiend-focused campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How many combat encounters and/or resource required roleplay encounters do you have per adventuring day? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Nov 4 '19 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: "Does Warlock combat just equal Eldritch Blast spam?" Also this answer has a very nice chart showcasing expected damage values for various classes \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Nov 4 '19 at 21:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk one of the larger issues is that Eldritch Blast deals force damage, against which only a handful of creatures have resistance. Compare this to the wizard's fireball, whose fire damage is resisted by dozens of monsters. Many, if not most, higher level creatures have resistance to slashing/piercing/bludgeoning damage dealt by martial classes. It just means that I have difficulty crafting encounters that the warlock isn't automatically equipped to handle, and where the warlock doesn't always absorb the spotlight from the other players. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrendire Nov 5 '19 at 16:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Andrendire Ah! So you can mention that there is a relative effectiveness problem at your table (a spotlight problem). There are a myriad of fixes to relative effectiveness that aren't "counter the warlock". As worded, your question read like an absolute effectiveness problem with the warlock, but I guess it was just your initial solution to the underlying problem. As you have a decent implementation for your initial solution, this question is good; but I encourage you to ask a question focusing on the underlying (relative effectiveness) problem as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Nov 5 '19 at 18:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ If it's actually a spotlight problem, then you'd be well-served to include specifically what the other PCs are, where they're getting their spotlight, and so forth. Not everyone wants their spotlight to happen in battle. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Nov 5 '19 at 21:53
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There are a number of answers:

I speak as a current player of a 5e warlock, who has 20 cha and agonizing blast, and who does not at all feel like an overwhelmingly dominant force on the battlefield. I manage to do my part, but "trivialize" would not describe.

  • Melee troops getting up close and personal with the warlock. If you're standing next to an enemy, your ranged attacks (like eldritch blast) are at disadvantage. If you move out of reach, you take opportunity attacks, and then they move up to you on their turn again. Also, Warlocks are generally not so hot at AC - getting some damage pressure on them will make them unhappy campers pretty quickly. Finally, a number of the shinier warlock spells (Hex, for example) are concentration-based. If you're whaling on the warlock a few times a round, those will drop pretty quick (and the warlock themselves not all that long thereafter). There are a number of high-mobility melee monsters out there you can use for this. Open spaces are also useful for making sure that the party fighter/paladin/barb can't block the foe all that effectively.

  • Fewer, tougher encounters in the day. The thing the warlock does really well is sustained, all-day damage. They're not necessarily any better at it than other sustained-damage types like the rogue, ranger, or fighter, but it is the thing they're good at. EB with agonizing blast is good. It's Class Feature levels of good (because that's basically what it is). It's not game-breaking good, though. It caps out at 4 attacks of 1d10+5, with maybe another 1d6 per if you're juggling Hex effectively. If he's the superstar of your party, then it's probably because you're letting him do what he does best - chew up lots of little encounters where other casters have to be careful with their spells. Crank up the threat level of individual encounters, to the point where the party can only handle 2 or 3 in a day, and he'll start sweating. If you keep him from having a short rest in between, he starts sweating more. If the entire party is coasting, then maybe just up the difficulty level by a notch or two.

  • Use cover. If the enemy has cover to hide behind, then you either have to take the penalty to hit, or you have to get up close. You can be fair, and give the party cover too, but if the party needs to take out the foe with a time limit, and the foe isn't using ranged attacks, that won't matter but so much.

  • Allow struggling party members to rebuild their characters a bit, perhaps with advice. If the warlock has a 20 cha, then every other character who hasn't used a stat-up to get a feat should also have a 20 in their primary stat. It's possible that your issue is that this one character is reasonably well-optimized and the others just aren't. If that's the case, then you should be able to rebuild the others a bit so that they're more in line with the expected level of optimization... and then crank the difficulty across the board.

Worth noting that it can be taken too far. If the warlock gets to trivialize the occasional encounter (with the other party members obviously contributing), and everyone involved enjoys it, that's great! It can be even better if you can make those the "humorous interlude" encounters, and play them for entertainment value. Point is, if everyone's mostly enjoying them, don't lose that kind of encounter just because you're trying to put together encounters that are not trivialized.

Also worth noting that some of these answers have counters of their own. Spell Sniper feat lets you ignore partial cover. Crossbow Expert feat lets you make ranged attacks in melee without disadvantage. There are a number of ways to make concentration checks easier. In general, though, these take major build resources. While the warlock is shoring up these weaknesses, hopefully your other PCs are finding ways to improve themselves as well. Acknowledgements to @ShadowRanger for the point.


There is another side of it, too, in that you might want to look into tweaking the power levels and effectiveness of your other party members.

  • Spells are simply much less gear-dependent than weapon combat. If you're severely limiting the party access to magical items, particularly magical weapons, then any weapon-dependent party members you might have are likely to fall behind your primary spellcasters. Similarly, there are magic items that you can add in that will improve survivability without significantly improving damage dealt. A low-magic campaign is fundamentally grittier in some ways, and it's not surprising that the combat gets swingy.

  • Fireball itself is significantly more powerful than other spells of its level, and excels at taking large chunks of HP off up front. Eldritch Blast, as a reasonably powerful ranged multiattack, is quite good at picking off what remains. It's not as good at chewing through full HP pools, though. If you can make sure that the enemy isn't starting out in fireball formation, then they'll have more HP to go into the fight with, and eldritch blast won't seem so overpowering in context.

Basically, if your average combat is "a bunch of high-threat monsters, less a fireball's worth of HP", it's not surprising that it gets swingy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Re Cover: Tucker's Kobolds. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Nov 5 '19 at 10:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note: If the Warlock is variant human, then they may have a feat on top of the 20 CHA, which may invalidate some of these points (e.g. anything shy of total cover doesn't matter if they have Spell Sniper, disadvantage for ranged spells doesn't apply if they have Crossbow Expert, Resilient or War Caster makes it a lot easier to pass concentration checks). Still a good answer, just making sure the OP is aware that some countermeasures can themselves be countered (if not now, then at level 12 when they've got another feat and an extra Eldritch Blast ray). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger Nov 6 '19 at 0:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowRanger added. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Nov 6 '19 at 15:44
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I have this exact issue in a game I'm running (and the warlock can now fly, making him even more effective!). My strategies are still evolving, but I broadly have two categories I use to provide challenges for him: hard counters and soft counters.

Of those, I strongly prefer the soft counters.

Soft Counters:

Soft counters are anything which frustrates or complicates the effectiveness of Eldritch Blast. The spell still exists, and would work well against enemies if the player can get around the obstacles, or would be a good idea if not for side effects. Examples of this include:

  • The most important soft counter: smart tactics! Groups of enemies coordinating towards a common goal might succeed despite having a few members blown away by EB.
  • Objects providing cover to enemies (bonus AC makes them harder to hit)
  • Breaking line-of-sight (casting EB becomes impossible)
  • Ancillary goals which are poorly served by EB (like the need to take people alive, or a need to interact with the environment which uses the Warlock's actions on other things)
  • Opportunity costs. Your Warlock might be especially good at Eldritch Blast-ing, but they may also have spells, class features, or other options which are valuable (or crucial) to success. Setting up situations where there is a problem only a non-EB action from the Warlock can solve may make blasting less attractive (at times)
  • Enemies/environmental hazards which impede spellcasting (such as frequently trying to grapple/restrain the Warlock)
  • Enemies which are specialized to deal high damage to the Warlock, representing enemies' high priority on taking the Warlock out of the fight (high-damage snipers, for example)

Hard Counters:

Hard counters are strategies which specifically neutralize or negate EB. I have fewer examples of these because I use them so sparingly-- they take away the fruit of a major investment this player made over other options:

  • An antimagic field is going to short-circuit the EB-spamming strategy. Plentiful spell slots/spell-like abilities used to cast Silence or Counterspell can also frustrate your Warlock (credit to Renegade in comments for Silence and Counterspell)
  • Enemies modified to be especially resistant to EB style attacks (they might have unreasonable AC, intended to be defeated by spells with saves)
  • Enemies naturally resistant or immune to EB, like Helmed Horrors (credit to RonLugge in comments)
  • Lingering effects. There aren't a ton of options to do this (thankfully), but enemies might start using abilities that reduce the Warlock's CHA stat, temporarily or permanently. I've not done this to the Warlock, but attribute penalties make for interesting situations every time I've encountered them.
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. I like this better than my own answer because it's more complete. If you add mentions of Silence and Counterspell, I'll consider those cases covered and delete my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Renegade Nov 5 '19 at 12:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Renegade Counterspell is not a good defense against Eldritch Blast, from the Counterspeller's perspective. An enemy spell caster using a 3rd level (or higher) spell slot against a cantrip is a net win for the cantrip-caster: they consumed an action to use up an enemy's reaction and a spell slot. That opens the way for somebody else on the warlock's side to cast something without risk of it being counterspelled. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Nov 5 '19 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. Not necessarily. That reaction and spell slot might buy one of your guys time to cast a big spell or give the guard drake a turn to chew on the warlock. \$\endgroup\$ – Renegade Nov 5 '19 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Renegade Thanks for the +1! But I don't think there's any need to delete your answer, whether I edit mine or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Nov 5 '19 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case: I don't know if there's some discussion about this that I'm missing, but eldritch blast can only target creatures, not objects. Jeremy Crawford provides an in-universe explanation for that in this Twitter thread. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 7 '19 at 3:21
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My answer is not a long-term strategy, but it would be effective for one or two encounters and has not been suggested in the current answers. Your current issue seems to be that the spell-casters are too effective, in that they have a single small set of spells which they use to devastating effect. There exists a monster designed precisely to deal with such a party.

Helmed Horror

The helmed horror (MM p. 183) is a CR 4 construct. Special features include immunity to force damage, immunity to three specific spells of your choice (fireball, heat metal and lightning bolt are the default choices), and Magic Resistance. These features alone make your party's normal strategy of fireball then eldritch blast completely useless, forcing them to figure out a new strategy.

As a helmed horror is only CR 4 and your party is level 8, one will not challenge the party unless fireball and eldritch blast is literally the only thing they can do. Consider using multiple helmed horrors in an encounter, using a helmed horror in conjunction with other creatures, or creating a stronger variant of a helmed horror.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good idea! I was not aware that it had such specific characteristics. I'll be sure to give it a try in one or two encounters. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrendire Nov 5 '19 at 16:19
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The Generals of Hell Have Taken Notice of You

From: High Command

To: All Military Forces

Subject: Spellcasters Interfering with Plans

Priority: Urgent!

In response to reports from underlings about adventurer's with, dare I say, fiendish effectiveness against our scouts and sorties, we are forced to take extreme measures. Lesser demons in need of disciplinary action and captured mages will now be forced to undergo a procedure that turns them into living Antimagic totems. Supplies of these totems will be limited by our supplies and ability to produce them, but creative placement should make them somewhat effective.

See the Antimagic Field spell: https://roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Antimagic%20Field#content

There are also other spells that fiends and spellcasting undead might use to counter spellcasters, such as Silence and Counterspell. However, be careful not to overdo it. Part of the fun of D&D is to stomp through some encounters because of build choices you made, and you definitely don't want to completely shut down a PC's ability to contribute to a fight.

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