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To me, Hypnotic Pattern seems quite strong for a 3rd Level Spell. The main reason I think so is that it can affect a huge number of targets, and a creature that fails the saving throw will not get another chance and may very well be taken out of the picture for almost the entire combat encounter.

I'm aware of two of the spell's relative weaknesses. First, a creature can only be affected once when the spell is cast (other than with the 2nd Level Spell Web), even though the spell still requires concentration. Second, the apparent effectiveness against large groups of creatures is somewhat reduced by the fact that some creatures will usually succeed on the saving throw and will wake up others. On the other hand, this requires their action, so one might in fact argue that this makes the spell even better for the first round of combat.

All these things considered, I'm wondering if it would be balanced (possibly even more balanced) if Hypnotic Pattern were moved to Level 4. Or am I missing something?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have never seen anyone cast this spell other than myself, that strongly indicates that people don't see it worth a pick. What is your experience with it? Or is this just a case of you read a spell and didn't like it? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jun 4 at 10:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've had some experience using it as a Sorcerer. It's a pretty good spell at level 3 against creatures with low wis saving throws, with a big advantage if you can hit an area with many enemies without affecting your allies. But, severely limited by the fact that any damage will end the spell immediately. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Jun 4 at 13:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a wizard I looked at it and decided that its absolutely not worth picking as my 2 lvl 3 spells when leveling up. If I get my hands on a scroll or can copy it from elsewhere I MIGHT prepare it if I know that it's gonna be a mass of low wiz enemies, but even then I might pick something else \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Jun 4 at 22:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Last week, we started an ambush with our bard casting Hypnotic Pattern on a large group of enemies. About two thirds of them failed the save, so we could have absolutely wrecked that encounter. Instead, we silently agreed to play a bit suboptimally (kind of "style over damage") and didn't mind our DM metagaming a bit in order to keep the combat interesting. \$\endgroup\$ – Mars Plastic Jun 5 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like using a level 3 spell to get an advantage in an ambush isn't exactly giving it a fair shot. You get surprise on an encounter and you are expected to win, sometimes using your abilities to get an easy win can be fun 🙂 \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jun 5 at 21:05
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No, the spell is appropriate for 3rd level

Your question lists a lot of potential upsides for the spell, but makes no attempt to compare it to other spells at 3rd or 4th level to justify the opinion that there’s somehow something wrong with where the spell is situated.

Let us rectify that.

Fear 3rd level, affects a large area. Creatures failing the safe are both disarmed and effectively taken out of the fight until they run away so far that they can’t see the caster anymore (potentially very far depending on where this is being cast) or the spell ends.

Fireball 3rd level, affects a large area. Kills things in it.

Slow 3rd level, affects a large area. Creatures failing the safe are still technically in the fight, but very weakened. Creatures can repeat the save. Unlike both of the above spells (and Hypnotic Pattern), it is selective so there is no chance for friendly fire.

We can see from these examples that a spell that affects a large-ish area and conditionally takes multiple creatures out of a fight is appropriate for a 3rd level spell. Hypnotic Pattern doesn’t stand out as particularly powerful in this regard; Yes, it can potentially take out a large-ish number of creatures out of a fight but so can any of these other spells. In fact, Hypnotic Pattern is functionally nearly identical to the 1st level Sleep spell, except that it affects all targets in the area equally, which isn’t even always an upside, and it works against creatures who can’t be magically put to sleep.

Meanwhile for 4th level spells we have Banishment and Polymorph, both of which can take a target out of a fight entirely on a single failed save unless the casters concentration is broken.

Honorable mention also goes out to Hold Person which is a 2nd level spell which can also take targets quite effectively out of a fight, and while it does allow multiple saves it is not broken by the target being attacked, and paralyzes the creature for the duration which confers additional benefits over merely removing it from the fight for some amount of time.

Hypnotic Pattern is not a bad spell of course, but even as a 3rd level spell it is not picked that often. There is really nothing warranting upping its spell level. Yes, it is very good in certain circumstances. But that is true for all spells which aren’t bad!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I looked at Hypnotic pattern and was like "neat, but I get to pick two of these all and thats definitely not gonna be it. I might prepare it if I get it in my spellbook another way, but not as my first two lvl 3 spells to pick! \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Jun 4 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok And if it was fourth-level, that feeling would be even stronger, yeah. \$\endgroup\$ – Fivesideddice Jun 5 at 11:22
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For 4-th level, I find it best to compare to the Black Tentacles.

  • Both have the same duration.
  • Pattern has a bit larger range and affects larger area.
  • Pattern removes opponents from fight, Tentacles only give them restrained condition. For meele monsters it's basically the same.
  • Tentacles deal 3d6 damage per round, up to 30d6 over a minute.
  • Tentacles create difficult terrain.
  • Tentacles can affect creatures that entered affected area later.
  • It is easier to free someone from Pattern than Tentacles.
  • Pattern does not work against creatures without mundane sight.

If both were 4th level, I can't really see anyone choosing Hypnotic Pattern over Black Tentacles, so it would make spell underpowered for its level and pretty much remove it from the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Tentacles affects 16 map squares. Pattern affects 36 map squares. Creatures affected by Tentacles can free themselves as an action by making a Strength or Dexterity check; most creatures are good at one of those. Creatures affected by Pattern cannot free themselves. They seem pretty balanced to me. \$\endgroup\$ – user56480 Jun 4 at 7:57
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Be upfront when nerfing.

If you want to nerf game mechanics you should be very upfront about it so as to not disappoint players. If you make the spell fourth level, you should tell the players before they have level three slots and might want to choose it. Ideally you tell them before character generation in case they plan far ahead and are already excited to take the spell at spell level three. Failing to do so might leave your players disappointed.

Preferably nerf only things that have shown to be problematic.

You say the spell "seems quite strong". It is better to see if the spell actually creates problems before changing it (maybe you have had bad experiences with it already). Since you still need to be upfront you should tell your players that you are unsure about the spell and that you may want to change it so that the players potentially would have to replace their spell.

You make the spell less accessible and less useful.

The effect of your suggested rule change makes it unavailable to players of level 5 and 6 (when full casters have level 3 slots but not level 4 slots). The spell is more costly to cast for those that have access to it so they may no longer want to use it. There are interactions with other rules that might occur (you cannot for example regain a spell slot for the nerfed variant with Pearl of Power). These will not break your game however. Additionally, there is no guarantee that every party will have access to the spell (depending on the choice of classes and spells) and it is not strictly necessary to have the spell or have it at a given level. It is possible however that the spell might become unattractive to you players.

Other solutions to potential problems First of all, having the opponents shaking each other for a short time is a payoff for the spell cast but will not change the encounter dramatically (I had exactly that case recently with Sleep being cast on some Kenkus). Second, monsters are mostly decently equipped for Wisdom saving throws: few monsters have Wisdom scores below 10 and Wisdom is also the most common saving throw proficiency among monsters from the Monster Manual (I did an analysis on this recently). In my games I have no problem if the players can win an encounter easily from time to time using spells like Hypnotic Pattern that can potentially end combats on the spot. In cases where I do not want this to happen (boss fights that I want to be climactic) I make sure to equip the monsters with additional traits to guard them against such spells. Magic Resistance and Legendary Resistance come to mind. If you find that the spell creates problems and often makes encounters too easy, you can easily make your monsters more resilient. You can give monsters immunity to illusion spells from time to time or the ability to cast Counterspell. You should not overdo this however and make people regret taking the spell in the first place.

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