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Short Version: Some characters have cantrips (or unlimited-used abilities) that they would like to have in combat, like Shillelagh. Has anyone tested or experienced methods of allowing these to be ready in advance?

Long Version: I have a player who wants to build an Arcana Cleric who uses Shillelagh, a non-concentration cantrip with a 1-minute duration, for melee combat. She would like to have it ready when combat begins for action economy (to do such other things as casting Spiritual Weapon on the first turn). She figures she can simply cast it continuously while walking around between fights.

I was considering allowing this, with a few caveats. My thoughts were:

  • Constantly casting a cantrip will give Disadvantage to be aware of surroundings, giving a -5 to Passive Perception/Investigation.
  • Since it has a Verbal component, she will be constantly emitting noise, possibly giving enemies some advance warning of the party's approach.
  • Originally I was going to have her roll a d10 at the start of any battle to see how much time was left on the 1-minute cantrip (since it's conveniently 10 rounds of duration), but technically she could recast it every 6 seconds to restart the timer, RAW, rather than waiting until it expired.

There are other potential factors, such as aggravating any NPCs that travel with them (imagine someone repeating the same 6 seconds of magic words over and over. ALL. DAY. LONG.), and not being able to renew it while her focus was required elsewhere (like solving a tricky puzzle, or while hiding, or while having a conversation).

Here are my questions:

  • Are there any other factors that need to be weighed, mechanically-speaking?
  • Is there any problem with my interpretation of the ability to recast it every 6 seconds?
  • Has anyone used or witnessed their own method of handling a PC constantly re-using a similar spell or ability?
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This is the norm

You can normally cast spells and take other actions out of combat. Cantrips are no exception, and so you won't break anything or unbalance anything by allowing this, since rules and published modules already expect it.

From personal experience, attempts to not do this do badly. Trying to limit a character's abilities to only being usable in-combat works okay with a 4e mentality, but really doesn't with a 5e one. The narrative dissonance is problematic enough, but also it inevitably disfavors certain classes (whichever the GM trying to do this is hobbling most, in your case full-casters) and thus leads to balance issues.

Furthermore, always-on buff spells in general and Shillelagh in particular are weak options in 5e. They already struggle to keep up with shorter-duration spells much of the time, and a cantrip selection is a pretty major resource. There's no problem with letting her have this spell active all of the time, and significant problems with restricting it. Just note that she isn't sneaking (it has verbal components) and move on, is what I suggest.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You mention the narrative dissonance of saying an ability is only usable in combat, but what about the narrative dissonance of this cleric going through life casting the same spell every six seconds, from the moment she wakes up until she finally goes to sleep? (Hopefully the player isn't going to insist that she even casts it in her sleep, in case of nighttime ambushes.) Or the narrative dissonance of any NPC interacting with this cleric as if she's a normal person, even as she's casting and recasting the spell while they try to talk to her? \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Nov 14 '20 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveSherohman She isn't casting and recasting the spell mid conversation because conversations take negligible time. And it's once every 5 rounds or so, not every 6 seconds. And ruling that that kind of verbal component use annoys people is arbitrary and not a good decision; it would be better to just say "I don't want to let you do that" or "I don't want continual noise-making to be socially acceptable in this setting nor to handwave the noise produced here" or otherwise handle it at the world-development/character creation level of the campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 15 '20 at 0:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most IRL conversations I engage in take multiple minutes, which means casting and re-casting mid-conversation, even if she's only re-casting when the full 1 minute duration expires. Whether ruling that it's annoying is a good ruling is beside the point - my point is that, if it's not annoying, then that creates significant narrative dissonance, and I find it odd that you consider "this is only usable in combat" to be "problematic" due to narrative dissonance, yet have no issues with the narrative dissonance of NPCs not being annoyed by a constant drone of re-re-recasting. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Nov 15 '20 at 11:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ This seems to be the only answer that went beyond restating my points in greater length. Your observations about restricting some classes more than others, and the value of cantrip selection, are useful points, so you get the tick. \$\endgroup\$ – Mister B Nov 15 '20 at 19:30
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My first thought would that this would be tiring, even though it is only a cantrip, doing it repeatedly would drain the caster over a day but:

A cantrip is a spell that can be cast at will, without using a spell slot and without being prepared in advance. Repeated practice has fixed the spell in the caster’s mind and infused the caster with the magic needed to produce the effect over and over.

That definition clearly states that the caster is infused with the magic needed to produce the effect. So that seems to be pretty straightforward about the energy involved.

So, RAW, yes, they can do. The only thing left to consider is how it affects them in the game. You cover most of the salient points but the most important one is that the casting takes a bonus action (not really relevant outside of combat) and lasts one minute so the character is giving up 1/10th of EVERY minute to cast a cantrip if they wait for it to fully expire. That's really debilitating in terms of being aware of what is going on around them. The problem gets worse if they want to make sure it's maximized and start casting it every 30 seconds or less. At that point they're essentially useless and unable to focus on the world around them.

Also, unfriendly NPCs (neutral or hostile) will get jumpy when the PC is casting a spell all the time, particularly a spell that they may (or may not) recognize as a combat spell.

While this is possible per the rules I would try to dissuade them from doing it or use DM fiat to just say no, that it isn't an overhead you want to worry about. The benefit is really slight compared to the cost and it just gets in the way, potentially slowing the game down and quite possibly wearing on the other players. Constantly asking the player when they are casting it (to track in-game reactions) would be incredibly draining on everyone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the "effects in-game" part. Casting Shillelagh once a minute whenever you're awake is a freaky level of paranoid OCD nervous twitch. It's not quite as bad as you're suggesting - it takes your bonus action, rather than your action, so it's taking a lot less than 10% of your focus over time, but .it's still an intense level of full-day dedication for a relatively minor combat buff, and I'd be expecting the player to roleplay accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Nov 14 '20 at 6:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not to mention: if I were to be a traveling companion of that cleric, I would never again accompany them knowing they would be repeating the spell over and over again. As a player nobody minds, but it's the characters being there... \$\endgroup\$ – Kogarashi Kaito Nov 14 '20 at 10:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah like,... Hey guys is Jerry casting that F.ing spell again? I can't take this anymore! It's been like 3 days and it's over and over the same spell, I never trained in magic and now those words hunts me in my sleep, so much that I would instantly recognize it if another caster was around... too bad I can't counterspell, hey my Cleric buddy, you prepared silence today right? cast it on him right now or I'll kill him I swear!!! Peaceful cleric: I was waiting for you guys forever to tell me this, As my deity forbids me casting such a spell on an ally just for own benefit,I'll help you gladly! \$\endgroup\$ – Maxime Cuillerier Nov 14 '20 at 11:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might also mechanically affect perception checks of other characters, since they can never really listen and focus for enemies, that cleric will annoy them regularly. \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Nov 14 '20 at 17:15
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I know I've seen a thread similar to this before, I just can't remember where.

You are opening yourself up for abuse

Consider:

  • Cantrips can be cast over and over with little to no resources used
  • Quite a few, Shillelagh included, last for a minute between castings
  • Out of combat there is no "Action Economy" to speak of

We will go on the principle that even bonus action spells take 6 seconds. But they don't need to cast it every 6 seconds; only once a minute to renew it.

So your spell caster takes 6 seconds out of every minute to cast Shillelagh. What are they going to do with the other 54 seconds? Why cast another cantrip!

  1. 6 seconds, cast Shillelagh so they have a readied melee weapon.
  2. 6 seconds, cast Magic Stone to have a ranged weapons. While not much damage, they ARE MAGICAL so can overcome some resistances.
  3. 6 seconds, cast Minor Illusion so they can always have "cover".
    1. Create a 5' cube to hide in.
    2. Next go around create a similar 5' cube 30' away (spell range)
    3. Walk 30' on this round to crouch in the cube.
  4. 6 seconds, cast Guidance for skill checks. It's concentration, but it's the only concentration spell they need to worry about and will recast it next minute.

Now you still have over 30 seconds to do things like breathe, drink water, suck on a lozenge since you're literally spending half your waking hours using your voice, etc...

You now have a possible character that has:

  • A magical melee attack
  • A magical ranged attack
  • Cover; remember, this is all happening out of combat so no enemies to disprove it
  • A bonus to skill checks

They just travel very slowly, making a lot of noise...

This is the door you will open because someone didn't want to use their opening round bonus action.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you suggesting a narrative imbalance? \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Nov 14 '20 at 6:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ The casting time for these spells is an action, not a turn. They don't take up 6 seconds each. Minor illusion can't be moved, so if they're not stationary they just keep creating illusions in the middle of nowhere, not anywhere where it'd grant them cover. And magic stone is literally only slightly better than having regular rocks to throw. You're stating all of these things as if they were problems but you spend no time explaining why you think they are problems to begin with. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Nov 14 '20 at 10:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I never said turn, I spoke only in seconds. The general rule of thumb is an action is 6 seconds, so 10 actions per minute. I'll update the post with more details. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Nov 14 '20 at 23:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ A round is 6 seconds. In a round there can be an action (under certain circumstances, more than one [action surge, haste, etc]), a bonus action, movement, and possibly a reaction. An action doesn't take 6 seconds, and a bonus action definitely doesn't. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan O'Shea Nov 15 '20 at 17:17

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