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In the Ghosts of Saltmarsh appendix A, "Of ships and the sea" one of the pre-created underwater locations (the wreck of the marshal) has the following feature:

Eight harpies lurk in their bone-covered nests on this rock, gnawing on humanoid remains. When the harpies notice humanoids nearby, they use Luring Song to bring their prey in close before attacking. The harpies fight until four remain and then flee.

I'm hoping to run one of the suggested adventures in this area (the one for level 5 characters), but I'm struggling to see how this feature is supposed to work. As in this question the PCs will have to make 8 saves to avoid being charmed, so even with the low DC of 11 (and the elf in the party having advantage), the chance of at least one failure is high. Once they are charmed they will get no further saves if they just swim straight towards the harpy that's charmed them and then that harpy can kill them without them getting another save (as long as it's the harpy they're charmed by). To me, this seems like a death sentence to any characters that haven't make preparations in advance (like stuffing their ears or using the Silence spell).

Am I reading this wrong? It feels mean to just say to my players "roll 8 wisdom saves". Which makes me think I must have missed something here.

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Luring Song has as part of its description:

A creature can also repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns.

So the player gets to roll a new save every round, and success will render it immune to the song of that Harpy. They'll still need to pass all the 8 saving throws eventually, but between the low DC and being able to pass multiple per turn, it shouldn't take too long.

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First, there is more than one way to break free

From the harpy description:

"charmed until the song ends."

How can it end?

"The harpy must take a bonus action on its subsequent turns to continue singing. It can stop singing at any time. The song ends if the harpy is incapacitated."

Also,

"...whenever [the charmed character] takes damage from a source other than the harpy, a target can repeat the saving throw. A creature can also repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns."

So if the harpy stops singing, the charm stops. If the character takes any damage (including another party member), the charm stops. And at the end of each turn, the character can try saving again to ignore being charmed from that harpy for 24 hours.

Next, tailor the event you your party

The term "they" does not have to represent all 8 harpies singing at once. It could mean that just 2-3 sing. In past encounters with passing ships, that was all it took to get enough of the crew to follow them.

Other pieces to keep in mind

"a target is incapacitated and ignores the songs of other harpies."
"The harpy must take a bonus action on its subsequent turns to continue singing."
A target that successfully saves is immune to this harpy's song for the next 24 hours.

It would seem a better strategy for the harpies to spread out the song. If they all sing at once, and their prey saves, they have nothing left. But picture this...

Abe, Betty, Charlie, Dave, and Edward steer near the harpies. Harpy 1 and 2 start singing and A, B, and C are affected by H1, but D and E made that first save and are now immune to H1, but fail to H2. They all swim to the harpies.

Next round, H1 and H2 use bonus actions to keep up the song while A and E make their saving throw. A is now immune to H1 and doesn't care about H2. Why? Because it's a bonus action to keep singing, but an action to start the song that requires a saving throw. So with these two uncharmed, it would be to the harpy advantage to have two more start their songs and recapture them. So doing all 8 saving throws at once would be a waste of harpy skills.

Now, to the parties favor, while A and E are no longer charmed, they can formulate plans to stop the harpy threat. Here is where the DM can make choices of more harpies singing, or just let them start fighting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is wrong, you are not immune if the song has already started when you start to hear it. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8, 2021 at 13:22

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