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I have been playing D&D 5e for only five months. I play a 5th level wizard. My warlock party member constantly berates me for using spell slots in encounters and says I need to "understand action economy."

I have read many articles on action economy and none say anything about saving spell slots and relying on cantrips only. I also have never run out of slots completely and only one party member has ever had to make death saving throws (me; I was in a bad mood and wanted my character to die so I could quit playing, so I "forgot" to move back behind cover).

Tonight I used Detect Thoughts and my familiar and knew there were only two orc casters to fight. We had them in a choke point, so when one appeared I threw a fireball at it on both my turns and killed it. On subsequent turns when the second enemy appeared, I threw two second level spells at it and it was easily defeated. We took only four total damage for the entire party.

I do not understand why I am being told I do not understand combat and "action economy" and that I should only ever use spell slots to "turn the tide." Why walk into the tide if you don't have to?

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    \$\begingroup\$ How long has the warlock been playing? How long are sessions usually. And how many encounters do you usually have between rests? \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Feb 5 at 6:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the quick reply! The warlock has also been playing since September, but they play at four online tables a week and one in person. So, they are logging some significant hours of play compared to me. Our sessions are usually four hours. One encounter per rest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patti
    Feb 5 at 6:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would just add that while Liam roleplay's caleb well, he mechanically and tactically played him pretty poorly (they all do), so don't learn too much! \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 5 at 10:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri: Out of the Critical Role cast, Liam is one of the better players in terms of tactics. But yeah, that's not a high bar. Some of the sub-optimal choices are RP-motivated, like Caleb getting emotional and using up spell slots, or wanting to have fun. But yeah, watching an actual-play show and thinking about what their options were, and what you might have done in their place, and how things actually play out given the choices they made, are probably a decent way to learn. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 6 at 0:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ But note that Matt Mercer often doesn't have a lot of combats per day, until the final arc of campaign 2 where the party is running ragged when there is a time crunch and little time to rest, but they're still not good at conserving spell slots or resources. (CR campaign 2 had more days with multiple encounters than C1 did, I think, which was probably an intentional change from Matt, given the party having more full casters, and more short-rest based classes that make that relevant) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 6 at 0:36

5 Answers 5

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What they mean

Your friend is concerned that once you need to fight more than one or two encounters per (in-game) day, you will be frustrated not to have spells available to you. Action Economy is absolutely not the correct term for this; Action Economy is how much you can get done in a round (typically Action, movement, potential Bonus Action). What they mean is closer to 'trigger discipline' and is often called resource management.

In their defense, it is a fair thing to express to new players who may not realize the full potential of their slotted spells or the consequences of running out. However, while it is fair to notify a fellow player that they may wish to hold something back for an emergency, it is not OK to berate them and try to "play their character" for them.

This is exacerbated by your playstyle fitting with your GM's plans well; when you fight only once or twice between getting your spells back, there is very little reason to hold anything in reserve. In your friend's other groups they are probably expected to fight 4, 5, 6 or more combats per game day and are projecting that onto this group.

What you should do

Generally, there are a few ways to address this problem depending on how bad it is and your comfort level communicating to the other players.

  • The most straightforward one is to communicate openly to the other player that you have heard their recommendation and understand the value of your spells, but that you are happy with the rate at which you use them.
  • Another method that appeals to some players is to address it in-character; have your character note that they are glad they chose to use Fireball while the dangerous enemies were grouped up
  • A little stronger of an option; ask the GM (and/or other player) to intervene. This is particularly an option if you have already attempted one or both of the other options or you aren't comfortable with direct confrontation. Everyone is there to have a good time, and the GM has the most potential to protect your right to do so.
  • The nuclear option is always available; quit the game group and find a different one. Obviously there are a lot of variables that affect whether this works for you, but it is always an option, even among close friends.

It sounds, to me, that your friend thinks they are doing you a favor and the first option is the most appropriate. I personally prefer to have such talks just before or after a session and I find that most players will at least acknowledge and make a best effort to back off when it is expressed that they can be done "helping".

Bonus

You should never have to get your character killed to leave a group or even miss a session. Just tell your GM you need a break, and they should have no problem having your character disappear into the background temporarily while you get your head on straight. Sometimes it means the group takes the night off or does something else, but the game should not be running with unwilling players.

You don't have any responsibility to hurt yourself for their entertainment, only to minimize intentionally interfering with their fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ironically, what the OP is doing is actually strategically sound planning around the action economy. By frontloading your powerful spells in a combat and not just holding back for when things are looking bad, you are (generally) more quickly reducing the total number of actions the opposing 'team' can take (either through a quicker kill or crowd control). \$\endgroup\$
    – CTWind
    Feb 5 at 8:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your detailed and insightful response. I agree number one is the best course of action. I will be sure to address it after our next session. We meet in person at my house and tonight the group agreed to forgo alcohol at future sessions. I think this will start the process of improving the tone of our communication, since I had noticed this player consistently becomes more critical as the night progresses. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patti
    Feb 5 at 8:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Might be worth adding that their friend is a warlock, so if they are doing a 5 minute working day they may be annoyed at being overshadowed and blaming the wizard. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 5 at 9:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Building off what SeriousBri said, it may also be because warlocks feel a certain pressure around using their extremely limited number of spell slots and so tend to reserve them for times when they will, as the warlock phrased it, "turn the tide." Having played multiple warlocks over the course of all my time in 5e, warlocks require a very different mentality (I once saw them described as being more akin to a fighter, focused more on the consistent, reliable damage of EB rather than flinging out multiple big, flashy spells). As a wizard, your number of slots is far from being so limited. \$\endgroup\$
    – Remilia
    Feb 5 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Remilia As a player repeatedly telling someone else how to play, it seems likely the warlock player is projecting their own situation onto the wizard and may have difficulty with the boundaries between "me" and "not me". \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 5 at 17:45
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It sounds like your “friend” is ruining your fun which is the very core of dnd. Your character has every right to use spells where they deem them fit and you have every right to tell this person to lay off and let you enjoy the game how you want to. Not everything is about number crunching and tactics, if you don’t want to play that way that should be perfectly acceptable, not that I see anything wrong in the first place with your decisions. You may need to find a new group if this persists, though I know that’s not always an option.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for that. My entire personality is based on analyzing everything to death and over thinking, so being told I am not being tactical stings a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patti
    Feb 5 at 6:53
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Your friend is wrong.

Strategy and tactics are topics that are quite complex even in a game that boils them down to simple numbers like DnD 5e and like any subset of 'what should we do' people often have strong opinions about it. However, the general point of view of most optimizers who have looked at 5e is that the system, with it's strong emphasis on hitpoint damage, lends itself well to use of higher level spell slots as early as possible to lower incoming hp loss (aka, take enemies out of the fight). Negating enemy actions is quite possible in 5e, although requires some ability to judge what kind of saving throws an enemy might excel in, but by far the most popular way to do this is to kill some of the enemies in an encounter, as 'dead' is a pretty good way to stop enemies from attacking (most of the time).

They are also wrong in understanding how D&D works. How someone plays their character and the choices that character makes is their prerogative. That's a fairly ironclad rule of D&D. Characters are not run by committee, each player has their own character and it is their character. People often want to control characters that are not theirs to control, and it is nearly universally considered a bad thing.

Finally, your friend is wrong about berating you. Their goal is to get you to change your behaviour, instead, you view that negatively, and definitely seem to dislike it. They probably think they are being helpful, and that the problem lies with you. However, they are wrong.

Why are they wrong?

A few reasons. Firstly, D&D can be very exciting for people, and is often a new experience, that can lead to relaxing or ignoring social instincts like 'don't berate someone over and over'. Secondly, the complexity of strategy and tactics is often an interesting topic for people and one that they can develop strong opinions about even if they are not themselves an expert in the field. Thirdly, your friend is playing a warlock. In D&D 5e, warlocks gain a very limited number of spell slots (until 11th level, they only get 2) but regain them per short rest instead of long rest.

This will likely be colouring your friend's opinions in a few ways - the scarcity of his own slots makes him value them more, and want to 'hoard' them (a very natural human reaction to scarcity). Likewise, your more numerous (if lower-level) slots will make him naturally envious - you have more options at most points than he does, simply by virtue of having the option to use 3 or more spells in a single encounter. Finally, he may feel that his 'rechargeable' spell slots should be the ones used to defeat encounters if need be, 'saving' yours for situations where he has run out or they are in dire need of use.

The problem there is that he doesn't want to use his own very limited spellslots either. Short rests aren't exactly guaranteed, and wanting to hang onto limited resources until they can be best used is clearly something he is thinking about very strongly.

This is a fairly well known psychological behaviour, hoarding, wanting to expend resources that don't count first, only wanting to use things as a last resort, and the design of the warlock accentuates this trend in a few ways.

What can you do about it?

Polite, but firm.

"I don't think that is the correct strategy to use in this game, but even so, [character name] is my character and I am making the choices that he would make."

Complicated topics like strategy and tactics can be argued over endlessly. There are forums filled with these kinds of arguments, if you need proof. It is complex, even mathematically, to try to model and people often are emotionally invested in one or more parts of it. If you can convince your friend that your approach is valid, then that's great. However, if trying is emotionally taxing, instead indicate that this is a firm no and you are not interested in discussing it further.

"Sorry, but i'm going to keep using spell slots when I think I should. If you want to change character to Wizard and play one your way, you could talk to the DM."

There are a variety of articles, advice, and techniques about being polite but firm online. Some are better than others, but I don't have one on-hand to link. Either way, the advice therein is largely not modified by the setting being a D&D game. The only big change is that you can point to the fact that this is your character, not theirs, and the game is explicit about you being the one to decide what they do (and in fact, that you should be making decisions from the character's point of view and not your own (or his)).

Finally, try to keep in mind that he likely doesn't realize that this is having a strong negative effect on you. Sometimes people genuinely don't care about negative effects on others, for whatever reason, but most of the time people simply don't realize that they are having a negative effect and when this is pointed out to them will modify their behaviour on their own (albeit usually not entirely, but at least partially).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I totally agree with you, but I just want to say that " I am making the choices that he would make" could be rephrased slightly to avoid a discussion about my-guy-syndrome. Not saying that I think it is my-guy-syndrome, but I do think that the berating friend might use this argument. Perhaps instead say "I am making the choices for them". \$\endgroup\$
    – RHS
    Feb 7 at 11:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the advice and insight. Looking back I now recognize a pattern. I started out playing a druid and the Warlock made me switch my character to a wizard, "So you will have access to fireball." But now when I use fireball they critize me for it. Now that I realize the issue is about asserting control over me, and not any actual mistake on my part I can stop second guessing myself and insist they let me run my own character. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patti
    Feb 8 at 3:47
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If this is standard D&D, you are vastly overextending

Standard 5e is 6-8 combats per day each of which are medium or hard. You usually get 2 short rest in the middle, and a long rest at the end of the day. Each combat is 3-5 rounds long, so a total of 18-40 rounds of combat.

A level 5 wizard has four 1st level slots, three 2nd level slots, and two third level slots. Those slots are supposed to last those 18-40 rounds of combat.

In a single combat you used detect thoughts (2nd level), fireball x 2 (3rd level), and 2x 2nd level spells. You used your entire day's worth of 2nd and 3rd level spells on a single combat. What will you do in the next 7 fights? Use your 4 1st level slots, and then you are down to just cantrips the rest of the day.

In rough terms you have 27 spell points worth of slots. You used 19 of those (~70% of slots) in 4 rounds of combat (~14% of combats). Essentially you overextended by 400%.

But, your game isn't normal

Now, I think you would have found this to be a very obvious problem if you really were fighting 6-8 combats every day. So I suspect your game runs very differently to the way the rules expect you to play. Could it be you fight 1 single combat and then take a long rest each time? If so, then your play style makes sense.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree using 70% of my spells slots would be complete idiocy if my GM were running a 6-8 combats per day campaign. They are not. We only ever have one to two with a short rest between. Also factored into my decision I knew how many and what sort of enemies we were facing. We had fought these anchorites of talos before they do potential 8 D6 damage, the average HP in my party is 34. Also my GM ignores the 1 cast per day for anchorites and let's them cast every turn until they are dead. I needed them off the board ASAP or we were all going to die. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patti
    Feb 9 at 14:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Patti I suspected as much! If you sat around for 75% of the game casting only cantrips, I think you'd have noticed ^^ It sounds like you are adjusting to the game your DM is running, but your friend is still thinking of D&D "as it is in the book". As far as I can see you're doing fine mate, maybe explain the differences to your friend and see if they can understand. \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Feb 10 at 2:18
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A wizard, or any caster or ranged damage dealer, doesn't have to be (in fact, usually isn't) the primary damage dealer. Providing an opportunity for the melee damage dealers to take care of a foe is just as important, perhaps more so as directly damaging them. Contributing to a victory isn't just about the damage you deal to your foe, or how little damage your team-mates take, so maybe consider are the play-styles in your team clashing? So, try to determine what is your role in your team. Is it the primary damage-dealer, or is it more support and "last resort" damage dealer?

Also ask your GM before the session starts if they are going to stick faithfully to the recommended guidelines for daily encounters. Doing these things might make the game seem a bit mechanical and involves some meta-gaming, but it will influence what spells you choose to memorise as a wizard, and when you should use them.

Consider as well how you can contribute to encounters without casting a spell, especially if you're not the primary damage dealer. Firing a crossbow or hurling a flaming pot of oil can be just as effective as throwing a spell at a foe in some (or many) circumstances. With a bit of creativity you won't need to meta-game so much by concerning yourself with a "recommended number of daily encounters" and having to conserve your spells to suit. Your spells will become a weapon of last resort or a solution to a problem nothing else in your group can solve.

Your warlock friend has handled the issue poorly and upset you - that's their fault and their failing - but they aren't necessarily wrong in seeking to adjust your playing style. You can, in fact, treat this as an opportunity to role-play and have your in-game character learn how to co-operate better with the team she is a part of (and have them co-operate better with you). If your whole group is fairly new to RPG's then encourage them also to treat this as a role-playing opportunity. If the others in your group are all experienced, remind them you are new(ish) and encourage them to help you to role-play rather than just criticise.

I hope you and your group overcome this bump in the role-playing road and you find the real enjoyment of RPG's.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. Are you certain you are answering this from a 5e perspective? A wizard carrying a crossbow made a bit more sense in some other editions than it does in 5e where a Wizard usually has access to damage dealing cantrips. Also, while tables vary, at many tables it would be strongly discouraged to directly ask how many encounters a day the GM plans to use as pure meta-gaming. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the welcome. I have written my answer from a perspective of addressing Patti's concerns. If it is considered pure meta-gaming to inquire of the number of daily encounters, then what can be said of the warlock who wants Patti to conserve her spells? Isn't that request based on meta-gaming (i.e. save the spells for later encounters, how does the warlock know there will be any)? Personally, I don't favour combat cantrips. If Patti want's to use them that's fine. Different people have different playstyles and preferences. \$\endgroup\$
    – Leo_1452
    Feb 8 at 0:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman I actually think it's a good idea to at least check in with the GM. I've seen a bunch of questions along the lines of "My players keep burning through all of their spells and it's making stuff unbalanced but I don't want to kill them so I just let them rest all the time, halp?"... It's not unreasonable for a character to have some statistical idea of how long they go between resting on average, and since this table seems to be fairly far outside RAW it's good to check and make sure that's the GM's intention. (And especially since it's a bit unbalanced.) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 19 at 17:26

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