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Heat metal is a 2nd level spell that lasts 1 minute (concentration), deals 2d8 damage per round, and has no save.

If a Druid casts Heat metal from hiding at 60' on a knight and dashes away, then the knight ends up taking 20d8 damage, since it takes 1 min to doff heavy armor.

No wonder the 100 Kings Knights could never clear that elven woods. The half dozen wood elf (35' move hide in bush bonus) druids sneak up to within 60', wait in hiding, then cast pot roast spells and flee. After a few days the naked weapon-less survivors stagger out with tales of horror.

How do we balance this out?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What game situation are you trying to solve with this question? \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Dec 19 '14 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related post: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/51955/… \$\endgroup\$ – Skiptron Dec 19 '14 at 19:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also please note that heavy armour takes 5 minutes to take off, not 1, without help. With help, that time is halved. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Dec 20 '14 at 0:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close this as primarily opinion-based: it seems to be inviting discussion and arbitrary fixes, none of them necessarily demonstrably correct answers. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 20 '14 at 1:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I rolled back that edit and rejected the approvals because it changed the meaning of the question entirely, making the answers nonsensical. Changing what a question is asking, when it's been closed for three years, isn't a useful maneuver. We would rather that, if that different question needs asking ("is this broken?" vs. "how do we disincentivise that tactic?"), it just be asked fresh instead of an old question being twisted into a new shape. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 24 '17 at 19:39
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You're pretty much correct that using Heat Metal on a lone knight wearing plate is game over, but there are some other considerations to remember:

Allies

The events that you allude to in your question require that you have a lone knight who has no ranged options fighting against a druid in a forest, with plenty of places to hide. Even without Heat Metal, the druid is going to win that fight; he just has way too many tactical advantages for the knight to overcome.

In a more realistic scenario, the knight (or knights) probably have lightly armored allies with them. There is probably going to be at least one scout, specifically purposed towards finding elves sneaking up on the knights before the knights can respond. Intelligent commanders don't send out low-movement knights into a forest to fight high-movement stealthy spellcasters without significant backup.

Concentration

Heat Metal takes Concentration, so if any of the plate-wearer's allies can attack the spellcaster, then there's a good chance that they can break the caster's concentration, and end the spell early. Even a primarily melee-focused knight can throw a rock at a spellcaster to disrupt concentration.

Action Economy

It takes the spellcaster's bonus action to keep doing damage with Heat Metal. This doesn't matter that much for the druid that's just running away, but needing to spend an action every round to do damage with the spell can become a problem if the spellcaster finds themselves caught in combat.

One-trick Pony

This kind of trick will only work against an intelligent force once. When it becomes clear that wearing medium or heavy armor is a death sentence, then the knights will probably start wearing hide, or other non-metal armor. In addition, this trick will typically only ever work on intelligent humanoid opponents, since non-intelligent and non-humanoid opponents rarely wear medium or heavy metal armor.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So after the handful of druid commandos get the fighters to stop using armor. They've just changed the power balance in a region. Threatened the income of the armorer guilds etc. I would assume this would be a common tactic for Druids defending the wilderness so the advantage of med/ hvy armor has just been taken away from fighters with a single spell available to Druids... Changes the frontier town mechanics a fair bit. I'm not sure this was intended \$\endgroup\$ – Karl Dec 19 '14 at 19:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Karl it seems an aweful lot as if you are continually building a scenario where you only have plate wearers who only fight druids. This is a horrible campaign setting even if Heat Metal didn't exist \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Dec 19 '14 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is just the example. Even mixed class situations the lone Druid who casts and runs away will neutralize the use/advantage of med/hvy metal armor for a large area. At the moment I have a mixed group of 4-6 lvl characters trying to take out a coven of evil Druids I think the Druids are going to win. They will easily take out the groups two fighters (dead as damage from the spell will keep going even when the armory members \$\endgroup\$ – Karl Dec 19 '14 at 20:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Frontier towns would have few wearers of metal armor, since their price would be too high for the commoners. Most local soldiers would thus probably be archers and light infantry, both of which usually wearing leather armor. \$\endgroup\$ – Dungarth Dec 19 '14 at 22:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman The rules don't support range limits on spells after they have been cast. The section on range in the magic rules says "Once a spell is cast, its effects aren’t limited by its range, unless the spell’s description says otherwise." You could certainly houserule otherwise, but by RAW, you don't need to remain in range of a spell for its effects to work. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Dec 20 '14 at 3:12
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If you absolutely feel the need to make a fix here (and to be honest, the situation you present is pretty implausible in actual game play), I'd recommend making the caster stay in range for the duration of the concentration.

To be honest, this really isn't a particularly dramatic spell for the fact that it's a 2nd level spell (which means it's at minimum accessible to 3rd level characters), and only affects people wearing metal armor (a rather small minority of enemies).

Ultimately, this strategy might work once and no right minded king would allow it to work a second time. As soon as the first set of knights was wiped out thanks to their tin cans, the second set would go in with heavy leathers and take care of business.

Considering the rarity of this situation occuring in a game, I don't see a particular need to make rulings on balancing this out. However, if you find that this frequently comes up (or that casters frequently cast concentration spells and walk away), you might consider modifying concentration to either end automatically when out of the spell's range, or require frequent concentration checks when out of range. neither of these are RAW (there's currently no need to stay w/in range of (or even the same plane as) the target of a concentration spell).

Another option would be to change the doff/don rules to allow for quicker changes, especially with help perhaps.

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If you actually take into account a bunch of considerations, it's an advantage but not an unstoppable one.

Distance

So, you can target anyone in 60 feet you can see. This is great if you are in the bushes and they're in the open. If you all are in the forest, 60 feet might be harder to get just from foilage alone. You might have to be closer.

Although there's clearly better and worse ambush locations, it's hard to predict exactly where people will go, unless there's an obvious route or land feature that they would likely cross, so even druids might not get the best location to do this at.

Verbal, Somatic, Material

You need a flame and a piece of iron. So already you need to have a flame you can access easily and not give away your position. You also need to be able chant/sing/etc. and gesture and not give away your position. Notice that the distance is a critical factor here.

Complications

So, red hot burning metal in an area full of woods. Yeah, those targets BETTER be outside of the forest, otherwise, you're setting fire to your own forest. Sure, it's going to take time to catch and you might be able to do something about it... but maybe it's gonna be a problem or the enemy will make it hard for you to put out the fire in time.

Are the druids working with other beings in the forest? For example, would the local Treants be ok with this being used? Often times there are other factors that keep people from doing effective things.

Smartness of NPCs

In reality, people aren't totally stupid. They're also not totally smart, either. We've got tons of examples of people using creative and effective solutions and cases of people doing really poor choices.

Is the druid coven organized and trained enough to have a set group of actions to do against invaders? Will they all bring covered lanterns and sneak around looking for threats? How often have they had to repel threats? I could see their patrols having a variety of spells, but unless they already know who the enemy is, I can't imagine they've all specialized for fighting people in armor, especially when they're probably facing more natural critters on the regular.

The thing is, as a GM, you can take a lot of things and use them to the maximum effect - because you already know the party's set up and loadout and you can assume that all of the NPCs will cooperate and act intelligently. You're not going to have one of the druids shapeshift into a bear, rush the party while everyone else was trying to set up for an ambush...thereby ruining it.

Context to consider

It's also worth asking if the party is up to that level of challenge - some players want mindless hack and slash and other players want to have to pull out desperate measures of clever tactics. If your group is not up to it, it won't matter how much you nerf a spell or ability, you'll figure out something else that is "too overpowered" because, yes, when used intelligently, it will do much greater devastation than otherwise expected.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My own preferred "overpowered" use of Heat Metal from old school play is to cast it on a bag of caltrops- which you throw into the mouth of whatever critter is trying to chomp you. If you have access to some form of contingency spell, casting it on arrowheads to activate when they taste blood becomes a nasty tactic as well. \$\endgroup\$ – user9935 Dec 20 '14 at 1:06
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If a Druid casts Heat metal from hiding at 60' on a knight and dashes away, then the knight ends up taking 20d8 damage, since it takes 1 min to doff heavy armor.

In this basic 1:1 scenario, yes. That seems pretty powerful. But a knight would be rather lost riding into a forest all alone anyway.

Having help doffing armor will halve the damage, since you would only be wearing it and affected by the spell for half the time. This, however, only works with medium or light armor, as heavy armor still takes longer to doff than the spell causes damage, even with help.

Doff: This is the time it takes to take off the armor. If you have help, reduce this time by half

A stereotypical squire for example would help a lot. A noble knight might have the Variant Noble: Knight background that grants a retainer for armor donning and doffing.

Although this is not part of the rules, it might be a logical houserule to assume that the doffing time assumes you leave the armor intact for later donning. So if you really want to get out of that armor at all costs, it might be a good houserule to allow faster doffing in exchange for damaging the armor, cutting leather straps and ripping off parts instead of taking the proper measures.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why would "having help doffing armor halve the damage"? \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey Dec 20 '14 at 2:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ It halves the damage because you only spend 5 rounds with armor on, not 10. However, that only works for medium armors. Heavy armors take 5 minutes (or 2.5 with help) to doff, which means that you can be affected by two consecutive Heat Metals before you can get your armor off, even with help. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Dec 20 '14 at 3:15

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