I'm fairly new to D&D and tabletop RPGs in general, but recently I started an extremely charismatic and hardy (high constitution) Tiefling Sorcerer. I took primarily fighting cantrips, but all my other spells so far are (as my group puts it) "peace spells" like charm, shield, and suggestion. My DM agrees with my choice (as in I got Inspiration points).

But all the other players keep trying to convince me I'm playing an under-powered character. Is this a true statement? Is it valid criticism I should heed? Or should I resort to a squick of "this is what my guy would do" (which I would like to avoid)?

Some people were asking for details so here we go:

  • There was no discussion of roles beforehand. I had 3 characters prepped and choose one based on the rest of the party (we had no face).
  • My character is a draconic bloodline sorc lvl 2.
  • We are playing Out of the Abyss using Adventurers League rules.
  • My character's whole idea of a fight is to break an enemy's mind then kill him (not her where avoidable, he is a dragon/demon cross) at his leisure.
  • I would love to take the feat Spell Sniper mainly for the fact that it allows me to charm the "back liners" (read: commanders) easier.
  • My team is fine with the general idea but wants me to take more damage to supplement our wizard. (We're locked up in a Drow prison with no items.)

9 Answers 9


"I am having fun this way and I'm not a liability to the party so there is no problem."

From what I can tell you're going with a character who's more about support spells rather than outright damage spells. Which, given your good charisma might actually be a very good choice. But there's two sides to playing D&D: the combat and the roleplaying. So you need to ask yourself this:

  • What do I do in combat? Your build is not one of setting everything on fire, but you still have to do something to not be a liability to the party. If you have considered this, and thought about what you do if the monsters no-sell all your Suggestions and Charms, you should be fine. This is important for all characters by the way: what happens if your main thing does nothing against the enemy.
  • What do I do out of combat? As a character more geared towards roleplaying you should have a leg up in non-combat encounters. Make sure to point this out to the party and ask them how they deal with non-combat situations. Do they have spells that can do this? Do they have skills and high charisma to smooth-talk their way around? If not, well there you have it. If they do, selling your character is a bit more difficult but still managable.

Just remind them of the fact that if you're having fun and not a load to the party, they don't have a leg to stand on when critiquing your choice of character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer overlooks “I took primarily fighting cantrips” in the OP. The second bullet point seems out of place or need revision, given that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 21:24

Well, there's actually a couple of things wrong with your fellow players asserting that your choices are underpowered, without even getting into whether this is an acceptable way to judge a character.

First, they're just wrong.

Shield is not a weak spell, being one of the lowest-level (if not the lowest) spells in the game that gives you spell immunity, and to a very common spell at that -- and you get an AC bonus to boot. Suggestion and charm have never been weak spells, because they get NPCs to do what you want -- that's always useful. Ask your fellow players if they think that a mage specializing in shooting fireballs is more useful than one that specializes in controlling people's minds. If they answered the former, you can safely disregard any of their suggestions regarding your spell choices in the future, unless your campaign consists entirely of mindless creatures outside of your party.

Second, even if they were right... they're still wrong.

Your DM is giving you Inspiration points for playing your character the way you are currently. Those are free rerolls. I don't know how experienced you are with D&D or tabletop gaming in general, but those are really damn good and you should pursue more of them. The Inspiration points more than makes up for any questionable spell decisions you might have made (and based on what you've shown me, you haven't made any yet). I learned the hard way when my friend made his untouchable archaeologist Bard in Pathfinder and his similar Fate-hoarding Cleric in Dark Heresy that rerolls beat everything else.

P.S.: Fact: Having high Constitution isn't a bad thing on any character. All characters take damage eventually, and you had better believe that you will be in one-shot range for many enemies you will encounter as a pure caster. Assuming that you already have high Charisma, which is of course your main spellcasting stat, there isn't really any reason why Constitution is a bad choice, unless you're trying to also specialize in something else.

P.P.S.: With OP's edit, there's a several more things to address.

  • Keep in mind that you are a sorceror, not a wizard, so your spell choices are very limited. Many spell effects are quite unique in nature, but damage is a very common effect. You might find it useful to take a few solid damage spells throughout your campaign, because they can serve you well as a "plan B." However, it's clear from what you've posted that you know exactly what your character's attitude and approach to solving problems is. By having this clear vision of your character, you've already avoided the biggest pitfall that causes underpowered or "gimped" characters: not knowing what you want to do.
  • That leaves "whether the approach is good or not." It's hard for me not to sound arrogant or dismissive here, but this is more-or-less the quintessential "effective D&D offensive mage," since what, AD&D? That is, avoiding damage spells and choosing spells that cause your opponents to either succeed at a save, or be either completely helpless or gimped to the point of negligence by the PCs; enchantment spells like sleep and other mind-affecting spells make up a huge portion of this category.

My team is fine with the general idea but wants me to take more damage to supplement our wizard (we're locked up in a Drow prison with no items)

Couple more things wrong with wanting that.

  1. Elves used to be resistant to all enchantments, but now (as of 5e) they're only resistant to charms specifically. They are still immune to sleep, but they're vulnerable to all of your other enchantments.

  2. Since you are in a prison filled with non-mindless creatures that don't have resistance to your spells (and you also have a wizard -- good God), I am honestly not sure why your party assumes that you need more damage. Killing everyone would make it a lot harder to find where the Drow stashed your equipment.

  3. Drow have light sensitivity. If you or the wizard have spells that emit bright flashes of light, or have any mundane means of creating flashes, now would be the time. Again, it's hard to see how anyone thinks damage is a priority when all of these other options are in front of them. You don't need excessive damage when you can just make the enemy suck way, way worse than you do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Because playing a character the way you want to is never wrong. It may not be considered optimal, but 5e doesn't lend well to min maxing anyways since it doesn't have power creep. Everything is situational. If the party doesn't like the character, I would just cast a couple of charms on them and say, "You do now. So shut up." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I'm just going off what information the OP has given me. I don't see anything that tells me he's going to have a particularly hard time. From what he's said, the group is worried about his spell choices, and they don't seem like he's gimping himself yet. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LucasLeblanc Since the question arrives when the character level is 2, it borders on pointless and missing the key ingredient: the actual build. For LinoFrankCiaralli: "play a character the way you want to is never wrong" comes from the "my guy syndrome" playbook ... in some cases. A general statement with "never" raises a flag. Since the actual build or plan is still not in the question, I am puzzled at the conclusions already arrived at, to include the reported reaction of his fellow players: hasty and apparently uninformed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Perhaps I'm overreaching by not knowing how many people actually do this, but many people don't plan their build thoroughly enough to have a complete vision of what the build looks like when it's finished at level 2. They only pick what looks like the best option for the next level. I am often one of these people, because I like picking what "seems natural" at the time to test how a system works with itself, for lack of better terminology. Furthermore, as I understand it the question is "Are these spell choices bad?" Not "is my build eventually going to end up bad?" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 16:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LucasLeblanc reviewing the question and your best effort answer again, this answer does its best given the poor structure of the question. My request to querent to further detail was rebuffed, comments in Q deleted as fruitless. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 16:11

So I see two concerns the other players might have here. Neither one is really any of their business, but for the sake of understanding their perspective, I suspect these are the two concerns they may have:

  1. Your character will be less effective than normal, and the party will suffer, be more likely to fail.

  2. Your character will be less effective than you think it is, and you will suffer, be more likely to not enjoy the game.

In reality, even if we stipulate that your character is underpowered, the first point is your DM’s problem, and the second point is yours; neither is really theirs. If they’re really pushy, politely reminding them of that would not be out of line.

But more importantly, based on the (admittedly limited) information I have available, I don’t really think it follows that your character is underpowered. Charismatic is par for the course for sorcerers, and hardy is always a good thing. Charm, shield, and suggestion are all solid spells – charm and suggestion are definitely better in urban intrigue than in dungeon delving, but in most cases I wouldn’t expect them to be worthless. Taking an enemy out of the fight until his allies have been dealt with is generally a rather effective tactic (divide and conquer).

So mostly, I recommend that you suggest the other players wait and see how it works out. Who knows, maybe they’re right and you’re underpowered and the party suffers or you don’t have fun, and maybe then it would make sense to retrain some aspects of your character or make a new one. It could happen; it’s not really the end of the world if it does. But right now, none of you knows that there will even be a problem to worry about, so I’d just suggest not worrying about it until you actually have a specific problem.

Besides, if a problem does come up, it’s much easier to fix a specific, observed, and quantified problem, than it is to guess at what might be a problem and try to pre-empt it. Maybe you end up deciding that having both charm and suggestion is redundant, so you get rid of one of them: OK. But until you’ve tried it out for a while, it’s really difficult to guess if you need both, just one, or none of these spells.


If your friends think you are underpowered, prove them wrong through action.

Use what you have. Even non damaging spells can be devastating in combat. Often you will be able to divide a fight in two with disabling spells where no one could have outright killed half of the enemies.

Charm, suggestion and Illusion spells don't have consistent power levels like damaging spells. Their usefulness varies based on gm, campaign, player creativity and the player's ability to convince the gm of what is and isn't in the spell's power. Even if they seem to have clearly defined effects and obvious limits, you may be surprised how far others' interpretations vary. I've seen games where charm person was literally useless and games where it turned adventures in whole new directions. If you think creatively and push the limits of the spell as written as far as you are comfortable with,(or farther, As a player I've admitted to pushing for things while admitting I wouldn't allow them if I was the GM)

If the other players think these spells are underpowered they may simply never have seen them used right. You may find your table starting to think of damage spells as underpowered choices for casters.

To clarify this isn't just a matter of rules lawyering and complaining until you get what you want. If the gm says "no" you are unlikely to turn it into a yes and almost guaranteed to get the whole table annoyed at you if you argue the point too much longer. The point is seeing how far out those "no"s are and where you can take a "maybe".

In most dnd campaigns I have played, ran or heard of it is not okay to have a character that's focused on out of combat. Your cantrips do scale, but their damage output won't be enough of a contribution alone. Spend every second of real time around the combat going over all you can case and what you might do with it. Do what you can to learn about what kind of enemies you will encounter in adventures and avoid spells that might only occasionally be applicable(no humanoid foes, no charm person).

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    \$\begingroup\$ In the OP's situation, there's a really good opportunity for said actions. The party is in prison? The sorcerer has influence and control spells? Great! It's time to charm and suggest the guards into letting you go free and/or have run of the place! (I'm curious how the OP played out the situation two years ago.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 16:31

My DM agrees with my choice (as in I got Inspiration points).

Having your DM show approval in this manner gives your character power beyond mere abilities. If your character is tailored to the style of gameplay of your GM, there will be significant synergies beyond dealing x damage per round.


For your encounter in question:

The stock Drow indeed have light sensitivity -- so spells and effects based on bright light are more useful than the norm; this may affect your choices when it comes to cantrips. Also, sleep is the only effect 5e elves are immune to; they do have advantage on saves against other charm effects though, so keep that in mind. Finally, you may wish some means of piercing magical darkness -- all drow get innate 1/day darkness and fairie fire, which can be used by them to negate at least some means of generating light without hindering their own combat effectiveness.

A build-specific note, before we move on

Note that "save or X" spells don't work with Spell Sniper, as the feat specifies that it only affects spells that make an attack roll against the target.

For the general case: What is your party facing for foes?

That is the primary question that determines what your optimal spell choices for combat actually are -- different encounter types favor different spells. (I am limiting myself to feasible encounters for a low-level party; clearly, an illithid or adult dragon is a whole another story...)

  • Sentient humanoids in small quantities (whether it be a orc/goblinoid, cultist, bandit, or more exotic theme) -- these encounters play straight into your hands with charm and suggestion, especially if you can identify and target leadership figures within the NPC ranks, and doubly so if you are facing NPCs with poor mental (usually Wisdom) saving throws.
  • Swarming humanoids (goblins, kobolds) -- again, identify and target leadership figures. Being able to charm the goblin war chief into making an entire company o' goblins bow to your feet beats the pants off fireballing them and then having to spend several rounds mopping up. Bonus points if you can convince the war chief and his company to fight alongside your party for a while!
  • If you are dealing with a leader-less swarm of humanoids, you still can sow considerable confusion within the NPC ranks with well-played charm or suggestion spells.
  • Swarming monsters (stirges, etal) -- this is bad news for you, and where AoE crowd control (one of the normal mage specialties) is most needed. Hopefully, your DM's Inspiration is a recognition that you're playing a character that fits well with his future plans, and not simply "this character is underpowered, so it must be good RP"
  • Predatory animals (wolves, bears, etal) and monstrous predators (owlbear, anyone?) -- unfortunately, you are now in Druid territory; Sorcerer mind-affecting spells are designed to attack humanoid foes for the most part. (Sleep is vastly underpowered in 5e as it works on a hit point basis.) Thus, you're stuck with direct damage as your only remaining option...thank gosh for damage-dealing cantrips!
  • Mindless undead -- this is the realm of turning Clerics, as most low-level undead don't have the brains to understand your charm person and suggestion attempts. Again, you'll need your damage cantrips here.
  • Fiends -- these are flatly, a pain in the rump, even if you are dealing with their weaker forms. They have nasty damage resistances and magic resistance -- very few things can deal with them well (fey knight paladins get the turn the faithless class ability which helps, but that's about it). So, I wouldn't worry about your effectiveness against them.

Shield is more powerful than you think...

Their criticism of shield is off-base as well; it is actually one of the most powerful defensive spells available to an armor-less mage of any sort, because its +5 AC bonus stacks on top of both your DEX modifier and base AC from other sources (such as mage armor, your Draconic Ancestry, and barkskin) and is available as a reaction against someone attacking you. In other words, you have 18+DEX AC available to you whenever you are attacked, despite wearing no armor whatsoever.

Use your Inspiration well

Rerolls are very powerful to have in your back pocket, especially against a DM that imposes harsh penalties on failures, or against NPCs that are fielding save-or-suck effects.

Be gentle on your DM

Mind-affecting spells such as charm person and suggestion are much more stressful on DMs than straight damage is -- the latter is mere book-keeping, while the former force them to adjudicate an inter-NPC conflict, and can even take them places that could otherwise break a campaign. (The goblin war chief thought joining you was a good idea -- now the DM has to deal with bookkeeping two NPC parties, one of them hastily reinforced due to the incoming goblins, as well as your own!)

Future spell suggestions

While your theme (ambush back-line leadership with charm spells to disrupt the order of battle) isn't at all bad (save for Spell Sniper not working with save-or-X spells), you may wish to augment it with more combat-useful charm effects and complementary spells. My suggestions for this theme (going from second to sixth level spells) would be:

  • Crown of Madness -- very useful for disrupting battle order, and at a good distance too
  • Detect Thoughts -- get inside your enemy's head
  • Invisibility & Misty Step -- you'll need some help skulking around to get in range for your save-or-X spells, so take it
  • Counterspell -- shield's counterpart for going up against higher level casters
  • Fear -- AoE crowd control, mind-affecting-style
  • Gaseous Form -- more sneaking assistance
  • Hypnotic Pattern -- medium-range AoE charm/crowd-control
  • Greater Invisibility -- cast your spells while invisible
  • Dominate Beast -- be the bane of the dogs of war
  • Confusion -- throw entire war parties into disarray
  • Dimension Door -- your first outright teleportation ability
  • Dominate Person -- obvious choice
  • Mass Suggestion -- again, obvious

Your fellow players have a right to be concerned, if you are underpowered, they might die

A rogue will never be able to deal with large amounts of small enemies, so it is the caster's responsibility.

You are underpowered in fights, and likely overpowered in social encounters. Cantrips are designed to be weaker than spells, that is why you can use them at will. However, it all depends on the DM. There are basically two types, one of them adjusts the encounter difficulty to the abilities of the players, the other does not.

  • For the first one it does not matter which spells you take, you can even trade in your damaging cantrips, you will be fine. If you take Fireball, he will send 20 goblins instead of 10, so the "challenge level" is the same. This might actually be more dangerous for your companions, as you get stronger, the enemy gets stronger, but they stay at the same level.
  • The second one thinks that it is your fault to "bring a knife to a gunfight". Most inexperienced DMs using an official adventure module fall into this category.

If you are the only caster in your party, area/crowd control is naturally your responsibility. Taking damaging spells is not the only way to go however. Grease, Web, Stinking Cloud, Hypnotic Pattern are all great to peacefully deal with large number of enemies. This way you can be much more useful in combats, but still limit damage to cantrips.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You're underestimating the power of charm spells in combat situations, especially against foes with poor Wisdom saves...also, keep in mind that there are more types of situations than just "DPR combat" and "city social". A well-placed suggestion can avert a combat encounter against a waffling foe, or draw a gullible war chief into a deadly trap. (Don't forget about utility magic, either!) \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shalvenay, quite a lot of charm spells provide advantage on the saving throw, if you try to use them in combat. Also, they have bad range, verbal and somatic component, and people might resent that you try to charm them. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 19:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's why you use them to pre-empt fights. (And spell components don't matter so much if someone isn't expecting spells to be cast on them to begin with...) \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Furthermore -- the only charm spells that give advantage on the save if the target is in combat are charm person itself and the dominate family of spells. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question mentions that there is another spell caster in the party, a wizard. Your last paragraph may need to be rephrased to accommodate that part of the problem statement. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 12:50

So to begin with, I haven't yet gotten around to playing 5e, and as such have also not played the module that you're talking about. The spell selection that you describe sounds very wisely-crafted from my experience with other editions, especially in the absence of a party face. I'll rely on the wisdom of the other answers to discuss your specific optimization.

So for a more general perspective: different tables see different encounters. So the first thing to observe is that what's reasonably optimized for the kinds of situations that one party gets itself into may be poorly optimized for the kinds of situations that another party gets itself into. It may be that they expect the situations that you get into to go a specific way that their games always go. They may not have a party face because they may not expect to need a party face. They may not see the value in Shield because they may expect the mage to never be targeted. They may not understand why you'd want to charm someone outside of combat, because 'outside of combat' may be equivalent to 'during cutscenes' at this table.

If this is their perspective, then they are probably wrong in this case, as I understand that many modules tend toward requiring a variety of skill sets from the characters.

Furthermore, different tables also have different optimization expectations, even if everyone agrees on what the expected encounters will be like. I think that this is less likely to be the case if you're working out of a module, but some games will prefer interesting and well-rounded characters - maybe no one can hit that DC 25 at level 1 even on a natural 20, but all of the characters feel believable and lifelike and are rich individuals. A highly optimized character in a game like this could overwhelm every mechanical challenge and trivialize the worse-optimized characters. On the other hand, in a party with a high expectation of optimization, one weak link breaks the chain. If they need the proverbial Batman wizard, able to do all kinds of things at a high level of effectiveness, and they instead get a sorcerer who can do his small number of very important things very well and very frequently, there are going to be weaknesses that the party might struggle to overcome. This does not sound like it's factually the case here, as it sounds like your character is more optimized than the rest of the party, and like the rest of the party is complaining about a perceived lack of optimization on the part of your character, but it bears mentioning that this may be where they're coming from and understanding their perspective will help you discuss the topic.

It may also be that their DM tailors challenges to their skill set - as a good DM should do - and since they've never had this kind of skill set, this kind of skill set has never been tested. This is also something to consider, will the changes that the DM makes to the encounters make the game less fun for the other players? Or, more accurately, are the other players afraid that the changes that the DM makes to the encounters will make the game less fun for them? This is probably a question for the DM, not the other players.

On that note - talk to your DM! If he's played with these players before, he's likely to understand where they're coming from, and be able to answer your questions without getting upset. Once you more fully understand where they're coming from, you're much more equipped to address their concerns.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey guys, I'm new to this stack. I realize that my answer doesn't have some of the same kind of usefulness as some of the other answers, but why the downvotes? Am I missing something basic in how answering things work here? Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 14:59

So the crux, is that for any race/class combination there is really only one optimized build. That is, a build that provides the most damage output per round. If everyone built to optimize then all characters would be mirror copies of each other. That would be boring.

So don't worry about whether others think your character is "under-powered". Worry about if your character is who you want to play. If so, then go for it. Even a lowly light cantrip can change the course of a battle. As your character grows you will have opportunities to add other powers and grow.

Trust me, it is far more fun to play a "flawed" character than an optimized one. And your partymates will soon realize it is far more fun to play with someone who is flawed and having fun, then someone who is optimized and simply looking to deal out damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Most optimizers would disagree that DPR is the best measure of effectiveness, even if all you're trying to do is win every fight as reliably as possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 19:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most optimizers would also disagree that there is any “one true build” that everyone should be using. Most assume the optimal party would have some diversity, to handle a variety of challenges. Of course, particularly with 5e being so new, there are also significant disagreements about just what is optimal in the first place (determining optimality is very difficult), which would lead to diversity even if it turns out that there is some “one true optimal build.” Whatever that build is, if it exists at all, it’s not currently known. (Cf. D&D 3.5e, where the optimal build, Pun-pun, is known) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 19:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, "the one true most optimized build" (like Pun-pun) would be the optimum build, which is an optimal build. Vocabulary: The More You Know! \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 19:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ and even Pun-Pun isn't the optimal build for everything in 3.5! If you want to optimize weakest character, for example, or most stereotypical and bland backstory, or any number of other (very carefully chosen) things, there are builds that will out compete it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 3:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ And remember, of course, that the Omnimancer was designed to out-optimise Pun-pun. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 4:11

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