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One of my players has made a Warlock. He can cast Shield from the Staff of Defense. With Mage Armor and Shield up he's got 22 AC... at level 3.

We are playing through the Mines of Phandelver and nothing is able to hit him. He's owning everything hard.

How I can go about getting through that defense?

I had the party (all lvl 3's) get ambushed by one of the doppelgangers buffed with an Evil Mage spell list along with 4 Bug Bears and they couldn't make a dent in him. She cast magic missile and could not hit due to shield.

Ultimately I am curious: how I can adjust the difficulty more appropriately so that these guys are challenged enough? Adding more monsters doesn't seem to be working they are mowing everything down fast.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please use the spoiler feature to conceal spoiler material from a published module. I edited one in for that paragraph. Also, how many encounters per adventure day are you running? Shield does not have infinite duration. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 3 '15 at 2:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is the Warlock's Charisma? How is he dealing damage to his enemies? Also, how many players are in the party? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Dec 3 '15 at 2:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ And, is there some complication with the enemies shanking everyone else other than the guy they can't actually hit? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 3 '15 at 3:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ He's actually using staff of defense I misspoke to cast as reaction \$\endgroup\$ – mond1111 Dec 3 '15 at 4:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep I misread that part and thought he could do it.. Explains a lot lol thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – mond1111 Dec 3 '15 at 4:27
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I suggest you carefully read through the magic items and spells your players have so that you understand exactly how they work and what they do in order to avoid this kind of confusion.

The Staff of Defense says:

With the staff in hand, you can use your action to cast one of the following spells from the staff if the spell is on your class's spell list...

Shield and Mage Armour are not on the Warlock's spell list so they are unable to cast them from the Staff of Defense.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll give it to you by two minutes, with the caveat the warlock could cast Mage Armor with Armor of Shadows Invocation. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunk Cynic Dec 3 '15 at 5:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DrunkCynic But if the warlock had Armor of Shadows, they wouldn't need the staff as they could already cast it at will, no? \$\endgroup\$ – James Alday Aug 21 '16 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JamesAlday I should clarify: Armor of Shadows doesn't add Mage Armor to the Warlocks Spell list. The warlock wouldn't be able to cast Mage Armor from the Staff. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunk Cynic Aug 21 '16 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, @DrunkCynic - I was thinking that as well. They can cast the spell at will, but it's not a part of their regular repertoire of spells (Spell List) - an interesting wrinkle. \$\endgroup\$ – James Alday Aug 21 '16 at 18:48
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Shield cannot be cast as a bonus action, it's a reaction spell. However, it isn't a warlock spell so a warlock can't cast it, not even from a magic item. Neither is Mage Armour but this is less problematical as a friendly sorcerer or wizard can't cast it on the warlock or he could have it through Armour of Shadows.

If you let players do things the rules actually don't allow then prima facie they will be overpowered.

However, let me assume that you meant wizard or sorcerer instead of warlock because that could be a thing.

Shield lasts 1 round and can be cast a maximum of 7 times a day (6 spell slots + 1 through meta magic or arcane recovery). If the PC is using all their spell slots for this then they are not using them for other things. This tactic is inherently self-limiting.

Notwithstanding, there is a really easy way to overcome this. The bugbears grapple him; their Strength (Athletics) is +2, his Dexterity (Agility) is +4/+6 depending on proficiency (he must have 18-19 Dexterity to get the AC of 22). This gives each bugbear a 42.75/34% chance of success; not great but better than the 5% they otherwise have (but if they do hit its a critical). Once they succeed, they push him prone (same chances) and then wail on him with advantage (9.75% chance per round per bugbear of a critical). In 7 rounds he's used all his shields and in 9-10 he's dead.

Oh, and a well played doppelgänger always kills people when they are asleep! Ambush predators do not engage in fair fights.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Depending on where they are in Phandelver, the Warlock that is actually a Wizard or a Sorcerer may have a +1 to AC, the ability to cast Shield and Mage Armor without expending Spell Slots. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunk Cynic Dec 3 '15 at 3:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ He actually has the staff of defense so it's charges \$\endgroup\$ – mond1111 Dec 3 '15 at 4:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Figured it out- I misread the staff description! Thanks for helping me see that... Now have to figure out how to nerf the wizard when he gets the staff... \$\endgroup\$ – mond1111 Dec 3 '15 at 4:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any time one of those bugbears rolls a 20 he hits anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 3 '15 at 5:25
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Limitations of Magic Items

Casting a spell from an item uses the Use A Magic Item Action - not a Reaction or Bonus Action.

If the warlock is using their Action to repeatedly cast shield then ignore them. They are not contributing to the fight. Have the foes concentrate on the other party members. Once the warlock is out of charges, and out of allies, focus on them.

As for how to challenge the party:

Use more types of monsters

Use four bugbears plus two goblin slingers plus two wolves. Force the players to make hard choices - attack the bug bugbears hitting them or attack the slingers targeting the mage or attack the wolves that are dragging off the fallen cleric?

Use hit and run tactics

Have the bugbears attack the party then dash away, perhaps under cover of darkness or fog cloud. Do it again in half an hour. And again half an hour after that. Repeat all night. See how effective the characters are with no long rest.

Target someone else other than the characters

Townsfolk, for example.

For example, as the bugbears run off, one character hears one of them say, "These guys are too tough, let's go attack the town tomorrow."

Use Help

Have two bugbears use the Help action to give their friend advantage on the attack. AC 22 doesn't look quite so good now the enemies are rolling two D20s.

Use Grapple and Shove and Knock Prone

Have a bugbear grapple the warlock. AC 22 doesn't help you make a STR (Athletics) or DEX (Acrobatics) roll.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the first sentence of this answer is incorrect. DMG p.141, Activating an Item: "If an item requires an action to activate, that action isn't a function of the Use an Item action." \$\endgroup\$ – Sebkha Dec 3 '15 at 10:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sebkha, that's why I used the term "Use a Magic Item". Perhaps I should have used "Activate a Magic Item"? It is, as you say, not the "Use an Item" Action, which means that rogues using Cunning Action cannot activate a magic item. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Dec 3 '15 at 21:32

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