Simplifying Enemy Spellcasters: Eliminating Spells

When I’m the Game Master for a game of D&D, running monsters for the heroes to fight against is difficult. Tracking hit points, initiative, attacks, it all adds up. This becomes even worse when you add a monster or NPC with spellcasting.

 You can get into character by memorizing spells just like the Wizard does! (C) WOTC

You can get into character by memorizing spells just like the Wizard does! (C) WOTC

With a regular monster, like a goblin, the stat block for the monster contains all the information you need to use the monster in a fight. You’ve got hit points, AC, attacks, etc. With spellcasters, this gets more complicated. The stat blocks just list the spells the creature knows or has access to. In order to find out what they actually do, you need to use another resource, either the Player’s Handbook or another link if you’re using the creature online.

I don’t have all of the spells in D&D memorized, and I doubt that many of us do. I want my games to move quickly, and I dislike looking up multiple things when I run a game. How do I deal with this?

I change the spells to actions.

Combat in D&D tends to go quickly, and spellcasters only have a few chances to use any spells. They’re probably going to use their most damaging or debilitating ability. They may not even get a chance to use multiple spells. So just pick the ones that are the most effective or thematic, and make them actions.

If you’re fighting a pyromancer, it doesn’t need all of the spells a wizard or sorcerer would know. Give it fireball on an easy recharge and the firebolt cantrip. Now you know what spells it will use, can have then ready, and don’t need to look up anything else! You don’t need to build your NPCs or monsters like player characters, so go wild!

If you like making custom monsters, like me, you can create custom abilities that mimic other spells. Take an avatar of the Lightning God for example. Give it a recharging line attack for a lightning bolt, a ranged lightning attack, and a melee attack that deals thunder damage for a thunderous smite. Done! All of the flavor of multiple spells, none of the actual spells.

Creating or modifying creatures may take some upfront time, but overall it should save you time at the table, and make combats flow more efficiently for you.

Do you have any other tricks you use for running spellcasters in combat? Let me know!