How to Deal: Nova Caster  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in ,

When speaking to my co-author of this blog about what to write about next, we found ourselves in a small discussion about what sort of power gamed characters are the most dangerous to an unprepared DM. After a brief chat we agreed that while there are many different ways to make a character unfairly powerful, it is the Nova Caster that holds the greatest potential to ruin campaigns if you can't deal with them.

As always, remember that you should always allow specialized characters to shine in circumstances where it would not be detrimental to the campaign. The goal here is not necessarily to prevent a character archetype from being played, but more to prevent it from overwhelming you, the DM.

How to Spot the Nova Caster

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell when a regular caster becomes a Nova Caster. Likewise, it can be difficult to explain to a Nova Caster what he/she is doing wrong. The easiest way to define a Nova Caster is any caster that can liquidate all of her augmented magical damage output in a very short amount of time - more often than not on your cool BBEG who goes down in a very anticlimactic hail of magic.

Psionics had a bad rap for being very prone to Nova tactics. Wilders, especially, are known very well for using as many power points as possible with their Wild Surge ability to ramp up damage and DCs until they blow through their power points in maybe two encounters, leaving them useless after. An inexperienced DM will say, "Well, haha, that's fine! They just won't get to use their powers in later encounters." However, this idea begins to hold less water the first time your the Warrior-King takes a three-digit torrent of damage during a roleplay encounter and you have to get the royal guard to come collect his corpse.

Another method of casting quickly is to lower the penalties on Quicken Spell. There are certain Forgotten Realms prestige classes (Incantatrix being the chief, a PrC that should always be banned) that make metamagic obnoxiously easy. Ignoring them, feats such as Easy Metamagic, Arcane Thesis, Metamagic School Focus, and Practical Metamagic can rig up spells that get metamagic effects for free. If Quicken Spell only costs +1 for your Magic Missiles (or Fireballs!) then you may find yourself throwing around a LOT more than levelD6 damage for many many turns. Smart casters will familiarize themselves with the Celerity set of spells, which provide instant actions with the penalty of losing future ones - ones that may not matter when your wizard Throws out a Cone of Cold, quickens a Fireball, and then uses Celerity to eek out another full-power Cone of Cold at the beginning of combat.

Whenever dealing with the Nova Caster, the key thing to remember is that she is still restricted by the number of spells she can cast per day. The Nova Caster is signifigantly less threatening if you can force her to expend her spells before the day's combat is over.

1) Deny Circumstances

All too often I run into parties whose camping schedule is controlled by the casters. As soon as the party wizard is out of useful spells she will demand the group rest for the night and, all too often, the DM will shrug and smile and the threat of not having a spell ready for combat is negligible.

It is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that you do not let this happen. If you are dealing with a Nova Caster, you MUST force them to spread their spells out tactically. Attack them during the night if they camp without securing the area, or set up shop in a dungeon. Punish them for leaving a task half-completed. Send them into dangerous situations where time is a factor and rest is not an option. If the Nova Caster uses all of her spells in one combat, three more where she is useless will quickly drill her with the correct way to play.

Furthermore, combat encounters with several minions and one badass are typically great ways for the Nova Caster to destroy your plans. Instead of some mid-level warriors and a high-level wizard, add some mid level warriors backed by several mid-level wizards. The Nova Caster and her crew won't be able to immediately remove the big threat from the field, leaving you a few rounds of reprieve.

If your Nova Caster is a large area blaster, try making the melee up-close and personal. Cram the party and the enemies into tight corridors where the monsters are mixed in with allies.

2) Control the Benefit

One of the greatest mistakes a new DM will make when facing the Nova Caster is to try and knee-jerk and take it out quickly with progressively more badass foes. This will ultimately, when you do end up overwhelming the party, lead to a dissatisfied group. Instead, consider letting the caster burn itself out on targets that look dangerous, have a ton of hit points, but are more or less giant sacks of punishment-absorption.

The Bloodhulks from Monster Manual 4 serve this position excellently. Being undead, they are immune to a signifigant number of status effects and have a blisteringly high amount of hit points. Possessing D12s (as all undead do) and receiving max hitpoints for all of their Hit Dice, Bloodhulks can take enough punishment to make any self-respecting wizard worry. The highest, a CR 8, has hundreds of hit points. Seeing as 8d6 averages out to 28 damage, a nova caster will find herself at a loss to destroy this creature despite its relative weakness in terms of offensive combat.

If your Nova Caster tends to drift towards incredibly powerful single-target spells (such as a Ray Caster) instead consider doing exactly the opposite - tons and tons of little, weak enemies with no clear leader. Challenge her by sending the majority of her damage off into overkill land.

High Damage fodder as simple as a pack of orcs with greatswords can be very dangerous to a focused spellcaster. All of them form a potential threat in the form of creatures that can hit well, hit hard, and don't care about their defense. Furthermore, a pack of orcs rarely has a discernible single creature that can significantly reduce the effectiveness of the pack. Each and every orc is a problem.

3) Create a Counter

Nova Casting is not inherently a "trick", when compared to many of the character types I will review here. What she uses against your enemies is anything a normal caster might, with the key threat being how much of that firepower can come to bear at once.

As always, remember that for the majority of spells Spell Resistance is an incredibly powerful tool. Nothing makes me tickle inside to see a fireball fail to affect the majority of opponents on the field.

Do not neglect saves on your encounters. Utilize enemies that attack touch ACs for damage (Scorching Ray? Pack of Warlocks?) or automatic damage from multiple sources (Small Army of Halfling Grenadiers throwing Alchemist Fires? Magic Missile, even?) works well for whittling down what is typically a low hit point total behind a respectable AC.

Consumables are probably the easiest way to buff your encounter against a wizard. Keep in mind that spells such as Protection from Evil (or Chaos. Good, even.) render you temporarily immune to charms and compulsions from ALL sources, and are easily available for 50 gold. Even better, Resist Energy potions are only one step up and can provide a crack team of commandos resistance from every blast, knocking a considerable amount of damage off the flurry of spells.

For more vindictive DMs, Nova-ing the nova caster can be somewhat effective. Tricksy ones will find much humor in a Counterspell specialist on the field, although these tend to be quickly taken down by the rest of the party.

When in doubt, throw a golem. They're immune to magic.

This entry was posted on September 28, 2009 at Monday, September 28, 2009 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Using a system like:

is also a good way to deal with Nova Casters, if you can catch it early.

October 10, 2009 at 11:08 AM

This is really, really, really late, but it should be noted that a psionic character can't spend more PP on a power than their level. So most of the psionic nova stuff is actually illegal.

February 13, 2012 at 6:00 PM

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