Running Spellcasting Monsters in D&D: cast your buff spells already!

Running Spellcasting Monsters

Many of D&D’s most powerful monsters – like Acererak the lich, the vampire Strahd von Zarovich, or mind flayers – rely on their magical might as spellcasting monsters to defeat adventuring parties of D&D characters. But their raw power is often balanced by low hit points, making them difficult for DMs to run successfully. So how do you make sure your spellcasting monsters are punching in their weight class?

Cast those buff spells already!

Recently I got to chat with Danilo Vujevic, a Sussex-based D&D podcaster, on his show Thinking Critically. We were talking about monsters and their role in D&D games, and the conversation turned to getting the most out of your monsters as a Dungeon Master.

Jump to 21:57 to hear the best DM tip in the episode:

When Spellcasting Monsters are at Their Most Dangerous

In D&D, there are two kinds of monsters than end campaigns for good: dragons and wizards. The first usually relies on brute strength and physical damage, while the second relies on intellectual prowess and magical damage. It’s a “big guy-smart guy” duo, the “yin yang” of game design.

Wizards, then, are the guys whose narrative job it is to know things and put stuff together, and are at their most dangerous when they have a wealth of information and time to prepare. Check out the Overly Sarcastic Productions Trope Talk on The Smart Guy archetype. In this video, Red points out the difficulty in writing such a character for your story is that “the writer has to do exactly as much intellectual leg work” to figure out how to achieve that character’s goals. You the DM have to be just as smart as your smart guy.

Fortunately, Dungeons & Dragons has done some of that narrative leg work for you in the form of buff spells. The mage armor spell lasts for 8 hours, and doesn’t require concentration to maintain. Let’s be honest, is any self-respecting wizard going to start their work day without it?

It let me and Danilo imagine a very particular kind of wizard’s brawl:

Buff Spells in Dungeons & Dragons

D&D doesn’t have a mechanical designation for “buff spells”, which can make it hard to figure out which spells your spellcasting monster should cast ahead of time. Fortunately, there are a few attributes of spells that give it away: duration, concentration, and range.

Buff spells in D&D are generally those that:

  • Do not require concentration
  • have durations of at least one minute, especially those up to 8 hours
  • have a range of “self” or a number of creatures rather than areas of effect

Future versions of Dungeons & Dragons might move some of this information to the stat block as with the war priest, but for now finding those spells can be a matter of looking at each spell on the monster’s list and checking them one by one.

Unless you, smart guy, made a list of buff spells already.

A List of Buff Spells in D&D

Here’s a sample list of “buff spells” in Dungeons & Dragons!

Level Name Spell Duration
1 Animal Friendship 24 hours
1 Armor of Agathys 1 hour
1 Disguise Self 1 hour
1 False Life 1 hour
1 Jump 1 minute
1 Longstrider 1 hour
1 Mage Armor 8 hours
1 Unseen Servant 1 hour
2 Arcanist’s Magic Aura 24 hours
2 See Invisibility 1 hour
3 Blink 1 minute
3 Water Breathing 24 hours
4 Death Ward 8 hours
4 Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound 8 hours
5 Passwall 1 hour
5 Seeming 8 hours
5 Telepathic Bond 8 hours
6 Programmed Illusion until dispelled
6 True Seeing 1 hour
7 Forcecage 1 hour
7 Sequester until dispelled
8 Demiplane 1 hour
8 Etherealness 8 hours
8 Glibness 1 hour
8 Mind Blank 24 hours
9 Prismatic Wall 10 minutes

New spells and magical effects are added to the game all the time, so if this list is missing a buff spell, let me know on Twitter at SparkOtter and I’ll update it here!

Learn more about D&D monsters

I first heard about the “dragon-lich” duo when I interviewed DM’s Guild designer Bryan Holmes for my podcast Making a Monster. He designed a mythic encounter with an Alhoon, a mind flayer lich.

You can also check out Thinking Critically: A D&D Discussion Podcast on their website or on the podcast player of your choice. And if you enjoy Danilo’s work, let him know on Twitter.

Scintilla Studio