In the heat of battle, every action counts. A single spell cast at the perfect moment can turn the tides from a hopeless defeat into a triumphant victory. This is especially true in the world of Dungeons & Dragons, where creative tactics and shrewd resource management are often the difference between life and death.
Of all the spells in the 5th edition D&D Player's Handbook, one often overlooked gem can give savvy players a major edge in combat: the unassuming slow spell. At first glance, slow seems underwhelming, simply reducing creature speeds and limiting attacks. But proper use of slow can completely lock down enemies, buy precious time, and allow a party to control the flow of battle.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the optimal uses of slow, creative synergies with other spells and abilities, and tactics for both playing with and against this potent debuff. You'll learn how to master slow to enhance any controller-focused character. Let's dive in!
Anatomy of the Slow Spell
On the surface, slow appears a straightforward debuff spell. But its mechanics hide impressive tactical depth. Here's a breakdown of exactly how slow operates:
- Range, Duration & Components: With a 120 foot range and duration of up to one minute, slow can constrain enemies from a safe distance for an entire fight if concentration is maintained. It requires verbal, somatic, and material components (a drop of molasses).
- Effects on Failed Save: The real power comes from the effects on creatures that fail their initial Wisdom saving throw. Their speed is halved, they have -2 to AC and Dexterity saves, they can't use reactions, they only get one action or bonus action, and they have a 50% chance of wasting actions on failed spellcasting.
- Step-by-Step Process: First, the caster selects a 40-foot cube within 120 feet and chooses up to six targets inside. Each target then makes a Wisdom save against the caster's DC. Those that fail suffer the effects until they succeed on a new Wisdom save made at the end of each turn.
Already we can see how potent slow can be. Halving speed lets players control engagement range. The AC and save penalties make targets easier to hit. No reactions shuts down opportunity attacks and disables counterspell attempts. The restriction to a single action neuters Extra Attack, Multiattack, and Cunning Action. And the potential to fizzle spells forces spellcasters to burn actions with no effect.
Optimal Uses of Slow
Now that we understand how slow works mechanically, let's explore the optimal ways to leverage this spell to dominate combat encounters. Three uses stand out for effectively incapacitating the most dangerous foes.
Shutting Down Enemy Spellcasters
Against enemy mages, slow's 50% chance to waste a spellcasting action can mean the difference between victory and defeat. A failed roll renders the action and spell slot spent worthless. This buys the party time to act while the opponent remains helpless, unable to counter their maneuvers. Slow essentially cuts a caster's actions and spell slots in half on a failed save.
Slowing brutes and soldiers neutralizes their capacity for multiple attacks by limiting them to a single action. This holds true even if they have Extra Attack or Multiattack features, shutting down some of the most devastating enemies. Slowing the frenzied berserker about to make six attacks prevents a potential party wipe.
Controlling the Battlefield
As a potent battlefield control spell, slow enables players to dictate engagement range and timing. Preventing charging enemies from reaching your backline, or stopping foes from fleeing, can completely shift a combat encounter. Halving speed gives your party the upper hand to decide when and where to fight.
The genius of slow is in its reliability and flexibility. It has a huge area of effect, works on all creature types, and imposes universal debuffs. While hypnotic pattern can instantly incapacitate a cluster of enemies, any that make the initial save are unaffected. Meanwhile, slow will reliably hinder almost any target, making your entire party more effective against them.
Creative Slow Spell Synergies
While potent on its own, slow truly shines when combined with other spells, features, and tactics to completely lock down foes. Let's explore some creative synergies to maximize slow's potential.
Multiclass Character Builds
Certain multiclass combinations can add bonuses to enhance slow’s effects. A Sorcerer/Warlock build allows the Warlock's Eldritch Blast to push slowed enemies around the battlefield. The Sorcerer can then use metamagic like Twin Spell to target two dangerous creatures with slow.
The Eldritch Knight Fighter can cast slow, then take the Attack action and make a weapon attack as a bonus action thanks to the War Magic feature. This compounds the advantage from the target's slowed AC.
Maximizing Action Economy
Saving your biggest spells until after casting slow means opponents will struggle to mount an effective response with their limited actions. If you slow a group, following up with hypnotic pattern can wipe out any still standing. They'll have trouble awakening allies or fleeing while under slow's effect.
Also use slow to lock down any survivors of an opening crowd control spell like fear or grease. Few will make the follow-up Wisdom save to end slow while fleeing in terror.
Layering Battlefield Effects
Combining slow with other movement limiting effects like plant growth can bring dangerous foes to a literal crawl. This forces melee enemies to waste turns reaching you, giving ample time to pelter them with ranged attacks.
A creature slowed to 20 feet of movement who enters plant growth and is knocked prone moves at a glacial 5 feet per round. They'll never engage your group in melee combat under such conditions.
Playing With and Against Slow
Now that we've covered ideal uses and creative synergies, let's explore general tactics for deploying slow and countering it as a DM.
Using Slow Effectively
Timing is key – the earlier you can slow critical targets, the better. Slow high damage dealers before they act and shut down casters before they unload potent spells.
Save slow for clusters of enemies you can catch in the area of effect. Targeting lone monsters is less efficient.
Position the cube creatively to catch enemies in chokepoints without slowing allies engaged in melee.
Smart enemies will prioritize targeting slow casters to break their concentration. You can thwart this by casting from maximum range, behind cover.
As the DM, have enemy spellcasters ready counterspell to prevent slow from sticking to allies in the first place.
Most effective is breaking the caster's line of sight to the slowed targets, causing slow to end prematurely if they cannot reestablish vision.
Balancing Encounters Around Slow
When planning encounters, lower enemy numbers if the party heavily utilizes slow. Two dangerous foes play better than eight minor ones against this spell.
Incorporate more open terrain and scattered formation tactics for monsters to limit slow's scope when cast.
Make the encounter about objectives other than just defeating enemies, so slowing ones that remain is less definitive.
With the right preparation, clever synergies, and adaptive tactics, mastering slow can give players a real edge. But smart DMs have plenty of counters to challenge overly reliant parties. This back and forth encapsulates the true spirit of D&D combat.
Slow is one of D&D's most subtly impactful spells. While less flashy than fireballs and lightning bolts, proper slow deployment can decisively turn an entire battle. We've only scratched the surface of this deceptively potent magic in this guide.
With the right multiclass build, slow will disable multiattackers. Paired with the right followup spells, slow can incapacitate dangerous groups. On vast battlefields, slow controls space and time itself. In the hands of a true battle mage, slow reshapes reality.
So don't overlook this unassuming enchantment next time you prepare spells. Embrace the immense power of slow, and unlock devastating potential to dominate your next D&D combat encounter. The difference between a merely competent party and true heroic legends often comes down to clever uses of subtle magic like the almighty slow spell.