It’s been a bountiful year of Dungeons & Dragons releases. Van Richten’s Ezmerelda’s Guide to Ravenloft! Fizban’s Guide to Dragons! Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos! Before I dive into any of those, though, I’ve got 13 months’ worth of catching up to do, and so I’m going to pick up where I left off: with Eberron: Rising From the Last War, probably followed by Mythic Odysseys of Theros, although the post-Eberron sequence remains up for discussion.
The top item on my Eberron to-do list is the inspired, humanoids whose consciousness is ridden by the alien minds known as quori.
Possession by quori grants psionic power to the inspired, which have high Dexterity and very high Intelligence and Charisma, positioning them as casters that aren’t looking to get into a mano a mano fight. They have proficiency in Insight and expertise in Deception and Persuasion, and they can’t be charmed or frightened, which tells us that they’re just as puissant in the social arena. In fact, they’re good enough at both talking and fighting (at least at their challenge level) that they can probably gain a bit of synergy by combining the two. Since talk is not merely cheap but free from an action economy perspective, we can easily imagine an inspired keeping a running patter going throughout a fight, angling to achieve their goal—whatever that is—by whichever means gets the job done first.
As spellslingers, they’re limited by the ranges of their spells, but this isn’t much of a limit for the inspired: Hex is good out to 90 feet, and dissonant whispers, hold person and vicious mockery reach up to 60 feet, although charm person is good only within 30. Let’s take a closer look at these spells, because their mechanics allow some tactical combinations but prohibit others.
Hex, for instance, requires concentration and is effective chiefly in combination with attack rolls (does anyone use hex merely to nerf ability checks?). The inspired has only one attack in their stat block: Crysteel Dagger, a melee weapon attack. (Vicious mockery is a saving throw spell, not a spell attack.) Thus, there’s not much reason for the inspired to cast hex unless they have a foe within melee reach whom they plan to stab.
Hex also requires concentration, which means it competes with hold person. Can we thereby infer that hold person is for non-melee situations and situations in which the inspired needs to get out of melee? Either way, the targeted foe has to be a humanoid; hold person doesn’t apply to anything else. Like most of the inspired’s psionic abilities, it’s also limited to one use per day. The inspired is a smart cookie and knows not to waste this spell on a target with too high a Wisdom score—especially given that their spell save DC is an anemic 13. Forget clerics, druids, paladins, warlocks and wizards. Forget gnomes, with their advantage on mental-ability saves against magic. Forget firbolgs, githzerai, and (in the Eberron setting) kalashtar and Wildhunt shifters. In fact, it’s taking a big chance to cast hold person against anyone with a positive, zero or even −1 Wisdom save modifier. And since the inspired isn’t so smart that they can size their targets up at a glance, it’s not worth casting unless the target is displaying obvious signs of daftness. The risk of wasting a turn’s action is too great.
Also, as strong as hold person is, its chief benefit is to confer advantage on attack rolls and grant auto-crits in melee, which benefits the inspired only if it’s stabbing the target with its dagger. So maybe both hex and hold person are for use against melee opponents, and the choice hangs on the kind of enemy that the inspired is facing?
Hold person increases the likelihood of a hit, and if the attack is a melee attack, it also increases the damage. On average, advantage increases to-hit chance by about 48 percent. The benefit is greater the more difficult the roll, but it never exceeds 95 percent, and hold person costs an action to cast. There’s also the matter of the auto-crit, though: A regular crysteel dagger hit deals 15 damage on average, but a critical crysteel dagger hit deals 28, an 87 percent increase. For the cost of one action, therefore, hold person has the chance to pay off with nearly triple the expected damage in the following round. Hex, in contrast, increases only the damage, and only by 1d6. But on the flip side, it consumes only a bonus action, so it can be followed by an attack immediately. If the inspired uses its Multiattack to make two Crysteel Dagger attacks per round against an opponent with AC 15, that’s no damage in round 1 but an expected 42 damage in round 2 with hold person, versus a total expected 37 damage in rounds 1 and 2 with hex. What if the fight lasts into round 3? Then you’re looking at another expected 42 damage in round 3 with hold person but only another expected 18 damage with hex.
So it’s a judgment call: Does hold person seem like a good bet? Can you be sure, if you cast it and if the target fails their saving throw, that no one else will rush in to spoil your fun before you can make your attack? Then, by all means, give hold person a shot, especially if you have any reason to believe you’ll get a second round of dagger attacks. Otherwise, hex is still pretty good, not to mention much faster and safer. Either way, don’t cast the spell from too far off, or the inspired won’t be able to close the distance fast enough to benefit from it. While on paper their ranges are 60 and 90 feet, in practice, they should only be cast from within 30.
As I mentioned above, 30 feet also happens to be the maximum range of charm person, which significantly increases the potency of both Deception and Persuasion—and casting it before combat breaks out significantly increases the likelihood that it will work. With the inspired’s low spell save DC, a target with advantage on the save has a two-thirds chance of succeeding, which is exactly the opposite of what the inspired wants. Even before combat, charm person suffers from the same problem as hold person: You can only have reasonable confidence that it will work against someone with very low Wisdom.
If charm person and hold person are weak by virtue of their poor likelihood of success, vicious mockery is even worse. The saving throw is the same, and the payoff is dismal: 1d4 psychic damage, which can’t even be enhanced by hex because it’s not an attack. The rider effect of disadvantage on the next attack does almost nothing to compensate for the chance of failure. Why on earth would you give up the excellent damage of a crysteel dagger hit to substitute … this? It makes no sense, except against an armored nincompoop with a very big weapon. And honestly, if you’re in that situation? Chuck hold person as a Hail Mary and run.
In between we have dissonant whispers. It suffers from the same problems as the aforementioned spells: reliance on a failed Wisdom saving throw against an easy-to-hit DC, and a once-per-day limitation. However, its damage is significantly superior to that of vicious mockery, its rider effect is better, and it deals some damage even on a successful save. Plus, its range is 60 feet, which makes up for falling short of the damage that a double-dagger Multiattack can deal.
Why, though? What’s the use case? Again, the inspired gets only one shot with it, and the chance of fizzling is high. As a sucker punch, it’s likely to provoke a foe and unlikely to take them down. As a self-defense measure, it’s unreliable. There’s only one application that strikes me as plausible: deterring pursuit. That’s assuming, though, that the inspired is on its own. If it’s part of an encounter involving different sorts of allies, either tougher or more numerous than the inspired, other applications may present themselves.
Given the inspired’s unsuitedness to any kind of a knock-down fight, it doesn’t seem to me to make any sense for them to stick around until they’re seriously wounded. Being moderately wounded (reduced to 28 hp or fewer) is enough to prompt them to evacuate; they may not even wait that long, depending on the obviousness of the threat their opponents present, although their Wisdom isn’t quite high enough for them to recognize a degree of threat that isn’t immediately obvious.
According to the flavor text, many inspired are influential nobles, even rulers of kingdoms, and these will rarely have to engage in combat alone, being surrounded by elite guards, spellcasting advisers and ample layers of early-warning systems and structural deterrents. They may even be able to hang back and play more of a support role, using their once-per-day abilities to set up allies’ attacks rather than their own. In such an instance, being certain of success doesn’t matter quite as much. Remember, however, that hex doesn’t help anyone except whoever casts it.
Variant inspired who have quori possessing them right now—the “quori vessels” described in the variant sidebar—each have access to one additional psionic “spell,” but none of these abilities alters the inspired’s tactics significantly, because they, too, call for Wisdom saves, and they have the same save DC as all the inspired’s other abilities.