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Realistically, can Epic spells be cast during combat?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Epic spells recently and I’ve noticed the following:

  • It has commonly been observed that without heavy mitigation, the DCs and costs for developing and casting an Epic spell are often sufficient to make them not worth using. This if frequently because the effects of Epic spells that are both low DC and low mitigation are inferior to 9th level spells. For the purpose of this question, assume that this point is true and we all dealing with DCs of at least 100.
  • The most common and most easily stackable way to obtain heavy mitigation is to ritual cast. The rest are either hard to work with or not stackable in a useful way.
  • Ritual casting during a battle is unlikely to be possible unless you can somehow cheat your way in to making tens or hundreds of casters aid you during the battle.

Put together, it appears to me that most characters will struggle to cast a worthwhile Epic spell during a battle. I’m sure that you could get some long duration Epic buffs up before a battle, but that’s not what I’m asking about. I’m talking about hypotheticals like an Epic Fireball or the SRD’s Vengeful Gaze Of God. Aside from the assumption that I’ve asserted as fact, are there any flaws in my reasoning?

Note that I will not accept the following:

  • Using Epic Spellcasting or some other method to make your stats so high that you don’t need to worry about the difficulty of other Epic things.
  • Anything involving Serpent Kingdoms or being a god.
  • Answers based on casting the Epic spell before the battle.

Do class tiers change at Epic level?

JaronK’s Tier System for Classes is widely accepted. However, every explanation that I’ve seen for why each class is in its tier makes no mention of Epic levels. I have little doubt that this is due to the unpopularity of Epic level play, but has any research been done in to how the tiers change at Epic level? In particular, I expect the buffs given to magical classes (e.g. Epic Spellcasting and the many excellent Epic Feats for casters) to move a lot of casters up and move Psions and martials down. Indeed, it seems like there may be something interesting going on with half-casters.

What is dysfunctional, controversial, or negative about Epic skill checks?

I often see it said that the entire Epic Level Handbook should be dismissed as broken and frequently dysfunctional. However, outside of claims that the entire book is bad, I never see Epic skill checks listed as an example of something negative, controversial, or objectionable. The only near example that I can think of is Diplomancy, but that’s an issue that was largely inherited from Core. There are of course some absurd examples like the Arseplomancer, but Epic levels are all about performing absurd feats of skill.

This leads me to my question – it is frequently said that the entire Epic Level Handbook is bad, but what specifically is dysfunctional, controversial, or often seen as negative about Epic skill checks?

Barring Epic Boons, is there a way to gain immunity to fire damage?

Is there a way, barring Epic Boons, for a player character to gain full immunity to fire damage. I know it’s easy to gain resistance by, for example, being a tiefling or casting a spell that grants resistance. But I’m looking for full immunity. The lower the level at which it can be accomplished the better.

When an item can be considered “epic”?

In our current campaign our DM is allowing us to get a single non epic item as a reward. One of the players wanted to get a Cowl of Warding, it’s a very powerful item that’s described in Magic of Faerun. Such item costs 200.800gp but is not listed as an epic magic item (i’m not even sure epic magic items rule existed when Magic of Faerun came out)

Now, the epic magic items page on the SRD ( http://www.d20srd.org/srd/epic/magicItems/basics.htm ) says this:

Epic Magic Items

While not truly an artifact, the epic magic item is a creation of such power that it surpasses other magic items. Epic magic items are objects of great power and value. The following are typical characteristics of an epic magic item. In general, an item with even one of these characteristics is an epic magic item.

  • Grants a bonus on attacks or damage greater than +5.
  • Grants an enhancement bonus to armor higher than +5.
  • Has a special ability with a market price modifier greater than +5.
  • Grants an armor bonus of greater than +10 (not including magic armor’s enhancement bonus).
  • Grants a natural armor, deflection, or resistance bonus greater than +5.ù
  • Grants an enhancement bonus to an ability score greater than +6.
  • Grants an enhancement bonus on a skill check greater than +30.
  • Mimics a spell of an effective level higher than 9th.
  • Has a caster level above 20th.
  • Has a market price above 200,000 gp, not including material costs for armor or weapons, material component- or experience point-based costs, or additional value for intelligent items.

(Emphasis mine)

While the conditions are clear, it also says that these characteristics describe make a magic item “epic” only “in general” (which I interpret as “not always”).
I used to consider magic items as epic (at least those from the manuals, not the ones made by the players/DM) only those that were described under “epic magic items” (excluding weapons and armors that got enhanchements) and so were explicitly labeled as epic but now the discovery of this item is making me wonder. But cutting to the chase, these are my questions:

  1. Is there a surefire way to tell wheter an item is considered epic or not?
  2. Is the cowl of warding an epic item?

Would Epic Heroism be an acceptable rule variant for a small, first-time group?

I’m DMing a group with 4 players. For all of us, this is our first D&D experience. We’ll be playing Lost Mines of Phandelver.

I’m concerned about the survivability, especially given how green the players are. At first level, they’ll have 10 or 12 hit points, facing groups of goblins that can hit for 1d6+2. I’m adjusting the number of monsters in each encounter, but still worry.

Healing seems to be very rare. At first level, the spellcasters will have the ability to cast two spells in an entire dungeon.

Epic Heroism (DM Guide p267) seems like it could help, but might tip the balance too far the other way into easy mode:

This variant uses a short rest of 5 minutes and a long rest of 1 hour. This change makes combat more routine, since characters can easily recover from every battle. You might want to make combat encounters more difficult to compensate.

Spellcasters using this system can afford to burn through spell slots quickly, especially at higher levels. Consider allowing spellcasters to restore expended spell slots equal to only half their maximum spell slots (rounded down) at the end of a long rest, and to limit spell slots restored to 5th level or lower. Only a full 8-hour rest will allow a spellcaster to restore all spell slots and to regain spell slots of 6th level or higher.

Am I missing some element that would make the party more likely to survive the first dungeon, or would this rule variant be a good way to introduce the mechanics of the game?

Can Transformation give a base attack bonus over 20 to epic characters?

I know for epic level progression, you cannot increase your base attack bonus after character level 20, so it is advantageous to get at least +16 for the 4 attacks/round. However, I was just reading Transformation and it appears that casting Transformation gives you an uncapped BAB based on character (not class) level. Therefore, would an epic level character get a base attack bonus higher than 20 just by being affected by Transformation (and therefore 5+ attacks/rnd, etc)?

For reference: Transformation