Damage Spell Scaling

Ashrym

Adventurer
Personally, I'm okay with spells losing their practical effectiveness over time. The 1st level damage spells tend to have advantages over cantrips regardless of damage and the cantrips don't catch up in damage until 11th or 17th level, at which point other spells are giving those opportunities to shine.

If the opinion is that cantrips shouldn't do competitive or greater damage than low level spells slots the solution would be to lower or drop the damage scaling. This has zero effect at low levels where cantrips are more prominent and cantrips matter less later because of the spell slots available. I would watch warlocks and they might be a special case in how cantrips are handled.

Removing cantrip scaling completely doesn't impact low level play and prevents the cantrips from exceeding low level spell damage. Restricting cantrip scaling to 2 dice at 5th level matches up with the typical extra attack feature and also doesn't exceed low level spell damage. Restricting cantrip damage to 2 dice at 11th level does the same thing but slows down the damage progression. Those solutions would resolve the issue where cantrips out damage low level spell slots.

Adding damage scaling to low level spells increases the damage significantly in what's been proposed. I'm thinking a 5th level wizard doesn't need the increase to cantrips and potential increase to 7 out of his 9 spell slots plus whatever he recovers after a short rest. This increase will also interact with things like metamagic, domains, and subclass features. An 18th level wizard suddenly has a much stronger at-will option for damage because of spell mastery, for example. That's a rather large boost in damage on a class that, while versatile, doesn't do strong consistent damage.

I like the lack of spell auto-scaling and if it were me I would either restrict the cantrips to 2 dice, or 1 die, or simply remove the damage cantrips completely and move eldritch blast over to become a class ability.

The damage for the spells does scale, just more subtly and with less impact. The saving throw / hit roll mechanic automatically increasing cause this for scaling in a different way than 1e (for example). A 13 DC burning hands at 1st level is going to average less damage than a 19 DC burning hands at 17th level.

I would still use burning hands at 17th level over a higher level slot or a cantrip depending on the situation. The AoE effect is still there for number of targets over a cantrip and it still leaves me my higher level slots. It's just a lot more situational as the levels increase.

On a final note, damage spells aren't that great to begin with. Monster hit points go up fast with CR and slots can go rather quickly digging into that. I'm good with that drawback. Cantrip damage is the 5e solution for spell casters to not blow through spells trying to maintain continuous damage. I would rather take that cantrip damage away than give more potency in direct damage with those spell slots.
 

GlassJaw

Adventurer
I haven't read through the entire thread but I see the issue. Overall, I really like cantrips (and their auto-scaling) as well as casting spells at a higher level.

However, as you gain higher-level spells and spell slots, those lower level, scalable spells now have to compete. And in the case of damaging spells, many of them don't scale very efficiently when compared against a higher-level spell.

(Side note: It's interesting that there aren't many high-level, single-target damage spells, which almost requires you to scale a lower-level spell for that effect.)

One idea that I've been working is a mechanic that auto-scales lower-level spells based on your highest-level spell slot. For example:

"When you cast a spell X levels lower than your highest known spell level, the spell automatically scales as if you cast it using a spell slot of one level higher (up to your highest-level slot)." (X = 2, 3?)

Wording is a little clunky, which I'm sure can be simplified, but the basic idea is one you can cast spells of a certain level, your lower level spells get an free +1 spell slot level bump. So if it was 2 levels higher, when a 5th-level wizard cast Magic Missile, it would automatically scale as if a 2nd-level spell slot was used. If the wizard used a 2nd-level spell slot, it would count as a 3rd-level spell slot, etc.

No idea on balance though. This could be a universal rule for all casters, a class ability for specific classes, or a feat or subclass ability. And for any of those it could an "always-on" ability or certain number of uses per rest.

My design gut says it should be a 3-level difference so as not to overshadow cantrips too much. I like the idea of limiting to a number of uses per rest but I also like the simplicity of making it a universal rule. Playtesting!
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
One thing I dislike about 5e is that damage spells don't scale at all. Cantrip scaling exacerbates this problem for me. It means that pretty quickly there's nearly no reason to ever cast a low level damage spell.
Currently, most casters transition from low level damage spells to low level utility spells as they gain more levels. Some consider this a feature, not a bug, but YMMV.

The real issue IMO, is the combination that damage cantrips scale, while casters stop gaining lower level spell slots. If cantrips did not scale, but casters had more spells slots to use instead, then casters would have to choose between doing extra damage by casting a lower level spell, or holding it for utility and casting a cantrip for less damage.

The only argument against this is the increase in utility spells for non-combat adventuring, and that non-damaging combat spells (charm, hold, etc.) remain viable at any level. I don't personally see a problem with increasing low level utility spells, mostly because Ritual Casting exists for many of them anyway. As for non-damage combat spells (excluding Color Spray and Sleep, which I include with damage spells, since they are dice based), they still require the use of an action which may not result in any benefit if the target saves. Most players are going to the better higher level spells (or upcast these spells for more targets) anyway.

So I propose a solution that I don't think will have a large amount of impact on the game. (There's probably a more elegant way to type out the proposal but here it is):

Level 1 and 2 spells that deal damage obtain an extra damage die at 5th, 11th, 17th levels.

That allows pretty much every damage spell to stay better at damage than a cantrip. (level 3+ spells already stay better than cantrips).

Any objections?
A simple solution, but not quite right IMO. Level 5 is too early IMO, even though that's when cantrips get their first boost. While 1st level spells start to fall off a little at level 5, 2nd level spells are still go-to options. Additionally, spells that deal damage over time can be abused by this, such as flaming sphere or moonbeam, since they'd add the damage every round. I think a more detailed option is necessary instead.

Lv 5: spells cast at level 1 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 1 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 7: spells cast at level 2 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 1 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 9: spells cast at level 1 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 2 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 11: spells cast at level 2 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 2 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 13: spells cast at level 1 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 3 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 15: spells cast at level 2 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 3 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 17: spells cast at level 1 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 4 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 19: spells cast at level 2 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 4 additional die during the duration of the spell.
 
Currently, most casters transition from low level damage spells to low level utility spells as they gain more levels. Some consider this a feature, not a bug, but YMMV.

The real issue IMO, is the combination that damage cantrips scale, while casters stop gaining lower level spell slots. If cantrips did not scale, but casters had more spells slots to use instead, then casters would have to choose between doing extra damage by casting a lower level spell, or holding it for utility and casting a cantrip for less damage.

The only argument against this is the increase in utility spells for non-combat adventuring, and that non-damaging combat spells (charm, hold, etc.) remain viable at any level. I don't personally see a problem with increasing low level utility spells, mostly because Ritual Casting exists for many of them anyway. As for non-damage combat spells (excluding Color Spray and Sleep, which I include with damage spells, since they are dice based), they still require the use of an action which may not result in any benefit if the target saves. Most players are going to the better higher level spells (or upcast these spells for more targets) anyway.

A simple solution, but not quite right IMO. Level 5 is too early IMO, even though that's when cantrips get their first boost. While 1st level spells start to fall off a little at level 5, 2nd level spells are still go-to options. Additionally, spells that deal damage over time can be abused by this, such as flaming sphere or moonbeam, since they'd add the damage every round. I think a more detailed option is necessary instead.

Lv 5: spells cast at level 1 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 1 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 7: spells cast at level 2 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 1 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 9: spells cast at level 1 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 2 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 11: spells cast at level 2 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 2 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 13: spells cast at level 1 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 3 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 15: spells cast at level 2 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 3 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 17: spells cast at level 1 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 4 additional die during the duration of the spell.

Lv 19: spells cast at level 2 that rolls dice for damage or to compare against HP (such as Color Spray and Sleep) may roll 4 additional die during the duration of the spell.
I guess where I'm at now is - 6d6 damage on a first level spell is too much - because now the only incentive to cast fireball is massive aoe damage. going from 1st to 3rd level spells for 2d6 more damage just isn't worth it - which is not an effect I want to occur.

So the top end damage I'm looking at definitely needs toned back. Maybe I should embrace low level damage spells as good options to target vulnerabilities or avoid resistance or immunities my higher level spells might face.

If that's the "utility" angle of low level damage spells I could get behind that. And it would mean the current damages are pretty close. If that's the view then at most a single dice of damage at maybe level 11 would be sufficient.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
I guess where I'm at now is - 6d6 damage on a first level spell is too much - because now the only incentive to cast fireball is massive aoe damage. going from 1st to 3rd level spells for 2d6 more damage just isn't worth it - which is not an effect I want to occur.
That's the issue too. If you scale level 1-2 spells, you eventually need to start scaling level 3+ or you're just moving the problem from cantrips to them. I can still see it working, but it once again requires more complication, possibly to the point of making the problems outweighing the benefits.

So the top end damage I'm looking at definitely needs toned back. Maybe I should embrace low level damage spells as good options to target vulnerabilities or avoid resistance or immunities my higher level spells might face.

If that's the "utility" angle of low level damage spells I could get behind that. And it would mean the current damages are pretty close. If that's the view then at most a single dice of damage at maybe level 11 would be sufficient.
Something I didn't originally consider was the disincentive to upcast once you grant an additional die of damage, since that's usually the same benefit. This starts to put things in a weird place with level 2 spells, since you'd never want to upcast them. This starts to bring a lot of things into question that you might want to consider.
 

Horwath

Explorer
Only problem is that, as mentioned damage spells scale poorly with increased spell level.

3 dice for single target and 2 dice for AoE spell should be default for scaling.
 

TheSword

Explorer
Scaling 1st level damage spells by level (against the general principal that CL doesn’t scale spell effects) is pretty illogical.

You have starter ability cantrips that scale to allow them to remain useful throughout a PCs life. Therefore you should have another method of dealing damage with starter level abilities as well?

It either makes Cantrips or 1st level damage spells redundant. Doesn’t make sense.

Secondly if it’s only a insignificant amount of damage In the grand scheme you’ve just put an argument against going to the effort of making a change to what is a fairly finely balanced system.
 

Helldritch

Explorer
The more I read, the more I realize that the "scaling" is a desire to revert to a time where wizards (and sorcerers) reigned supreme in the raw damage potential. Now they are clearly the masters of mass AOE and crowd control. The single target damage is now the province of the martial classes and I believe that, in a sense, a balance has been achieved. Is it a perfect balance? Nope. But it is a better one than what we had before.
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
The more I read, the more I realize that the "scaling" is a desire to revert to a time where wizards (and sorcerers) reigned supreme in the raw damage potential. Now they are clearly the masters of mass AOE and crowd control. The single target damage is now the province of the martial classes and I believe that, in a sense, a balance has been achieved. Is it a perfect balance? Nope. But it is a better one than what we had before.
i kind of agree. But casting fireball in a 9th level slot should be badass in my opinion. I would like it to scale at 2d6per additional slot. That’s just my opinion. Still inferior to a meteor swarm. But more respectable damage for a 9th level slot
 
The more I read, the more I realize that the "scaling" is a desire to revert to a time where wizards (and sorcerers) reigned supreme in the raw damage potential.
Frogreaver has made it clear that's not the point. It's a much more focused quibble with the way cantrips' damage scaling compares to low-level damage-causing spells.
Now, if it were just "get rid of cantrips, give us back damage scaling spells by caster level," you'd have a much stronger case.

Now they are clearly the masters of mass AOE and crowd control. The single target damage is now the province of the martial classes
If you include Paladin and, well, er, Warlock, in "martial classes," maybe.

But, that's pretty nearly the idea behind the Controller (plus de-buffs) and Striker roles as formalized in 4e. (Which, I know, it burns, it's not D&D, &c... insert fast-forward re-play of 10 years of edition warring, settle nothing.... lather, rinse, repeat )

and I believe that, in a sense, a balance has been achieved. Is it a perfect balance? Nope. But it is a better one than what we had before.
Better balance than you had before in 3.5? Sure.
Better balance than we had before in 4e? No.

I mean, that's prettymuch the definition of a compromise, it's between the two former extremes. That those extremes were wildly imbalanced in favor of casters, and only somewhat imbalanced in favor of casters, notwithstanding.
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
Frogreaver has made it clear that's not the point. It's a much more focused quibble with the way cantrips' damage scaling compares to low-level damage-causing spells.
Now, if it were just "get rid of cantrips, give us back damage scaling spells by caster level," you'd have a much stronger case.

If you include Paladin and, well, er, Warlock, in "martial classes," maybe.

But, that's pretty nearly the idea behind the Controller (plus de-buffs) and Striker roles as formalized in 4e. (Which, I know, it burns, it's not D&D, &c... insert fast-forward re-play of 10 years of edition warring, settle nothing.... lather, rinse, repeat )

Better balance than you had before in 3.5? Sure.
Better balance than we had before in 4e? No.

I mean, that's prettymuch the definition of a compromise, it's between the two former extremes. That those extremes were wildly imbalanced in favor of casters, and only somewhat imbalanced in favor of casters, notwithstanding.
I would like to always see a spell slot used be noticeable and inarguably better than a cantrip. I have no problem with the damage of higher level spells.
 
I would like to always see a spell slot used be noticeable and inarguably better than a cantrip. I have no problem with the damage of higher level spells.
There is a question of situational utility. If you're trying to read a book, a Light Cantrip will be better than a Fireball, even though they both produce light and one is a cantrips while the other expends a 3rd level slot. So you can't expect /both/ always & inarguably.

A low-level damaging spell will probably be better than even a highly scaled cantrip in some instances. Magic Missile simply doesn't miss, for instance, it's inarguably better than missing, but cantrips don't /always/ miss, so inarguably but not always better.
Burning hands can hit several enemies if they're neatly arranged in a cone, and will do full damage to a swarm, and, again, won't miss - 1/2 damage is more than 0. Sleep can take a nearly-finished enemy down without killing him, cantrips, being all ranged attack rolls, cannot be used to 'subdue.'...(oh, no, wait, can you taser someone with a shocking grasp? that's amusing), …what's another damaging 1st level spell in 5e? … oh, of course, the voted-Iconic-in-the-first-playtest-survey Thunderwave, well, it pushes, cantrips can't do that.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
There is a question of situational utility. If you're trying to read a book, a Light Cantrip will be better than a Fireball, even though they both produce light and one is a cantrips while the other expends a 3rd level slot. So you can't expect /both/ always & inarguably.
Well, not when you compare apples and motorboats like you're doing here.

But if, say, there's a cantrip that does fire damage and a 1st-level spell that does fire damage, I would expect the 1st-level spell to always be superior no matter what level the caster might be.
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
There is a question of situational utility. If you're trying to read a book, a Light Cantrip will be better than a Fireball, even though they both produce light and one is a cantrips while the other expends a 3rd level slot. So you can't expect /both/ always & inarguably.

A low-level damaging spell will probably be better than even a highly scaled cantrip in some instances. Magic Missile simply doesn't miss, for instance, it's inarguably better than missing, but cantrips don't /always/ miss, so inarguably but not always better.
Burning hands can hit several enemies if they're neatly arranged in a cone, and will do full damage to a swarm, and, again, won't miss - 1/2 damage is more than 0. Sleep can take a nearly-finished enemy down without killing him, cantrips, being all ranged attack rolls, cannot be used to 'subdue.'...(oh, no, wait, can you taser someone with a shocking grasp? that's amusing), …what's another damaging 1st level spell in 5e? … oh, of course, the voted-Iconic-in-the-first-playtest-survey Thunderwave, well, it pushes, cantrips can't do that.
It never occurred to me to use fireball to produce light to read. Thanks. That makes everything better. Just teasing. Notice how I says noticeable and inarguably better. I want no reasonable doubt. In my humble opinion.
 
Well, not when you compare apples and motorboats like you're doing here.
My point, exactly. Just because the apple weighs less than a duck, and will therefore float, doesn't make it a better
But if, say, there's a cantrip that does fire damage and a 1st-level spell that does fire damage, I would expect the 1st-level spell to always be superior no matter what level the caster might be.
Well, a fireball always does fire damage, and a firebolt always does fire damage, and the fireball will prettymuch probably always do more...
… but, if you have to stop that troll crashing your kid's birthday party, the firebolt just might be the better choice, at least until you get the kids clear of the blast radius.

Of course, there /is/ a first level spell and a cantrip that both do fire damage - and that's it, really, no cantrip does force or thunder damage - and it the first level spell has multiple advantages over the cantrip, besides doing more average damage until the cantrip has scaled 11th level (because the cantrip can miss). But, /so does the cantrip/, even when it does less damage.

If you're shooting at someone 60 feet away, Firebolt is hands-down superior to Burning Hands, because the latter wont reach, even after you take a move towards the target. True even at 1st level, when the Firebolt does a paltry d10.

So "always superior" is not really ever on the table, even with a Hypothetical scaling Burning Hands.
 

Helldritch

Explorer
The scaling of cantrips is both an excellent feature and a bad one.

The Excellent
Excellent in that it means that casters have something to do if they run out of spell slots or if the threath does not justify a full spell. Traditionally, that role was filled with the magic missile wands. In a system where magic items are now quite rare, a solution had to be found and the scaling of cantrips was that answer. Otherwise our caster would have to throw darts, daggers at a rate of one per round... This is why that we see the utility of those low level slots moving from damage spells to utility spells. Our wizard does not need zounds of magic items to keep relevant once his daily allotted spells are done with. He can always rely on cantrips. In the very rare magic setting of 5ed, this is a must. Since cantrip can now outshine low level spells, the moving of low level slot from damage to utility spells is unavoidable.

The bad. Well, it's not so bad, but it does mean that with the scaling of cantrips, some spell will become inferior in raw damage if they only affect one target. With the reduced spell slots that casters have now, many see this as a flaw. Yet, they forget that even in the earlier editions (save first), those same spells were limited in damage scope (MM was stopped at 5d4+5, fireball at 10d6). Now that damage does not scale per level but per slot, the lack of high level slots has a big impact. Fortunately, that same impact is lessened with the scaling of cantrips but yet again, for those old timers like me, it seems that the amount of high level spells could be a wee bit higher. The arcane casters are now considered battle controlers and AoE damage dealers but the lack of high level slots might ampers them in games where the 5MWD is not in effect. In my games its not rare to see 6 to 10 combats between full rest period (and rarely more than two short rests). The arcane casters must manage their spells quite diligently or they will feel gimped in some fights. As a comparison, the 16th level mage in 5ed can cast: 4/3/3/3/2/1/1/1 while our 1ed wizard would cast: 5/5/5/5/5/3/2/1. That is 12 spells higher than our current edition wizard. Once they're cast ,the 1ed wizard is toast if he does not have multiple wands. He will have to rely on his dagger or quarter staff. Our fifth edition wizard, however, will have his cantrips to save his precious little *sses. (and let's not talk about the amount of time our 1ed friend will have to take to recover his spells while all it takes for our 5ed is a long rest if no spells are to be changed.) The philosophies behind both editions are quite different. The bad aspect of cantrip scaling is one of perception of what is vs what was.
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
I would actually like to see wizards be able to fight with staves again. But that is not practical in this system. Although it was with becmi and grand master rules that ant class could take.
 

Ashrym

Adventurer
After giving it more thought, I would still go with restricting cantrips versus scaling up spell damage. It's easy and it resolves any issues one might have with cantrips out-damaging low level spells.

I am extremely reluctant to give spell casting a boost in general. It's too easy to give too much advantage.

While I wasn't a fan of 4e, one of the things I liked about it (and I think there were positive influences on the game that reached into 5e) was that there was a clear intent on what type of role a class might have in the party (without forcing the need for a specific class). Whether a person agrees with the success of that or not (in 4e or anything subsequent) doesn't really matter so much as the intent in 5e is still leaning in to the controller concept. That means AoE's and status effects and not heavy damage. Adding damage seems like it's the opposite of the class role for wizards, bards, clerics, and druids on top of risking too much of a boost to spellcasters. Warlocks already have invocations for eldritch blast and sorcerers already have metamagic so it's also redundant even if those classes do fall more into a damage style.

Most major spell castsers fall into the control and support styles. They may have damage options, but they really don't need stronger damage options. Weaker damage options in cantrips doesn't actually take away from their main foci.

My 2cp.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
I would actually like to see wizards be able to fight with staves again. But that is not practical in this system. Although it was with becmi and grand master rules that ant class could take.
For my house-ruled edition, I gave wizards an adapted form of the cleric's divine strike. They don't have cantrips, but they can make an arcane-empowered strike with any weapon they're proficient in (staff, dagger, club, or sling), with a damage bonus equivalent to +1d6 per maximum spell level.
 

Advertisement

Top