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D&D 5E Fireball tweak idea

I am hardly the first to notice that fireball is a pretty good spell. In fact, in my experience it tends to crowd out all the other 3rd-level options, even for characters who aren't big on evocation. I don't want to nerf it into the ground: it's iconic, and tossing a room-filling explosion should have a sudden and dramatic effect (I'm looking at you, 4E). But explosions are also fickle. So here's a simple change that sprang to mind this morning:

Increase the radius of the fireball by 5 feet for each 6 you roll on its damage dice. Decrease the radius of the fireball by 5 feet for each 1 you roll on its damage dice (to a minimum of 5 feet).

So it's still a big, painful kaboom. It's still absolutely the right tool for the job in some circumstances. But because the radius is unpredictable, the caster can't place it with surgical precision and use it in every circumstance -- not without the risk of frying an ally, anyway.

Thoughts?
 

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jgsugden

Legend
A fun modification in certain games, but only in certain games. The day the wizard rolls 5 6s and wipes out dozens of innocent bystanders is going to ruin some games.

It is intended to be strong for a third level spell, but it is not out of line with Spirit Guardians, Counterspell Hypnotic Pattern, Haste or Major Image.
 

Reynard

Legend
I am hardly the first to notice that fireball is a pretty good spell. In fact, in my experience it tends to crowd out all the other 3rd-level options, even for characters who aren't big on evocation. I don't want to nerf it into the ground: it's iconic, and tossing a room-filling explosion should have a sudden and dramatic effect (I'm looking at you, 4E). But explosions are also fickle. So here's a simple change that sprang to mind this morning:

Increase the radius of the fireball by 5 feet for each 6 you roll on its damage dice. Decrease the radius of the fireball by 5 feet for each 1 you roll on its damage dice (to a minimum of 5 feet).

So it's still a big, painful kaboom. It's still absolutely the right tool for the job in some circumstances. But because the radius is unpredictable, the caster can't place it with surgical precision and use it in every circumstance -- not without the risk of frying an ally, anyway.

Thoughts?
Interesting idea, but magic in D&D is not especially unpredictable by design (other than totals of damage) and I think making it so pushes against the basic assumptions around the spell casting classes.

I think an easy way to make fireball a less automatic choice for casters is to make it less useful in the fiction. If every PC wizard has it, that means every wizard has it. And if every wizard has it, the kinds of enemies susceptible to it -- mainly low level humanoids -- will account for it in their tactics. They won't bunch up. They'll target the wizard. They will come in waves. they will use protective magic if available. Ubiquity is a weakness.
 

Interesting idea, but magic in D&D is not especially unpredictable by design (other than totals of damage) and I think making it so pushes against the basic assumptions around the spell casting classes.

I think an easy way to make fireball a less automatic choice for casters is to make it less useful in the fiction. If every PC wizard has it, that means every wizard has it. And if every wizard has it, the kinds of enemies susceptible to it -- mainly low level humanoids -- will account for it in their tactics. They won't bunch up. They'll target the wizard. They will come in waves. they will use protective magic if available. Ubiquity is a weakness.

Before 3E wizards were pretty reliant on their DM for what spells they got iirc. At least in our games the DM gave you your 1st level spells. All levels after the spells you gained were from whatever was in found or bought spellbooks, scrolls or research. There wasnt much in the way of being able to choose what spells you acquired other than choosing to learn what you did get or waiting until you got what you wanted. So leaning more towards this approach might do as you said and limit the need to change spells.
 

aco175

Legend
I would roll just one die with the damage to determine the size. You could add a d8 with a roll of 1 meaning 10ft, 2 for 5ft. Roll a 7 and expand 5ft and roll an 8 for 10ft. It would be simpler than checking the rest of the dice. The DM also could roll this.

I wonder how this compares to the other spells and if you will now need to do something to some of the others.
 

Ithink an easy way to make fireball a less automatic choice for casters is to make it less useful in the fiction. If every PC wizard has it, that means every wizard has it. And if every wizard has it, the kinds of enemies susceptible to it -- mainly low level humanoids -- will account for it in their tactics. They won't bunch up. They'll target the wizard. They will come in waves. they will use protective magic if available. Ubiquity is a weakness.
You're assuming a fiction where wizards are common enough to be a reasonably frequent hazard for ordinary humanoids. And in any case, balancing the spell in this way reminds me of trying to balance the overpowered paladin with behavior restrictions. What's that old maxim -- something to the effect of "Just because a DM can fix it doesn't mean it isn't broken"?
 

A fun modification in certain games, but only in certain games. The day the wizard rolls 5 6s and wipes out dozens of innocent bystanders is going to ruin some games.
That would be a prime example of a situation where a wizard should think twice about whether explosive magic is the right tool for the job. Absolutely a feature, not a bug.
 


jgsugden

Legend
That would be a prime example of a situation where a wizard should think twice about whether explosive magic is the right tool for the job. Absolutely a feature, not a bug.
The wizard makes the calculation - it would be highly unlikely for the fireball to hurt anyone. He casts it. Highly unlikely happens.

What impact does that have on the game?

I get that this is your intent. However, I think the fallout from it would not lend itself to a good experience in some games. There are some where players would shrug it off, others where it would add to the storyline and make good story opportunities - but in many it would ruin the fun.
 


jgsugden

Legend
I guess I just don't have a lot of sympathy for a wizard who deploys the arcane equivalent of cluster munitions anywhere near civilians. In real life, we have a term for people like that, and it ain't "hero".
...and D&D is not reality, right? It is a story telling game. About heroic acts. About heroes. It isn't a simulation. The game works best when you tell a great story.

We don't have D&D rules for when a PC should get cancer, when a PC should trip over their own feet, when a PC needs to go to the bathroom - because, although these can be things that hamper the real world, they have no place in most fantasy stories.

As I said, this may work well in some games. However, there are many games where this could ruin the fun. Just make sure you're considering whether the game you're in is one that would be improved, and not ruined, by something like this going wrong. That is something the entire group needs to consider rather than just having a DM dictate the type of game that will be played.
 

Ristamar

Adventurer
I don't think an uncontrolled variable radius on one spell would matter much in terms of creating interesting choices. The players willing to take the risk likely wouldn't care much about collateral damage. Those unwilling to take the risk would simply use less efficient alternatives.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Increase the radius of the fireball by 5 feet for each 6 you roll on its damage dice. Decrease the radius of the fireball by 5 feet for each 1 you roll on its damage dice (to a minimum of 5 feet).
Crunching the numbers, you would have:

5-foot radius: 6.0% chance, average damage 19.8
10-foot radius: 11.5% chance, average damage 23
15-foot radius: 20.2% chance, average damage 25.5
20-foot radius: 24.5% chance, average damage 28
25-foot radius: 20.2% chance, average damage 30.5
30-foot radius: 11.5% chance, average damage 33
35-foot radius: 4.5% chance, average damage 35.5
40-foot radius: 1.2% chance, average damage 38
More than 40 feet: 0.3% chance, average damage 40.8

I kind of like it. It's extremely volatile though, because the radius scales with the damage roll: Either you do a lot of damage in a big area (which is when you are most likely to hit allies), or a little damage in a small area. As a longtime wizard player who remembers the chaotic glory of AD&D blasting magic, that has some appeal, but I can also see how it could get unpleasantly swingy.

If you decide to try this in play, please let us know how it turns out!
 


I like it. I think, on average, it would even out because 1s and 6s cancel each other out. That said, Dausuul has a point. When it's big, it'll be really big and when it's small it'll tiny. It would be better if it didn't scale with the damage. There was a suggestion above with d8s. I'd just use a single 1d6. Maybe a different coloured one in the pile of d6s. On a 1 the fireball is 5 feet smaller and on a 6 it's 5 feet larger.

The other option is to pick an intersection on the grid and roll a d8 and have the fireball land within 5 feet of that intersection. Sometimes it'll land exactly where you want it but, usually it's slightly off by 5 feet. Less Perfect Placement of huge explosions. But then, you'd need to do that with other area spells, I think.

No matter what you do, I'd be interested in seeing what you choose and how it works in play.

Lastly, To echo Oofta, remind casters that fireballs generally destroy unattended objects and light things on fire. My first-ever time playing D&D, I played a 5th level Evoker. An evil wizard was in his library, smugly telling us his evil plans so I blew the place up with a fireball and killed him instantly. The whole party was stunned that I'd done it. Not knowing the rules well, I didn't know that Wizards could find new spells from scrolls and books. I'd incinerated all my treasure.
 


the Jester

Legend
I don't see this as solving a problem, just increasing complexity and slowing down play for no real reason. I wouldn't do it personally, but I do see the appeal of introducing a little less predictability into spellcasting.
 

cbwjm

Hero
A more conservative alternative might be to say it's just +5 feet if there are more 6s than 1s and -5 feet if vice versa. That would give the border some uncertainty without being so hugely swingy.
I like this option best, easy to total up the 1s and 6s and adjust the AoE. I mean it isn't difficult to go "I have three 6s and a 1 so that's an extra 10 foot radius!" But simplifying it to just be a quick check just has a better feel to me.
 

The days where the fireball would fill the entirety of its 33500 cubic foot of volume are long gone. That was 33.5 10x10x10 squares. Seeing your fireball coming right at you was unpleasant to say the least. That is why there was spells like lightning bolt, Melf's minute meteor, Snilloc's snowball swarm and the like.

Now what I do in my games is the following:
A Fireball must be cast in such way that most of its radius will be used. Thus if you cast a fire ball in a 15 feet room, the center of the fireball will be in the door square, this means that yes, if you are within 20 feet of that square you're done for.

Also, if you want to cast your fireball so as not to hit your friend, you must make an arcana check DC 15 to put it exactly where you want your fireball to land. (Of course an evoker has an easier time because he can always protect friends).

It means that, in my campaigns, lightning bolt is often used instead of fireball.
 
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6ENow!

The Game Is Over
I was thinking after reading the OP, maybe a reverse would be neat. Instead of making it larger area when you roll 6's and smaller whan you roll 1's, do it the other way around. That way it is small and focused and really stronger or larger and diffuse.
 

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