D&D 5EGuide to cruddy spells (v1.01)

Dausuul

Legend
I did a bunch of experiments a while back comparing the value of "damage now" versus "damage later." There are a ton of variables, but the rough guideline I emerged with was to discount the value of damage by 11% for each round delayed.

By this guideline, Melf's acid arrow dealing 10 this round and 5 next round would be equivalent to a spell dealing 14.45 damage straight up.

Stalker0

Legend
I did a bunch of experiments a while back comparing the value of "damage now" versus "damage later." There are a ton of variables, but the rough guideline I emerged with was to discount the value of damage by 11% for each round delayed.

By this guideline, Melf's acid arrow dealing 10 this round and 5 next round would be equivalent to a spell dealing 14.45 damage straight up.
I'm curious to see the math that does this. In my experience the standard 5e fight really is right around 3 rounds, so I would expect delayed damage to be much weaker than simply 11%.

Dausuul

Legend
I'm curious to see the math that does this. In my experience the standard 5e fight really is right around 3 rounds, so I would expect delayed damage to be much weaker than simply 11%.
As I recall, it wasn't spreadsheet math but a Javascript combat simulator I built to test out homebrew class mechanics. It would pit a group of simplified PCs against a group of vanilla monsters, run the combat several thousand times, and see how often each side won. I got curious about the value of delayed damage and used the simulator to try out variations on "damage now" versus "damage later." 11%, give or take, was the number that emerged.

I would not be at all surprised to find that the model relied on initial assumptions that don't hold true in most real games, or that its simplifications had a major effect on the outcome. For example, it relied on "win versus loss" as the easiest way to evaluate results, but this meant it had to focus on the deadliest of combats--where TPK is a significant risk--to yield useful information. That obviously has a lot of potential to skew the results in odd ways.

Ideally we would instead measure resources expended (hit points, spell slots, et cetera), but how many hit points equals one spell slot or one use of a class feature? And how do you simulate intelligent decision-making by players on when to use their limited abilities? Hell, I've been playing D&D for 33 years and I still have to guess at the optimal "burn rate" of my spell slots.

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jgsugden

Legend
I did a bunch of experiments a while back comparing the value of "damage now" versus "damage later." There are a ton of variables, but the rough guideline I emerged with was to discount the value of damage by 11% for each round delayed.

By this guideline, Melf's acid arrow dealing 10 this round and 5 next round would be equivalent to a spell dealing 14.45 damage straight up.
I disagree with this valuation. What you're saying here is that at least 8 times in 9 the creature you hit with an acid arrow is still standing a round later ... and the creature may still be standing sometimes, but not 8 times in 9. Even when it is, delaying that damage in some of those situations will allow the creature one more round of combat, and that is a huge cost - a rare occurrence, but when it happens it can be big.

Melf's can do 4d4 now and 2d4 at the end of the next turn if you make a spell attack roll with a 90 foot range (half 4d4 on a miss).

Scorching Ray does 3 ranges spell attacks for 2d6 each at 120 foot range. Miss is no damage, but unless you're extremely unlikely to hit, you end up with higher expected damage with scorching ray at all points in time.

I made a similar spell to Melf's for my game call Acid Javelin. Also second Level. One attack roll. It does 4d6 acid damage on a hit (half on a miss) and the target makes a dexterity saving throw at the end of each of their turns or takes 2d6 more acid damage (save ends). I consider that much stronger than acid arrow - and people still do not want it.

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
Actually the weight that leveled spells like buffs debuffs battlefield control &utility spells need to pull goes up the longer your adventuring day is and/or the more the gm does things like use fewer more powerful monsters over a larger number of trash monsters because the impact of the intentional damage disparity grows larger and larger.
We're all still waiting for you to support your claim that Bless is a cruddy spell

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
concentration & nonconcentration debuffs are up.
@Mistwell I did in the guide itself days ago.

But thanks to your comment I noticed & changed the typo from tined to tuned.
We're all still waiting for you to support your claim that Bless is a cruddy spell

NotAYakk

Legend
I disagree with this valuation. What you're saying here is that at least 8 times in 9 the creature you hit with an acid arrow is still standing a round later ... and the creature may still be standing sometimes, but not 8 times in 9. Even when it is, delaying that damage in some of those situations will allow the creature one more round of combat, and that is a huge cost - a rare occurrence, but when it happens it can be big.

Melf's can do 4d4 now and 2d4 at the end of the next turn if you make a spell attack roll with a 90 foot range (half 4d4 on a miss).

Scorching Ray does 3 ranges spell attacks for 2d6 each at 120 foot range. Miss is no damage, but unless you're extremely unlikely to hit, you end up with higher expected damage with scorching ray at all points in time.

I made a similar spell to Melf's for my game call Acid Javelin. Also second Level. One attack roll. It does 4d6 acid damage on a hit (half on a miss) and the target makes a dexterity saving throw at the end of each of their turns or takes 2d6 more acid damage (save ends). I consider that much stronger than acid arrow - and people still do not want it.
Above, my "super melf" does 5d4 on a hit 23d4 on a miss. Each turn it loses 1d4 (2d4 if immersed in water), and you can use an action and take 1d4 damage to reduce it by 2d4.

That ends up pretty strong. If we drop it to 4d4/2d4 instead, we get something that is only marginally better than scorching ray:

So 4d4, 3d4, 2d4, 1d4 on a hit, and 2d4, 1d4 on a miss.

With 30% discount on delayed damage a hit is worth 10 + 5.3 + 2.5 + 0.9 = 18.7 on a hit, and a miss is worth 5 + 1.8 = 6.8. Or 11.9 P + 6.8 damage.

Scorching Ray does 21 damage; it needs a 75% hit chance to match it.

MM2 is 14 hit or miss. So this outdamages MM starting at 60% hit rate in a level 2 slot.

At higher levels, adding 1d4 to the hit and 1d4 every 2 levels miss has non-linear returns (as it lasts longer). "off to infinity" that 1d4 would be worth 4.1P + 4.1, which is a bit faster than the 7*P damage of scorching ray or the 3.5 damage of MM, but the "off to infinity" approximation is overestimating the value by a fair bit (like 30% at level 3? Decreasing at higher levels.)

I did a bunch of experiments a while back comparing the value of "damage now" versus "damage later." There are a ton of variables, but the rough guideline I emerged with was to discount the value of damage by 11% for each round delayed.

By this guideline, Melf's acid arrow dealing 10 this round and 5 next round would be equivalent to a spell dealing 14.45 damage straight up.
I agree with Stalker0; I suspect something is off with your math.

Maybe you are using lots of big monsters that last a long time, with plenty of time to drop the damage-over-time early, and knowledge that the monster lasts a long time?

I suppose most tough fights, by your measure, end with a long series of at-will damage output, because to hit 50% death rate you either need enemies who deal a pile of damage (with high variance) really fast, or you need to run out of resources and be on a race to death.

...

If you want to do this seriously, you'd probably want to brew up an AI learning system. You'd have them fight a sequence of random toughness encounters; maybe you'd feed the AI the CR of the encounter, as PCs know that an ancient dragon is different than 3 goblins.

For a given loadout of a party, you'd let the AI optimize how long they last against such a random sequence.

Feed something like that to Alpha or similar learning AIs and you should get resource management falling out of it. I mean, they can feed it starcraft and it beats grandmasters.

jgsugden

Legend
...@Mistwell I did in the guide itself days ago...
As long as you have widely accepted power spells on your list of cruddy spells, you're unlikely to have much buy in to your list. Bless is universally rated high in every cleric guide I can find, and Aid is an amazing spell if you understand healing (even though it is not universally loved in guides).

A ranged multitarget healing is massively important. Only 5 hps? What is the difference between being at 5 hps and 12 hps when your opponent does 15 hp damage? Not much. And when you're higher level, burning a slot to give a higher max hp total is well worth the cost.

The last cleric I played to above 15 had four spells he cast far more often than any other: Aid, Spiritual Weapon, Spirit Guardians (casting bless when the combat was less serious), and Armor of Agathys (he had a level or Warlock).

Stalker0

Legend
concentration & nonconcentration debuffs are up.
@Mistwell I did in the guide itself days ago.

But thanks to your comment I noticed & changed the typo from tined to tuned.

Bless The effect is pretty decent as one of the rare multitarget buffs, but as a 1 minute concentration spell the short duration alongside concentration leaves the effect somewhat lacking as both are things that should raise the payload of a buff. Arguments could & have been made for it being pretty good, but they generally require knowing what is coming up in the near immediate future & not having the opponents react to the party or the VSM buff. Simply being frequently ranked as a good first level spell does not change the fact that 5e has monster AC tuned to almost certain hits making the actual impact of this spell very small under most conditions

Ok lets dig in to the complaint on this one:

1) Unless you are hitting on a 2, the +d4 from bless is always useful, no matter what level you are at. Attack bonuses that stack with advantage are EXCEPTIONALLY rare. But honestly, the attack bonus is just the icing on the cake, its the save bonus where the meat comes in. There is almost nothing in the game that boosts your saves, and yet you have this simple 1st level spell to do the job.

2) Part of the argument here is that the spell needs to be cast "ahead of time" to be useful, or you need knowledge of your foes. I would argue until the cleric gets spiritual guardians, what better buff spell is there to cast in general combat? And heck there are still a number of times I would use bless over spiritual guardians depending on the terrain and monsters.

While there are spells I disagree on this list, I can at least see the other point of view, and can kind of go in the middle. But Bless? Bless should be on the "is this spell OP?" list, not the "cruddy spell list". When my 20th level paladin player literally looked at his list when fighting CR 20s and said....eh you know what, I think I'll start off with bless....that should tell you something about how amazing the spell is.

Yah, Bless is a spell I've seen clerics use throughout their careers. When I played my cleric I quickly realized that besides Spiritual Guardian and Bless, most of their other concentration combat spells are a bit niche to be honest. Bless is a solid and almost always useful spell to fall back on.

Aid is another useful one, if only because at higher levels dropping a spell slot for it is generally better than having an unused spell slot at the end of the day.

Dausuul

Legend
If you want to do this seriously, you'd probably want to brew up an AI learning system. You'd have them fight a sequence of random toughness encounters; maybe you'd feed the AI the CR of the encounter, as PCs know that an ancient dragon is different than 3 goblins.

For a given loadout of a party, you'd let the AI optimize how long they last against such a random sequence.

Feed something like that to Alpha or similar learning AIs and you should get resource management falling out of it. I mean, they can feed it starcraft and it beats grandmasters.
That would certainly be ideal, for somebody who knows a lot more than I do about machine learning.

That said, it might be possible to do a much less sophisticated variant using an evolutionary strategy. Give the simulated players a set of weights to plug into a formula for determining when to use a spell (number of targets available, CR, et cetera), and then do as you propose and run a series of "gauntlets" to see which strategy gets you farthest before TPK. Randomly adjust the weights, re-run, and pick whichever variant performs best. Repeat to zero in on the optimal values.

I might try it sometime. Not right now, though.

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
concentration & nonconcentration debuffs are up.
@Mistwell I did in the guide itself days ago.

But thanks to your comment I noticed & changed the typo from tined to tuned.
So you can change it for a typo but not substance? Because the substance of "Bless is a cruddy spell" makes me not take most of the rest seriously.

To you, imagine I made a guide where I listed Fireball as a cruddy spell.

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Ok lets dig in to the complaint on this one:

1) Unless you are hitting on a 2, the +d4 from bless is always useful, no matter what level you are at. Attack bonuses that stack with advantage are EXCEPTIONALLY rare. But honestly, the attack bonus is just the icing on the cake, its the save bonus where the meat comes in. There is almost nothing in the game that boosts your saves, and yet you have this simple 1st level spell to do the job.

2) Part of the argument here is that the spell needs to be cast "ahead of time" to be useful, or you need knowledge of your foes. I would argue until the cleric gets spiritual guardians, what better buff spell is there to cast in general combat? And heck there are still a number of times I would use bless over spiritual guardians depending on the terrain and monsters.

While there are spells I disagree on this list, I can at least see the other point of view, and can kind of go in the middle. But Bless? Bless should be on the "is this spell OP?" list, not the "cruddy spell list". When my 20th level paladin player literally looked at his list when fighting CR 20s and said....eh you know what, I think I'll start off with bless....that should tell you something about how amazing the spell is.
#2 is the big one. Not every campaign is run like the swat team kicking in the door to splatter monsters waiting patiently for you to finish setting up to kill them. It could very well make a difference yes that's acknowledged by saying that the effect is pretty decent, the short duration plus concentration alone is the problem because they result in the spell not pulling the weight t needs to pull given the at will damage disparity. Cleric may not have many great concentration spells on their list, but paladin has quite a few. There's also nothing preventing someone from taking it as a magical secret as part of a feat or any number of other ways like the new tasha's spell granting magic items. If a player like that paladin looks at the spell & knowing the limitations of duration+concentration still thinks the tradeoffs are worth it good for him, but those downsides are something for them to consider.

More importantly bless & false life are no longer listed because they are turning into the inverse of the last thread's oxygen consuming "LOL mord's sword witchbolt& truestrike are bad" with people constantly touting the bad system design loophole from what happens with damage beyond zero & massive damage followed up by any amount of healing along with the situations where someone decides bless is worth the shirt duration & concentration.
edit: @Mistwell it was changed the other day to include more detail on why it was included & the typo was caught today when I went back to double check that I did it because I believe @Stalker0 was the first to do anything but rehash why bless is a good buff.

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nevin

Hero
The problem is not that so many spells are cruddy. Its that so many are very niche and wizards rarely memorize them. And 10 to 15 percent of the spells are just so generally useful they overshadow everything else

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
The problem is not that so many spells are cruddy. Its that so many are very niche and wizards rarely memorize them. And 10 to 15 percent of the spells are just so generally useful they overshadow everything else
I mostly agree & that's why there are plenty of spells that are "good... but" or just so incredibly niche that they seem to have had more thoughtput into how the strings can be bolted on & how much red tape can find any surface to adhere to than finding ways to make them actually worth preparing/learning in some situation other than "lets take a long rest to prepare x & cast x tomorrow". With 5e spells that's exacerbated because a lot of the time it feels like so many of those other spells are held back trying to compensate for a handful of must take spells.

I'm going to avoid the whole bless debate for now; suffice it to say that I don't agree with the fact that spells like Bless are "cruddy."

I will comment to say that I think the devs far overvalued "damage over time" spells, and the cruddy spell list shows it. If we look at some of the damage over time spells, we'll find spells that consistently show up on 'bad' spell lists: Witch Bolt, Melf's Acid Arrow, Vampiric Touch, Phanstasmal Killer, Enervation, etc. Many of these spells have other issues that make them poor, but they have a consistent theme: ongoing damage. Other spells that do damage over time either add a measure of battlefield control (Flaming Sphere, Cloud of Daggers, Evard's Black Tenticals), or give discrete attacks you can choose to use over the duration (Melf's Minute Meteors, Crown of Stars).

Stalker0

Legend
I'm going to avoid the whole bless debate for now; suffice it to say that I don't agree with the fact that spells like Bless are "cruddy."

I will comment to say that I think the devs far overvalued "damage over time" spells, and the cruddy spell list shows it. If we look at some of the damage over time spells, we'll find spells that consistently show up on 'bad' spell lists: Witch Bolt, Melf's Acid Arrow, Vampiric Touch, Phanstasmal Killer, Enervation, etc. Many of these spells have other issues that make them poor, but they have a consistent theme: ongoing damage. Other spells that do damage over time either add a measure of battlefield control (Flaming Sphere, Cloud of Daggers, Evard's Black Tenticals), or give discrete attacks you can choose to use over the duration (Melf's Minute Meteors, Crown of Stars).
Completely agree, 5e combats are simply too short in most cases to warrant high use of DOT.

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Completely agree, 5e combats are simply too short in most cases to warrant high use of DOT.
A lot of the DoT spells are just not very effective as well & get thwarted by "they opt not to stand in your cloud of daggers & swing around bob to avoid it without even taking an AoO" or "yea they see that wall of fire and move ten feet away/just charge through so they are on the safe side with you rather than being on the hot side."

Stalker0

Legend
A lot of the DoT spells are just not very effective as well & get thwarted by "they opt not to stand in your cloud of daggers & swing around bob to avoid it without even taking an AoO" or "yea they see that wall of fire and move ten feet away/just charge through so they are on the safe side with you rather than being on the hot side."
One thing I did with 4e back in the day was added in "immediate" and "escalating" damage to beef up its DoT effects for the higher levels.

For those who remember, 4e had a system where you might take 10 damage, and then every round you roll a saving throw (which was basically just a 50/50 roll or close to it, not like 5e saves), and you would take another 10 damage if you failed the save.

I added these, not sure if they could be included in certain 5e spells but it would be an interested idea.

1) Immediate: The spell does 10 damage, and you immediately make a saving throw. On a failure, you take another 10 damage. Repeat until you pass the save.

2) Escalating: The spell does 10 damage, and you immediately make a saving throw. On a failure, you take another 10 damage, and the damage is increased by 5. Repeat until you pass the save.

Hero
This.

It's the go to spell for every single Cleric in the world until Spirit guardians starts competing for that concentration slot at 5th.
And in so many parties with both a Paladin and Cleric, once the Cleric hits Lv. 5 and gets Spirit Guardians, the Paladin takes over Bless duty.

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