Help balancing a spell

BlivetWidget

Explorer
I don't want to take up too much of your time here, so let me just enter with a preface: I know that I cannot trust myself to balance a custom spell. As an engineer, I'm too optimization-minded. So if you've got a moment to help me out, it would be much appreciated.

I'm going for a lower-level Simulacrum-type spell. I'd like it to be in the spell level 4 or 5 categories and with no large recurring cost (a one-time cost is okay). Here is what I currently have in mind

Simple Simulacrum:
5th-level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: touch
Components: V, S, M (a ball of clay infused with 500 gp of powdered ruby)
Duration: until dispelled
Class: wizard
You touch the ground at a point within reach. As you raise your hand, an illusory duplicate of yourself rises up from the ground. The duplicate is a creature, partially real and formed from the ground, and it can take actions and otherwise be affected as a normal creature. It appears to be the same as you, but it has half your hit point maximum, cannot use spell slots, and is formed without any equipment. Otherwise, the illusion uses all your statistics, except that it is a construct.

The simulacrum is friendly to you and creatures you designate. It obeys your spoken commands, moving and acting in accordance with your wishes and acting on your turn in combat. The simulacrum lacks the ability to learn or become more powerful, so it never increases its level or other abilities.

If the simulacrum is damaged, you can repair it by casting this spell on it again. The simulacrum lasts until it drops to 0 hit points, at which point it reverts to dust.

At higher levels: The spell slot required to create further simple simulacra is 5 plus the number of existing simulacra. So if you currently have one simple simulacrum, a 6th level slot is required to create a second. If you have two, a 7th level slot is required to create a third. Etc.
As I see it...
Advantages over Simulacrum:
+lower level
+one time cost
+faster casting time (I'm flexible on this one, it would be fine as 12 hours like the original)

Disadvantages compared to Simulacrum:
-cannot use spell slots
-can only be used to duplicate yourself


Let me know what you think (Right level? Should there be other changes?), and thanks for your time.

edit: wanted to add:
At higher levels: The spell slot required to create further simple simulacra is 5 plus the number of existing simulacra. So if you currently have one simple simulacrum, a 6th level slot is required to create a second. If you have two, a 7th level slot is required to create a third. Etc.

This creates a hard cap of five simple simulacra for a level 17 caster, and requires a lot of spell slots to get there. Compared to something like Create Undead, this does not seem crazy pants to me. I also intended this to be a wizard spell, like the original Simulacrum.
 
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Fenris-77

Explorer
Level 5 keeps in out of the hands of half casters, which is probably a good thing. So what you're talking about is non-casting half hit point copies of 9th level casters (and up). Can we think of a way to abuse that? I'm thinking of things like 9th level blade singers, where the copy is still pretty effective even without spells. Lore Bard simulacra would also be pretty useful even w/o spells. I guess this would also apply to MC builds that are aiming for 10/10 too. Hmm...

You could still make a small army of those given a week and some cash. Perhaps you want to put an expiration date on the copy? Like maybe it only lasts the day unless you want reinvest a spell slot in it to maintain things. You could further reduce the cost at that point (although I don't know that you need to)
 
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Esker

Explorer
It seems to me that this spell does pretty much everything that Programmed Illusion or Create Homunculus do, plus a lot more, all in a single spell, and at a lower level.

Looking at other 5th level spells that roughly double weapon attacks, there's Holy Weapon on the Paladin list, and Swift Quiver on the Ranger. Not that either of those is a particularly good spell, but this one seems a lot stronger at the same spell level, as it lasts until the creature dies, doesn't use concentration, and also comes with its own hit points and position.

So I guess I don't think this is enough weaker than Simulacrum to be 5th level.

At a minimum I would include a clause that if you cast this spell again, any other duplicates you have previously created by this spell are destroyed, as with Simulacrum; but I'd probably impose some other restrictions on the duplicate as well. Like maybe they're permanently under the effects of a Slow spell or something like that. Even then, access to your non-spell class features makes this quite a bit more powerful than a Homunculus, say.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
A talking point here could also be whether the actual Simulacrum spell is OP or not at 7th level. The bare fact that the thing doesn't start as a 9th+ level full caster seems worth something like a two level drop to me, with some other caveats thrown in of course.

I do think the ability to abuse this is way lower than the original 7th level spell. To the point where it's really only an issue for niche caster builds and probably the Bard. IMO anyway. If you call this version 6th level, rather than 5th, it seem ridiculous that a one level higher version should grant full casting ability. Which leads back to my point above.

Something else that just occurred to me is that you should probably also disallow warlock invocations and spell-like abilities, just to cover your bases.
 
There is definitely a list of things you can do to abuse something thay essentially has the same caster class level as you but "cant use spell slots". Just gotta find a way to use this quality that side steps those four words - "cant use spell slots".
 

BlivetWidget

Explorer
You could still make a small army of those given a week and some cash. Perhaps you want to put an expiration date on the copy? Like maybe it only lasts the day unless you want reinvest a spell slot in it to maintain things. You could further reduce the cost at that point (although I don't know that you need to)
I realized as soon as I went to bed that I forgot to include a limiter... I was thinking something like this:

At higher levels: The spell slot required to create further simple simulacra is 5 plus the number of existing simulacra. So if you currently have one simple simulacrum, a 6th level slot is required to create a second. If you have two, a 7th level slot is required to create a third. Etc.

This creates a hard cap of five simple simulacra for a level 17th caster. Compared to something like Create Undead, this does not seem crazy pants to me. I also intended this to be a wizard spell, like the original Simulacrum. I'll update the original post to note both of those changes.

It seems to me that this spell does pretty much everything that Programmed Illusion or Create Homunculus do, plus a lot more, all in a single spell, and at a lower level.

Looking at other 5th level spells that roughly double weapon attacks... <snip>
I don't know if I would say everything. I mean, if you limited Programmed Illusion to only target the caster, I think it would drop way down in level. And the big thing the Homunculus has going for it is that it shares a psychic connection to its creator across unlimited distances. As for weapon attacks, my intended target is a typical wizard, which makes that a moot point, though to be fair, my "intended target" doesn't really mean much once the spell exists.

If you call this version 6th level, rather than 5th, it seem ridiculous that a one level higher version should grant full casting ability. Which leads back to my point above.
Other good points here as well, but this pretty much nails my line of thinking.

In any case, I think the opposing viewpoints above tell me that I'm close (never going to please everyone)... Let me know if you think the two changes (wizard spell list only, and requires higher level slots to create additional) reign things in appropriately. I don't have a good feel for multiclassing shenanigans (not something we ever use), so let me know if additional verbiage is still required to deal with invocations and the like.
 

Gadget

Explorer
It seems to me that this spell does pretty much everything that Programmed Illusion or Create Homunculus do, plus a lot more, all in a single spell, and at a lower level.
Well, it could easily be argued that the above mentioned spells are a bit over-leveled themselves, particularly Create Homunculus. But the big reason why that particular spells was bumped up in level (according to the devs) was the ability to scry through it over a practically infinite distance, which this poor man's Simulacrum lacks. Programmed Illusion can be of anything that fits that spell's parameters, not just the caster; though I agree that it still does not compare vary favorably to this proposed spell.

That said, there probably needs to be a limiter to this spell, either a time limit for the simulacrum or a caveat that only one at a time can be created. Or both, more likely. Presumably, this construct has the caster's personality, mannerisms and skills; and thus could imitate the caster perfectly? Thus one could send in ones place to the dangerous negotiations with Baron Von Doom's forces, in one's place and it could actually conduct the negotiations for you with non the wiser if things don't break down? Just give it some orders and parameters of what is acceptable, and send it off. Also, the "cannot use spell slots" may have to be adjusted to cover things like the Warlock's Mystic Arcanum and other class abilities.
 

BlivetWidget

Explorer
@Gadget indeed. Do you feel like my update to limit it to one per spell slot level (So if you currently have one simple simulacrum, a 6th level slot is required to create a second. If you have two, a 7th level slot is required to create a third. Etc.) is enough of a limiter? I feel like being able to have a couple of them at high level helps to give it a bit of flavor difference to the true Simulacrum. A quantity over quality sort of thing.

And I think making it a wizard spell (like Simulacrum is) helps alleviate warlock shenanigans. It requires such a deep wizard dip (9 levels) that by the time you can combine it with a mystic arcanum, you're level 20 and it probably doesn't matter if you can do that. But I'm interested to hear your thoughts there as well.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
@Gadget indeed. Do you feel like my update to limit it to one per spell slot level (So if you currently have one simple simulacrum, a 6th level slot is required to create a second. If you have two, a 7th level slot is required to create a third. Etc.) is enough of a limiter? I feel like being able to have a couple of them at high level helps to give it a bit of flavor difference to the true Simulacrum. A quantity over quality sort of thing.

And I think making it a wizard spell (like Simulacrum is) helps alleviate warlock shenanigans. It requires such a deep wizard dip (9 levels) that by the time you can combine it with a mystic arcanum, you're level 20 and it probably doesn't matter if you can do that. But I'm interested to hear your thoughts there as well.
I like the limiters you're talking about with increased slots to create more duplicates and Wizard list only.

I'm not sure how this would mix with Mystic Arcanum anyway since it's limited to only casting your Arcanum spell, not any 6/7/8/9th level spell you know?

The only real shenanigan's I can think of with it is a bladesinger would literally double their melee effectiveness (for a short time).

I might increase casting time just to not make it a 100% combat useful spell. Even if you bumped it to 1 minute that'd be sufficient to do that.

You don't say, but does the 500gp ruby get consumed by the spell as the original spell?

THAT would be a bit limiter regardless of anything else. It's the main reason I never take Simulacrum itself... who wants to spend 1,500 gp every time you cast a spell?
 

Gadget

Explorer
@BlivetWidget

I'm not sure about the scaling, its a little bit nonstandard. I don't really see a balance problem there, but I would probably just go with a more standard "For every level above 5th when you cast this spell, you get an additional duplicate." Together with maybe something like "when you cast this spell, all previous simulacrums created with this spell are destroyed" type of thing. Not as flexible, but more standardized.

As for Mystic Arcanum, I was kind of spit-balling there, looking for ways around the restrictions; you're probably right, but these not-direct-combat spells can be tricky to balance. You think you have it down until someone comes up with a sneaky application that really blows the lid off.
 

Esker

Explorer
Some other very powerful things a wizard could do with this spell:

Diviners doubling their uses of portent
Transmuters getting unlimited transmuter's stones (RAW, the stone survives even if the creator dies)
Enchanters using their duplicate's Hypnotic Gaze to lock down an enemy while leaving the original's actions free to cast spells

Granted, all of these are possible with Simulacrum too, but the long casting time and expensive components limits this sort of thing more with that spell.

As others have mentioned, bards' duplicates would be able to do a bunch of non-spell things too. Two uses of cutting words per round is pretty nice. This would buff swords bards' attacks a fair bit more than other spells they could use (especially since it's not concentration, so it doesn't stop them from also casting something like an Animate Objects). The way this is currently written it wouldn't prevent a Glamor Bard duplicate from using Mantle of Majesty, since the command spell there doesn't use spell slots.
 

BlivetWidget

Explorer
Excellent points by all. Kind of difficult to balance things meant for a specific class when the game designers won't keep the archetypes in their lane (or when they give spell-like abilities that are not spells)... But I've given it some thought, and I think "cannot use class features which recharge on a short or long rest (such as spell slots)" gets to the heart of my intent. @Esker this cuts out spell slots, invocations, bladesongs, portents, hypnotic gazes, and a host of possible shenanigans we haven't even thought of. I figure if the game makes a feature at-will, it's probably fine if that slips through the cracks.

@Gadget good point, there isn't really a strong need to make it so fiddly.

@Salthorae I'd like the material components to not be consumed. My default assumption is that components are only consumed if they specifically say so (I could be wrong, but I think the other spells behave this way - I can't think of exceptions off the top of my head, in any case.)

I think I'm quite happy with the loopholes we've found and closed off with this discussion. This is the final wording I think I've settled on:

Simple Simulacrum:
5th-level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: touch
Components: V, S, M (a ball of clay infused with 500 gp of powdered ruby)
Duration: until dispelled
Class: wizard
You touch the ground at a point within reach. As you raise your hand, an illusory duplicate of yourself rises up from the ground. The duplicate is a creature, partially real and formed from the ground, and it can take actions and otherwise be affected as a normal creature. It appears to be the same as you, but it has half your hit point maximum, cannot use class features which recharge on a short or long rest (such as spell slots), and is formed without any functional equipment. Otherwise, the illusion uses all your statistics, except that it is a construct.

The simple simulacrum is friendly to you and creatures you designate. It obeys your spoken commands, moving and acting in accordance with your wishes and acting on your turn in combat. The simple simulacrum lacks the ability to learn or become more powerful, so it never increases its level or other abilities.

If a simple simulacrum is damaged, you can repair it by casting this spell on it again. If you create a new simple simulacrum, or if the simple simulacrum drops to 0 hit points, it reverts to dust.

At higher levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, it creates an additional simple simulacrum for each slot level above 5th.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
@Salthorae I'd like the material components to not be consumed. My default assumption is that components are only consumed if they specifically say so (I could be wrong, but I think the other spells behave this way - I can't think of exceptions off the top of my head, in any case.)
No, you're right, it only consumes if it specifically states it in 5e. I was thinking if you wanted to put a limiter on the spell to reign it in, that was the easiest way to accomplish that.
 

BlivetWidget

Explorer
No, you're right, it only consumes if it specifically states it in 5e. I was thinking if you wanted to put a limiter on the spell to reign it in, that was the easiest way to accomplish that.
It certainly would, I just have an aversion to recurring costs. Not a fan of costly components of any sort, really, but I felt like I couldn't really avoid it with this one - I just did my best to guess a number that I thought people might feel was fair. I'm going to try to not go off the rails too far on this sidebar, but:

I feel like a recurring cost for character features (including spells) is a bit of a design cop-out. It takes the onus of balance away from the game designers and puts it onto the DM's already-full plate. There's an argument to be made that it gives the DM more control over their game, and I can agree with that to an extent, but it also puts the player into a position of "mother, may I?" to even use their character's features. I mean, let's say a character took the Stone Skin spell. Then the characters have to go off into the wilderness and there's no more diamond dust to be had. Or some crazy plot stuff happens and suddenly it's a low-income campaign. Either way, the spell is useless to the player at that point - and they had passed over some a great spell like Polymorph, Greater Invisibility, Resilient Sphere, etc. to get it.

I don't play Adventurers League, but I've seen comments that this is a fairly serious issue for wizards in AL. The wizard class, IMHO, is built around the spellbook, especially being able to expand the spellbook outside of level progression. Unfortunately (again, IMHO), this is an expensive process. But AL is now focused on tight control of player gold. Levels 1-4, characters are allowed to earn 10-20 gp per hour... to an absolute maximum of 80 gp per level. So as they step into level 5, the maximum possible money they can have is 320 gp. 320 gp (which again, is the maximum they can receive, not necessarily what they can expect) is nothing for a wizard. A level 3 spell costs 150 gp just to put into the spellbook, to say nothing of the cost of acquiring it. And if that level 3 spell was something like Magic Circle, it costs 100 gp every time you want to cast it. Yeesh! If the designers thought the spell would break the game at that level without active DM intervention, maybe it should have just been a higher-level spell.

End of rant...
 

Quartz

Explorer
I think the duration is a bit problematic. How about limiting it to 1 day at level 5, 1 week at level 6, 1 month at level 7, one season at level 8, and 1 year at level 9?

I do see the possibility of abuse by a Bard gaining this spell via Magical Secrets. A second Song of Rest isn't bad but how about a constant Countercharm, anyone? And a Valor Bard gets two attacks.
 

BlivetWidget

Explorer
I think the duration is a bit problematic. How about limiting it to 1 day at level 5, 1 week at level 6, 1 month at level 7, one season at level 8, and 1 year at level 9?

I do see the possibility of abuse by a Bard gaining this spell via Magical Secrets. A second Song of Rest isn't bad but how about a constant Countercharm, anyone? And a Valor Bard gets two attacks.
I think bards in general are a bit problematic lol. You might be overestimating the combat effectiveness of the simple simulacrum, however. Remember it has half the caster’s hit points and can be dispelled. Most level-appropriate enemies will probably be able to drop it in one hit (or one multiattack) since it has low HP and no access to spells like Shield.

I feel like most of the issues that we’ve addressed (including yours) have to do with an unintended use: a non-wizard being able to use wizard spells. I don’t think duration solves that problem at all. I tried to address it with the rest-ability restriction, but I’m open to a more clever approach.

I also don’t think it’s a problem if the spell is not completely useless. It has to compete with animate objects and wall of force, after all.

Edit/PS: I'm not opposed to altering the duration per se, I just don't think it actually addresses any issues. If it lasts one day or until dispelled doesn't mitigate any of a bard's spell-like abilities. Also, FYI, a second song of rest doesn't do anything because features that share the same name don't stack.
 
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