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D&D 5E Lightning Bolt should be better.


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jgsugden

Legend
Why? If we took fireball out of the game, wouldn't Lightning Bolt be the best damage spell at 3rd level by a large margin?

It doesn't get the fame of fireball, but it still does damage above the recommended amount based upon guidelines, and when it is useful, it is incredibly useful. It is resisted less than fireball, and it can impact enemies spread over a much greater range (they can be 100 feet apart rather than 40 feet apart). Also, and often overlooked - it is lightning, not thunder, so it is much quieter. A fireball announces your presence to those outside line of sight - but a lightning bolt may not (DM discretion, of course - but fireballs make a low roar, while lightning bolts are not described as making any sound, and we all know that lightning is the visual and thunder (which is a separate thing in D&D) is the sound).

When I have a fellow PC with push or pull effects (warlocks, open hand monks, etc.. for example), it is a better spell IMHO. In early 5E I played a Svirfneblin wizard that was teamed with a warlock who was excellent at setting up lightning bolts and my other line spell (homebrew).

It might not be the favored spell over fireball by most casters, but it is still really good.
 

Being a line just makes it impractical (and that goes for other line effects too). It's a red-letter day when you can hit three opponents with a line effect, where radius effects can affect multiple targets much, much easier.

Sure if you have a lightning bolt prepared you can use it to pump 8d6 damage into a large single enemy with not too many problems. But by the time you're 5th-8th level, large single enemies won't be too frightened by that, and the archer ranger with hunter's mark and colossus slayer will be doing almost as much every round, at a longer range and not limited by spell slots.
 


Voadam

Legend
Lightning bolt's range 0 has made it a considerably less useful combat spell than the equal level fireball since 2e. (4e was the exception where fireball was a level 5 daily and lightning bolt was a level 7 encounter power so not supposed to be directly comparable power).

Having to be on the front line and only getting targets in a line are significant downsides compared to being able to cast from behind front line tanks and affecting a group in a burst.

AD&D lightning bolt with range for the start of the lightning bolt was fantastic.
 


It doesn't get the fame of fireball, but it still does damage above the recommended amount based upon guidelines, and when it is useful, it is incredibly useful. It is resisted less than fireball, and it can impact enemies spread over a much greater range (they can be 100 feet apart rather than 40 feet apart). Also, and often overlooked - it is lightning, not thunder, so it is much quieter. A fireball announces your presence to those outside line of sight - but a lightning bolt may not (DM discretion, of course - but fireballs make a low roar, while lightning bolts are not described as making any sound, and we all know that lightning is the visual and thunder (which is a separate thing in D&D) is the sound).
Whilst I agree with your numbers points, the idea that lightning is the visual and thunder is the sound is pretty fantastically silly in the context of the spell Lightning Bolt. There is absolutely no possible way, if we agree that Fireball makes a noise (probably an enormous boom or woosh or both), that an electrical discharge, however magical, of the size involved in Lightning Bolt isn't going to be pretty ear-splitting - at the least equally loud.

But yeah it's an above average spell.
 

houser2112

Explorer
Being a line just makes it impractical (and that goes for other line effects too). It's a red-letter day when you can hit three opponents with a line effect, where radius effects can affect multiple targets much, much easier.

Sure if you have a lightning bolt prepared you can use it to pump 8d6 damage into a large single enemy with not too many problems. But by the time you're 5th-8th level, large single enemies won't be too frightened by that, and the archer ranger with hunter's mark and colossus slayer will be doing almost as much every round, at a longer range and not limited by spell slots.
While it's hard to get a bunch of targets perfectly lined up for a lightning bolt, it's far easier to use it in the first place than fireball. I play a Light Domain cleric, and last session when I cast fireball, I got a response from one of the players "Whoa, you can fireball?!". Yes, Mike, I can fireball, but since I care about the well-being of my party and am not an evoker with Sculpt Spells, the fireball doesn't see much use.
 


TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Yeah the lightning bolts damage isn’t the issue. It’s the need for a single line emanating from the caster.

I also don’t buy the ‘lightning bolt is silent’ if you’ve never heard the crack of a lightning bolt then you’ve never lived. The fact that it lights the sky up in a 5 mile radius doesn’t help it’s stealth capabilities either 😅

The forked lighting 30ft cone option is a really good idea.

In this world of having to carefully chose Int + Level spells I see lightning bolt passed over every time because it’s just too circumstantial.
 

While it's hard to get a bunch of targets perfectly lined up for a lightning bolt, it's far easier to use it in the first place than fireball. I play a Light Domain cleric, and last session when I cast fireball, I got a response from one of the players "Whoa, you can fireball?!". Yes, Mike, I can fireball, but since I care about the well-being of my party and am not an evoker with Sculpt Spells, the fireball doesn't see much use.
We have a light domain cleric and no sorcerer or wizards in our party, so lightning bolts haven't been an option. But the difficulty he's had trying to get value out of Aganazzar's scorcher's 30ft line has been really noticeable. It may be dependent on terrain a bit - we've mostly fought out in the open or in large spaces, where you can often see the enemies coming a long way off and fireball them on approach before they're close enough for friendly fire to be an issue. In a tight dungeon with lots of close-ranged fights, it'd be a lot harder to use.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Whilst I agree with your numbers points, the idea that lightning is the visual and thunder is the sound is pretty fantastically silly in the context of the spell Lightning Bolt. There is absolutely no possible way, if we agree that Fireball makes a noise (probably an enormous boom or woosh or both), that an electrical discharge, however magical, of the size involved in Lightning Bolt isn't going to be pretty ear-splitting - at the least equally loud.
I noted DM discretion for a reason, as it is not explicit, but:

1.) The descriptions themselves made it clear fireball makes sound, while lightning bolt describes only visual phenomena. Same for call lightning, chain lightning lightning lure, etc...

2.) Consider that electricity does not inherently make significant sound. The only sound when you touch a live wire is the sound made by what is electrocuted - sizzle, sizzle. I describe a lightning bolt as an electric hum or 'zzzzot' (from what it does to the air) and then the sound of the damage it does. If it blows out a door (I allow it to damage objects, rather than just light them on fire), the door makes sound when it splits. If it just electrocutes some creatures, they may scream in pain, or they may just fall down dead.

As for it being a line and 'only getting two or three targets' - I'm often able to get multiple targets - and specifically get the two most important targets, regardless of how far apart they are. You're not going to have as much success as you'll have with a fireball on a bunched up group when you catch them by surprise, but during combat, if you want two specific enemies to be hit, LB is going to be more useful.

I don't feel the need to get close, either. Your bolt starts next to you, but it goes 100 feet.

Also, remember that a line is not required to start in the center of a grid square, and that if the area of effect covers at least half of a square, then the entire square is impacted. This allows your lightning bolts launched along a grid to cover 2 squares wide. Even when slightly angled, it is going to cover multiple squares at a time most of the time. This is all very clear from the examples in Xanathar's.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
I actually like lightning bolt a lot, because unlike fireball, with the right positioning it can be used mid-combat at close quarters without incinerating your allies. If you're an evoker wizard, fireball is way better. But for other casters, it can be a more usable spell.
 

houser2112

Explorer
We have a light domain cleric and no sorcerer or wizards in our party, so lightning bolts haven't been an option. But the difficulty he's had trying to get value out of Aganazzar's scorcher's 30ft line has been really noticeable. It may be dependent on terrain a bit - we've mostly fought out in the open or in large spaces, where you can often see the enemies coming a long way off and fireball them on approach before they're close enough for friendly fire to be an issue. In a tight dungeon with lots of close-ranged fights, it'd be a lot harder to use.
Well, Aganazzar's Scorcher (how did your Light Domain cleric get this spell, house rule?) is a crap spell, little better than Burning Hands, because of the short range. Light Domain is not a domain for the cleric who wants to mix it up in melee, since they don't get heavy armor.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think lightning bolt only works in a few scenarios when the enemy lines up. It's so rarely effective, I've never seen it used in 5E. An evoker might be able to use it occasionally, but they would still probably get more use out of a fireball. Maybe it's just because the games I play aren't typical "dungeons" and many take place either in towns where neither lightning bolt or fireball is practical or in more open terrain where fireball simply works better.

I've thought about tweaking it - have it start at a range and allow forked bolts. But even then, not sure it's enough. Maybe make it d8s instead of d6s? :unsure:
 

Consider that electricity does not inherently make significant sound. The only sound when you touch a live wire is the sound made by what is electrocuted - sizzle, sizzle. I describe a lightning bolt as an electric hum or 'zzzzot' (from what it does to the air) and then the sound of the damage it does. If it blows out a door (I allow it to damage objects, rather than just light them on fire), the door makes sound when it splits. If it just electrocutes some creatures, they may scream in pain, or they may just fall down dead.
I mean buddy I've seen electrical arcs and they're extremely loud for the same reason RL lightning bolts are, they're blowing the air apart, or at least extremely rapidly heating it. You can play music with them even as a result - there's a whole bunch of it on YouTube. Unless you have a radically different concept of Lightning Bolt, which doesn't involve electrical arcs, or where it "isn't really electricity" or something, it should be making a hell of a lot of noise.

Likewise the same applies to Fireball - it makes noise because, presumably, it's rapidly heating and moving the air. It might not make the noise of say, a few pounds of C4, but it's probably pretty loud. And arguments that LB isn't can also be applied to FB.
 

In at least one older edition, you could choose between a single bolt (5 feet by 80) and a forked bolt (10 by 40). That might improve it significantly.
Yeah, I always felt like removing this was a significant nerf to the spell. If a player asked, I'd probably allow it.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
While it's hard to get a bunch of targets perfectly lined up for a lightning bolt, it's far easier to use it in the first place than fireball. I play a Light Domain cleric, and last session when I cast fireball, I got a response from one of the players "Whoa, you can fireball?!". Yes, Mike, I can fireball, but since I care about the well-being of my party and am not an evoker with Sculpt Spells, the fireball doesn't see much use.
Not really. Fireball is a 20ft radius sphere & doesn't do any kind of meaningful reforming that would put allies at risk if the monster is only 20ft from a wall with your bud 25 feet from the same wall when you blast that wall with fireball. Unless you are only fighting in bathroom & large closet sized rooms where your allies can't be more than 20ft from the point of impact fireball is not that tough to aim safely.

Since this is talking about making spells better, with regards to upcasting both spells actually get worse as they go
  • L3 base spell: 8d6 per target dex save for half & +1d6 for each slot level above 3rd. This works out to 2.66_ d6/slot level
  • L4 upcast by 1 level: This works out to 2.25d6 per slot level
  • L5 upcast by 2 levels: This works out to 2d6 per slot level
  • L6 upcast by 3 levels: This works out to 1.833_ d6 per slot level
  • L7 upcast by 4 levels: This works out to 1.71d6/slot level
  • L8 upcast by 5 levels: This works out to 1.625/slot level
  • L9 upcast by 6 levels: This works out to 1.55_ d6/slot level

  • L3 base spell: 8d6 per target dex save for half & +1d6 for each slot level above 3rd. This works out to 2.66_ d6/slot level
  • L4 upcast by 1 level: This works out to 2.25d6 per slot level
  • L5 upcast by 2 levels: This works out to 2d6 per slot level
  • L6 upcast by 3 levels: This works out to 1.833_ d6 per slot level
  • L7 upcast by 4 levels: This works out to 1.71d6/slot level
  • L8 upcast by 5 levels: This works out to 1.625/slot level
  • L9 upcast by 6 levels: This works out to 1.55_ d6/slot level
Obviously the hit points of monsters goes up faster than that extra d6 & unlike in past editions where the scaling was free the caster is paying a heavy price for this upcast. If the two did something in addition to or other than just add dice when upcasting like changing the aoe or adding secondary effects there could be subjective questions, but they don't do either of those things. As a simple comparison, you could do some math to hold it against the well known problem new to 5e of melee attacks getting weaker & less accurate the more you make... Oh wait, there were a lot of reasons for it to exist & 5e got rid of that hit chance reduction.
 


jgsugden

Legend
I mean buddy I've seen electrical arcs and they're extremely loud for the same reason RL lightning bolts are, they're blowing the air apart, or at least extremely rapidly heating it. You can play music with them even as a result - there's a whole bunch of it on YouTube. Unless you have a radically different concept of Lightning Bolt, which doesn't involve electrical arcs, or where it "isn't really electricity" or something, it should be making a hell of a lot of noise.
Again, DM discretion, but this is magical lightning, with no mention of any auditory element at all. They explicitly make thunder and lightning separate and distinct in 5E rules. They go to the point of making that auditory notes for fireball - and for thunder spells - but leave it out of all lightning spells. Generally speaking, if the rules do not say it exists, it doesn't exist. This approach only goes so far ... but it is a pretty significant coincidental oversight to leave it out of all these lightning spells and make it so common elsewhere.

I get that your image of a lightning bolt spell is a literal lightning bolt from the sky. The spell behaves differently than real lightning bolts (which are much longer than 100 feet, and arc in different directions rather than being a line).
 

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