Magic missile as a cantrip

Bacon Bits

Explorer
So, I've thought about this one for awhile now. Magic missile is a pretty iconic spell in D&D, but the first level equivalent in 5e is not. Back in the day, casting magic missile to do 5d4+5 (17.5) was a significant chunk of damage when Llolth only had 66 hp. Not so anymore. The spell is so iconic, that I'd almost rather it were a cantrip than a first level spell. And the scaling of cantrips so elegantly matches the scaling of magic missile that it feels like a waste.

So, what would a cantrip magic missile look like?

The obvious version would seem to be just mashing the current 1st level spell version together with eldritch blast and firebolt:



Magic Missile
Cantrip evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V S
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard
You create a glowing dart of magical force. The dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range. A dart deals 1d4+1 force damage to its target. The darts all strike simultaneously, and you can direct them to hit one creature or several.

The spell creates more than one dart when you reach higher levels: two darts at 5th level, three darts at 11th level, and four darts at 17th level. You can direct the darts at the same target or at different ones.



My instincts tell me that 1d4+1 (3.5) damage is a bit too high and that a flat 1d4 would be better, but I think it's closer than it appears. A 50% chance of 1d10 (5.5) damage is equivalent to a 100% chance of 2.75 damage, and if we include crits it's just above 3 damage. And you're often going to have a greater than 50% chance to hit by mid level.

Force is a "good" damage type, but personal experience has taught me that firebolt and chill touch are extremely useful due to their rider effects, and that most combats are not decided by damage type at all. Fire and acid are the only common exceptions, and fire can go both ways. Firebolt's ability to just light things on fire in particular is extremely useful.

I also wonder if the range should be reduced. Perhaps to the range of an actual dart (60).
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
So, I've thought about this one for awhile now. Magic missile is a pretty iconic spell in D&D, but the first level equivalent in 5e is not. Back in the day, casting magic missile to do 5d4+5 (17.5) was a significant chunk of damage when Llolth only had 66 hp. Not so anymore. The spell is so iconic, that I'd almost rather it were a cantrip than a first level spell. And the scaling of cantrips so elegantly matches the scaling of magic missile that it feels like a waste.

So, what would a cantrip magic missile look like?

The obvious version would seem to be just mashing the current 1st level spell version together with eldritch blast and firebolt:



Magic Missile
Cantrip evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V S
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard
You create a glowing dart of magical force. The dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range. A dart deals 1d4+1 force damage to its target. The darts all strike simultaneously, and you can direct them to hit one creature or several.

The spell creates more than one dart when you reach higher levels: two darts at 5th level, three darts at 11th level, and four darts at 17th level. You can direct the darts at the same target or at different ones.



My instincts tell me that 1d4+1 (3.5) damage is a bit too high and that a flat 1d4 would be better, but I think it's closer than it appears. A 50% chance of 1d10 (5.5) damage is equivalent to a 100% chance of 2.75 damage, and if we include crits it's just above 3 damage. And you're often going to have a greater than 50% chance to hit by mid level.

Force is a "good" damage type, but personal experience has taught me that firebolt and chill touch are extremely useful due to their rider effects, and that most combats are not decided by damage type at all. Fire and acid are the only common exceptions, and fire can go both ways. Firebolt's ability to just light things on fire in particular is extremely useful.

I also wonder if the range should be reduced. Perhaps to the range of an actual dart (60).
Guaranteed damage is it's own rider effect. The attack cantrips are divided between need hit and needs save. Each comes with not just the chsnce of fail but frankly a common set of "bad for this case".

Auto hit for same expected yield is not equal to fortune tested with additional bad cases.

To have "reliable" attack cantrips, I ned to take an attack one and a save one. Given cantrip slots are relatively few, getting one attack always reliable would be a no-brainer.

So, I would see this as violating my own "new spell rule 0" - no neexdpell should be the new "must have" that practically everyone takes.
 
Magic missile is iconic in the sense that it saw a lot of use, but it's also an extremely boring spell. No need to bring it back imo.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
I'm with @5ekyu here.

I do like where you're coming from, but an auto-hit cantrip just means I'm never taking a different cantrip if I have this as an option.

I mean magic missile is already great at 1st level spell... 10.5 points of force damage that can't miss? I'm on board for that!

On average MM at 3d4+3 is dealing more damage (10.5 force) than a 3d8 Chromatic Orb because it has an attack roll. Standard expected damage on it is going to be 8.775 including crit chances with standard to-hit probabilities. That goes up like all attacks if you have advantage, etc.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Magic Missile suffers from the same problem most low level combat spells suffer from: they become much less useful at higher levels. One change we made that kept MM more viable is to make each missile force a concentration check. This makes them very useful against spellcasters, which then also makes shield more useful for them as a counter.
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
I think compared to other cantrips, an auto hit cantrip that deals 1d4 force damage is fine. It won't break the game by any means. But I agree with @Saelorn. It's a boring cantrip. Some players may be drawn to the auto damage, but I don't expect by any means that it would be something that every caster would feel compelled to take it. And lets also remember that without an attack roll you have no potential to score a critical hit.
 

aco175

Adventurer
Compared to firebolt, which I see most casters take, the MM deals about half the damage. I guess is the lack of an attack roll worth half the damage? I can see it going both ways depending on the monster I'm trying to attack.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Compared to firebolt, which I see most casters take, the MM deals about half the damage. I guess is the lack of an attack roll worth half the damage? I can see it going both ways depending on the monster I'm trying to attack.
Exactly. Against some monsters the firebolt is gonna suck - fire resistance or high AC. That prompts you to spend a second cantrip for save based attack and different type.

Or just take MM get automatic hits with a type rarely resisted.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
I think having it scale exactly as is in the opening post is fine and I prefer it as a cantrip. I would have liked it to have 5 missiles at the end but starting with 1 and finishing with 4 is a little more balanced since otherwise you need to start with 2 missiles which I think would make it a little too powerful at level 1. At least that was how I felt when I brought it up a couple years back. I think I also ended up reducing the range to 60 ft as well.
 

Lucas Yew

Explorer
D&D was always stingy with force damage, especially free/cheap ones. Like, look at 5E's Eldritch Blast, it works very well for damaging baddies, but it's a sitting duck when you need some property demolition (it only damages creatures, not objects).
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
I don't think this is a good idea for the following reasons (some pointed out by others as well of course):

1. Cantrips that deal damage require an attack roll or save. This requires neither.
2. Even though the damage is low, it is automatic and that is huge.
3. Few things have resistance to force damage.
4. It is a ranged spell, but since it requires no attack roll, you could use it against a foe within 5 feet of you without disadvantage.
5. There are enough damage-dealing cantrips already.

Items #2 and #4 is really a big one IMO.

If you still decided to try it out (nothing wrong with that obviously) I would reduce the range (30-60 feet).
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
Sometimes I miss something like "magic maneuvers", the middle step between at-will and once-encounter power. The maneuvers were specials attacks (ki power source?) from "Tome of Battle: Book of the Nine Swords".

Also I think about a remake of the shadowcaster class (3.5 Tome of Battle) and the mysteries would be the magic equivalent to martial maneuvers. Then the game mechanic of the shadowcaster would be like a ranged magic martial adept.
 

Kobold Stew

Adventurer
Another effect of giving Magic Missile as a cantrip is that it has a substantial impact against spellcasters maintaining Concentration, and enemies who are unconscious and making Death Sves (and so, typically, Big Bads). Auto-damage without any expenditure of resources, even if it's a single point of Force damage, represents a significant benefit.
 

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