Magic missile as a cantrip

bedir than

Explorer
I might change the damage type to piercing or bludgeoning. Have the spell represent a summoned real missile (dart/hammer). That would also tone it down against more monsters as they have resistance to the damage type.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
Found my thread for the magic missile cantrip, this is how it ended up.

 

Yaarel

Adventurer
I like the suggestion that Magic Missile instead become an autohit cantrip.

The math of the 3 force damage (1d4 + 1) seems fine. Scaling like cantrips do seems fine.

I am ok with 30-foot range (10 meters).



My only concern is potential abuse, like a Wizard School with a 100 apprentices all focus-firing to eliminate one target after an other.



I would like low-level store-bought magic defenses (analgous to holy water) to be routinely available. It needs to be purchasable so nonmagical classes can also access defenses.

Such as ‘Salt’ that is poured around for a circle of protection that would also keep out Magic Missile attacks.

I want things like this ‘Salt’ at low levels because I want cool things, like phasing thru walls at low levels. This kind of item poured along a wall, allows the DM to block players from phasing thru into sensitive areas, while generally allowing the cool stuff elsewhere.
 

Bacon Bits

Adventurer
Having chewed through some of the math, I think I would make these changes (changes have been underlined):



Magic Missile
Cantrip evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V S
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard
You create a glowing dart of magical energy. The dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range. A dart deals 1d4 force damage to its target. However, a dart produced by this spell may not deal more damage than your spellcasting modifier (minimum 1). 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.



The math problem I'm seeing relates to when the spell ends up being better than the alternatives. Because the spell now has no spellcasting modifier benefit, it's equally potent when you have a low modifier (+2 or less). That means if you're multiclassing, or a High Elf, or whatever, you could have Int 6 and you'd benefit just as much as a character with Int 20. That's not a good design. The fix to cap damage per dart to the caster's ability bonus is fiddley in a way a really hate, but it's about the easiest way to do it.

Additionally, I might consider changing mage armor to make it give you resistance to magic missile. The immunity clause on shield doesn't make much sense anymore since it's such a short term spell now. Another alternative would be to switch it from force to piercing damage, but I don't think damage type is that meaningful.

I didn't make this clear in my initial post, but I'm not planning on using it at all. It's just a design exercise. That's why my question was, "What would a magic missile cantrip look like?"

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.
I think you're overvaluing it. Would you take it if each dart dealt only 1 damage? I don't think anybody would. I would go so far as to say that it's strictly incorrect to take it if each dart deals exactly 1 damage. So we're just arguing about the balance point. Where's the balance point between 1 and 1d4?

Math-wise, it's fine, but some people might find it kind of boring.
That's true of anything, though. It's a play style preference more than anything.

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).
Yes, that's why this spell has the same implicit restriction.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the first draft you've posted, @Bacon Bits, it seems balanced and playable. It's just not my style.
That's fair.

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.
That's still really narrow. It still costs an action to cast, and it's rarely going to trigger a save with a DC higher than 10. And this is 5e, not 3e, so force damage isn't remotely as good. It doesn't "penetrate the Ethereal," for example, or automatically have any of the properties that it used to. The designers clearly remember those rules existing because lots of ethereal things are subject to force damage, but they're not actually present as general rules for force damge. In the de facto sense there's really only 4 damage types in 5e: non-magical, fire, poison, and everything else. Yes, you might run into shadow dragons, ghosts, and helmed horrors all day, but that's not a meaningful consideration to the design. If it were, eldritch blast wouldn't exist at all.

My only concern is potential abuse, like a Wizard School with a 100 apprentices all focus-firing to eliminate one target after an other.
I'm not remotely concerned about that. Any situation where that kind of thing would happen is not one which would happen in the game normally. Further, 100 apprentices could also cast magic missile the first level spell. And for the same cost, you could raise an army and obliterate anything already. Scaling out is not a concern. I really don't care if the game breaks when you turn it into a tower defense simulator.
 
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mortwatcher

Explorer
main issues with having an autohit cantrip is it would make monsters like displacer beasts that much weaker, since you would have 100% reliable way to turn off their main defensive ability

but then this might be a really niche issue and not a problem at all in your campaign, as I do not know the nmber of mosters that come with abilities like that
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
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).
In later tiers we started to see some Magic Missile use for forcing multiple concentration checks. Presupposing the target can fail a DC 10 save. It might be worth checking what other things free automatic damage multiple times a turn could interact with.
 

OB1

Jedi Master
How about having the cantrip only available to sorcerers? Would make it an iconic class feature like eldritch blast is for warlocks.

And potentially only be able to be cast if you currently have at least 1 sorcery point per missile being cast. I would definitely go with 1d4+1 if this was the case.

That would also leave room to create a sorcerer bloodline that is all about powering up this cantrip like certain builds of warlock around Eldrich Blast.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Having chewed through some of the math, I think I would make these changes (changes have been underlined):



Magic Missile
Cantrip evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V S
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard
You create a glowing dart of magical energy. The dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range. A dart deals 1d4 force damage to its target. However, a dart produced by this spell may not deal more damage than your spellcasting modifier (minimum 1). 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.



The math problem I'm seeing relates to when the spell ends up being better than the alternatives. Because the spell now has no spellcasting modifier benefit, it's equally potent when you have a low modifier (+2 or less). That means if you're multiclassing, or a High Elf, or whatever, you could have Int 6 and you'd benefit just as much as a character with Int 20. That's not a good design. The fix to cap damage per dart to the caster's ability bonus is fiddley in a way a really hate, but it's about the easiest way to do it.

Additionally, I might consider changing mage armor to make it give you resistance to magic missile. The immunity clause on shield doesn't make much sense anymore since it's such a short term spell now. Another alternative would be to switch it from force to piercing damage, but I don't think damage type is that meaningful.

I didn't make this clear in my initial post, but I'm not planning on using it at all. It's just a design exercise. That's why my question was, "What would a magic missile cantrip look like?"



I think you're overvaluing it. Would you take it if each dart dealt only 1 damage? I don't think anybody would. I would go so far as to say that it's strictly incorrect to take it if each dart deals exactly 1 damage. So we're just arguing about the balance point. Where's the balance point between 1 and 1d4?



That's true of anything, though. It's a play style preference more than anything.



Yes, that's why this spell has the same implicit restriction.



That's fair.



That's still really narrow. It still costs an action to cast, and it's rarely going to trigger a save with a DC higher than 10. And this is 5e, not 3e, so force damage isn't remotely as good. It doesn't "penetrate the Ethereal," for example, or automatically have any of the properties that it used to. The designers clearly remember those rules existing because lots of ethereal things are subject to force damage, but they're not actually present as general rules for force damge. In the de facto sense there's really only 4 damage types in 5e: non-magical, fire, poison, and everything else. Yes, you might run into shadow dragons, ghosts, and helmed horrors all day, but that's not a meaningful consideration to the design. If it were, eldritch blast wouldn't exist at all.



I'm not remotely concerned about that. Any situation where that kind of thing would happen is not one which would happen in the game normally. Further, 100 apprentices could also cast magic missile the first level spell. And for the same cost, you could raise an army and obliterate anything already. Scaling out is not a concern. I really don't care if the game breaks when you turn it into a tower defense simulator.
"I think you're overvaluing it. Would you take it if each dart dealt only 1 damage? I don't think anybody would. I would go so far as to say that it's strictly incorrect to take it if each dart deals exactly 1 damage. So we're just arguing about the balance point. Where's the balance point between 1 and 1d4?"

Well, obviously, if the spell were different then my assessment would likely change. Dead on with that observation.

But, rather than try and convince you that your new puppy usnt as cute and cuddly as you dream that adorable little baby is, I suggest picking a number between say d4+1 and whatever you want and put it into playtest and see both how it plays out.

You asked for evaluations, I gave you mine.

Wont bother you again.
 

Mistwell

Hero
I think it's fine as you've designed it (though I think that 60' range is important - 120' is too much). 1d4 is fine. I don't think it's overpowered or in any way a must-have spell.
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
One thing that @Yaarel mentioned about 100 wizards makes me think of something else to consider beyond the mechanics. What impact would this cantrip have on the world? For example, in a game world like Eberron, a cantrip like this would likely have been used by every soldier unskilled in archery, since a cantrip wand would be far easier to mass produce than a 1st level wand. And when something is that prevalent, especially in a war, some defense would be developed. Maybe a version of mage armor that would be immune to the cantrip, or grant resistance to force damage. In fact, resistance to force damage is such a niche aspect that I think it could just be added to the existing mage armor spell without any other changes. I don't know. Using logic to extend how the cantrip might impact the greater game world seems like an interesting exercise. Additionally, if there is some pressure to have such a cantrip/spell, then there would be greater incentive and resources expended in that world to make it happen.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
One thing that @Yaarel mentioned about 100 wizards makes me think of something else to consider beyond the mechanics. What impact would this cantrip have on the world? For example, in a game world like Eberron, a cantrip like this would likely have been used by every soldier unskilled in archery, since a cantrip wand would be far easier to mass produce than a 1st level wand. And when something is that prevalent, especially in a war, some defense would be developed. Maybe a version of mage armor that would be immune to the cantrip, or grant resistance to force damage. In fact, resistance to force damage is such a niche aspect that I think it could just be added to the existing mage armor spell without any other changes. I don't know. Using logic to extend how the cantrip might impact the greater game world seems like an interesting exercise. Additionally, if there is some pressure to have such a cantrip/spell, then there would be greater incentive and resources expended in that world to make it happen.
I agree, an always-on cantrip has setting implications.

Note, a cantrip is a powerful spell.

A cantrip is a special category of spell. Because it is always-on, it is equivalent to a slot-1 or slot-2 spell in potency.

For example, a cantrip is roughly equal to a proficiency with a martial weapon. If a Wizard exchanges a cantrip for proficiency with a longsword or longbow, it would be a fair swap. Likewise, a Wizard could swap a cantrip for light armor proficiency, or perhaps two cantrips for an always-on Mage Armor spell. Viceversa, a Fighter could figure out a way to swap a proficiency for a cantrip.

There are many official spells that deserve to be a zero-level spell in the sense that they are less useful. For example, Detect Poison is really a Medicine skill check. This could easily be in a zero-level slot, and cast and expended like a normal spell slot. By contrast, a cantrip is something different.

A cantrip is really a proficiency.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
One thing that @Yaarel mentioned about 100 wizards makes me think of something else to consider beyond the mechanics. What impact would this cantrip have on the world? For example, in a game world like Eberron, a cantrip like this would likely have been used by every soldier unskilled in archery, since a cantrip wand would be far easier to mass produce than a 1st level wand. And when something is that prevalent, especially in a war, some defense would be developed. Maybe a version of mage armor that would be immune to the cantrip, or grant resistance to force damage. In fact, resistance to force damage is such a niche aspect that I think it could just be added to the existing mage armor spell without any other changes. I don't know. Using logic to extend how the cantrip might impact the greater game world seems like an interesting exercise. Additionally, if there is some pressure to have such a cantrip/spell, then there would be greater incentive and resources expended in that world to make it happen.
Make Shield a cantrip too.

Shield
Abjuration Cantrip
Casting Time: 1 reaction*
Range: Self
Components: V S
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard

An invisible barrier of magical force appears and protects you. You have a +2 bonus to AC against the triggering attack, and you take no damage from magic missile.

* - which you take when you are hit by an attack or targeted by the magic missile spell

Of course, then you have two must-have cantrips.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Make Shield a cantrip too.

Shield
Abjuration Cantrip
Casting Time: 1 reaction*
Range: Self
Components: V S
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard

An invisible barrier of magical force appears and protects you. You have a +2 bonus to AC against the triggering attack, and you take no damage from magic missile.

* - which you take when you are hit by an attack or targeted by the magic missile spell

Of course, then you have two must-have cantrips.
I feel Shield is way too powerful. And if always-on, super powerful.


On the other hand, Mage Armor might work as a cantrip. It would be a must-have, and on the potent side. But ultimately, it is equivalent a proficiency with medium armor. Maybe two cantrips.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Maybe a Magic Missile cantrip can be counterspelled (negated) reactively by someone else who knows Magic Missile. This still leaves martial classes at a disadvantage however.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
My only concern is potential abuse, like a Wizard School with a 100 apprentices all focus-firing to eliminate one target after an other.
That's not a big change from how things are now. Unless you have an AC in the 20s, you get the same effect with chill touch or firebolt. Or, heck, a bunch of goons with crossbows.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
That's not a big change from how things are now. Unless you have an AC in the 20s, you get the same effect with chill touch or firebolt. Or, heck, a bunch of goons with crossbows.
Sure, but the autohit makes the Magic Missile firefocus a fairly invincible tactic.

Reducing the range to 30, might help the reduce the number of possible attackers. And at least give a Fighter a chance to reach some of them.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
One thing that @Yaarel mentioned about 100 wizards makes me think of something else to consider beyond the mechanics. What impact would this cantrip have on the world? For example, in a game world like Eberron, a cantrip like this would likely have been used by every soldier unskilled in archery, since a cantrip wand would be far easier to mass produce than a 1st level wand.
Canonically, the Five Nations fielded units of Arcaneers (often known as Wandslingers) in the Last War. They would usually know two or more cantrips and one 1/day 1st-level spell (the equivalent of the Magic Initiate feat), and they would use some form of arcane focus for their spells. Note that these are cantrips the soldier in question knows and uses a tool to cast, not a magic item handed out to unskilled people.
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
Canonically, the Five Nations fielded units of Arcaneers (often known as Wandslingers) in the Last War. They would usually know two or more cantrips and one 1/day 1st-level spell (the equivalent of the Magic Initiate feat), and they would use some form of arcane focus for their spells. Note that these are cantrips the soldier in question knows and uses a tool to cast, not a magic item handed out to unskilled people.
Sure, there likely were tactical units of such people. But while use of magic is relatively common in Eberron, it is still not a practice that just anyone can pick up. Units of wandslingers were likely a fraction of the total military of any given nation. House Cannith in particular and patriotic Artificers in general were likely attempting to develop means to allow a simple farmer to pick up a wand and become nearly as effective as a trained archer, since that would give any military an edge. And if they could be produced cheaply, that would provide an even bigger edge. I could see Cyre and Breland in particular doing this. Aundair would also perhaps have done so, but as a nation their personal pride would make them more self-reliant on their own abilities without a magical "crutch," and with how valued magical talent is there they would likely have a higher percentage of the population with the skill and dedication to learn enough to be a arcaneer.
 

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