D&D 5E Perfect spell designs

Asisreo

Patron Badass
I think there are a few spells in the PHB that are absolutely perfectly designed, in my opinion. I'm curious if there are others some would like to share and elaborate why they're so great. The spells don't have to be the most powerful, in fact, broken spells are often thought of as poorly designed.

One spell I think is one of the best is a simple cantrip: Vicious Mockery.

It is one of the few psychic damage effects allowed to players and it immediately sets apart a bard from any other caster. It isn't so powerful that a bard should spam it even at level 1, but it's effects are good enough that even a high level bard might consider casting it in high-level combat.

Finally, it leaves a huge "ad-lib" fill-in-the-blank that never disappoints on the roleplay aspect. If your player says a truly insulting injury, it feels like the actual player did the damage rather than their character. If your player says a bad joke, the creature can be measurably damaged from the pure second-hand embarrassment. And it's always entertaining to see a creature die just by saying something so hurtful that it collapses in shock.

Even if bard isn't your favorite class, you have to admit that it's unique spell is very well-designed and fun to use.
 

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I think there are a few spells in the PHB that are absolutely perfectly designed, in my opinion. I'm curious if there are others some would like to share and elaborate why they're so great. The spells don't have to be the most powerful, in fact, broken spells are often thought of as poorly designed.

One spell I think is one of the best is a simple cantrip: Vicious Mockery.

It is one of the few psychic damage effects allowed to players and it immediately sets apart a bard from any other caster. It isn't so powerful that a bard should spam it even at level 1, but it's effects are good enough that even a high level bard might consider casting it in high-level combat.

Finally, it leaves a huge "ad-lib" fill-in-the-blank that never disappoints on the roleplay aspect. If your player says a truly insulting injury, it feels like the actual player did the damage rather than their character. If your player says a bad joke, the creature can be measurably damaged from the pure second-hand embarrassment. And it's always entertaining to see a creature die just by saying something so hurtful that it collapses in shock.

Even if bard isn't your favorite class, you have to admit that it's unique spell is very well-designed and fun to use.
I don’t know much about spell design. But I can’t agree with your choice. In my opinion canteips should not cause damage. So I can’t get behind vicious mockery
 


DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
While some spells as well-designed, IMO 5E misses a lot of opportunities for upcasting many spells. Also, way too many spells (nearly half) are concentration.

For example, mage armor is AC 13 + DEX modifier. It would be great if you could upcast it for a better AC, say +1 per spell level to a maximum of AC 17 + DEX modifier as a 5th level spell?
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
One spell I think is one of the best is a simple cantrip: Vicious Mockery...it leaves a huge "ad-lib" fill-in-the-blank that never disappoints on the roleplay aspect.
Oh, I know. Our bard player uses it quite often, and he comes up with some simply amazing insults, even when using it on trees. After 22 months of playing the bard to 15th level and the almost-end of our campaign, he still comes up with them on the spot. It's a great spell because it encourages creative, often comedic, gaming.

As to perfectly designed, I'll have to come back to that. The "1st level detect" spells and "speak with" spells come to mind. They expand the range of options in the game, and do exactly what a spell their level should be doing.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
For example, mage armor is AC 13 + DEX modifier. It would be great if you could upcast it for a better AC, say +1 per spell level to a maximum of AC 17 + DEX modifier as a 5th level spell?
I'm for that except I'd give other perks instead of AC. Bounded accuracy is a thing for a reason, plus I really don't want yet again "and casters can do what non-casters do but even better".

Want to upcast it and get other perks? Sure. 24 hour duration or Heavy Armor Mastery damage reduction to B/P/S. Various other perks.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I'm for that except I'd give other perks instead of AC.
Other perks most likely wouldn't be worth it. The duration is already good enough, especially for a 1st level spell! Granting "feat-like" benefits would be against the design of 5E IMO.

Bounded accuracy is a thing for a reason, plus I really don't want yet again "and casters can do what non-casters do but even better".
Given how hard it is to get casters a decent AC IME, this wouldn't do anything against BA. Very few casters (other than DEX-weapon attack builds) have a DEX of 18 or better, so for a 5th level slot (not even available until 9th level), an AC 17+DEX would hardly break BA.

And wizards/sorcerers with d6 HD still can't compete in that respect with d10+ martials.

If +1 per spell level is "too much" for you, make it AC 14 for 3rd-4th level slot and AC 15 for 5th level slot.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Given how hard it is to get casters a decent AC IME, this wouldn't do anything against BA. Very few casters (other than DEX-weapon attack builds) have a DEX of 18 or better, so for a 5th level slot (not even available until 9th level), an AC 17+DEX would hardly break BA.
Except that Mage Armor can be cast on others, including DEX based characters. Mage Armor is already better than any normal light armor for a 1st level slot, easy to throw on. When +1 armors are around (even if you assume everyone gets one), 2nd level slots will likely be cheap.

(Plus, as you mentioned, the rare cases of DEX-weapon builds like the Bladesinger, who would have Mage Armor + DEX + often INT. And if they have "magic armor" it would be Bracer of Defense for an additional +2)

If +1 per spell level is "too much" for you, make it AC 14 for 3rd-4th level slot and AC 15 for 5th level slot.
I'd be much happier with this - it's still within the range of bounded accuracy, and the higher level slots retain more value so they can't be handed out to every light armor wearer daily for little cost at higher levels.
 

ehren37

Legend
While some spells as well-designed, IMO 5E misses a lot of opportunities for upcasting many spells. Also, way too many spells (nearly half) are concentration.

For example, mage armor is AC 13 + DEX modifier. It would be great if you could upcast it for a better AC, say +1 per spell level to a maximum of AC 17 + DEX modifier as a 5th level spell?
No, that would be terrible design and step even further on fighter's toes. It shouldnt even exceed studded leather armor as is.
 


Asisreo

Patron Badass
Inflict Wounds is the perfect damage spell. Simple to adjudicate, strong but not overwhelming, scales just the right amount.
Oh, yes I agree. At early levels, it has that "wow" factor of rolling more damage dice than almost anything else at that level, but it's expensive and dangerous enough at that level that you need to exercise caution.
 

I'm a big fan of the summon spells.
  • They come with the stat block in the spell so no need to look it up in other resources.
  • One creature only so no dealing with 8 wolves, 4 bears, etc.
  • No adjudication needed by the DM to determine what is actually summoned. That's a pain no one wanted.
  • Summoned creatures can be designed to avoid cheesy stuff like pixies.
  • Monster manuals can include monsters without worrying about letting PCs use them.
  • Each one has variations so you can tailor it to the current situation and don't have to summon the same thing every time.
  • Each level you upcast has good benefits though even levels are better.
  • They are very simple so they don't slow things down much.
  • They are effective but not OP.
  • 1 hour concentration is fantastic for conserving slots and pre-battle setup.
  • Out of combat you can summon an extra pair of hands with decent attributes when you need it.
Many of those points are made in comparison to the conjure line of spells. But even without the conjure spells I think I would still like the design of summon spells.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I don’t know much about spell design. But I can’t agree with your choice. In my opinion canteips should not cause damage. So I can’t get behind vicious mockery
Why should cantrips not cause damage? In prior editions, when a wizard ran out of spells, they ended up using ranged weapons. It was kind of boring and not evocative of the class concept. The damage the cantrips deal is less than what the front line fighters deal in a round on average - so why is it a problem? Is it just that you think that a wizard spamming a fire bolt doesn't match how you see the class?
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Is it just that you think that a wizard spamming a fire bolt doesn't match how you see the class?
That is my issue with it, personally. It makes magic less magical when you can cast spells all the time.

No full caster really even needs a weapon now, which is sort of boring IMO.

So, we've restricted damage causing cantrips to be a recharge (5-6) feature. This allows casters to always have one when combat begins, but they can't just use it round after round after round (unless they get some lucky rolls LOL!).
 

I think there are a few spells in the PHB that are absolutely perfectly designed, in my opinion. I'm curious if there are others some would like to share and elaborate why they're so great. The spells don't have to be the most powerful, in fact, broken spells are often thought of as poorly designed.

One spell I think is one of the best is a simple cantrip: Vicious Mockery.

It is one of the few psychic damage effects allowed to players and it immediately sets apart a bard from any other caster. It isn't so powerful that a bard should spam it even at level 1, but it's effects are good enough that even a high level bard might consider casting it in high-level combat.

Finally, it leaves a huge "ad-lib" fill-in-the-blank that never disappoints on the roleplay aspect. If your player says a truly insulting injury, it feels like the actual player did the damage rather than their character. If your player says a bad joke, the creature can be measurably damaged from the pure second-hand embarrassment. And it's always entertaining to see a creature die just by saying something so hurtful that it collapses in shock.

Even if bard isn't your favorite class, you have to admit that it's unique spell is very well-designed and fun to use.

Impose disadvantage on the save if the PC Bard says something truly witty.
 


Polymorph is perfect in my opinion. It's totally worth the (level 4) spell slot. It's often fun and generates laughs at the table. It can buff your party or nerf the opponents and it can be used in and out of combat. 10/10.

Resistance is an underused cantrip that gives someone (self or ally) just that little extra. A single d4 is small enough that it is alright that it's just a cantrip. But it's valuable enough that it really helps. It doesn't feel overpowered and cannot be spammed, so it's a nice addition next to the main cantrip that PCs (or NPCs) use for damage.

p.s. Really disagree that cantrips shouldn't do damage. How else should an exhausted party of spellcasters get through a dungeon?
 

Why should cantrips not cause damage? In prior editions, when a wizard ran out of spells, they ended up using ranged weapons. It was kind of boring and not evocative of the class concept. The damage the cantrips deal is less than what the front line fighters deal in a round on average - so why is it a problem? Is it just that you think that a wizard spamming a fire bolt doesn't match how you see the class?
The are more issues for our style of play, but yes that is my basic issue.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I have conclusively answered this question: Tiny Servant

 

I don’t know much about spell design. But I can’t agree with your choice. In my opinion canteips should not cause damage. So I can’t get behind vicious mockery
A particularly sick burn is practically character assassination! How can plot armor protect you when you're a laughing stock? :D
 

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