D&D 5E Thoughts on letting spellcasters change elemental damage as a rule...

cbwjm

Legend
My general house rule is "creative upcasting." It's not hard codified, just describe how you want to change the spell. If it's more than just cosmetic, then I will try to give a reasonable response like "sure, you can case a thundering version of fireball, but you'll need to upcast it by two levels, or by one level and either reduce damage or range, and it will make a sound audible out to 300 feet."
Sounds similar to the old metamagic feats requiring higher level spell slots. I was idly thinking of bringing them back into the game.
 

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jgsugden

Legend
Damage types, resistances, immunivites and vulnerabilities are limitations in the game. We put limitations in the game to add texture to the game. If we don't have that texture, everything begins to feel the same, and everything gets boring.

I have no problem if a PC wants to create a new spell that is just a reskin of an existing spell that changes the damage type. However, we always treat it as a new spell, and in order for a PC to have that flexiblity to change types, they need to have a feature that does it. That approach has never failed me, and I doubt I'd see a system that serves the game better.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
I would be inclined to allow it only for specific casters. Want to be an "Elementalist" specialist? Sure. Should a Necromancer? No. I might be inclined to allow it for general Evokers (is this something evokers can already do?) as well. Generating/controlling "energies" is their thing.

And, yes, to all conditions applied before/by others.
1) Has to be prepared with the specific element.
2) Effects and damage need to be reworked to make story sense and can not exceed the damage/areas of effect/etc... of the original spell.

I'll add a #3) I would probably make it that you figure out/learn how to make the appropriate alterations on a sliding scale. Not just 'I can make it any element I want from level 1." But, something like...
1st level: You learn Burning Hands.
NEXT LEVEL (or every other, or whatever you think appropriate), you figure out how to make it "Sparking Hands" [lightning damage] or fire.
3rd level: You figure out how to make it Freezing Hands (or lightning or fire). You also learn/pick up Flaming Sphere. Flaming Sphere's damage is fire. That all you know so far. You can't apply a new element on the same level you gain the spell.
NEXT LEVEL: Do you come up with "Corrosive Hands" [Burning Hands' 15' cone of acid damage] or do you work out how to do a "Freezing Sphere" [cold damage and creating 5' wide lines of difficult terrain where its passed] instead?
5th level: You know Burning Hands with the options of fire, lightning or ice. Flaming Sphere with options for fire, ice and we'll add thunder this level. And pick up Lightning Bolt.

Ya see how this works? No carte blanche "pick any element on the fly." But you can get there/build up your options.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Scorching ray using thunder damage is not kosher, I don't want a return of sonic-substituted spells becoming the default.
Huh, weird. Pure damage spells are generally the ones I have no problem substituting.

To my mind, spells are simply assigned damage types simply based on the overall narrative of the spell, and not any specific formula. I know there's a school of thought that some elements are "stronger", but balanced out by monsters being more commonly resistant to them; I've never subscribed to that idea. The only real outlier to my mind is poison, simply because such a broad swathe of monster types are poison-immune.
 

Huh, weird. Pure damage spells are generally the ones I have no problem substituting.

To my mind, spells are simply assigned damage types simply based on the overall narrative of the spell, and not any specific formula. I know there's a school of thought that some elements are "stronger", but balanced out by monsters being more commonly resistant to them; I've never subscribed to that idea. The only real outlier to my mind is poison, simply because such a broad swathe of monster types are poison-immune.
It's...pretty clearly the case though. Fire bolt does more damage than any other cantrip--except eldritch blast, which is its equivalent, and is a special Warlock feature (though if you're really desperate you could steal it with Magical Secrets as a Bard, I guess.) Why does the fire cantrip do more damage than any other? Because it's fire, and fire does lots of damage. Cold is slightly lesser, but still solid. Acid, poison, thunder, and lightning, likewise are a further step down. Then force, which is almost always the lowest damage in terms of outright pain capacity, but which is resisted by almost nothing.

I mean, for goodness' sake, magic missile does only 3d4+3 damage, or on average 10.5. Now, it doesn't require a hit roll, which is solid! But that means a whole 1st-level spell is essentially equivalent to an 11th level cantrip (assuming a ~60% chance to hit; 3d10 = 16.5 average damage, 16.5×0.55 + 33×0.05 = 10.725), and barely better than that cantrip cast at 5th level.
 

Part of this is a fluff thing, and different damage spells have different effects. Flaming Sphere is a ball of fire that moves around and radiates heat; I would expect e.g. an Acid Sphere to behave very differently. Chain Lightning jumps from person to person like lightning; fire doesn't really do this in the same way. And Ray of Frost reduces the target's speed because people slow down as they get cold; a Ray of Fire shouldn't have this effect (and indeed Firebolt doesn't). And that's before we get into psychic damage attacks.

I therefore dislike this rule as a default, although researching spell variants on a case by case basis should be possible.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
It's...pretty clearly the case though. Fire bolt does more damage than any other cantrip--except eldritch blast, which is its equivalent, and is a special Warlock feature (though if you're really desperate you could steal it with Magical Secrets as a Bard, I guess.) Why does the fire cantrip do more damage than any other? Because it's fire, and fire does lots of damage. Cold is slightly lesser, but still solid. Acid, poison, thunder, and lightning, likewise are a further step down. Then force, which is almost always the lowest damage in terms of outright pain capacity, but which is resisted by almost nothing.
That never seemed to me to be a function of damage type; that appears to be a consequence of fire bolt and eldritch blast not having any utility riders. Ray of frost is 1d8 but has the "slow movement speed" rider. Poison spray is a d12, and can hit 2 targets, but restricted to close range. Toll the dead is a necrotic d12 at range, but take a damage penalty if the target is uninjured.

I would agree fire's niche is that it generally does more damage, but that's primarily because it has no rider effects to go with it. Ergo, swapping it to another damage type that also doesn't bring a rider is a neutral swap.

I'm not advocating for free swapping at cast time, but I have no issue with swapping at the time of spell acquisition. A player who wants to learn thunderball instead of a fireball because the game features a bunch of fire-resistant demons, to me, is a player who's connecting to the narrative, and that's definitely something I want to encourage.


I mean, for goodness' sake, magic missile does only 3d4+3 damage, or on average 10.5. Now, it doesn't require a hit roll, which is solid! But that means a whole 1st-level spell is essentially equivalent to an 11th level cantrip (assuming a ~60% chance to hit; 3d10 = 16.5 average damage, 16.5×0.55 + 33×0.05 = 10.725), and barely better than that cantrip cast at 5th level.
Plenty of tier 3 cantrips outdamage MM, I'm not really sure what that proves other than 1st level slots being spent for damage generally isn't worth it past low levels.
 

ECMO3

Hero
I was asked to consider allowing spellcasters be able to select the type of elemental damage a spell can do regardless of the one listed in the spell. The argument was that some elements are less represented, and therefore, if you have less selection if you want to pursue a particular avenue...for example, there are many more spells that do fire and cold damage than lightning and thunder. So, for example, a wizard could cast a static sphere instead of a flaming sphere to deal lightning damage if they wanted to. Once they decide on the damage choice to prepare, they are stuck with it. I do know of some of the ways around this in the form of Transmuted Spell if a sorcerer and Awakened Spellbook if a wizard. Just wondering if anyone else has such a rule or if they have house ruled anything similar? I am inclined at this time to decline this rule. Let me know if you agree or not.
I think if you want to do this you should take the sorcerer or wizard subclasses/abilities that offer it as a feature.
 

It would definitely mess up game balance slightly if someone took advantage of it to simply change everything to thunder or force damage, though wouldn't necessarily break the game.

I would, however, suggest you make them pick a damage type when they learn the spell and be stuck with it though, NOT when they prepare them, as this would otherwise create an advantage with prepared casters that frankly they don't need, and I worry wizards being able to change things at will between days would step all over the toes of the sorcerer with metamagic.

If you want them to be able to chang elements at spell prep you should also allow learned casters to switch damage types after a long rest as well to compensate.

I would also suggest you consider limiting the damage types to acid, cold, fire, and lightning as balancing factor as it would minimize the opportunity to just make everything thunder or force and be done with it
 

Mark1733

Explorer
Part of this is a fluff thing, and different damage spells have different effects. Flaming Sphere is a ball of fire that moves around and radiates heat; I would expect e.g. an Acid Sphere to behave very differently. Chain Lightning jumps from person to person like lightning; fire doesn't really do this in the same way. And Ray of Frost reduces the target's speed because people slow down as they get cold; a Ray of Fire shouldn't have this effect (and indeed Firebolt doesn't). And that's before we get into psychic damage attacks.

I therefore dislike this rule as a default, although researching spell variants on a case by case basis should be possible.
I respectfully challenge your notion, but I am not trying to convince you to like the rule. The effects can be rationalized and abstracted to agree with both the physical and magical nature of the fantasy world. For example, why can't a ray of fire slow you down as you hobble from the burns you just suffered (because that is how the spell works...to slow you down)? Chain fire...it's magic...why can't fire jump--fire elementals can? I argue this points because I was starting out with the same "how to I explain" perspective, and I realized that there must be a more rules-specific reason as to why making one type of damage would be a problem.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
I respectfully challenge your notion, but I am not trying to convince you to like the rule. The effects can be rationalized and abstracted to agree with both the physical and magical nature of the fantasy world. For example, why can't a ray of fire slow you down as you hobble from the burns you just suffered (because that is how the spell works...to slow you down)? Chain fire...it's magic...why can't fire jump--fire elementals can? I argue this points because I was starting out with the same "how to I explain" perspective, and I realized that there must be a more rules-specific reason as to why making one type of damage would be a problem.
Maybe I missed something in the discussion, but what "rule" are you referring to?

I posted above I would allow a caster to learn a different damage type (especially elemental damages) for a spell, but it would be a separate spell from the original. So, if a PC learned fireball, they could learn a separate spell lightning ball, simply substituting lightning damage for the fire damage.

Now, knowing one spell and being able to change the damage type when the spell is prepared is a bit more extreme, and changing the damage type when it is cast is really too much IMO. Prepared is feasible (when studying the spell you alter the formula slightly to change the damage type), but spontaneous when cast should have a cost: a feat, very limited uses per day, metamagic (there was a UA one that did this IIRC--it might have even made it into Tasha's but I can't recall...).
 

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