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Review: Elminster’s Guide to Magic

If you’ve heard of the DMs Guild (an online marketplace for Dungeons & Dragons adventures, sourcebooks and supplements, written by everyone from Matt Mercer to yours truly), then you’ve probably heard of Elminster’s Guide to Magic. It’s been one of the best-selling products on the marketplace for some time now, with average review rating of over 4.5/5 at the time of publishing this post.

Having leafed through a copy recently I have to say I am not surprised in the slightest.

It’s a hefty tome (178 pages) of useful goodies, written by an experienced team of D&D creators, that includes:

  • 350+ new spells, including for bards, clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, sorcerers, warlocks and wizards (so for every spellcasting class basically!).
  • 50+ new magic items
  • A long list of magical trinkets
  • Lore about the magical factions of the Forgotten Realms
  • 8 new character archetypes.

That’s a lot of material right there, and exactly what many players, bored of casting thunderwave, haste and fireball are looking for.

The book is written in the voice of the sorcerer Ashemmon of Rhymanthiin, with the famous Elminster serving as a kind of editor, dropping in to make the odd droll remark or observation. Whilst it’s not written with quite the sparse craft and precision of a Wizards of the Coast official product, the prose is certainly better than you would expect of most community content and indeed rather funny at times. The formatting and artwork is also of high quality, giving the product a professional feel.

The best selling product on the DMs Guild is one to own

But let’s get to the meat already…

The New Spells

This book is all about the spells for me. As a player, learning the same old familiar incantations every day can get rather dull, whilst as a DM I want to be able to throw spells at PCs that they’ve never encountered before, thus bringing back some of the mystique and fear of enemy spellcasters back into the game. To this end I found plenty of new spells I would bring to my table. Ball lightning is a fun new way of blasting people (I think they actually converted it from an earlier edition of D&D), and one that carries on round after round, as your arcane artillery bounces around the battlefield. The spell freeze is so simple and brilliant that one wonders why it didn’t exist beforehand, abolish shadows is like light on steroids, and I like the cleric spell celestial fist – a damage dealing restrainer – a lot (although the saving throw once restrained should be Strength not Dexterity it seems to me!). Meanwhile spells like leaf into dagger and animal spy are hardly game changers, but have their charm (and uses).

Creating a spell is a tricky balancing business. It’s easy to get carried away and overpower them, whilst on the other hand, if the spell is any worse than those available who is going to bother to learn it? And by extension why bother create it? What is needed of course is new functionalities and subtle variations, operating at the same level of power as existing spells (at least those that are not grossly overpowered. I’m looking at you hypnotic pattern). If anything, my first impressions are that the publishers have erred on the side of caution and made their own creations a bit less powerful than the best available in the Player’s Handbook, rendering some of them redundant (to PCs at least. NPCs not driven to pick the optimal option every time could be perfect proponents of such spells, as per my comments above about throwing unfamiliar powers at parties). However I did as well find spells which seemed a little too powerful (at a glance at least). A few spells put me off by seeming too wordy and complicated, and there were many where, as a point of preference, I just didn’t like aesthetics of the spell’s effects (I could say the same of many in the Player’s Handbook as well!). A few could have been more accurately named.

If anything, rather than such a rich supply, I personally would have preferred a smaller tighter selection of spells that had been playtested to death. A bit like an album by your favourite artist, you’d prefer just the 5 or 6 great tracks to those same tracks, plus another half dozen that don’t stand out. Of course you can always discard what you don’t like… it’s just you need a bit more time to evaluate what’s hot and what’s not. Anyway considering the difficulty of pitching spells powers I think the publishers have done very well overall, with nothing falling too far either side of the mark (under vs overpowered) and plenty to get the creative juices flowing. It’s also worth noting that what I like and will use might be completely different to what someone else likes, so maybe we’ll forgive the publishers for opting for a high quantity product – it’s a more surefire way of providing something for everyone.

Magic Items (and trinkets)

I pretty much hate magic items as a rule. Not only do I dislike the high fantasy aesthetic, with players owning dozens of powerful arcane tools (give me a gritty Westerosi style setting instead please!), but they also unbalance play and detract from the much more satisfactory sensation of powering up via achieving new levels and experience-based abilities. But anyway, so as not to be a completely miserable bastard I took a look at what Elminster’s Guide to Magic has to offer on this front and found a few I really liked. Cat’s Eye Marble, conferring dark vision of 60ft is a lovely fix for the human in the party who has to lug a torch around every time they go underground, Leaf of Falling stops you having to learn feather fall every day (annoying use of a limited pool of prepared spells!), but a clear favourite is the Golden Tongue: This charm is the shape of a small golden tongue. It grants you advantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks—however you are required to make your argument in rhyming couplets. If you fail to speak in rhyme when making the check, you take 1d8 psychic damage. Brilliant, that’s going in my next adventure for sure!

These were all labelled Wondrous Items, but there’s actually a list of Magical Trinkets that I like even more. Little treasures like a malachite figurine carved in the shape of a dragonfly, which flies around and kills any flies or mosquitoes in your presence and a crystal goldfish. When held, it enables you to hold your breath for 2 minutes longer can add fun and flavour to the game without any worry of unbalancing it. If nothing else they inspire the imagination!

Factions & Archetypes

I haven’t had time to go through all the factions and I’m not sure how many of them have been homebrewed vs. already alive in Realm’s lore (having taken up D&D again after a 20 years break, I’m seriously behind on my lore!), but anyway I do see some good material there for DMs to delve into for their campaigns. As for the new archetypes… it seems like homebrewing these are more or less an obsession for all DMs Guild creators, but they are almost always amongst the content I’m least likely to use. For one thing there are so many cool archetypes I haven’t had a chance to play in the Player’s Handbook and now in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything that there doesn’t strike me as any need for any more. The other is that these really do need more playtesting than a few rogue authors, no matter how experienced, can manage alone. WoTC have a massive team and vast community to draw on, and I don’t see myself playing anything other than their tried and tested archetypes, well ever, really. But maybe you’re different?

Other Stuff

There’s a few other bits and bobs in this supplement, such as a library of arcane texts (just for flavour), potential names of wizard towers, something about verbal components (turning the geek level right up to 11), and a pretty useful ‘Advice for Young Wizards’ section that most beginner to mid-level player can learn a few valuable lessons from.

Hipsters’ Conclusion

Elminster’s Guide to Magic is not perfect (although I suppose neither are the official WoTC products!) and you’re going to have do some sifting to separate the bits you like from the bits you don’t, and I sense a bit of tinkering here and there too, but given the depth and breadth of the content, for 15 dollars it has to be one of the best value-for-money products on the DMs Guild – if not the best. Every type of spellcaster is going to benefit from having a copy in their library, not just in terms of powering up, but in terms of unveiling exciting new possibilities. Meanwhile DMs who enjoy pitting their parties against nefarious evil spellcasters will love the looks of surprises on their PCs’ faces as they unveil new trick after new trick from up their baggy black sleeves. What’s more the material has a near infinite shelf life and is going to remain useful to you adventure after adventure, campaign after campaign. (Obviously when you buy an adventure you tend to only play it once!).

Buy It

You can buy Elminster’s Guide to Magic via the DMs Guild.

Finally, before you go, I have also homebrewed a few of my very own 5e spells for wizards which you can check out on this here blog. They will form part of a published adventure coming to the DMs Guild very soon!

Disclosure: I was gifted a free copy of this supplement. 

Hypnotic Pattern is Broken. Here’s How You Fix It!

So you’ve been playing some Dungeons and Dragons and one of your PCs keeps deciding the encounters before they’ve even started by pulling out a glowing stick from their components pouch and weaving the 3rd level illusion hypnotic pattern. Suddenly half the bad guys are standing limp-limbed and drooling on the battlefield, completely helpless as their buddies are butchered with ease by the adventuring party. The bad news for them is they’re next!

Hypnotic Pattern vs Fireball

Fireball is one of D&D’s most powerful spells relative to the spell slot required (…so powerful that some argue that the whole structure of player advancement in 5e is based around it. Every player class gets something awesome at 5th level to balance the wizard’s newfound access to this orc-incinerating fan fave), but against any challenge 2 level baddie or beyond, hypnotic pattern is considerably more powerful. Both are third level spells, but whilst shaving hit points off an ogre is all well and good, incapacitating them for an entire minute is several notches better. Fireball does have a slightly better range – 150 feet plays 120 feet, whilst its superior area of effect, a circle with 20 feet radius (1256 square feet area of effect), vs hypnotic pattern‘s 30 feet cube (900 square feet surface area), means that fireball is still the weapon of choice for mopping up mooks. However, where fireball starts to fade against tougher foes, hypnotic pattern is just as deadly to high level monsters as low level ones. Do you want to do 28 damage (14 on a save) to four giants or incapacitate two or three of them for a minute? It’s a no brainer.

More dangerous than fireball…

Hypnotic Pattern vs. Other Incapacitating Spells

We can find further proof that hypnotic pattern is an overpowered game design error when we look at it against similar ‘incapacitators’ that make up the 5e wizard’s spellbook… so let’s do that.

Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (1st level)

An underrated little spell, it effects one creature and confers both the prone and incapacitated conditions on a failed Wisdom saving throw. Its power is kept well in check by the fact that it requires concentration, and that the target can repeat its saving throw at the end of each of its turns. Interestingly the effects do not end automatically when the creature takes damage, but every time it takes a hit it can make an additional saving throw with advantage, so more or less they do in fact end when it takes a hit. Range is 30 ft.

Blindness / Deafness (2nd level)

A bit of damp squib, this is barely better than tasha’s hideous haughter, if at all. On a failed Constitution saving throw, it confers blindness on one creature within 30ft. The condition of blindness however still allows the opponent to attack (albeit with disadvantage) although the one major pro it has over THL is that damaging the creature doesn’t provoke an additional saving throw, meaning its open season for attack rolls. The victim however does get a repeat saving throw at the end of each turn though, meaning it’s unlikely to work for more than one or two rounds, making the duration of one minute more or less irrelevant. A minor pro is that it doesn’t require concentration. It could also be used creatively to intimidate someone, trick an troll into walking off a bridge or whatever… provided you can do so in 0-12 seconds.

Hypnotic Pattern (3rd level)

After a balanced first level spell and an underwhelming second level spell we make the jump to super-fucking-overpowered third level spell… from a range of 30 feet we suddenly rocket up to 120 feet, and from affecting just one creature we go to affecting anyone in a 30 foot cube. If you’re using a tabletop grid of 5 ft squares that’s 36 squares and up to 36 medium-sized creatures. But that’s not even the most overpowered part… the worst is that creatures affected by this spell get no repeat saving throw (Wisdom) at the end of their turn. They are incapacitated and charmed (sidenote: I’m not really sure how these two conditions are supposed to work in combination! The spell describes a ‘stupor’ and I wonder if the charm aspect is more aesthetic – creatures lulled into hypnosis – than a condition) and therefore can’t do anything for the spell’s duration, ie. one minute or 10 turns of combat. There is the proviso that a creature that takes damage is then freed from the spell’s effects, and that another creature can use an action to shake the creature out of their stupor… and finally the spell does require concentration, but still… this is not balanced.

You could say but a third level spell is supposed to be a lot more powerful than a 2nd level one, but then again you can cast blindness as a third level spell and you get to affect one extra person… not up to 35 more as with HP, and you’d still have the crappy range and repeated saving throws.

Meanwhile we’ll see further proof of unbalance when we look at the 4th level ‘incapacitator’ confusion.

Confusion (4th level)

We’ve just gone up a level in terms of spell slots but already the range has gone down to 90 feet, whilst the area of effect is now a 10 foot radius which equates to a surface area of effect of 314.16 square feet… so just a little more than one third of that of hypnotic pattern. That’s a massive downsize, when we should be expecting a massive upsize. Something’s wrong! Once more the effects hinge on a Wisdom saving throw. If failed the victim rolls a d10 to determine what random stuff it gets up to. I simplify but it basically has about 80% chance of losing its turn and 20% chance of being able to act normally (despite having just failed its saving throw). The duration of the spell is one minute, but again that’s irrelevant as the creature can make a repeat saving throw at the end of each of its turns.

In each of range, area of effect, power of effect and duration of effect confusion is an inferior spell to hypnotic pattern… and a massively inferior one at that. And by the way, confusion is not a bad spell at all! I would personally get rid of the table result where the creature behaves as normal (easily done, just roll a d8 on the table instead of a d10!), otherwise it feels pretty well balanced. Hypnotic pattern should probably be a 5th or spell as it stands, and even then it would be considerably more powerful than the 5th level hold monster .

Playing By The Rules

If, despite the irrefutable proof I’ve just given you that the spell is broken (which would be like believing The Force Awakens is a good film after reading my article on why it most definitely isn’t. I’m linking to it now because I’ve just been tortured by The Last Jedi… new film, same problems), isn’t enough for you to remove it from the the table you could try to deal with it via pedantic interpretation and/or enemy strategy. Starting with the former, the spell description says: You create a twisting pattern of colors that weaves through the air inside a 30-foot cube within range. The pattern appears for a moment and vanishes. Each creature in the area who sees the pattern must make a Wisdom saving throw.

It might depend on the circumstances but on a chaotic battlefield for example it would be fairly reasonable to judge that any creature in the area of effect might simply be looking the wrong way at the wrong ‘moment’. Roll for each creature and on a 5 or 6 they don’t even see the pattern and don’t have to roll a saving throw.

The enemy strategy approach would be to rain blows down on the spellcaster every time they cast it so that they lose concentration and the spell ends. If a PC is constantly using hypnotic pattern spread your bad guys apart and make sure they have spells and ranged weapons.

Hipster’s Rule Fix

How should hypnotic pattern work… here is my revised version.

Hypnotic Pattern (hipster remix)

3rd level illusion

Casting time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: S, M (a glowing stick of incense or a crystal vial filled with phosphorescent material)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

You create a twisting pattern of colors that weaves through the air inside a 20-foot cube within range. The pattern appears for a moment and vanishes. Each creature in the area who sees the pattern must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature becomes charmed for the duration. While charmed by this spell, the creature is incapacitated and has a speed of 0.

At the end of each of its turns, an affected target can make a Wisdom saving throw. If it succeeds, this effect ends for that target. The spell also ends for an affected creature if it takes any damage or if someone else uses an action to shake the creature out of its stupor.


It’s still probably more powerful than confusion, and you might want to use my ‘pedantic interpretation’ above and rule that creatures in the area of effect who roll a 5 or 6 on a d6 are lucky enough not to see this momentary hypnotic weaving pattern.

Anyway hope that helps. If you love spells stay tuned because you’re going to love the next post, where I review Elminster’s Guide to Magic.

By the way I also homebrewed some spells you might like. They are part of a spellbook that in turn will form part of an adventure I intend to publish soon. Do follow on Facebook or subscribe to keep in touch…

New Spells for Wizards (& Others)

I’ve spent a lot of time this year preparing one of my D&D adventures for publication, an adventure that hinges around the Order of the Gossamer Robes, a pioneering body of wizards whose mastery of magic has allowed them to formulate many and various powerful news spells. Naturally, having created this storyline, I was duty-bound to create at least some of the incantations that these arcane academics have committed to their seminal tome, The Discoveries.

I will be releasing the adventure soon on DMs Guild (update I have released it!), along with the full version of The Discoveries, which currently contains 29 new spells. As a little teaser – and also to allow for playtesting and feedback before publication – I’d like to publish six of those incantations right now.

wizard spells 5e d&d

It’s a kind of magic…

My goal in authoring them was to provide some new effects and possibilities that currently don’t exist (or at least I have missed!) in the 5th edition Player’s Handbook (or else provide the same effects but in different ways). And whilst nominally wizards’ spells, I’ll leave it up to you if you feel that they could be adopted by sorcerers, warlocks or certain priests.

Hopefully I’ve pitched them about right. They need to be as useful / powerful as existing spells (otherwise why bother create them!? No one would learn them…) and yet not not so powerful they unbalance the game.


2nd level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes.

You create a shimmering bridge of energy 5 feet wide and 30 feet long, which arcs 5 feet above the ground at its highest point.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a 3rd level spell slot or higher the bridge you can create is an additional 5 feet wide, 10 feet long and arcing 5 feet higher for every extra spell slot expended. Additionally the duration of the spell increases by 10 minutes per spell slot used.

Author’s notes: I designed this so a low level wizard can solve problems in a dungeon, whilst a higher level one can help armies cross raging torrents…



Illusion cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (a piece of chameleon skin)
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes.

You assume the colours and appearance of the nearest surface, blending into your environment, enabling you to become all but invisible when still. The spell has no effect on any creature that has already seen you (unless you break line of sight and then hide), and the spell’s effects cease to work whenever you move.


Flash Bang

3rd level evocation

Casting Time: Bonus action
Range: 60ft
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Instantaneous

You trigger a blast of magical force, accompanied by a thunderclap and flash of bright white light, that affects any creature within a 30 foot radius of a point you choose within range. The blast does 2d10 force damage, or half as much on a successful Strength saving throw, and causes victims to be stunned for 1 turn (no effect on save).
At Higher Levels. The damage increases by 1d10 for each spell slot level expended above 3rd.

Author’s note: Nowhere near as dangerous as fireball, the stun effect coupled with the fact it only requires a bonus action to cast I think make this spell interesting. Might be best used by a multiclass character, such as a rogue, who could then use sneak attack on the victims


Lavinia’s Stunning Escape

5th level evocation

Casting Time: 1 minute (activated with a reaction)
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (a pair of cymbals)
Duration: 24 hours

You weave a protective aura around yourself (or a willing target you touch) that you are able to trigger using a reaction the moment you take damage from an attack. When triggered a stunning blast of magical force affects anyone within 30ft, doing 2d10 damage (half on a successful Strength saving throw) and causing them to be stunned for 1 turn (no effect on save). In addition you may turn invisible as per the conditions of the spell invisibility (requires concentration, ends if you attack a creature) and teleport up to 60ft to an unoccupied space that you can see. The spell must be triggered within 24 hours of casting, or be lost. Only one protective aura can be active per person at one time, and it can be triggered only once.

Author’s note: an extremely powerful defence mechanism, this is a good spell to reward a PC with… possibly found in a musty spellbook in the depths of some dungeon (or in the Gleaming Cloud Citadel, if you buy my adventure out soon!).


Meredin’s Mighty Applause

4th level illusion

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120ft
Components: V, S, M (a flower in bloom)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

Any humanoid within 30ft radius of the targeted creature of this spell must succeed on a Charisma saving throw or be overwhelmed by a need to clap this target, dropping whatever is in their hands to do so. This enthusiastic applause takes up the entirety of their turn. They may repeat the saving throw at the end of their turn.
The spell ends for an affected creature if it takes any damage.
At Higher Levels. For every spell slot expended beyond 4th level, the radius effect of the spell increases by 10 feet.

Author’s note: I feel this one could be a lot of fun – and very effective – in the right situation, especially if you’ve banned the overpowered Hypnotic Pattern (which you really should have by now!). 


Heart Attack

7th level necromancy

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Components: V, S, M (a chicken’s heart, crushed when casting the spell)
Duration: Instantaneous

You wrap a spectral hand around the heart of a giant-sized target or smaller within range and squeeze. The target must make a Constitution saving throw, and then roll a d12 and consult the following table. If they pass their saving throw they may add 3 to the roll.

D12 Spell Effect
1. Heart explodes causing instant death
2-4. Heart collapses reducing target to 0 hp
5-10. Heart attack. Target is paralysed for 1d4 rounds, taking 4d6 damage
each round.
11-12.+ Target suffers excruciating heart tremors doing 4d6 damage.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a 8th level spell slot or higher you can target one additional creature per spell slot expended.

Author’s Note: I like spells with a little table of effects! I found trying to pitch the danger of a 7th spell really hard, so let me know how you get on with this one… comments appreciated!

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