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Blade Ward: The Remix(es)

Hey guys, so I want to introduce a new “REMIXED” series of posts, which may or may not become a regular feature of this blog. The idea is to take a look at spells and abilities that, as players, we want to like and take, but they just don’t stack up next to comparable options.

A spell no one ever selects is a bit of a waste, while there are entire classes or archetypes that need a boost in my opinion, otherwise the temptation to go back to a more powerful archetype can be too strong and flavourful options fall by the wayside. (Yes, there are roleplaying considerations… but if the gap in power is too big it can be hard, or frustrating, to select inferior choices).

Experience tells me that homebrew / house rules / remixes often need a lot of eyes before they come good, especially as changing things often has a knock on effect or leads to broken combos, and so I’m going to include a poll on each Remixed ability to see if the wider community approves. More detailed feedback and solutions are most welcome in the comments section. In other words, I consider these Remixes will be a joint effort between my readers and I!

Ok, so first up, I’m looking at the cantrip blade ward, a spell that I would never ever take! The Player’s Handbook states:

BLADE WARD
Abjuration cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 round

You extend your hand and trace a sigil of warding in the air. Until the end of your next turn, you have resistance against bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage dealt by weapon attacks.

It’s available to bards, sorcerers, warlocks, wizards

Ok it’s only a cantrip, but surely you’re better off taking the Dodge action and keeping a cantrip slot for something else? When I’m low on hit points I’d rather offer give my attackers disadvantage and hope not to get hit at all, than definitely take half the damage. Alternatively, in a sticky situation, I could use my action to Dash towards total cover, or simply attack or cast a spell myself, in the hope of killing or disabling the attacker before it can hit me… in D&D attack is almost always the best form of defence!

Having done some research I’ve turned up a few minor advantages blade ward has over Dodge, in that a) the more likely a creature is to hit you, the better resistance works vs. disadvantage b) blade ward works against unseen attacks and continues working if you were to fall unconscious, or if you were grappled (Dodge doesn’t work if you have speed 0). Nonetheless giving up your action to only take half damage is just a terrible strategy vs. doing something proactive to avoid that damage. You’re just going to be in the same situation the following round, most likely, but with less hit points.

It’s not an easy one to fix however (I wish I’d chosen something else as my first Remix post 🙈! As cantrips can be cast every turn, they can get spammy quickly!)… but here are my attempts, and my design notes.

HIPSTER REMIX 1: DODGE COMBO

BLADE WARD 
Abjuration cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 round

You extend your hand and trace a sigil of warding in the air that slows your enemy’s attacks. Until the end of your next turn, you have resistance against bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage dealt by weapon attacks, and you may use a bonus action to select the Dodge action.

Design Notes: Ok, it’s stronger than I wanted, but I don’t think it breaks the game because you’re giving up your entire offensive potential… well, unless you have some sneaky ways to use your Reaction to deal damage, or you have some kind of damaging aura, or pre-cast spell. In order for the “Dodge as a bonus action” to make sense, I gave it a slight Matrix flavour of slowing time. I would like to put a limit on it, like “You can cast this spell every round up to a number of rounds equal to your Constitution modifier, after which you can’t the spell again until the same number of rounds has elapsed.” Although that doesn’t feel like a very 5e thing to do to a spell.

HIPSTER REMIX 2: BONUS ACTION

BLADE WARD
Abjuration cantrip

Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

You extend your hand and trace a sigil of warding in the air that weaves a shimmering protective aura around you. The next time you are hit by a weapon attack you subtract 1d4 from the damage, and the aura is destroyed.
The spell’s protective power increases as you gain levels, and at 5th level you subtract 2d4 damage, at 11th level 3d4 damage, and at 17th level 4d4 damage.

Design Notes: I really wish there were more bonus action spells, although possibly a bonus action cantrip like this is going to be cast every round, which could get annoying. That’s why I made it a concentration spell, so if it doesn’t get used, the player can do something else with their bonus action next turn, whereas if you want to cast another concentration spell this won’t work in conjunction with it, again forcing some variety into play. This remix takes blade ward from a pointless to a ‘must have’ cantrip, but I don’t think it’s overpowered… it’s just one attack, and the damage reduction isn’t game changing, plus wizards and bards could really do with some extra defense, and a way of using a bonus action more often. You could weaken it further, by saying: “The next time you are targeted by a weapon attack you subtract 1d4 from the damage, if the attack hits, and the aura is destroyed.” I just don’t like the flavour of an arrow flying miles over your head destroying the aura.

HIPSTER REMIX 3: TANK BUFF

BLADE WARD
Abjuration cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 5 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 round

You extend your hand and trace a sigil of warding in the air that protects a creature within range. Until the end of your next turn, that creature has resistance against bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage dealt by weapon attacks.

Design Notes: I saw this mentioned in multiple forums as a way to fix blade ward and I think it’s a good suggestion. Feels a bit more like a cleric spell now, but at any rate, it’s a fantastic buff cantrip, limited by its weak range. (I put a range of 5 feet instead of ‘touch’ because I hate the idea of PCs going around bestowing buffs by touching each other in the middle of a frantic combat… “get the f@ck out of my way!”). The range, and the fact that you have to use an action will stop it being spammed at any rate. I’ve just realised that it could be very annoying in the hands of a sidekick who follows the party tank around…. hmmmm. Maybe it’s not spam proof after all. I’m gonna have one more go at this….

HIPSTER REMIX 4: VERSATILE DEFENSE

WARDING SIGIL
Abjuration cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 round

You extend your hand and trace a sigil of warding in the air. Until the end of your next turn, you have resistance against bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage dealt by weapon attacks. Additionally, you can manipulate the sigil to gain resistance against one of the following damage types of your choice: acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, radiant or thunder.

Design Notes: I like the versatility this remix offers, but you’re still trading your action to take damage basically… could be useful for getting past certain obstacles or for surviving a dragon flyby. I had to change the name however, so it’s no longer blade ward.

Anyhow, maybe there’s a version above that would make it into your game. Please use the poll to say which, or if you think this needs another solution. If you vote that it’s fine in RAW please do so from the standpoint of someone who has actually used the spell, as written, to good effect (and not just on the assumption that it must be perfect because it’s in the PH!).

93
BLADE WARD POLL

Which version of Blade Ward gets your vote?

Thanks for voting!

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24 Comments

  1. Dennis

    I’d just change the casting time to a bonus action, or if you want to avoid stacking it with shield, absorb elements, etc. make it a reaction. That’ll make it powerful enough to be worth a spot in an Eldritch Knight’s or Arcane Trickster’s limited repertoire of cantrips.

    • Dennis

      Forgot to mention: bonus action with 1 minute duration is too much for a cantrip.

      Make it a reaction to being hit that applies to only that hit if you feel the need to reign it in a bit.

      • duncan

        Hi Dennis

        Keeping it as RAW but making the casting time just a bonus action is much MORE powerful than the bonus action version I’ve suggested! You’d be giving a barbarian like resistance to the caster every turn. If you go with bonus action you have to do something to make it a lot less powerful… hence the minor d4 damage reduction I’ve suggested. And concentration requirement means it can’t be used with all manner of combos.

        Likewise making it a reaction would make this spell much more powerful than anything I’ve suggested. You’d essentially be making one of the rogue’s most powerful features, uncanny dodge, available to all for the price of a cantrip.

        Remember you only have to take the magic initiate feat to pick up this cantrip.

        • Dennis

          I don’t think there are any concentration cantrips and I don’t think it’s a good idea to introduce one.

          • Ali

            Guidance, resistance, true strike are all concentration – although I don’t personally think guidance and resistance should be, since the benefit they confer is so small and also a one-off – the spell could just say you can only have one instance of it active at a time.

            I run blade ward so that:

            1. Duration is 1 minute with concentration
            2. Casting time is still an action
            3. The effect is still resistance against bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage
            4. But the spell ends when you take damage – as in other spells such as Sanctuary.

            That allows characters anticipating combat to buff themselves immediately before it starts in a way which is meaningful, useful in enough scenarios to bother keeping it as a cantrip, and not incredibly overpowered. It also means you can cast it during a round of combat when other actions might not be open for to you, without just wasting a round.

            A cantrip should be great and versatile, but it shouldn’t be something done as an alternative to levelled spells when there’s plenty of slots to go around.

          • duncan

            Hi Ali

            That’s a decent fix! So resistance against the next weapon attack that hits basically.

            (Btw. I don’t see the same stipulation in the spell Sanctuary… it ends if the warded creature attacks, but doesn’t say anything about it ending upon being damaged).

  2. Nathan Brown

    Have you considered adding it to the divine casters’ spell lists (cleric, druid, etc.)? It would allow a melee cleric to bonus action ‘Healing Word’ on a dying/critically injured ranged ally and then ‘Blade Ward’, instead of having to disengage/risk an opportunity attack (or several) in order to save them via a touch heal or ‘spare the dying’…

    Still not terribly useful (nor an optimal cantrip choice), but more so than as an arcane only spell.

  3. Nathan Brown

    I also like the idea of making it a reaction, kind of like the ‘Shield’ spell. It would become almost a must-have cantrip though, especially when creating a level 1 wizard… half damage on any hit you take sounds amazing with 8-10 hp and AC something like a 12 😛

    • duncan

      Hi Nathan

      As I just wrote in another comment once you make this cantrip a reaction, you’re essentially giving anyone and everyone Uncanny Dodge (either via a level of wizard etc. or even just through the Magic Initiate feat).

      Maybe if you use my Remix 2 and alter it a little it’s not too OP’ed. Although the logic of being able to use a warding sigil so fast is a bit of a disconnect for me…

      BLADE WARD
      Abjuration cantrip

      Casting Time: 1 reaction, which you take when you are hit by a weapon attack.
      Range: Self
      Components: V, S
      Duration: Instantaneous

      You extend your hand and trace a sigil of warding against a weapon attack that hits you. You subtract 1d4 from the attack’s damage. The spell’s protective power increases as you gain levels, and at 5th level you subtract 2d4 damage, at 11th level 3d4 damage, and at 17th level 4d4 damage.

      ALTERNATIVELY…. maybe you cast it as a bonus action, but it’s triggered using your reaction. This could actually be the right cost for the reward…

      BLADE WARD
      Abjuration cantrip

      Casting Time: 1 bonus action
      Range: Self
      Components: V, S
      Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

      You extend your hand and trace a sigil of warding that creates a shimmering aura around you. When you are hit by a weapon attack, you may use your reaction to focus the aura’s protective power. You subtract 1d4 from the weapon’s damage, and the aura is destroyed.
      The spell’s protective power increases as you gain levels, and at 5th level you subtract 2d4 damage, at 11th level 3d4 damage, and at 17th level 4d4 damage.

      Need to give it more consideration, but so far that feels balanced to me… it’s good enough for wizards to take, certainly, as a unlimited resource protection device. But not so good that arcane / martial classes will spam it, as they will be giving up other options to do so.

      • Dennis

        RAW cast as a bonus action but triggered using your reaction could only be cast if you’re hit by an opportunity attack (or equivalent) and haven’t used your bonus action yet.

        If you get hit on somebody else’s turn you can react but don’t have a bonus action to cast it. On your turn you have the bonus action, but the only way the for the triggering event to occur during your turn is if you’re hit by an opportunity attack or equivalent. This would be a rare enough to render the cantrip worthless.

        • duncan

          The intention is that you cast it during your turn, summoning the protective aura. The aura then works when you are hit by a melee attack anytime in the next minute (assuming you were able to maintain concentration), using your reaction on that turn.

          In other words it would still be handy in particular for a wizard with little options for their bonus action to cast this version of Blade Ward as a precaution against being hit at some point in the combat (they’re probably not on the front lines), increasing their durability slightly.

          This Remix is for anyone who was worried the other bonus action versions of this spell are overpowered, as it requires bonus action + reaction (which is still cheaper than an action).

      • Dennis

        I like the instantaneous version which reduces damage from one attack. As written it would be a good choice for gish characters.

        Maybe add spell casting ability modifier to the damage reduction? As discussed in other comments it’ll be more useful to pure spell casters if it has a reasonable chance of reducing the damage the to 0 (so no concentration save). Or perhaps this should be a separate cantrip that requires a full action to cast and reduces damage of the first hit before caster’s next turn.

  4. PK

    Hi Duncan,

    A cantrip giving damage resistance via bonus action casting – to me – is unbalanced. If this were the case most Eldritch Knights, Hexblade Warlocks, Paladins, Rangers, et al would be casting it nearly every round.

    Keeping a casting time of 1 action leaves the cantrip in the domain of the spell casters (not fighters) whom need to find some utility for it…

    And I think this can be achieved when one considers concentration on a big spell.

    For spell casters damage resistance falls flat as it doesn’t stop the caster from having to make a Concentration Save (DC 10) on every hit. Fix this to fix the spell.

    I suggest a tweak where the spell has a static damage reduction mechanic, akin to the Heavy Armour Master feat. Rework to make it casting ability dependent, and give it some scalability for levels 5, 11, and 17 so it maintains relevance.


    Blade Ward
    Casting Time: 1 action
    Range: Self
    Components: V, S
    Duration: 1 round

    You extend your hand and trace a sigil of warding in the air. Until the end of your next turn, damage from bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing weapons is reduced by a 2 + your spell ability modifier.
    At 5th level the base damage reduced before you add your spell ability modifier becomes 5 hp, at 11th level it becomes 8 hp, and 17th level 12 hp.


    Design Notes:
    – it doesn’t require concentration itself – so you can cast it while concentrating.
    – it can help save a caste’s concentration now by stopping the smaller hits entirely
    – provides utility to casters, but only when they have no other significant spell.
    – base reduction hp values (1, 4, 7, 10) need play testing but feel about right. At levels expect it would look something like this for most primary casters:
    1st = 5-6 hp
    5th = 8-9 hp
    11th = 12-13 hp
    17th = 16-17 hp
    – Although similar to the dice chain approach in II above (d4, 2d4, 3d4, 4d4) I think rolling dice outside your turn will slow the game round down even more.

    • duncan

      Hi PK

      Ok, what you’re building is a spell that’s useful to caster AFTER they’ve cast a concentration spell, and they just want to protect themselves to maintain concentration.

      So it needs to be better than Dodge basically (ideally it should also be a better strategy than just Dashing behind total cover, or using their action to cast firebolt and take something down!).

      I agree then that being able to reduce some damage to 0 is what’s required, preventing those pesky concentration saving throws, and I think you’ve achieved that with your Remix!

      It’s still a pretty niche cantrip… but now it’s one that would see the light of day at least. And a good option for a wizard with a poor AC (where Dodge might not help much, as disadvantage wouldn’t stack the odds too heavily in the wizard’s favour anyway).

      By the way, the dice rolling I suggest I think would be fine for my remix because it’s just against one hit, but in your Remix I think the flat damage you go with is better, because you’ve kept hte casting time as an action and the duration 1 round (not one hit), so yes we don’t want to slow down combat for multiple dice rolls out of turn.

      Also, I totally agree bonus action shouldn’t grant resistance (that’s why I went for a bonus action spell that offers damage reduction on 1 hit only).

      • Rick Coen

        I think of all the options posted, this is probably the best. MY first shot at a remix was “cast as is, or cast as reaction vs. 1 attack”. But I didn’t think about other classes taking advantage of that.

        Having recently played a Sorcerer with Quicken Spell, I am more aware of the usefulness of Bonus Action spells. I’d rather see this be a full Action, but one that is worth – as Duncan says – the opportunity cost of NOT dodging, running, or blasting away with firebolt.

        I will point out another comparison point though – the Warlock Invocation of Fiendish Vigor. Spend an ACTION to get d4+spellmod temp hp, at will. Compare this against any design that applies DR.

        • PK

          Hi Rick,

          Thanks for your feedback, its muchly appreciated.

          Personally I play lots of Warlocks – and fiendish vigor is a go to favourite for me when I play a Warlock because it helps with the concentration. Doubly so if you don’t have medium armour prof. But by about 4th level I am usually swapping it out.

          Your point about a Sorcerer quickening the cantrip (to make it a bonus action) is a loop hole that I would exploit too – I guess I feel that Sorcerer needs all the help it can get. But the new meta-magic feats will let any one take it.

          cheers

  5. Tyler H

    My Blade Ward change is this:

    Can be cast as a Bonus Action after using the Attack action on your turn, but you suffer disadvantage on your attack rolls for the duration.

    • duncan

      hey Tyler

      Ok, so you attack as normal, cast Blade Ward as a bonus action, gaining resistance to bludgeoning etc etc in the process, until the end of your next turn. And then next turn you have disadvantage on your own attack rolls.

      I guess then it’s for a melee spellcaster who is planning to retreat or cast a spell on their next turn?

      Have you playtested this? Seems powerful, but I quite like the strategic forethought or idea of a melee caster protecting themselves as they prepare to cast a spell…. I just wonder if that’s too generous for a cantrip! Would be interesting to know if this has seen action on a gaming table and how it went….

      Cheers!

      duncan

      • Tyler H

        Only tested it a little, with a level 4 hexblade using it some. Nothing has broken yet.

        They also use my change to True Strike if you’re curious. I add the following text to the end of True Strike:

        If the attack hits, it deals an additional 1d6 damage (2d6 at 5th level, 3d6 at 11th level, 4d6 at 17th level).

        • duncan

          Hi Tyler

          Yeah True Strike needs a remix for sure… but even with the extra damage you’re giving it, I’m struggling to see why it would be worth it.

          I would rather attack twice, especially if I get multiple attacks, than give up my action to attack once with advantage, and the extra d6 isn’t going to swing the maths to make it worthwhile in most cases (except possibly against very high ACs). Maybe as an ambush tactic before combat starts, although the spell’s range isn’t great (and you would get advantage from being hidden in the case of an ambush anyway… but the extra d6 is nice in this case).

          In general it’s just not fun to give up your action for something that does nothing that round… bonus action to give a d4 extra attack OR damage modifier kind of makes sense, although probably makes it a little too good.

          • Rick Coen

            I think this remix (True Strike) has its situational place, though. An Arcane Trickster might really enjoy the option to have advantage next round while he move into position (or out of danger) this round, gaining Sneak Attack and extra damage (that might also be multiplied by a crit). He never gets Extra Attack anyway. And at just 5th level, getting an extra 2d6 on a single strike isn’t too bad – roughly the same as that d8+4 rapier strike would have been [assuming your Bonus action was spent on something like Cunning Move]. Might not be key for an Eldritch Knight, but there *are* other casters out there. [Plus Magic Initiate options.]

            Having it be a Bonus Action treads on the War Cleric’s class power.

            I almost would have it increase crit range by 1 too, but I’m sure *that* would play out as way more powerful than it looks on paper, especially combined with Advantage…

          • Tyler H

            It can be powerful to use right before a turn in which the player anticipates casting a powerful spell that requires an attack roll. The advantage grants more chance the spent spell slot will be worth it, and the turn spent casting True Strike can end up equaling a turn spent casting a damaging cantrip.

  6. Vesper

    I’m actually kind of tempted by the dodge version, but would add one important caveat: It only works if you have not made more than one attack or cast more than one spell that turn.

  7. jin

    I love the idea of concentration and bonus action to cast, but I think the duration of 1 minute is too long.

    I would change it to 1 round and all non magical attacks for 1 round while maintaining concentration on each attack. if you attacked multiple times per round you have to maintain concentration after each hit. ie you get hit, you subtract d4 then roll for concentration, the next hit comes again repeat. eg fighter with a greatsword hits wizard- 2d6+3 rolls a 2+4+3=9 extra attack rolls an 11, blade ward does -1d4 rolls a 3, and you would have to roll after each attack a DC 10 or half if damage is higher to maintain. wizard rolls a 12 concentration is maintained. thus not overpowering it too much. must be cast each round to limit mixing use of other bonus actions.

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