Hipsters & Dragons

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Call Lightning is Really Boring… Here’s How To Fix It!

My second ever 5e character was a tempest cleric called Jaxx Storm. Safely floating to shore in a barrel as a baby, after his boat was shipwrecked, he believed himself to be the son of Shaundakul, and had an attitude to match his (self-declared) demi-god status. I had a lot of fun playing him, as he was pretty versatile. I could switch between being pretty handy in melee (I enjoyed knocking people over with my shield – using Shieldmaster feat – and then smashing them with my morning star) and casting utility spells, and I never tired of unleashing wrath of the storm (p.62, Player’s Handbook) on my opponents.

However, as I played through levels 1-4, what I was really looking forward to was reaching 5th level and getting my hands on call lightning. When that happened my PC became a lot more powerful, as I had expected, but sadly he also became a lot less fun to play…

Call Lightning

3rd level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes

A storm cloud appears in the shape of a cylinder that is 10 feet tall with a 60-foot radius, centered on a point you can see 100 feet directly above you. The spell fails if you can’t see a point in the air where the storm cloud could appear (for example, if you are in a room that can’t accommodate the cloud).

When you cast the spell, choose a point you can see within range. A bolt of lightning flashes down from the cloud to that point. Each creature within 5 feet of that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 3d10 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. On each of your turns until the spell ends, you can use your action to call down lightning in this way again, targeting the same point or a different one.

If you are outdoors in stormy conditions when you cast this spell, the spell gives you control over the existing storm instead of creating a new one. Under such conditions, the spell’s damage increases by 1d10.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher level, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 3rd.

Bring the storm!

Looks Great… So What’s The Problem?

The problem with this spell is that a) it’s too good – it does significantly more damage than a cleric’s melee attacks and other spell options at 5th level, and b) it goes on forever. The result was that I ended up using call lightning every time we entered a major combat. And so, instead of getting involved in the fight, I just hung around at the back of the battle doing the same thing every turn… another 3d10 damage. This, it turns out, is really f*cking boring!

Given that you could theoretically keep on casting call lightning for 100 turns of combat, hitting maybe two foes on average, you could potentially end up doing around 600 x d10 (3300) hit points of damage using just one third level spell slot. In practice this is rarely going to happen, but a cleric of the tempest or a druid taking cover behind a battlement could swing a long battle single-handedly with just this one spell, making it ridiculously overpowered in certain circumstances.

That’s another reason why I’m tempted to tinker with this one…

Hipster’s Fix

How can we solve these issues neatly, without nerfing the spell? My suggestion is that after initially casting the spell and calling down your first bolt, at the start of each subsequent turn you must roll a d6. On a 5 or 6, the storm cloud you have conjured has recharged and you can unleash another bolt on your foes. On a 1-4 it keeps brewing, meaning you can’t use it this turn – however for each turn the storm brews you can add an extra d10 damage when you next are able to call down a bolt.

This adds a really fun random twist to proceedings. In two out of three rounds you’ll have to find something else to do, maybe joining melee or casting another (non concentration) spell. But when the 5 or 6 turns up the fun factor of bringing down another lightning bolt returns… especially fun if it has charged up to 4, 5, 6 or god knows how many d10s of damage.

By both reducing the number of times it can be used, and by increasing the likelihood of the caster losing concentration (as they won’t want to spend their time taking cover and doing nothing on the rounds it doesn’t recharge), this fix also balances the spell quite nicely, I believe.

Sadly Jaxx Storm is in retirement right now, so please get back to me if you have a chance to implement this fix in your game… just leave a comment below!

For more spell discussions check out these posts on why hypnotic pattern is too good, why fireball is so much better than lightning bolt, and dealing with banishment. There’s usually some good reader comments as well.

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9 Comments

  1. I get that call lightning can seem overpowered but I think that if you find yourself sitting back in every combat scenario calling lightning it is at the fault of your DM, not the spell.

    Making sure you are adapting to your players strengths and weaknesses is how the game continues to be interesting and doesn’t break like some early 2000’s RPG (looking at you Oblivion).

    Luring your players into ambushes, flanking them, using flying enemies or switching up the terrain would all be ways to make sure your heavy hitting spell casters aren’t able to sit back and dish out pain every round.

    • Necrope

      Yeah, if you have a DM letting you use a lot of concentration spells at the safety of the back in every encounter, he really isn’t setting up any interesting or challenging encounters.

    • duncan

      I think that’s a fair enough point, but then again it’s not always realistic to face fellow casters, foes with ranged weapons or multiple foes that can sneak around the back.

      I also feel when too much onus is on the DM to work around problematic spells, then maybe it’s easier to fix or ditch the spell.

      Let’s think about it another way… if Call of Lightning didn’t already exist in D&D lore, do you think they’d design a similar spell now? Given the lack of spells that work in this vein, I’d say it’s highly unlikely.

  2. Z

    Been toying with creating a tuning fork that harnesses this primal energy. Added some conditions to the over control of it. I’d appreciate any comments or thoughts on this version of it. 🙂

    https://www.dndbeyond.com/magic-items/750482-tuning-fork-of-call-lightning

    • duncan

      Hmmm, maybe I’m reading it wrong, but it seems to vastly exacerbate the things I don’t like about Call Lightning… the near ad infinitum damage dealing, now even after concentration loss. Plus, again after concentration loss, instead of stopping it continues with a vastly increased area of effect (albeit in a way that doesn’t distinguish from friend and foe… I guess that bit was intentional!?).

  3. HM

    Call Lightning already has a massive restriction – it can only be used if there is room for the storm (a height of 100 feet and a 120 foot diameter) and you can see a point 100 feet above you. If your DM is allowing unrestricted use of it, that’s on the DM, not the spell. Further weakening it is undercutting what should be a thematic spell for the character (in the same way that fireball is thematic for a wizard).

    • duncan

      This post is about how boring the spell is – from the perspective of someone who actually has it – more than how overpowered it is. My amended version is about bringing some fun back into a really dull spell.

      Having said, I do believe in weakening thematic spells if they unbalance the game. I don’t care much about sentiment if something is overperforming vs. other abilities, ruining the enjoyment of those other abilities or rendering other spells pointless.

      For example:

      https://www.hipstersanddragons.com/fireball-vs-lightning-bolt-spells-5e/

  4. JF

    My druid is currently level 11 and I would kill for a fight like the ones you’re describing!

    Every time I cast Call Lightning (usually on round 1), the fight never seems to last more than 3-4 rounds. I’ve been dying for the DM to set up a fight that lasts for a minute or longer, so I can make full use of the spell’s longevity. But that’s the fun part of playing a druid for me: it’s often not as flashy, but the spells have long-term effects.

    I used to think Storm of Vengeance was terrible for a 9th level spell, but someone pointed out that it can wipe out an entire army of low-level minions more effectively than even Meteor Swarm.

    Making a 3rd level spell unpredictable on a 5-6 Recharge would stop it from filling this “longevity” niche and would make me not want to take it — but then again, I like knowing that I can use something consistently.

    I can see the issue with it being boring, and putting it on a Recharge would allow for more flexibility. The “fire and forget” mindset is cool, but how about not requiring an action to call down subsequent bolts, or making it a bonus action like Spiritual Weapon? A bolt would just have a 33% chance of happening every turn after the casting turn. That way, the druid (or tempest cleric) can keep doing other stuff, and the spell can be a fun bonus that turn, rather than derailing their ongoing tactics.

    • duncan

      I really like the idea of it being a bonus action to call forth on subsequent turns… could possibly make it overpowered, on the other hand, if it means the druid/cleric is out and about on the battlefield, doing stuff, then they will lose concentration a lot faster than if they hang around at the back under cover, so it could work. It makes it a better spell for a shorter time effectively, which is a good fix. I would add the limitation that it still counts as casting a spell, so the druid/cleric can only can use their main action for melee or cantrips.

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