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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12 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.

  5. Art Hodgson

    I’m not up on 5th Ed, but isn’t a turn 10 rounds? Call lightning is great for obliterating a fortress, but it’s not a useful combat spell, as you will probably only get one blast in before the fight is over. A bolt every single round would be ridiculously broken.

    • duncan

      Hi Art

      No, 1 turn equalling 10 rounds is something from previous editions (AD&D or 2nd!), when a round was a minute and a turn by extension 10 minutes.

      In 5th edition a round is the period of time in which everyone in combat gets to act once (usually considered 6 seconds). And a turn refers to the time within the round when a certain person acts.

      “In D&D 5e, a turn has the same meaning as it does in a card game or similar: a PC gets their turn to do something within the round. It is not a measure of time, but of opportunity to take actions.”

      https://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/79136/what-are-turns-and-rounds-and-how-long-are-they-each

      So yes it’s a bolt a round and very powerful… not quite broken maybe given the spell’s limitations and the fact that concentration must be maintained. But overpowered let’s say!

  6. Clarus Nox

    Found this place by sheer chance while looking up fun gimmics people have come up with by combining tidal wave and call lightning. [turns out none :\]

    I have to agree that the fault is not the on spell but the gm and [no offense] you. You think the spell is too safe and do nothing with it but stand in the back.

    I love this spell and play the unconventional melee caster with a druid using quickened primal savagery and call lightning. Run up to bad guy call down the wrath of nature just behind the target to avoid the splash followed by my own. Or if feeling cheeky; I call the lightning down on both the target and myself, use absorb elements to half the damage and give my 2d10 acid swipes an additional 1d6 lightning.

    My gm has just had a dryad gift me a broach that lets me be immune to lightning.

    Rather than complain about how boring or powerful a spell is in it’s ideal bubble, try to think outside the box and find ways to increase the risk yourself. It sounds like a truly wasted opportunity to go all Thor with your self proclaimed demi god tempest cleric… Instead it sounds like you immediately dropped the melee theme you had set up for the safest role of a backline blaster…

    Fault also falls on the gm for not putting pressure on you if you could safely do that, especially to the point of it becoming monotonous.

    The spell is certainly not overpowered.
    The limitations;
    -The spell can only be gained 1 of 2 ways. Be a druid or a tempest cleric specifically; neither of which gain access to the more versatile and powerful offense 3rd lv spells.
    -The spell cant be used indoors. Even if you are in a house in the middle of nowhere, you still have to go outside to use it because what is directly over your head interrupts the initial casting.
    –The darkness spell also stops this spell from being cast because you have to be able to see the location above you. Which means if you don’t got darkvision and it is a cloudy moonless night, guess what you ain’t casting? Thick forest canopy? Can’t cast.
    -It takes an action each turn to trigger. Normally these kinds of spells use a bonus action for subsequent turns.[IE Heat Metal] As a melee cleric, spirit guardians would be far more powerful for you. I really don’t see how you can call this spell overpowered, at least not outside it’s ideal bubble. Which pretty a mass majority of spells become in their own respective ideal bubbles.

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