Scaling Spells (5e Variant Rule)

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Scaling Spells[edit]

5e's logic around magic has one major flaw a lot of people have noticed. Cantrips scale with level, but nothing else other than proficiency bonus and hit points does. Even though upcasting spells with higher level spell slots is a great option, several low-level combat spells are just outpaced by cantrips at later levels. As an example, Inflict Wounds, a 1st-level spell, and Toll the Dead, a cantrip, are both on the Cleric spell list. However, by character level 11, Toll the Dead deals 3d8 or 3d12 necrotic damage at a range of 60 feet while a 1st-level casting of Inflict Wounds still deals 3d10 necrotic damage on a touch. This is exacerbated at level 17, when Toll the Dead deals 4d8 or 4d12. While this wouldn't be a problem if these both required resources, but cantrips are at-will abilities. It's clear how this becomes unbalanced.

So, this rule aims to allow non-cantrips to scale. Following rules as written, this variant rule scales along with your total character level. However, if you would like more of a difference between low-level and high-level spellcasters, you can choose to use this scaling based on total spellcaster level (half the level of half-casters, like Paladins and Rangers, and one-third the level of third-casters, like Arcane Tricksters and Eldritch Knights; for ease, round up to the nearest whole number).

How Spells Scale[edit]

Spells of 1st-level and higher scale along a trajectory similar to cantrips based on level. Whenever a spell scales, if it deals damage, restores hit points, or grants temporary hit points, you roll one additional die for each time the spell has scaled. If it is a non-combat spell that targets individuals (such as Charm Person), you can target an additional target for each time the spell has scaled. This keeps a level 1 spellcaster's 1st-level spells weaker than say a level 11 spellcaster's 1st-level spells.

Spell Scaling by Level[edit]
Spell Level Character Level Scaling
1st 5th (+1), 11th (+2), 17th (+3)
2nd 7th (+1), 13th (+2), 19th (+3)
3rd 9th (+1), 15th (+2)
4th 11th (+1), 17th (+2)
5th 13th (+1), 19th (+2)
6th 15th (+1)
7th 17th (+1)
8th 19th (+1)
9th N/A

Below is listed an example of a spell that scales with level for each spell level:

Example Spell Escalations[edit]
Spell Level Example Spell
1st Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Burning Hands, the damage it deals increases by 1d6 at 5th level (4d6), 11th level (5d6), and 17th level (6d6).
2nd Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Cloud of Daggers, the damage it deals increases by 1d4 at 7th level (5d4), 13th level (6d4), and 19th level (7d4).
3rd Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Fireball, the damage it deals increases by 1d6 at 9th level (9d6) and 15th level (10d6).
4th Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Phantasmal Killer, the damage it deals increases by 1d10 at 11th level (5d10) and 17th level (6d10).
5th Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Mass Cure Wounds, the healing it grants increases by 1d8 at 13th level (4d8) and 19th level (5d8).
6th Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Chain Lightning, the damage it deals increases by 1d8 at 15th level (11d8).
7th Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Resurrection, you can target up to one additional dead creature at 17th level (2 dead creatures).
8th Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Dark Star, the damage it deals increases by 1d10 at 19th level (9d10).

The followings spells don't scale according to these rules (or shouldn't, if you want to maintain some amount of balance):

Spells that Don't Scale[edit]
Spell Level Spells
1st Alarm, Armor of Agathys, Ceremony, Comprehend Languages, Create or Destroy Water, Detect Evil and Good, Detect Magic, Detect Poison and Disease, Disguise Self, Distort Value, Entangle, Expeditious Retreat, Faerie Fire, Find Familiar, Fog Cloud, Gift of Alacrity, Grease, Identify, Illusory Script, Mage Armor, Shield, Silent Image, Snare, Speak with Animals, Tenser's Floating Disk
2nd Alter Self, Augury, Beast Sense, Blur, Calm Emotions, Darkness, Find Steed, Find Traps, Fortune's Favor, Gift of Gab, Gust of Wind, Jim's Glowing Coin, Magic Mouth, Misty Step, Nystul's Magic Aura, Pass without Trace, Pyrotechnics, Rope Trick, See Invisibility, Silence, Skywrite, Summon Beast, Warding Wind, Web, Wristpocket, Zone of Truth
3rd Beacon of Hope, Bestow Curse, Blink, Catnap, Clairvoyance, Conjure Animals, Counterspell, Create Food and Water, Daylight, Dispel Magic, Enemies Abound, Fear, Glyph of Warding, Hypnotic Pattern, Incite Greed, Leomund's Tiny Hut, Life Transference, Magic Circle, Major Image, Meld into Stone, Phantom Steed, Plant Growth, Remove Curse, Sleet Storm, Speak with Plants, Stinking Cloud, Summon Fey, Summon Lesser Demons, Summon Shadowspawn, Summon Undead, Wall of Sand, Wall of Water
4th Arcane Eye, Aura of Life, Aura of Purity, Conjure Minor Elementals, Conjure Woodland Beings, Dimension Door, Divination, Fabricate, Find Greater Steed, Giant Insect, Grasping Vine, Hallucinatory Terrain, Leomund's Secret Chest, Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum, Otiluke's Resilient Sphere, Stone Shape, Summon Aberration, Summon Construct, Summon Elemental, Summon Greater Demon, Watery Sphere
5th Antilife Shell, Circle of Power, Commune, Commune with Nature, Conjure Elemental, Contact Other Plane, Control Wind, Creation, Dispel Evil and Good, Dream, Far Step, Hallow, Infernal Calling, Legend Lore, Mislead, Passwall, Planar Binding, Scrying, Seeming, Summon Celestial, Swift Quiver, Telekinesis, Teleportation Circle, Temporal Shunt, Transmute Rock, Tree Stride, Wall of Force
6th Arcane Gate, Conjure Fey, Contingency, Create Homunculus, Drawmij's Instant Summons, Druid Grove, Find the Path, Globe of Invulnerability, Guard and Wards, Magic Jar, Move Earth, Planar Ally, Primordial Ward, Programmed Illusion, Summon Fiend, Transport Via Plants, True Sight
7th Conjure Celestial, Create Magen, Dream of the Blue Veil, Etherealness, Forcecage, Mirage Arcane, Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion, Project Image, Reverse Gravity, Sequester, Simulacrum, Symbol, Temple of the Gods
8th Animal Shapes, Antimagic Field, Control Weather, Demiplane, Glibness, Holy Aura, Mighty Fortress, Tsunami

While this ruling can apply to most spells that will scale, some spells stray from this mold. The section below notes exceptions.

Spells with Abnormal Scaling[edit]

1st-Level Spells[edit]
  • Chaos Bolt: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Chaos Bolt, the damage it deals increases by 1d6 at 5th level (2d8+2d6), 11th level (2d8+3d6), and 17th level (2d8+4d6).
  • Color Spray: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Color Spray, the dice it rolls increases by 1d10 at 5th level (7d10), 11th level (8d10), and 17th level (9d10).
  • Goodberry: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Goodberry, the number of berries it produces increases by 5 at 5th level (15), 11th level (20), and 17th level (25).
  • Heroism: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Heroism, the number of creatures it targets increases by up to one at 5th level (2), 11th level (3), and 17th level (4).
  • Hex: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Hex, the damage it deals increases by 1d6 at 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).
  • Hunter's Mark: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Hunter's Mark, the damage it deals increases by 1d6 at 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).
  • Magic Missile: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Magic Missile, the number of missiles it creates increases by 1 at 5th level (4), 11th level (5), and 17th level (6).
  • Purify Food and Drink: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Purify Food and Drink, the radius increases by 5 feet at 5th level (10 ft.), 11th level (15 ft.), and 17th level (20 ft.).
  • Searing Smite: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Searing Smite, the damage it deals at the start of each of the target's turns increases by 1d6 at 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).
  • Sleep: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Sleep, the dice it rolls increases by 1d8 at 5th level (6d8), 11th level (7d8), and 17th level (8d8).
  • Unseen Servant: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Unseen Servant, the number of servants it creates increases by up to one at 5th level (2), 11th level (3), and 17th level (4).
  • Witch Bolt: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Witch Bolt, the damage it deals over time as an action increases by 1d12 at 5th level (2d12), 11th level (3d12), and 17th level (4d12).
2nd-Level Spells[edit]
  • Aid: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Aid, the additional hit points it grants increases by 5 at 7th level (10), 13th level (15), and 19th level (20).
  • Continual Flame: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Continual Flame, the number of flames it creates increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4).
  • Crown of Madness: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Crown of Madness, the number of creatures it targets increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4). You only need to use one action to maintain control over each target still affected by the spell.
  • Enhance Ability: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Enhance Ability, the number of creatures it targets increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4). You can choose which benefit each target receives.
  • Enlarge/Reduce: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Enlarge/Reduce, the number of creatures it targets increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4). You can choose which version of the spell, Enlarge or Reduce, each target receives.
  • Lesser Restoration: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Lesser Restoration, the number of diseases or condition it nullifies on the same creature increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4).
  • Locate Animals or Plants: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Locate Animals or Plants, the number of kinds of beasts or plants it targets increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4). If you can choose two or more types, they can be beast or plant. They need not be of the same creature type.
  • Locate Objects: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Locate Objects, the number of kinds of objects it targets increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4).
  • Magic Weapon: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Magic Weapon, the number of weapons it targets increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4).
  • Melf's Acid Arrow: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Melf's Acid Arrow, the damage it deals (both initial and later) increases by 1d4 at 7th level (5d4/3d4), 13th level (6d4/4d4), and 19th level (7d4/5d4).
  • Mirror Image: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Mirror Image, the number of duplicates it creates increases by one at 7th level (4), 13th level (5), and 19th level (6). If you have six duplicates, you automatically change the attack's target to a duplicate. With five duplicates, you must roll a 2 or higher. With four duplicates, you must roll an 4 or higher.
  • Phantasmal Force: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Phantasmal Force, the damage it deals increases by 16 at 7th level (2d6), 13th level (3d6), and 19th level (4d6).
  • Prayer of Healing: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Prayer of Healing, the range, number of creatures it targets, and healing it grants increases by 30 feet/up to one creature/1d8 at 7th level (60 ft./7 creatures/3d8), 13th level (90 ft./8 creatures/4d8), and 19th level (120 ft./9 creatures/5d8).
  • Scorching Ray: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Scorching Ray, the damage each ray deals increases by 1d6 at 7th level (3d6), 13th level (4d6), and 19th level (5d6).
  • Warding Bond: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Warding Bond, the number of targets increases by up to one at 7th level (2), 13th level (3), and 19th level (4). Each target must be wearing a ring that serves as the material component.
3rd-Level Spells[edit]
  • Elemental Weapon: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Elemental Weapon, the number of weapons it targets increases by up to one at 9th level (2) and 15th level (3).
  • Melf's Minute Meteors: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Melf's Minute Meteors, the damage each meteor deals increases by 1d6 at 9th level (3d6) and 15th level (4d6).
  • Motivational Speech: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Motivational Speech, the number of creatures it targets increases by up to one at 9th level (6) and 15th level (7).
  • Protection from Energy: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Protection from Energy, the number of resistances it grants a creature increases by up to one at 9th level (2) and 15th level (3). You can choose to grant fewer than the maximum number of resistances, but you can't grant the same resistance twice.
  • Sending: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Sending, the number of messages you can send with it increases by up to one at 9th level (2) and 15th level (3). The messages can have the same meaning or different meanings and can have the same or different targets. Each target can respond to each message individually, but the messages must be sent within 10 minutes of the original message.
  • Speak with Dead: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Speak with Dead, the number of questions you can ask with it increases by up to one at 9th level (6) and 15th level (7).
  • Thunder Step: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Thunder Step, the damage it deals increases by 1d10 at 9th level (4d10) and 15th level (5d10).
4th-Level Spells[edit]
  • Control Water: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Control Water, the bludgeoning damage the vortex option deals increases by 1d8 at 11th level (3d8) and 17th level (4d8).
  • Elemental Bane: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Elemental Bane, the extra damage the target takes increases by 1d6 at 11th level (3d6) and 17th level (4d6).
  • Guardian of Faith: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Guardian of Faith, the damage the spell deals on a failed save increases by 5, and the maximum damage it can deal increases by 15 at 11th level (25/75) and 17th level (30/90).
  • Guardian of Nature: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Guardian of Nature, the force damage the primal beast option deals increases by 1d6 at 11th level (2d6) and 17th level (3d6).
  • Ice Storm: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Ice Storm, the cold damage it deals increases by 1d6 at 11th level (5d6) and 17th level (6d6).
  • Locate Creature: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Locate Creature, the number of creatures it targets increases by up to one at 11th level (2) and 17th level (3).
  • Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound, the piercing damage it deals increases by 1d8 at 11th level (5d8) and 17th level (6d8).
  • Storm Sphere: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Storm Sphere, the bludgeoning and lightning damage it deals each increase by 1d6 at 11th level (3d6/5d6) and 17th level (4d6/6d6).
  • Vitriolic Sphere: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Vitriolic Sphere, the damage it deals (both initial and later) increases by 1d4 at 11th level (11d4/6d4) and 17th level (12d4/7d4).
5th-Level Spells[edit]
  • Bigby's Hand: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Bigby's Hand, the damage the clenched fist option deals increases by 1d8, and the damage the grasping hand option deals increases by 1d6 at 13th level (5d8/3d6) and 19th level (6d8/4d6).
  • Contagion: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Contagion, a creature must fail one less saving throw to be affected at 13th level (2 failures) and 19th level (1 failure).
  • Destructive Wave: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Destructive Wave, the necrotic or radiant damage it deals increases by 1d6 at 13th level (6d6) and 17th level (7d6).
  • Flame Strike: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Flame Strike, one damage type it deals increases by 1d6 at 13th level (5d6) and 17th level (6d6). You choose the damage type that increases each time you cast the spell.
  • Greater Restoration: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Greater Restoration, the number of levels of exhaustion or effects it nullifies on the same creature increases by up to one at 13th level (2) and 19th level (3).
  • Rary's Telepathic Bond: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Rary's Telepathic Bond, the number of creatures it targets increases by up to one at 13th level (9) and 19th level (10).
  • Wall of Stone: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Wall of Stone, each panel in the wall has its AC increased by 1 and its hit points increased by 10 at 13th level (16/40) ad 19th level (17/50).
  • Wrath of Nature: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Wrath of Nature, the damage the trees option deals increases by 1d6, and the damage the rocks option deals increases by 1d8 at 13th level (5d6/4d8) and 19th level (6d6/5d6).
6th-Level Spells[edit]
  • Bones of the Earth: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Bones of the Earth, the number of pillars it creates increases by two at 15th level (8).
  • Disintegrate: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Disintegrate, the damage it deals increases by 10 at 15th level (10d6+50).
  • Flesh to Stone: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Flesh to Stone, a creature must fail one less saving throw to be affected at 15th level (2 failures).
  • Heal: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Heal, the healing it grants increases by 10 at 15th level (80).
  • Heroes' Feast: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Heroes' Feast, the additional hit points it grants increases by 1d10 at 15th level (3d10).
  • Investiture of Fire: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Investiture of Fire, the damage dealt to creatures within 5 feet of you increases by 1d10, and the damage taken on a failed saving throw increases by 1d8 at 15th level (2d10/5d8).
  • Mental Prison: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Mental Prison, the damage dealt increases by 1d10 at 15th level (6d10).
  • Soul Cage: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Soul Cage, the number of times a soul can be exploited increases by one at 15th level (7).
  • Tasha's Otherworldly Guise: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Tasha's Otherworldly Guise, the AC bonus increases by +1 at 15th level (+3).
  • Tenser's Transformation: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Tenser's Transformation, the temporary hit points provided increases by 10, and the force damage dealt on a hit with a weapon attack increases by 1d12 at 15th level (60/3d12).
7th-Level Spells[edit]
  • Divine Word: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Divine Word, the current hit point threshold for each effect increases by 10 at 17th level (60/50/40/30).
  • Finger of Death: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Finger of Death, the damage it deals increases by 10 at 17th level (7d8+40).
  • Power Word Pain: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Power Word Pain, the current hit point threshold increases by 10 at 17th level (110).
  • Prismatic Spray: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Prismatic Spray, the damage dealt by the red, orange, yellow, green, and blue rays each increase by 1d6, and a creature must fail one less saving throw against the indigo ray to be affected at 17th level (11d6/2 fails).
  • Regenerate: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Regenerate, the healing each turn increases by 1 at 17th level (2).
8th-Level Spells[edit]
  • Antipathy/Sympathy: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Antipathy/Sympathy, you can target one additional kind of intelligent creature at 19th level (2).
  • Clone: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Clone, the spell creates an additional clone at 19th level (2).
  • Earthquake: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Earthquake, the spell creates an additional 1d6 fissures at 19th level (2d6).
  • Maze: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Maze, add your spellcasting modifier (minimum of +0) to the DC for the Intelligence check made to escape the maze at 19th level.
  • Power Word Stun: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Power Word Stun, the current hit point threshold increases by 15 at 19th level (165).
  • Reality Break: Despite what level spell slot is used to cast Reality Break, the damage for each effect increases by 1d12 at 19th level (7d12/9d12/11d12/11d12).

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