Dungeons and Dragons – Picking Your Spells
You’ve now figured out what type of spell caster you want to be, so you have to go through and pick your spells and there are a lot of them to choose from. Good news, I’m here to help talk you through what you might want to consider when picking spells.
In my opinion, the best starting point is to look and determine if your character is a “support” or “attacker” character. Now, It’s possible to be a blend of both, and even if you lean towards being a support character, you should have at least an attack spell option, and if you’re an attacker, you should have some more support style spells for non-combat situations. It’s very tempting to go all in on either side, but there will be times when you need the other spells.
For example, if you’re a support character and you’re in combat, you’re at the point where most of the party is down but the monster is mainly dead. If you take a good hit from the monster, you’re probably dead as well, and that would end the combat with you all losing the fight. You could get someone else back on their feet with a couple of hit points, but at this point in time, you’re more apt to survive an attack than they would be. Do you just do the support thing and heal someone, watch them get knocked out again, heal them again, and keep that up until you run out of spells? That doesn’t sound like that fun at the table, and it also doesn’t really sound like it’s going to win the combat for your adventuring party. So you can attack, but you didn’t take a good attack spell or any attack spells, so you’re kind of stuck just healing.
The big thing that’s happening in the scenario is that you’re creating a prolonged and possibly stalemated battle for a chunk of time. And while attacking might not be what your character would normally do, a good attack would potentially end that stalemate. But it’s going to cause people to have more fun at the table because it isn’t a cycle of revive, monster knocks out, revive, monster knocks out, and so on and so forth. Adding in attack spell doesn’t stop you from being mainly support, but it can keep the game moving and keep it more interesting. The same goes for the flip side, maybe you’re a fire wizard and you’re up against a dragon that is resistant to fire damage. First, your DM’s a bit of a jerk if it happens all the time, but now you’re out of combat, so what do you do? You can attack, but it won’t do as much, but if you had a support spell or two, you’d be able to still interact with the combat. Or, maybe you want to be the best in combat, why not have your signature attack spell(s) but then also have the ability to support yourself so that you can truly be the best in combat and not have to rely on others for that aid.
This is all good to think about when picking your spells, but not actually picking spells. Let’s go with a Wizard as an example like I did in a previous article on magic. Our Wizard is fairly smart, 16 intelligence, so we get start with 4 spells known and 3 cantrips at first level. We have 2 first level spell slots as well, and I want to be an attacking focused Wizard. I believe in calling down the powers of the elements to smite my enemies and I might like fire a bit too much.
When I’m looking at cantrips, I know for sure that I want to get at least one, if not two attacking cantrips out of the three. These, at low levels, are going to be my go to spells (and even at higher levels), so I want something that feels like a signature ability that I can theme my character off of, or that has fire, because I’m a pyro. So the first cantrip is going to be Fire Bolt, a good attack spell with really good range, 120 ft. That allows me, since I’m a wizard and am always going to have lower armor class and hit points, to be at a safe distance for attacking and not being attacked. The other attack one I’m going to take is Thunderclap, this one is a bit of a jerk spell, because it can hit my allies, but it’s an area of affect, so that is a nice way to hit a lot of creatures if need be. Finally, a utility cantrip of light, simple spell, even if I have darkvision, that doesn’t mean I can see in pitch black, so good utility for outside of combat. Now we’re onto the first level, and with four known spells at first level, I’m going to consider a couple more attack spells, but again, we’re a pretty quishy character, so I’m going to grab shield as a spell. That is going to help keep you up. Witch Bolt is a good ranged spell that does lightning damage. Longstrider is going to be my first enhancing spell for my abilities on the combat field with an extra 10 feet of movement. Magic Missile is then my final one, a spell that doesn’t do massive damage, but it will do consistent damage.
Let’s break down what I picked, I’ve already done some why. Thunderclap and Fire Bolt both give me consistent spells to attack with. Witch Bolt and Magic Missile give me damage when I need a boost of damage. Magic Missile is the consistent damage when I need to finish everything off. The damage ones are definitely the most obvious spells, the others are just fairly obvious, but what I’m trying to create with my attacking wizard is a situation where I can keep out of range, Longstrider, boost my armor class to avoid an attack as needed, Shield, and be able to see outside of combat or even in combat if I’m fighting something with truesight or blindsight. But with so few spell slots available to me, I’m not going to use the first level spells for attacks all that often, it’ll mainly be for shield and then I’ll use my cantrips for attacking. There is a downside for that because cantrips aren’t as good for attack spells, but with a fairly high intelligence, it helps out the odds.
And, I only picked 4 of my 7 spells as attack spells. But even with that, I have a variety of damage, thunder, fire, lightning, and force, so I can get around most damage reductions. And while Fire Bolt will be my signature, the others have good utility for combat. Thunderclap has an area of affect, Magic Missile will never miss, and Witch Bolt can hang around for a while and continue to do damage. When I get to hire levels, I already have picked some utility damage spells, so I can focus in on more fire damage because I know that is going to be my signature element, but I have enough that I can still be effective if fire isn’t.
And when picking utility spells, I looked, besides the cantrip, as to what can boost my effectiveness in combat. Sure, I might want to use magic missile a one of my first level spells, but Longstrider allows me to avoid, which, again, I’m squishy, cause I’m a Wizard, and Shield is there for the same reason. I can’t be an awesome fighter if I’m constantly getting knocked out. At higher levels I’ll be able to improve upon those options as well with spells like Blur which make me even harder to hit.
I can flip this as well, and while I’d probably still keep a spell like Fire Bolt and Magic Missile (it’s kind of a signature of Dungeons and Dragons for a spell), I’d focus more on what can help other people. Longstrider on a Dwarf would allow them to charge into combat faster. Though, a Wizard probably isn’t the best support class out there, they do have some decent options as you get into higher levels. A class like Cleric would give you more support options.
When picking spells do you pick a variety of them or do you really focus in on attack spells or support? Have you every made a mistake with the spells that you’ve picked? I guess, that’s the last bit to write about for me, the mistakes and what what can mean. In Season 2 of Dungeons and Flagons the wizard picked a lot of weird attack spells, but they are were all area of affect spells, so that meant with two melee characters rounding out the party, he was always, when attacking, going to do damage to them as well. So thinking through your spells is important.
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