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The spell call lightning has a part that reads

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.

A player tried to use this line which I considered to be flavor text to declare that an opposing NPC couldn't use call lightning to attack him because he already had "control over the existing storm" and that the enemy would have to wrest control of the storm from him. (DM allowed this as an arcana contest.)

Does the phrase actually have any meaning other than extra damage and flavor?

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It looks like you're asking about the strict rules by the book, rather than the ruling a DM might (or did) come up with; you might want to add the rules-as-written tag if so. – TuggyNE Mar 2 at 8:52
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This edited question remains an excellent question, and has inspired a separate question that I'll post on this same spell. (My latest cleric is a Tempest Cleric, so this spell is of interest to me). – KorvinStarmast Mar 2 at 20:39
up vote 20 down vote accepted

They only can't if 'control over the storm' is exclusive, which the text does not indicate in any way.

By a simple english reading, 'control over the storm' does not exclude others from also controlling the storm. Control is not an exclusive verb in english, although that's the more common usage.

In situations where a line like that implies an absolute control, it goes on to define the things you can do with your 'control over the storm', such as moving the clouds, water, etc. As it doesn't do that in this instance, while it is rules text, it does not preclude someone else from casting Call Lightning while under the influence of the same storm, neither does it allow the Call Lightning caster to move the clouds around, increase/lessen the rain, or anything else.

To further explain, 'control over' is only meaningful in DnD Rules-As-Written if what 'control over' does is meaningfully defined or has an extremely clear common-usage meaning (like 'swing a sword'). Since it isn't, you do have 'control over' but can't use it to do anything. If a different ability let you do to 'anything you magically control', say an ability meant to be used with Dominate Person and it's ilk, then you could use that ability and the line from Call Lightning together to do something (likely something silly). But as is, it doesn't actually allow you to do anything.

That specific situation, though, is the kind of thing that these games have a GM for - to apply sensible houserules to interesting or edge-case situations to help support the narrative structure of the game. Two storm-users struggling to control the storm and rain lightning on their foes is an extremely interesting thing to happen, moreso than simply casting a spell and dealing damage - and the player (intentionally or not) and the GM have added to the game by having that happen.

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Can two characters Call Lightning from the same storm? Yes.

Does the phrase actually have any meaning other than extra damage and flavor?

The phrase does exactly what it says.

There were stormy conditions, presumably because the player cast Call Lightning and created them. Then NPC casts Call Lightning which explicitly "gives control over the existing storm" to the NPC.

No problem so far: storm existed, NPC cast spell and gets control, gains 1d10 damage.

RAW summary: the spell says the caster (NPC) gains control of the existing storm, so the caster gains control of the existing storm.


Continuing onto the idea of an Arcane contest that your group introduced. To be clear, here we're going beyond RAW (because you did).

The contest shouldn't have been for the NPC to get control, it should have been to see if the player could continue calling lightning during subsequent rounds.

As above, the NPC's casting took control of the existing (player-generated) storm. Now you have to go into an analysis of whether that control is exclusive or not, as @JackLesnie ably describes. Suffice it to say that the rules don't contemplate this sort of thing; I think the on-the-fly call of an Arcana contest was awesome. (Seriously, when else are you going to see an Arcana contest? Wizard chess?)

It's just that the contest should have happened if/when the player tried to re-call lightning, and should have been proceeding from the assumption that the NPC--the latest Call Lightning caster--was "the one in control" with the player trying to wrest it back. (In this ruling the player could contest to get it for "free", or cast again to be assured of control and ratchet up the storm's strength another d10!)

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The question asks for RAW analysis, not good alternate ideas. – mxyzplk Mar 2 at 13:50
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@mxyzplk so I think my above-the-line section is an analysis of RAW, and below the line I've just commented on the non-RAW portion presented in the question. I'm no RAW expert, so I'd welcome your thoughts on how I've gotten it wrong/what's missing. – nitsua60 Mar 2 at 13:53

Rules as Written? Yes.

Use the game mechanic of Concentration to determine what 'control' of the storm means.

Concentration (Basic Rules p. 79-80)

Some spells require you to maintain concentration in order to keep their magic active. If you lose concentration, such a spell ends.

  1. Call Lightning requires concentration for up to 10 minutes after a storm cloud is summoned. A spell caster controls a storm that was formed by this spell as long as he concentrates on it. When concentration ends, the storm ends.

  2. For a natural storm outdoors (stormy weather), there is no obstacle to more than one spell caster calling down lightning from it (details below). Depending upon the situation, either Contest rules or Combining Magical Effects rules may need to be used. (see below).

    The distinction is based on the storm's formation. When a spell caster stops concentrating on the natural storm, the storm remains. A storm that was formed by the spell goes away when concentration ends. What is controlled by the spell in both cases is the lightning called down from the storm to strike targets.

    The short answer for Case 1 is that the rules for concentration render moot any contest for control of the conjured storm.

    The short answer for Case 2 is that the spell is irrelevant to the storm's existence. When a spell caster's concentration ends, the storm is still there. What has changed is that the spell caster no longer calls down lightning from the storm.

Discussion

Case 1. (There isn't a natural storm)

From the spell description, only the spell caster concentrating on the conjured storm calls down lightning from it while her concentration lasts. No provision is made for passing control of the storm to someone else, nor of passing concentration on a spell to another spell caster. (I did not find any spell in the books where one spell caster can pass concentration an a spell to another spell caster).

What is controlled? The spell caster control where the lightning strikes. By looking at this spell as a spell requiring concentration the issue of control doesn't arise in Case 1.

Does the conjured storm cloud move with the spell caster or not?
No, per Mike Mearls.

‏4 Dec 2015 @TheShieldComics
@mikemearls When call lightning is cast, does the storm follow the caster when he moves, staying centered directly on him?

11:13 AM - 4 Dec 2015 ‏@mikemearls
@TheShieldComics the storm does not move - > stays at its starting point

The point that another spell caster can't control someone else's conjured storm cloud is consistent with the absence of any rule to pass concentration on a spell from one caster to another. Control in case 1 isn't even contestable.

Bottom Line: this is a Concentration spell. At best, a second spell caster can break the first spell caster's concentration and end the spell.

Case 2. There's an actual storm, and two spell casters are outdoors.

Why is "control" mentioned in case 2? (Good question!) Case 2 mentions getting control of an existing {natural} storm cloud, rather than conjuring a storm that wasn't already there. It is used to call down lightning.

The original spell caster did not conjure an artificial storm cloud because one already exists. The spell caster calls down lightning from a storm to strikes target within range. The caster concentrates on the spell, but did not have to create a storm. The text describes this condition as "control."

What is the caster controlling? All that the text specifies is control of where the lightning strikes. Control in terms of how fast, how far, and where the storm can be moved isn't specified in the text.

There is a lot not specified in this spell description.

  • How big is the natural storm/storm cloud? Unspecified.

  • You could infer that "control" refers to the whole storm and that wherever the caster moves under the storm she can strike a target within range. Moving while under the storm would give the caster great flexibility. That isn't specified in the text.

How hard is it to control a storm?

Compare this third level spell to Control Weather, which is an eighth level spell. That spell lets you create a storm within five miles of you, and has text that specifies what is controlled. The only thing specified to control, in terms of what a caster does with this natural storm, is where the lightning hits and how much harder it hits than the conjured storm. That is the same level of control as in Case 1, with a damage bonus.

As long as you concentrate on this spell, you control where the lightning strikes.

Can two spell casters concentrate on the same storm?

That is not specified, but it is also not prohibited.

Neither spell caster is using magic on the order of Control Weather (an 8th level spell). With that level of power as a reference point, the spell caster controlling the entire storm seems beyond the power of a third level spell.

What if both casters are within range of each other and both are trying to do the same thing at once to the same thing (this storm)? In that specific case, the Contest rules should cover this. A successful contest by the challenger moves local control of the storm to him. A tie or a loss by the challenger leaves the original spell caster in control of the lightning strikes as long as her concentration is not broken. That is consistent with a rule as written, but isn't specific to the call lightning rule text.

Contests (p. 58 Basic Rules)

Sometimes one character’s or monster’s efforts are directly opposed to another’s. This can occur when both of them are trying to do the same thing and only one can succeed ... In situations like these, the outcome is determined by a special form of ability check, called a contest. {snip} The participant with the higher check total wins the contest. That character or monster either succeeds at the action or prevents the other one from succeeding. If the contest results in a tie, the situation remains the same as it was before the contest. Thus, one contestant might win the contest by default.

What if a challenger casts a fifth level call lightning spell while another spell caster is concentrating on the storm using a third level slot for the spell? Either they are both trying to do the same thing at once, and a Contest is the way to go, or you are dealing with Combining Magical Effects.

(p. 81 Basic Rules) The effects of different spells add together while the durations of those spells overlap. The effects of the same spell cast multiple times don’t combine, however. Instead, the most potent effect—such as the highest bonus—from those castings applies while their durations overlap. For example, if two clerics cast bless on the same target, that character gains the spell’s benefit only once; he or she doesn’t get to roll two bonus dice.

Those are the tools available in the rules to address that situation.

What is "Control" for this spell?

the spell gives you control over the existing storm instead of creating a new one.

What did "creating a new one" allow the spell caster to control? Getting lightning out of the storm and directing where it hits. The spell caster's control is limited to where the lightning hits in both kinds of storm. By understanding the spell in terms of a game mechanic, Concentration, and comparing the level of magic needed to control an entire storm (an eighth level spell), control's ambiguous meaning is resolved.

What if two spell casters both want to call lightning out of the same storm, and they are a few miles apart? Neither caster is controlling weather. Their spell effects won't trigger the overlapping spell effects rule. They both call down lightning without interference as long as they concentrate on the spell.

Another way this could happen in the outdoors:

Two opposed spell casters send lightning bolts at each other (in range) while concentrating on different bits of the storm that don't overlap. The first one to fail the Constitution save due to damage loses Concentration on the spell -- at that point, control of the storm is moot. Using that illustration, the point on limited control becomes stronger.

Summary

  1. If the call lightning spell conjures its own storm cloud, only the original spell caster's concentration keeps the storm cloud available from which to call down lightning. When the spell caster's concentration ends, the artificial storm cloud ends.

  2. If a storm is already in existence outdoors, the spell caster concentrates on it. Control is limited to getting lighting to come down within range. When spell concentration ends, the natural storm is still there.

One last consideration

Outdoors, even without a storm, in ten minutes you could call down 100 (10 turns in a minute for ten minutes) lightning strikes on a building or a number of buildings, doing 300d10 damage in a 60'radius if nobody broke your concentration. You would do 400d10 during a natural storm. Urban renewal (at the wrecking ball end) is a possible down time activity for this spell caster. How do the local activists who want to save their neighborhood stop this destruction? Break the spell caster's concentration!


Rule of Cool?

The Arcana contest sounds like a fun ruling! Both spell casters try to concentrate on the storm, but There Can Be Only One who calls down the lightning!

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This is the correct answer. – LegendaryDude Mar 2 at 16:26
    
Just an addendum. Case 1? The cloud does NOT move with you, no matter how you gained control of it (pre existing storm or a conjured one). Case 2? 60ft only. : twitter.com/mikemearls/status/… – Airatome Mar 2 at 16:48
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I don't see where the authority is that the concentration mechanic will cause a retention of control in the face of a spell text that says the (second) caster gains control? I'm not saying you're wrong, but it just reads like an assertion. That you never address the spells text "if there's a cloud, you gain control of it (paraphrased)" seems like a weakness to me. – nitsua60 Mar 2 at 18:04
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This answer needs less of the appearance of rhetoric and more actual english joining words. -1 due to readability alone. – user2754 Mar 2 at 20:42
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The information is not organized in a coherent manner and the sentence structure is a mess. I find the arguments specious and needlessly complex (and vastly extrapolative) but the complete lack of readability or linking of points or organization of the information renders that concern moot. The information can only be accessed by diligent effort to understand what you are talking about - even then it is unclear (especially to someone unfamiliar with every DnD concept). Until that is solved the content is mostly irrelevant. – user2754 Mar 2 at 20:48

My interpretation as well as a ruling from the developers about Call Lightning

First and foremost, it is very important for you to understand that no part of a spell description is flavor text nor fluff. If it is mentioned, written, in the description? It is precisely what the spell does, how the spell behaves.

That being said, Call Lightning stats that a cloud is either created and controlled by, or a pre existing storm cloud is controlled by, the caster of the spell. In this case 'Control' is not exclusive and does nothing but allow you to call down a lightning strike from either cloud because that's what the text says your control over the cloud does. The cloud isn't even capable of movement or following the caster once control is obtained; as stated here by Mike Mearls of the Dev team. Anything you call Lightning on must be within the 60ft radius of where the cloud is controlled at, not where the Caster is, and the caster must have line of sight to the target(s) in question.

Here is the argument about a second caster trying to use Call Lightning on the same cloud. If no pre existing storm was in the area, Caster A would use Call Lightning to create and control his own personal cloud to rain lightning death down upon his foes. Caster B would follow up by casting Call Lightning and creating and controlling his OWN personal cloud to rain lightning death upon YOU and your friends. If there IS a pre existing storm in the immediate area? There are no rules as written that tell you how to best to handle this, but I believe it would be silly to assume there is a "more efficient" way of casting this spell, such as when it's not storming so each person gets their own personal cloud instead of losing control of the one they had when a second casting is used by someone else.

The spell is not telling you control get's wrested away from you, or two druids in the same party would never cast Call Lightning during stormy conditions because fighting for control would just be an annoyance. Instead the spell is telling you that 'Control' can be had by more than one person, and that however many have control over said storm is allowed the effects of calling lightning from it.

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