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So, let's say we want a mage character based on ice, sure, there are quite a few spells with Cold damage/thematic, but they're not quite what you want... You want him to have a Fireball that deals Cold damage, you want a Frostball, Iceblast, Frost Explosion, call it whatever you want!

So, if I took spells like Fireball, and changed the damage type to ice and the saving throw to CON, would that affect the game balance?

Another example, let's take Sunbeam and turn it into... Darkbeam? It now deals necrotic damage instead of radiant.

I'm aware of this question: What are the most and least-resisted damage types?, I know that a Fireball that deals Psychic Damage and requires an Int save is stronger.

So let's classify saves in two categories: The "common", Dex, Con and Wis, and the "exotic", STR, INT, CHA.

So, if I swap "similar" damage types (fire/cold, necrotic/radiant, etc) and also swap saving throws of the same "category" (Dex => Con/Con => Wis, etc) would that mess up game balance?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How exactly you swap the dmg types and saving throws? Individual spells: this spell with DEX save is swapped to CON, while that spell with DEX save is swapped to WIS. Or all DEX save spell is swapped to CON, CON to WIS, WIS to DEX? \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Apr 15 '18 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Vylix An "Iceball" would be 8d6 Cold damage with a CON save, as for the saving throw, it would vary with each spell, mostly defined by "flavor", a Flame Strike could be made into a spell that deals 4d6 ice and 4d6 necrotic with a WIS save. \$\endgroup\$ – Manner Apr 15 '18 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking to create a new spell, or replace a spell with modified type/save? Are you looking for a way (like an answer seems to suggest) to change them? \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Apr 15 '18 at 17:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ And this would be a permanent change for that character's spell list? Not an on the fly thing? Otherwise, when those ninjas drop out of the ceiling, I'm switching to Con Saves to prevent all those Evasions... \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Apr 15 '18 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Creating completely new spells is quite dangerous for game balance so I just wanted to swap damage types and saving throws from oficial spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Manner Apr 15 '18 at 17:16
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WoTC have released an Unearthed Arcana Wizard subclass called Lore Master. One of the features this subclass gives is:

Spell Secrets

At 2nd level, you master the first in a series of arcane secrets uncovered by your extensive studies.

When you cast a spell with a spell slot and the spell deals acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, radiant, or thunder damage, you can substitute that damage type with one other type from that list (you can change only one damage type per casting of a spell). You replace one energy type for another by altering the spell’s formula as you cast it.

When you cast a spell with a spell slot and the spell requires a saving throw, you can change the saving throw from one ability score to another of your choice. Once you change a saving throw in this way, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.

This seems to cover both effects that you wish your Mage type character to have.

So WoTC appear to be looking at the same sort of concept that you want for your homebrew campaign.

Looking at this trait however it is evident that WoTC, at least, consider the changing of damage type to be not that big of a deal to game balance, but the changing of the type of saving throw to have a potentially greater effect (and thus needed to be restricted).

Taking your fireball example, changing the saving throw from DEX to anything else would eliminate the rogue’s evasion class feature.

In general the saving throws have been sculpted to the type of effect the spell is imposing.

Some salient examples are:

  • area of effect spells are largely DEX saves (fireball)
  • a spell effecting a targets mental faculties are usually WIS or INT saves (Fear or Feeblemind)

Important Caveat

It obviously comes with the caveat that this subclass hasn’t been playtested as extensively as the subclasses published in the books, and as a result is not necessarily balanced within the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This addresses a way in which it could be done, but keep in mind that UA classes explicitly do not address the problem of play balance. A warning is put out to this effect with every article, and Mike Mearls has gone on record saying that his method is to have an overpowered first draft and prune back, rather than the other way around. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Apr 15 '18 at 17:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis I’ve included that caveat at the end of my answer \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Apr 15 '18 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well dip me in butter, roll me in bread crumbs and bake me for 30 minutes. So you did. Pays me for not reading carefully. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Apr 15 '18 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis no worries, I’ve made the caveat more noticeable in the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Apr 15 '18 at 17:38
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Swapping Saves: Yes. Swapping Damage Types: It depends.

Saving Throw types are a fundamental "architectural" element of the game, on a level with characteristics and classes, and tampering with them can have a profound ripple effect throughout the game. For example, changing a save from Dex to Con means doesn't just mean that the spell is somewhat less effective against burly barbarians and more effective against slippery rogues. It means that a Rogue can't use his Evasion class feature - one of the signature features of the class. As a DM, you can do this occasionally as a way to buff up an encounter without much affecting the overall balance, but to allow players to build characters around the idea invites abuse.

Damage Types, however, are not integral to the game itself, but to the setting. Resistance to Fire, for example, is particularly common in the Monster Manual, but in any particular campaign it might be uncommon or even absent. A campaign set on the Ice Planet Hoth might have no creatures with resistance to fire (or, perhaps, every creature has resistance to fire). As long as the players know this going in, they can choose spells, feats and features that reflect the campaign reality.

Thus it is entirely possible for the DM to allow variant spells that change the damage type without affecting play balance. All that is required is a modicum of attention to the specifics. In an undead-heavy campaign, changing Fireball to Radiant damage would be a huge change, but in a wilderness campaign it is probably fairly trivial (depending on what is populating that wilderness).

Of course, this is true only if the spell list is under the control of the DM and the player can't change the damage types on an game-by-game or adventure-by-adventure basis. To be able to tailor the damage type to a specific encounter is of huge benefit, as it renders resistances all but moot and it amplifies vulnerabilities tremendously.

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