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I'm working on a game set in a desert, with trade between cities handled by caravans. I know there's a lot of spells that help provide food or water for a small party, which could be very useful for crossing the desert.

What is the most cost efficient class a caravan could hire to provide food and water for the caravan, and how many people could they support daily?

Assumptions:

  • All classes charge the same rate.
  • All hirings are at most level 5.
  • Spellcasters are expected to help with defense as well - so only half of their spell slots of each level can be used for providing food and water.
  • I'm not concerned about animals in the caravan for this question.
  • Foraging is possible, but difficult and unreliable while crossing the desert with a large number of people. No need to factor it into your answers.
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    \$\begingroup\$ What sort of desert? The "sand sea" sort of desert is the most famous/evocative, but only a tiny fraction of deserts actually look like that. Most are rockier (and, of course, the two largest, Antarctica and the Arctic, are tundra). Spells to ease the terrain (and thus get through the desert more quickly/on fewer supplies) would likely be valuable. Also, how firm is the "half of each level's spell slots only for food & water" thing? In most deserts, it's relatively rare to run into anyone else, which may limit how much firepower spellcasters need to prepare. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 13 '18 at 22:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you allow spells from additional sources? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 13 '18 at 22:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I'm imagining mainly a sand sea type, with the rare dry and rocky areas. There's decent activity from monsters and bandits targeting these caravans, hence the restrictions. \$\endgroup\$ – Lou Jul 14 '18 at 3:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor As long as the source is published by wizards of the coast or in an unearthed arcana article, I'm fine with it. \$\endgroup\$ – Lou Jul 14 '18 at 3:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you please share with us the purpose, why do you ask this? Are you going to force your players into playing particular classes? What problem are you trying to solve? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 14 '18 at 10:15
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The Druid is probably your best bet.

There are two spells in 5e that nourish creatures: Create Food and Water, and Goodberry. Create Food and Water is a 3rd level spell and feeds 15 humanoids, and Goodberry is 1st level and creates enough food to nourish 10 humanoids. If your goal is keeping the largest number of travelers alive, Goodberry is your best bet.

Goodberry is a Druid and Ranger spell. If we assume a 5th level Druid is using half of their slots at every level, they can cast Goodberry 4 times (2x 1st level, 1x 2nd and 3rd level slots), which sustains 40 humanoids.

It's a little unclear whether "nourish" applies to both food and water or to just food only, but you can solve that with a Decanter of Endless Water (DMG 161), which is a relatively cheap uncommon magic item that solves any water issue.

Consider Druid 4/Ranger 1

Now, while the Druid can feed the most people, a Ranger with the Desert favored terrain might be more useful for a caravan, due to their Natural Explorer feature (PHB 91):

• Difficult terrain doesn’t slow your group’s travel.

• Your group can’t become lost except by magical means.

• Even when you are engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking), you remain alert to danger.

All of these features seem pretty useful for a desert caravan. Using the same limits as the Druid, a single-classed ranger would only be able to feed 20 people, since they have 4 1st level slots and a single 2nd level slot.

However, a Druid 4/Ranger 1 would have the same feature but be able to feed 30 people, since they would have 3 2nd level slots, allowing for 1 extra cast of Goodberry. It's up to you to decide whether those nice Ranger abilities are worth the trade-off of feeding an extra 10 people.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That ranger addition is awesome; one last nitpick: since goodberry is also a ranger spell, how many people can a 5th-level ranger supply? If someone has to pick one or the other, that might be useful. Or would a druid/ranger be the best of both worlds? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 13 '18 at 23:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan You're right, a multiclass would probably work. I've added that to the answer--thanks for the input! \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Jul 14 '18 at 0:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since Goodberry doesn't scale with level, it makes more sense to waste your 4 low level slots on it, and save the higher ones for combat. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 14 '18 at 7:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Druids also get Create/Destroy Water, in case you can't get a hold of the magic item you need. \$\endgroup\$ – Arcanist Lupus Jul 14 '18 at 7:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not to mention that thematically, a desert ranger is a perfect fit for a caravan guide. Perhaps someone who grew up in the desert, then contemplated on the vastness of the landscape during those clear solitary nights and started actually becoming a part of the wilderness... \$\endgroup\$ – chrylis -on strike- Jul 14 '18 at 18:41

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