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Some People (myself included), feel that Witch Bolt is sub par.

I was thinking of changing it so that increasing the spell level also increases the persistent damage, as well as the initial damage.

This would change the last text to be:

At Higher Levels: The initial and persistent damages both increase by 1d12 for each slot level above 1st.

Would this cause any balance issues?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've removed the Warlock tag since other classes have access to this spell too. Good question though, +1 \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 26 '18 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ If a little prelim research isn't done, is this even a good question? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 27 '18 at 1:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast if you would kindly point me to the page where "a little prelim[sic] research" is quantified, I'd be happy to make sure that my questions meet those standards. Otherwise, I felt that I had done enough digging to warrant a question. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Nov 27 '18 at 2:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @András: I don't think it's a duplicate of that question, because that was closed for asking primarily about designer intent. This question is asking if it's balanced to houserule that the persistent damage scales. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 27 '18 at 20:25
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Yes, this is overpowered

Witchbolt does not require an attack roll for the ongoing damage. Increasing by 1d12 for each level would allow a 5th level caster to deal 30d12 damage, 27 of which is without an attack roll or saving throw, with a single 3rd level slot. This is very strong. Remember that Warlocks will always be upcasting it so allowing increased ongoing damage significantly increases damage output.

As a compromise I would suggest increasing ongoing damage for every second or third slot above first. This is still a decent damage bump but not quite so game breaking.

Math breakdown

Assume character of 5th level, CHA 20(+5) and Prof +3

  • Eldritch Blast w/ Agonizing Blast + Hex:

    • 2 Blasts, +8 to Hit, 1d10+5+1d6 per hit.
    • Average Damage vs AC: \begin{array}{|c|c|c|c|c|} \hline AC& 12 & 15 & 18 & 21 \\ \hline DPR & 22.525 & 18.55 & 14.575 & 10.6 \\ \hline DPM & 225.25 & 185.5 & 145.75 & 106 \\ \hline \end{array}
  • Witch Bolt (RAW)

    • 1 Bolt per round, +8 on first hit then automatic, 3d12 then 1d12

    • Average Damage vs AC: \begin{array}{|c|c|c|c|c|} \hline AC& 12 & 15 & 18 & 21 \\ \hline First Round & 16.575 & 13.65 & 10.725 & 7.8 \\ \hline DPM & 66.3 & 54.6 & 42.9 & 31.2 \\ \hline DPM* & 78 & 78 & 78 & 78 \\ \hline \end{array}

  • Witch Bolt (Scaling every level)

    • 1 Bolt per round, +8 on first hit then automatic, 3d12 then 3d12

    • Average Damage vs AC: \begin{array}{|c|c|c|c|c|} \hline AC& 12 & 15 & 18 & 21 \\ \hline First Round & 16.575 & 13.65 & 10.725 & 7.8 \\ \hline DPM & 165.75 & 136.5 & 107.25 & 78 \\ \hline DPM* & 195 & 195 & 195 & 195\\ \hline \end{array}

  • Witch Bolt (Scaling every second level)

    • 1 Bolt per round, +8 on first hit then automatic, 3d12 then 2d12

    • Average Damage vs AC: \begin{array}{|c|c|c|c|c|} \hline AC& 12 & 15 & 18 & 21 \\ \hline First Round & 16.575 & 13.65 & 10.725 & 7.8 \\ \hline DPM & 116.025 & 95.55 & 75.075 & 54.6 \\ \hline DPM* & 136.5 & 136.5 & 136.5 & 136.5 \\ \hline \end{array}

Another comparison at 9th Level. Now casting in a 5th level spell slot

  • Witch Bolt (Scaling every level)

    • 1 Bolt per round, +8 on first hit then automatic, 5d12 then 5d12

    • Average Damage vs AC: \begin{array}{|c|c|c|c|c|} \hline AC& 12 & 15 & 18 & 21 \\ \hline First Round & 29.25 & 24.375 & 19.5 & 14.625 \\ \hline DPM & 292.5 & 243.75 & 195 & 146.25 \\ \hline DPM* & 325 & 325 & 325 & 325 \\ \hline \end{array}

  • Witch Bolt (Scaling every second level)

    • 1 Bolt per round, +8 on first hit then automatic, 5d12 then 3d12

    • Average Damage vs AC: \begin{array}{|c|c|c|c|c|} \hline AC& 12 & 15 & 18 & 21 \\ \hline First Round & 29.25 & 24.375 & 19.5 & 14.625 \\ \hline DPM & 187.2 & 156 & 124.8 & 93.6 \\ \hline DPM* & 208 & 208 & 208 & 208 \\ \hline \end{array}

* Assuming Witch Bolt hits for DPM calculations. Allowing for miss chance significantly skews data. It is very difficult to accurately show the average damage for witch bolt as is in an 'all or nothing' type spell. Showing actually average damage would not be representative as it either does full damage or none.

It is not representative to take the actually average values from the middle rows as this assumes you do nothing with your turn after you miss with Witch Bolt. Instead you would either cast is again or revert to the Eldritch Blast DPR for the rest of the minute.

Summary

As can be seen from the tables above, this change doesn't significantly alter damage output against low or medium AC targets. The balance problem is the massive bump to damage against high AC targets. In the last example the problem only gets worse as the spell slots increase.

In general if a homebrew changes a relatively poor spell into a must have damage spell it is likely overpowered. I would suggest play testing the scaling with every second level option. While a decent bump over RAW it is really just bringing a weak spell in line with stronger alternatives, which was the intent of this homebrew.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Anwers generally need to stand on their own and that's probably why you're being downvoted. If you are unhappy with the other answer, I'd suggest doing an improved version yourself along with your new information. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Nov 27 '18 at 1:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just trying to help :) It must be something else wrong with the answer then. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Nov 27 '18 at 1:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin You're a peach ;-* \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Nov 27 '18 at 3:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean "Showing actually average damage would not be representative as it either does full damage or none?" \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Nov 27 '18 at 6:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unlike lvl 5+ eldritch blast, witchbolt can be twinned, this scaling dramatically increase it's damage output. \$\endgroup\$ – AntiDrondert Nov 27 '18 at 7:38
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It is not overpowered, but still a bad idea

As I have shown in another answer, it is not unbalanced.

However, it would just add to the current problems.
The spell is a classical trap, looks good on paper, very weak in practice, but on higher levels at least it looked as weak as it was.
With your change it keeps being subpar in disguise.

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Yes, overpowered

The ongoing damage of Witch Bolt does not require an attack roll. Increasing its damage would essentially allow the caster to "always hit" and make it a superior single-target action to all other spells, particularly if the caster upcast it at a higher level.

Of course, a target could move out of the spell's range. But they might not because:

  • They are engaged in melee and would provoke attacks of opportunity
  • They are prone
  • They have their movement reduced by some effect
  • The caster has the Spell Sniper feat Confirmed by Mike Mearls

You point out that Witch Bolt is underpowered. This is true in cases where chance to hit is not a factor, but your solution would make it overpowered against harder to hit targets (high AC, invisible, hidden, etc.):

Below is a spreadsheet that calculates average damage per action of various spells (and a GWM barbarian for comparison) after the first round because the math of simulating the first round in addition to the following rounds gets a bit more complicated.

Of note:

  • It is comparable to Magic Missile, another "auto hit" level 1 spell but with the potential to do much more damage.
  • Eldritch Blast with Hex does better most of the time if you have Agonizing Blast and hex but not all characters will have access to either/both, and boosting Witch Bolt in this way renders build choices that grant access to these as irrelevant or sub optimal.

Common aDPR

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  • \$\begingroup\$ does your "always hit" include the ability for the target to move out of the 30ft range and break the spell? \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Nov 26 '18 at 23:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer a lot, but it's not factoring in the requisite attack roll for all of the "automatic" damage to connect. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Nov 27 '18 at 1:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would too. But how do you account for missing on round 1 or round 1 and 2 (or beyond, if factors are particularly miserable)? A Warlock gets a familiar that can use the help action to boost the chances of hitting on round 1. A non-Warlock might not have that benefit. It's a really difficult factor to account for. If you can think of a good way of handling it, let me know! \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Nov 27 '18 at 2:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I just figured you'd count it the same way you counted any other to-hit spell. Multiply damage by hit-chance \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Nov 27 '18 at 2:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara minor correction. Average on a D12 is 6.5 not 7 \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Nov 27 '18 at 2:57

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