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I am currently homebrewing a set of "brawler" races, modeled after the nonhuman, humanoid characters in Brawl Stars. For one race, I've made a homebrew cantrip, Cactus Grenade. Is it balanced?

Cactus Grenade

Conjuration cantrip

Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: 60 feet
Components: S, M (a small cactus)
Duration: Instantaneous

You throw a small cactus at a target within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d4 piercing damage. Whether you hit or not, the cactus explodes and anyone within 5 feet of the target (including the target itself) must succeed in a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d4 piercing damage.

The spell's damage (both on impact and area) increases as you reach higher levels. It does 2d4 damage at 5th level, 3d4 at 11th level, and 4d4 at 17th level.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why does this spell not have a Material component (the cactus you throw)? If you are conjuring the cactus, it would usually say something of that sort in the spell description. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron May 20 at 19:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStarnes yes, I forgot to add that. \$\endgroup\$ – MrHiTech May 20 at 19:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron Weirdly, Ice Knife is Conjuration, but Thorn Whip is transmutation. Both "create" an item. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 20 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please also see this meta on how to ask for homebrew balance and this meta on if we're satisfied with homebrew balance questions to give some guidance on what we're looking for in these questions. Providing your design goal for the cantrip would go a long way to helping assess both balance and if it hits your goal. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 20 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ And while we can rate the cantrip as a comparison against other spells, we can't tell you if it's balanced as a racial cantrip without knowing what the other race features are. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 20 at 20:58
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It's significantly more powerful than other AOE cantrips, but wouldn't be gamebreaking if balanced as part of a specific race

One spell you could compare it to another cantrip that does AOE damage: Thunderclap (Elemental Evil Player's Companion, pg. 168):

Range 5 ft

You create a burst of thunderous sound that can be heard up to 100 feet away. Each creature within range, other than you, must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 1d6 thunder damage.

The spell’s damage increases by 1d6 when you reach 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).

How does your spell compare:

Pro:

  • Long range (60 feet, vs focused on yourself)
  • Also has the chance to deal 1d4 damage to one target on hit
  • Does not have the penalty that the blast can be heard from 100 ft away

Con:

  • Less damage (d4 die, vs d6)

Neutral:

  • Dex save, vs Con save
  • Requires material component
  • Piercing damage and thunder damage are both extremely unlikely to be resisted. While many creatures have resistance to "Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing from Nonmagical Attacks", this is a magical attack so it would bypass this resistance.

The cantrips Sword Burst (SCAG p. 143) and Word of Radiance (XGTE 171) are nearly identical. They keep the d6 damage die and the 5 ft range centered on yourself, but switch the save (DEX and CON respectively) and the damage type (force and radiant respectively). This appears to be the standard for a balanced AOE cantrip.

Your spell is significantly better: the reduction in damage from the smaller damage die (which only reduces average damage per target by 1) will generally be outweighed by the chance to damage the primary target twice, while the long range makes this much safer to use (to make good use of damage from Thunderclap, you need to be surrounded by enemies).


It's not hugely overpowered on its own (unless a clever player comes up with synergies that I'm not thinking of now) and if it's a racial feature, it may be alright so long as the race is balanced by being weaker in other ways.

If you want to make it more balanced with other cantrips, I would do some the following:

  • lower the range (the 20 ft range for a thrown flask of Holy Water seems like a good figure)
  • remove the primary target damage and attack roll (this also has the benefit of reducing the complexity of the cantrip)

Even with those changes, though, it's still going to be more slightly powerful than Thunderclap unless you add an extra downside (maybe the cactus can be caught and thrown back?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ nice call to compare directly against thunderclap \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 20 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ The other official AOE cantrip is the sword burst cantrip in Xanathar's Guide to Everything which is identical to thunderclap but deals force damage on a Dexterity save instead of thunder damage on a Constitution save. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron May 20 at 19:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Word of Radiance also does AOE damage. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Hubbard May 20 at 21:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @divibisan: Note that the Monster Manual was errataed to change "resistance to B/P/S from nonmagical weapons" to "resistance to B/P/S from nonmagical attacks" instead, and subsequent books followed suit. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 21 at 1:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, to make it a balancing issue, it'd actually need to be consumed by the spell (as the description implies it should be). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 22 at 0:09
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I think it's a mistake to try balance a racial feature as a spell.

Cantrips come from class features (Spellcasting or Pact Magic). As such, their balance is generally a component of class balance. The Warlock cantrip Eldritch Blast is notably better than the best Cleric damage cantrip Sacred Flame or the fairly pathetic Bard damage cantrip Vicious Mockery. But that's OK because the classes are balanced taking into account the power of the cantrips on their respective spell lists (Bards and Clerics are not the best damage dealers, but they do other stuff well).

The "cantrip" you're asking about is not tied to a class, but instead to a specific race. As such, it doesn't really make sense to compare it to other cantrips, since nobody else can learn it. Instead, you should be comparing the balance of your race (with the "spell" as a racial ability) to other races.

Some other somewhat similar racial abilities do exist:

  • Dragonborn get a breath weapon that does AOE damage. The damage scales with level, but the breath weapon can only be used once per rest.
  • Tieflings can cast Hellish Rebuke (as a reaction) without using a spell slot once per day after they reach 3rd level (they also get a free cantrip, but that part of the feature is not really comparable as Thaumaturgy is pretty useless in combat).
  • High elves learn one Wizard Cantrip for free, which makes your question-as-written sort of relevant again. You can look at Fire Bolt and other cantrips from the Wizard spell list and compare power levels. But not all high elves will pick a damaging cantrip, as something like Mending or Prestidigitation might be more useful for a non-wizard elf who may not have a great INT and who will often have better things to do in combat than casting a spell.

But be aware that it's not necessary for your racial feature to be precisely balanced with other racial features in isolation. Rather, you want your whole race to be balanced against the other races. You can have a very powerful racial feature, or a weak one, but still come out balanced in the end based on the sum of all the racial features you give.

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Unbalanced, it's more like a 1st level spell

Comparison against ice knife

The first level spell ice knife has very similar mechanic, but with higher damage dice. Both have a 60' range, but ice knife delivers 1d10 initial damage on a hit, and then 2d6 cold on a failed dex save (hit or miss) that effects both the targets and those around.

As your cantrip increases in power with level all damage goes up. With ice knife, only the cold damage increases. As you level up, your cantrip will become more powerful than the spell requiring a resource.

Add language for the cactus creation

Right now, the wording implies that you need a cactus (even though there is no material component.) You should update the copy for it to include something like:

You create a small cactus...

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 20 at 21:45

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