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The thunderwave spell has the description:

A wave of thunderous force sweeps out from you. Each creature in a 15-foot cube originating from you must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, a creature takes 2d8 thunder damage and is pushed 10 feet away from you. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage and isn't pushed.

When I first read this, a long time ago, I thought it meant that the caster was the centre of the 15-foot cube, therefore affecting all creatures that surround you. I also assumed that this would not harm the caster in any way. For clarity, I play that it is always centred on the caster, not that they have a choice about its area of effect.

I have since learned from this question and others on the site that this interpretation is incorrect. Indeed, nitsua60's answer to that question explicitly calls out my misconception directly. This other question also rules out a potential RAW-compliant work-around.

As I prefer my incorrect version of the spell, I have always just used it at my table without really worrying about the balance of it. I haven't found it to be overpowered; however, I never used it the RAW way so I'm not sure if there is a difference.

My question is:
Does changing thunderwave to be centred-on but not affecting the caster increase its power level?

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It should be fine.

At least assuming this isn't a mode you can pick. That extra flexibility make it pretty powerful.

If you compare the spell to some existing burst spells, it comes out comparably.

The most obvious example is the already existing Thunderclap cantrip. It's the only area-effect cantrip I know of, so apparently forcing Wizards into melee is big enough of a downside that it can afford the extra power. Going from 1d6 to 2d8 and adding a minor push effect seems fine for bumping from cantrip to level 1.

The other burst spell it compares to is Arms of Hadar. That one is also a first level. It actually has a 10ft range, which means you can affect a lot more creatures with it, and it has a comparable rider effect (not taking reactions and pushing people away both let you run from melee combat), but it deals slightly less damage and uses a type more easily resisted.

So yeah; there's nothing over- or underpowered about a self-centered Thunderwave.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's actually three AoE cantrips: Sword Burst and Word of Radiance are the other two. All three of them are only effective in melee, deal 1d6 damage, and use Dex (Sword Burst) or Con saves. \$\endgroup\$ – Speedkat Jun 12 at 13:23
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I've been playing Thunderwave the same way as you, and I must say, I feel the "correct" way is a lot more powerful.

The way we use it, you need to maneuver around enemies and get in the middle of the fray, while at the same time coordinating allies so they don't get into you vicinity. You're also taking away 1 efective tile from the area of effect.

The push effect is also more powerfull if you push all the enemies in the same direction, while pushing them around is chaotic and can cause some odd scattering.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I must admit we never try to use it offensively by careful maneuvering. Mostly it's a defensive option for after you get surrounded and want to run away while also dealing damage. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jun 12 at 8:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Storm clerics can max it's damage with divine channeling. When you're in those boots, using it offensively turns out like a very attactive option. \$\endgroup\$ – NameDisplay Jun 12 at 8:52
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I'd say no. By having the caster in the centre you do get the advantage of being able to try and force away all adjacent enemies if you are truly surrounded. However if you have any allies adjacent to you they are going to be unavoidably hit as well (unless you are an evocation wizard and no more than two allies are in range). Also, the range of the spell drops to only targets that are directly adjacent to you, rather than being able to hit targets up to 15 feet away from you.

Keep in mind, if a spellcaster gets surrounded on all sides by enemies they are likely in enough trouble that even a modified thunderwave isn't likely to save them. Being able to cast it in a cube normally means you can step to the front line of battle and cast it, limiting your exposure.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you guessing this or do you have any expertise to back this up? \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jun 12 at 8:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Basic analysis. You aren't gaining much but are trading off a couple of things. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Jun 12 at 8:40

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