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The conjure minor elemental spell states:

You summon elementals that appear in unoccupied spaces that you can see within range. You choose one the following options for what appears:

  • One elemental of challenge rating 2 or lower
  • Two elementals of challenge rating 1 or lower
  • Four elementals of challenge rating 1/2 or lower
  • Eight elementals of challenge rating 1/4 or lower.

It seems like the only two things a player can select are the maximum CR of the elemental conjured, and, arguably, the location its summoned in. I am confused as to why you would want to use this spell given that its results are so unpredictable.

Why would a wizard cast a spell that's essentially an open invitation to whatever elemental from a list decides to show up? You can't strategize around the spell very much because, as written, you don't choose what gets summoned, and you can easily end up with something you weren't counting on.

It won't be useless, but why would you cast a spell that has such an unpredictable result? It's like the difference between the chromatic orb and chaotic bolt - if the chaotic bolt didnt have the chance to bounce. You'd never pick a random damage type over a damage type of choice. Why would you choose a spell that might do something you want over something that does exactly what you intend it to do?

What are the situations in which you would use this spell that wouldn't be better solved by a spell of equal or lower level that has more predictable results?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenHaskell what experience do you have as a DM in 5e? I ask due to the trouble I put a party of 5th levels through using lava and mud mephits. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12, 2019 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenHaskell I edited you question to try to make it suitable for our format. If you have issues with it please edit it further. - To reopen voters, please wait for OP to confirm this is the question they are asking before reopening. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Jun 13, 2019 at 4:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Based on the games I've run, sometimes casters just wants some chaos. Or to ruin a wedding. \$\endgroup\$
    – Overthinks
    Mar 24, 2020 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am voting to close this as opinion-based. I don't see any criteria to determine what makes one answer better than another. This is just asking "why" - and that why is going to be different for everyone depending on their preferences and tables. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Oct 2, 2023 at 19:50

4 Answers 4

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You Can Request

From the Sage Advice Compendium:

When you cast a spell like conjure woodland beings, does the spellcaster or the DM choose the creatures that are conjured? [...]

Some spells of this sort specify that the spellcaster chooses the creature conjured. For example, find familiar gives the caster a list of animals to choose from.

Other spells of this sort let the spellcaster choose from among several broad options. For example, conjure minor elementals offers four options. [...] The design intent for options like these is that the spellcaster chooses one of them, and then the DM decides what creatures appear that fit the chosen option.

Notice you can request an intent, and a nice DM might give it to you. There are a few reasons why it might be written this way:

  1. Story. A particular creature with a history with the party is summoned.
  2. Prep. He doesn't have to have all the stat blocks on hand at the time you cast.
  3. Curve Ball. Some DMs will allow the player to chose most of the time, but might like to throw an extra curve ball occasionally.
  4. Balance. Conjuration is powerful. This limitation on the spell makes it less likely to be spam cast, without placing a huge material cost or higher spell level on it. It's part of the balance of the spell.

So, that does leave the actual questions:

Why would you choose a spell that might do something you want over something that does exactly what you intend it to do?

Conjuring is powerful; it gives you more currency in the action economy (you're doing more things because you basically "control" more creatures), potential access to a lot of abilities your PC doesn't have, and has huge potential for abuse. So, even if you aren't guaranteed which elemental shows up, you know the amount and rough strength level of the creatures that will come to your aid. There are a lot of cases that is a better option than something that does what you intend.

Remember that almost none of the options for this spell are bad.

You could get: One of the following:

  • Azer
  • four-armed Gargoyle
  • Gargoyle
  • Lady Gondafrey

Two of the following:

  • Fire Snake (If you're not in Ravnica, you have one guarantee.)
  • Galvanice Weird (If you're in Ravnica)

Four of the following:

  • Dust Mephit
  • Dust Mephit (Summoner Variant)
  • Ice Mephit
  • Ice Mephit (Summoner Variant)
  • Magma Mephit
  • Magma Mephit (Summoner Variant)
  • Magmin

Or Eight of the following:

  • Geonid
  • Mud Mephit
  • Mud Mephit (Summoner Variant)
  • Smoke Mephit
  • Smoke Mephit (Summoner Variant)
  • Steam Mephit
  • Steam Mephit (Summoner Variant)

I'm not seeing anything I wouldn't want to show up and help me.

What are the situations in which you would use this spell that wouldn't be better solved by a spell of equal or lower level that has more predictable results?

How about something as simple as you're in a large combat with many opposing forces and need more strong able bodies in the battle.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning balance in conjuration spells, espeically considering a Circle of the Shepherd druid's features \$\endgroup\$
    – Thank-Glob
    Mar 15, 2020 at 9:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Late, but imagine you are fighting fire elementals or other creatures immune to fire, so many of these options would do absolutely nothing. I don't see how this answers the question at all, its just a list of things you could conjure \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 2, 2023 at 16:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri "imagine you are fighting fire elementals or other creatures immune to fire..." Then you might cast a different spell. Same as not casting fireball at a creatures immune to fire. "I don't see how this answers the question at all" I answer the question(s) asked. Part, but not all, of my answer lists the possibilities to make a point about the versatility of the spell. If the question was asked in earnest, and not just bagging on a spell the OP didn't like I think I addressed directly the question as asked. If you disagree you can post your own answer, or suggest an improvement. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2023 at 22:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I'm not seeing anything I wouldn't want to show up and help me." this is the best part of the answer to the question 👍🏼 \$\endgroup\$
    – justhalf
    Oct 4, 2023 at 7:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri But any spell can feel like a "waste", especially Save or Suck spells. Use your action to cast a high level limited spell slot and have it miss? Just as big of a chance as that happening. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Oct 4, 2023 at 17:29
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Action Economy

My wizard does have Conjure Minor Elementals, and it is one of the better options for its spell level. The main reason is that what it does is so good when you select the lowest CR tier, it does not really matter what exact kind of elemental you get. You get 8 different creatures that will stick around for an hour of concentration, and that can soak up attacks, get in the way, scout ahead to trigger traps, make object interactions or carry stuff for you, nevermind attacking, and that even can be sent off to attack opponents far away from the safety of your inn or tower. Due to the action economy, that's very useful, no matter what the other details are. You turn your one action per turn into nine. There is no lower level spell that can do that for you.1

In the core rules, the only elementals you can get at CR 1/4 or below are mephits, of the Mud, Smoke, or Steam variety. They are all able to fly, all have more than 20 hit points, all have at least 5 strength, and all have human level intelligence, so you can give them complex tasks that they can carry out themselves. If you play using the core rules, there is not really a lot of variability. Some of them are a little stronger, some a little faster, Smoke ones are great for scouting, Steam ones are great against melee opponents due to their ranged breath weapon, but really any of them will do a servicable job.

If you take all published sources, there are a few other options. If your DM elects to give you Chingwas you'll get elementals that do not have attacks, for example. But even then this will be quite a useful spell, you will get 8 different uses of supernatural charms out of it, and they still can get in the way and soak up attacks. Any single attack that does not hit you but hits one of them instead is in effect like a healing spell. It is possible that the spell will get even weaker over time as more and more options are published, so the DM can pick the maximally useless one for any given situation.

However, not all DMs are out there to screw you over, and they should't be. In all campaigns I have played in, the DM has been pretty willing to conjure either the exact type of elemental the player requested, or at least one that was a fit to the environment. With this being the table norm, the spell becomes even better than it already is.

Even if your DM decides that in an adventure where you fight salamanders above a river of lava, Steam mephits or some other fire-based elementals are appropriate, and the extra fire damage from them is useless, that is not so bad: they still can deal normal slashing damage, still can get in the way and block or sponge up attacks, and they even have immunity to fire themselves, making the fire damage the opposing monsters deal useless, too.

It's nice if a spell does exactly what you want, but it is not a neccesary condition for the spell to be good. As long as the effect is powerful, and broadly what you want, the spell can be good. Imagine you had a spell that summoned a random demon lord to do your bidding. Would it do exactly what you want? No, if you want Orcus, you might get Demogorgon instead. Would it be super powerful? You bet. Except for extremely unusual circumstances, any one of them would be an insane tool of destruction for you.

Example situations

To give you a couple concrete situations where the spell was better for us than any of my wizards other, lower level and more specific options:

  1. we were trying to get treasure (piles of coins) from an island in a lake in undermountain, and we knew an Aboleth was in that lake along with a bunch of other submerged monsters, able to dominate and take over any one of us who would have tried to reach the island. So none of us wanted to take the risk and fly over there, or spider climb along the ceiling, or misty step there (if the distance would have allowed that; I don't recall) or whatever. Instead we summoned 8 expendable mephits and sent them off to retrieve treasure: losing a few them to the Aboleth's nefarious powers did not matter one bit to us. They could fly there and fetch the treasure, and we did not really care that much what kind of mephit we got.
  2. we were inflitrating Xanathar's lair. We summoned 8 mephits, and sent them off to create all kinds of distractions and engage with guards to block our escape. No other single spell of lower level would have done that (my wizard also has animate dead, but these would have needed a lot more micro-managing than the mephits which we did not have time for, and we would have needed to smuggle in the raw corpses, which conjure minor elementals did not need). Again, the exact type of mephit did not matter that much.

So in general, the spell is especially good in situations where opponents have no immunities or resistances to any of the elements, when you need expendable helpers that test the wates of a dangerous situation you would not want to go into yourself (have your familiar ride along to observe first hand what happens), or when you just need a lot of bodies to gum up the works in battle.

1Lower level minion spells

Well, there are a few lower level spells that give a wizard a kind of minion, and most are deterministic, but all of them fall short in some way:

  • Summon Lesser Demons from Xanathar's that can summon 8 CR 1/4 or lower demons, and is level 3 instead of 4, but these demons will attack anyone, including you and your team, they will not follow your orders. That's a big difference, as it does not really give you additional actions to command, instead causing general mayhem and destruction. (Plus, this one also gives you a DM-selected type of lesser demon, so is not deterministic).

  • The above mentioned animate dead can give you up to 4 minions when cast with a level 3 slot, even with 24h duration and needs no concentration. It's also quite good. For me the most detrimental aspect is that necromancy is at best unsavory, and at worst (depending on the campaign) utterly evil and will get you burned at the stake. You need corpses for it, you only get 4 instead of 8, and the undead are pretty dumb so need constant handholding, and if you can rely on getting some kind of mephit, they lack flight.

  • Unseen servant can do some of the tasks like triggering traps, but cannot block, fight, think, and you only get one of them, not 8. It is also limited to close range. The elementals are able to travel a long way in the hour you have them to get somewhere you want them to be.

  • Find familiar, arguably one of the best wizard spells in the book for what it does for the cost can get you a single helper, and you can use its senses on close range and it can deliver touch spells. But it cannot attack, has a gp cost, and again you can only have one. (In addition to the elementals. This is not really a question of either or - you take both the familiar and conjure the elementals).

  • In a way, mental manipulation like suggestion or charm person might also net you an ally. The downside here (apart from again getting only 1) is that those have issues with dying for you — and unless your wizard is an evil one, so should he or she. The elementals in comparison don't pose any moral problems. They are expendable. They just go back to their home plane when they bite the dust.

Other lower level spells

It is a bit apples to oranges, but you also can compare the spell other lower level spells, that may be more useful for a specific situation, for example you can use the fly spell to fly instead of having a bunch of mephits carry you along flying, you can use knock to open a locked door, instead of having them bash it open, you can use fireball to fry a group of wolves, instead of having them boil them up with steam breath, you can use mage hand to open a possibly trapped chest, instead of sending an elemental to do it, you can use clairvoyance to find out if someone is in the castle couryard instead of having a mephit fly to the crennelations and report back, you can use glyph of warding to guard a corridor behind you instead of them blocking it, etc., etc. The key point here is that having 8 durable helpers is extremely versatile, in a way many of these other spells are not (and all of them are solid or even great spells). For the cost of just one preparation slot, you get to deal with many different situations, and free up preparation slots for spells with unique abilities.


P.S. The larger downside in my experience for this spell is the 1 minute casting time. I wouldn't really care what 8 combatants I can get, as long as I could get them for a 1 action casting time, and bring them in in a fight. As is, the spell is only really useful for combat, if you know it will be coming, and you can cast it in advance.

P.P.S. Because adding so many additional creatures is so powerful and is also hard to manage at the table, more recent conjuration/summoning spells have moved away from this template, and instead focus on giving you a single creature that gets stronger along with the caster, like the Summon Elemental spell in Tasha's.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I normally like your answers and you raise good points, but this still isn't giving situations where you would prefer random summons over a known spell outcome. It's just the pro's of the spell. Also seeing how these summoning spells have been needed hurts my soul, the reminders are painful lol \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 3, 2023 at 8:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll give you a real life situation, if you want. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2023 at 8:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is no other non-summoning spell at all that can grant you 8 extra actions at all and can offer so much battlefield control in the shape of just blocking spaces or force the enemy either wasting an attack on the easy kill, move a very specific path or force them to take AoOs when they take the easier way - and they are elementals, which means their attacks are at least magical. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Oct 3, 2023 at 11:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri There won't ever be a change to the "answered" status: the user posting it is unregistred and has not been here since they asked it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Oct 3, 2023 at 12:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the flip side, I think this question has evolved into a good answer, especially with the talk about none combat uses. Also if your DM gives you chingwas your luck is in because they are amazing and my DM said no when I asked 😔 \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 4, 2023 at 16:51
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Conjuring is powerful

TLDR; Conjured creatures do more than add to your damage, dealing the wrong damage type may make them less useful, but still far from useless

A conjured ally does several things:

  • Give you more attacks (damage type being variable)
  • Give your "side" a larger HP pool - the opponents may well sink some damage into your conjured allies rather than you (though it is concentration so clever tactics may focus on your caster)
  • Give you more battlefield control - your summoned creatures can make opportunity attacks, pin melee opponents in place, block entrances or exits - all sorts of tactics available
  • Last up to 1 hour - the casting time is 1 minute so this won't be a in-battle spell, you'll know what you have going into the fight and this isn't a case of deciding to cast one spell or another on your turn, you'll already have your summoned companions (of course if you're low on spell slots you may be reluctant)

The main thing you're unsure of is the damage type. The overlap between damage resistances and damage types is fairly high. For example fire damage having the most resisted or immune (though also having the most vulnerable opponents). However, you'll know your summoned creature(s) when going into the fight with demons, red dragons or efreeti and the summoned creatures can still be useful for absorbing damage, controlling the battlefield and possibly even capable of doing things your party wouldn't by being immune to those damage types or simply being sacrificed where you wouldn't risk a party member.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As with the other answers I think this is just a list of things the spell does well. The question calls for a list of situations where the spell will always be good, and I believe that means consistent, so if I cast it I can always assume that I get damage and control, not have to settle for just control because I got the wrong creature. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 4, 2023 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Thats exactly what I aimed to point out - you always know you'll have battlefield control (not something to be under estimated) and extra health pool to absorb enemy hits. The spell is always good for those reasons. Extra damage is far from the only useful thing this spell can do. Can you give an example where you think this spell wouldn't be useful? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 4, 2023 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ My issue is that the control and hp are 2/3rds of the spell. There is a lot of damage you would miss out on if you got the wrong summons. I would never choose to cast a spell that is only getting 2/3rds effectiveness, so it needs situations where it is always at 100%. At least that's my take on what a good answer would be. You are right about the good parts of the spell, but this is a good answer to a different question to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 5, 2023 at 21:58
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It's not a random summon

The rule is that the DM chooses what you get. Your DM might choose by rolling dice, it's true. But most DMs won't do that.

I have played a related spell (conjure animals) in many games, both in person and online. What I can tell you is that 90% of DMs, when I cast this spell, just let me choose what I get. The remaining 10% of DMs seem to give me something appropriate to the environment.

One DM gave me eight CR0 rats when I cast the spell, presumably because we were in a rat-themed dungeon. I never cast that spell again in that DM's game.

Another DM gave me blink dogs instead of giant owls (not technically legal since blink dogs are not beasts), because we were in a fey-themed area.

Every other DM has said: "sure, giant owls are fine." (or velociraptors, or cave badgers, etc)


Formally, my answer to your question is: the reason to use conjure elementals is because you think the results are actually not unpredictable: you predict that your DM will let you choose even though they don't have to, or you predict that your DM will choose for you but in a way that doesn't make the spell useless. If that happens, then the action economy from this spell makes it very good.

If you predict that your DM might choose in a way that makes your spell useless, then you don't cast it with that DM.

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