15
\$\begingroup\$

In my answer to "Is the Mordenkainen's Sword spell underpowered?", I concluded (and the community agreed) that the spell is terrible. In this question, I will look at what makes the spell unique, how it falls short, and how I can (hopefully) bring it in line with other spells. First, the original:

Mordenkainen's Sword

7th-level evocation

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (a miniature platinum sword with a grip and pommel of copper and zinc, worth 250 gp)
Duration: Concentration, 1 minute

You create a sword-shaped plane of force that hovers within range. It lasts for the duration.

When the sword appears, you make a melee spell attack against a target of your choice within 5 feet of the sword. On a hit, the target takes 3d10 force damage. Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your turns to move the sword up to 20 feet to a spot you can see and repeat this attack against the same target or a different one.

Notable problems

  • The sword's damage is bad for a concentration spell. Over three rounds (assuming all attacks hit), the sword deals 66 damage, while Bigby's hand deals 108 damage (when upcast to 7th level).
  • The sword's damage is bad for a non-concentration spell. Crown of stars from Xanathar's has an hour duration and requires no concentration, but still deals 78 damage over 3 rounds.
  • The sword might not even reach its next target. You can only move it 20 feet each round, so an average enemy can kite your 7th-level spell around without much trouble. In my experience, spiritual weapon (which also can move 20 feet) can't reach the next group of enemies at least once per session. Higher-level fights tend to encompass larger areas, so I'd expect the sword to frequently waste a turn moving.

Unique features

  • The sword is the highest-level spell that targets a single creature, requires concentration, and purely deals damage. Even if we relax the concentration requirement, only crown of stars (also 7th-level) meets the remaining requirements.
  • The sword allows two attacks on the first turn, but only one thereafter. Getting damage out early is usually better than spreading it across multiple turns, but this may complicate attempts to rebalance the sword.
  • The sword is one of only four leveled wizard spells that only require a melee spell attack. The others are vampiric touch, Mordenkainen's faithful hound, and steel wind strike.

Goals

  1. Keep what makes the spell unique. Making the sword affect an area may improve it, but then it would no longer feel like Mordenkainen's sword.
  2. Bring its damage in line with similar spells, without making it overpowered. As the highest-level spell that targets a single creature, requires concentration, and purely deals damage, the sword should be in the running for most damaging single-target spell in the game. The sword should also support upcasting, if necessary, to keep up with spells like Bigby's hand.
  3. Improve its speed. It should be able to reach most enemies that aren't actively evading it (and some that are). Moving from one pack of enemies to another should not usually pose a problem; however, highly-mobile enemies, like dragons, should still be able to outrun the sword if they wish to.

Mordenkainen's (sharp and speedy) sword

With those goals in mind, here is my improved version of the spell:

Mordenkainen's Sword (improved)

7th-level evocation

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (a miniature platinum sword with a grip and pommel of copper and zinc, worth 250 gp)
Duration: Concentration, 1 minute

You create a sword-shaped plane of force that hovers within range. It lasts for the duration.

When the sword appears, you make a melee spell attack against a target of your choice within 5 feet of the sword. On a hit, the target takes 7d10 force damage. Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your turns to move the sword up to 60 feet to a spot you can see and repeat this attack against the same target or a different one.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the damage increases by 2d10 for each slot level above 7th.

Raising the sword's base damage to 7d10 brings its 3-round all-hits average to 154 (up from 66). This pushes the sword into a comfortable lead over Bigby's hand, which averages 108 when upcast to 7th-level. Given that Bigby's hand can also grapple, push, and provide cover, and can be cast in lower-level slots, losing the damage race makes sense. I considered only raising the sword's base damage to 6d10, but that would mean that an upcast Bigby's hand would still deal more per-turn damage after the first turn.

I added upcasting to prevent Bigby's hand from overtaking Mordenkainen's sword when cast at 8th level or higher. In most cases, higher-level spells deal more damage than upcast spells, so the sword should not be surpassed through upcasting.

Lastly, I increased the sword's speed to 60 feet. My intent was that the sword could reach something and attack on almost every turn. In my experience, it isn't uncommon to have Tier 3+ combats cover more than 30 feet, so I went with the next common range, 60 feet.

Does increasing base damage, improving movement, and supporting upcasting meet my goals for Mordenkainen's sword? Are there any feats or class features that throw its improved damage out of line with other spells? Any play experience with a similarly-modified Mordenkainen's sword would be invaluable. As always, don't forget Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and its call to Back It Up!

\$\endgroup\$
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm struggling to see why this is classified as opinion based. Balance of new spells and their expected levels are often discussed here, and the DMG has a section on the appropriate power for homebrew spells of each level. I see no reason this can't be answered under the same requirements \$\endgroup\$ – Fifth_H0r5eman Jul 12 at 22:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, and given the Tier 3 requirement to even have the spell, it may be worth making a brief note to explain that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 12 at 23:55
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Brilliant question, I really want to like this spell, and often wonder what mordenkainen did to earn his own book given how poor many of his spells are! (I know the answer, friends in the right places). \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 13 at 10:45
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @DanB Not at all. Back It Up requires either personal experience OR references to support a claim. The latter is what I'm actually expecting. \$\endgroup\$ – Red Orca Jul 13 at 16:38
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @DanB Players will have had prior experience with the same or similar effects in similar circumstances, which is subjective experience people can draw upon to make educated conclusions about how this homebrew will behave. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 14 at 10:30
12
\$\begingroup\$

The improved spell addresses the flaws of the original well, particularly the movement increase and the upcasting flexibility. However, trying to imitate and outdo Bigby's in sustained damage sacrifices the uniqueness of the spell and will intrinsically be overpowered.

Damage Comparison

vs Disintegrate:

The 1st turn damage of Mordenkainen's Sword (Improved) at 7d10 is 77, compared to the 85.5 of Disintegrate. However, on the second turn, the spell allows the use of a bonus action attack potentially followed by the casting of a different concentration spell, bringing the total damage to 115.5 using 1 action and 2 bonus actions (a minimal investment for a wizard).

At 6d10, this is reduced to 66 and 99, respectively, straddling the damage of disintegrate.

vs Bigby's Hand:

With the extra 1st turn attack, Mordenkainen's Sword (Improved) 6d10 (33) stays ahead of the 8d8 (36) DPR of Bigby's Hand in total damage for 11 rounds (beyond the duration of the spells), meaning MS already has better damage output.

Given the burst damage on the first turn, 6d10 is appropriate damage for the sword.

Suggestion

Enhance the uniqueness of the spell as a sword. Most attackers utilize multi-attack by this level. Consider leaving the damage of the sword as is, but allowing 2 attacks after it has moved, emulating a physical fighter.

Mordenkainen's Sword (improved)

7th-level evocation

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (a miniature platinum sword with a grip and pommel of copper and zinc, worth 250 gp)
Duration: Concentration, 1 minute

You create a sword-shaped plane of force that hovers within range. It lasts for the duration.

When the sword appears, you make 2 melee spell attacks against a target of your choice within 5 feet of the sword. On a hit, the target takes 3d10 force damage. Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your turns to move the sword up to 60 feet to a spot you can see and repeat these attacks against the same targets or different ones.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 7th.

This gives the spell a unique feature and offers more consistent damage while preserving what makes the spell interesting.

Feats or Class Features to be Wary of:

The assassinate feature of the Assassin specifically uses the wording "any hit you score against a creature that is surprised is a critical hit." A 3 level dip into Assassin allows for absurd 1st turn damage by all improved versions of this spell not typically afforded by save spells.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ (1) 6d10 on one attack is equally balanced. The multiple attacks are only for uniqueness, and open up interesting interactions such as breaking concentration, or slimy doom. (2) You are attacking twice per turn, so reducing the scaling keeps the damage consistent with your improved version. \$\endgroup\$ – Blits Jul 25 at 23:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ (3) The concentration requirement seems to limit the possibilities for unanticipated effects. The worst I can think of beyond the Contagion example above would be something that adds damage on hit, though I can't think of a specific example. If there was one, the impact of any combination is at most 2d6 on the first turn and 1d6 after above the single attack version (circle of spores, for example intensity, even though it requires a weapon attack). \$\endgroup\$ – Blits Jul 25 at 23:17
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Your mention of damage-on-hit makes me think of Hexblade's Curse. More a bard problem than wizard, since a wizard/warlock multiclass is pretty bad. \$\endgroup\$ – Red Orca Jul 26 at 2:17
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ About the assassinate ability, there is this question about max damage in a single round and the currently accepted answer uses 3 levels in rougue to get the assassinate feature. This shows that even without homebrew that class feature can do ridiculous damage. So I don't think the new version of this spell can much further unbalance the immense burst of this feature. It is very situational. rpg.stackexchange.com/a/152136/51849 \$\endgroup\$ – findusl Jul 26 at 8:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Falconer I am carrying to movement over from the version posted in the question. Bigby's Hand was used as the Model, which features 60 ft of movement as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Blits Jul 26 at 15:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.