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I've recently started building an underwater campaign, where most of the action will take place underwater. One of my players has brought to my attention the druidic spell list. They start at level 10, so have lots of spells to look at.

But his concern that a lot of the druidic spells become useless in an underwater setting. A huge proportion of them require either ground (Earthquake, Entangle, etc), require air (Call Lightning, Wind Walk, etc), deal fire damage, or require you not to be in water (Tidal Wave and the like). The ground problem is a problem due to the 3 dimensional nature of being underwater, and that enemies can be at any altitude simply by swimming upwards.

I am perfectly fine to allow him to reflavour the Fire damage as other types of damage, so long as he sticks to it once he changes it, but I do feel for him and his now much smaller spell list.

Is there anything I can do as a DM to allow him more choice in his spell list?
Any decent homebrew spells and spell lists would be appreciated, though I'm looking mainly to see if there are any solutions or house rules I can add to help the problems.

The game will be in 3D space, and I have asked an additional question about how to run encounters there, here.

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You don't need to change anything

I think there are several misconceptions in your question that, when cleared, show that no changes need to be made.

additionally, not every spell is always applicable even on land. Castor is always need to pick and choose and discover that the things that they have chosen or want to choose are limited by the environments around them. And that's okay.

Your examples are not problems:

  • Tidal wave (EE, 168) Has no restrictions in the text about not being in water. This is perfectly usable underwater.

  • Call Lightning (PHB, 220) This is restricted if you can't see a point in the air, but if you can see it while underwater (depending on depth), then there is no problem. Note that there many other instances where this spell can't be used (in dungeons, caves, etc. where the space can't accommodate a cloud.) This is a normal limitation of the spell.

  • Earthquake and entangle - these spells do require ground. If you are on the ocean floor, then it's possible, but otherwise, you are correct in that these would not be good choices for the Druid to pick.

  • Wind walk (PHB, 288) Has no restrictions. You still gain the benefits of the spell underwater.

Overall, the choice of game environment does present some concerns, but that is often part of the decision making process for spellcasters that can prepare. For spellcasters that have to choose, then understanding which spells don't work is part of their process as well.

Reflavoring fire damage

I would be very wary about this. Fire Damage is the most resisted damage type by monsters and changing the spells that provide it to something else presents a balance concern. The game assumes that the existing rules work the way they say they work.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem with this is that most of the game will be under the ocean. It is unlikely that they will be able to see the air when they are a few miles deep. This wouldn't really be a problem, but it's consistently going to be impossible. As for ground spells, while they are castable, every enemy can just "fly" over it without any effort, missing it completely. \$\endgroup\$ – Timi Dec 20 '19 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well this makes the answer I was writing irrelevant. The only bit I had that isn't here is that, as long as underwater combat takes place on a roughly 2D plane (like land-based combat) you can easily reflavor some things. Entangle becoming a sudden bloom of seaweed (or similar) fits just as well, and doesn't unbalance anything. It only removes some of the implied challenge of being underwater, should a caster have chosen such a spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Dec 20 '19 at 20:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Timi Then you have much bigger issues than specific spell requirements to deal with. Essentially everything about combat changes when all characters have full 3D maneuvering available. It also shifts many questions fundamentally into house rule territory. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Dec 20 '19 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Timi It's not my answer, and NautArch's is pretty comprehensive for the question asked. If you were to ask a new question about 3D combat environments, I would be happy to add my experiences to an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Dec 20 '19 at 20:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fire spells can be reflavored to boiling water jets being shot out. \$\endgroup\$ – Just Another Guy Dec 20 '19 at 20:54
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All of those can be re-flavored/used

Fire spells could use a form of boiling water that is blasted towards wherever the caster chooses. Much like the pistol shrimp does. This is a fairly easy one that can be used in any 2D or 3D water environment, and allows the use of any fire spells.

For Earth spells - The ocean is full of rock constructs. There are underwater mountain ranges, cliffs, trenches, caves, etc. The entire ocean floor or any natural wall would be made of some form of rock that could be used. Unless they are solely in open water with nothing else around, this could probably be used. These actually could be pretty cool in altering 3D environments into funneling the fight to a more beneficial area for the party (say you alter a rock structure that forces the enemy to move towards the plant life that allows other spells like below)

Entangle, or plant spells like it, could be used on any various underwater plant life. Seaweed itself already entangles people enough, magically causing some to do so would not seem out of the ordinary at all. And as shown in any oceanic nature documentaries, there are various forms of floating plant life on the oceans surface, floors, and within oceanic currents. Of course this one would seem oddly coincidental that plant life happened to be nearby when needed. Although it is magic, you can just imagine the seaweed is conjured to do it's thing, it can still tangle you up without being rooted in something solid.

Wind based spells could be flavored as an oceanic current shift that just affects the field as wind normally would. However using spells like Wind Wall would allow for enemies to travel vertically around it in a 3D environment.

Similarly to Wind Wall, spells like Tidal Wave can still use current, or maybe oceanic pressure. A tidal wave does bludgeoning damage, maybe a wall of denser water from the depths is conjured that compresses the enemy into the bludgeoning damage.

The only damage type that I would be hesitant of is lightning damage. As we all know, water is a conduit, and blasting lightning at enemies surely would cause issues to everyone/thing around you. For the sake of allowing the spells to be used, this could be overlooked taking out some of the realism of the world, but that would seem pretty corny. The only reflavoring on this could be a lightning LIKE spell is used that still does lightning damage. Although since the rest of the spell types seem to have a good route to be usable underwater, it should be acceptable that some won't be. I doubt your druid is going to have a spell of each element and might choose to focus more on ones that work normally in this case.

I think the biggest thing you as a DM need to do is to create an environment verbally/visually that allows for these things. When creating a battle map, make sure there are rock outcroppings and plant life somewhere that your druid could use strategically in a battle. If you are in the open ocean and the druid is looking for anything in the environment they could use, throw them a bone once in a while. It's not a ton of extra work to add these environmental factors, and would allow your druid to pick any spell type he/she would like.

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