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Control weather is a useful spell for certain plot, story, and exploration purposes. It can solve problems for adventurers or whole communities and sits as an 8th-level spell.

I would like to hew closely to RAW to the extent possible, but I need a spellcaster to be able to perform limited weather control (primarily summoning or banishing rains) without the implications that the spellcaster has access to 8th-level spells. So, is there a lower-level analog that might provide similar but lesser results?

Also, if I must enter homebrew territory, what would be the implications of making control weather a much lower-level spell? If it were recreated as homebrew, would it properly be 8th-level?


For context, I need a magic user that can control weather on behalf of his small village. Preferably a wizard, though that part is more flexible. But I don't want this wizard to be of a level or have the power that would be implied by being able to cast an 8th-level spell.

Thus, I am looking for spells or techniques that would let a much lower-level magic user (in fact, the lower the level, the better) call forth or dismiss rain.

Since I'm the GM here, I could obviously homebrew something. Some quick googling suggests that at least one GM thinks calling rain by itself should be a cantrip, but I'm not sure it should be a cantrip, and I'm looking for a little more than calling a gentle rain. Also, I would prefer to hew as close to the rules as possible for a number of reasons, including the implications to the players of the power level of this magic user.

As a result, I'm looking for RAW analogs to allow limited control of weather, even if it requires several more specialized spells instead of one general one.

If I must enter homebrew territory, understanding what justifies control weather existing as an 8th-level spell would help me properly position the homebrew solution.

The game is D&D 5e, though I would prefer an answer relying on officially published material from earlier editions over homebrew if that is what is available.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason that your hedge wizard can't just use an item? Two of the harps for bards cast control weather so why can't you just have an orb or something that only does that like once a week? I know this is dangerously close to an answer but it would be a homebrew item and the overall comment does call into question the direction of the question, so please be lenient. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jan 6 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that revision should bring it within the new guidelines while leaving all answers (which were all quite helpful and I upvoted all of them) relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jan 7 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've heard it said that the Druidcraft cantrip is the level 0 version of Control Weather, since at most tables there effectively is no precipitation until someone asks the DM what the weather is going to be and forces them to remember that weather exists. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Rotenberg Jan 7 at 23:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AaronRotenberg Ok, true in a sense, but not even close to what I was hoping for ;) \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jan 8 at 0:31
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Control Weather allows a single caster to control a large area and impose life threatening conditions on a significant number of people at once

Control Weather states:

You take control of the weather within 5 miles of you for the duration. You must be outdoors to cast this spell. Moving to a place where you don’t have a clear path to the sky ends the spell early.

[...]

You can change precipitation, temperature, and wind. It takes 1d4 × 10 minutes for the new conditions to take effect. Once they do so, you can change the conditions again.

When you change the weather conditions, find a current condition on the following tables and change its stage by one, up or down. When changing the wind, you can change its direction.

Temperature

  1. Unbearable Heat

[...]

  1. Arctic Cold

[...]

The options for temperature are the ones we need to look at. There are 6 steps of temperature, two of which are life threatening to people within a 10 mile diameter circle centred on the caster. As a result it takes a maximum of two changes for a caster to move the weather to a life-threatening temperature. At most this requires 80 minutes of time for these changes to take effect.

The DMG, in the Wilderness Survival section lists the effects of extreme temperatures:

Extreme Cold

Whenever the temperature is at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw at the end of each hour or gain one level of exhaustion. [...]

Extreme Heat

When the temperature is at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a creature exposed to the heat and without access to drinkable water must succeed on a Constitution saving throw at the end of each hour or gain one level of exhaustion. The DC is 5 for the first hour and increases by 1 for each additional hour. Creatures wearing medium or heavy armor, or who are clad in heavy clothing, have disadvantage on the saving throw. [...]

Either of these two weather conditions being imposed has the potential to kill or incapacitate a significant number of people in a comparatively short space of time.

In addition to those two deadly effects, the caster can also impose, in a maximum of 80 minutes, strong winds (in parallel to the temperature changes), and in a maximum of 160 minutes heavy precipitation.

The same DMG section describes these effects as:

Strong Wind

A strong wind imposes disadvantage on ranged weapon attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing. A strong wind also extinguishes open flames, disperses fog, and makes flying by nonmagical means nearly impossible. A flying creature in a strong wind must land at the end of its turn or fall. A strong wind in a desert can create a sandstorm that imposes disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

Heavy Precipitation

Everything within an area of heavy rain or heavy snowfall is lightly obscured, and creatures in the area have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight. Heavy rain also extinguishes open flames and imposes disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing.

Conclusion

Using this spell a single caster can shut down non-magical flight, make ranged weapon attacks be taken at disadvantage, give disadvantage on all perception checks (both sight and hearing), and impose significant levels of exhaustion on a huge number of people (eg Waterdeep and its surrounding environs).

Looking at the Tiers of Play described in the PHB the third tier is described as:

In the third tier (levels 11–16), characters have reached a level of power that sets them high above the ordinary populace and makes them special even among adventurers. At 11th level, many spellcasters gain access to 6th-level spells, some of which create effects previously impossible for player characters to achieve.

[...]

These mighty adventurers often confront threats to whole regions and continents.

This tier of play fits a character who is facing a threat facing a "whole region" or "continent". This puts the appropriate level of a spell like this somewhere between 6th level and 8th level given its potential for regional dominance.

How do I apply this to my game?

You have expressed an interest in having the NPC be able to control the weather for their village. Given the analysis above, there are some easy tweaks we can make to produce a significantly lower level "Control Local Weather" spell:

  1. Bring down the radius from 5 miles to 1 mile or even 0.5 miles
  2. Reduce the spells duration (a 1 hour duration for example would make the extreme weather options infeasible)
  3. Remove the two extreme temperature options from the possible weather states
  4. Limit the spell to only one of the two extreme precipitation and wind effects

It will depend on what you want your NPC to do, but applying all of the above could easily reduce the level of the spell down to either tier 2 or even tier 1.

In the second tier (levels 5–10), characters come into their own. Many spellcasters gain access to 3rd-level spells at the start of this tier, crossing a new threshold of magical power with spells such as fireball and lightning bolt. [...] These characters have become important, facing dangers that threaten cities and kingdoms.

In the first tier (levels 1–4), characters are effectively apprentice adventurers. [...] The threats they face are relatively minor, usually posing a danger to local farmsteads or villages.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great, thanks. I was hoping for something from RAW, but this provides a really solid reasoning for why control level is that powerful as well as some useful guidance for the homebrew. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jan 7 at 17:01
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Xanathar's Guide to Everything has the 5th level spell control winds, which can control the wind within a relatively small area for up to an hour, and there are a few spells in the PHB that can manipulate or create specific forms of weather, like sleet storm or create or destroy water (which can create a very small rain shower near you).

As to why the spell is 8th level, we can only speculate, but most likely it's the extremely large area and high degree of flexibility in what you make the weather do.

That said, it seems like you're looking for an NPC who can use this, and in that case my recommendation is to just not worry about it. Just declare that your NPC weather-worker has this spell and is otherwise limited to much lower-level magic. It's not a huge deal for an NPC to have a spell that's vastly outside their theoretical ability; NPCs aren't player characters and don't play by PC rules.

Alternatively, there are magic items that give the wielder access to control weather without being stupendously expensive -- for example, one of the Instruments of the Bards, the Anstruth Harp, is a "very rare" and can throw a control weather once per day, plus fly, invisibility, wall of thorns, and a number of other powers. While the harp is only attunable by a bard, you could easily just change "bard" to "druid" or "wizard" and change it from a harp to a staff -- or if you're concerned about your players trying to make off with it, make it a non-portable standing stone or something built into the wizard's tower, like rune carvings that flow up the inside walls from the basement to the roof-line.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't have to be expensive at all. Don't have the players purchase a magic item for the spell, tie the spell to a McGuffin the players need to obtain. Now you have a fun adventure hook as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Seth R Jan 7 at 3:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, when I say 'expensive' I'm really talking about rarity levels rather than actual gold cost as such. A very rare is listed for PCs of 11th level or higher, which is quite a lot earlier than they get access to 8th level spells legitimately. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Jan 7 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Either way, it sounds like OP wants to give their PCs the ability to cast the spell for a specific purpose. As such, they can tie the spell to an item and make it the focus of a quest. If that kind of power isn't something the PCs should rightly have at their level, just have it disintegrate once used or give it limited charges. \$\endgroup\$ – Seth R Jan 7 at 17:27
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There are several alternatives to Control Weather

Call Lightning, a 3rd level conjuration spell, allows the caster to assume control over an existing storm for 10 minutes.

If you are outdoors in stormy conditions when you cast this spell, the spell gives you control over the existing storm instead of creating a new one.

Alternatively, you could create your own storm cloud, however it can only be 60 feet in radius, and the spell's description doesn't state that you can actually create rain with it.

Sleet Storm, a 3rd level Conjuration spell, allows the caster to achieve the following over 1 minute:

Until the spell ends, freezing rain and sleet fall in a 20-foot-tall cylinder with a 40-foot radius. [...] exposed flames in the area are doused. The ground in the area is covered with slick ice.

Ice Storm (a 4th level Conjuration spell) is similar to Sleet Storm, however with significantly increased destructive potential.

Ask yourself: is it necessary that your spellcaster have complete control over the weather? The limitations of a lower-level spellcaster might make for an interesting story hook; with incomplete control, perhaps their skills inadvertently result in destruction instead of help, leading to a shaky relationship with the village. This can lead to all sorts of fun story developments.

Why is Control Weather 8th level?

A cursory examination of the previously described lower-level spells indicates that these spells allow control over weather systems in an extremely limited, short-term capacity. Clearly, the scale of Control Weather is much, much larger than the other weather-controlling spells, and therefore requires a much higher spell slot. Imagine the effort of casting Call Lightning over a 5 mile radius (the radius for Control Weather), and it becomes more clear why this spell is 8th level.

Additionally, in the traditional fantasy setting in which DnD is typically set, the control of weather is often viewed as a feat that only the strongest of spellcasters can achieve. In the Lord of the Rings, it took a creature as strong as Sauron (a creature we would view on the level of a demi-god) to start changing the environment and weather of Middle Earth as his influence expanded. Some citation needed here, if anyone knows of additional examples of this trope please let them be known

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also Saruman influenced the weather when Gandalf was trying to lead the party through the mountains. Though there's probably scope for arguing that he was casting a long-range Ice Storm rather than using something akin to Control Weather. \$\endgroup\$ – aroth Jan 7 at 4:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ These also could serve as a guide for homebrewing spells limited to other specific weather conditions, giving what level and power level (range, duration, etc) is appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – trlkly Jan 8 at 1:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aroth If ('the Big If') the movie-version is accurate, Saruman seemed project his ground-zero casting spot when he was in his tower. This explains why The Fellowship hears him shouting the Control Weather spell - and also how up-close & personal his possession spell was over King Théoden, so far away. Was his tower was a de facto magic item for his version of Project Image? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim of Time Jun 10 at 16:47
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The main reason control weather is high-level is that it controls weather over such a large area for such a long time. Very few spells can change the course of an entire army sized battle by themselves, but control weather can take out an army, or navy, or demolish a town by itself. It is not focused destruction, but it is massive destruction.

To make a milder version, make something that is more limited in what kind of weather it can achieve - perhaps only rain or not rain - and give it a longer casting time. Perhaps a ritual that takes days to set up and cast, or maybe it has to be cast every day for a year before the caster can start to affect the weather (but then can do it daily in that one area).

Alternatively, by RAW, you can create a cleric of a storm god, use Divine Intervention and roll well. There's really not much in the way of alternatives to the spell that can actually make it rain over a significant area.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For comparison:Mavin's Worldweave Level: 11 Duration: Permanent Casting Time: 10 Area of Effect: one mile/lvl The worldweave allowed an archwizard to change the weather patterns of a large parcel of land until dispelled. Throughout Netheril’s existence, this spell was used hundreds of times to stay the effects of the polar ice in its northern borders. This gave Netheril’s land a temperate climate instead of one more suited for its placement on the globe—a subarctic clime. With cast, the archwizard was able to change the climate of an area. \$\endgroup\$ – Garrett Motzner Jan 8 at 2:18
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Why is it an 8th level spell?

It may be of interest to look at the historical legacy of the control weather spell:

  • In Original D&D, Vol-1 (1974), it was only 6th level. Note that was the highest possible spell level at the time (6th level spells max). In fact, control weather was the very last spell listed for wizards in the ordered-by-power-level list. No range, area, or duration were specified.

Control Weather: The Magic-User can perform any one of the following weather control operations with this spell: Rain, Stop Rain, Cold Wave, Heat Wave, Tornado, Stop Tornado, Deep Clouds, Clear Sky.

  • The first OD&D Supplement, Greyhawk (1975), expanded possible spell levels from 6 to 9, although the level of control weather wasn't changed (nor was any other pre-existing spell). The mass combat supplement in the next year, Swords & Spells (1976), had a comprehensive table that filled in range, area, and duration for all spells that formerly didn't have any; control weather was given the unique range/area descriptor of "table".
  • In the 1E AD&D PHB (1978), control weather is still 6th level wizards, and 7th level for clerics/druids (as seen in Greyhawk). It gets a pretty unique large area and duration: 4-16 square miles, for 4-24 hours. It also gets a downgrade in power, whereby you can only change the temperature, winds, precipitation by one step on a certain continuum (retained thereafter in all 1E to 5E).
  • As of 3.0E, the levels are the same, with a 2-mile-radius area.
  • In 3.5E, the level for wizards is incremented to 7th level.
  • In 5E, the level is incremented once again to 8th level.

So we might characterize this evolution as saying that compared to its initial 6th level status (the highest in the game at the time), given the extremely long-range power and campaign effect it later received, later designers have constantly been working to counter-balance it with limitations, such as gradually increasing the level. An alternative approach is seen in the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert D&D line (1980), where the original free-form effect is retained, but the area is only 240 yards radius.

I will say that in working on my own mass-combat rules for many years, control weather stands as a unique stumbling block; many of the mechanics, costs, rules, ways it interfaces with the RPG, etc., are predicated on how a wizard with control weather brought to the battle can change things for everyone involved. I've probably spent more time wrestling with that one issue than anything else.

More on my blog about the 1st-3rd Edition legacy of the control weather spell here.

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