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I wanted to pick your DM brains about allowing a Cleric of the Tempest domain to swap one of their domain spells.

One of the players in our campaign would like to swap Control Water (PHB, p.227) for Storm Sphere (XGtE, p.166). It seems to be in line with the whole flavour of a Tempest Cleric and they are both 4th-level spells.

Note: Storm Sphere appears in Xanathar's Guide to Everything, so it had not been published at the time when the Tempest domain was published.

Would it be unbalanced to allow this spell swap for the Tempest cleric’s domain spells?

I would really appreciate any answers that draw on own experience of allowing tweaks for a Cleric domain spells.

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3 Answers 3

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Replacing ice storm with storm sphere seemed balanced enough when I did it

I, a couple of years or so ago, played a Tempest Cleric who had a very similar alteration, where my DM allowed me to swap ice storm for storm sphere.

I will point out that I don't necessarily optimise my characters that well, preferring thematic choices over optimal choices, hence my reason for volunteering ice storm as the spell to lose was because it didn't fit the "lightning and thunderstorms" feel I was going for, whereas storm sphere was a must for this character (and, in my opinion, a must for Tempest Clerics generally, but as you have noted, Xanathar's Guide to Everything wasn't released when the Tempest Cleric was released).

I found that its main use was as a high level alternative to spiritual weapon, which is to say, a way for me to use by bonus action to fire lightning bolts at people rather than hitting them with spiritual weapon. The average damage from the 4d6 lightning damage from the bolt isn't that different from the 1d8 + Wisdom modifier damage dealt by the spiritual weapon, although on average overtime, the bolt is better.

The initial 20-foot-radius sphere of damage was also useful, but compared to what I replaced it with (ice storm) it wasn't as good, of course. However, it does target a less common saving throw (Strength) than ice storm (Dexterity) and I am essentially getting a slightly worse ice storm and a slightly better spiritual weapon for one 4th level spell slot, whereas casting those two spells otherwise would cost a 4th level spell slot and a 2nd level spell slot.

That said, it is a concentration spell, so unlike ice storm and spiritual weapon, it can easily be taken away, whilst also blocking any other potential buff spells or even other offensive spells like spirit guardians. I remember being more offensive that a typical cleric (although I was at least still playing the role of the party healer), but if anything, that also means there are more opportunities for me to lose my concentration on storm sphere, since I was also spending a lot of time in melee.

Overall, I didn't find myself casting it all the time, usually only where there were many weaker enemies to deal with, and I don't remember it ever feeling overpowered, although it was one of my better spells (but then, at 4th level, you'd hope it would be). I didn't use it that much at higher levels, other then remembering that I still had it, and that I hadn't cast it in a while.

Although other answers argue that replacing control water with storm sphere is less balanced than replacing ice storm, I don't really much of an opinion on that (since that's not what I did) other than to agree with their reasoning; replacing a more situational spell with a combat spell seems less balanced than replacing a combat spell with another combat spell.

All I can really say is that when I played a Tempest Cleric with storm sphere instead of ice storm, it seemed balanced (and my DM never had any problems with it, they never said they regretted letting me have it), so I'd recommend that; replace ice storm (which doesn't fit the Tempest Cleric's theme so well anyway IMO).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Something you may have ignored in the comparison between Spiritual Weapon and Storm Sphere is that Storm Sphere deals lightning damage. That means you can use the Channel Divinity in order to deal max damage (24), which provides possibly one of the best uses for the channel divinity by that level. It also provides AoE control with the storm itself, which spiritual weapon doesn't do. I also don't see how it is "slightly worse than ice storm" - it's actually better, since it deals damage every round, rather than once. Unless you lose concentration early \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I never actually used Channel Divinity with storm sphere during my time playing that character - I know, I missed a trick there - I only really used Channel Divinity when I was directly dealing such damage. Hence I didn't include that because that goes against the "here's what I did" nature of my answer. As for "better vs. worse", I meant the initail damage part of storm sphere only. \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 23:04
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As a DM I would call it slightly imbalanced

Since domain spells are considered always prepared, there is a quick trick to figure out value/balance; reverse the conditions.

At 7th level, a Tempest cleric gets two domain spells; Control Water and Ice Storm. These are always prepared above and beyond what the cleric can have prepared. For the sake of argument, we'll say that they can prepare 11 non-domain spells (level 7 + 4 for an 18 Wisdom)

This means that if they want to also have Storm Sphere they would have to use up one of their prepared spots. But this brings up another issue I'll address at the end (Hint, they can't do it).

If we reversed the spells, Control Water must be manually prepared and Storm Sphere is a "freebie", what is the likelihood that the cleric would choose Control Water as one of those 11?

Unless you were specifically going on an adventure where there is a great chance to encounter a large body of water, I would imagine the chance being very low. Whereas Storm Sphere can be a useful attack no matter what.

So you would be trading a niche spell, Control Water, for an always useful attack spell, Storm Sphere. To me, it sounds like the player is just looking to not be stuck with a rarely used "freebie". They should feel sorry for Arcana clerics that are stuck with Nystul's magic aura and Leomund's secret chest...

Now, is it going to change the world? No

Will it give the player any great advantage? Unless you're going through a water campaign, it's basically an extra spell they can prepare.

The second issue is that Storm Sphere is not even on the Cleric's spell list. It would be impossible for a cleric to prepare this spell under normal means. So not only would they essentially be getting an extra preparation slot, but they would be getting a spell that no other Cleric could cast.

Is that game breaking? Still no. Lot's of clerics have domain spells that no other cleric can cast. Once again, Arcana clerics get Nystul's magic aura and Leomund's secret chest. But it does give them another edge up that may make other clerics wish to switch out their Domain spells to something cooler/more useful.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott Hi, thanks for your answer, and for updating in light of Szega's mentioning that Storm Sphere is not a spell in the Cleric's repertoire. As an interesting point, in the Light domain for instance you will find Fireball, again not in the normal cleric repertoire - and a powerful L3 spell. Thanks for updating +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 9:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding swapping Domain spells for something cooler/more useful, if it fits the theme a lot, as in, screams the theme like storm sphere does for the Tempest domain, then I say why not? For example, what Light domain cleric wouldn't want wall of light? At least, if such a cleric were being played by someone who loves thematic spell choices as much as I do... Instead, Light domains clerics get scrying, what the hell does that have to do with Light? But again, I'm mostly thinking from a thematic perspective rather than balance... \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 12:49
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So, this is similar to homebrewing content, which I like to do and have some experience, so I'll put my 50 cents here.

The point of view given by Miva's answer is a nice one. He is, essentially, comparing the "old tempest cleric" against the "new tempest cleric" in terms of how likely a player would choose that spell (if they even could), and that is a fine way of analyzing it.

However, I believe there are more points to consider when making such an analysis. Let us start.

Comparing (sub)classes

If you do the change you are proposing, is this subclass going to step in another subclass or even another class territory, shadowing it?

For this case, my answer is no. I don't see it shadowing any other subclass, conceptually at least.

Now, does it make it more likely to go for a Tempest cleric? Well, probably. First, it synergizes very well with the Channel Divinity. Second, it is an Improved Spiritual Weapon (which is a very good cleric spell that provides a nice use for the bonus action). And finally, Tempest is already a quite good choice for a Melee damage dealer cleric, along War and Forge (more tank-ish).

So, the main problem I see here is: the Tempest subclass is already good as it is, and giving it another very good, with high synergy spell that the cleric usually would not have access might be pushing it a little bit too much over the top.

Compare the power level to other same-level class features

So, you mentioned

they are both 4th-level spells.

but spell level is a very bad indicator of power level, in general. Many high level spells are... well, crap. And many low level spells are incredible for a very long time (Bless, I am looking at you). As Miva's answer mentioned, obviously Storm Sphere is fairly superior to both Control Weather and considerably better than Ice Storm, even (assuming you can maintain concentration, which you should be able to do as a Tempest Cleric). But not only that, it is also fairly superior to the spell selection for the War cleric at 7th level, the Forge Cleric, the Life Cleric...

So, again, the problem here is that the Tempest is already a good subclass, and you are giving it one of the strongest damaging spells for the level, as a freebie, in a level where other similar subclasses get crap. With that change, I would possibly not go for a War cleric any more, for example.

Compare to other choices of spending the same resources

Finally, let us understand what resources are being used here.

  • It is a 4th level spell, so we need a 4th level spell slot.

  • It is a concentration spell.

  • We would need to prepare it (if it was available to the cleric).

At 4th level, the only other concentration spell the Cleric could be using the same resources reliably is Banishment, which is essentially a Save-or-suck which gets rid of an enemy for the fight duration if it succeeds. While it has its use, it is certainly not a replacement for a high DPR action-economy-effective spell such as Storm Sphere.

Considering only the concentration aspect, the Cleric could concentrate on Spirit Guardians, which is a considerably weaker 3rd level spell with a similar purpose of consistent DPR, Hold Person which is a very good situational spell and Bless, which is great for a 1st level spell slot.

Overall, the only one actually competing with Storm Sphere is Spirit Guardians, which is more of a control AoE spell, and, in general, Storm Sphere would be preferred (as it not only controls the area where it is put but also provides a more consistent damage source).

But more important than that, when we consider only the 4th level spells from the Cleric list... welp, they are quite subpar. Guardian of Faith is decent, again, as a Control AoE spell, but not as a consistent damage dealer.

Point being: by providing Storm Sphere to the Cleric, you are providing a completely new niche to it at this level, basically without competition, which is a good action economy for consistent damage, which was a job previously performed by Spiritual Weapon (which will probably still be used as a 2nd level spell).

If you look at spells outside the cleric list provided by other domains, they are usually not great at this level. The best one is probably the Trickery domain, with Dimension Door and Polymorph (which should be used as a Buff, since, as target-removal it does the same as Banishment).

TL;DR

I would not change it. If you really want to give them Storm Sphere, I would take away Ice Storm, which is still a very considerable upgrade, but at least are somewhat in a similar role (completely different to the situational Control Weather). While it is not gamebreaking, it looks certainly not balanced.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your answer and reasoning. I feel it misses the point that there are various examples of Cleric's domain spells which are normally not available to other clerics, e.g. Fireball. According to your current reasoning, would it be fairer, do you think to drop Ice Storm instead of Control Water as they wanted, so that it is exchanging one similar damage spell for another? Note that Ice Storm also is not a cleric spell, but is part of the actual domain spells for a Tempest priest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 9:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Senmurv Yeah, I mentioned it in the end of the answer. If you are willing to do it, I would take Ice Storm away. And I also mention that there are other spell lists that get spells from outside the cleric list, but most of them are bad and/or don't synergize THAT WELL with the subclass (as Storm Sphere does with the Tempest). \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 16:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ That, however, is more of a theoretical analysis. NathanS answer is based on experience on actually doing that, so I will leave mine as it is and give him credits for actually trying it out (although the conclusion is the same :P) \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Commented Jun 14, 2020 at 16:59

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