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A few things really bothers me in this game, one of them is the fact that static area damage spells can work in many different way for seemingly no reason. What I'd call damage timing : When does an area spell deal it's damage.

The main two versions I see are the Moonbeam version (assuming this answer is right ), where damage is dealt at the begining of the victim's turn. And the Flaming sphere version, where damage is dealt on casting (or on a special bonus action) and then at the end of the victim's turn. But I also found a number of spells that work differently.

To make it easier on myself, I am thinking of reworking all spells that seem to work the same :

  • Create a zone of danger (that can move like Moonbean or not like Wall of Fire) on the playing field.
  • Require creatures inside of it (usually all, but not always like Spirit Guardians) to make a save to avoid damage.
  • Usually only deal damage once per round if the target is free to move away. I expect any creature to move away from those spells.
    • I choose to ignore forced movement and out-of-turn movements since they are, in my experience, the exception rather than the norm due to the coordination aspect of pulling them off.

In order to consolidate and simplify the 'damage timing' of area spells, I would change them to work either on "cast&end of turn" like Flaming Sphere or "on start of turn&moving in" like Moonbeam. All working the same.

How does the rework affect common uses of the spells described above?

Examples of common uses I see are:

  • As a single target damage spell (moving the zone to follow the intended target) with bonus damage if the caster can line up extra creatures.
  • As way to force "willing" movement on the target. Such as to open up attacks of opportunity.
  • As an area denial spell. Hopefully preventing retreat or preventing going into melee.

I assume both rework are similar enough to be equivalent, if they change the usage of the spell, an answer can highlight how they would change the uses. I assume also that forced movements are rare, but if a poster thinks I'm wrong, I would be interested to hear why as well as how it impacts the spell.

For additionnal context : Prior to this question, I was looking for a way to remember which spell work which way and, by extension, how can I create homebrew spells to fit with those already available. So while this is not exactly the main question, I am interested in an answer that can highlight how different configurations of damage timing will change how players can use the spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I invite those voting to close this question to describe what seems unclear or over-broad to them, because as it stands I can see absolutely no reason why it should be—this isn’t just an acceptable question, but a great question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 16 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt the question is about the suggested reworking. The part about different spell using one or the other is not a question, it is context. I could make two questions about the two approaches. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 May 16 at 11:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ More on the two reworking. How it would affect damage and common uses are the same question to me. Seeing as damage will inform common uses. But if we get sown to the details, my main interest is usage. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 May 16 at 12:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 Can you elaborate on what you mean by "common uses" in the question, maybe by giving an example/s? \$\endgroup\$ – Senmurv May 16 at 16:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Senmurv i can yes. It will be along the lines of : how would spells gain or lose usage as single target damage? Or aoe damage. Or zone control (force movement or prevent movement)? Or would it make a difference as a combo tool (by pushing into the zone)? Does my homogenizing reduce sigbificantly reduce the game's depth. (I'll actually add this to the answer later today) \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 May 16 at 16:21
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"On cast and end-of-turn" won't prevent a creature from moving through the affected area, so won't be as useful at preventing retreat or keeping enemies out of melee. This also makes the spell far less useful if it can't be moved, since the result is "you can move through here, just don't end your movement here".

On the other hand, "on cast and end-of-turn" effects tend to be more punishing if the creature doesn't move, hitting them twice instead of once. For contrast, if the creature doesn't leave a "start-of-turn-or-entry" effect, it just leaves the caster free to use their action (or bonus action) to do something else, and that "something else" tends not to be as potent.

For further examples of this, Flaming Sphere only hits one target each time the caster moves it, the "AoE" component only triggers if the targets don't move. And "Dust Devil" deals no damage at all unless the targets don't move.

And while forced movement is relatively rare, prevented movement is more common. For example, you can use your AoE in an enclosed space when you (and your allies) are blocking the only exits. Or you can grapple them. There are also ways to penalise a creature for moving, such as attacks-of-opportunity or spells like Booming Blade. These work well with forcing a creature to leave a space, but not so well with preventing a creature from entering a space.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ From the last moonbeam comment, my idea could actually completely break that spell. Unless I add that moving the spell also trigger damage... Otherwise, the mention of area denial vs damage spell is very interesting. Is there a difference in power between a control spell like dust devil and other direct damage of the same level? \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 May 10 at 19:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 it's really hard to compare control spells with damage spells - it depends on the type and number of enemy, party composition, enemy behaviour, terrain, etc. Control can be useless, forcing enemies to move around but not affecting the damage dealt - or it can be a game changer that leaves creatures unable to attack or exposed to far more damage. It also requires more understanding of strategy to use correctly. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Chaplin May 11 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ For the record, I'm not going to accept rhis answer after the edits to the questions. You get my upvote because it was interesting for me personally. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 May 20 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 I've updated my answer to focus more on the re-worked question. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Chaplin May 20 at 18:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've accepted the answer and awarded the bounty. Kinda of by default. Not gonna lie. But it is useful food for thought for me. And since you took the time to rework it after the question changed. I think the bounty is fair. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 May 28 at 12:24

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