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What are some good AOE spells (5th level or lower) for a wizard to get rid of hordes of weak to medium demons?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov So far I've only found Sickening Radiance and Vitriolic Sphere, but I'd like to see the suggestions others come up with so I'd be grateful if the post was kept up. \$\endgroup\$ May 10 at 17:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Btw, Avernus is in hell. So you’ll likely face a lot of devils, not demons. This will make Elemental Adept a lot less useful, as most devils are outright immune to fire damage. \$\endgroup\$ May 10 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this even need the Baldur's Gate tag? The question isn't specific to Baldur's Gate, and could easily apply to a variety of campaigns. @GroodytheHobgoblin rot13 for spoilers: gur jne orgjrra qrzbaf naq qrivyf vf n sbphf bs gur pnzcnvta (ng yrnfg ubj zl TZ ena vg), fb lbh trg n ybg bs qrzbaf nf jryy \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    May 10 at 20:28

5 Answers 5

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A feat may solve the resistance problem: Elemental Adept

While you won't be able to deal with immune-to-fire enemies, any resistant enemies will no longer be resistant to fire.

Prerequisite: The ability to cast at least one spell
When you gain this feat, choose one of the following damage types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder. Spells you cast ignore resistance to damage of the chosen type. In addition, when you roll damage for a spell you cast that deals damage of that type, you can treat any 1 on a damage die as a 2. You can select this feat multiple times. Each time you do so, you must choose a different damage type. (PHB, Ch 6). {bolding mine}

Beyond that, Shatter (2nd level) and Cone of Cold (5th level) use Thunder and Cold damage respectively, while Sickening Radiance (4th) applies radiant damage, and Ice Storm (4th lvl) does a mix of damage that isn't fire.

A creature takes 2d8 bludgeoning damage and 4d6 cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. Hailstones turn the storm’s area of effect into difficult terrain until the end of your next turn.

Since you didn't specify what level your characters are, I offered a range of spell levels there as examples. There are others that get around the fire resistance problem. Consult your local spell list, and you may find spells like synaptic static (4th) (psychic damage) or dawn (5th) (radiant damage) useful.

May I suggest Sorcerer as your PC class?

(This is for other readers, as the OP noted in a comment that they are a Bladesinger Wizard).

A simple one that gets you what you need at level 1 is a (Variant) Human Sorcerer. Choose Shadow Magic for both long range vision in the dark and a chance to get up when knocked to 0 HP, as well as the Elemental Adept (Fire) feat, and then select spells from a variety of elemental choices. You'll want to take a good hard look at the spell list before you choose since there is a spell limitation for Sorcerers that Wizards do not have.

Order of the Scribes

If your table uses Tasha's Cauldron of Everything material, then this second level feature may provide more ability to change damage type:

When you cast a wizard spell with a spell slot, you can temporarily replace its damage type with a type that appears in another spell in your spellbook, which magically alters the spell’s formula for this casting only. The latter spell must be of the same level as the spell slot you expend.

This will depend on what spells you have in your spell book, and for the OP (who is playing a Bladesinger wizard) is a choice that would have to have been made at level 2 when the school/arcane origin was chosen. (Unless the optional rule for retraining a sub class is used from Tasha's(thanks @nick012000)).

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    \$\begingroup\$ most demons are resistant to fire, cold and lightning, I'm playing a bladesinger, we're currntly at level 12. \$\endgroup\$ May 10 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Then you may want to take the feat twice: it's the only feat that you can take twice. \$\endgroup\$ May 10 at 17:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's potentially worth including the Order of the Scribes Wizard as an option for other readers as it has a feature (gained at second level) explicitly able to replace the damage type of wizard spells to another type (subject to certain conditions) \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    May 10 at 21:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure this answer is actually good. Elemental Adept only works against resistance, not immunity. If you're up against demons, cool. If it's any other fiends, you stand a good chance of being useless again. Blasting magic at fiends tends to be a crapshoot. And suggesting cold spells is bad advice, demons resist those just as well as fire. \$\endgroup\$ May 11 at 0:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically, there are rules for retraining your subclass to a different subclass in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. It's not too late for a Spellsinger Wizard to retrain as an Order of Scribes Wizard. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    May 11 at 7:45
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Steel Wind Strike (XGtE)

The problem with most AoE spells is that even if you can lay down a damage type to which the demon is not resistant, a lot of your targets are going to have Magic Resistance, meaning they get advantage on their saves and will end up taking half damage anyway. Rather than a spell which gives them a save, a spell that lets you make attack rolls is preferable against anything with magic resistance.

Steel Wind Strike is not technically an AoE spell since it doesn't affect a literal area, but by targeting up to 5 creatures within 30 feet it is effectively the same thing, and you don't have to have sculpt spells to protect your teammates from friendly fire; you can use it safely if one of your allies is getting pinned down or as a follow-up to finish off things damaged earlier in melee. It yields force damage which means the damage itself will likely not be resisted, and will do an average of 33 points per target (more if you include up to five chances to crit). After your attack, it can provide you with up to 35 feet of movement (provided it lands you next to one of your targets) which might be useful to set yourself up for bladesinger melee on the next round or if you used your movement before casting to get yourself in position.

It is expensive at 5th level, but has enough advantages that you might effectively employ it against large numbers of lesser demons. At 12th level, you don't have Song of Victory yet, but unfortunately it will not interact with that when you do get it, since these are spell, not melee, attacks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning SWS, a great spell. I use it for exactly the sitch you're describing, and the ability to name the targets and to use a melee spell attack are nice. Yeah, you're blowing at 5th level slot, but play it right and every one of those 30 d10s are going to do some good. Also, you don't have to teleport afterward, although up to DM interpretation. The spell says "You can then teleport" (emphasis added), not "you teleport" or "you MUST teleport". \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 10 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jack Thanks, I have never actually used or had the spell used in a game, so it is reassuring that it works as I surmised, except for the teleport part which I will edit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 10 at 21:15
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Sorry to hear about your demon problems. Once they start bothering you they can be really hard to get rid of. And of course, that pesky cold, fire, and lightning resistance can make the old stand-bys of cone of cold, fireball, and lightning bolt really feel less than effective.

Some good alternatives, all, unfortunately, situational. There's no magic bullet, as it were.

Summon Draconic Spirit (5th)

You get at 2 rend attacks and a breath weapon every turn, if you can possibly upcast to 6th you get a 3rd rend attack.

Rend attack is your spell attack modifier to hit, so your mileage may vary depending on how good your SAM is.

Breath weapon is 30 foot cone, you get to choose the damage type.

The rends and the breath weapon aren't a LOT of damage, but if you can keep your concentration up, you get additional damage on subsequent rounds for free.

Steel Wind Strike (5th)

Hit up to 5 creatures with a melee spell attack, bypassing pesky saves, each hit takes 6d10 force. Resist that, fiend-spawn.

Black Tentacles (4th)

Situationally useful if you can pin (or pen) them, and maybe they'll take 3d6 bludgeoning for as long as you can concentrate.

Charm Monster (4th)

Pick the right monster, especially if you can somehow disadvantage them on the save, and with some luck they'll fight for you, act on your behalf, or at least not attack.

Tidal Wave (3rd)

A bit iffy, but in the right circumstance, 30x10 area they all make dex saves, and if they fail, they take bludgeoning, and they're prone, and they take half if they save.

Fear (3rd)

I know you want damage spells, but don't completely dismiss control spells.

30 foot cone, Wis save; on a failure drop what they're holding and become frightened. With some luck you can get some of them to disarm themselves and take themselves out of the battle, so you can deal with them later.

Web (2nd)

If you can restrain some of them for a round or two that might help with divide and conquer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would also add Erupting Earth as a good AOE. 3d12 bludgeoning damage (more with upcasting). Most fiends are only resistant to bludgeoning damage from a non-magical source. This is magical, so it will get through. It also creates difficult terrain so they'll have a harder time getting to the party. I also like it's younger brother Earth Tremor as it causes the prone condition. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    May 10 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have never used either! So many spells, so little time.... \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 10 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Black tentacles (and web, the non-damaging version) is interesting in that the initial roll is a save, so magic resistance applies, but if they fail then subsequent rolls are checks, so magic resistance doesn't apply. My druid saves tidal wave for flying demons, so that when they are knocked prone they also take falling damage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 10 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Charm Monster isn't Dominate Monster. This may vary depending on your DM, but at my table, I can't see any scenario where casting Charm Monster on a hostile monster would result in them fighting for you. At best I would have them stop fighting entirely, though at the RAWest they would only stop targetting you specifically. \$\endgroup\$
    – DunBaloo
    May 11 at 12:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DunBaloo Sure, it's going to be very situational. But it says "The charmed creature is friendly to you". From there, attacking your enemies should be possible, or at least act on your behalf. I'll modify the language a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 11 at 12:13
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There are a number of options, if you are looking just for spells and not other approaches like spending a feat on it, or having to pick a specific subclass of Wizard (if you are an Scribes wizard as suggested, switching out damage types is the cleanest solution).

The issue you have is that most demons have resistance to multiple damage types, normally cold, fire, lightning. Which excludes many of the other area effect damage spells.

The second issue is that you are going to Avernus, a layer of hell, so you’ll face devils too. Most devils are immune to fire and poison, and resistant to cold. Elemental Adept will do you no good against them.

Third, most demons or devils have magic resistance graning advantage on their saves, which in many cases halves the damage. This makes area damage spells with saves less powerful against them, even if they are not immune or resistant.

In the PHB, useful options are

  • Magic Missile, spell level one, force damage. Not technically area damage, but can hit multiple demons, and does not suffer from resistance or magic resistance, it just hits. It can be upcast, likely not enough to take down a demon, though. Can often be picked up from NPC mages.

  • Shatter - spell level two, thunder damage. It does not scale that well to the amount of hit points most demons with energy resistances have, and it only has a small area of effect. The upside is that you may have this already, because early on, this is surprisingly effective as an ersatz-fireball against goblins, wolves and the like. Also nice against structures.

  • Lightning Bolt, level three, lightning damage. The other original area damage spell in the game unfortunately has a line area of effect that’s a lot less attractive than fireball, but otherwise deals just as much damage. No better against Demons, but Devils are not resistant to it. As many NPC mages have this, you again might already have picked this up adventuring.

If you allow for Xanathar's guide to everything, or other splat books, there are a lot of other options, among them

  • Erupting Earth, spell level 3, "Earthcube", magical bludgeoning damage. Only deals about 70% of the expected damage of Fireball to a smaller area, so the upgrade over resistance is minor.

  • Vitriolic Sphere, spell level four, "Acidball", acid damage over two turns. Overall slightly higher damage than fireball, too, but waiting for half of it for a turn has the downside of the monsters possibly surviving the first turn and getting one more round of attacks and actions in.

  • Sickening Radiance, spell level four, radiant damage. Radiant is nice, but Constitution save-or-none means only half of basic Fireball expected damage, so nothing gained. Most opponents will be able to move out and disadvantage on skill checks and giving away invisibility is pretty situational.

  • Synaptic Static, spell level five, "Psyball", psychic damage. Largely resistance free and against a typically weak save, combines combat quenching abilities with the damage too, but will not hit insects, oozes, constructs. Should work fine vs Demons and Devils though.

  • Dawn, spell level five, radiant damage. One of the area spells with the highest damage output in the game, but also stretching it over time. The light is sunlight, for a nice pick-up benefit against various undead.

  • Steel Wind Strike, spell level 5, force damage. Technically not an an area spell, it effectively works like one against to up to five targets. Next to nothing resists force, and as a spell attack it circumvents magic resistance that many devils and demons have.

If I had to level pick one to learn, it would likely be Steel Wind Strike, second pick Synaptic Static.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your answer, but isn't Sickening Radiance basically a better version of Dawn while using a lower level spell slot, honestly the only thing Dawn does better is that you can move it with a bonus action. \$\endgroup\$ May 10 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think Sickening Radiance is bad, as it is save or nothing against Con, a typically strong save, so the expected damage is going to be only about half of Fireball, the same you get from Fireball after resistance, so not worth blowing the cash on it. I can add it if you want \$\endgroup\$ May 10 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would second Synaptic Static. The situational limitation on it is often a non-issue for a well prepared caster (because you should have other options for when you can't use it), and even factoring in the limitations it’s a pretty strong spell for it’s level. \$\endgroup\$ May 11 at 1:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe you want to mention that most tougher demons and devils also have magic resistance, so even their weaker saves will be at advantage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    May 11 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Marq I wouldn't say "tougher". I think only the manes, lemures, and dretches lack Magic Resistance. Even the super-weak Imps and Quasits have it. \$\endgroup\$ May 12 at 19:40
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Using area spells on fiends is usually a losing game

I cannot emphasize enough that you are going to have a bad time even if you get a "correct" answer to this question.

Even if you find an element that the fiends you're dealing with are not resistant or immune to, or you decide to use disabling spells instead of direct damage, most of these guys still have the Magic Resistance trait to get advantage on their saves. That make them very difficult for wizards and sorcerers to deal with, as a general rule -- hope you like dealing half damage.

Only the very lowest class of fiends (the fractional-CR Manes, Lemures, and Dretches) lack this Magic Resistance. If you're above level 10, their resistances won't matter anyway -- you should be able to easily wipe out large groups of them even if you use a damage type they can resist.

What to do instead

You can use direct attack spells (the ones that use attack rolls instead of saves) that use the less "elemental" types (like force or necrotic damage) to decent effect, but that tends to be more in the way of taking out the big guy instead of laying down the fireball-style area damage you're used to. There's not much of a way around that, honestly. Fiends are just hard to do Crowd Control on.

Another strong choice can be what is sometimes referred to as "casting fighter at them", using your spell slots to buff the weapon-users in the group. Spells like magic weapon, haste, or stoneskin can be great ways to help your party out without directly dealing HP damage. The downside is this is only part of a strategy, because most of those buff spells are Concentration, so you're probably only accounting for one round of each fight and you'll need to figure out what to do next.

If switching classes is an option, a warlock focused on eldritch blast is a good spellcaster choice; since you're mostly dealing force damage with attack rolls, you can avoid most of the fiendish defenses while using your slots to throw down buffs on your allies.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This appears to be the frame challenge that I was hoping for (per the comments) so bravo for posting it. +1. 🙂 \$\endgroup\$ May 12 at 18:38

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