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I've initially slotted this as a 3rd-level spell (with absorption calibrated to a fireball), but want a second+ opinion. Other balancing suggestions welcome.

The intended fiction is that of the projected barrier (such as Mass Effect's biotic barriers) that the caster must struggle to sustain against incoming fire and that can collapse. Since it can be sustained but eats actions to do so, I'm OK with it absorbing a bit more (relative to incoming damage).

Projected Barrier

???-level abjuration
Duration: Concentration up to 1 minute, special
Components: V, S, M (hands outstretched)
Range/Area: Self (10-foot radius)

You throw your arms wide and create a barrier of warding force. Roll 8d6; the barrier prevents damage up to that amount before shattering. If multiple targets inside the barrier would take damage simultaneously, they share the protection equally.

On each of your turns for the duration, you can use your action to sustain the ward, resetting the protection to the original value. While sustaining the barrier, your speed is reduced to half and you cannot cast any other spells. If you do not sustain the barrier, it fades and the spell ends.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of (???+1) or higher, the barrier amount increases by 1d6 for each spell level above ???.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Important notes for balance: 1. If this protects 3 people against a fireball spell, how much damage does the ward take? 8d6 or 3*8d6? 2. If the barrier shatters, can you still sustain it on your next turn to bring it back, or does shattering end the spell? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 18:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson The ward absorbs 8d6 total. So each target's damage taken is reduced by 8d6/N (for N creatures). The intent is that it's the same total damage absorbed whether a single blow from a giant's club or a fireball. You can bring it back the next turn whether it shatters (ie is depleted for that turn) or not. Only losing concentration, duration expiration, or not sustaining it ends the spell (ok, dispel/AMF would work). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unrelated to my other comments: you might want to have the caster reroll the HP every time they sustain. This prevents the spell from being wasted when the first roll is low, and also gives the player something to do on a turn when they can't do much else, since their action was used to sustain and they can't move very far. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Benjamin_T_Hall Did you ever perfect this spell, and maybe play test it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Apr 13 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast They share a common inspiration, but the bubble was designed as a class feature rather than a spell and takes a different take on the mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 20 at 14:59

4 Answers 4

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I'd peg this at least at 5th level, more likely at 7th

To estimate what this would neutralize each round: 8d6 is about 28 points. Keep in mind that fireball is the marquee damage spell, on purpose a tiny bit too good for its actual level. So using it as a baseline for effects means they are going to be on the strong side.

There are few comparable spells effects, which makes this more difficult to evaluate, but here are points to consider:

  • Warding Bond at second level allows you to share damage between two creatures. It is not preventing damage (other than from rounding effects and improved AC/saves), just redistributing and so is clearly a lot weaker than this. This gives us some indication of the floor for damage prevention effects. (Kudos to @Pyrotechnical for this point).

  • With this refreshing every turn, you could negate 10 fireballs in sequence with this single spell. This clearly is more powerful a protection effect than a one time 28 points. (I think it would not fully protect your team, if each of them was affected by the fireball, as each would only receive their share of protection, but it would fully protect you if you were alone). Maybe it might be level 3 or 4 if it would not refresh the protection each turn, but not if it resets.

  • Stoneskin is 4th level. It lasts for one hour, but in the context of most fights, a minute is as good as an hour (the average fight duration is about four rounds). Stoneskin only gives one creature resistance to nonmagical, non-energy damage. This here again is a lot better, as it works against any damage and entirely negates it, and works for multiple creatures.

  • False Life would need to be upcast at level five to create a one-time shield of about 27-28 temporary hit points, for a single creature. (You do not need concentration, which is a big plus, but as it only lasts for one hour, you likely still need to cast it at the beginning of the fight, so the duration may not make that much of a difference). This here refreshes, and protects multiple creatures.

  • Antilife Shell is 5th level. It is not able to negate damage, but creates a similar protective barrier against melee attacks. Again, this lasts for an hour, but that is not that relevant for a combat situation.

  • Mass Cure Wounds is 5th level. Instead of avoiding damage, it heals damage one time, for a party of four about 74 points, roughly equivalent to two rounds of keeping this here up, so for a normal fight, likely helping about half as much.

  • Healing Spirit, a second level spell can be kept up for one minute of concentration, and heal (instead of prevent damage to) up to 6 creatures. Upcast to level five, it will heal 4d6 or about 14 points each time, again about half as effective as this here. You would need to upcast it to level 9, to heal as much as this prevents with each use.

  • The Arcane Ward feature of the Abjuration School wizard has hit point equal to 2x level + Int modifier. This ward also only works on the wizard itself, and only for one time the total, and to get the same level of protection, you would need to be at least 11th level.

In summary, comparable spells that can prevent even one-time the amount this buffers, or protect a group with a 10' radius screen, tend to be at least spell level 5. Being able to repeat that protection effect every turn makes it a lot more powerful.

One other way to look at this: In practice, characters likely have an AC of about 15 (mage armor, dex) to 20 (plate, shield) or higher depending on fighting style, items etc. Let's ballpark it as 18. A CR 8 creature has an recommended +7 attack (DMG p. 274), and would hit about half the time, so to deliver 28 damage, it would need a damage output of 56 points per round, also the amount recommended for a CR 8 creature. So overall, you could roughly expect this to negate all damage from a CR 8 creature for a fight. This would give the party ample time to kill that creature. It seems pretty powerful, to be able to neutralize a CR 8 fully with just one spell, and with no save for the creature to avoid it.

I probably would start trying this at 7th level, but would more likely nix the refreshing hp each turn and the need to spend your action (just keeping concentration), and try that at level 4.

There are also a few things to clarify about this barrier:

  • as spells only do what they say they do, this barrier would not stop anyone from entering the radius, and the protection would apply to opponents who enter as well as to the party, is that intended?

  • the outstretched hands would be a somatic component, or at least it is confusing to call them a material component. Material components are defined as "particular objects", and your own hands are most likely not objects in the sense of the game

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You may want to consider including discussion about Warding Bond as well. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 22:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical Thank you for the suggestion. I find it hard to draw a level conclusion from that, as while warding bond gives resistance, it deals the same amount of damage to the paired creature, so it is not reducing total damage taken apart from rounding effects. (There is some added protection from better AC/saves, though). But if any other spells come to mind, happy to include ... there may be some from non-core books I missed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ The thought I'd had is that as a 2nd level spell it re-distributes the damage, which establishes an important threshold in spell level expended for protecting allies'. The proposed spell negates the damage and thus the manner of protection is significantly improved. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 22:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical - I did not think of that. I'll add it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 23:11
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This is hard to judge, because it's doing a few things D&D 5e doesn't have good analogues for. That said, as written, I'd set this at 6th level. Minimum.

Let's break down the spell wording:

??? level abjuration Duration: Concentration up to 1 minute, special Components: V, S, M (hands outstretched) Range/Area: Self (10' radius)

The material component here doesn't really make sense. Cut it, or add an actual material component. I recommend a gold piece cost, if you do.

You throw your arms wide and create a barrier of warding force. Roll 8d6 -- the barrier prevents damage up to that amount before shattering.

5e does have some effects that soak X damage before you take actual hp damage--Abjurer's Arcane Ward and temporary hp effects--but they are much less swingy than this is. The average ends up in a sort of 25-30 point range, but the outliers run from 8 to 48. Any other effect is much more concrete about how much damage it soaks before dropping, making this spell as-written a gamble every time.

If multiple targets inside the barrier would take damage simultaneously, they share the protection equally.

Of the existing flat-damage-reduction effects, only a few ever cover multiple people simultaneously (and that is an effect of upcasting; see examples), which brings up some points of clarification. Presumably, if one person under the barrier is targeted with an attack, the barrier total for everyone lowers, making it vulnerable to mobs with many participants.

  • How does this effect persistent damage effects, like certain poisons or lingering Acid Arrow damage, that might be 'preexisting conditions' when the barrier is cast?

AOE damage? As it's written, this sounds like the barrier absorbs as much of the full damage as it's able, with the resulting amount spilling over to each individual as based on their save-for-half, if applicable. So a fireball dealing 27 points of damage to a group under a barrier with 10hp remaining means a character would take 17 damage if they failed the DEX save, and 3 if they passed.

You mention in the comments this is intended to be more along the lines of "DM adds up each individual's damage taken and takes that sum total out of the barrier's current hp" which is a mechanic that would be unique to this spell, and which in turn raises further questions. Namely,

  • which individual gets how much damage reduced from their total taken if there's damage left over (which there likely always would be for anything over a level 1 spell), and

  • if this is calibrated to one person's received damage from Fireball, why is it meant to cover more than one person if the damage is literally multiplied for there being multiple people protected?

Spoiler for the iteration advice below: nobody wants to do multiplication or division in the middle of a fight. Ditch the add-it-up and balance another way.

On each of your turns for the duration, you can use your action to sustain the ward, resetting the protection to the original value.

This right here is the reason it gets boosted so high in spell level. See examples of existing features below, but features with similar functionality usually cost a minimum of a spell slot (which automatically costs an action to cast) to bring back once depleted, or rely on once-per-X-rest or situational features. Assuming you don't lose concentration, the ability to refresh as an action lets you soak far more damage than you otherwise would using existing features.

While sustaining the barrier, your speed is reduced to half and you cannot cast any other spells. If you do not sustain the barrier, it fades and the spell ends.

A decent attempt at balancing, but from my perspective, insufficient, and not very much in line with existing spells. At the tables I play at, use of cover and allies who draw attacks to them, instead of me, mean the caster of this spell is strongly encouraged to always refresh the spell over something else. It's free hp! Separately, most spells might not damage without an action, but can be maintained without dropping if you do something else. I recommend doing something else to balance this.

Concentration here is weirdly both redundant and superfluous as-written. It can't be there as a prevention against stacking concentration effects--it already ends if you do literally anything else. On the other hand, the caster will never need to make a concentration check while the barrier has hp, making it very difficult to judge when that will come into play at all, especially with the current swinginess of the barrier's hp. Notably, existing effects with similar function generally don't take up concentration at all.

The only other reason to have this here is for effects which bypass damage but make you unable to concentrate, like sleep.

Existing Features that do similar things:

Closest comparison: Abjuration Wizard's Arcane Ward

  • The Abjuration Wizard's Arcane Ward is the closest in terms of likely intent, being a separate pool of hp that depletes fully before you take damage, and that is separate from/stacks with temporary hp. The total hp of the Ward is twice your wizard level + INT mod, putting the average 8d6 roll of 25-30 firmly at the equivalent of level 10-12 in this subclass. Starting at class level 6, you can use a reaction to put it on an ally within 30ft, but it is still only on one person (DM ruling on AOE and simultaneous damage pending).

  • Opportunity cost to replenish the Ward is much higher for much less reward: instead of just an action, you must spend another Abjuration spell of 1st level or higher, and only regain twice the slot level spent's amount of hp (maximum of 18 for a 9th level spell slot, notably less than the average of an 8d6 roll).

Temporary hp effects, which do not stack with each other:

  • Inspiring Leader feat and Fiend Warlock's Dark One's Blessing scale on character or class level (respectively) + ability mod, to a maximum of 25 at max level. Note the per-short-or-long-rest limit for the feat, and the situationality of needing to kill something for the warlock--it will generally take more than an action to refresh the damage buffer, though it likely comes closest.

  • Armor of Agathys and False Life scale on spell slot level. Both need to be cast at roughly level 5 to reach the same 25-30hp range as the average 8d6 roll attached to this spell is at. Opportunity cost to refresh: recasting at the same spell slot level. Note that upcasting these spells adds flat modifiers, not more dice, for a much more predictable amount of soaked damage.

  • Heroism lets the target regain temp hp at the start of their turn, but only ever gives the caster's spellcasting ability mod to the target, for a max of 5 temp hp per round. Enhance Ability is similar with 2d6. Each spell can affect multiple creatures upon upcasting, but that multiple-target effect is the only benefit of upcasting, as the temp hp does not scale. These are the closest example to the functionality you have written out here, with multiple targets and regaining effect during the round.

The Adjacent Example: Mass Effect 5e

Did you know there exists a hack for 5e based on the Mass Effect setting called Mass Effect 5e? It's calibrated to be a middle ground between regular 5e play and the video games, so it's a bit more bombastic in terms of damage rolls and such, but it has a similar power. Let's take a look.

Biotic Sphere

Casting time: Action

Duration: Concentration, 1 minute

Range: Self (15ft)

A shimmering barrier with 100 hit points extends out from you in a 15-foot sphere and moves with you, remaining centered on you and hedging out hostile creatures. If a hostile creature is within the sphere when you cast this power, it is pushed outside of the sphere's radius.

Any attack against a creature or targeted at a location within the sphere automatically hits the barrier instead. The barrier automatically fails any saving throws.

The barrier dissipates when it has 0 hit points. If an attack would deal more damage than the remaining hit points of the barrier, it soaks all of the damage and then dissipates.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this power using a power slot of 5th level, the barrier's health increases by 50 hit points.

This power is rated 4th level, in a hack that only has powers up to 5th. The pure-biotic Adept class gets access to 4th-level powers at class level 13--where D&D full casters get 7th level spells. It also cannot be brought back except through recasting, though its higher hit points means it's closer to the amount of damage soaked by your homebrew. Your homebrew doesn't have the anti-melee effect of this power, but having an anti-melee effect is generally going to be a lesser effect in the hack, since it's based very much on firearms.

This power doesn't allow spillover damage (worth higher slot), but also doesn't apply each protected party's damage to the total separately. The Concentration point from earlier in the wording-analysis becomes relevant again; here, it's to prevent doubling-up persistent effects, since it lacks the homebrew's restriction to maintaining the effect.

As-written, I'd rate this 6th level at minimum and likely better.

Advice for iteration:

Most of these are quality-of-life suggestions that don't reduce the recommended base slot level.

  • Reduce the dice-rolling for the hp and key it to spell slot level, like Armor of Agathys or False Life. Unless the tension of not knowing how effective the spell will be makes it fun for your table, making the effect more predictable will make this more useful to the player. If you like a little swing, something like a d10+20, add +5 or so per slot level upcast keeps the jist of the 8d6 while being more predictable. Again, this is if you wanna keep roughly the same numbers AND the action-to-replenish as stated.

  • Ditch the multiplication/division completely, and balance some other way. I'd go with 'Barrier takes total damage as though failed save, additional spills over on an individual basis' for the application here. Still kinda clunky compared to other spells, but far less so, and much easier to understand and apply.

  • Don't make the spell end if you use an action for other things. Rage does that, but rage is keyed to attacking/getting hit, which is going to be 90+% of what a Barbarian is doing while raging anyway, and that restriction goes away by level 15. Spells generally don't do that, and Witch Bolt, which comes closest to doing so, is regarded as a terrible spell for that exact reason. Look at Heat Metal for comparison, and tweak the numbers to balance instead.

  • If you want this to be lower in base spell level, either keep the action-to-replenish and greatly reduce the barrier's hp (the Eldritch invocation fiendish vigor, tweaked up only slightly, might make a good starting point), or keep the barrier's hp roughly where it is or a bit above and ditch the auto-replenish. This couples neatly with the scale-on-slot-level, allowing higher-level casts to feel truly epic as they start to be able to no-sell bigger and bigger effects.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Small suggestion: Inspiring Leader can refresh on a short rest, not only a long rest. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 23:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin good catch! I was mentally drafting while using my phone to check while on a train, missed that \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 23:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cool find on Mass Effect 5e too! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 23:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin If you like the video game and have a willing group, can highly recommend it! We had a lot of fun with it, and it's pretty well balanced internally IMO. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 23:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Re: concentration. It works the other way too - if you already have cast a spell that requires concentration you are forced to stop that spell in order to create this barrier. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shadow
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 4:28
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This spell is a bit swingy but much higher than 3rd level, likely around 5th

With 8d6, the barrier prevents on average 28 points of damage per round, with a maximum of 48, that allows you to potentially avoid on average 280 points of damage over its full duration if the fight lasts long enough and you keep it up for the full duration. More realistically though, most fights last for 3-4 rounds so you’re looking at an average of 84 points of damage avoided over 3 rounds.

However, this banks on the opponents not doing enough damage to the barrier in one turn to shatter it prematurely (I am assuming, given the wording of the description that once it uses up its pool of damage it shatters and is gone, with the spell ending at this point whereas if it hasn’t been used up fully, you can reset it back to “full health” at your turn - if this interpretation is wrong and you can, in fact, bring it back up on your next turn after it shatters, that makes the spell even more powerful).

There isn’t a lot of spells that this could be compared to but my first instinct was using Mass Cure Wounds as a baseline, since preventing and healing damage is somewhat similar in terms of the end result, with preventing being a bit better than healing. So, Mass Cure Wounds allows you to heal up to 6 creatures for 3d8 + your spellcasting modifier, assuming a +5 this gives you on average 18.5 points per creature, rounded up to 19. In a 4 people party, that adds up to a total of 76 points healed if you get everyone within range. Your barrier spell will prevent a bit more than that over 3 rounds of combat, it will take 3 actions instead of one though, which is a considerable drawback. The longer combat takes though, the more value you are getting out of it, over its full duration you will prevent over 3.5 times more damage than you heal with a single casting of Mass Cure Wounds, you do need to spend 10 actions on it but only a single spell slot. All my comparisons use average values, in reality this will be much more variable depending on how lucky you get, but overall I think this spell is comparable to Mass Cure Wounds at level 5 and I would rate it around the same level.

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Most of the answers above have done a very good job of pegging 5e's equivalents so here's some additional context from way back when:

From base D&D (Black Box Soft Cover / Expert Set from the early 90's) there was "force field", an 8th level spell on a 6 round timer: 120' range, immobile after casting, 20' radius. Nothing can pass in or out (other than through magical transport like teleport or dimension door which are ALWAYS (in pretty much every version of D&D) a bypass to barrier spells). This wasn't damage prevention it was complete immunity.

This is an 8th level spell.

Several unique differences:

  • Immobility vs. Fully Mobile is a huge advantage to your homebrew. D&D In general is a mixed bag on shield spells following you: AMS (Anti-Magic Shell or Field follows you, Prismatic Sphere is Stationary, Globe of Invulnerability is Immobile, etc.) but generally speaking, most "physical" shield spells of this nature lock a caster in place for the duration.

  • HP Soak vs. Immunity: In this case force field (with its basic immunity to everything) is more powerful an effect than simply soaking HP of damage. That said, most shields are specific in their protection: Globe of Invulnerability is spells, AMS is magic, etc. so a general "soak HP of Damage" is a somewhat unique effect...still not quite as powerful.

  • Refresh every round till concentration broken: This is ultra powerful and I would strongly encourage you to take this out. Someone can feel free to correct me here but I believe this would make your homebrew unique in all ways to anything else in either 5th edition or any other edition I remember (From base set to 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, pathfinder and 5th). Spells that expire must be recast. You don't ever just get to think a spell that was broken back into existence for free. I also notice that your spell description has no Spell Length, allowing a mage to in essence concentrate and maintain a barrier around 4 party members (him + 3) indefinitely. Again, I know of very few spells in D&D in general without caps on their duration.

Basing this off the 8th level spell from base D&D, I would probably set the level requirement at 7. The refresh conversation ALMOST pushes me to set the level requirement at 8 - 9...and if the numbers (8d6 damage prevention) were any higher this would absolutely fall in my 8/9th level range.

I somewhat struggle with this since Wall of Force (which can essentially create the 8th level "Force Field" spell I reference) is a 5th level spell. It is immobile and prevents movement through it, however, which makes your homebrew a bit more flexible. All in all I think i'd start this version of the spell at 7th and see where it goes. It almost definitely needs a duration added to it.

However, I would be very careful with this spell at your table.

Tactically, 3 ranged party members + the Mage Shielder would be an exceptionally detrimental playstyle. "I use 10' of movement to step out from the field, shoot my bow at an enemy and step 10' back into the shield on my turn." This would make AOE encounters pretty much essential. EVERY combat would need some kind of AOE caster in it (Spells, breath weapons, etc.) to simply bypass the protection of this spell. This is a complete stymie to melee combatants...8d6 is a block to at least one high level melee combatant per round. Minions would be utterly nullified as well. Likely you're taking out about 1.5 melee combatants who will do nothing but beat on your shield round after round after round.

Of course, I could always have the dragon flying around above while the minions break through the shield...1d6 damage at a time till the shield is at a handful of hit points left before having my dargon swoop in with a breath weapon to blast through the remnants of what little shield is left and throw heavy damage on the people hiding behind it, hopefully breaking the mage's concentration in the process.

And that brings me to the real reason I discourage this as written: It's not fun. It's not fun for the mage who's going to feel like they're a 1 trick pony, and it's not fun for the DM or other players who have to play around this. Imagine being the poor fighter or barbarian who, round after round, has to beat into some mage's damage shield over and over and over again, doing 1 - 4 damage (on GREAT rolls) to the caster. Imagine being the party mage casting this. Your turn is to roll 8d6, add up the numbers, take half movement and go back to sleep...over and over and over and over again...assuming your shield was broken last round that is.

It's not that I don't believe D&D has a place for large damage prevention spells. A 6th level biotic barrier that blocks 50ish hp of incoming damage that lasts 1 - 3 rounds covering a 15' radius isn't a terrible idea for a spell. The main components that give me pause in your homebrew are the fact that it pretty much nullifies the mage from doing anything on their turn and refreshes the damage prevention over and over again without expending additional spell slots.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a solid attempt at an answer, but needs a little bit more to get the +1. Specifically, you've made reference to another edition of D&D and I strongly suspect that's a major draw for down votes. I get the impression that you have some understanding of 5e, so I would encourage you to make edits to this answer that strike reference to earlier editions and just focus upon the relevant components of 5e that support your stance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 17:35

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