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Shillelagh is a solid Tier 1 cantrip option for druids. It provides magical bludgeoning damage and allows the druid to apply their wisdom modifier to melee attacks. However, shillelagh lacks the standard damage scaling that other cantrips have, so its usefulness drops off significantly even at 5th level, and by 11th level when other damage cantrips are dealing 3dX damage, shillelagh starts to feel like a wasted cantrip selection.

To fix this, I want to add the standard cantrip damage scaling to shillelagh (addendum in italics):

The wood of a club or quarterstaff you are holding is imbued with nature's power. For the duration, you can use your spellcasting ability instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of melee attacks using that weapon, and the weapon's damage die becomes a d8. The weapon also becomes magical, if it isn't already. The spell ends if you cast it again or if you let go of the weapon.

The weapon's damage increases by 1d8 when you reach 5th level (2d8), 11th level (3d8), and 17th level (4d8).

This would bring its damage into line with the other druid cantrips (produce flame, poison spray, thorn whip). Now, as I was thinking through this change, one glaring issue came to mind: the Magic Initiate feat and the Extra Attack feature. Magic Initiate would allow non-druids to learn and use shillelagh:

Choose a class: bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. You learn two cantrips of your choice from that class's spell list.

For a fighter, this would make the change to shillelagh potentially problematic, as the fighter gets to make three attacks per Attack action at 11th level, and this would set their base damage per attack to 3d8+STR. This seems obviously broken, so I'm pretty sure this is why shillelagh does not feature the typical cantrip scaling.

However, in an upcoming game, I am planning to play a single-classed druid. Single-classed druids don't have an Extra Attack feature, so the only balance concern I could come up with is off the table. It does synergize similarly with haste, as haste allows one additional weapon attack per turn, but the only druid that can learn haste is Circle of the Land (Grassland), and I am playing Circle of the Land (Coast), so unless another party member has haste and chooses to use it on me, haste will not be affording me additional attacks.

The game I’ll be playing is starting at 10th level, so my goal here is to see shillelagh be viable in late Tier 2 and into Tier 3 play without being overpowered.

Have I missed anything else? Is there any other reason just adding the standard cantrip damage scaling to shillelagh for my single classed druid might be unbalanced?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Outside the scope of the question (since you're obviously limiting to single-class druids), but this would be wayyyyyyy powerful for Druidic Warrior rangers as well. Regardless, why take this approach instead of asking to gain Extra Attack only with Shillelagh as a level 5 druid feature? \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Aug 4 at 20:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ESCE I guess because I see that as a departure from the standard model. We see damage cantrips scaling the number of damage die, so I want shillelagh to do the same. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 4 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there any chance the DM will allow the optional Cantrip Versatility rule from Tasha's? That would eliminate the original problem of Shillelagh feeling like a wasted cantrip selection. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 1:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov So your goal is not optimizing cantrip damage output across all levels, but rather specifically making shillelagh viable but still balanced at higher levels? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 1:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since we are talking about a strict buff, could you explain what you mean by "balance"? Is there a reason you can't just use primal savagery and flavour it as hitting them with your staff? \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 5 at 1:38

4 Answers 4

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Alleviate balance concerns by copying existing weapon cantrips

The printed version of Shillelagh is cast as a bonus action and then applies to all attacks with the weapon for the next minute. As I understand it, the main balance concern is being able to get too many attacks with the weapon per round all with the increased damage you've suggested. For example, even if you don't have access to Haste, perhaps your wizard friend does and could cast it on you to double your already enhanced damage output.

We already have cantrips that work around this potential issue by requiring an action to cast and then making a single weapon attack as part of that action. Examples include Green-Flame Blade and Booming Blade. Presumably these cantrips have been play tested and found to be reasonably balanced, so one straightforward way to add damage scaling to Shillelagh without unbalancing it is to rewrite it to work like these spells: you use an action to cast it and make one weapon attack, and then if you want to make another attack next turn, you cast it again. Something like this:

Shillelagh Strike

  • Level: Cantrip
  • Casting time: 1 Action
  • Range: Self (5 ft sphere)1
  • Duration: Instantaneous
  • School: Transmutation
  • Components: V, S, M *

You brandish the club or quarterstaff used in the spell’s casting and make a melee attack with it against one creature within 5 feet of you. You can use your spellcasting ability instead of Strength for the attack roll. On a hit, the target takes bludgeoning damage equal to 1d8 + your spellcasting ability modifier, instead of the weapon's normal damage.

This spell’s damage increases when you reach certain levels. Roll one additional damage die (d8) on a hit when you reach 5th level (2d8), 11th level (3d8), and 17th level (4d8).

* - (mistletoe, a shamrock leaf, and a club or quarterstaff)

1(This seems odd, but it's the range listed for BB & GFB.)

This way, the cantrip "inherits" the balance properties of similar spells, in particular their intentional lack of synergy with anything that grants additional attacks in a round, including opportunity attacks.

(Note: For my version of the cantrip, I've followed the damage scaling you suggested in the question. If you want to be absolutely sure the spell is balanced, instead take the damage scaling from Primal Savagery, a mechanically similar druid spell. That basically turns this cantrip into Primal Savagery with a different damage type.)

One notable "buff" for this version of the spell is that you no longer need to spend your bonus action on the first turn of combat to cast it, which frees up that bonus action for doing something else useful, including, notably, casting a leveled spell like Healing Word. However, the same applies to any other "attack as an action" cantrip, several of which are already available to druids.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ FYI Druid can't get Booming Blade nor Green-Flame Blade, they would have to either multiclass, take a feat, or use an item to get them. I don't think you consider that you are giving the Druid something equivalent to these spells for free at no cost. This is a massive balance concern. It would be like asking "is it balanced for the druid to get extra attack at 5th level? Fighter gets it so it must have been play tested, I'm sure it must be balanced". Balance is about cost vs reward, you can't just consider one side of the equation. \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 5 at 0:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user77842 Druids have access to Primal Savagery, which is quite similar both mechanically and in damage output. In fact, you could change the damage to [1-4]d10 with no ability modifier and this spell would basically be a reskin of PS with the damage type changed. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 0:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Is the change really that massive? Sure, you're casting a spell instead of taking the attack action each turn, but the result is the same: making a single attack each turn with damage that scales with level. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 8:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree the results are the same, which is why I think it does well on the balance front, but it just doesn't feel the same to me. That's only me though, I just liked how it used to be casting a spell turning a branch into a weapon, but now it is still just a branch. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Aug 5 at 9:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson, as mentioned by user, it does make a difference in opportunity attacks. Normal Shillelagh is an "always on" buff. So if someone runs by, you can whack them with your magic stick. But since this only works on attacks, the Druid would need the War Caster feat to get the same effect. This is a problem faced by people using GFB/BB, Primal Savagery, and Soulknife Rogues; they only work in places where the character can take the Attack action, but need to use the Cast A Spell action (Soulknife is still out of luck). \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    2 days ago
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Even without using special things such as haste or polearm master to grant extra attacks. Shillelagh is unique in regards to other cantrips in the fact it allows the damage to be applied as a reaction as well.

For example even if you ruled polearm master bonus attack was still only 1d4 (a fair enough ruling). It would still allow the druid to attack for potentially 4d8+wis damage when foes entered the druids range. And normal attacks of opportunity would also apply.

Furthermore, if you did pick up something like magic initiate, you could use booming blade to gain 2x cantrip scaling (or magic initiate + warcaster to grant 3x scaling on your attack of opportunity at level 11 your opp attack would be 3d8+wis, +2d8 thunder, +3d8 thunder if they moved which they are. for a total of 8d8+wis damage)

This would also greatly empower the druid for synergy with other player characters. An Order cleric for example allows 1 attack with a reaction, same for a battle master using commander's strike.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I might be worth mentioning, because it somewhat undermines the uniqueness (though not really your point), that magic stone has much the same behaviour as shillelagh. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Aug 4 at 21:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the sentiment of this answer, there's a lot to think through here. Buffing one of the best cantrips in the game is dangerous to say the least. Paying the feat tax is the most balanced way forward for sure! \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 5 at 0:31
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Yes, it is imbalanced

When selecting spells players have a limited number of choices. You only get 4 cantrips over your entire druiding life - at 5th level you only have 3 of them! You want to buff Shillelagh so that you don't have to pick a second damage cantrip. This effectively gives your druid the equivalent of 5 cantrips.

I'm sure you are thinking "so what, it's just a small buff" but in 5e cantrips scale. At high level you will still be using cantrips routinely. Being able to take a 5th utility cantrip is a huge buff.

Moreover, your suggested changes would make Shillelagh among the best cantrips in the game. Asking the DM to homebrew something for you that would be the game explicitly because you want a buff is a huge faux pas in D&D.

Balance is best achieved by playing by the same rules as everyone else

I know this is a tough pill to swallow, but we have rules for a reason. If everyone follows the same rules, then we don't have to worry about begging the DM for buffs. Once one person begs for special treatment, the others will either do the same or feel resentment. Again, I'm sure you are thinking "my table will be fine with only me getting buffed", sure they may say they are ok with it, but in my experience on some level they are not. Everyone wants their PC to be special, the rules ensure everyone is equal.

Achieving your goals within the rules

If you want a benefit, you need to pay some kind of cost. The first and most obvious way to get what you want is by using one of your cantrip slots to select a cantrip with scaling damage. Give up some of the utility, and take Primal Savagery.

The second way is to acquire more cantrips. This can be done in a few different ways, first is magic items. Second is by taking a feat that gives you cantrips, there are a lot of options here but the most popular would be magic initiate - search it. The third would be multiclassing, a 1 level dip into sorcerer will give you 4 more cantrips to play with.

As you can see there are tons of choices out there for you, but they all come with a cost. If you want more, you have to pay the cost. That's how balance works.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I understand the point here. If they can't get a version of shillelagh that scales with level, the player will probably just not take shillelagh and take another attack cantrip instead. Why would they take shillelagh AND another attack cantrip? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 5 at 0:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Because shillelagh is a stronger cantrip than primal savagery up until level 11. That's the trade off here. If you want the BEST cantrip for damage at all levels from 1 to 20 then you need to take both. If you are happy to have something slightly worse at 1-10 or from 11-20 then you can just take 1 damage cantrip. If you want to have the best at all levels you need to take both. That's the opportunity cost being taken here. BTW not making this up, that's the stated goal of OP, they are optimizing their damage and want the buff for that reason. \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 5 at 0:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Worth noting that OP's character will be starting at level 10. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Aug 5 at 1:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Ah yes I see OP just added new information. This does change the question quite a lot! I think we need more info from OP. \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 5 at 1:28
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Even without getting into feats like polearm master and spells like haste, shillelagh lets you add your wisdom modifier to the damage - which is something no other cantrip lets you do (though some class features do provide this bonus). That alone would make what you're suggesting slightly overpowered.

There's also the question of resistances - some creatures can resist certain damage types or have additional defences against spells such as cantrips, but shillelagh gives you a magic weapon instead of targetting your enemy directly, which bypasses most such defences.

And as others have mentioned, there's also synergy with anything that grants you additional attacks, such as haste, commander's strike, polearm master, even just opportunity attacks. You could also learn green flame blade or booming blade via feats or racial bonuses, which would be further overpowered. Two-weapon fighting is also an option, with a shillelagh'd club in one hand and any other light melee weapon in the other.

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