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In preparation for a future campaign, I'm poking at building a homebrew cleric domain exclusive to Tiamat. One of my design goals for the build is to lean into Tiamat as the god of chromatic dragons, and keeping damage-related features as open to the full range of chromatic damage types as possible. In the domain spells, I ideally want any damage-dealing spells to have a choice: the spell can be any of the five chromatic dragon types of damage, pick one to apply to this casting.

D&D 5e doesn't have many spells like that, though[1]. What it does have are a few choose-your-elemental-damage spells that are close enough that I might be able to discuss a single-damage-type swap-out with my DM.

I'm looking at absorb elements, elemental weapon, and elemental bane in particular. What are the balance effects of changing the thunder damage listed in these spells to poison damage instead? Poison can be available earlier but is also frequently resisted; at upper levels my gut feeling is that this breaks even compared to the original spells, but I want to make sure I'm not overlooking something.

Answers looking at upper tiers of play or weird edge cases in particular will help, as this campaign will likely be starting at around level 10. Answers noting synergy with published magic items would be useful for general audiences but would not apply to my case, as my DM homebrews all magic items.

[1]: dragon's breath has made the shortlist, as has chromatic orb

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The effect on game balance is minor

There are extremely few creatures that deal thunder damage in the game, while poison is one of the most common. Swapping absorb elements thunder for poison will make it better. However, at high levels this may be less relevant, because if you find treasure as indicated in the treasure tables, and you cannot buy magic items with it (the default), chances are you are flush with gold, and can afford to just cast heroes feast most days if someone in the party has it on their list, to just be immune to poison anyways.

In contrast, there are a lot of creatures that are resistant or even immune to poison, especially at higher levels (e.g. most demons), about 25% of all creatures — it is the worst "energy" damage type to deal, while thunder is one of the best, only 1% of creatures in the monster manual are resistant. So elemental weapon becomes a lot weaker with poison, especially at high levels.

For the same reason, elemental bane gets better, there are just a lot more creatures that get stripped of their resistance with it. This however does matter little, unless you combine it with effects like cloudkill, because normal poison is terribly overpriced and inefficient so that it's not worth the bother. There are few sonic damage spells that scale well to higher levels in the PHB, and so you likely will be better off to strip fire resistance on a fireball, than thunder resistance on shatter anyways.

Overall, I do think this will depend a lot on the kinds of monsters you face in your campaign, where general monster statistics are not that useful. My impression is that overall it will be a bit weaker, as both spells that benefit have alternatives , while dealing poison will very likely be clearly worse, but it's not going to make a big difference either way.

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This is a frame challenge, but what you describe sounds suspiciously similar to the sorcerer's Transmuted Spell metamagic feature.

When you cast a spell that deals a type of damage from the following list, you can spend 1 sorcery point to change that damage type to one of the other listed types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, thunder.

So how about granting this feature to the Tiamat cleric as one of its Channel Divinity options? (You can remove thunder of course if you want to.)

It'd be limited in its number of uses (once between short rests until level 6, twice until level 18), which is a bit limiting, but on the upside it allows for more interesting choices of domain spells.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The build may get a homebrew review question at some point, but I'm going in another direction for that--and specifically, a use-a-resource "you can switch one thing once" doesn't really fit what I'm going for. Didn't know this metamagic existed tho, so thanks for pointing it out! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 22, 2023 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MissMisinformation Fair enough, it's just an idea, I have no way of knowing whether it fits what you had in mind or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jul 22, 2023 at 13:28

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