How to create spells in D&D 5e

create spells in D&D 5e

How to create spells in D&D 5e is a question that many DMs will be asked by their wizard players. Other classes will ask for spell creation, but wizards are generally the first ones in a group to ask for the ability to create a spell due to their academic nature.

The most important things to consider in how to create spells in D&D 5e are intent, balance, cost, conditions, and other spells already in existence.

I have created many spells as a player and as a DM in the past and some have broken the game. Most have not, but this is something that you need to consider when allowing spell creation.

How to create a spell in D&D 5e

This section has the exact same title as our article because we are just going to tell you how to create a spell now! How to create spells in D&D 5e require a few things.

  • The spell must be balanced.
  • The intent of the spell must be clear.
  • You need time in order to create a spell.
  • Lost of money.
  • Failure is an option.

When you look at these 5 requirements, you will find that balance, conditions, and looking at other spells in existence is essential to almost every part of spell creation.

We will go over each step in-depth, but here is a quick summarization for you before we get into the tables, rules, and ideas later on in the article.

Balance will be a constant issue. We will discuss the appropriate damage, conditions to change the spell’s power, and if the thematic use of the spell is even appropriate for any given class.

The intent for why this spell is needed and what it will do is important. If you players are not clear, they might just be trying to break the game. Those are the worst kind of spells to allow.

Time is also important. You cannot just make a spell in the middle of combat. It takes research and a place to do so. We will go over this later on in the article.

Money is required to make something new. It is a problem for players to just make a new spell in their downtime, and adding a new personal magic into the game requires money to do so.

Failure needs to be an option. You cannot just expect your first attempt to succeed. There can be problems since you are not following the standard formula.

These are the basics of spell creation. Now let’s dive into the details on how to create a spells in D&D 5e!

Balance

Your biggest concerns about creating a spell should be balance. If you ever create spells in D&D 5e and do not consider if they are balanced, your game can be over.

Imagine if a player wanted to create a 1d10 radiant damage cantrip that goes up 1d10 at the other levels (5th, 11th, and 17th). It is just a varient of the firebolt spell so it shouldn’t be that bad right?

The Damage type is extremely important.

Fire spells are practically the most resisted spells in the game. This adds a barrier to the power that a firebolt can give. Radiant damage on the other hand is a vulnerability to many monsters and has additional effects. In addition, not many creatures that your players will face are resistant or immune to radiant damage.

The damage type is extremely important, so do not let a new spell be created easily by just changing the damage type. If the damage type is changed even for thematic reasons, make it suffer a penalty. Reduce a fireball that is converted to cold damage to 6d6 instead of 8d6. If you are curious about what damage you should use, then check our chart here.

D&D 5e damage chart per spell level! (also works for healing but never allow healing on cantrips!)

This chart is a guide directly from the DMG about how much damage you should do with each spell. There are however, extenuating factors that may change the overall damage of a spell.

Conditions to change the spell.

Create spells in D&D 5e is not a perfect science. There is only 1/2 a page on it in the DMG, so there are a few things that we need to figure out.

Ways to increase the damage.

If a spell requires extra casting time, it can increase in damage. Generally from a round to a minute, but this will vary based on the spell.

Make it or nothing happens. If the spell requires an attack roll, you might want to increase the di by 1d2 or add another di. This also applies to save or nothing spells. If a spell does nothing when a save is made, then you can increase the damage. More risk, more reward.

Smaller area of effect or duration can increase the other effects of the spell. This includes damage.

An iconic spell from the past will generally have a bit more damage or healing. Fireball has 8d6 instead of 6d6 for example and inflict wounds deals 3d10 necrotic damage. That is why these spells will deal more damage than regular ones. Do not allow players to create spells as powerful as these.

Conditions that require you to reduce the damage of a spell are as follows.

Anything that is opposite of a way to increase the damage. If the spell lasts longer, has a greater area of effect, or now works on a save when it normally would not, then decrease the damage by 1d2 or by 1 di.

If a spell is a bonus action reduce the damage it can deal.

There are other factors to consider when changing a spell. For example, concentration. If a spell is a concentration spell then it should require a save if used on enemy targets at the end of their turns.

You can further augment spells with material costs. If a spell requires a certain item, gold, or whatever to cast each time then it can increase the potency of the spell in order to make it worth the cost.

All of these are important factors when considering balance, but the biggest role in if a spell will break the game is player intent.

Intent

If a player wants to create spells in D&D 5e you need to understand why. Most players will want to create a new spell for thematic reasons. They are fine with a small downgrade in power, but that is worth it to increase the options a player has. This is a great mentality for them to have, and you won’t have to worry too much about them breaking the game.

If the player wants to make a new spell to give themselves more options, then you need to be a bit wary. Why do the normal spells not give enough options? Why can’t you do what you want with your normal spells?

If the answer is something silly like “I want to shot food into people’s mouths” you still need to be wary. There are many other applications that this spell could be used for and silly reasons are either open to a lot of abuse or the worst kind of intent. Players intentionally trying to break the game.

At times, players think it will be cool to gain a new ability that isn’t broken for options sake. But if a player wants more options and isn’t trying to fit a theme, they are most likely trying to make a good new spell. It will cost time, money, and effort, so why not make a good spell? Why not make a spell good enough to break the game?

This is the logical reasoning that most players go through when they learn about what it takes to create a spell. They might veil their intentions by stating it is for a silly purpose, but make sure the player is not getting too much.

Let the player know the expected outcome before hand.

This will dissuade most players from trying to make something happen at the last moment or be angry when you tell them the fruits of their labor. Tell them the exact effects of the spell BEFORE your players start the creation process and narrow down exactly what they want. This will help you avoid angry players and avoid problem powergamers.

Lastly, if your player wants to make a spell that is going to be the staple of their class, I will give you one of the few lines in DMG on this subject.

DMG pg 283- “If a spell is so good that a caster would want to use it all the time, it might be too powerful for its level.”

Time

In order to create spells in D&D 5e you cannot just come up with them over night or in combat. Spell creation is a arduous task that requires you make a completely new formula.

Think of each spell as a math equation that everyone knows. A+evocation+force+1st level power= Magic Missile is an example of a formula that a wizard may know. These formulas are tested and approved to go out and benefit the public.

You are using magical science to create a new spell and make new formulas. This will require you to spend an adequate amount of time in a researchable setting to attempt to make a new spell. Here is a good formula to do so.

Spend 8 hrs a day for 1 week x the spell level. May be interrupted, but for each day interrupted lose 1 day of progress up to 1 week.

Cantrips are 1/2 the time of a first level spell to create and cannot exceed what number of cantrips you already know. You can exchange known cantrips for the new cantrip.

This requires the caster to spend enough time in a research setting that is suited for spell creation (up to the DM if a setting is adequate). If a player is interrupted not all work is lost, but losing progress will make you have a setback as you try to make remember where you were and get back into the flow of researching.

Here is an example:

Billy wants to make a new 3rd level spell. It will take 3 weeks in a wizard tower, but he has to go help his friends for 2 weeks. Billy has already made 2 weeks of progress, so now he must spend 2 more weeks of progress to attempt to make a new spell (2-1 (max) +2=3).

Of course, research doesn’t just take time. It takes money!

Money

Create spells in D&D 5e is costly. Most wizards do not do this because it already takes a lot of time. Add money into the equation and not many new spells are made. This makes sense for most D&D settings since spell creation is usually odd and a big deal if someone is attempting to do so.

The amount of money required will depend on the spell. Since there are not official numbers and 5e is a much poorer system than it’s predecessors, here are my 2 proposed methods.

Method 1:

100 gold per spell level a week.

Method 2:

1000 gold per week.

In both cases, cantrips are 1/2 the gold of a 1st level spell.

Method 1 is preferred by me. It makes higher-level spells cost exponentially more to create. Here is a table of both methods side by side.

As you can see, method 1 is far more forgiving. Lower level spells are much easier to create in method 1. A 1st level spell is only 1/81s the cost of a 9th level spell while in method 2 a 1st level spell costs 1/9 of a 9th level spell.

This thematically makes sense and brings a sense of awe to higher level spells while making spell creation accessible to a normal player without putting an extreme financial burden for their level to create a spell.

If you are playing a game that is extremely wealthy, then the second method is a good option. It makes players spend money and if the game is throwing money at your players like in our cube addition method 2 becomes an option.

But money is still not the last thing you need to create a spell!

Failure

The amount of time and money is already annoying, but there has to be another reason why there are not many custom spells. The final reason why not many people create spells in D&D 5e is failure.

With all of these things taken into account, a player/person can still fail at spell creation and this only makes sense. Making a new spell is making a new untested formula. Sometimes you will discover something and at other times you will fail. Adding this last step is important to add further impact to any spell created and dissuading players who are not serious about spell creation.

The failure rate shouldn’t be incredibly high and requires a player to at least have some knowledge before attempting a spell. That is why we are going by these restrictions.

  • Must be 5th level in the class they wish to create a spell for or it automatically fails.
  • If the caster is not able to cast the spell, it automatically fails.
  • The success roll DC is 10+spell level.
  • Roll a knowledge arcana, religion, or nature dependent upon class (arcana for a wizard, nature for a druid, etc) at the end of the allotted time required to see if the spell succeeds.

For example, Jimmy the wizard has gone through all of the steps and only has a +4 to his arcana. He is trying to create a level 3 spell and needs to roll a 13. he rolls a total of 15 on his arcana check. Jimmy has successfully learned the new spell!

As a caster levels it will be easier to create most spells, but higher level spells will be harder and harder to create. Which fits since they are rare to come across anyways.

If the caster isn’t experienced enough, they can’t create a spell. That is why the level 5 part is in place and everyone should be able to cast what they are going to create. Otherwise how in the world will they know if it is a success or even be able to experiment to create it?

Cautions

There are a few cautions that I have to give you before we cover a more weird topic of where you create spells in D&D 5e.

Specific spells

These spells are spells that only work on a certain creature. “The spell of dragonslaying that at 3rd level does 10d10 to dragons only. No save!”

These spells are way too specified and not going to be useful in most cases. The DMG specifically says to not allow these spells since it can either break your game or never be used.

Players will also debate the DM all day and try to get the most power for such a limited spell and make it ridiculous. It just isn’t worth it in the long run for you or the player. Tell them magic cannot work like that in the D&D world, or that it is ancient magic only. Do not allow this.

Cantrips can be overused and become a problem.

If you allow the creation of cantrips players might try to make a cantrip that knocks someone prone if they fail a save. This seems harmless at first, but then your boss fails a save and the fighter action surges to get 4 attacks with advantage on the boss while the rogue sneak attacks. All for a cantrip.

Be very, very cautious about what cantrips you allow into your game and never allow a cantrip to heal. Even 1 hp heal means that the players will be maxed on hp between each encounter.

Class thematics need to be upheld.

Wizards should never be able to heal. Do not let the bard argument of bards being able to heal dissuade you. Bards are weird, so just leave that at that. Druids should not be able to cast slow since slow warps time, space, and reality.

You do not want a player to become the master of all trades and leave your party there watching as this player solos the game. Sorcerers will most likely deal more damage than a cleric, but that is okay since clerics will heal a lot.

Now, onto the weirdest option that only some players consider.

Combining spells

Combining spells is the next step when players learn about the option to create spells in D&D 5e. They might want to use fly and invisibility in 1 spell so that they can save time, or a combination between a fireball and a lightining bolts damage.

Of course the players will want to use these spells at a higher level, but most of the time it is always unballanced.

If you combine a fireball and a lighting bolt it may seem like a level 5, 6, or even 7 spell but think of the damage. An area of effect 9th level spell is 14d6. You are dealing 16d6. This breaks the game.

If you combine fly and invisibility it seems like an easy solution. Add the levels together to make it 5th level or even 6th level. There is one problem though. Concentration is a mechanic that limits the amount of buffs 1 caster can create. This makes the caster have 2 buffs active at once and can break the game.

As you can see, combining spells is generally a bad idea. Other factors come into play that you didn’t think of and even if a player just wants to combine spells because it is a cool idea, do not let them.

Do not ever let your players combine spells. Only bad things can come of it. If it is not enhancing the game, then don’t let it happen!

Conclusion

We have gone over how to create spells in D&D 5e. You must keep in mind time, money, balance, failure, and intent.

There are other important factors in each sub catagory like conditions, cautions, and more that you should know about to balance spells properly and to avoid disaster in your game.

We have even discussed weird options like combining spells.

After reading everything you should have a guide of how to create spells in D&D 5e, AND make sure that they are not too powerful to break your game.

I hope that this article helped you in creating spells, and that your life is made a little bit easier by this. Or more difficult for the sake of enhancing your game.
Also, if you want to have a professional DM then check out my site here and hire me for you and your group!

This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

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4 Comments

  1. I have a player who is using a multiclass eldrich knight/wizard. We agreed to run on only core plus Xanathar’s but he wants to create some cantrips from another sourcebook. He wants to basically make his weapons deal cantrips damage as well as their normal damage. I am willing to hear his arguments

    Basically he wants booming blade and sword burst. Offhand I am against them both. They seem way overpowered for cantrips. Am I wrong?

    1. I understand the initial trepidation of allowing this, but if you read the spells in a technical sense they are not overpowered. Booming blade, for example, is an action that allows a melee attack and cantrip damage. This is perfectly fine because the fighter is sacrificing his extra attack actions to deal cantrip damage. This is pretty powerful at level 1-4, but is less powerful as the player levels. As for overpowered, look at moon druid. They can be a brown bear at level 1 and thus gain 68 extra hp (just from shapeshift) with multi attacks at level 2. For an eldritch knight using booming blade, it doesn’t seem to be game-breaking considering other powerful combinations.

      This being said, it depends on your game and how you want to run it. If the eldritch knight is by far more powerful than all your players, you may want to talk to them and ask/explain the situation. Our powergamer articles might actually help you make a decision.

      As for sword burst, both are actions so they can’t both be used (unless with an action surge) which makes them fine. Of course, the optimal setting of sword burst is ridiculous, but that is rare and only really useful if you are throwing trash at your players.

      In short, I don’t think that combination is overpowered, but it depends on your group and your game + what you have already allowed. The choice is ultimately up to you to allow it or not, but I hope that I have helped you a little bit.

  2. I disagree on *never* letting a spell break theme. Consider that under that rubric, knock breaks the theme almost as badly as a heal spell. I do think it needs to be obvious why wizards avoid such research. It should be dangerous and get minimal results. (Pathfinder had a good example of a wizard healing spell [it was a small amount of regeneration for a very short time that also made the character detect as evil for the duration]).

    Also, wizards should be able to research spells more generally at higher levels. I would alter the requirement that you need 5 levels in a class to research its spells (and remove the requirement to be able to cast it if the player is ok with possible mishaps). I would add an OR and suggest that level 10 in a casting class or 15 in a non casting class can do research in any tree. It works better for the themes of arcane clerics and wizards. Wizards are the magic physicists of the world. By definition, a wizard understands more about the theory of healing spells than even clerics (which is ironic). I wouldn’t let the fact that wizards can’t cast such spells get in the way. I would treat it in a similar way that physics treats dark matter and there like. A wizard should have loads of theories on how healing works, but remain unstable to accomplish anything practical (it should never be convenient). That’s my two cents.

    1. Interesting take on the second part of your comment. We all have different ways to do this.

      As for ‘never letting a spell break theme’ it was intended to not have spells completely break the boundaries of class magic. Wizards shouldn’t be able to cast healing magic that can suppliment or be greater than other healing magic. In other words, they shouldn’t be able to be healers. Maybe a strange gimmick, but nothing like a major heal.

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