... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Magic Missile

There was a recent forum discussion about the Magic Missile spell, so I was forced to think about it a bit. I'm still very attached to the idea of ranged damage spells being restricted to 3rd level or higher, so that has always peeved me about Magic Missile being first level. But the original Greyhawk version of the spell at least keeps the number of missiles down; it's one missile to start with, + two missiles every 5 levels, with each missile doing the same damage as a magic arrow (1d6+1) and presumably being equivalent to a +1 arrow in terms of what creatures it can hit.

Greyhawk doesn't mention an attack roll for the arrow. Later versions of the spell went either way; Holmes I believe was the first to mention an attack roll, while AD&D turns the spell into an automatic hit weapon. There's an argument that requiring an attack roll punishes 1st level magic users who take this as their one and only spell; cast the spell, roll badly, and your spell is a waste. Of course, the same thing could happen if you take Charm Person as your one and only spell, but at least your odds are better. I suggest the spell should be auto hit, but a clever reaction from the victim allows a saving throw for half damage; this keeps it only a tiny bit better than Fireball or Lightning Bolt.

I'd make one other change, though: when the caster's level is high enough to create multiple missiles, I think I would restrict them to one attack per round, rather than having a machine-gun effect. This is to help distinguish it from those third-level ranged attacks already mentioned; instead of doing all its damage at once, it doles it out in small bits.


  1. I must admit I"m fond of the version requiring a hit roll. What other magical attacks do 1st level characters have access to that can do damage?

    1. Forget magical attacks. You can throw a dagger, or carry a bundle of darts.

    2. Magic Missile is already a garbage spell that you'd have to be daft to take - you don't have to nerf it any more. Make it any worse, and you might as well just not have it.

      The auto-hit aspect is its only real boon.

      Since d6+1 damage isn't going to be enough to kill any monster that requires magic to hit, it's more or less useless in that role at low levels, and at higher levels, better tools will be available.