Call Lightning in DnD 5e

Call Lightning

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: 120 feet
  • Duration: 10 minutes (Concentration)
  • School: Conjuration
  • Class: Druid
  • Level: 3rd level
  • Damage/Effect: Lightning
  • Attack/Save: Dex Save
  • Components: VS

Spell Description

A storm cloud appears in the shape of a cylinder that is 10 feet tall with a 60-foot radius, centered on a point you can see within range directly above you. The spell fails if you can’t see a point in the air where the storm cloud could appear (for example, if you are in a room that can’t accommodate the cloud).

When you cast the spell, choose a point you can see under the cloud. A bolt of lightning flashes down from the cloud to that point. Each creature within 5 feet of that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 3d10 lightning damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one. On each of your turns until the spell ends, you can use your action to call down lightning in this way again, targeting the same point or a different one.

If you are outdoors in stormy conditions when you cast this spell, the spell gives you control over the existing storm instead of creating a new one. Under such conditions, the spell’s damage increases by 1d10.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th or higher level, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 3rd.

What Is the Call Lightning Spell in 5e?

Call Lightning is a powerful 3rd-level concentration spell exclusive to druids. This spell gives them access to reliable and consistent area-of-effect damage for far longer than a normal combat would take, which means we’re left with several ways to actually use the spell.

This spell isn’t overwhelmingly complex, but there is one piece of it that is a bit open to interpretation. Unlike most spells, you need proper environmental conditions in order to successfully cast call lightning — namely, “the spell fails if you can’t see a point in the air where the storm cloud could appear.”

The example given is being in a room that can’t accommodate the cloud, which means we need to understand exactly how big this cloud is and where it appears.

The cloud itself is a cylinder with a radius of 60 feet that is 10 feet tall. We also learn that the spell is centered on a point directly above you. Considering that you’re likely a Medium or Small creature occupying a 5-foot cube, the center of the cloud is 5 feet above the ground (if you’re standing on the ground). That means that it touches the ground and extends 5 feet above you as well with the circular piece of the spell spreading parallel to the ground 60 feet in every direction.

This might seem a bit overly analytical, but language is everything in 5e. Having a solid understanding of a spell is the difference between, well, casting the spell and casting something entirely different.  

So, this cloud takes up a big area. Since it’s a cylinder, it’s 120 feet across in every direction, meaning the smallest room it can fit in is 120 by 120 feet. I’m not sure how many rooms that includes, but I’m assuming they’re far and few between.

This also puts just about every passageway off limits and basically means you’ve almost always got to be outside. 

I’ll share one other thing before I get back to the basics. Note that the spell says “in the air.” Well, someone decided to ask Jeremy Crawford if they could cast this spell underwater, and, shocking rules lawyers everywhere, he said yes. (Crawford is a lead game designer for WotC and the head of the Sage Advice column, home to most official errata rulings.)

Is water air? No. Does summoning a lightning storm in the ocean have terrifying implications? Yes! Did the god of 5e rules decisions decide that that little bit of reality doesn’t matter? Well, I guess so. That is, unless “directly” means something different in this spell’s context. 

You see, normally, directly implies immediacy. So directly above would be the spot immediately above your head. But, we could be seeing a spell where “directly” just indicates a direct path. With that interpretation, you could summon the spell 50 feet above your head, and as long as the center was in a direct vertical path from you, you’d successfully cast the spell.

The more text occupies a spell, the more likely it is that people will come up with different interpretations of how the spell works. Rules interpretations being what they are, this is still a great spell and is straightforward so long as you’re outside.

When you cast the spell and for each turn afterward for as long as you hold concentration, you can call down a bolt of lightning on a spot underneath the cloud. Creatures within 5 feet of that spot have to make a Dexterity save or take a rather significant amount of damage.

The exciting part of this is that you can move the spell each turn. Turn after turn, you’ll be able to choose a spot that can yield the maximum amount of damage dealt. Or, maybe you’ll choose to focus on one creature, and no matter where they move, so long as they’re under the storm, you can hit them. 

There are a lot of options, and they’re all pretty great since 3d10 isn’t anything to mess around with. Even on a success, creatures are still taking half damage, which means you’ll quite literally always be benefiting from this. 

If you cast this spell while there are already stormy conditions, you get an extra bonus. Now the spell deals an additional 1d10. That’s the same bonus you’d get from upcasting the spell, which means taking over a preexisting storm has the effect of burning a higher-leveled spell slot. 

Oh, and you’re not just gaining damage if a storm is already out. You’re also taking control of the storm, which means that no matter how big the storm is (likely much larger than a cloud you could conjure), you can zap down lightning underneath any part of it.

How Good Is Call Lightning?

Since this spell is exclusive to druids, there’s not much sense in asking which classes should take it or what kind of builds might employ this spell. It’s an incredibly strong damage-dealing spell meant to fit perfectly into the druid’s build goals.

However, it’s also a 3rd-level spell, which means we do have some things to compare it to. If you weren’t aware, you receive 3rd-level spells once you have five levels in a single full-caster class. These spells come at the beginning of second-tier play and as such, are meant to show a great increase in power.

You see, first-tier play is all about learning the abilities of a class. This lasts from 1st to 4th level, and we don’t get to do anything that’s incredibly powerful unless we’re taking advantage of some serious synergy. 

Once we break into the second tier though, we’re full-fledged adventurers. This is when we start being a threat to our enemies, not just a nuisance with the ability to get lucky here and there. 

The spells we receive here are probably the best place that you see this power creep. Some of the most iconic 5e spells are 3rd-level spells: Counterspell, Fireball, Daylight, Fly, Glyph of Warding, and the list goes on. 

So, the question to ask is: How does Call Lightning compare to other spells of the same level? Does it accurately represent the spike in power we should see in a 3rd-level spell, or does it fall flat when compared to its peers?

If we start with the most iconic damage-dealer, Fireball, we immediately start to get a good picture. Fireball is an instantaneous spell that deals 8d6 fire damage (half on a success) to each creature in a 20-foot sphere. Assuming there aren’t any flying creatures whizzing around and every spot on the ground is occupied by a Medium or Small creature, that’s 44 targets. Let’s say everyone fails. That’s 8d6 x 44, which averages to 1,232 damage.

That’s obviously an absurd scenario, but I’ll give Call Lightning the same chance. If Call Lightning hits just as perfectly, that’s 4 targets each round for 10 minutes,or 160 rounds. So that’s 3d10 x 4 x 160, which is 10,560.

With absurd scenarios, Call Lightning is the clear winner, even if it takes a full combat to deal the damage Fireball could deal.

Let’s be more realistic. We’ll assume that Call Lightning can target a spot with two creatures each turn for a single combat or 16 rounds. We’ll assume that a fireball can hit every enemy creature in a robust encounter, so 10 creatures. Then, we’ll assume that half the creatures save against the damage. 

With these parameters, Call Lightning deals 396 damage in a full combat, while fireball deals 210 damage. Call Lightning still comes in the lead, and there’s a good reason. 

While Fireball is great for dealing a lot of damage very fast, it requires you to have a lot of targets in a relatively small area. Most combats just won’t see such a high volume of enemies. So while you’re still pumping out damage, you’re not doing the insane numbers that are technically possible.

Call Lightning, on the other hand, is reliable. It’s easy enough to find two creatures next to each other each round of combat. This is especially true when you consider how much battlefield control the druid spell list gives you access to. When you’re choosing the location of a spell each turn, you’re guaranteed to hit at least 16 targets over the course of a combat — something you’d be hard-pressed to do with an instantaneous spell like Fireball.

This line of reasoning carries through when we compare Call Lightning to other spells, but there is an important thing to remember. All of these spells depend on the conditions we’re dealing with. There are times that a fireball is going to feel like throwing a match in a bowl of water, and there are times when it will feel like a volcanic eruption. The same could be said of any spell, and Call Lighting is definitely included.

If you’re looking for a spell that lets you conquer (or conjure) the forces of nature (it’s safe to say you are as a druid), then this is an amazing spell. You’ll need to be smart when you use it because, like any spell, it can be easily wasted in the wrong conditions.

Casted well though, this will be a spell that creates memories you’ll carry with you throughout your life. Nothing compares to the feeling of eradicating the enemy forces while only having to cast a single spell.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide and that it’s made you excited to play a druid wielding the very essence of the storms. As always, happy adventuring.