Spellcasters around the Forgotten Realms dream of one day mastering the arcane and casting spells like the 8th-level Earthquake, which shatters stone and splits the earth.
Of course, 1st-level spellcasters have to make do with what they can. If you’re looking to shake the ground but are more student than archmage, Earth Tremor might be the spell for you.
This spell, castable by Bards, Druids, Sorcerers, and Wizards, is great for knocking people off their feet. As a low-level combat spell, it can be easy to dismiss Earth Tremor as ineffective due to its low damage, but its ability to inflict the prone condition and its low level mean it can be cheap and surprisingly effective even at later levels.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at the spell Earth Tremor and how best to use it.
Let’s start by checking out the official spell description and details for Earth Tremor.
- Casting Time: 1 Action
- Range: Self (10-foot radius)
- Duration: Instantaneous
- School: Evocation
- Classes: Bards, Druids, Sorcerers, Wizards
- Level: 1st level
- Damage/Effect: 1d6 bludgeoning damage / Impose prone condition
- Save: Dexterity save
- Components: Verbal, Somatic
Spell Description: “You cause a tremor in the ground in a 10-foot radius. Each creature other than you in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, a creature takes 1d6 bludgeoning damage and is knocked prone. If the ground in that area is loose earth or stone, it becomes difficult terrain until cleared.”
At Higher Levels: “When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 1st.”
Using Earth Tremor
Earth Tremor is an interesting spell. At low levels, it can be used for a minor crowd-control effect with a nice bit of damage. However, at higher levels, the spell can be a very useful quasi-utility spell that, when appropriately targeted, can be used to counteract your foes’ mobility.
However, regardless of how and at what level you use the spell, casting it using a higher-level spell slot is pretty universally not worth it. While casting the spell at 9th level can do a pretty decent 9d6 damage, this level of damage is nothing compared to actual 9th-level spells. 9d6 damage compared to spells like Wish or Meteor Storm is a clearly inferior option. This holds true for casting the spell with any spell slot higher than 1st level, though the difference is less obvious at lower levels.
Remember that a lot of the spell’s power comes from its ability to inflict the Prone condition and to a lesser degree from its ability to create difficult terrain, so increasing the damage of the spell does little to increase the spell’s power.
Earth Tremor at Low Levels (Level 1-5)
At lower levels of play, Earth Tremor is an excellent combat spell. While the damage is only significant at levels 1-2 when 1d6 damage is still a notable portion of your enemies’ health, the ability to create difficult terrain and force your enemies prone can be useful.
While as a spellcaster you’re likely to be pretty squishy, if you can position yourself to catch as many foes as possible in the spell’s 20-foot diameter circle area of effect, you can render them prone, granting martial allies advantage on their attacks.
That makes this spell a useful support tool.
However, beware of casting this spell in areas of loose dirt or stone. The ability to turn the ground into difficult terrain can actually be extremely dangerous at lower levels since it will hinder your ability to effectively keep yourself away from the frontlines. Trapping yourself at the center of a 20-foot diameter circle of difficult terrain is not ideal when you have no way to escape.
Of course, at higher levels, easy access to teleportation and flight can wipe away this disadvantage.
Earth Tremor at Higher Levels (Levels 6+)
At higher levels, Earth Tremor is not an effective combat spell. For one thing, many foes will be able to make the Dexterity save. The only exception would be creatures who specifically have terrible Dexterity scores, and in those cases, other spells would likely be more useful.
At the mid-tier, levels 6-10, Earth Tremor can be useful while trying to flee multiple enemies with a bad Dexterity score as knocking them prone will give you a solid head start. You will still have to contend with the difficult terrain while fleeing, but so will your enemies.
At higher levels, however, Earth Tremor becomes almost entirely a social tool. Earth Tremor becomes the dramatic way your spellcaster can flex their powers, doing some minor damage and knocking mere mortals to the floor. Here the low damage is actually beneficial as you usually don’t want to slay those you are trying to intimidate.
In these situations, knocking someone prone can be especially useful as the Prone condition magnifies the power of grappling. When your party is facing a weaker enemy that they must not kill but also cannot allow to escape, a well-placed Earth Tremor combined with a grapple from a martial character can be an effective combo.
Is Earth Tremor Good?
While Earth Tremor is a spell that can be useful at all levels of play, the question remains: is it a good spell?
The answer is: it’s alright.
While the spell can be useful at higher levels, past its combat potential, the usage can be pretty situational. While it is definitely an impressive move to shake the very earth when someone dares rouse your wrath, it’s also a pretty situational move and might not even be used at every table.
Finally, the spell’s greatest ability is imposing the Prone condition. However, it’s worth mentioning that Grease, also a 1st-level spell, can be just as effective, if not more effective, at imposing the condition.
Grease is concentration and can force Dexterity saves to avoid falling prone every round. While concentration can be a disadvantage, Grease is undeniably better at area control than Earth Tremor, which is a mark against Earth Tremor.
That said, Grease‘s area of effect is a lot smaller than Earth Tremor, so there are still some situations where shaking the ground can be better than simply greasing it.
All in all, Earth Tremor is an interesting spell that can definitely be useful but probably isn’t as good as a staple like Grease.
Common Questions About Earth Tremor
Does Earth Tremor Affect Allies?
Unfortunately, yes, Earth Tremor does affect your allies. That’s why it’s important either to ensure that your allies aren’t within range when you cast the spell or have a high enough Dexterity that they can safely make your save.
What Classes Should Take Earth Tremor?
Earth Tremor is an okay spell to take for Wizards, Druids, and Bards. However, the spell’s use is a little more niche than other spells, and at higher levels, 1st-level spells are better saved for pure utility options. That’s why I don’t recommend that Sorcerers learn this spell as the total number of spells they can learn is much lower than the other three classes.
In fact, if you’re at all concerned about knowing enough spells, I’d think twice before grabbing Earth Tremor. You want to be sure you’ll get good opportunities to cast it, after all.
Is Earth Tremor Centered on the Caster?
Yes, Earth Tremor does center on the caster. The spell originates from you, and range calculations are made from your square out. However, the spell does not affect you, so this is generally not a downside to using the spell.
What Is the Area of Earth Tremor?
Officially, Earth Tremor affects 314 square feet of terrain, the area of a circle with a 10-foot radius. However, since circular effects in D&D 5e are often rounded up to the nearest square on their grid maps, casting Earth Tremor while using a grid-style battle map gives it an area of 200 square feet—a 20-ft. by 20-ft. square.
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Growing up I spent most of my time reading, so when I first started playing RPGs in middle school and got a copy of DnD 3.5’s rules I loved their collaborative take on storytelling. These days I like to use RPGs to develop my creative problem-solving skills as well.