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Damage Caps

Source Ultimate Magic pg. 129
Low-level damage spells are not as good as medium- or high-level damage spells—the game is designed so lowerlevel spells eventually reach a maximum amount of damage they can deal. This is because if low-level spells continued to increase in damage without hitting a maximum amount, they’d rival some higher-level spells for effectiveness, and the game isn’t as interesting if casters are using the same spells at 20th level as they were at 1st.

The maximum damage depends on the level of the spell and whether the spell is arcane or divine. This is because arcane magic is deliberately designed to be better at dealing damage to balance the fact that divine magic is better at healing. A “single target” spell only damages one creature (like shocking grasp), or divides its damage among several creatures (like burning hands or magic missile). A “multiple target” spell applies its full damage to several creatures (like fireball).

For example, a 1st-level single-target wizard spell like shocking grasp can deal a maximum of 5 dice of damage (specifically 5d6). Magic missile can be used against a single target, or the caster can split up the missiles to affect multiple creatures, dividing the single-target damage among them. Burning hands initially looks like it doesn’t obey the damage cap table because it deals multiple dice of damage against multiple creatures, but this is offset by the fact that it only deals d4s instead of d6s, and it has an extremely close and limited area of effect.

When looking at the Maximum Damage tables, also keep in mind that arcane spells usually use d6s for damage and divine spells usually use d8s, and these tables assume d6s; when looking at the damage caps for divine spells, count each d8 as 2d6. Thus, searing light is a 3rd-level single-target cleric spell that deals up to 5d8 points of damage; treating each d8 as 2d6, that counts as 10d6, which is on target for a 3rd-level cleric spell. (Note that the 1d6 per level and maximum 10d6 points of damage against undead are still correct for a spell of this level, and the slightly higher damage against light-vulnerable undead is offset by the reduced damage against constructs).

Tip: If your spell does more damage than the amount defined on the table, you should reduce the damage or increase the spell’s level.

Tip: If your spell does less damage than the amount defined on the table, you should increase the damage or add another effect to the spell. An example of this is sound burst, which only deals 1d8 points of damage (this amount never increases), but can stun creatures in the area.

Table 2-5: Maximum Damage for Arcane Spells

Spell LevelMax Damage (Single Target)Max Damage (Multiple Targets)
1st5 dice-
2nd10 dice5 dice
3rd10 dice10 dice
4th15 dice10 dice
5th15 dice15 dice
6th20 dice15 dice
7th20 dice20 dice
8th25 dice20 dice
9th25 dice25 dice

Table 2-6: Maximum Damage for Divine Spells

Spell LevelMax Damage (Single Target)Max Damage (Multiple Targets)
1st1 die-
2nd5 dice1 die
3rd10 dice5 dice
4th10 dice10 dice
5th15 dice10 dice
6th15 dice15 dice
7th20 dice15 dice
8th20 dice20 dice
9th25 dice20 dice