Underrated or Underpowered: Witch Bolt

In today’s Underrated or Underpowered, we take a look at Witch Bolt, a 1st level evocation spell!

Hello everyone! I’m happy to spend this beautiful Turkey Day writing for you guys, and I’m pretty excited about our spell today! I was on the verge of writing about polymorph to see how many turkey puns I could make, but today’s topic is the 1st level spell Witch Bolt! Let’s get right into it!

A Shocking Low Level Spell

Being a 1st level spell, you’ll be able to snag witch bolt as early as level 1 if you’re playing a Sorcerer, Warlock, or a Wizard. The spell has a casting range of 1 Action, a range of 30 feet, and requires concentration, lasting up to 1 minute. The spell itself sends out a crackling lance of blue energy to another creature, tethering the two of you together. On cast, you make an attack roll and if it hits, you deal a hefty 1d12 lightning damage. Each turn after, as long as you hit, you can spend an action to deal an additional 1d12 damage automatically! If the target leaves the spell’s range or receives total cover from you, the spell ends.

Alright, the good. Very rarely do caster classes get to use that sweet, sweet d12 die. Having a first level spell that deals 1d12 is pretty great, and theoretically if you’re able to get the full use out of witch bolt, you’ll be doing a hefty 10d12 damage! Pretty nice on paper. The spell also allows you to conserve spell slots at early levels, allowing you to do a consistent amount of damage without expending extra slots or rolling for attacks every turn with your fire bolts/eldritch blasts. If at a low level you can manage to get this spell onto a beefy enemy your fighter has pinned, you’ll see lots of success out of it.

Shocking!

A Dishonorable Discharge

No spell comes without its drawbacks, however. Unfortunately for witch bolt, it does have a few glaring drawbacks that keep it from being in every Wizard’s spellbook. While the consistent damage is nice, I had mentioned earlier that it’s a good replacement for chancing your attack roll cantrips against an enemy with high AC. Well, if the enemy has a high AC, witch bolt is just as likely to miss as your cantrips. Another drawback is that if you use your action to do ANYTHING else, the spell ends. You can not disengage, you can’t dash, hide, help, any of that or else the spell ends. While that 10d12 damage mentioned earlier is nice on paper, very rarely will you ever get to that amount because of the aforementioned reason and the fact that combat will very rarely last more than 10 rounds. The spell is also contingent on keeping your enemies within 30 feet of you, which as a low level caster, you’ll almost never want to willingly be that close to an enemy since one hit from them could be enough to down you.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this spell is its lack of upcast-ability. When upcast, only the initial damage when you hit with the attack roll increases by 1d12. If you use a 3rd level spell slot to cast witch bolt, your first hit will do 3d12 while each subsequent turn will only deal 1d12. This is the nail in the coffin for witch bolt, a spell that will likely be switched out for something else by level 5.

Look how sad he is when he realizes upcasting witch bolt is awful…

An En-lightning Comparison

It’s hard to really compare Witch Bolt to other spells, since the closest thing to it is enervation, which you won’t be getting until 9th level. One thing to note between those two however is that upcasting of enervation does increase both the initial damage as well as the consistent damage, a quality which witch bolt sadly lacks. Perhaps the easiest thing to compare it to is the other staple 1st level damage spells, magic missile and chromatic orb.

Magic missile tackles the “guaranteed damage” aspect of witch bolt. While you have to hit the attack roll with witch bolt, magic missile requires you to just expend your spell slot and deal damage. Magic missile will do a minimum of 6 damage to one enemy up to a max of 15. Considering the minimum damage is just 1 less than the average of witch bolt and the fact that the spell isn’t contingent on hitting an attack, magic missile becomes infinitely more attractive if you find yourself faced with a high AC enemy and you need to get some damage.

Chromatic orb tackles the “high damage” aspect of witch bolt. As I said earlier, we can assume that most of the people who are using witch bolt are lower level characters. Rarely will you fight an enemy that has a huge amount of hit points, and more often than not the instant punch of a chromatic orb is going to be more effective than the drawn out damage of witch bolt. Chromatic orb also has the slight advantage of being able to not only let you choose lightning, but also adapt it to overcome a resistance or take advantage of a vulnerability, but that’s more of why chromatic orb is amazing and not why witch bolt is lackluster.

Hey, stop stealing the spotlight

The Final Verdict

Alright, all comparisons aside, all the info out of the way, this is REALLY what you guys came here for! I’m here to let you know that I believe this spell is… Underpowered! Quite frankly, I think that other damaging spells available to these classes are better, and if you’re looking for consistent damage, fire bolt and eldritch blast will do more than enough to keep you in the fight from turn to turn. That isn’t to say witch bolt is an awful spell, it has its place at lower levels against beefy enemies. If you have advantage on an attack roll and you know you’ll have to be constantly pumping out damage without threat of being within 30 feet of the enemy? Yeah, go for it! Or just go for a nasty chromatic orb and do the same amount of damage you’d do in 2 turns with witch bolt. But hey… at least witch bolt looks cool!

Thank you guys so very much for reading until now. I appreciate all of you who make it this far, and even if you don’t make it this far and just read a bit then click away, I still appreciate you! Feel free to discuss this, give me your feedback on witch bolt, tell me about amazing stories with it, amazing failures with it, all of that jazz. Please consider giving us a follow on our social media, we’re very active on instagram! Thank you all for letting me get my Turkey Day off to a great start, and I’ll see you guys next week!

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