If you've ever played D&D, you know that one of the oddest, yet most powerful starting spells is a little 3rd level conjuration ditty known as call lightning. Many people have trouble conceptualizing the spell and how they can use it or end up not using it to its full potential, so we're going to take a Deep Dive into just what call lightning is and how it works. For those who are unfamiliar, we'll take a look at the text on page 220 of the Player's Handbook.
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 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.
Being able to call down a 3d10 or 4d10 lightning bolt every turn is pretty wild stuff, but you'd be surprised at just how difficult it is to use this spell to its maximum potential. Here's our Deep Dive into call lightning.
The spell call lightning first appeared in the supplement known as Eldritch Wizardry in 1976, which was the third supplement released for D&D at the time. When it first appeared, it wasn't too much different than it is in 5E, and it's still used as a druid-exclusive spell even now. The Tempest Cleric has some access to it, but it has remained one of the spells that truls sets the Druid class apart from the other spellcasters in the Player's Handbook.
APPEARANCE So how does one look while they're casting Prestidigitation? Well, Prestidigitation relies on both Verbal and Somatic requirements for the spell, which means spoken words and intricate hand gestures. Here's what it says in the Player's Handbook on page 203 about Verbal and Somatic requirements:
VERBAL (V) Most spells require the chanting of mystic words. The words themselves aren't the source of the spell's power, rather, the particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion. Thus, a character who is gagged or in an area of silence, such as one created by the silence spell, can't cast a spell with a verbal component.
SOMATIC (S) Spellcasting gestures might include a forceful gesticulation or an intricate set of gestures. If a spell requires a somatic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.
So, just as with most spells, someone casting call lightning would be muttering an incantation while gesticulating with their hands in some way. The only exception to this is if one takes the Subtle Spell feat from page 102 in the Player's Handbook which allows you to cast spells without using Verbal or Somatic components, meaning you could cast it without saying anything and without gesticulating. However, this would mean you'd have to multiclass as a Druid and a Sorcerer in most cases. One good way to avoid someone knowing you're casting call lightning is to use a storm that's already there as that will mask you manipulating the existing weather.
DURATION The unfortunate thing about call lightning is that it's concentration based, meaning that your druid will actively have to concentrate on maintaining the effects of the storm should they want to utilize its power. The concentration can be held for up to ten minutes in game time
There are some limitations and restrictions to casting call lightning, which makes sense since it's such a powerful spell - or can be, in the right circumstances.
You can continue concentrating on the spell while in Wild Shape.
You need line of sight for targets
You don't need to call lightning while concentrating to maintain the spell
Even if you use a natural storm to augment your spell, the spell life isn't extended
You can't cast call lightning underwater
WAYS TO USE THE SPELL
Since call lightning has such stringent requirements, it should come as no surprise that some players are intimidated by the idea of using the spell when they could just as easily get another spell which might require less brainpower to wield in battle. However, we've got some tips that might make you change your mind about not call lightning.
Concentrate: First and foremost, one of the main things you need to remember is that you're going to need to concentrate on the spell. Don't cast it unless you're sure you're going to be able to use it for a few rounds. Concentrate should be your mantra if you plan to use call lightning.
Become A God: Need to give NPCs a little convincing that you have been chosen by a deity to perform some task, or just to put the fear of god(s) into their hearts? Start the show by summoning a storm in front of their very eyes and wielding the power of the heavens at your fingertips.
Tempestus!: If you use this spell as a Tempest Cleric, you automatically get max damage on any lightning damage rolls, making this super effective.
Druidcraft is Essential: If you use druidcraft in the morning, you'll be able to see what the weather looks like for the day and in that case, you're in a better place to plan attacks and things for which you'd want to prepare call lightning.
Be Natural: When using call lightning, you get more damage if you're using the spell while an existing storm is going on. So always look for stormclouds when you use call lightning. You won't regret it.
Stealth Bolts: If you use call lightning during an existing storm, it decreases the chances someone will know you're the one behind the deadly bolts of lightning that keep striking. Sneaky, sneaky.
Besieged on all Sides: Whether you are besieging someone, or someone's besieging you - it's going to help if you're able to keep a storm overhead and strike enemies with lightning bolts.
Double Up: If you or another party member manages to cast a spell that will keep your enemies in place, it makes them all that much easier to hit with lightning. First, make sure you have a friend cast Web or Entangle (you can do it if you've got no friends, right?) and once the enemies are floundering and trying to escape, you can start hammering them with deadly lightning bolts.
Anyway, that concludes our Deep Dive into call lightning. If you think we missed any pertinent information, let us know in the comments below! Thanks again for reading! - Joe