The Art of Destruction: A Comprehensive Guide to Using Destructive Wave in D&D 5E

destructive wave spell
Table of Contents

The ghostly ship creaked and rocked on the midnight sea, its spectral crew stalking the deck with malice. My companions and I were badly outnumbered, cornered and doomed if we couldn't find an escape. As the horde of undead pirates closed in for the kill, I knew I had only one option left. I planted my feet, raised my holy symbol to the skies, and brought the power of the storm down upon them. With an earth-shattering blast, a divine shockwave erupted from my outstretched hand, obliterating over a dozen skeletons in an instant and sending the rest crashing to the deck. We used the opening to make our escape, saved from certain death by the awe-inspiring might of destructive wave.

If you've ever fantasized about laying waste to your foes with raw elemental power, then the destructive wave spell is what you've been waiting for. This ultimate expression of divine might is a signature ability for high-level paladins and tempest clerics seeking to smite evil and command the storm. With the ability to decimate crowds of enemies in the blink of an eye, destructive wave is a pivotal tool in climactic battles.

Yet destructive wave's power does not end with wanton destruction. Creative adventurers have found ways to use its unique properties for problem solving, intimidation, and non-violent applications. This definitive guide will explore every dimension of destructive wave, from its origins to its optimal uses. After reading, you'll have mastered the art of unleashing elemental annihilation upon your hapless foes.

Understanding Destructive Wave's Core Mechanics

Destructive wave is a 5th level evocation spell requiring only a verbal component. With a range of self and a 30-foot radius, the caster stands at the epicenter of divine fury they are about to unleash. Here are the key mechanics of this mighty spell:

  • Deals 5d6 thunder damage and 5d6 radiant or necrotic damage (caster's choice)
  • Forces a Constitution saving throw, taking half damage on a success
  • Knocks creatures prone on a failed save
  • Damage does not scale based on spell slot
  • Has no duration, cannot be dispelled or counterspelled

The wide area of effect means that destructive wave can readily lay waste to hordes of weak enemies, while its heavy damage also makes it brutalize singular strong foes. Being able to selectively pick targets prevents harming allies, yet the sheer area covered makes avoiding collateral damage unlikely for enemies.

By mixing thunder with radiant or necrotic damage, destructive wave bypasses the common thunder resistance seen in late-game monsters. Its verbal-only component also enables many creative uses, as we'll cover soon. And while upcasting in a higher spell slot does not boost damage, this spell already brings the pain at its base level.

Which Characters Can Learn Destructive Wave?

While any bard can learn destructive wave via Magical Secrets at 10th level, only a select few classes gain access to it innately.

Paladins receive destructive wave at 17th level, when they finally unlock 5th level spell slots. This extremely high level requirement makes it a capstone ability for buffed-up endgame paladins. Still, the long wait is worth it, as paladins otherwise lack wide-reaching AOE damage options.

Clerics have access through either the Tempest domain at 9th level or the Strength and Zeal domains from Plane Shift: Amonkhet at 5th level. But since those last two domains are setting-specific, Tempest clerics are the only official class that receives destructive wave notably earlier than paladins in the core rules. Combined with their heavy armor, this makes tempest clerics absolutely devastating AOE damage dealers, especially against crowds of lower-level foes.

Creative Combat Applications of Destructive Wave

Now that you understand destructive wave's core traits, let's explore clever ways to leverage this ability in your adventures:

Annihilating Hordes

Destructive wave's wide area of effect makes it ideal against swarms of weak enemies that surround your party. By taking out over a dozen low-level creatures packed together in one blast, you can completely change the tide of battle in an instant.

This makes it a great tool in climactic fights against armies of zombies, skeletons, demons, and other dangerous mobs that rely on overwhelming numbers to pose a threat. Thin out their ranks with a well-placed shockwave before focusing on the leaders.

Punishing Clumped Enemies

Carefully maneuvering your enemies into a clustered formation sets them up for maximum devastation when you unleash destructive wave. Use wall spells like wall of force or spells that restrain targets like Evard's black tentacles to group them together, then obliterate the helpless clump in one thunderous explosion.

Not only does this capitalize on destructive wave's wide area, but restrained creatures automatically fail their saving throw, guaranteeing the prone effect. Follow up your shockwave by attacking the now-prone enemies with melee strikes empowered by advantage.

Securing an Escape

Few abilities can instantly neutralize a wide swath of enemies like destructive wave. Use it to clear an escape route when your party gets surrounded and needs to flee from battle.

Depending on your enemies' speed, knocking them prone may also prevent them from catching up as you retreat. Just beware of ranged attacks from any foes still standing once you're outside the spell's radius.

Disabling Dangerous Melee Foes

While destructive wave shines against mobs, it can also debilitate solo melee enemies that rely on standing toe-to-toe with your party. Knock even towering brutes like giants and dragons flat on their back with a well-aimed shockwave.

With their movement reduced to crawling, their attacks made at disadvantage, and your party's strikes now having advantage, dropping a dangerous melee enemy becomes far easier. Maintaining this prone lockdown requires grappling, so coordinate with your team's strength characters.

Grounding Flying Enemies

As confirmed by Jeremy Crawford, destructive wave damages and knocks prone airborne creatures within its area just as easily as ground-based ones. Use this to your advantage when fighting flying enemies, as sending them plummeting from the sky prevents them from safely attacking from range.

Pair your grounding blast with readied attacks for when they crash down, as flying creatures fall 500 feet instantly if knocked prone in mid-air. That's an automatic 20d6 falling damage for anything without magical flight!

Non-Combat Applications of Destructive Wave

While destructive wave makes an iconic combat ability, creative characters have found many applications for this spell beyond battle:

Excavation and Demolition

Instead of creatures, target the ground itself with destructive wave to rapidly excavate tunnels, collapse buildings, or harvest elemental materials like gems and metals. Just be careful not to bring the roof down on yourself in enclosed spaces!

With repeated blasts, you can terraform the environment to your desire or dig to freedom when trapped underground. Just mind the thunder's loud noise attracting attention in delicate operations.

Intimidation Displays

Few dramatic shows of force can rival the awesome fury of destructive wave. Use it during standoffs against crowds to scare them into submission without harming them. After witnessing its power vaporize objects, foes may surrender rather than face its wrath.

Cast destructive wave in the air during speeches to punctuate your points with booming thunder. Just don't knock your own allies prone if they're within range!

Diversions and Misdirection

The sheer noise created by a destructive wave shockwave originating from one direction serves as an ideal diversion for stealthy activities happening elsewhere. Mask noise, buy time for allies, or draw attention where you want it with this distracting blast.

You can also cast destructive wave in unoccupied areas to make enemies think you're located in that direction. Just beware that after investigating the blast site, they'll realize the ruse.

Overcoming Resistances and Immunities

Certain damaging area spells like fireball lose their luster at higher levels as monster resistances and immunities grow. Destructive wave maintains its punch against later enemies thanks to its flexible damage types.

Radiant damage in particular is rarely resisted, and no monster in the Monster Manual has radiant immunity. Meanwhile, immunity to thunder is also uncommon, and thunder damage always affects creatures regardless of magical deafness.

Maximizing Your Destructive Potential

Having covered both the spell's core traits and creative applications, let's now explore advanced tactics for getting the most out of your destructive wave. Follow this expert advice, and your enemies shall crumble under shock and awe:

Upcasting: Don't Bother

A common question is whether to upcast destructive wave using higher level spell slots for more damage. However, the spell description states the damage does not improve, so higher spell slots provide no benefit.

The only reason to upcast is if you want to keep concentrating on another spell but still cast destructive wave. Otherwise, stick to its base 5th level form, and use those precious higher slots for other spells.

Metamagic Mastery

As a signature paladin ability, destructive wave normally plays by the rules. But by multiclassing two levels into Sorcerer, you gain access to Metamagic options that can transform this spell in powerful ways.

The Transmuted Spell metamagic introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything allows you to change destructive wave's thunder damage into another type like lightning or acid. This skirts around resistant enemies.

You can also Empower the spell's damage dice, rerolling 1s and 2s to turn a mediocre roll into a mighty blast. Careful Spell prevents allies from being affected, while Heightened Spell forces failed saving throws.

Combining the Subtle Spell and Distant Spell metamagics enables “unseen artillery” by making the blast originate 60 feet away from you without any verbal, somatic, or material components given away. Sorcerers can expend Sorcery Points to creatively customize destructive wave to their needs.

Class Combinations and Feats

Due to multiclassing spell slot combining, a Sorcerer/Paladin mix makes the most of metamagic with destructive wave. Tempest Clerics can also gain distant casting of destructive wave through Magic Initiate: Sorcerer.

The Spell Sniper feat doubles destructive wave's range to 60 feet, enabling safer positioning. Metamagic Adept provides more metamagic options. Elemental Adept makes your choice of thunder or radiant damage bypass resistance.

For radiant damage, the Celestial Warlock's Radiant Soul feature adds your Charisma modifier extra radiant damage. And the crusher feat knocks enemies five feet away from you after bludgeoning damage, stacking with destructive wave's knockdown.

Empowered Magic Items

Certain magic items can amplify destructive wave's devastation:

  • The shard of the ise rune adds force damage equal to your Charisma modifier
  • The Wand of Orcus deals extra necrotic damage for chosen creatures
  • The Bloodwell Vial amulet causes enemies to take radiant damage when first bloodied
  • The Sword of Sharpness unleashes a shockwave blast akin to destructive wave

With creativity, you can make destructive wave live up to its name. But you must also remain mindful of its limitations…

Overcoming Destructive Wave's Weaknesses

For all its unmatched potential to devastate foes, destructive wave still has weaknesses cunning enemies may exploit:

Limited Uses

With paladins only having up to four 5th-level slots per day, and destructive wave unable to be cast as a ritual, uses per day are limited. Take care not to blow destructive wave on trivial encounters where lesser spells would suffice. It's easy to exhaust your supply if you get trigger-happy.

No Damage Scaling

This spell does not get more powerful when upcast. So while it devastates lower-level hordes, it loses relative damage output versus lone strong enemies that require higher-level spell slots to take down. It lacks the scaling punch of spells like meteor swarm.

Susceptible to Counterspell

With a casting time of just one action, destructive wave is vulnerable to being counterspelled. Make sure to take out enemy spellcasters first, or else your ultimate ability may fizzle out anti-climatically.

Thunder Immunity

Some enemies through immunity or magic effects may be resistant or immune to thunder damage, dampening destructive wave's damage. Using Transmuted Spell metamagic to change the thunder damage into another type helps overcome this weakness.

Even with these limitations, a well-prepared caster can unleash the spell's maximum impact. Forewarned is forearmed when mastering the intricacies of this iconic ability.

Frequently Asked Destructive Wave Questions

Many adventurers still have pressing questions about properly wielding destructive wave. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:

Can Destructive Wave hit flying creatures?

Yes. Jeremy Crawford has confirmed the shockwave damages airborne creatures within range normally. They receive no protections due to being off the ground.

Does destructive wave work in an area of magical silence?

While silence negates the thunder damage, creatures in the area still take force damage and are knocked prone. The concussive force permeates the area regardless of muted sound.

What's the maximum damage possible with destructive wave?

The base maximum is 70 damage, if rolling maximum values of 5 and 6 on all the dice (5d6 + 5d6). Metamagic like Empowered Spell and class abilities like Radiant Soul can raise this cap even higher under the right circumstances.

Do clerics/bards learn destructive wave at the same level as paladins?

No. Paladins learn it latest at 17th level. Tempest clerics receive it notably earlier at 9th level. And bards can choose it as early as 10th level through Magical Secrets.

Can destructive wave target objects instead of creatures?

The spell can only directly target creatures. However, the shockwave can incidentally damage objects caught within the radius. DM discretion applies when determining collateral damage.

Wielding the Storm: Concluding Thoughts

Few spells live up to the sheer iconic devastation evoked by destructive wave. This definitive guide explored every dimension of harnessing its formidable power. We illuminated both its straightforward combat applications against hordes and lone enemies, as well as creative niche uses for problem solving and non-violent situations.

Advanced tactics like metamagic, feats, and magic items can optimize destructive wave's potential. Yet cunning foes may still resist its wrath through counterspelling, damage immunity, or exploiting its limited uses. Whether you embellish your blows with radiant salvation or necrotic corruption, the storm shall answer your call.

Yet never forget that true mastery requires wisdom over wanton destruction. Like a scouring flood, destructive wave should cleanse evil, not indiscriminately lay waste. Then its booming thunder will strike terror only into the hearts of darkness.

So go forth, crusaders. May your divine shockwaves smite evil and turn the tides of battle. For when all seems lost, the storm awaits.


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