The ringing boom of thunder echoed through the canyon as the sorcerer unleashed a thunderwave, blasting back the horde of troglodytes that had ambushed the party. The noxious reptilians flew backwards, plummeting off the narrow bridge and down into the gorge below. Victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat with a single spell.
Understanding Thunderwave's Mechanics
As an evocation spell for bards, druids, sorcerers and wizards, thunderwave creates a blast of thunderous force originating from the caster. Many players misunderstand thunderwave's area of effect. Rather than being centered on the caster, it actually emanates from the caster in a 15-foot cube. This means thunderwave can potentially catch enemies that are not adjacent to the caster within its area of effect.
Within this cube, each creature must make a Constitution saving throw. Failed saves result in the creature taking 2d8 thunder damage and being pushed 10 feet directly away from the caster. Succeeding on the save means taking only half damage and avoids being pushed.
Although the damage is useful against groups of enemies, it is the pushing effect that truly makes thunderwave shine. With no save required, the push happens regardless once a creature fails its initial save. Clever casters can use this forced movement to redirect enemies into environmental hazards, or simply gain some breathing room when surrounded.
One of the biggest advantages of thunderwave is that because the movement is forced, victims do not provoke opportunity attacks when pushed away. This makes it an ideal escape tool. When employed correctly, a well-timed thunderwave can blow enemies back and open up an avenue for a hasty retreat.
Thunderwave in Combat
Battlefield control is where thunderwave truly excels. Due to its large cube area of effect, thunderwave can blast away entire groups of enemies at once. For example, a surrounded sorcerer who thunderwaves will likely catch all adjacent enemies within the spell's effect. This can create space when completely overrun by pushing back the horde in one fell swoop.
The pushing force of thunderwave is excellent for interrupting charges or redirecting enemies. If aimed properly, thunderwave can send assailants careening away at key moments, throwing off their momentum and coordination. Alternatively, cast thunderwave just as enemies approach environmental hazards to blow them into the party's prepared traps and terrain.
With some clever positioning, casters can maximize the carnage by catching additional enemies within the cube's unique shape. While centered on the caster, thunderwave can extend outwards diagonally. By casting thunderwave from corners or partial cover, clever casters can shape the cube to catch more distant enemies while remaining safely protected.
When allies are nearby, options like the Careful Spell metamagic or the Sculpt Spell evocation wizard feature allow thunderwave to be used without friendly fire. Alternatively, when severely outnumbered, the benefits of thunderwave may outweigh the risks of hitting a few allies.
Creative Non-Combat Uses
While thunderwave shines in combat, clever characters can find creative applications outside of battle as well. Its loud, booming concussion is audible up to 300 feet away. This makes thunderwave ideal for creating distractions or signaling to allies. The sonic blast can draw attention, cause avalanches, or cover escapes.
During social encounters, subtle casters can use thunderwave for intimidation or to impress NPCs with your mastery of the arcane. More ethical casters can use thunderwave's force to safely demolish damaged structures or clear passages blocked by debris.
Underwater, thunderwave pushes away creatures inhibiting your movement or attacks. On the high seas, thunderwave can readily send enemies overboard or create space on a crowded deck. Only the creativity of the caster limits how this versatile spell can be applied.
For spellcasters, thunderwave is a top damage option at low levels. Sorcerers benefit especially from being able to sculpt its effects with metamagic like Careful Spell. Tempest clerics excel at maximizing thunderwave's damage potential. Multiclassing provides further options, like combining thunderwave with the Repelling Blast invocation for eldritch blasters.
Despite its advantages, thunderwave does have limitations. The Constitution save makes it unreliable against hardy enemies. Using it risks friendly fire without proper precautions. Thunderwave is best avoided on precarious structures and similar situations where collateral damage poses too great a risk.
Yet even experienced casters continue to find new ways to use thunderwave creatively. It remains effective even when upcast to higher levels. Both in and out of combat, thunderwave is one of the most versatile low level spells. With this guide, you now have the knowledge to unleash thunderwave to its full potential at your table. Just beware, once your enemies experience its power firsthand, they may be the ones begging for mercy!
Overcoming Thunderwave's Limitations
Of course, even versatile spells have their limitations. Constitution saving throws give many hardy enemies a chance to resist thunderwave's effects. Using thunderwave risks catching allies in the area of effect if proper precautions are not taken. Structures and environments that could collapse or reverberate the thunderous boom may be disadvantageous for casting thunderwave.
Despite these limitations, skilled casters can still work around them. Effects like entangle or grease can impose disadvantage on Constitution saving throws before throwing enemies into the area with thunderwave. Tactically using barriers, cover and positioning minimizes friendly fire risks. As a last resort, subtle metamagic can allow a sorcerer to silently cast thunderwave to avoid structural reverberations.
Thunderwave truly shines when casters think creatively within limitations and seek to control the environment to their advantage. With skill and planning, even experienced creatures may find thunderwave catching them unexpectedly. The wise maintain a healthy fear of thunderwave's capabilities even when expecting it.
For casters seeking to maximize thunderwave's impact, combining it with other spells opens up additional tactics. Pairing it with spike growth turns the secondary damage from forced movement into a brutal combination. Thunderwave plus grease creates a chaotic mess of flying, falling enemies.
Even something as simple as thunderwave plus a prepared action or environmental trigger synergizes well. Creativity is key, as thunderwave combines effectively with other magic both offensive and non-lethal. Do not overlook its utility value – thunderwave can disarm enemies, scatter resources, or protect objectives when used cleverly.
Perhaps most deadly is chaining thunderwave with itself. By readying thunderwave and releasing it just after casting, the caster can potentially trigger the effect multiple times, compounding damage and forced movement. This advanced technique devours lower level slots but nearly guarantees enemies will be blown far away.
In summary, thunderwave is one of the most versatile, enduring 1st level spells in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. While seemingly simple on the surface, proper use of its cube area of effect, secondary push effect, and loud audible boom grant thunderwave incredible utility in and out of combat. It scales well into higher levels while remaining threatening to lower CR enemies.
This guide has only scratched the surface of mastering thunderwave. Creativity and environmental factors make every use unique. Do not let its limitations dissuade you – with clever tactics and spell combinations, thunderwave remains devastating despite enemy preparations and precautions. Just be cautious not to accidentally thunderwave yourself off a cliff!
With the techniques contained herein, you can now unleash the full potential of thunderwave at your table. Let thunderous force clear your path of enemies and obstacles. Then once you have ascended to the upper echelons of power, remember the versatility granted by even simple 1st level spells. Your journey in the arcane arts has only just begun!