5th Edition Spells – Catapult

Catapult

Artificer, Sorcerer, Wizard - 1 Level Spell

School: Transmutation
Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: 60 ft
Components: Somatic
Duration: Instantaneous
Attack/Save: DEX
Reference: EEPC150

Choose one object weighing 1 to 5 pounds within range that isn’t being worn or carried. The object flies in a straight line up to 90 feet in a direction you choose before falling to the ground, stopping early if it impacts against a solid surface. If the object would strike a creature, that creature must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the object strikes the target and stops moving. When the object strikes something, the object and what it strikes each take 3d8 bludgeoning damage.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the maximum weight of objects that you can target with this spell increases by 5 pounds, and the damage increases by 1d8, for each slot level above 1st.

My Comments: You might think that this is a damage spell that does an average of 9 points of damage that can be nullified by a DEX save, and you would be correct. Except, that’s thinking small.

This isn’t just a damage spell, it’s also a utility spell and can be a lot of fun. But first, the damage.

Let’s say you have a single orc, and you want to blast it. Do you use the D&D classic Magic Missile, or Catapult?

Our PC for this thought experiment– An average 1st level Wizard, Quick Build INT 15 (+2) Spell DC 12

Our Orc, 15 HP, DEX 12 (+1)

Magic Missile – Auto-hit, no save, 3d4+3, average damage = 10.5 : That won’t knock the orc out, but it’s a solid hit.

Only with max damage would the orc go down, so about 1 in 64 shots, or 1.56% of the time.

Catapult – 3d8 or 0 on DEX save, average damage of 13.5 but only about 55% of the time.

On a 3d8 you can best 15 a little over 45% of the time, but the orc will save about 45% of the time, so I’m going to say you can knock out the orc a bit less than 25% of the time.

Seems like your chances of knocking the Orc out with one shot is going to be more likely with Catapult, but still pretty unlikely. If only there was some way to improve the odds a bit… Oh wait, there is! Read on, my friends!

Geode dude with rock for Catapult spellOf course, feel free to check my math and let me know if I’m off. Also, I’m not going to get into how these comparisons change with later levels or combos with other spells or abilities, so let me know if you have nay insights in those areas.

And NOTE: If you are trying to hit a single target, keep in mind the dex save means no damage. However, if you fire it into a crowd, it will keep going until it hits something or 90 feet. So even if the front opponent makes their save, you might be able to line it up so that there are still possibilities of hitting a target behind them.

Now that we’ve talked about the base damage, let’s get into the real fun.
Notice that the range is 60’, so that target object can be anywhere within 60 feet of you, then you can make it fly 90 feet in any direction you want. This means that something 60 feet away can suddenly be 150 feet away. It also means that something 60 feet away can come flying in your direction. Just keep in mind, the object will take damage or even damage you, so target it properly.

With that in mind, what are some great objects to damage? I bet the first thing you thought of was a flask of oil or alchemist fire, right? Thought so, you little pyro! Let’s review…

Well, first, does it weigh at least one pound? That’s an interesting aspect of this spell, the minimum weight. Well, it turns out, quite a few items in the various D&D books weigh between 1-5 pounds, including flasks of acid, oil, or alchemist’s fire. So, we’re good there.

The next thing to consider, is what is an object?

According to the DMG, “an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.”

Great! Still looks good. Let’s do it! Shoot off the spell using a flask of alchemist’s fire and let’s see what happens.

Wait, is it being worn or held? If you keep these things on you, then you just need to remember to set it down, toss it, or whatever, because the spell doesn’t work on objects being word or carried.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: The final determination goes to the DM, so if you are planning on using this as a player, check with your DM first!

Okay, how I would rule this:
The initial damage of 3d8 is the spell damage. The spell damages both the target and the object and I would rule that’s enough to shatter a vial of alchemist’s fire. I would also rule that the fluid gets spread around exactly as the description of Alchemist’s Fire from the Players Handbook:

“This sticky, adhesive fluid ignites when exposed to air. As an action, you can throwFlask of Alchemist's Fire this flask up to 20 feet, shattering it on impact. Make a ranged attack against a creature or object, treating the alchemist’s fire as an improvised weapon. On a hit, the target takes 1d4 fire damage at the start of each of its turns. A creature can end this damage by using its action to make a DC 10 Dexterity check to extinguish the flames.”

To me, using Catapult to launch the flask results in the same way as a thrown flask, so an additional 1d4 damage is done, with potential for more in subsequent turns.

“Woah woah woah! Doesn’t that make it way over-powered?” I hear you ask.

I say no. Here’s why- One, flasks of Alchemist’s Fire are expensive. Two, you aren’t going to be carrying around a ton of them. As far as ammo goes, it’s pretty bulky. And if a player got out of hand carrying around 20 vials of acid, I would start rolling dice whenever they fell or got hit. I’m not a jerk, I would advise the player of this possibility ahead of time and I wouldn’t make them take damage, but I would destroy the backpack or bag they were in (unless magic) and most of what was in the bag as well.

Another important note here is that the initial damage is might be magical, the resulting carrier damage of the acid or fire is not.

Okay, so acid, oil and alchemist’s fire should work. I think I would likely go for acid instead, but the fire would be flashy and fun.

But, let’s explore this idea of Catapult spell ammo.

What about a bag of flour? Tell your DM you’re hoping to obscure vision and cover your escape, or maybe you want to reveal invisible opponents.

Holy water? That Pit Fiend is going to be annoyed that a 1st level spell did 3d8 + 2d6 damage..

A net sounds good, but my skepticism kicks in a bit. You have to have proficiency with nets in order to properly use one as a weapon, you don’t just hurl it out randomly. Given that, I would be tempted to give the target an extra save, but.. no, for the sake of simplicity I’d just go with the Spell’s Dex save and not worry about it. Also, nets aren’t great in D&D 5E. It just takes a DC 10 Str check or 5 points of slashing to escape. Sure, it can waste the target’s turn to get out, but it feels like there are better options.

Though of course, the value of a net can be situational. Maybe what you want is to waste their turn.

If you can get your hands on some Glue Bombs from Hoard of the Dragon Queen, it would be slightly better than a net, though more expensive and less common than a net.

A bag of ball bearings? I would rule that the bag bursts and spreads, causing a 10’x10′ travel hazard. I don’t worry about damage to the ball bearings; small, round, metal balls are pretty hard to damage enough to change their shape appreciably.

Bag of caltrops? Yeah, I’d go with it- it hits the target, the bag bursts and creates a 5’x5′ area that is painful to walk through. But, you ask, what about extra damage? No, in this case I would say the damage is not increased, which is a good segue into weapons…

Arrows, daggers, swords, axes, spears, etc… I’m saying no additional damage and worse, the item itself might be damaged. However, that also has value- imagine your opponent being disarmed and then you catapult their weapon into one of their friends, potentially ruining it in the process.

Here’s my reasoning- the damage done by the catapult spell involves an object hitting a victim and that damage is a certain amount and type. It doesn’t matter what the item is, it just does that much bludgeoning damage. The reason why I give the alchemist’s fire and acid flask extra damage is because the damage is an effect of being exposed to the content, which is a different dynamic than the initial damage. As a matter of fact, it’s a different damage source.

However, if you have a weapon that has an additional effect, I would allow that to apply. For example, a poison dagger can potentially poison the target.

Okay, let’s get more creative, let’s use catapult as a utility spell.

If you ignore the damage, this is a spell that moves an object within 60 feet of you to another spot up to 90 feet away.

Here are some situational examples:
You walk into a room with a wizard reading a complex spell out of a spell book perched on a pedestal. Zing! Your catapult grabs the book and slams it into the wall beside you. Just be sure and aim correctly.

You’re holding an evil artifact that will soon summon thousands of Imps, so you drop it and catapult it into the wall to destroy it. If destroying it won’t work, send it zipping 90 feet away at a 45 degree angle and get it out your space.

Having trouble getting your grappling hook up to the roof? Maybe catapult can help.

Racing against an opponent toward a gem? Move the gem!

Pirates are coming up beside your ship to board? Find an object on board the other ship and choose the direction of DOWN.

How about a bell or, if cast as a second level spell, a 6 pound Wargong? Sometimes, you just gotta make some noise, right?

Tired of the Gnomish Bard? Sorry, they’re probably too heavy and *not an object*.

So let’s review that idea real quick- what is an object?

According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide, “an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.”

According to these guidelines, a living thing is not an object. Once dead, however, the corpse is now an ‘object’ unless animated or revived. Here’s some back up from Jeremy Crawford.

Also mentioned is “discrete” and “not [..] composed of many other objects” and I have to think about this. I’m still going to say that a bundle or bag of one type of object is still one object, so a bag of caltrops is still okay. A collection of caltrops sitting on a table? Nope. Not even one, because a single caltrop doesn’t weigh enough.

Use the comments to tell me what I got wrong, or your ideas for the best ammo.

[pssst… want to draw a card from The Deck of Many Things?]

 

Dave Goff

Writing and creating in my spare time to avoid going crazy in this mad, mad, world. Check out some of my materials on DMsGuild and let me know what you think! subscribe to keep up with new posts and leave comments to keep the conversation going.

4 Comments

  1. Josiah on February 28, 2022 at 11:18 am

    It is interesting that there is a minimum weight on the object, my guess is that ruling is based on the damage done by the object, the thinking is that a lighter object would not do 3d8 damage?

  2. Dave Goff on February 28, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    I thought about that too. I think, if there wasn’t a lower limit and you could choose “a speck of dust” as the object, then why require an object at all? It does make it more interesting and gives it flavor while adding in some interesting mechanics.

  3. paul turley on July 6, 2022 at 12:44 am

    So, to cover 90ft in 6 seconds that means 10mph. But if a 1-5ib object was to fall 90ft it would take 2.36 sec and reach a velocity of 51.86mph… So 5x the damage right 🙂

    Real question though, as an arcane trickster, if the wizard was standing in front of a book shelf and one of the books just hurtled towards their head for no apparent reason. Would you agree the DEX save would be at disadvantage?

    • Dave Goff on July 6, 2022 at 9:40 pm

      Ahhh, clever. Except, I believe the damage is being done by the spell, not the movement of the object. It does just as much damage if it travels one foot as it does 90 feet. So I would rule that the damage was used up travelling 90 feet into the air and the falling object would still take (or do) the normal falling damage.

      I mean, physics and stuff, sure, but D&D isn’t exactly built on realism, and it’s easiest just to use standard falling damage. rather than figure out velocity and impact.

      Regarding the surprising book… You know, technically, I don’t think disadvantage would apply. Being surprised doesn’t give disadvantage on saves and that’s as close as I can get to a rule that applies, depending on the situation. However, I think I probably would apply disadvantage most of the time. I mean, if it’s a pitched battle and the mage knows there are other magic users about, they are probably ready for anything. But if the mage doesn’t suspect the seemingly simple rogue has spells, then it makes sense to me.
      If you know of other info, definitely let me know!

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