Content of the article: "Catapult, the transmutation wizard’s fireball"
Many people point to Fireball, Counterspell, Invisibility and Fly as the "optimal" spells for Wizards, however today friends, I would like talk about how amazing Catapult is and why the sky is the limit on this spells damage potential.
Much like the mighty Fireball, this spell's main disadvantage is that it requires a Dexterity Saving Throw. Unfortunate that many of the monster in the MM have high Dex however this brings us to my first point. Catapult is only a somatic spell, meaning that it is possible to find fun and exciting ways in combat to try and impose disadvantage on the save, looking at you subtle spell/slight of hand! Choose a loose brick or torch on the wall behind your opponent and duck out of sight, cast your spell while the enemy cannot see you. How many opponents in the heat of battle are making sure the bricks stay on the wall? They'll never see it coming! And you don't even need line of sight on the object in question! You just need to know it exists!
No other spell in the book forces you as the caster to search the environment for fun and exciting things to yeet at your opponent. Think of yourself as a skilled billiards player, lining up a shot. Sure your primary target might dodge out of the way, but thats where your 400iq plays really shine! A Fireball may set up 8d6 (21 damage avg) to everyone in the 20ft radius, but a well placed catapult (lvl 3) will do 5d8 (22.5 damage avg). The thing about a Fireball Dexterity Save is that it is universal to the whole radius. Yes it will likely deal more damage if there are multiple targets, but if there is a single target that matters more than the others, that is a single check. A well placed catapult can impose disadvantage on the save AND requires subsequent checks against secondary targets. From a probability perspective it is far more likely that ONE enemy in a line will fail a save, if the checks are chained together. Instead of a flat % chance to save, we have the % to fail compounded with the fact that the previous enemy saved. The more enemies in a line, the more likely SOMEONE will fail. Very rarely do we find spells with this probability model in DnD. Fail to hit a primary target? Try again on secondary!
Now that we've established the likelihood that a catapult is going to hit and the damage potential of it being cast at 3rd level being similar to Fireball, now we can talk about WHAT you decide to yeet. This is the biggest advantage of Catapult that many spellslingers miss. So long as the target is between 1 and 5 pounds it is yeet-able. Many are tempted to just declare that they throw a rock or rubble but you dear reader know better. You prepare for battle. A spell caster who picks up catapult knows the mother of invention: necessity! It's not enough to send off a first level catapult and collect your 3d8 damage! You are crafty! All manner of different types of professions can be leveraged! Have an artificer in the party? Yeet a potion. Picked up proficiency in a poisoners kit? Yeet some poison! Picked up a bit too much lamp oil? YEET IT!
But, dear reader there is one combination so sinister that it takes a bit of time to pull off and so it is now that I present Lenningrad's Shrunken Bolt. You could just throw a third level fireball for your 8d6 damage, OR if you have: Proficiency in tinker's and smithing tools, Enlarge/Reduce and Catapult you can pull off something a bit more … brutal. You are a smart wizard, prepared and interested in inflicting a lot of single target damage, so you spend some nights drawing up a blueprint for a 40 pound bolt with an actuator on the end to release fins so the bolt cannot be removed without tearing off the fins. You are likely a weak wizard, so carrying this 40 pound object BETTER be worth the weight. It is. Reduce shrinks the targets weight by 1/8th, meaning your 40 pound bolt is now 5. So turn 1, you reduce the bolt and line up your shot. On turn 2 you shoot off the bolt like a whistling Yondu and land it in the body of your enemy, with a snap the fins on the arrow latch open. And then you dream of your childhood, lose concentration and watch in amazement as the arrow wound you land grows EIGHT TIMES as gnarly. Suddenly a 40 pound weight is lodged into the body with nowhere else to expand than inside the wound. Yes, mechanically a reduced weapon would deal 1d4 less damage, however if the would has already landed… OOF. Good luck getting that removed by your doctor! Best part is even if you miss, the arrow has the potential to be used again for up to a minute (though you will probably need to work on some way to retract the fins).
The damage potential for an bolt like this is… tricky to guarantee. Personally, I would argue the spell simply crits as it is similar to what we image a particularly critical hit in a fight would be. But that would be up to your DM. If your DM is like mine, then with 1 level 1 spell and 1 level 2 spell, you have done 6d8 of single target damage, eat your heart out Fireball!
Other fun honorable mention Catapult targets: instant 90ft grappling hook, a weapon dropped by the enemy, an octopus familiar, a naked-reduced halfling (they weigh between 40 and 45 pounds), any small trinket you decide to prestidigitation into existence, or 1 pound caltrops.
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