Thunderwave 5e D&D Guide [2021]

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One of the best get-out-of-trouble spells, Thunderwave does damage and can possibly buy some time when enemies are a bit too close. It offers decent damage and a potential pushing effect that make it a great spell to have handy.

The rules for Thunderwave spell are found in the Players Handbook on page 282.

Thunderwave 5e

Evocation 1st level

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: Self (15-foot cube)

Components: V, S

Duration: Instantaneous

A wave of thunderous force sweeps out from you. Each creature in a 15-foot cube originating from you must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, a creature takes 2d8 thunder damage and is pushed 10 feet away from you. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage and isn’t pushed.

In addition, unsecured objects that are completely within the area of effect are automatically pushed 10 feet away from you by the spell’s effect, and the spell emits a thunderous boom audible out to 300 feet.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 1st.

The rules for Thunderwave describe it as a self-centered area of effect spell. A cast of Thunderwave does damage in a 15-foot cube and potentially pushing enemies up to 10 feet away. The rules also do not allow you to choose who is affected, so friendly fire is a very real possibility. A constitution save allows for half damage and avoids the push.

It is important to note that there are some points of contention on the use of this spell. One explanation is that the 15-foot cube must be used with the caster being on one of the faces, so it may only be cast outward.

The other understanding is that the caster is the point of origin at the center of the cube. As always, this comes down to DM discretion. If you are planning to take the spell, it would be wise to clarify the interpretation used.

Is Thunderwave Good?

Thunderwave is a great low-level spell considering damage and effects. It has the ability to deal 2d8 damage at base level and shove enemies away. As a caster, it is almost the ultimate plan-B. Thunder damage isn’t the most common resistance out there, so that is a benefit as well.

The downside is the saving throw. Large creatures will have no issue against a constitution save, thus limiting the potential. Not to mention, a successful save results in only half damage.

The spell does increase in damage as it gets up-cast, but ultimately all low-level area of effect spells fall a little short at higher levels. The spell is also indiscriminate of friend and foe, meaning your allies can be shoved out and take damage as well.

Hot Tip
Do not forget that casting Thunderwave is not quiet. It creates an audible boom out to 300 feet. This spell is not in any way meant for use with stealth in mind.

What Classes get Thunderwave?

The base classes that have access to Thunderwave are the Bard, Druid, Sorcerer, and Wizard. There are a few subclasses that have access to the spell, including the Arcane Trickster Rogue, Eldritch Knight Fighter, Armorer and Artillerist Artificer, Tempest Cleric, and Fathomless Warlock.

The casters certainly benefit from taking this spell as it can create space between them and melee-based assailants. The rogue and fighter might use this in a pinch if they get surrounded and overwhelmed. The others, though, depend greatly on the way they are played. But, again, putting some space between yourself and the enemy is never a bad thing as a caster.

The spell should be strongly considered for a druid and potentially a bard based on the spells that are available at 1st level. The wizard and sorcerer can probably make better choices for 1st level spells. The Tempest Cleric gets Thunderwave as a domain spell, so it is always prepared and doesn’t count toward the total for the day. The rest of the potential classes really do come down to play style.

Bottom Line
Thunderwave is a viable option as a 1st level spell for anyone who has access to it. It really can be a great get-out-of-dodge spell when things go sideways for a caster. It can be up-cast, so the spell doesn’t need to go to waste in a spellbook later in the game.

Thunderwave in Combat

Thunderwave makes a great escape plan, but there are multiple opportunities to include it in the main plan.

For a druid, a Thunderwave can buy some room. Using the movement to retreat, they canset up for the next turn. At the next opportunity, cast a Spike Growth or Entangle between yourself and the attackers.

Perhaps a properly timed casting of Thunderwave sends enemies off of a cliff face or right into a pit. There is always the opportunity, though a bit risky, to charge into a group of enemies and cast the spell to scatter them a little bit.

Whenever you opt to use Thunderwave in combat, make it epic. The spell creates a massive boom and is quite a show. Big motions and character actions are fun.

Hot Tip
An alternative use of Thunderwave is to create a dust cloud. The spell indicates that loose objects within the range are thrown. Objects always fail strength and dexterity saves. They are immune to damage from spells that use other saves but not the effects. Sand, loose gravel, and dirt could be used to obscure line of sight.

Final Thoughts

Thunderwave is a solid spell to take early on that holds some value at later game stages. Out of all the classes that have the option, it is most commonly associated with the druid due to spell choices at that level. It provides a great opportunity for visual role play and big dramatic flavor.

Thunderwave is a spell that has the opportunity to be used in creative ways and should be taken advantage of.

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World builder, lore creator, author and story teller, all around RPG enthusiast.
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