Because I’ve run out of fourth level spell slots, that’s why!
It’s happened to everyone who’s played a caster in 5e, right? You carefully manage your resources, casting spells as they’re required to solve problems or dispatch bad guys, only to be trumped by a problem that would have been easy to handle – if you only had another fourth level spell slot…
Enter ‘Downcasting’, an optional rule for those dire circumstances which require drastic action to avoid death.
By taking themselves out of the action for a few turns, a spell caster can use a low level spell slot to cast a powerful spell.
You may cast a spell you have prepared using a lower spell slot than the spell’s level by ‘holding’ the spell for a number of turns equal to the difference. Holding a spell this way requires an action per turn the spell is held.
Once the spell has been held for the requisite number of turns, cast it on your next turn with the casting time of the spell.
Each turn a spell is held this way, make a DC 10 constitution saving throw to maintain concentration. On a success, you maintain your hold on the spell and continue casting it.
On a failure, you take 1d6 psychic damage for each level held so far and lose the spell and the spell slot.
This means that if you want to cast a fourth level spell using a first level spell slot, you will need to ‘hold’ the spell for 3 turns, casting the spell on the fourth turn.
The chance of failure and taking damage makes this an option that shouldn’t be used lightly and isn’t just a work around to get more high level slots.
Instead of taking damage, you could have the spellcaster roll on an ‘Oops!’ table like in Troika! Or on the Wild Magic table from the Wild Magic Sorcerer to bring a truly unpredictable effect into the game.
Let me know how you get on if you use this in your games and what sort of scrapes this got the players out of… or into.
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