Spell Spotlight: Conjure Minor Elementals
Spell Spotlight is a series that focuses on excellent, problematic, underappreciated, overrated, or just plain weird spells in Dungeons & Dragons. Conjure minor elementals is one of Dungeons & Dragons’ most frustrating spells, especially for new players. It's hard to use as a player, simply because the game itself makes it difficult to summon the creatures most players expect to be able to summon. Despite being useful and balanced, the lack of options and clear guidelines available to players makes casting this spell more trouble than it’s worth. Let’s fix that.
What Does Conjure Minor Elementals Do?
This spell basically does exactly what it says it should do, it conjures a single CR 2 (“challenge rating 2”) elemental or a hoard of CR 1/4 elemental minions to fight for you. Essentially, it lets you turn the tables on your Dungeon Master, swarming the monsters with small, expendable minions instead of the other way around. Focusing on conjuration spells is a fun and unique way to play D&D. Playing a conjuration wizard makes me feel kind of like playing a hero unit in Warcraft 3, commanding my small units to defend me while I keep laying down damage with my spells.
One notable drawback is that conjure minor elementals requires you to spend 1 minute to cast it, meaning that you have to have this spell cast before combat begins, but no longer than 1 hour before combat because of its duration. Its concentration requirement is also a serious danger, since even one good hit from a powerful monster can cause your small army of elementals to disappear. It encourages you to play defensively and tactically, using your conjured minions to do the dangerous work for you.
(Fortunately, wizards who choose the School of Conjuration get to overlook this drawback starting at 10th level. They can’t have their concentration broken when concentrating on a conjuration spell, which lets them fight and explore boldly, without fear of a stray arrow of a failed Acrobatics check wasting a spell slot.)
It’s good that the spell has these severe limiting factors, because being able to summon up to eight minor elementals is incredibly powerful. Action economy—in this case, how many actions one “side” can take compared to the other in a single round of combat—has a huge impact on any combat’s outcome. It’s why single powerful boss monsters are rarely as effective against a party of four characters as they feel they should be. The simple fact that the adventurers can take four times as many actions as the boss tips the encounter overwhelmingly in their favor. The same goes for spells that summon monsters, even little ones.
Conjuring up Confusion
Conjure minor elementals is plagued by myriad tiny issues of organization. Similar to the Beast Master ranger and Circle of the Moon druids, you need to have the Monster Manual on hand in order to make full use of your conjure spells. These spells say “The DM has the creatures’ statistics,” but this doesn’t just make it difficult for players who want to be able to summon specific creatures, but it also puts an undue burden on the DM who is already juggling a dozen balls trying to keep the game running. Having to stop the game to first flip through the Dungeon Master’s Guide to find a Monsters by Challenge Rating list, find what elementals are on the list, then switch to the Monster Manual and find their statistics drags the game to a complete stop just because of one spell. That shouldn’t happen.
But far and away the greatest source of confusion plaguing conjure minor elementals is that there aren’t any “minor elementals” in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons to summon. Prior editions of D&D had many different power levels for air, earth, fire, and water elementals; for example, third edition D&D had a CR 1 small water elemental, a CR 3 medium water elemental, and so on up to a CR 11 elder water elemental. In fifth edition, however, there’s only one type of water elemental in the Monster Manual, and it’s CR 5, too strong to be summoned by this spell.
In fact, if you use D&D Beyond's monster search tool to search for elementals by challenge rating, you'll find that there are only 10 different creatures you can summon with conjure minor elementals in the entire Monster Manual! (There's one other from The Tortle Package, but let's set that aside for now.) Worse still, not a single one of them has the word “elemental” in its name. These creatures are:
- Mud mephit (CR 1/4)
- Smoke mephit (CR 1/4)
- Steam mephit (CR 1/4)
- Dust mephit (CR 1/2)
- Ice mephit (CR 1/2)
- Magma mephit (CR 1/2)
- Magmin (CR 1/2)
- Fire snake (CR 1)
- Azer (CR 2)
- Gargoyle (CR 2)
Not counting the mixed-element mephits, only elemental fire and earth are represented on this list, meaning that conjurers simply can’t summon minor air or water elementals with this spell using official monsters. As a conjurer, I've often just wanted to summon a bunch of air elementals, or I want to summon a fire elemental that isn't an azer. Something about summoning a thinking, feeling azer to fight for me rubbed me the wrong way.
To solve this problem in my home game, I decided to create four new minor elementals for my players to summon. These monsters are NOT official and are NOT D&D Adventurer’s League legal, but they are balanced using the same metrics as creatures in the Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and other official fifth edition sources, and work perfectly in your home D&D game. If you want summon basic elementals using conjure minor elementals, ask your DM if you can use these new minor elementals:
- Minor air elemental (CR 1/4)
- Minor water elemental (CR 1/2)
- Minor earth elemental (CR 1)
- Minor fire elemental (CR 2)
Most problems in D&D can be solved by using your own creativity as a Dungeon Master to tweak the game. In the case of conjure minor elementals, all it took to make this spell much more fun to play with was for me to make a few new monsters, which also serve double duty as new enemies you can use against low-level characters. This isn't always an option in games that stick close to official rules, such as in the D&D Adventurer's League, but as the DM of a home game, you are empowered to change any spell, rule, or monster that doesn't work for you or your players.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, and writes as a freelancer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He ran Princes of the Apocalypse for two years from level 3 to 15, and now thinks angry elementals are pretty cute. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his furball elementals, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.