While Dungeons and Dragons is something of a niche game, one aspect that has spread to mass pop culture is the magic missile, one of the basic attacks used by the wizard. This can largely be attributed to the “I fire my magic missile at the darkness” meme that has gained some notoriety.
One of the first things that you learn about the magic missile is that it isn’t very powerful. It’s something of a joke attack. I have to wonder if that’s really the case as, honestly, the magic missile is one of the best parts about playing a wizard in Dungeons and Dragons.
While it wasn’t the case in earlier editions, as far as 4th edition and the Essentials line are concerned, magic missiles hit automatically; you don’t need to make a roll. This seems like a pretty huge boon to me. Let’s say that your dice rolls have been in the dumper, this attack bypasses that. Or maybe you’re in a fight with a big baddie who has really high defenses and your odds of hitting him are slim, this attack renders it a moot point. Let’s say you get hit with some effect that has a negative impact on your attack rolls, again, this attack bypasses that. It’s pretty useful to the point where the fact that more players don’t abuse it is rather surprising.
Some may argue that the convenience is undone by the fact that it doesn’t do a lot of damage. Actually, if you build the character right, this may not be the case. Let’s say that you go with the Essentials specialist build and start with an 18 intelligence score. There’s a +4 bonus that you can apply and if you play as an elf, than you’ll get another +2 bonus. That boosts your intelligence score to 24, which gives you a +7 modifier. As the magic missile does 2+ said modifier, that means you’ll be dishing out 9 damage a turn.
Against a boss who has hundreds of hit points, it may not seem like much, but for an at-will attack, that’s pretty good. Again, it can’t miss, which means you’ll be doing at least a little bit of damage each and every round. It can also be very helpful in clearing out minions as there is no risk of wasting several turns trying to take one down when the dice don’t go your way
Better yet, the attack has a range of 20. Even ranged attackers take penalties when shooting from that far away, but you can just stay way in the back and take potshots at enemies with no problem.
It may not be the most devastating attack, but the magic missile is far more useful than it’s reputation lets on.
Dungeons and Dragons Essentials: Heroes of the Fallen Lands. Mearls, Mike; Slavicsek, Bill;Thompson, Rodney. Wizards of the Coast. 2010