The Shatter spell is a flavorful damage spell that can have a variety of uses. Doing damage to objects, in addition to enemies, does provide some room for creativity. It is one of the spells that really depends on the type of game you play to determine how useful it can be.
The rules for Shatter are found in the Players Handbook page 275.
Evocation 2nd Level
Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: 60 Feet
Components: V, S, M (Achip of mica)
A sudden loud ringing noise, painfully intense, erupts from a point of your choice within range. Each creature in a 10-foot-radius sphere centered on that point must make a Constitution saving throw. A creature takes 3d8 thunder damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. A creature made of inorganic material such as stone, crystal, or metal has disadvantage on this saving throw.
A nonmagical object that isn’t being worn or carried also takes the damage if it’s in the spell’s area.
At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 2nd.
The rules for the Shatter spell clearly outline this as an attack spell. They also reveal the weakness in the spell by protecting items that are worn or carried. This limits the impact the spell could have.
The rules do specify that the spell can damage other objects, though, which does lend it some out-of-combat versatility. There is also the boon for using it against construct-type creatures made from inorganic material, which could be a major upside depending on the situation.
Is Shatter Good?
Shatter as an attack spell is the bigger, meaner sibling of Toll the Dead. It deals 3d8 damage as a base level cast, which is not incredibly powerful for a second level spell. The real benefits for Shatter, as far as combat, are in the extra details.
Nonmagical objects that aren’t being worn or carried also take the damage if in the spells area. At first, this seems like an obvious use on stubborn doors and tough locks. When you consider that weapons that have been disarmed drop to the feet of the former wielder, it takes on a whole new level.
The biggest advantage of having Shatter prepared is dealing with constructs or creatures made from inorganic materials like elementals. Most of the creatures that fall into this category have resistances to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. Being able to hit them for a full 3d8 at base level casting due to the imposed disadvantage is a big deal.
How Loud is Shatter?
The rules for Shatter do not indicate a specific range for the spell to be audible. This has raised some questions on the spells use. Ultimately it will come down to DM discretion, so talk to them if you are planning to take this spell. A comparison between Shatter and Thunderclap is laid out below.
As described in the rules, shatter affects creatures and objects within the 10-foot radius sphere. A common interpretation of this is that outside the sphere, the sound is either inaudible or incredibly low. This requires acceptance that magic can do interesting things.
This doesn’t, however, consider the actual object breaking. If a steel door is the target of Shatter, the door certainly breaks. The pieces of the door would theoretically crash to the ground, creating a significant amount of noise.
Looking at the description for Thunderclap, it is easy to see the audible distance of the spell when cast.
You create a burst of thunderous sound that can be heard 100 feet away.
This line states clearly that the spell is audible for up to 100 feet. The same type of description is given for Thunderwave. This would indicate that the Shatter spell is not a significant source of sound outside of the 10-foot radius sphere. As always, this comes down to DM discretion.
What does Shatter do?
Shatter does damage to enemies, especially ones that commonly have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. Beyond that, it damages nonmagical objects that are not being worn or carried. This provides the player with one of the most versatile and overlooked spells in the game.
For example, combat takes place inside of a common home or similar structure. It is entirely possible that one well-placed Shatter spell could bring down the whole building, considering that it automatically does damage to nonmagical items not being worn or carried – which would include the support beams.
Another potential scenario could involve starting a rockslide on the side of a mountain to cut off access to a path. A Shatter spell cast at a weak point in a rock outcropping could bring a significant chunk of debris down.
Finally, while a single use of Shatter might not collapse an entire dungeon, turning the floor into shattered stone is a possibility. Transforming hard rock into loose gravel may create rough terrain in that location. With the spells radius, this would create quite an inconvenience.
Shatter might be one of the most underrated and overlooked spells in the game, considering straight damage output leaves it less useful than many other choices at second level. The flavor and problem-solving portion of the spell really are the best part. It opens up a world of possibilities for player creativity.