DnD Cantrips! Those low-level magic tricks that a caster can spam when they run out of everything more useful, or so the common wisdom goes. They’re oft underappreciated, out-damaged, and outclassed by the loftier levels above them, but over the long history of D&D, cantrips 5e have steadily become more and more appealing options in and of themselves – with their chief advantage being that they can be cast again and again without depleting precious resources.
Not all cantrips are created equally, though – some are indispensable for combat, some allow a keen DnD Wizard to support their allies in unique ways, and still others are just fun, giving a character a splash of flavour that they can come back to time and time again. In the spirit of all the different things cantrips can bring to the table, we’ll be putting three different lists down to cover all your bases in our guide to D&D cantrips 5e. For the terminal roleplayers, 5e spells for fun and flavour; for the aspiring Batman, the essential utility belt spells; and finally, for the unga bunga that resides in us all, those spells which give an edge in combat, and how to use them.
Before we jump in, here are a few other things you’ll need to consider when creating a character. Before you choose your perfect cantrips, you’ll need to know what DnD races, DnD classes, and DnD backgrounds offer the best selection.
Top five fun cantrips
Here’s our top five fun cantrips:
Shocking Grasp 5e (and other elemental spells)
Shocking Grasp is a somewhat situational spell in combat, unfortunately hampered by its optimal use being tricky to set up. To really get the most out of the spell in that respect, check out our Shocking Grasp 5e guide here.
Its roleplay uses are much more robust, though – along with Gust, Control Flames, Mold Earth, and Shape Water, Shocking Grasp is an easy way to insert some elemental flair into a character’s repertoire without sacrificing spell slots to do it.
What Infestation lacks in combat effectiveness, it gains in comedic value. Use this one on people you don’t like to swarm them with mosquitoes, because you’re a jerk. Roleplaying!
Just check to make sure no one at the table has insectophobia first.
Primal Savagery 5e
It’s very hard to beat the ability to grow acidic claws or fangs at will. If I could do this every time someone disagreed with me, I would have taken a college course on Primal Savagery 101. The possibilities for defacing property are endless – you can clean up graffiti, but acid damage? Not happening.
Vicious Mockery 5e
The idea of a sick burn dealing literal psychic damage to one’s opponent is priceless on its own, but as the spell makes clear, the effect is not dependent on the target understanding the insults. This means that the effect of the spell is merely to convince the target that they’ve been savagely owned to the point where it hurts them physically and dispirits them, regardless of the actual quality or content of the insult. Check out our guide to Vicious Mockery 5e for even more fun, and get some zingers ready.
Thaumaturgy packs the triple punch of being an easy social skill modifier, having a lot of variety in its effects, and begging the presence of a soundboard in its users. We liked it so much that we wrote a guide on Thaumaturgy 5e shenanigans! You can use Thaumaturgy to create just about any mood imaginable – mostly Victorian-era horror, but there’s nothing stopping the ambitious from using the spell to add a laugh track to the game (short of the DM’s rapidly thinning patience).
Top seven utility cantrips
And now, the cantrips for utility-lovers:
Acid Splash 5e
Sometimes you just need to dissolve something, or weaken the structural integrity of something, and that is where this perennially-overlooked cantrip shines. Iron bars, struts, stone – given enough time and enough casts, none are safe from Acid Splash.
Light / Produce Flame 5e
A classic staple. Sure, they hand out Low Light vision like Halloween candy, but the fact that you can freely set it and forget it, along with the myriad of objects you can cast it on, saves many a party from clipping coupons for torches.
An honourable mention to those who tragically do not get Light on their spell lists, Produce Flame is a lower-watt alternative with a few perks of its own – namely, the ability to throw fire in someone’s face.
Shape Water 5e
A versatile little spell, the thing that propels Shape Water into the spotlight is the ability to freeze water as well as shape it, meaning that a suitably clever individual with access to a water source can get up to some truly wicked shenanigans with only their wits and a basic understanding of physics.
The tactical effectiveness of a team lives and dies based on how well and easily they can communicate. As a ranged whisper and reply, Message solves the problem of coordinating with your friends from a distance and also nixes the possibility of being overheard in one fell swoop.
‘Make everyone else better at their job’, the spell. Want to hit something more accurately? Pop a Guidance. Want to pick a lock better? Pop a Guidance. Want to be a good wingman? Pop a Guidance. It’s a simple spell that’s useful in so many different situations that it’s almost a compulsory pick on anyone who can take it.
Minor Illusion 5e
While it has some limitations on what scale of illusion you can produce, and the duration is rather short, Minor Illusion has innumerable uses and scales mostly with the imagination and creativity of the player – and maybe some help from a super convenient Minor Illusion 5e guide.
Prestidigitation is truly the cantrip of all time. While its individual uses seem petty, the sheer variety of them and the possible applicability of its sensory effects make it a grab bag that you can pull out for all sorts of nonsense – check out our in-depth Prestidigitation 5e guide for more. All of these effects give the caster a flexibility that they would normally have to invest into several other spells to achieve.
Top seven combat cantrips
Here’s our fave cantrips to whip out in combat:
Mind Sliver 5e
Held back mostly by its low damage, Mind Sliver appears at first glance to be a low-damage dud. However, its unique combination of psychic damage, requiring a rare good intelligence save to resist, and lowering the target’s next save roll make it an invaluable tool to ‘soften up’ an opponent for a more devastating save-based spell shortly after. Just check out our full Mind Sliver 5e guide if you don’t believe us.
Booming Blade / Green Flame Blade 5e
The melee caster starter pack. One or both of these spells is a solid pick for this rare build, and they’re worthy of mention because, while niche, they are a core part of making any melee caster work at all – potential sword-lovers can check out Wargamer’s Green Flame Blade 5e guide for more on that. Don’t pass these up if you want to get in close and personal!
Spare the Dying 5e
In combat, as the goal is generally not to die, Spare the Dying has the standout and bold effect of causing its recipient to simply not die. While active healing is usually better (I’d love to both not die and also do something else on the side), the ability to stop Death Saves from happening even when you run out of spells is a solid foundation in the very admirable pursuit of team survival.
Sacred Flame / Word of Radiance 5e
Sacred Flame gets the extremely useful radiant damage type, which is typically very good against creatures of evil and undead as well as very rarely resisted. With a solid range and the ability to ignore cover bonuses, it has a very important niche in the cantrip meta for taking care of some of the most prolific and annoying DnD monsters.
For similar reasons, Word of Radiance’s short multi-target burst is an extremely viable alternative for the Cleric 5e who typically gets in the thick of things and needs to deal with the risk of getting surrounded.
Chill Touch 5e
The classes that get Chill Touch are the ones that can make the most use of it – nerds. While it deals the useful necrotic damage type, this spell is most ideal for getting one person off your back until someone else who lifts weights can deal with it. More detail on that in our in-depth Chill Touch 5e guide for those who like to not get hit.
Fire Bolt 5e
Fire Bolt is a winner all around. Many cantrips have secondary effects, and the designer of Fire Bolt made the bold decision to make Fire Bolt’s secondary effect ‘being able to be cast from a sniper perch’. It’s got good damage for a cantrip, and sets things on fire from further than Create Bonfire – with the one drawback that fire resistance is relatively commonplace.
Eldritch Blast 5e
Sure, only the Warlock 5e class gets it, but it scales with character level the best of any cantrip in existence thanks to the various Eldritch Invocations giving it extra damage and absolutely absurd range, among other things. If you’re a Warlock and you didn’t take Eldritch Blast, go back and take Eldritch Blast unless you’re giving yourself a challenge run. Be sure to stop by our Eldritch Blast 5e guide on your way out.