This surprise DnD playtest may have just fixed the game’s most-despised and least-used cantrips. DnD Playtest 8 dropped out of nowhere on October 5, offering a range of updated cantrips to improve the game’s spell system. Designer Jeremy Crawford says the changes aim to make the cantrip ecosystem “healthy, and fun, and diverse”.
“When we did the big Players Handbook survey in 2021, some of those cantrips didn’t score particularly well in terms of satisfaction,” explains Crawford in a video on the new DnD playtest. As a result, whereas some D&D spells have only received minor tweaks, it appears many of the less popular DnD cantrips have been redesigned entirely.
The standout example is True Strike, which as written gives advantage on your next attack. This spell is rightly reviled because it’s basically never worth using up a turn to cast it – not when you could be making two attacks with Fire Bolt instead. Crawford explains that when True Strike was initially created, advantage and disadvantage were new mechanics, and the designers were very cautious about how they used them.
Now True Strike has been transformed into a damage dealing cantrip in its own right, letting you make a weapon attack using your spellcasting ability for the attack and damage rolls. Pair that with a good 5e magic item, and you may have a contender for the strongest damage cantrip available. Slight shame it’s lost some of the original flavor though!
Another terrible cantrip that’s been completely rewritten is Blade Ward. Originally this gave you resistance to piercing, bludgeoning, and slashing damage. While that was good for DnD character builds that wanted to reflect damage back onto attackers, that’s a pretty niche use case.
For most players, it was a worse option than the Dodge action, which gives enemies a disadvantage to hit you. And what do you know, Blade Ward has now become a reaction cantrip, which can impose disadvantage on an attack against you. Basically, it’s become a version of Dodge, but it only affects one attack, and you don’t have to spend your whole action on it.
The final overhauled cantrip we want to highlight is Friends. Previously this gave you advantage on Charisma checks against a target for one minute. The problem is, after that minute, your target knew they’d been influenced by magic, and might attack or at the very least hate you. This new version completely removes that downside, and you also apply the Charmed 5e condition to them (as well as the Charisma advantage, they can’t attack you) for the minute.
Other cantrips, like Acid Splash, have received comparatively minor tweaks. A total of ten cantrips feature in this Unearthed Arcana document, alongside the new base-building Bastion system, which is arguably the real star of the show.
“Cantrips are really important to us because for any character who is either a full caster or dabbling in spellcasting, cantrips are often their bread and butter,” Crawford said, adding that because DnD monsters often have cantrips too, they’re key to both players and dungeon masters alike.