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DnD Power Word Kill 5e spell guide

Wizards of the Coast’s DnD Power Word Kill 5e spell lets you kill a target by uttering a single world – but is that really all there is to it?

DnD Power Word Kill - Wizards of the Coast art of a horned Theros woman surrounded by skulls

The DnD Power Word Kill 5e spell is one of several ‘power words’ that have an instant (and often disastrous) effect on its target. In this case, that effect is a swift, unavoidable death. There are no death saving throws, and there are no hit points to calculate. The victim of Power Word Kill is going straight to the grave.

Each of D&D’s ninth-level DnD 5e spells has huge game-changing potential, and Power Word Kill is no different. But despite its simple effects, it’s well worth giving the spell some extra thought. Which DnD classes should consider learning it? What DnD monsters might use it against your party? What can you do if someone tries to kill you with it? These are questions you’ll find all the answers to below.

Here’s all you need to know about Power Word Kill:

DnD Power Word Kill - Wizards of the Coast art of a monster attacking two fighters

Power Word Kill features

Level Nine
Casting time One action
Duration Instantaneous
Range / Area 60ft
Attack / Save None
School Enchantment

DnD Power Word Kill - Wizards of the Coast art of a wizard casting a spell

How to cast Power Word Kill

All you need to cast Power Word Kill is a verbal component (otherwise known as some magic words). Choose a target creature within range that has 100 hit points or less. Once you know your target, it’s time to utter that dread power word – a single phrase that’s powerful enough to kill your target instantly.

This is the Avada Kedavra of D&D. As long as their HP is under 100, their fate is guaranteed. 

DnD Power Word Kill - Wizards of the Coast art of a lich

Who can cast Power Word Kill

Power Word Kill is included in the spell lists for the following classes: Bard 5e, Sorcerer 5e, Warlock 5e, and Wizard 5e. Each of them has to wait until level 17 to cast such a high-level spell, but there are no extra hoops to jump through to get their hands on it.

One thing to note is players aren’t the only ones who can cast Power Word Kill. Given how swiftly the spell can strike you down, a party should be prepared to meet monsters that can pose such a threat.

The Lich is the only creature in the original Monster Manual that can cast the spell, but the demon prince Orcus from Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse has the same power. Otherwise, Power Word Kill tends to be reserved for big bosses in DnD campaigns (though we won’t spoil which). Even the dread Lich Vecna can’t cast Power Word Kill in 5e. 

DnD Power Word Kill - Wizards of the Coast art of a halfling mage

Power Word Kill tips

Perhaps the most important thing to know about Power Word Kill is how to avoid falling prey to it. Despite its immense power, there are plenty of magical options for getting out of a horrible, instant death. Death Ward is the simplest way to counter Power Word Kill, and Counterspell 5e can do the same with a high enough spell slot and a successful ability check.

Casting Silence means your enemy can’t actually say their power word. Additionally, the Player’s Handbook specifies the caster needs to be able to see their target to cast Power Word Kill – meaning Darkness or Invisibility 5e could get you out of a sticky situation. Be careful with these options though; Liches have truesight, meaning they can still find you underneath your cloaking magic.

DnD Power Word Kill - Wizards of the Coast art of a gnome spellcaster attacking a furry beast

Failing that, there are always spells like Revivify and True Resurrection that can bring a creature back from the dead. The Wish spell can also undo any recent event, so if a party member has a ninth-level spell slot to burn, this could be a lifesaver.

Speaking of ninth-level spells, it’s important to consider if Power Word Kill is the right one for your character. You only ever get one level nine spell slot, so it’s important to choose wisely. The instant effect of Power Word Kill is definitely powerful, but it’s also easily countered if your target has the right spells prepared.