Learn all about cantrips and which ones are the best in D&D 5e
In D&D, casters have loads of options for spells from damage and healing to buffs and debuffs. Most of these spells require the use of spell slots to cast which can be quite limited, especially at higher levels, or if you’re a warlock.
The limit in spell slots represents a limitation on a spellcaster’s power and ability to cast powerful spells one after the other. This is where cantrips come in. Cantrips are spells that don’t require a spell slot to cast. This means that they can be extremely useful, but which cantrips are the best to take? Don’t worry, we’re here to take you through the options and help you decide which cantrips are best for your character.
What is a cantrip?
A cantrip is a type of spell used in D&D 5e that doesn’t use spell slots. This means that cantrips can be used any number of times between rests (though there is a limit to how many can be used in a turn). Because of their infinite reusability, cantrips also tend to be less powerful than other spells, even 1st level spells, though if you use them cleverly, they can sometimes accomplish what a higher spell slot might have accomplished.
How do cantrips work in D&D 5e?
Like with other spells, you can memorise cantrips as part of your spell repertoire so it’s important to ensure you choose at least a few so you can keep casting even when you run low on spell slots. You will have access to these memorised cantrips whenever you need them and will not use up a spell slot when they’re cast.
One important advantage of cantrips is that you can cast a cantrip and another levelled spell in the same turn, as long as one of those spells only requires a bonus action to cast. Ordinarily, a player can’t cast 2 levelled spells in a turn. This adds another reason to ensure you have a good number of cantrips at your disposal, especially for combat encounters, and adding in that all important bonus action requirement is also a big plus.
What cantrips are there?
There are a lot of cantrips in D&D 5e. Some deal damage, others provide buffs and debuffs and others have out of combat effects. To make it easier for you to know what cantrips to choose, we’ve detailed them all out in the table below along with the important aspects of each cantrip.
|Spell||Casting Time||Range||Saving Throw||Duration||Class||Damage||Effect|
|Acid Splash||1 action||60 ft||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Artificer, Sorceror, wizard||1d6 acid (up to 4d6 with level increases)||Can target up to 2 creatures within 5 ft of each other|
|Blade Ward||1 action||Self||None||1 round||Bard, sorceror, warlock, wizard||None||Resistance against bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage|
|Booming Blade||1 action||Self (5 ft radius)||None||1 round||Artificer, sorceror, warlock, wizard||If the target moves, they take 1d8 damage (additional damage at higher levels)||None|
|Chill Touch||1 action||120 ft||None||Instantaneous||Sorceror, warlock, wizard||1d8 necrotic (up to 4d8 with level increases)||Can’t regain hit points for a turn|
|Control Flames||1 action||60 ft||None||Instantaneous or 1 hour||Druid, sorceror, wizard||None||Manipulate a flame|
|Create bonfire||1 action||60 ft||Dexterity||1 minute concentration||Artificer, druid, sorceror, warlock, wizard||1 d8 (up to 4d8 with higher levels)||Ignites flammable objects|
|Dancing Lights||1 action||120 ft||None||1 minute concentration||Artificer, Bard, sorceror, wizard||None||4 balls of light that shed dim light|
|Druidcraft||1 action||30 ft||None||Instantaneous||Druid||None||Predict weather, make plants bloom, harmless sensory effect or light or snuff out flame|
|Eldritch Blast||1 action||120 ft||None||Instananeous||Warlock||1d10 force||Shoot up to 4 beams at higher levels|
|Fire bolt||1 action||120 ft||None||Instantaneous||Artificer, Sorceror, wizard||1d10 fire (up to 4d10 with higher levels)||Ignites flammable objects|
|Friends||1 action||Self||None||1 minute concentration||Bard, sorceror, warlock, wizard||None||Advantage on charisma checks against target|
|Frostbite||1 action||60 ft||Constitution||Instantaneous||Artificer, druid, sorceror, warlock, wizard||1 d6 cold (up to 4d6 at higher levels)||Disadvantage on next attack roll|
|Green Flame Blade||1 action||Self (5 ft radius)||None||Instantaneous||Artificer, sorceror, warlock, wizard||Fire equal to spellcasting modifier (additional damage at higher levels)||None|
|Guidance||1 action||Touch||None||1 minute concentration||Artificer, Cleric, druid||None||Target can add a d4 to an ability check|
|Gust||1 action||30 ft||Strength||Instantaneous||Druid, sorceror, wizard||None||Push a creature or small object a short distance|
|Infestation||1 action||30 ft||Constitution||Instantaneous||Druid, sorceror, warlock, wizard||1d6 poison (up to 4d6 with higher levels)||target moves 5 ft in random direction|
|Light||1 action||Touch||Dexterity||1 hour||Artificer, Bard, cleric, sorceror, wizard||None||Sheds bright light|
|Lightning Lure||1 action||Self (15 ft radius)||Strength||Instantaneous||Artificer, sorceror, warlock, wizard||1d8 lightning (up to 4d8 at higher levels)||Pulled 10 ft towards you|
|Mage Hand||1 action||30 ft||None||1 minute||Artificer, Bard, sorceror, warlock, wizard||None||Create a spectral hand to complete simple tasks|
|Magic Stone||1 bonus action||Touch||None||1 minute||Artificer, druid, warlock||1d6 + spellcasting modifier||Magic weapons|
|Mending||1 minute||Touch||None||Instantaneous||Artificer, Bard, cleric, druid, sorceror, wizard||None||Mend an object|
|Message||1 action||120 ft||None||1 round||Artificer, Bard, sorceror, wizard||None||Send a telepathic message|
|Mind Sliver||1 action||60 ft||Intelligence||1 round||Sorceror, warlock, wizard||1d6 psychic (up to 4d6 at higher levels)||subtract 1d4 from next saving throw|
|Minor Illusion||1 action||30 ft||Intelligence||1 minute||Bard, sorceror, warlock, wizard||None||Create an illusion|
|Mold Earth||1 action||30 ft||None||Instantaneous or 1 hour||Druid, sorceror, wizard||None||Manipulate the ground in various ways|
|Poison Spray||1 action||10 ft||Constitution||Instantaneous||Artificer, Druid, sorceror, warlock, wizard||1d12 poison (up to 4d12 with higher levels)||None|
|Prestidigitation||1 action||10 ft||None||1 hour||Artificer, Bard, sorceror, warlock, wizard||None||Create a small, harmless effect|
|Primal Savagery||1 action||Self||None||Instantaneous||Druid||1d10 acid (up to 4d10 at higher levels)||None|
|Produce Flame||1 action||Self||None||10 minutes||Druid||1d8 fire (up to 4d8 with higher levels)||Creates dim light|
|Ray of Frost||1 action||60 ft||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Artificer, Sorceror, wizard||1d8 cold (up to 4d8 with higher levels)||Reduce movement speed|
|Resistance||1 action||Touch||None||1 minute concentration||Artificer, Cleric, druid||None||Target can add a d4 to a saving throw|
|Sacred Flame||1 action||60 ft||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Cleric||1d8 radiant (up to 4d8 with higher levels)||None|
|Shape Water||1 action||30 ft||None||Instantaneous or 1 hour||Druid, sorceror, wizard||None||Manipulate water|
|Shillelagh||Bonus Action||Touch||None||1 minute||Druid||None||Weapon attacks can use spellcasting ability for attack and damage, weapon does d8 damage and becomes magical|
|Shocking Grasp||1 action||Touch||None||Insantaneous||Artificer, Sorceror, wizard||1d8 lightning (up to 4d8 with higher levels)||Advantage against enemies wearing metal. No reactions|
|Spare the Dying||1 action||Touch||None||Insantaneous||Artificer, Cleric||None||Stabilises a creature on 0 hit points|
|Sword Burst||1 action||Self (5 ft radius)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Artificer, sorceror, warlock, wizard||1d6 force damage (up to 4d6 at higher levels)||Strikes all targets in range|
|Thaumaturgy||1 action||30 ft||None||1 minute||Cleric||None||Manifest a minor wonder|
|Thorn Whip||1 action||30 ft||None||Instantaneous||Artificer, Druid||1d6 piercing (up to 4d6 at higher levels)||Pull creature 10 ft towards you|
|Thunderclap||1 action||5 ft||Constitution||Instantaneous||Artificer, sorceror, warlock, wizard||1d6 thunder (up to 4d6 with higher levels)||Afects all creatures in range|
|Toll the Dead||1 action||60 ft||Wisdom||Instantaneous||Cleric, warlock, wizard||1d8 or 1d12 necrotic (up to 4d8 or 4d12 with higher levels)||None|
|True Strike||1 action||30 ft||None||1 round concentration||Bard, sorceror, warlock, wizard||None||Advantage on next attack roll|
|Vicious Mockery||1 action||60 ft||Wisdom||Instantaneous||Bard||1d4 psychic (up to 4d4 with higher levels)||Disadvantage on next attack roll|
|Word of Radiance||1 action||5 ft||Constitution||Instantaneous||Cleric||1d6 radiant (up to 4d6 with higher levels)||Affects all creatures you choose in range|
Which cantrips are best?
There are quite a few cantrips to choose from and each fulfills a different function from damage dealing to buffs and out of combat effects. We’ve pieced together the cantrips we think are best so read on for our advice on the best cantrips for your character.
Eldritch Blast – Eldritch blast is hands down the best damage dealing cantrip. It gives you 1d10 of damage (unlike the more typical 1d8) and it’s force damage which is unusual to have a resistance against. There’s also no save to avoid damage either. On top of this, at higher levels, you get up to 3 more beams that can shoot at a single target or multiple targets (no other cantrips give you this flexibility). It’s a good job it’s so good as warlocks need a decent spell to cast with such limited spell slots.
Fire Bolt – If you’re not a warlock, then fire bolt is your next best bet with 1d10 damage. It’s slightly less effective as when it scales up in damage, it can still only strike a single target and more creatures are resistant to fire than force damage but still a great option.
Toll the Dead – Toll the dead is similar to the previous spells but it has a shorter range. It does, however, have more potential to deal damage. It’s standard damage is 1d8 necrotic but this jumps up to 1d12 if the target is already injured and it scales in damage with levels. If your enemy is low on wisdom, it works particularly well as it requires a wisdom saving throw. The main downsides are the shorter range (60 ft is normally enough but only half of eldritch blast’s range) and that more creatures have resistance to necrotic damage.
Booming Blade – Not always a good option for spellcasters as normally you’re staying out of melee range, but a few subclasses can benefit a lot from this cantrip that basically enhances a melee attack for the potential of more damage without sacrificing an action (or even a bonus action). One to consider for battlesmiths and hexblades.
Guidance – Not the greatest option in the middle of combat, but guidance is great outside of it when you know someone will need to make an important ability check (like disarming a trap), the extra d4 they get could be the difference between success and failure.
Minor Illusion – A great non-damaging spell if you need a distraction in combat. you can waste an enemy’s turn by having them try to hit your illusion. It’s also great out of combat. It can make a noise that appears from somewhere you are not if you’re trying to distract guards. It could be used to convince enemies that a place is haunted. It’s got all sorts of uses as long as you’re creative enough to work around a problem.
Mage Hand – Another great out of combat cantrip. Mage hand is very flexible, basically creating a spectral hand that can perform simple tasks like grabbing the keys to a jail cell off a table or attempting to trigger a trap (from a safe distance). It does have limitations for weight and strength (it is a cantrip after all) but still a great option.
Light – Light is very useful if the party don’t all have darkvision. Caves and dungeons are no longer a problem for the group and it’s easy to hide the light if you need to stay hidden just by covering it (it won’t burn you like a flaming torch).