Here is a spell you don’t see used very often in 5e DnD: Life transference! Of course, the spell isn’t the strongest one you can use in the vast world of the forgotten realms, but there are some excellent niche uses that many people do not realize.
This guide is aimed at both dungeon masters and players. If you DM, you might find this guide helpful in giving your players a challenge or throwing something at them that they might not expect. As a player, you might find some fantastic ideas here to use in your next campaign and give your dungeon master a headache to deal with.
This guide mainly focuses on Dungeons and Dragons 5e. However, the spell has not changed so much over the years. So if you like vintage DnD, you can use the tips and ideas you find here too. The same goes for Pathfinder. The Pathfinder game has been based on Dungeons and Dragons edition 3.5 and shares the same rule set for this spell. So you can use as good as everything you read here for that RPG too. Just make sure you double-check certain things that I mention.
What is Life transference in 5e?
This DnD spell gives you the ability to heal someone else. (ps: check out my guide on undead healing if you want more game play info.) However, you will need to sacrifice your own hit points to do so. When you cast life transference on another creature, NPC, or player, you will take 4d8 necrotic damage when doing so. However, the target of your spell will gain twice the amount of damage you take. The range of the spell is 30 feet or 9.1 meters. The ultimate amount of life that the caster loses and the target gains depends on the caster’s skill level.
This is a level 3 necromancy spell. So it is accessible to new players at the beginning of their adventure. However, the spell is pretty complex to fully make use of, so someone who is entirely new to DnD might have a hard time getting the most out of the spell.
For the smart people amongst us who are starting to think about game-breaking mechanics: No, you can not heal yourself for double the damage you do with the spell. You also can’t create a loop with two casters who just heal one another.
Fun fact: Did you know that Life transference is the most potent spell out of all spells if we are talking about burst healing? There isn’t another spell in the game that can heal as many hit points in one go as this spell.
How to optimally use life transference in DnD
Ok, let’s look at this spell in depth. First, it does quite some damage to the caster, so you will need a party member who is out of harm’s way to cast it. Second, of course, the caster needs to be able to add this spell to their arsenal, so you will need to pick a class like a cleric or a wizard since you will need to be able to cast some magic.
The best class
The best class to use life transference is the Life Cleric. This is because the level 1 feature adds 5 hit points of extra health to the amount it heals. This is due to the perk Disciple of life. At level 6, it gets even more interesting; the caster will be healed for 5 hit points. This is the effect of the Blessed healer the Life Cleric gets. In other words, the amount of health the cleric loses gets mitigated by quite a bit.
If you put this into percentages, the benefits are apparent. For example, the necrotic damage goes from 18 to just 13, while at the same time, the healing goes from 36 to 41. In other words, instead of getting healed x2, the target is getting healed x3.
Another powerful class to pick if you want to make optimal use of this spell is the druid. You can use your circle of the shepherd at level 2 and unicorn spirit. This has the effect that every time you cast a spell using a spell slot that has the effect of restoring the HP of a creature, all other creatures which are within your aura will also get their hit points restored equal to your druid level.
Druids also have a circle of wildfire on level 6. This has the effect that every time you cast a spell that restores hit points when the wildfire companion is there, you will gain a D8 bonus on the role of the healing spell you cast.
These two extra perks are not as good as Life Cleric, but they still make a massive difference.
Stats to focus on
The only time I would really start to take my stat distribution into account is if you are going to roleplay around the spell. Otherwise, I think it would be a bit too much of an investment for a spell that is pretty niche.
The primary stat to focus on is your constitution. The higher your hit points are, the more you will be able to use life transference to get your allies out of a pinch. This scales very well with if you are able to get the amount of damage you actually takedown.
If you are going all out, you should also get your armor class up. The reason for this is simple, the more hit points you can avoid losing to damage from your enemies, the more you can spend to heal your targets.
Items and spells to boost life transference
Bestow curse – If you cast bestow curse on yourself, and you select the option that your spell do an extra bit of necrotic damage to the target, your spell will get stronger. How does this work? Well, the target of the spell is you. This means you would take an extra 1d8 of damage when you cast life transference. This 1d8 changes into extra healing of 2d8 for your target.
Twinned spell? – An often asked question is if you can use the spell in combination with a twinned spell. The answer is no. The reason for this is that it affects you and another target. However, I must admit there is quite some debate about the wording, but I think the spell would be a bit too strong if you could use it on two targets simultaneously.
Vampiric touch – You can combine it with this to get a few of your hit points back. When vampiric touch hits your target, it will heal you half of the damage it deals with the target. The base damage of this spell is 3d6 necrotic damage.
Healing potions – A pretty obvious item to pair with this spell is the good old healing potion. You will need to make sure as a DM you don’t have a cleric just sipping away on these and doubling or even tripling their effect by using life transference on another player with the regained hit points.
Circle of mortality? – No, the Grave Clerics Circle of mortality does not apply here. You aren’t trying to heal a creature that has zero hitpoints left. In fact, you are rolling to deal damage to your own hit points. The circle of mortality is used for a creature or target that has no hit points left. However, your DM can decide to make it count anyway.
Is life transference a good spell, and when should I use it
I love this spell just for the fact of how to clutch it can be. Spells that make you sacrifice something to achieve the desired effect are excellent both from a fighting strategy perspective as from a storytelling point of view.
Life transference is really powerful if you know how to optimize your class. While it isn’t a spell you should throw around willy-nilly, it can make the difference between life and death for your party. While the spell damages you, it does give the highest amount of burst healing to your target.
When you have a very high constitution and have a tanky build that ensures you survive if you are on lower hit points, the spell gets really dangerous for your foes to deal with. So you can drop the spell quite often, even more so if you have a perk like the effect of the Blessed Healer, which mitigates the necrotic damage done to you.
The hit points that it heals are enough to bring one of your party members back over half their health in just an instance. However, when the monsters are getting stronger, around level 12 to 15 or so, the elemental heal spells like healing wound and healing spirit begin to fall short. As a result, their effect might only be just enough to tank one more hit.
Life transference is going to be a lot more effective at those levels. You will need to watch out that you have enough health in reserve to tank an unexpected hit or an ambush if your DM is up to no good.
This spell really shines in DnD 5e in situations where you do not need your max-health or if you have an ally taking the hits for you. For example, if you have a spell-like planar ally, you could task this creature to tank hits for you while you are expensing your hit points.
How should a dungeon master use this spell
As a DM, you can use life transference in quite a lot of situations. For example, you can have a squadron consisting out of skeletal minions that attack with their bows. Have a front line of powerful helmed horrors that stall the adventuring party with their high AC and hit points and have an evil wizard or necromancer that keeps healing helmed horrors.
Of course, you can also make it even grimmer. For example, you could have a story where clerics have been kidnapped and are forced to use the spell at the cost of their own life to heal the armies of a chaotic evil lord. If you are a DM, this spell pair very well with Feign Death from a story telling perspective.
Another option is having cultists use this spell to heal a demon they have summoned. These cultists have no problem dying for their cause and keep healing the demon with high heal bursts, making the fight very challenging for your adventurers. They will need to ignore the demon and attack the cultists since every hit point damage they do to cultists will prevent the demon from being healed by two.
As a DM that likes to roleplay evil beings like attic whisperers or loves stories with sacrifices for the great good, life transference is one of the most unique spells you have in your arsenal! It is also one of those spells that can throw a serious wrench in your players their plan. Having a monster regain so much life all of a sudden can make the battle a lot more interesting.
Summary of this life transference 5e guide
No matter if you are a player or a dungeon master, this spell is fantastic. While not many people see the utility of it or use it, it is actually one of the most potent burst healing spells in DnD.
I think that this spell shines the most if you are using it as a Dungeon master. While it is fun to use in clutch moments once in a while as a player, the spell has a significant storytelling possibility. As I mentioned in this guide, you can have evil wizards kidnap clerics and force them to cast the spell or have cultists offer up their own lives to keep healing a demon or evil lord they have summoned.
FAQ 5e life transference
Question: What class is the best for the life transference spell in 5e
The best option for this is the Life Cleric. The life cleric has a couple of powerful perks that make the spell even better. At level 1, the class can heal an extra 5 hit points. At the 6th level, they get healed 5 hit points themselves. So that means instead of healing 2 times damage, you are actually healing three times.
Question: Does life transference work on undead monsters?
Yes, there is no reason why this spell would not work on undead monsters. However, in previous editions of DnD, the text could be written as that it would not work. So ultimately, it is up to your DM to decide if the spell has this ability.
Question: Is Life Transference a good spell for DMs to use?
Yes, It is an excellent spell for dungeon masters. It can give your players a completely unexpected challenge, it can stall them, and you can design a remarkable story around it. But, as with many things in dungeons and dragons, your imagination is the only limit to this spell!
Question: What spell in Dungeons and Dragons 5e heals the most hit points at once?
Life transference is the spell that heals the most hit points at once. At higher levels, it can quickly heal over 50 hit points in an instance. However, this can come at quite a cost since the amount you heal depends on the amount of necrotic damage you take when casting this spell. So be careful when you decide to use it and make sure you have pretty of health left, or you might get into some serious trouble!