Magic can indeed be a complex aspect to navigate within the world of Dungeons and Dragons. The purpose of this guide is to assist you in selecting a versatile spell loadout that remains effective in various situations.
The focus of this guide will be on the spell Toll the Dead in 5e dnd, providing insights and recommendations for its usage.
- Necromancy Cantrip
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 60 feet
- Components: Verbal, Somatic
- Duration: Instantaneous
- You point at one creature you can see within range, and the sound of a dolorous bell fills the air around it for a moment. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or take 1d8 necrotic damage. If the target is missing any of its hit points, it instead takes 1d12 necrotic damage.
- At Higher Levels. The spell’s damage increases by one die when you reach 5th level (2d8 or 2d12), 11th level (3d8 or 3d12), and 17th level (4d8 or 4d12).
You can find the spell in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything on page 169.
Who can use it and what level?
- At level 1, Toll the Dead is available to Clerics, Wizards, or Warlocks.
- At level 6, bards from the College of Lore can learn it through the Additional Magical Secrets feature.
- A level 1 human may learn the cantrip from the Magical Initiate feat.
- Other classes can also learn it from the Magical Initiate feat by choosing the feat instead of an ability score increase, typically at level four.
Skills Synergy / Levels
- At level 6, Wizards of the School of Evocation gain the class feature Potent Cantrip, which allows the caster to deal half the damage on a successful saving throw.
- At level 8, Clerics of the Knowledge, Light, and Grave domains gain Potent Spellcasting, which lets them add their Wisdom modifier to cantrip damage rolls.
How do I use Toll the Dead?
The combat use of Toll the Dead is fairly straightforward. Use the cantrip on enemies that are already damaged to deal more damage. If you have the advantage of going first, you can ready an action and wait to cast Toll the Dead until the enemy has been damaged. Readying an action requires a condition to occur, such as “I ready my action to cast Toll the Dead once the guard has taken damage.”
The ready action can also be more broadly based, such as “I ready my action to cast Toll the Dead as soon as any enemy within my sight and range takes damage.” Normally, it is risky to cast a spell with a held action as it consumes the spell slot even if the condition is not met, but with Toll the Dead being a cantrip, the cost would simply be the turn taken.
Take down enemies
Although focused fire is generally the best tactic to take down enemies, Toll the Dead can be used on multiple enemies to determine resistances and stats. With the forced Wisdom saving throw, the caster can assess which enemies have low or high wisdom based on how easily they succumb to the spell. Targeting different enemies can also reveal any resistances or immunity to necrotic damage.
Think about resistances
Speaking of resistances, there is a common misconception about Toll the Dead. Based on the name, one would think that Toll the Dead would be the ideal spell to use against the undead to return them to their deceased state. This is true for lower-level undead such as zombies or skeletons.
However, mid-level undead monsters, such as wights, tend to have resistance to its necrotic damage, resulting in the damage being rounded down. Higher-level undead monsters, such as mummies, often have complete immunity to necrotic damage, resulting in 0 damage even on a failed saving throw.
Toll the Dead can have a limited use in the adventuring aspect of the game. Thankfully, the spell description does not specify that it cannot target objects or constructs. Thus, the cantrip can be used to trigger traps or destroy obstacles, although it would be up to the DM to determine how effective the spell actually is.
I suggest to my DM that I intend to use the spell to hasten the decay or rot of an object. For example, if a tree has fallen on the intended path of the wagon, I would use Toll the Dead on the tree to accelerate decay on certain parts in the hopes of making that section brittle and weak. It could also be used to destroy the rope that’s holding up a chandelier above an enemy’s head.
3. Role Play
Toll the Dead also has a limited use in the role-playing aspect of the game, as it creates a bell sound. The spell does not specify if the sound can be heard by just the target creature or by anyone in the vicinity.
A caster could use it in the hopes of momentarily distracting enemies, allowing the party to slip by. However, a bell sound can be quite obvious. In terms of distraction, the cantrips Prestidigitation or Thaumaturgy are more recommended.
This due to the variability of visual and auditory effects they can produce. If only the target can hear the bell sound, the caster could cast Toll the Dead in large groups to instill a feeling of paranoia in their target.
What to combine Toll the Dead with? Spell Synergy
Since Toll the Dead is a cantrip, it pairs very well with spells that can be cast as a bonus action. This allows the caster to deal additional damage during their turn. Spiritual Weapon, for example, enables the caster to conjure a weapon that can attack the enemy while simultaneously using Toll the Dead to gradually reduce their health.
Healing Word can revive an unconscious party member from a distance while also dealing damage to the enemy that initially brought them down. In this way, a cleric can restore the party’s numbers while reducing the numbers of the opposing party.
Bestow Curse is an excellent spell to use in conjunction with Toll the Dead. It imposes disadvantage on Wisdom saving throws, doubling the chances of Toll the Dead succeeding. A cursed enemy will also have disadvantage when attempting to hit the caster of the curse. This means that concentration on the Bestow Curse spell is only half as likely to be interrupted by a failed concentration roll.
The Wisdom disadvantage is also beneficial for maintaining the curse on the creature, as the creature must make a Wisdom saving throw at the start of its turn to attempt to remove the curse.
Additionally, spell damage inflicted on cursed creatures and the base damage of 1d8 necrotic damage from Toll the Dead can potentially total up to 20 damage.
Advice on how to use Toll The Dead 5e
Who should you target
To maximize damage potential, target enemies who have been damaged before your turn.
Prioritize targeting the “dumb” and unwise members of the enemy first, focusing on enemies with low Wisdom.
Direct your attacks towards enemies who can be difficult to hit, such as heavily armored fighters or nimble rogues.
Forcing enemies to make saving throws can be an effective way to damage opponents with high armor classes, especially when regular weapon or spell attack rolls prove challenging. In many cases, it will be easier to deal damage by requiring them to make a moderate Wisdom saving throw rather than relying on achieving a high attack roll.
Who should you avoid targeting?
Steer clear of enemies that are resistant or immune to necrotic damage.
Avoid targeting enemies with high Wisdom or those who possess Wisdom saving throw proficiency.
Certain classes naturally have Wisdom saving throw proficiency, making them more likely to succeed on Wisdom saving throws. These classes include Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Warlock, and Wizard.
Barbarians of the Bear Totem Spirit gain resistance to necrotic damage when enraged, which means they may fail the Wisdom saving throw but still take half the damage dealt, rounding down. Additionally, barbarians are known for having a substantial number of hit points before being defeated in combat.
Members of the Gnome race, in general, are difficult to hit with magic. The racial feature of Gnome Cunning allows them to have advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws.
At level 10, a Wizard who specializes in the school of necromancy gains resistance to necrotic damage.
It’s also worth noting that the necromancy feature of Grim Harvest will NOT benefit from Toll the Dead. Grim Harvest grants the wizard hit points equal to three times the level of the necromancy spell used to kill an enemy. Since Toll the Dead is a cantrip, its spell level is technically zero.
Surprisingly, necrotic damage is not always effective against undead creatures. Most mid to high-level undead tend to be resistant or completely immune to necrotic damage.
Sacred Flame is the only attack cantrip available to the Cleric if the player is only using the Player’s Handbook. Sacred Flame forces a Dexterity saving throw and deals 1d8 radiant damage.
Both spells have a 60-foot range. In terms of damage and chance to hit, I believe Toll the Dead surpasses Sacred Flame by a wide margin. Toll the Dead is a spell that becomes more powerful as the battle progresses. Moreover, I find that Toll the Dead tends to have a higher success rate. Based on my experience, most enemies have a relatively high average Dexterity, ranging from 12 to 16, for both animals and humans.
The same enemies also tend to have a moderate average Wisdom, usually around 10 to 14, if not lower for animals and beasts. Unless the enemy is a magical caster, it is more likely to have a lower Wisdom stat compared to its Dexterity stat.
For animal examples, a bat has 15 Dexterity and 12 Wisdom. A frog has 13 Dexterity and 8 Wisdom. A giant spider has 16 Dexterity and 11 Wisdom. As for humanoid examples, a veteran has 13 Dexterity and 11 Wisdom. A scout has 14 Dexterity and 13 Wisdom. A bandit captain has 16 Dexterity and 11 Wisdom.
Word of Radiance is the second attack cantrip available to the Cleric, found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. This spell has a 5-foot area of effect around the Cleric, causing enemies within range to roll a Constitution saving throw or take 1d6 radiant damage. Although it has the potential to deal more damage to multiple enemies, this spell also requires the Cleric to be surrounded by enemies for maximum effect.
I would recommend considering the distance and positioning over the damage potential, unless your Cleric is particularly difficult to hit, such as a War domain cleric wearing plate armor and a shield, resulting in a base AC of 20. Even then, being difficult to hit does not mean being immune to attacks, and the highest armor class is still vulnerable to a lucky critical hit.
Eldritch Blast is the Warlock’s main attack cantrip, exclusive to the Warlock. While the low-level versions are comparable in damage, dealing 1d10 force damage compared to Toll the Dead’s 1d8 or 1d12 necrotic damage. Higher levels of Eldritch Blast create multiple blasts that can target multiple enemies and trigger hex damage multiple times on a single enemy.
Eldritch Blast also surpasses Toll the Dead in range, reaching 120 feet. However, Toll the Dead excels in its saving throw versus the attack roll and can be useful against targets with high armor classes.
Create Bonfire creates a bonfire under the target, forcing the target to roll a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 fire damage. This spell pales in damage potential compared to Toll the Dead and relies on a Dexterity saving throw.
Frostbite freezes the target, forcing a Constitution saving throw or dealing 1d6 cold damage and imposing disadvantage on the next attack roll. This cantrip offers low damage, a poor saving throw, and moderate utility in imposing attack disadvantage.
Infestation spawns a cloud of bugs on the target, forcing a Constitution saving throw or dealing 1d6 poison damage and causing the target to move in a random direction. This cantrip also offers low damage, a poor saving throw, and an oddly specific movement utility.
Magic Stone is a bonus action that imbues up to three stones with magic, causing them to deal 1d6 bludgeoning damage on a hit. While it is great to have as a bonus action to supplement damage, other party members will most likely have other methods of attack. This cantrip has high damage potential, but only if two or more people use the stones to attack. It is unique in that it is one of the few cantrips that naturally require a bonus action, making it a nice addition alongside Toll the Dead or Eldritch Blast, but not a replacement for them.
Thunderclap, similar to Word of Radiance, has an area of effect of 5 feet, forcing a Constitution saving throw or dealing 1d6 thunder damage. It requires the caster to be surrounded for maximum effect.
The Wizard has access to the same cantrips as the Warlock: Create Bonfire, Frostbite, Infestation, and Thunderclap.
Additionally, the Wizard has access to four cantrips that are used to control the four elements of fire, wind, water, and earth. All the cantrips offer no way to deal damage directly, such as an attack roll or saving throw against an enemy. These cantrips provide more utility to adventures or alternative ways of communicating. They control the elements within a 5-foot cube.
Control Flames is a cantrip that can create fire and light and shape the flames into humanoid shapes. Gust creates a gust of wind to push enemies and objects. Mold Earth manipulates the ground to make it easier to dig or excavate, change its appearance or texture, or make the ground difficult terrain.
Shape Water is used to manipulate water, changing its flow, forming it into shapes, altering its color or opacity, or freezing water when no creatures are in it.