I have been thinking about removing the Cantrip spells that are exclusively used as attack spells (i.e. the description lists it as doing damage only).
This in effect will make Cantrips non-lethal again and move the attack spells to first level spells which will start out as (2d6) w/to-hit requirements and following spell progression from there.

My personal reasons for this is to give a higher variance to the classes from each other, I realize that removing this will take the pure caster out of round by round attack rolling, however, there are soooo many other actions that a mage or cleric can do to successfully complete an encounter and I want to see more of that in my games.

With Next’s current spell system of open spell slots I think this can be done without messing up a casters participation unless of course that is all a caster wants to do.

I’d like to get some pros and cons or just some general opinions on this.

  • \$\begingroup\$ again? what edition are you coming from? \$\endgroup\$ May 17, 2015 at 21:23

5 Answers 5


The main impact of this would be wizards and clerics who are at a low level having rounds where they cannot attack effectively. As spellcasters get their power from casting spells, limiting their damage-causing methods would limit the classes quite a bit, especially as cantrips/orisons are the only spell type that a level 1 spellcaster can cast many times. This would nerf those classes quite a bit.

However, if your players are clever, they can use other techniques to make up for it. Creative uses of low-level spells can be devastating, and even if they don't cause damage they can still hinder enemies and aid allies. I would, however, suggest you allow clever uses of cantrips/orisons to cause small amounts of damage, or give up to +/- 2 or 10% to rolls if the situation fits and the caster is using it intelligently.

This may balance the class again, and I prefer the idea of a mage throwing out small arcane bursts precisely calibrated to (for example) drop a chandelier on the enemy to a mage standing behind the meat-shield and just repeatedly launching a small blue energy bolt at a foe. However, this relies on your players coming up with clever ideas. If they don't, you can either leave them nerfed, undo the changes, or use an NPC to give examples of what they can do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I am just not a fan of everything needing to be answered with a blast, and I feel that is what has happened. To take it away completely then is not the answer – particularly when in the playtest encounters the mage NPC’s are doing exactly that. Yet with Next’s componentizing, I thought that it could be something to look at as feasible. However, I really like your idea of using the NPC’s to give examples… show the pc’s what a non-damaging Cantrip/orison can do in the heat of battle. I think I will work with that for now and try to educate without forcing the nerf. \$\endgroup\$
    – mike
    Jul 7, 2013 at 4:09
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @mike I think I understand your sentiments for keeping the casters from "spamming pew pew cantrips". It is worth noting however that in previous editions casters possessed powerfull (often over-powered) low-level spells that allowed for effective dealing with encounters using only one of them, such as Sleep, Grease, Chromatic spray etc. In Next those spells are significantly nerfed and by no means offer the same advantage they previously offered. Sleep for instance only has the potential to affect 3-4 level 1 creatures atm. It becomes almost unusable by level 2-3. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eldebryn
    Jul 14, 2013 at 9:32

Don't get rid of attack cantrips. They are there for a reason, and removing them will actually do exactly the opposite of what you're aiming for.

So here's the thing. A wizard, even a L17 or so wizard (at 18 they get the ability to cast 2 L1 spells at will), has a limited number of spells every day right? This means that a wizard has to balance using out of combat utility spells with his attack spells. That's generally fine, but there will be days in a wizard's life (or any other caster really) where they get tapped out.

If they are constantly prepared for this being tapped out state then they aren't going to use them for RP purposes, they are going to save them for the next combat. They aren't going to spend time playing around they are going to go the most direct route to damage.

By having a viable, scaling, backup damage option, you free your wizard up to do interesting things with his spells rather than having to regularly rely on them for damage output. granted, a wizard's damage output is likely to be much lower if they are leaning heavily on cantrips. However, it's still better than firing a crossbow, which was the option for wizards in previous editions.

In other words, the answer to your quandry is: let the wizards have the cantrips, and encourage them to use their other slots for non-damage spells. I think you'll find that this accomplishes your goals while keeping the flavorful wizard attacks (which do less damage than a crossbow at low levels, and keep basic attacks from being completely pointless at high levels).


From my memory, the attack-cantrips are partly a result of the Wizard Crossbowman. When D&D third edition came out, every wizard had a crossbow. They didn't want to get in close, and they didn't have the spells to contribute to all the battles, and their spells constantly ran out ... and basically, a lot of combat reduces itself to 'how can I deal damage?'

I too enjoy alternate uses of magic, but sometimes, it just comes out to a slugfest - and without a healthy dose of attack cantrips, the early-on wizard loses his shtick. He no longer is the slinger of spells - he just is a really bad crossbowman.

As I understand 5th ed rules, cantrips can be used a LOT. The At-Will Cantrip of an attack cantrip means that a wizard can continue doing as he was before - dealing an equivalent amount of damage to a crossbow - but without losing the feel of the wizard. Mechanically, firing a crossbow and firing a cantrip ad infinitum is about the same, but the cantrip has more of the right FEEL to things.

That being said, I sympathize with how you feel. Fred Perry did a great segment in one of his comics where an aura mage using utility cantrips defeated a powerful battlemage with high-level attack spells, and it's one of my favorite stories illustrating how I feel magic should work. That being said - sometimes you just can't avoid needing to do a little damage. In that case, theme should be kept.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You still could have a crossbow though... 8-) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 5, 2015 at 6:15

I'm not current on D&D Next, but looking at the last draft I've read... the 081312 draft...

A first order analysis is that it will drastically reduce the combat power of 1st level spellcasters.

Given that Cantrips (and Orisons) are at-will uses, removing combat spells from the lists removes Wizards' backup firepower.

Note that Magic Missile in D&D Next is 1d4+1, and 100 feet; compare this to 120 feet and 1d4+0 for a sling. Right about even.

Ray of frost is a bit more stiff - 100 feet, 1d6+3 cold damage. Probably could do with a nerfing, rather than being elevated to 1st level. Reduce it to either a d6 or 1d4+1, and it's no big deal.

Shocking Grasp is very much a bit steeper, being 1d8+4, but is touch only.

Given that 1st level spells are still somewhat limited (3 at level 1, 4 at higher levels). Cantrips are and will remain a major portion of D&DN combat power for at least through 10th level; spell casters don't have enough spells per level to make up for the loss.

Also, given that it's almost dictated what the first level cantrips are (Detect Magic, Light, and Magic Missile), the more severe Ray of Frost is for later levels, or with DM permission. (Noting that Orisons raise at 5th and 9th, but only one is combat worthy, it's less of an issue.)

So, in removing them, you're relegating low level (1st-5th) level wizards capable of only very limited combat without weapons.


Perhaps a better way to encourage PCs to use other methods and abilities over cantrips is not to take away their survival ability, but rather reward them for alternative behavior. Since removing attack cantrips can also have a direct impact on player satisfaction, it may be a good idea to discuss with your players before going too far. Also, good discussion with your players may be the best way to encourage attempting alternate methods of reaching their goals, like collapsing nearby stone to create a non-magic physical barrier, or finding ways to deflect an oncoming attack. You also have to remember that if you pull them out for the PC, you are somewhat obligated to remove them for the NPCs also.

The most important part of the game is that the players have fun and want to come back; without that you will no longer have a game to GM.


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