Deciding on the “best” spells in Dungeons & Dragons is no easy task, because there are numerous options with the utility to help accomplish a goal. A fireball is often a perfect solution to simple problems, such as a group of goblins, but there is so much more to magic, as many are loosely described and limited only by your imagination.
Let’s begin by going over some spells that have uses outside of what might be used by newer players, and a some spells that can completely nullify certain types of opponents and all their grand schemes.
Invisibility has several uses, though often a player will simply use the spell to sneak through a situation without being seen. Let us consider other uses for the spell that may not be obvious at first glance.
First, casting the invisibility spell on a character who is able to make the best persuasion checks means that one may be able to trick NPCs. Since the spell lasts for one hour until an attack is made or a spell is cast, we will still be able to make a speaking action without losing our invisibility.
Approach a target NPC and with a persuasion check, make them believe that they are either speaking to a ghost, or to a long-dead ancestor. Since they cannot see you, and unlike most BBGs, most likely do not have True Seeing, you can convince them of all manner of things.
“The party that approaches you next needs your help! Assist them to free our family from a curse!” is one line used, which turned a particularly nasty head guard who commanded a garrison of other warriors into our best friend. He invited us inside rest, eat, and then let us take whatever we needed, including the amulet we were looking to “borrow” to cleanse a Demonic Shrine in the woods. It was far easier and more interesting than trying to sneak in or fight our way through who knows how many enemies.
Now, there are also many items that, once invisible, could wreak havoc in a campaign, but the rules state that Invisibility only applies to a creature touched, and whatever equipment they are holding, so long as they hold onto it. Some DMs may bend this rule and allow for items to be made invisible, especially if they are more interested in seeing interesting spell combinations and what their players can imagine. An Invisible Gate that when walked through suddenly has its user teleport into some Hellscape when they thought they were stepping into a library, is one example. With that said, other DMs may prefer the rule be followed, so it depends on your group.
Beginner players most often seem to embrace their inner Ant-Man, casting Enlarge on the party tank or melee fighters to give them advantages in strength and to simply look far more imposing in combat. This works to great effect, but what about Reduce?
As a Sorcerer or Wizard, Reduce can often help take the place of a Rogue that may not be in the party but is needed to pick a lock. We have no key, and no way to open the door, but with a quick Reduce spell, the door shrinks, basically in any direction one likes, and can then simply be pushed down with a finger. This allows for silent infiltration, and can be used on all manner of doors, including vaults containing treasure!
Since the spell describes a target as anything that can be seen but not carried or worn, you have an almost limitless list of things to reduce. Fancy a thieving spree? Reducing a chest full of gold or valuables not only makes it small and easy to conceal, it also makes it one-eighth its weight. Rob everyone!
As a minor magical trick that basically is bound only by your creativity, and the leeway of a DM, Prestidigitation lends itself to all manner of trickery. Make a worthless metal slug look like a golden coin, turn a barrel of water into the best wine ever, temporarily of course, but that the taster is convinced is real. Cause the appearance of a nearby section of the floor to be weak, routing the movement of an enemy. Create sounds of conversation to disrupt eavesdropping attempts by NPCs.
In one scenario, the party saw a large group of goblins accompanied by an ogre at their camp. The place needed to be cleared, but in a manner that was non-violent, first because they were low on health and supplies, and because part of their success condition was to rescue hostages who would be killed if an attempt was made to rescue them.
In comes the Prestidigitation to momentarily create the smell of various goodies to lure out the creatures one at a time, right into an ambush. Before long the entire camp was snuffed out, the hostages rescued, and a messy battle with an organized foe completely avoided.
While Prestidigitation may seem like a simple, low level spell, it is an outstanding opportunity to mess with how NPCs perceive reality, which can completely alter the way a campaign develops.
Controlling Elements – Controlling Life
The other night the party was underwater and Sahuagin threw us into an arena with a giant, and quite menacing, two-headed shark. The Druid seemed completely fine with this, as they used Control Water to part the sea around the arena, causing the shark to die and the fight to end quite quickly.
As one of the few effects in the game that completely negates the effect of magic, Anti-Magic Shield is one of the most useful skills to use and almost always has a place in a party. Within the radius of the spell, other spells do not work, magic items lose their properties, and summoned creatures simply vanish from reality.
Now, given that the spell falls within the school of Abjuration, its caster is not likely to be a combat-focused caster, and so this is primarily meant to neutralize threats, for example completely negating a disintegration ray or meteor swarm, but also preventing those inside from being the targets of things like charm.
This also means that if the BBG is indeed some nasty spell caster, the party need simply cast this and then go attack the helpless caster. Has the plot suddenly produced a Hell Portal in town, spewing forth Demons of the worst kind? Simply step near the portal, cast the Anti-Magic Field, and watch everything vanish. In the hour you have to keep the spell up, simple evacuate the town and then watch as some truly disappointed demons start coming in when you end the spell, only to find an empty down.
Use The Words (Or Lack Thereof) For All They're Worth
There are far too many ideas to explore, and as a player you are mainly restricted by your imagination.
So take some time to scour the spells available to you in Dungeons & Dragons, read carefully to see if there are any interesting choices of phrases for spells, and then imagine how one could apply magic in other circumstances. You may be surprised to find a variety of answers, and your DM likely will too. Or, they may be annoyed and enraged, which could also be considered a victory.