Here follow my notes on the revised cantrips featured in Playtest 8 packet
that Wizards of the Coast released in October 2023.
For more context and my Standard Disclaimer,
check out the introduction to this series.
Acid Splash moves from Conjuration to Evocation. Instead of targeting two visible creatures within five feet of each other, it now creates a five-foot radius sphere of Acid damage, potentially impacting as many as four targets (assuming you’re playing with grid squares).
This gives Sorcerers and Wizards access to basic AoE damage right out of the gate, making it an interesting competitor to popular direct-damage cantrips like Fire Bolt and Ray of Frost.
Blade Ward is now a Reaction instead of an Action. Where you used to burn your Action giving yourself resistance to basic weapon damage types, you now get to impose Disadvantage when a visible foe makes a melee attack on you.
This is a great change that makes this actually worth having. It doesn’t take up your turn doing something that you might not get any benefit from, so you can do something more fun like casting a leveled spell, and fall back on Blade Ward when trouble gets too close.
Chill touch now uses d10s instead of d8s for damage, but its range is reduced from 120 feet to touch distance. It also loses the mechanic that gave Disadvantage to undead targets.
The range reduction is going to make the internet mad, but it’s probably less confusing for new players this way. It could still be applied at a distance using a familiar or the Warlock’s Gaze of Two Minds feature, though that takes a little more coordination. The bigger damage dice are certainly enticing.
Friends no longer targets yourself, but a visible creature within 10 feet. Instead of giving you Advantage on Charisma checks with the target, it now forces the target to make a save or be Charmed. Notably, this spell no longer causes the target to become hostile to you after the condition wears off.
The after-effect of making the target hostile was always a reason I stayed away from this, as it could have some pretty bad repercussions. While I’m sure there are still some more optimal choices, this would certainly be thematically fun for the right character, like my Tabaxi Bard, Chase. Just look at his big, cute, kitty-cat eyes! Awww…
Poison spray changes schools from Transmutation to Necromancy. Its range increases from 10 feet to 30 feet, and it now uses a spell attack roll to hit a target instead of having the target make a Constitution save.
I like this change a lot. It provides a Poison alternative to Fire Bolt and Ray of Frost, with bigger damage dice, and a more usable range. Like those other single-target damage cantrips, it puts the burden of success on the caster rather than the target, which I typically find to be more fun when I’m playing.
Produce Flame’s illuminating effect has had its range doubled (from 10 feet of bright and 10 feet of dim light to 20 feet of bright and 20 feet of dim light), and its spell attack range has also doubled (from 30 feet to 60 feet). In exchange, it now takes a Bonus Action to conjure the flame, and an Action to hurl fire from the flame at a target – though doing so no longer ends the spell. Finally, a subtle but useful update now allows you to target objects as well as creatures, so Druids can now remotely set stuff on fire when the need arises.
The action economy change here is a little weird, since using it to attack sucks up your whole turn if you pop it in combat. But supposing you didn’t want to hurl flame at something right away, summoning the flame as a Bonus Action is great because it frees up your Action to do something else – to Dash, Disengage, Search, or cast a leveled spell.
Since Druids don’t get Light or Fire Bolt, this a good multi-purpose alternative, especially if you don’t have a Sorcerer or Wizard in the party.
This signature Druid cantrip gets a modest upgrade in scaling as you gain levels. Instead of being a fixed 1d8 forever, it can become 1d10 (level 5), 1d12 (level 11), and eventually 2d6 (level 17). It also lets you choose to do Force damage instead of your weapon’s normal damage type.
The scaling is definitely welcome, since this otherwise falls off very quickly, but I’m not sure that upping the die size is going to cut it, when other cantrips scale by adding additional dice. I guess it’s okay since this is still just a melee weapon, and it’d be weird to do 4d8 with a glorified stick, but I’m not entirely sold yet. What I do really like here is being able to do Force damage, which is the most broadly applicable/least resisted type of damage. That’s cool.
All the changes so far have been positive, in my estimation, so it’s finally time for the big nerf that will make the internet salty: Shocking Grasp no longer prevents its target from using its Reaction, it now only prevents the target from making Opportunity Attacks. It also loses the mechanic where you have Advantage on the attack roll if your target is wearing metal armor.
The design notes state that these changes bring the cantrip in line with its original intent – to allow you to do an attack while also safely disengaging from a target – but it does mean that this loses some tactical utility that was frankly kind of fun to exploit.
The design notes also state that discarding the Advantage mechanic makes it consistent with other Lightning spells that don’t do it, which, enh, fine, I guess so.
Spare the Dying
Back to some good news – Spare the Dying is now available to Druids (in addition to Clerics) and changes from being a touch-range spell to having 15 feet of range. Moreover, the range doubles as you gain levels, topping out at 120 feet at level 17!
This update makes it easier for a Druid to stand in for a Cleric (nice if you don’t have a Cleric in the party), and it’ll certainly be useful when party members get into trouble but aren’t immediately reachable.
The 2014 version has a reputation for being the worst cantrip in the game, and for good reason – you spend an entire Action getting ready to have Advantage on one attack in your next turn, and you have to use Concentration the whole time, which means that you risk not even getting any benefit from it if something hits you before your Advantage kicks in.
The new version has been completely rewritten and is a huge improvement. It’s still cast with an Action, but now you use that to immediately make one attack (nice) which uses your spellcasting ability for the attack and damage rolls (niiiiice), and you can choose in the moment whether it does normal damage or Radiant damage (niiiiiiiiiiiiice). Oh, and it scales too, doing extra Radiant damage as you gain levels (1d6 at level 5, 2d6 at level 11, 3d6 at level 17).
This is going to be really, really handy for spell casters who find themselves needing to make melee attacks on the regular, since it means they can focus their Ability Score Improvements on their spellcasting ability. And the optional (and later extra) Radiant damage is nice too, as that helps to bypass many foes’ resistances to mundane (Bludgeoning, Piercing, Slashing) damage.
I do feel like this gives me some evidence to dislike Shillelagh’s die size scaling, though. Looking at the top end, which comes online at level 17, True Strike is going to do 1dSomething + 3d6, for a minimum of 4, maximum of 26 (on a Great Club, Quarterstaff, or Spear when wielded with two hands). Meanwhile Shillelagh will do just 2d6, for a minimum of 2, maximum of 12. So, yeah, Shillelagh got better, but not better enough. And maybe True Strike, unloved for so many years, got overtuned here.
Most of these changes are pretty nice, making many of the least-loved cantrips into things that are actually worth having in your toolbox. I look forward to more thoughtful spell updates like these in the future.