When you begin to approach the end of a campaign it can be hard to know what to do with all those level one spellslots you’re dragging around. After all, even the ever-reliable Fireball loses some of its appeal when you have the ability to drop a dozen flaming meteors from the sky.
However, there are some fairly basic spells that are always good to have on hand, no matter if you’re fresh out of the tavern or zipping through planes on the back of a dragon.
Honourable mentions go out to Find Familiar, Comprehend Languages and Detect Magic, all of which are good but can be used as rituals so don’t make the list.
With that in mind, here are ten low-level spells that are always worth preparing.
I don’t care how much power you wield over the arcane forces of the universe, falling off tall things hurts… unless, of course, you have Featherfall prepared.
With a wave of your hand you can turn a deadly plunge into a gentle drift downwards. Sure, it doesn’t actually let you fly, but there’s nothing better at getting you out of a scrape. It targets up to five creatures at once, can be cast as a reaction and doesn’t require you to maintain concentration.
Best of all, it only needs you to burn a first-level spellslot.
Featherfall actually scales fairly well too, especially as so many high-level campaigns seem to feature people getting thrown off architecture of knocked off the back of dragons.
A common theme of many of these spells is that you need to use them inventively if you want to get the most out of them, and Command is a prime example of that.
The essence of the spell is that you give a creature a one-word command. If they fail a save, they have to spend the next round attempting to follow it to the best of their ability.
Essentially, the value of this spell boils down to how much creative dickishness you can fit into one word, and how much leeway your DM is willing to give when it comes to interpreting your orders.
You aren’t allowed anything directly harmful, so no telling them to ‘seppuku’, jump of buildings or ‘defenestrate’ – look it up, it doesn’t mean what you think it means. However, it’s simple enough to get them to drop their weapons, release hostages or just run away for a few seconds.
If the DM is playing along there’s a potential for even greater shenanigans – such as hoping that ‘return’ forces a summoned Demon to Plane Shift themselves back to the abyss, or ‘betray’ will allow you to incite a bit of infighting.
There’s also a bit of a grey area as to whether you’re unable to make targets take actions that you know will be harmful, or if they need to be aware of the risks too. For example, can you force them to ‘Drink’ wine that you know if poisoned, even if they’re unaware of it?
Even if your DM thinks this is stretching it too far, Command is still an incredible bit of first-level magic.
8) Pass Without Trace
The introduction of advantage and disadvantage means that flat bonuses to skillchecks are pretty rare in 5th edition. One of the few that made it through into the final version comes when you cast Pass Without Trace.
And this isn’t a measly +2 or even a +5 either. When you cast Pass Without Trace the entire party gets a +10 to their stealth checks and in a system with bounded accuracy a +10 is absolutely huge.
A half-decent Rogue can use it to become practically invisible, especially at low-levels, and even clunking Paladins and Fighters stand a pretty good chance of… well… passing without trace.
The fact that this makes you impossible to track without the use of magic just adds a little garnish of excellence to this already-wonderful spell. If there’s a chance you’re going to need to be sneaky, make sure you have this little gem prepared.
Even in the snow, there’s no need to leave footprints when you have Pass Without Trace prepared
Most of the spells on the list are here for their utility rather than their damage potential. Once your level is in double digits, cantrips are going to be packing more of a punch than Burning Hands.
Hex is the exception to this.
Sticking an extra d6 on your damage sounds pretty tame, but once you start dropping multiple attacks per round it can add up quick.
It’s not without downsides, of course. For one thing it’s exclusive to Warlocks, who aren’t likely to be dragging around any 1st level slots they don’t have much use for, and requires concentration.
However, when you combine this with a barrage of Eldritch Blasts and the Agonizing Blast Invocation you can put out a huge amount of sustained damage.
Hex is also a great spell for multiclassing with. Stick it on an Open Fist Monk and you’re going to melt things in close combat – so long as they don’t break your concentration, of course.
6) Phantasmal Force
There are plenty of ‘save or suck’ spells out there – Polymorph, Banish, Hold Person, etc – but it’s rare to find one that only needs a second level spell slot. And in the hands of an inventive player and a forgiving DM, Phantasmal Force is one of the most incredibly overpowered spells in the game.
Got an Owlbear charging you? Summon up an imaginary Dragon to distract it.
Need to mess with an Orc warlord? Make him think his Shamen just stabbed him in the back and watch their army fall apart.
Want to completely ruin the day of literally any creature without legendary saves? See how well they fight when they believe they’re on fire. Or missing a limb. Or suffering anything else your depraved mind can think up.
Most monsters and beasts have abysmal Intelligence saves, so once you’re maxed out your spellcasting ability and pumped up your proficiency bonus a bit many of them won’t actually be able to resist the illusion, no matter how well they roll. And even if they are smart enough, once it lands they need to spend an entire action trying to shake it off.
The fact that this spell actually causes damage is the cherry on top.
If there’s a downside to Phantasmal Force, it’s that it relies on your DM playing along a bit. The phrasing of the spell is open to a bit of interpretation, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for them to rule that you can’t use it to mess with an enemy too badly.
For what it’s worth, when I DM I rule that you can’t use it to replicate the effect of other spells – so no blinding them with illusionary sacks over the head, holding them in place with invisible chains or the like. Anything else, however, is fair game.
5) Zone of Truth
When you’re DMing a game, there are a few spells that you always have need to in the back of your mind. Few things can scupper your fancy murder mystery as quickly as the Cleric just asking the corpse who did it, while tracking down a stolen jewel becomes rather trivial when the Wizard has Locate Object sitting in her spellbook.
However, there are few abilities that can throw a spanner in the works as reliably as the simple Zone of Truth.
As the name suggests, it creates an area in which people can’t tell lies – so long as they fail a Charisma check, of course. Anyone being affected by the spell knows it’s there and can be as evasive as they want so long as they don’t tell an outright lie. Partial truths and clever phrasing can give a creative DM a decent amount of wiggle room, but if the adventurers are perceptive and insistent enough in their questioning it can be hard to keep this up for long.
Of course, if the target makes their save they can lie ‘til the cows come home. But as the spell specifically states that the caster knows who passed and who failed this doesn’t matter all that much – just keep them there until they fail and hit them with a barrage of questions.
If used by a party that knows the rules and isn’t afraid to be rude, Zone of Truth is an incredible spell that can tear a campaign wide open. However, as with some of the other entries on this list, it’s easy to drive your DM crazy with it.
Handle with care.
Who hasn’t dreamed of being invisible at some point in their lives? Well, when you have Invisibility prepared you can do it pretty much whenever you want – and if you have higher-level slots to burn you can take your friends with you too!
This lasts for an hour at a time, but on the downside it requires concentration and breaks whenever the target attacks or casts a spell. Still, when it comes to sneaking around with the Rogue and the Ranger or setting up an ambush there’s honestly nothing better.
Okay, its combat utility is badly outmatched by Greater Invisibility – the spell that will actually make the Rogue drop to one knee and propose to you – but it’s still a great way to spend a second level slot.
This can actually combine incredibly well if you team up with a Druid or Ranger able to cast Pass Without Trace. Stick both of them on a character who’s already good at stealth and they’ll be able to go anywhere they want without being noticed. Until they run into something with Truesight or Termorsense. In which case they’re screwed.
This isn’t the most interesting or creatively fulfilling spell on this list. However, it is one of the most valuable.
One of the primary goals of any Wizard is to avoid getting chopped to pieces in close combat, and Shield can help you achieve this. All it really does it add a +5 to your AC for the rest of the round, and to be honest there are probably better long-term defensive options out there – Mage Armor, Mirror Image, Blur and the like – but all these require preparation. And what kind of Wizard prepares for getting hit?
Shield is purely reactive and excels at getting you out of scrapes. You cast it to avoid getting hit, then run the hell away while the Fighter charges in to distract the enemy.
It’s also an effective – if cheesy – choice for Wizards to choose for their Spell Mastery feature if they hit level 18, effectively giving them a permanent +5 to AC. Stick this on an epic-level bladedancer with maxed dexterity and you can laugh at the squishy Paladins in heavy plate.
2) Heat Metal
Saving throws? What are they and why should I care when I can turn your plate armor into a George Foreman grill?
As with Phantasmal Force, Heat Metal is one of those spells where the damage it causes is a nice bonus that really rounds out an already stellar ability. What you’re really here for is either forcing the enemy to drop their weapon or make all their attacks with disadvantage.
Okay, it’s a little limited when it comes to targets – dragons and other beasties don’t tend to strap on plate all that much – but if your campaign regularly features humanoid foes you’re laughing.
One of the best things about this is that it doesn’t require any lucky rolls to be effective. The damage goes off regardless, and while it does force a Constitution Saving Throw this only determines if the target is forced to drop whatever it is that’s being heated. According to a clarification by Jeremy Crawford, even if they pass – or if they’re strapped in to armor that’s cooking them – they still suffer disadvantage on all attacks and ability checks while they’re in contact with the metal.
The only downside is that it requires you to maintain concentration and spend your bonus actions keeping it up, both of which are particularly valuable for Druids.
Oh, and that your DM may take notice and have enemies use it on you.
Sometimes adventurers see the party forced to trek across barren wastes or through wild forests, stretching their survival skills and raw endurance to the limit. Unless they have a Druid who can cast Goodberry, in which case they don’t really have to worry.
Like the chicken-dinner-in-a-pill so beloved by 1960s futurists, Goodberry packs a full day of nutrients into a single tasty mouthful, with the added benefit that it heals your wounds.
Sure it only restores one hit point, but that’s enough to make the difference between running around at full speed, casting spells and hitting people with swords, and lying in an unconscious heap.
That is one hell of a berry.
Some DMs argue that someone needs to be awake in order to eat a berry, which reduces its effectiveness as a triage tool, but even then it’s an incredibly useful spell, especially if you have an eye on completely destroying the local economy by undercutting food merchants with handfuls of cheap berries.