He peered down the torchlit hallway for prying eyes.
Quick and discreet. Those were his orders.
Cautiously, he made his way to the ambassador’s bed chamber as he pulled out a key he was not supposed to have.
As the soldier entered, he was surprised to find the ambassador awake, lying in her bed.
He hesitated as he regarded the ambassador’s comely shape and revealing night clothes.
It’s a shame his orders were to be quick!
There was something seductive about those sharp, snake-like eyes.
Was this a charm?
He drew his sword and grimly announced,
“Your diplomatic immunity has been revoked!”
But, an ambassador from a yuan-ti noble house never has to sleep alone! As the soldier advanced on the ambassador, a large snake lunged at him from under the bed.
His chain mail and shield protected him, from the snake. What it did not protect him from, however, was the puff of green smoke that flew into his face.
He started coughing up who knows what as his eyes felt like they were burning.
But soon, the soldier had other problems. With serpentine speed, the constrictor was on him and it wasn’t long before he could feel those powerful coils clutching the life out of him.
As he lay prone on the floor, his whole life passed before him.
Maybe he should have stayed out of politics?
The comely shape of the ambassador was now looming over him. There was no hatred in her eyes. Only the pleasure of a predator. She stretched out her hand towards his face and presented her palm.
She smiled with the most artificial sweetness,
“How kind of you to drop by my bedchamber unannounced. Care for a smoke?”
As the puff of green gas billowed from the ambassador’s palm, the soldier knew that this would be the last thing he ever would see.
Welcome to a Poison Spray 5e Guide.
Bottomline on Poison Spray
Poison Spray is a cantrip that allows its caster to kill or damage enemies with a puff of poisonous gas.
How Does Poison Spray Work?
The caster picks a creature that can be seen and extends 1 hand. From the caster’s palm jets out a puff of poisonous gas. The caster’s victim must pass a Constitution saving throw or take 1d12 poison damage.
As the caster levels up, the damage increases:
- 5th level: 2d12
- 11th level: 3d12
- 17th level: 4d12
Here are the cantrip’s stats:
- Poison Spray
- Conjuration cantrip
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 10 feet
- Target: a creature you can see within range
- Components: V, S
- Duration: Instantaneous
For those who don’t understand how components work, here’s a brief explanation.
- V= Verbal (If for some reason, you can’t talk, you can’t cast.)
- S= Somatic (You need at least 1 free hand to cast.)
Most spells also have a Material Component in that an arcane focus or some type of other object is needed for casting. Poison Spray has some benefits in that no Material Components are required.
As a cantrip, Poison Spray can be cast an unlimited number of times.
Who Can Use Poison Spray?
As per Player’s Handbook (PHB) rules, Poison Spray can be chosen as a cantrip for druids, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards. It’s an automatic cantrip for all yuan-ti pureblood characters.
Is Poison Spray Good?
If you’re a yuan-ti pureblood, it’s better than good; it’s free. In that case, the real question you should be asking is how can I maximize Poison Spray? (since I have it anyway)
If you’re everyone else, the question you should be asking is:
Is it worth it?
Unlike spells, your cantrip choice isn’t so easy to change. Wizards can normally pick and choose from their spellbooks and prepare whatever they want from whatever they have every adventuring day. Clerics just pray from their lists.
Not so with cantrips. A lenient DM might let you switch out when you level up, but the purists won’t even let you do that. That means that if you pick Poison Spray and you’re later not happy with it, you’re stuck with it from level 1 all the way up to level 20!
My personal opinion is, that for most styles of play, no, it’s not worth giving up one of the other cantrips.
Let’s look at the pros and cons:
|Not ranged attack so no disadvantage within 5 ft.||Short range 10 ft.|
|No roll to hit||Victim can save Constitution for no damage|
|1d12 damage is more than other cantrips||A lot of monsters are poison-resistant or poison immune|
|No Material Component||No additional properties like slow or disadvanatge|
Most casters can choose 2-4 cantrips to choose from. The question is how many will be combat cantrips and how many will be for utility?
You start with 2 cantrips not counting any that you might get for free because of your race. If you’re playing a warlock and you’re choosing Eldritch Blast, you’re strange. Either you have a very unorthodox style of play or you have a clueless style of play.
Assuming you’re an orthodox warlock, after choosing Eldritch Blast you have 1 cantrip left to choose from. Most experienced players and DMs would say it’s a mistake to load up 100% on combat spells and I agree. That means a warlock’s other cantrip should be a utility spell.
Wizards start with 3 cantrips. For most wizards, I would suggest 1 blaster cantrip and 2 utility cantrips. Wizards are supposed to be more well-rounded than warlocks and sorcerers.
Wizards and most other casters prefer a long-range style of fighting. If you’re a wizard and you want to melee, something’s wrong. So, with your combat cantrip, you can choose to improve your long-range style of fighting with a blaster cantrip, or you can use what is basically a melee cantrip like Poison Spray or Shocking Grasp.
As a wizard progresses through the levels, there are a lot of long-range damage dealers that are better than any cantrip, but those have limited usage. To have an unlimited-use, ranged weapon like Firebolt or Ray of Frost is a benefit that is usually not worth giving up for a melee cantrip like Poison Spray.
There is one exception, however. If your wizard is already good at non-magical ranged attacks, then a blaster cantrip becomes redundant, at least at the lower levels. Later in the article, I have some character builds, including a male high elf wizard who simply uses a longbow as his cantrip and is, therefore, free to choose Poison Spray.
Sorcerers start with 4 cantrips. After they choose 1 combat cantrip and 1 utility cantrip, they have a lot of options for the other 2.
Draconic bloodline sorcerers have Elemental Affinity at 6th level and above. This will allow them to add their Charisma modifier to 1 die roll of damage for any spell related to the damage type of their dragon ancestry.
This is only a minor benefit to heavy damage dealers like Fireball with 6 die of damage or Cone of Cold with 8 die of damage. It’s perfect, however, for cantrips because, at the early levels, cantrips only get 1 die of damage.
Draconic bloodline sorcerers tend to pick a combat cantrip that can be supported by the damage type related to their ancestry as seen in the table below:
|Silver||Cold||Ray of Frost|
|White||Cold||Ray of Frost|
As you can see from the table above, Poison is under-represented among dragonkind. If your sorcerer wants Elemental Affinity to poison, you have no choice but to be a draconic bloodline sorcerer with green dragon ancestry. I have such a character in the Character Builds section of this article.
Druids start out with 2 cantrips. A lot of gamers on the web, myself included, feel that there are far better cantrips than Poison Spray for druids to choose from for their 2:
- Thorn Whip
- Magic Stones
- Move Earth
Yuan-ti purebloods, as stated before, have Poison Spray automatically. I have a yuan-ti pureblood in the Character Builds section below.
Poison Spray Character Builds
Since Poison Spray is a Saving Throw or Damage cantrip, there is no roll to hit. So, the question you need to ask is:
Which is better, my chances to hit my opponent or my opponent’s chances to fail his or her Constitution Saving Throw?
Next, you compare the 2 and you finally know whether or not to use Poison Spray, for that particular situation.
And that, folks, is the real problem with Poison Spray. It’s possibly one of the most situation-dependent combat cantrips in the game. Poison is the most unreliable damage type and Constitution saves are probably the most unreliable saves for the attacker.
But, don’t take my word for it. Let’s enjoy the Poison Spray Math below.
High Elf Wizard
Using the standard array (15,14,13,12,10,8), here are my High Elf Wizard’s stats:
|Ability Scores Total||8||16||12||16||13||10|
I’m going to make my 1st level high elf wizard a male named Elendil. (I know Tolkien’s Elendil was not an elf, but an elf-friend. Hey, the name sounds cool.)
Because Elendil is high elf, he automatically has proficiency in weapons like longbow and shortsword despite being a wizard. With Elendil’s weapon proficiency and 16 Dexterity, his longbow stats are the following:
|Attack Modifier||Damage Modifier||Damage||Normal||Range|
|+5||+3||4-11 (7 average)||150 feet||600 feet|
At 1st level, Elendil’s longbow has better damage and better range than all other 1st level cantrip casters. Basically, Elendil’s longbow is his Firebolt, at least until it’s time to scale when he levels up.
With that, he doesn’t have to waste a cantrip on a ranged attack and can pick utility cantrips and possibly a Saving Throw or Damage cantrip like Poison Spray.
Of course, if he has a 16 Dexterity, he would choose a finesse weapon for melee. As an elf, he would have shortsword proficiency so that would be his finesse weapon:
|Attack Modifier||Damage Modifier||Damage|
|+5||+3||4-9 (6 average)|
Spell and Cantrip List
If he were to choose Poison Spray, the spells and cantrips he would likely know/prepare before an adventuring day would look something like this:
- 3 cantrips: Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Poison Spray
- 2 1st Level spells: Mage Armor (AC 13 +3 = 16), Sleep
With the above taken into account, my 1st level high elf wizards basics combat stats are this:
|AC||HP||Shortsword/Longbow||Melee damage||Ranged damage||Poison Spray|
|16||7||+5 attack/+3 damage||4-9 (6 average)||4-11 (7 average)||1d12 (6 average)|
This means that for Elendil, his chances of hitting an AC 12 opponent with his shortsword are equal to him damaging a Constitution 10-11 opponent. Obviously, the ideal candidate for Poison Spray would be an opponent that has a high AC but a low Constitution. How often is Elendil going to encounter that?
There is a catch-22 with Poison Spray. If your caster character has low Dexterity, you need a ranged cantrip. If your caster has a high Dexterity, your character is going to have melee capabilities that have most of the benefits of Poison Spray without the liabilities.
Most wizards probably shouldn’t waste a cantrip on Poison Spray, and I think I don’t Elendil should either.
Yuan-Ti Pureblood Wildmagic Sorcerer
In my Yuan-Ti Pureblood Guide: Evil Snake People I create a female yuan-ti pureblood wild magic sorcerer named Wan Tei. She’s more of a palace intrigue operative than a dungeon adventurer, so her melee stats aren’t that great:
|Ability Scores Total||8||12||13||16||10||16|
|Light crossbow||Ranged||80/320 ft||+3/+1||1d8 +1 (2-9)|
|Dagger||Melee/ranged||20/60 ft||+3/+1||1d4 +1 (2-5)|
|Daggers TWF||Melee||NA||+3/+1, +0||1d4 +1 + 1d4 (3-9)|
If she’s fighting an opponent without poison immunity, Poison Spray might be a better option than her twin daggers.
My yuan-ti pureblood wildmagic sorcerer’s basics combat stats are this:
|AC||HP||dagger/hand crossbow||Melee damage||Ranged damage||Poison Spray|
|11||7||+3 attack/+1 damage||2-5 (3 average)||2-7 (4 average)||1d12 (6 average)|
Spell and Cantrip List
My confession, I’ve switched around her cantrips and spells in the interim between her character creation and writing:
- Cantrips 5: Poison Spray (1d12), Firebolt (1d10), Minor Illusion, Mage Hand, True Strike
- 1st Level Spells 3: Chromatic Orb (3d8), Charm Person, Animal Friendship (at will, but with snakes only)
I believe that this spell and cantrip combination is pretty good for Poison Spray. When she’s fighting at long range, she has her range attacks: Firebolt and Chromatic Orb. If she’s fighting creatures that Poison Spray works for, she can use that.
If she’s fighting creatures that have poison immunity and it’s going to be a melee battle, she has options. As long as she has time to perform 1 action before the melee starts, she can cast True Strike.
True Strike’s advantage would cancel out the disadvantage of casting range attack spells within 5 feet of hostiles. In effect, True Strike allows Wan Tei to change her ranged attack spells into melee attack spells.
Wan Tei vs Skeleton
Example: Wan Tei sees that her companions are occupied in melee and that she may have to soon battle at least 1 skeleton by herself. Knowing that her Poison Spray is useless against the undead, she prepares her True Strike.
Round 1: The skeleton charges with its shortsword from 30 feet. Wan Tei fires her chromatic orb as “anything but green” and does 12 points of damage, bringing the 13 HP skeleton down to 1.
The skeleton hits Wan Tei and does 5 points of damage, bringing her down to 2. Luckily, she passes her Constitution check to hold her concentration and the True Strike is still active.
Round 2: Wan Tei throws her Firebolt right in the skeleton’s face. Because her True Strike is still active, she suffers no disadvantage with her ranged attack at close range. She hits and does 5 damage, bringing the skeleton down to -4 and blowing its head off.
When Wan Tei levels up, she can use Quicken Spell to make sure she always has time to cast True Strike as a bonus action when she needs it most.
*Note: Had Wan Tei’s player Jennifer been more experienced, she wouldn’t have chosen “anything but green” for her Chromatic Orb. She would have chosen purple, the color of Thunder Damage (at least according to Baldur’s Gate III).
Then her orb would have done concussive damage to which skeletons are vulnerable. Her orb would have had 24 damage points instead of 12 and the skeleton would have been destroyed in the 1st round.
Wan Tei vs 2 Kobolds
Minor Illusion can be very useful for controlling the distance to maximize your Poison Spray as described in my upcoming Blade Ward 5e Guide (in which Wan Tei also appears). Example:
Wan Tei is being charged by 2 kobolds armed with daggers and slings:
dam 3-6 (4)
|7 (-2)||15 (+2)||9 (-1)||8 (-1)||7 (-2)||8 (-1)|
If there was ever a monster that is the perfect victim for Poison Spray, it is the kobold. They have a Constitution low enough to almost guarantee that your cantrip will work and with their 5 hit points, your Poison Spray can kill them with one shot. The scenario continues:
The kobolds charge with daggers in hand as Wan Tei casts Minor Illusion. A 5 x 5-foot pit opens before them and they slam on the breaks and almost fall in.
Because kobolds have a -1 Intelligence modifier, they are unlikely to pass the Investigation check required to discern the illusion.
The 5 x 5 Minor Illusion pit is 2 feet in front of Wan Tei, putting 7 feet of distance between her and the kobolds. They are still within the 10-foot range of her Poison Spray. The fight is in a narrow corridor, so as long as the kobolds believe the illusion, moving around the pit is not an option.
Round 1: As the kobolds recover from the shock and recover their balance, Wan Tei has enough time to cast Poison Spray on one of them. There is no roll to hit and the kobold fails its save and dies.
The second kobold, a male, decides not to waste time grabbing his sling and throws his dagger instead.
He hits Wan Tei and does 4 damage, bringing her down to 3 hit points. Since Minor Illusion is not a concentration spell, there is no Constitution check needed to maintain the pit.
Round 2: Wan Tei casts Poison Spray on the remaining kobold. This one also fails its saving throw and dies.
Without Minor Illusion, Wan Tei would have been in a melee with 2 kobolds at the same time. Because kobolds have the Pack Tactics feature, their attacks would have been at an advantage.
With the Minor Illusion, because they were forced to stay 7 feet away, Wan Tei could have used Firebolt instead of Poison Spray with no disadvantage. This is where we have to do some Poison Spray Math:
DC8 + 5 (Wan Tei’s casting modifier) +1 (kobold’s -1 Constitution modifier) = 14
The kobold’s chances of rolling a 13 or lower and failing the save are 65%, so Wan Tei’s chances of damaging the kobold with Poison Spray are 65%.
To hit the kobold with Firebolt we would need to make the following calculation:
12 (kobold’s AC) – 5 (Wan Tei’s casting modifier) = 7 Anything lower than a 6 is a miss.
Assuming the roller isn’t an especially skilled dice thrower, the chances of rolling 6 or lower are 30%.
100% – 30% = 70%
So, in the battle above, Firebolt would have been a slightly better option, even though Poison Spray worked well enough. Had the kobolds been wearing armor and using shields, however, Poison Spray would have been better than Firebolt.
Wan Tei and Crackle vs Soldier
Here are some stats for a human soldier clad in chain mail and shield and armed with a longsword:
dam 3-6 (4)
|18||16 (3d8+3)||13 (+1)||12 (+1)||12 (+1)||10 (+0)||11 (+0)||11 (+0)|
Skills: Perception +2, Athletics +3. Features: Formation Tactics, Multi-attack 2/turn
Longsword: +3 Att./+2 Dam. 1d8+2, 2/turn. If both attacks hit, 2-18 damage/turn (12)
Normally, such an opponent would be overpowered for the 1st level Wan Tei. However, if you’ve read the intro above you would know that Wan Tei has a constrictor snake under the bed. If you’ve read my Yuan-Ti Purebloods 5e Guide: Evil Snake People, you would know that the constrictor is a boa and Wan Tei’s pet named Crackle:
Without playing the combat that was depicted in the intro, let’s go over some Poison Spray Math:
Chances for Wan Tei to hit the soldier with Poison Spray 100%. Chances to do damage:
DC8 + 5 (Wan Tei’s casting modifier) -1 (The soldier’s +1 Constitution modifier) = 12
The soldier’s chances of rolling an 11 or lower and failing the save are 55%, so Wan Tei’s chances of damaging the soldier (6 base damage points) with Poison Spray are 55%.
Chances for Wan Tei to hit the AC 18 soldier with her dagger:
18 – 3 (Wan Tei’s +3 attack bonus) = 15. Wan Tei has a 25% chance of hitting and damaging the soldier with her dagger (3 base damage points).
If she tries Two-Handed Fighting the Bonus Action, her second dagger would get no modifier and her chance of hitting the soldier and doing 2 base damage points would be 10%.
If she has time to cast True Strike and throw Firebolt or Chromatic Orb, she would still have to roll to hit on a ranged attack, even if there is no disadvantage:
18 – 5 (Wan Tei’s +5 casting modifier) = 13. Wan Tei would need to roll a 13 or higher to hit the soldier.
Wan Tei’s chances of rolling a 12 or lower are 60%.
100% – 60% = 40%. Wan Tei’s chances of hitting the soldier with her Firebolt or Chromatic Orb are 40%.
That’s better than her daggers, 25% and 10%, but still not as good as her Poison Spray 55%.
So far, Poison Spray is the best option for her by 15%.
Crackle, a male boa constrictor, gets a +4 modifier on attack roles.
18 – 4 (Crackle’s attack modifier) = 14. Crackle needs a 14 or higher to hit the soldier.
Crackle’s chances of rolling a 13 or lower are 65%.
100% – 65% = 35%. Crackle’s chances of hitting the soldier with his bite and constrict are 35%.
Wan Tei’s chances of hitting the soldier with her Poison Spray are 20% better than Crackle’s.
These multiple calculations needed to know whether or not Poison Spray is your best option in a given situation is what I call Poison Spray Math. Simple, right?
Half-Elf Draconic Bloodline Sorcerer of Green Dragon Ancestry
I’ve decided to create a female half-elf sorcerer and name her Jadestone Doll. (a nod to Gary Jennings’s masterpiece Aztec) She will have a draconic bloodline with green dragon ancestry. To demonstrate her Elemental Affinity, I’ll have to boost her to 6th level.
With the racial ASIs and 4th level ASIs, her stats would look like this:
|4th Lvl. ASI||+2|
|Ability Scores Total||8||10||16||+2||12||18|
Combat Stats: AC 13, HP 44, Dagger Att/Dam +0/+0 1d4, Casting +7/+4
Spell and Cantrip List
I won’t pick all of her spells, but I’ll add the poison damage type ones within PHB:
- Cantrips 5: Poison Spray (2d12+4 [6-28 damage]), Firebolt (2d10 +4 [6-24 damage],
- Minor Illusion, True Strike, Mage Hand
- 1st Level Spells: 4: Chromatic Orb Green (3d8 +4 [7-28 damage]),
- Animal Friendship (at will, but with snakes only)
- 2nd Level Spells 4: Chromatic Orb Green (4d8+4 [8-36 damage])
- 3rd Level Spells: 3: Chromatic Orb Green (5d8+4 [7-28 damage])
As you can see, life for a green dragon ancestry sorcerer would be pretty unappealing were it not for Chromatic Orb. Notice how I’ve added 2nd level and 3rd level spell slots to improve the damage.
Note that she gets an extra +4 to damage on her poison magic, Poison Spray and Chromatic Orb, due to her Elemental Affinity as a draconic bloodline sorcerer of green dragon ancestry.
I’d have to make her 9th level if I wanted to add in Cloudkill, her next poison damage spell. With Chromatic Orb, not only do I do poison damage, but I can switch the damage type when needed in the way that Wan Tei did with her skeleton.
Poison Spray Cost/Benefit Analysis
The point of creating Jadestone Doll was to show a character that might be motivated to actually choose Poison Spray, and, as you can see, that took some doing.
Wan Tei had Poison Spray but she didn’t actually have to choose it. For non-yuan-ti characters, choosing Poison Spray means not choosing another cantrip in a game where cantrips are much harder to switch out than spells.
I would say the only non-yuan-ti characters that should even consider Poison Spray would be sorcerers because they start out with 4 cantrips.
Even then, Poison Spray still might not be worth it because it is very situation specific.
Had Wan Tei fought the kobolds in melee without time for True Strike, it would have been better than Firebolt because of the disadvantage issue. When used in conjunction with Minor Illusion, however, the disadvantage was not an issue because there were 7 feet of distance. Firebolt would have been slightly better than Poison Spray.
When Wan Tei fought the skeleton, Poison Spray was useless as it would have been for any undead.
Only when Wan Tei fought an armored soldier in her bed-chamber was Poison Spray a better option than a True Strike/ranged spell attack combo. How often is that going to happen in Wan Tei’s adventuring career?
Question: Why are You Sure that Poison Spray is not a Ranged Attack?
Answer: All ranged attack spells (Firebolt, Chromatic Orb) have it specified in their description.
Question: Can I Switch Out My Cantrips when I Level Up?
Answer: RAW (rules as written), no. Many DMs will either let you switch out when you level up or when you have ASIs at 4th level and higher.
For the purpose of killing monsters and taking treasure, Poison Spray is probably not the best cantrip for most non-yuan-ti players. However, finding ways to maximize such a situation-specific cantrip can be very diverting and this game is about a lot more than killing monsters and taking treasure.
It’s about evolving as a player and collaboratively telling a better and better story. Obviously, if you’re playing a yuan-ti character, you should get very comfortable with Poison Spray Math.