The lights, the people, and the spectacle, everything around you is designed for your amusement. The cabaret of the big city is filled with beautiful women, fine wine, and comfort. But no matter how much the Bard is distracted, your mission here is clear. You slap your friend and put him in tracks. You have to find Big Nana, the proprietress.
Your party knows that this place is heavily guarded, and starting a fight to “see the manager” would be ill-advised, but you have to sneak in and find her. Your barbarian ended on bad terms with her last time, and you can’t afford to be recognized.
Your first instinct is to turn everyone invisible, but that would waste one of your last spell slots. You are all very drained out of resources. In that instant, you share eyesight with the bard. There is a little trick the two of you know. Hoodied, you get near the kitchen’s exit and start to enchant all the plates of food coming out of there.
The plan works as intended. Many people begin to walk off with disgust, as the food they ingest tastes like literal filth. The staff starts to get confused as they try to calm the angry customers, and chaos arises in the lounge. You take advantage of the noise and movement and get inside the building with all your resources intact.
Welcome to our Prestidigitation 5e Guide.
Prestidigitation, a curious art
“Prestidigitation” is a magician’s work. The term is usually used to describe some trickery or illusion, a sleight of hands, or fine movement.
When you use prestidigitation in real life, you are trying to deceive someone into believing in a wonderwork, seeing the cards in your hand and not the one you’re slighting through your sleeve.
This is the intention of the spell. To make a little wonder, a temporary illusion. Something that another person would understand as magic or something to catch someone’s attention.
Versatility and quickness of mind are crucial. You don’t need to be fast with your hands when you have real magic, but you need to be mindful of the time and place.
How does Prestidigitation work?
“Prestidigitation” is a cantrip or 0-level spell. The casting time is 1 action, the range is 10 feet, the components are verbal and somatic, and the duration is 1 hour or instantaneous, depending on the effect. Lastly, the school is Transmutation. The meat of the spell is in its description:
“This spell is a minor magical trick that novice spellcasters use for practice. You create one of the following magical effects within range.
- You create an instantaneous, harmless sensory effect, such as a shower of sparks, a puff of wind, faint musical notes, or an odd odor.
- You instantaneously light or snuff out a candle, a torch, or a small campfire.
- You instantaneously clean or soil an object no larger than 1 cubic foot.
- You chill, warm, or flavor up to 1 cubic foot of nonliving material for 1 hour.
- You make a color, a small mark, or a symbol appear on an object or a surface for 1 hour.
- You create a non-magical trinket or an illusory image that can fit in your hand and that lasts until the end of your next turn.
If you cast this spell multiple times, you can have up to three of its non-instantaneous effects active at a time, and you can dismiss such an effect as an action.”
Breaking down the spell
First, the spell is a cantrip, which means it can be cast indefinitely by any caster that knows it. This is very fitting for its description. It’s the base spell for any spellcaster, the “wingardium leviosa” of any wizard’s school in Dungeons and Dragons 5e. You do this at will and without a spell slot, so you can go nuts any time.
The casting time of 1 action is standard and means that you can do all the things we will talk about fairly fast. Remember if you want to use it in a battle that you can’t use an action afterward.
The 10 feet range is very short, but it won’t be an issue most of the time. It is not touching, so you can still use the spell from a distance if necessary.
The components are verbal and somatic, so you need to gesture something and speak while casting it. This is ok most of the time, but keep in mind that it is noticeable when you are throwing a spell unless you have something like “war caster” and “subtle spell.”
If you want to hide that you are making a mark on the wall, your DM may ask for a stealth check, so you better have some hideout or something covering your casting.
The 1-hour duration of some effects is very useful, especially if you want something to vanish after you cast it, for example, a secret message. Then, the instantaneous effects can be something permanent in essence, like lighting a candle, or something sporadic, like a puff of smoke on your enemy’s face.
Lastly, there’s the school of Thaumaturgy. Here’s our article discussing this further.
Go and check it out. The titles “What the school of magic says about the spells” and “A little discussion about its origin” are valid for this spell.
In summary, the spell modifies something of the real world. It is not an illusion, so keep it in mind when talking to your DM. Something that’s bound to happen.
Who can use “Prestidigitation”?
The Prestidigitation cantrip is in the Wizard, Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Artificer’s spell lists. It is also available to High-elves and Half-elves. However, this being a cantrip means that ANY character could use it at the fourth level with the “Magic Initiate” or “Artificer Initiate” feat.
Another “organic” way to get this spell would be with a subclass that has access to these spell lists, like the Eldritch Knight, Arcane Archer, Arcane Trickster, and the Arcana Domain Cleric, or using the feature of the Pact of the Tome’s Warlock.
Remember from where you get this spell. This is a little magic trick, and the flavor you give is essential. Not every magician is the same. Some are like the classic wizard with his “hocus pocus” and a wand, others, like the bard, are singing “hallelujah” while shimmers of light float around him, and sometimes the magic is in the hand of a very skilled assassin that snuffs all the light sources him comes across in his way to the lord’s chambers.
Lastly, for DMs who would like a monster or NPC that can do this fantastic stuff too, keep in mind that it is a beginners level spell, so any creature with a bit of training in magic would be able to cast it. However, these are the monsters and NPC stat blocks that have the spell:
- Monsters: Gynosphynix, Lich, Vampire Variant, Arcanoloth, Dero Savant, Firenewt Warlock of Imix, Cloud Giant Smiling One, Hobgoblin Iron Shadow, Alhoon, Neogi Master, Xvart Warlock of Raxivort, Yuan-ti Mind Whisperer, Yuan-ti Nightmare Speaker.
- NPCs: Apprentice Wizard, Conjurer, Evoker, Transmuter, Warlock of the Archfey, The Fiend and The Great Old One, Archmage and Mage.
Creativity and wit: The key to prestidigitation
Prestidigitation is not a combat-oriented cantrip. It’s a toolbox to answer any questions and present many more. The spell is so versatile and deceptively powerful that the only way to use it is to think outside the box.
Many of the examples of the cantrip remain the same as the Thaumaturgy article, so in this case, I’ll do something different. I’ll teach you how to think with this spell at your disposal.
The limits of Prestidigitation
As with all the spells from the “trans-trip-triad” (as I like to call them), the spell’s limit is where the DM allows it. Sometimes what a player thinks is fair use, the DM may disagree.
So, to avoid further discussions, talk to your DM first, in session 0, about how they treat these kinds of spells, how many shenanigans they are willing to accept, and what will be rewarded.
Sometimes this spell will grant you advantage on something. Other times, it will just be flavor. It’s just the nature of the magic. Does that mean this spell is situational? No, it just means that you have to be realistic with your speciations of what it can or can’t do.
As for DMs, don’t feel like you have to be over-restrictive with this spell because it is just a cantrip. If you feel like granting advantage is too much, reward your player with a +2 or something. Have fun with your player and let them know you’re on their side.
However your situation may be, I hope these pieces of advice may come in handy.
Rules as written spell. For a lawyer DM
Let’s tackle the possibility of a DM who doesn’t allow many shenanigans. This is very normal for new DMs. Maybe they are afraid of making a mistake because they don’t understand the rules thoroughly, or perhaps they had a bad experience.
If you have a DM that sticks to rules and doesn’t allow the spell to do anything more than what it describes, you may have an obstacle to having any mechanical impact on the game.
You won’t get advantage or anything out of the spell, and you won’t be able to go past the specific description.
Does that mean the spell is worthless? Not by a long shot. It won’t be as powerful as it can be, but it still has its uses.
What can Prestidigitation do, as written?
Not everything in DND needs dice rolls to be effective. You can’t attack with this spell so forget about doing damage. There is also no charm, fear, or other condition that this spell applies.
In sum, forget about it in combat. You’ll probably waste a turn. Instead, use it outside of initiative, have it as a toolbox, and think about your character as a swiss army knife.
First, know the spell. There are six effects. The concrete ones are your allies because your DM won’t argue with them. Outside of combat, distance, casting time, and duration are blurry, so it won’t be a problem most of the time.
The lighting of snuffing a light source is mildly functional but not very situational. You’ll have a chance to make it work. Cleaning or soiling an object is the same.
The chill/warm/flavor effect is primarily to laugh at a party member. A stiff DM probably won’t let you write a message with the “mark” effect. However, learn some of the symbols of the world your character’s on (The Gauntlet Order Sigil, for example). Your DM will appreciate your interest in the world.
See also: Message 5e Guide.
Know your DM
The two effects that will probably spark more problems with your DM are the “harmless sensory effect” and the “trinket or illusion.” This two are the ones with more potential, and for that reason, a strict DM probably will be tempted to nerf them as much as possible.
However, these effects are special for social interactions. Try to use them while another party member is the one talking. You may say that you’re making the “Help” action but flavoring it as a Prestidigitation.
Talking in terms of rules but “flavor” it as a magic trick is probably the best way you can use this cantrip with a DM like this. You’re not casting a spell; you’re taking the “help” action, or the “hide” action, if you are making a “smoke bomb.”
Trinkets or illusions that last only a round are not entire toolsets, and your DM probably won’t let you create a dagger or a key. Nonetheless, an origami to impress a lady or an illusory coin to trick a merchant are valid.
Rules as intended. For a relaxed DM
For the fun part, how to think creatively with this cantrip when a DM is on board. When you have a DM that rewards creativity, this cantrip becomes a Must Have for any spellcaster that has access to it.
You can stretch the boundaries of the spell as much as the DM allows. Try to be mindful of your teammates and think of ways you can use this cantrip for the team too. A good DM will reward teamwork more than everything.
What can Prestidigitation really do?
Now that mechanical implications are on the table, it’s time to think of this cantrip as an “Omni tool,” including combat. When you have such a versatile spell, you can get stuck, like a writer with a blank page in front of him. Any practice that bolsters creativity, in general, is suitable for learning this spell. Here are some that I think are especially useful.
When you don’t know where to start, search where others have been. Look for examples on the internet and see how much this spell can be stretched out. Here is a video that I recommend:
Define the context
When a DM describes a situation, it doesn’t come isolated. Try to pay attention to every aspect of the world you’re on. Wheater you’re outside or inside, day or night, in a crowd or a lonely place. These things will give you clues on how much coverage you have to cast the spell, how much you’ll affect the people around, etc.
Think in the magic, not the effect
When using the spell, try to think of the character in-world using the magic and forget about the mechanics. Think about the magic that your character has. If they are a fire wizard, your little trick probably has some fireworks.
Don’t say, “I want to make an intimidation check with prestidigitation”; instead, say, “I want to make blue flames appear around my head with Prestidigitation as I walk slowly with a grin to the merchant.” Let the DM say the check you make if any.
This advice is kind of cheating because it helps with everything. It is good to remember that you’ll become better and better with time. Nonetheless, it is more than that.
The more you use the spell, you’ll understand better how your DM reacts to it and what situations they reward more. Also, your teammates will get used to how you play, and in that way, you’ll have a better collaborative experience.
Question: Is Prestidigitation a concentration spell?
Answer: No, it doesn’t require concentration for his effects. It specifies that you can only have three of its not instantaneous effects at a time, but that doesn’t mean you keep concentration with it. Think of it as something so easy for a spellcaster that it doesn’t require active thinking to maintain.
Question: Is prestidigitation a bonus action?
Answer: No, the spell requires an entire action to use. It is costly in combat, but you’ll probably use it outside of it anyway.
Question: Can Prestidigitation do damage?
Answer: At first glance, no, it can’t. The spell doesn’t specify any instance of damage dealing. However, this spell could work as part of a trap or something that does cause damage. For example, it could light a string near a pull of oil to make it explode or make a flash of light in someone’s face to make him drop something he’s grabbing, potentially making him drop it on someone else.
Prestidigitation is an awesome cantrip, too vast to tackle in a single article and yet so simple that it is the most straightforward trick in the game world. It has a use virtually in every situation you can think of.
Many say that it is the base of what a cantrip is meant to be but also the power cap of what an open-ended ability should do. It’s on par with the utility of Minor Illusion and Light. In sum, have fun with your friends as your character always has something to add to the game with this little trick.