true strike 5e guide

True Strike 5e Guide: Watch Closely, Then Attack

Latest posts by Mariano Marco (see all)

The lonely road ahead is only fitting for a guy like you. Walking amid the mist and silence, with your trusty katana sheathed, waiting to strike only when you so desire. The wind blows through your long hair, making it billow in the air, and your eyes scout ahead with an eagle’s precision.

Then you hear it. Footsteps are coming from a distance. They move fast towards you. Probably, a foe. The thick mist clouds your sight, but your ears are sensitive enough. It’s perhaps 100 feet afar. The silent noise of a weapon being drawn tells you that the enemy is about to attack. Nearly a second after, you see a silhouette coming your way.

You draw your katana, ready to strike. Your eyes shimmer with the light of the cloudy day, looking for a weak spot on your enemy. But you’re too slow. It has already struck your chest by the time you see the slight stagger in the enemy’s left foot. The fight was over before it even began. If only you’d reacted sooner, if only you attacked first.

Welcome to a True Strike 5e Guide.

Fantasy vs Mechanics

Let’s get this out of the way. True Strike is a very bad cantrip. May I say it is the worst cantrip in the game, followed closely by “Blade Ward” and “Friends.” This fact is a long discussion, and you can go over the internet to find many reasons why it’s the case. However, the hate this D&D spell receives, I think, all comes down to “what it says” vs “what it does.”

See, for example, Blade Ward. It sounds good when you read the spell the first time, but you know you’re being a coward. Or Friends, it has one good sentence and then three negative repercussions. True Strike SOUNDS awesome… but it’s garbage. So it’s not only that you have a lousy resource at your disposal, but it also fooled you into believing it was good. This video sums up its issues in the funniest of ways: 

We’ll discuss this further, but at first glance: If you are starting at DND and learning about the rules, avoid this trap of a spell entirely. However, let’s get deeper and see what this spell is hiding.

How does True Strike work?

“True Strike” is a cantrip or 0-level spell. The casting time is 1 action, the range is 30 feet, and the component is just somatic. The duration is 1 round and uses your concentration. The school is divination, and the effect is as follows:

You extend your hand and point a finger at a target in range. Your magic grants you a brief insight into the target’s defenses. On your next turn, you gain an advantage on your first attack roll against the target, provided that this spell hasn’t ended.

Breaking Down the Spell and Why is it so Bad

True Strike is a cantrip, a resource you can cast indefinitely, but it doesn’t mean that it’s free. There’s a concept known as “cost of opportunity,” which describes all the things you don’t do to do something else. This concept is what helps us see all the problems with this cantrip. Almost all the other options you trade it for are better than having it. But let’s go bit by bit.

The casting time is 1 action, your primary resource during combat. The “action” is everything. You attack with your action; you cast a spell, use an object, hide, search, push, etc. The action is the main thing you want to happen during your character’s turn. What do you do with True Strike? Wait. You use your action in hopes of having a higher chance of hitting the next turn. This is not bad by itself, but let’s keep going.

The range is essentially one turn’s movement for most characters. This means that you could reach them the next turn unless the enemy moves. But think of this. If your character is a front liner, it’s probably better to use your action for dashing and standing next to the enemy earlier.

True Strike 5e Cantrip

If the enemy moves, it provokes an opportunity attack. Of course, this means that you stand in danger earlier, but for most front liners, this is the intention, driving the threat away from their allies. Also, this range is probably too near for range characters, which probably want to stand further than one turn away from the enemy.

Components, this is where the spell almost becomes useful. There are few spells with only one component,  for a reason. Components are limitations and weaknesses. Having only a somatic component means that silence doesn’t affect it, and if you have something like “War Caster,” you could cast the spell just by looking at the target in range. This is very strong if it’s not tackled in homebrew, something we’ll see further.

The one-round duration is absolute garbage. There are few spells with 1 round of duration. They either have a potent effect like Transport Via Plants (unlimited range of teleportation), or they have instantaneous damage that they deal (like Guiding Bolt). A cantrip shouldn’t have a much more powerful effect, but just some instantaneous effect would ensure that you don’t lose a turn with it.

One of the worst things about True Strike is the use of concentration. Like the 1 round duration, using concentration serves a double purpose. The first is to prevent the possibility of combining it with another concentration spell, in turn making a broken combo.

The second is, as well as with components, to add a limitation to the spell. But in this case, having concentration means that you not only lose the opportunity to hit in the turn you cast it but there is no guarantee that you will have the advantage next turn if you get hit. Something very likely if you are 30 ft off the target.

The school is divination. This is not very important in this case, but it gives us an anchor from which we can deduce the intention of the spell. It is a spell that grants knowledge, a spell that somehow sharpens your mind. This is something good to keep in mind for later.

The effect is simple. You have an advantage on one attack. All the things I’ve been saying are just to have this effect. ONE good attack. Is this good? Yes. Is it good enough? Well, I think I’ve been clear. Just attacking twice could have double the potential damage output. This sums it all up. Just use the same action to attack instead of the cantrip, and you’ve made a better choice.

When is it Good?

rogue arcane trickster

There are a few builds that make use of the spell. The most famous is the Rogue. This spell could be helpful when you can’t get an advantage for your sneak attack, and you don’t have any allies besides you. But then again, it is a cantrip slot.

It doesn’t need to be helpful. It has to be RELIABLE. What you want with a cantrip is the possibility of using it many times throughout the campaign and feeling good about it. You don’t want to be hoping for the opportunity in which the cantrip is helpful.

There is only one way I see this cantrip as being good. Buy a scroll of it. That’s it. You waste 15 GP or so, and you don’t give one of your precious cantrip slots to an unreliable source of potential damage. This approach can also make the spell very good for those other situations when it is functional, mainly when you cast a powerful spell that requires an attack roll, like Contagion. This way, the spell has all its benefits at a much lower cost.

Who can use “True Strike”?

The True Strike cantrip is available in the Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard spell lists. High-elves and Half-elves can also know this spell. But this being a cantrip means that ANY character could use it at the fourth level with the “Magic Initiate” feat.

Another “organic” way to get this spell would be a subclass with 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.

An interesting fact that I found looking for the stat blocks that have this spell is that it is very scarce. Only a handful of monsters and NPCs have this spell at their disposal. It’s funny to think that this spell is known to be bad in the game world because nobody uses it.

There are no creatures in the Monster Manual with True strike. However, in “Mordekainen’s,” there’s the suggestion to give it to all cultists of Zariel. In the same book, there is the Duergar Soulblade and Githyanki Gish. In “Volo’s,” there is the Mind Flayer Psion Variant and Hobgoblin Iron Shadow. The only NPCs I could find are the Diviner in “Volo’s.”

True Strike is Excellent for Something, though

Why Does True Strike Matter?

Before we get into the fun part, let’s give this spell the place it deserves. It’s not good at all, that’s clear, but what it does is much more than helping in combat. It sparks conversation about the game. It’s one of those movies that it’s so bad that it’s good. You can’t take its mechanics seriously, but you can see how much I’ve written about it and the discussion about it goes on.

This cantrip (along with some others) is the ground upon which all cantrips are set. There is nothing below, and that’s a good thing. From here, we go up. This is the real reason True Strike is great: Homebrew. You can do many things to this cantrip to make it somewhat helpful, and I want to go ahead and help you find the best change that feels appropriate for the fantasy you wish to fulfill with it.

What I’m about to give you is nothing official, and you have to talk to your DM if they allow this change or if they think it’s too much. If your DM is new, they probably won’t be comfortable with homebrew yet. I’ll try to keep the changes low, so nothing is too overpowered to make this cantrip into a broken spell.

One Small Change Could Make the Difference

D&D Boss Battle | I hate bosses. I hate big guys. | Jared Cherup | Flickr

When homebrewing, it is essential to remember that it’s easy to go overboard, so keep it simple and playtest. If you want to learn more about homebrew, here in ExploreDND, we have a guide about it.

In this case, we won’t be creating something from scratch. The developers made the cantrip the way it is because it is challenging to balance it correctly. However, many years of playtesting have given us the information necessary to see its problems. I will be changing individual things about the spell and stating some of its implications. Now, let’s see our options:

Level

If you land on a spell effect that satisfies you, but it’s too strong, remember you can up its level to have it your way. However, I recommend looking at the rest of the spells in the game. A very similar 1st level alternative is Zephyr Strike from “Xanathar’s.”

Action economy

This is probably the most common change. The action is too necessary to be wasted. Here we have two options:

Bonus action: If you make the spell a bonus action, it instantly becomes too powerful and a cheap way of getting the advantage. If you think this is the spell you want, I may suggest adding a limitation: If you’ve attacked this turn, then you can cast it for the next turn.

Reaction: This is the same as the last option. Nonetheless, reactions are much rarer to have in the game. This is because there is the Attack of opportunity, the reaction all characters have by default. Making it a reaction is a fantastic way to have some agency outside of your turn.

Range

This is tricky. You can quickly go too far with it. However, we have a precedent. In “Tasha’s,” Rouges got “Steady Aim,” which allows them to forgo their movement and bonus action to have an advantage on their attack.

This is the same as making it a range of “self” and adding a no-motion requirement. But keep in mind that this is also the same as saying it has an unlimited range. If you have anything that has an attack, you could give it an advantage with it. Nonetheless, this option is very appealing for a range of characters and burst casters.

Components

Same as with its level. Adding components is adding limitations, thus giving you more space to buff. I like to have a spell that can be cast while silenced, but it’s a good option if you see that the spell is beginning to be too powerful.

Duration

This is one of my favorites. Here I see two possible options:

Instantaneous: This is the change to make if you change the spell entirely. You can make it that the spell is just additional damage to your normal attack, or instead of advantage, it gives an extra proficiency bonus the same turn you strike. With this, you remove Concentration too.

One minute: In this case, you give the spell much more flexibility. You can still have the advantage you need, but some turns later. For example, you can use True Strike on the first turn. On the second turn, you see that it’s better to attack a different target because your allies left him with low health. Then you still have an advantage on the first target. This alone is still weak, but you can add little changes like this, and the spell gets better and better.

When to remove concentration

As a rule of thumb, never. There are many spells in the game, and it’s impossible to know all the possible combinations that exist. Concentration prevents the merging of spells that become broken together. Nonetheless, as weak as this spell is, removing concentration wouldn’t be too big of a change, especially since there are few concentration cantrips.

Effect

Here is where everything happens. The description of the spell and its effects are far from each other. We can change it in many ways, and it is all a question of what you envision the spell as. This deserves a separate title, but a few minor changes could be:

Making it the same turn, and instead of “the first attack,” make it “any attack.” This is not the same as making it a bonus action, but you can combine it better with things like quickened spells or action surge.

Change “On your next turn” to “On subsequent turns” and add some duration. This makes the spell much more powerful as time passes and would make it a Must Have for Rogues. In this case, you wouldn’t remove concentration, giving the enemies a counter-strategy to fight back.

Make the spell you want

Now that we’ve seen all the small changes and how to use them, we can change the spell’s effect entirely. Creativity is vital, but remember to balance it with all the things we’ve talked about.

There are a million sites, subreddits, and videos on the internet that tweak the spell to make it better and more fun. Here is one that I like

Nonetheless, I want to give my variation, which speaks to the fantasy I envisioned when I first looked at the spell. The first time I read it, I thought it was good. Luckily, I never picked it, but I always wanted to see its implied fantasy. So here are two possibilities. None of them are playtested, so feel free to tweak them as you see fit.

Overcome strengths

  • Cantrip
  • 1 action
  • 30 feet
  • Somatic
  • 1 minute, concentration
  • Divination

“You extend your hand and point a finger at a target in range. Your magic grants you a brief insight into the target’s defenses. You learn the enemy’s damage resistances and vulnerabilities, damage immunities, and condition immunities. Additionally, the enemy won’t benefit from any damage resistance it has against your attacks.”

In this case, the spell stays mostly the same, but it changes the duration and its effect. Right out of the gate, the spell would give you information about the rival, something a divination cantrip should do, in my opinion. Additionally, even if you don’t get to attack, the data could also be helpful for your allies.

You may say that overcoming resistances is too powerful, effectively doubling your damage output. However, keep in mind that you still use your entire action to use the spell, and you could also lose concentration, or the target could die before you benefit from it.

Always strikes true

  • Cantrip
  • 1 action
  • 120 feet
  • Somatic
  • 1 round
  • Divination

“You extend your hand and point a finger at a target in range. Your magic guides your sight to the target’s weak spots. The next weapon attack you make against the target that hits counts as a critical hit.”

This is a high reward! Now you don’t get a higher chance of hitting, but you’ll feel great if you do. Also, with its higher range, now you can do this before approaching or with a bow.

If adding just some range and removing concentration seems too little for a higher critical chance, you can make this a bonus action and add its concentration again.

With that change, the spell is useful for more than one round, but you could lose concentration, wasting your bonus action.

Changes like these are many, and I hope this discussion has given you some inspiration to bring your True Strike.

FAQ

Question: Is True Strike good?

Answer: In summary, no. It’s situational at the best and outright waste of action in most cases. As we’ve talked about, you can make it work, but as one of the classes that get it in their spell list, you should never pick it.

Question: Is True Strike a bonus action?

Answer: No, it uses an entire action to cast, and as it’s written, the effect takes place only on the next turn. So you can’t even make it work with a quickened spell and the attack action.

Question: Does True Strike tell resistances?

Answer: No by itself. Although the spell says that “Your magic grants you a brief insight into the target’s defenses,” it doesn’t translate into any mechanics. As a DM, you could give the player using the spell some information that you think is worth it, but the spell doesn’t specify anything.

Conclusion

True Strike is a spell that brought a lot of discussion into the game. It’s a cantrip that probably no one should use, and nonetheless, everyone should consider it. As simple as it is, it shows many of the problems that game designers face. Just one small change can turn this spell from useless to broken, and the developers went the route of leaving the power level low so that we, the community, find a way to make it work.

The spell somehow found its way into the game, but now the power creep has gone up, and it just doesn’t work. Books like “Tasha’s” show us that the game is moving to an increasing power level for the characters, and the old spells need help if they want to be used in the game moving forward. Let’s give True Strike the support it needs and hope to see it in the future.

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