• Aaron K

We Need More Illusion Spells!

Hey Reader!

Did you know that in D&D there's only 1 illusion cantrip? And while other spell levels do include more illusion spells, I think it's telling that the number of illusion spells in the game are lower than other schools of magic (with Evocation, Abjuration, and Conjuration having a larger showing than the other schools).


And that's unfortunate, because illusion spells can be some of the most fun spells in the game, especially if you enjoy the non-combat aspects of the game.


Toward that end, I've taken a few weeks to think more about how to remedy this issue, and what follows is a host of homebrew spells at different levels to meet your needs. We will start by looking at what went into the conceptual design of the spells, and then quickly move into the spell text for you to examine, along with our commentary on them. Send us your thoughts with what you think!


I. High Concept: Illusion Magic and the Senses

A lot of illusion magic is what you see, with a little bit of emphasis on what you hear. But did you notice how many of the senses are not being engaged by the illusion spells in the game? There's no spells that mystify the taste or touch of something to the user, and that's a huge missed opportunity. Add onto this how few of the spells involve combat mechanics, and we have quite a bit of scope for the imagination.


On Page 118 of the Player's Handbook, this is how the School of Illusion is described:


"You focus your studies on magic that dazzles the senses, befuddles the mind, and tricks even the wisest folk. Your magic is subtle, but the illusions crafted by your keen mind make the impossible seem real. Some illusionists – including many gnome wizards – are benign tricksters who use their spells to entertain. Others are more sinister masters of deception, using their illusions to frighten and fool others for their personal gain."


And on Page 203 of the Player's Handbook this is how they describe illusion magic generally:


"Illusion spells deceive the senses or minds of others. The cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that are there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened. Some illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature."


This is really cool - one of the most evocative schools of magic out there. The issue though is that the school is very small comparatively to other magic schools. In D&D there are currently 33 illusion spells with the following level breakdown: 1 cantrip (that's right: Minor Illusion. That's it), 5 1st level spells, 9 2nd level spells, 4 3rd level spells, 3 4th level spells, 4 5th level spells, 2 6th level spells, 3 7th level spells, 1 8th level spell, and 1 9th level spell. This puts it at the bottom for number of spells, and after 2nd level they drop off dramatically (over half the spells appear in the first third of the spell progression).


So ultimately this means if you know that your campaign will run from, say, 1st level to 5th level, go ahead and play an illusion-heavy character: you won't miss having high level spells, because you'll never reach them. But if your campaign even goes to 7th or 10th level you should know that you are losing steam on the illusion side of things, and it only gets worse from there.


And that shouldn't be how the game feels: there should be far more imaginative and powerful options at the highest levels than Weird, arguably the weakest 9th level spell in the game. Illusionists who invest in those spells should be rewarded far more for their work than they are currently. And that's where we come in.


II. Revamping Illusion Spells


Unlike the School of Necromancy that we saw in our last post in this series, the School of Illusion magic doesn't have a lot of weak spells. Sure, they have their limitations (no damage cantrip for starters, but also the majority of the spells are utility spells that lack good combat applications), but on the whole most of the spells are good for what they are designed to do.


The issue that illusion spells tend to have, though, is that there are two sensory abilities that antiquate illusion magic as you level up: truesight which sees through the illusion, and blindsight that senses what is actually there without sight at all. So the first hurdle that we have is that our spells are on a clock: as we progress in levels, the chance that they will have no impact on our opponents goes up.


The second issue is that there just aren't a lot of illusion spells. The initial ones that come to mind are present - Phantasmal Force, Invisibility, etc. - but beyond those spells there are not a lot of options really. And in pop culture this is most of what illusions are: duplication, disguise, and invisibility.


So we need to reach past the obvious, delving into mythology to find some good ideas for illusion magic. A lot of the spells in the game deal with what you see, and a small number (mostly utility spells) deal with what you hear, but those are not the only two senses, and I feel like there's a lot of missed opportunity in not dealing with the smelling and touching senses as well. To be sure we can still double down on the other two, but if we really want to be the masters of illusion, we need to consider all of the senses and how those affect the mind of the target, and that's where our new spells are going to expand into without treading old ground.


III. 19 New Illusion Spells


The following are new Illusion spells, arranged by spell level. They are designed to expand your options for illusion spells, though most have a control or hexing nature to them due to the theme of the school of magic. Since we are working with illusions, we've played around heavily with the idea of inflicting conditions on a target that the target thinks are real, but anyone looking at them might notice is just in their head: they feel the effects, but in reality it's just an illusion.


Haunting Blade (Cantrip, available to Bards, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 60 ft, Components VS, Duration Instantaneous): You form an illusory blade in the air that stabs a target from an arc of your choice, disrupting its focus. Make a ranged spell attack: on a hit, the target suffers 1d4 psychic damage and the target has disadvantage on its next saving throw until the end of its next turn.

At Higher Levels. This spell's damage increases by 1d4 when you reach 5th level (2d4), 11th level (3d4), and 17th level (4d4).



Acrid Odor (Cantrip, available to Bards, Druids, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 15 ft cone, Components S, Duration Instantaneous): You send a foul odor out from you in a 15 ft cone. All targets within range must pass a Wisdom saving throw with a penalty to the roll equal to their proficiency modifier if they are proficient with Wisdom (Perception) checks or suffer 1d6 poison damage.

At Higher Levels. This spell's damage increases by 1d6 when you reach 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).



Chilling Cackle (Cantrip, available to Bards, Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range 30 ft, Components V, Duration Instantaneous): The target hears a shrill cackling sound that sends chills down their spine. The target must pass a Charisma saving throw or be Frightened until the end of your next turn. While Frightened, the target suffers disadvantage on Strength and Wisdom saving throws.



Bitter Taste (Cantrip, available to Bards, Druids, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 30 ft, Components VS, Duration Concentration, Up to 1 minute): The target's mouth is filled with the illusion of the bitter taste of blood, rust, etc. (your choice), making it hard to keep their focus. The target must pass an Intelligence saving throw or suffer 1d6 acid damage. If the target is concentrating on a spell or other effect, the Constitution saving throw to retain concentration is performed at disadvantage. At the start of each subsequent turn as long as the spell is in effect the target suffers the acid damage and disadvantage on the concentration saving throw. At the end of each of its turns the target may perform another Intelligence saving throw: on a successful save the spell ends.

At Higher Levels. This spell's damage increases by 1d6 when you reach 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).



Foul Reek (1st Level, available to Artificers, Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, Rangers, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range Self, Components VS, Duration 1 minute): The caster causes targets near them to smell a fabricated foul stench, distracting them as they approach. When a creature enters your reach or starts its turn within your reach, the target must pass a Charisma saving throw or suffer a 1d4 penalty to its next attack. The target repeats the saving throw each time it performs an attack within your reach, suffering the penalty on a failed saving throw.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you extend the radius of the stench for every two spell slot levels above 1st.



Bad Apple (1st Level, available to Artificers, Bards, Clerics, Druids, Rangers, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range Touch, Components VSM (an apple or similar food item, which the spell infuses), Duration Instantaneous): The caster infuses a bit of food with illusory magic, making it look more healthy, pleasing, and safe than it otherwise is. The food item grants advantage on Charisma (Deception) rolls to encourage someone to eat the food (which may be done as an item interaction to retrieve it and a bonus action to eat it), and looks like a desirable version of whatever the food is, with corresponding taste and smell. The effects of the food depend on the type of food you mask with the spell:


Healthy Food: The food is good - not a bad apple at all. The target recovers 1d4 hit points or gains 1d4 temporary hit points (the target chooses).

Stale Food: The food is old and stale, upsetting the stomach of the eater. The target performs a Constitution saving throw, suffering 2 (1d4) poison damage on a failed attempt, or half as much on a successful save.

Rotten Food: The food is rotten, masked by the spell to trick the target into eating it. The target performs a Constitution saving throw, suffering 4 (1d8) necrotic damage on a failed attempt, or half as much on a successful save. If the target failed, the target repeats the save at the start of each of its subsequent turns until it passes the save, as the stomach attempts to wretch up the rest of the food from the stomach.

Poisoned Food: The food is poisoned, masked by the spell to trick the target into eating it. The target performs a Constitution saving throw, suffering 4 (1d8) poison damage on a failed attempt, or half as much on a successful save. The target also gains the Poisoned condition if the saving throw is failed.

Cursed Food: The food is cursed, causing the target to fall into a deep sleep. The target performs a Charisma saving throw, suffering 2 (1d4) psychic damage on a successful save as the curse is purged from the target, or 4 (1d8) psychic damage and magically falls asleep for 24 hours on a failed save. The target is awoken if the target suffers damage in subsequent turns. Spells that remove curses remove this effect normally, as does Greater Restoration and Heal.


At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional food item for each slot level above 1st. Additionally, the number of die rolled for the effect increases by 1 and the number of days the person sleeps increases by 24 hours for every two spell slot levels above 1st. If cast with a 9th level spell slot, the duration of the sleep effect is indefinite unless a Remove Curse, Greater Restoration, Heal, or Wish spell of 9th level is used to remove it.



Caterwauling (2nd Level, available to Bards, Druids, Rangers, Sorcerers, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range Self, Components V, Duration Concentration, Up to 1 minute): You release a shrill howl that magically lingers in the target's ears thanks to your illusory magic, hurting the ears of those around you. Creatures within 20ft of you at the end of your move must perform a Wisdom saving throw, suffering a penalty to the roll equal to their proficiency modifier if they are proficient with Wisdom (Perception) checks. The target suffers 10 (3d6) psychic damage on a failed result, or half as much on a successful save. A creature who passes the saving throw is unaffected by the spell for 24 hours, and deaf creatures are immune to the effects of the spell entirely.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you may increase the radius of the effect by 5 ft for each slot level above 2nd.



Cacophony of Voices (3rd Level, available to Bards, Druids, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range 60 ft, Components VSM (a bird's beak), Duration Concentration, Up to 10 minutes): You cause an area with a 20 ft radius centered on a point you can see to be filled with an illusion of a cacophony of voices, be they screams, cheers, baby cries, eagle screeches, etc., distracting those within its radius. Targets within the radius or who end their turn within the radius must perform a Wisdom saving throw or be Deafened for the duration, even if they leave the radius of the spell effect (as their heads still ring from the sounds of the screams or cheers). Targets immune to the Deafened condition are immune to the effects of this spell.


While deafened, the target is constantly distracted by the clamoring voices: the target suffers disadvantage on all Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom saving throws while deafened, and suffers disadvantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma ability checks.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the target suffers a -1 to their Wisdom saving throw to resist the spell for each slot level above 3rd.



Illusory Slough (4th Level, available to Artificers, Druids, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range 120 ft, Components VSM (a handful of mud), Duration Concentration, Up to 1 minute): You make the targets within the radius of the spell feel as if they are sinking in a slough, quicksand, mudslide, or similar phenomenon, reducing their movement and ability to dodge attacks. All targets within a 20ft radius of a point you can see must perform an Intelligence saving throw or they believe they are being dragged down into a slough, mudslide, quicksand, etc. While the spell remains in effect and the target remains within the radius, the target treats the area as difficult terrain (even if it is not), suffers disadvantage on all Strength and Dexterity saving throws, and attacks against the targets have advantage. Once outside of the radius, the target may spend an action to perform an Intelligence (Investigation) check or a Wisdom (Survival) check against the spell save DC to learn that the spell is an illusion, ending its effects. Otherwise the creature still treats the area as its illusory terrain type, assuming they will move at half speed and have difficulty passing saving throws while in that area.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you may increase the radius of the effect by 10 ft for each slot level above 4th.



Beguiling Thoughts (4th Level, available to Bards, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Bonus Action, Range 30 ft, Components S, Duration Concentration, Up to 10 minutes): You choose a target you can see within range and fill their head with false thoughts and impressions from others around them. The target performs a Charisma saving throw: if it passes it suffers 10 (3d6) psychic damage from the magic touching its mind and suffers no other effects. If it fails, the creature hears thoughts of your choosing in its head whenever it looks at another creature for the duration of the spell. These thoughts could be pleasant: "I have full trust in you, [NAME OF TARGET]" or "I am desperately in love with you, [NAME OF TARGET]" for example. These thoughts could be hostile: "I will kill you for a past wrong" or "You'll never win my trust." The target acts as if these impressions are real, and justifies them in his/her mind, taking actions accordingly. Creatures that are immune to being charmed automatically pass the saving throw for this spell.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 4th.



Phantom Hunger or Thirst (5th Level, available to Druids, Rangers, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 60 ft, Components VS, Duration 1 minute): A target you can see feels a sudden and overwhelming illusory pang of hunger or thirst (your choice). The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or suffer 5 (2d4) psychic damage at the start of each of its turns. In addition, phantom hunger causes a lethargy to descend on the target, granting disadvantage on all attacks and saving throws for the duration of the spell. Alternatively phantom thirst causes disorientation and unsteadiness in the target, granting the target the Blinded condition and their movement is halved for the duration of the spell. The spell ends early if the target spends their action and bonus action eating (to remove hunger) or drinking (to remove thirst).

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 5th.



Fragrant Aroma (5th Level, available to Artificers, Bards, Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 60 ft, Components VSM (a dried or fresh flower), Duration concentration, Up to 1 minute): You cause an area centered around a point you can see to be filled with the sensation of a pleasing aroma that makes those within it feel sleepy. Targets within a 20ft radius of a point you can see must succeed on a Charisma saving throw or be charmed for the duration. While charmed, at the start of each of its turns, the target must perform a Charisma saving throw, with a failure causing the target to lose their action as they spin around in lazy circles deeply breathing in the alleged fragrance. On a successful save the target may act normally though a lethargy from the illusory fragrance causes them to suffer a 1d4 penalty to Attacks and ability checks. If the target passes three successive Charisma saving throws the spell effect ends on the target. If a target is affected by the spell for the full duration of the spell, the target falls asleep until awoken.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, targets suffer a -1 to their Wisdom and Charisma saving throws for each slot level above 5th.



Pungent Odor (6th Level, available to Druids, Sorcerers, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 30 ft, Components VS, Duration Concentration, Up to 10 minutes): You fill an area with a pungent odor, making it hard to breathe and move. Targets within a 20ft radius of a point you can see must pass a Wisdom saving throw or they are restrained as the illusory scent overwhelms them, bringing them to their knees. Once a target is outside of the radius, the target may spend an action to perform an Intelligence (Investigation) check or a Wisdom (Survival) check against the spell save DC to learn that the spell is an illusion. Otherwise the creature still treats the area as being filled with an overwhelmingly horrific odor and acts accordingly.



Distorted Sounds (Ritual) (6th Level, available to Bards, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range Self, Components V, Duration 1 hour): You cause the sounds you make to be distorted and rearranged, coming from another location. While the spell effect lasts, any sounds you make from talking, moving, etc. are perceived as coming from a location in a random direction up to 30 feet away from you. You also add your proficiency modifier to any Dexterity (Stealth) rolls you perform, and opponents have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks to detect you that rely on hearing.



Phantom Leprosy (6th Level, available to Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 30 ft, Components V, Duration Until Dispelled): You cause a target you can see to look as if it has developed a skin disease that reduces the sensory feeling of the limbs (even though their limbs are actually just fine). The target must pass a Wisdom saving throw or it believes it is afflicted with leprosy (or a similar skin disease). The target suffers disadvantage on weapon attacks, Strength and Dexterity ability checks, and Dexterity saving throws, and suffers 5 (2d4) psychic damage at the start of each of its turns (which it interprets as pain from the boils and lacerations from the disease). Other creatures who see the target must also pass a Wisdom saving throw or they also see the target as having leprosy, gaining the Frightened condition of the target and treating the target accordingly.


This spell may be ended with a Lesser Restoration, Remove Curse, Greater Restoration, Heal, or Wish spell of 6th level or higher. If a character passes their Wisdom saving throw, they may alternatively use a Dispel Magic spell of 6th level or higher to remove the effect.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 6th.



Perceived Exhaustion (8th Level, available to Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 60 ft, Components VS, Duration Instantaneous): You cause a target to feel an oppressive and swift bout of exhaustion, making it hard to function. The target must pass a Constitution saving throw or the target feels as if it is suffering 1d4 levels of exhaustion until it completes a long rest. The target suffers the effects of those levels of exhaustion, but in reality this is an illusion: no actual levels of exhaustion are applied to the target. The exhaustion effects suffered may not take the target past the fifth level of exhaustion. If the target fails the Constitution saving throw, the creature attempts another saving throw at the start of its next turn: if the saving throw is passed, the target does not suffer any additional exhaustion effects. If the saving throw is failed, the target suffers an additional level of exhaustion. The creature stops performing the Constitution saving throw if it passes the save or when it reaches five levels of exhaustion.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, you can select any number of targets within 10 feet of a point you can see for each slot level above 3rd.



Phantom Reclamation (8th Level, available to Druids and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 30 ft, Components VSM (a rock with runes carved on it), Duration Instantaneous): The target feels as if they are being reclaimed by the earth, turning to stone where they stand, when in reality it is all an illusion in their mind. The target must pass an Intelligence saving throw or be petrified for the next 24 hours (except it does not gain resistance to all damage or immunity to poison or disease while under this effect, as the creature is not actually turning to stone). While under the effects of the spell the target will justify in its mind any evidence to the contrary, treating the illusion as real in its mind until the petrification wears off. This spell may be removed with a Remove Curse, Greater Restoration, or Wish spell of 8th level or higher.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the spell affects any targets you select within an area with a radius of 10 ft instead of a single target.



Fabricate Reality (9th Level, available to Bards, Sorcerers, and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range Line of Sight, Components VSM (a totem tied to a memory of the caster), Duration Until Dispelled): You fabricate an illusion that warps reality for targets within the radius. Select an area you can see within line of sight: you create an illusion in the minds of all persons within up to a mile radius of that point must pass an Intelligence saving throw or their perception of reality is altered by the illusion. The illusion cannot change the physical presence of things within the radius, but memories, emotions, and knowledge of those things can be altered. Due to the mental dissonance caused by this alteration of reality, while within the radius of the illusion the target suffers 27 (5d10) psychic damage at the start of each of its turns. A target affected by the illusion can use its action to perform an Intelligence (Investigation) check to realize reality has been altered, and the target may also use an action to perform an Intelligence (Arcana) check against the spell save DC to know that the reality extends for a 1 mile radius if the target is proficient with the Intelligence (Arcana) skill. Passing the investigation check grants the target resistance to the damage of the spell, but does not remove the effects of the spell. The spell's effects only end on a target when they leave the radius.



Duplication Projection (9th Level, available to Sorcerers and Wizards) (Casting Time 1 Action, Range 120 ft, Components VSM (a strand of your own hair), Duration 1 hour): You project multiple convincing duplicates of yourself, allowing you to assault your enemies from various angles. You create 3d6 copies of yourself within range: you may perform actions using their line of sight and positioning, they are all immune to damage and effects that do not specifically target them, and if an attack hits them they are destroyed. Your duplicates have your Armor Class, ability scores, and saving throw proficiencies. Your duplicates take up their spaces, though targets you select when casting the spell can know that they are illusions (and thus are able to move through their space as if it was unoccupied). While an attack is performed against a creature within 5ft of a duplicate the attack is performed with advantage. Creatures with blindsight sense that a creature is present in the illusion's space, though targets who can see through illusions, as with truesight, are able to discern that the target is an illusion.



This dramatically improves the options available to you, giving you not only illusions for sight-based senses (which is most of the illusions in the game), but also diving heavily into smell, taste, touch, and hearing. And this is key because with truesight becoming more and more common as you get to higher levels of play, we want spells that won't be antiquated nearly as easily, so affecting other senses bypasses this.


You can find all of these spells plus the other spells we've created in our New D&D Spells supplement, available as a free PDF for you to use in your games. Let us know what you think!


Conclusion


We want to encourage players to be creative, and illusion magic is the heart and soul of creativity. There's a reason why we pay to see illusionists in our world: it keeps us guessing. So make your games more interesting and add more illusions to it.


Until next time,


Aaron

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