D&D Players: Do NOT Sleep on These 1st-Level Spells

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Earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons often posed a difficult question for spellcasting characters: combat effectiveness or utility outside of combat? Spellcasters suffered in lower levels by being stuck with specific spells that might be very useful or completely useless depending on the situation, and losing a lot of their power once those spells were cast for the day. Fifth Edition addresses many of these issues with cantrips that can always be cast and spell slots that allow more situational flexibility. Even so, veteran players often direct new spellcasters to the old classics like sleepcharm person, and cure wounds a little bit out of habit and a little bit because those spells are central to the play experience of some classes. There are a lot of first-level spells out there, and we’ve selected a few less popular ones to include in a new magic-user’s repertoire.

Unseen Servant

Mage hand is a classic cantrip for a reason, so this spell is like a slightly advanced version of it. It isn’t there for combat but it can be quite useful in a dungeon by springing traps, opening doors and other things that might cause harm to its master. Why not have the servant clean up camp while the rest of the adventurers discuss their next move?


Adventurers are often confronted with big obstacles they need to overcome. It may be a castle wall, a mountain, or other such obstacle, but this spell launches a small item 90 feet in the air. It does some nasty damage if the thing (like a dagger) hits someone, but it can get a rope, a message or a weapon to someone who might really need it. It can also cause a good distraction if suddenly a torch or light source goes flying out into the depths of a cave.


As often as Dungeons & Dragons is reduced to killing bad guys and taking their stuff, sometimes it’s important to keep at least one of those bad guys alive. This spell is the perfect solution for when the adventurers want to keep a goblin alive to interrogate it, or to hold a pesky guard without killing her. It’s also useful for interfering with a lead creature while giving everyone a chance to clear out some lesser bad guys during a battle.

Expeditious Retreat

Encounters use Challenge Ratings to give Dungeon Masters a good guideline as to how difficult an encounter might be. Adventurers sometimes bite off a bit more than they can chew when encountering monsters of a higher rating in an open world campaign. Knowing when to leave the dungeon is just as important as being able to disarm a trap. This spell lets the caster take the Dash action as a bonus action, which also can be useful going forward into the dungeon and trying to run past traps or monsters.

Absorb Element

This spell from the brand new  Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was first seen in the Elemental Evil Player’s Guide. The spell triggers when the character is hit by an elemental attack. It gives the character resistance to the type of attack and a melee damage bonus to their next attack. At low levels, resistance to a damage type is very useful for survival, since it halves any damage of that attack type. Chances are the Dungeon Master has more than one of a monster type in an encounter, so being resistant to their damage is very useful.

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Images Credits: Wizards of the Coast

Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves and is a writer for the Star Trek Adventures RPG line. His blog is  here, where he is currently reviewing classic  Star Wars RPG adventures. His Twitter is  here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.

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