One of the starting spells for Bards can be the simple enchantment Dissonant Whispers. This first-level spell can be a great boon for an adventuring party.
D&D 5e Dissonant Whispers is a spell that can deal a surprisingly large pool of psychic damage and initiate the Frightened condition. It is a simple, but an effective curse that can put a good distance between you and melee fighters and scare your opponents.
Let’s dive right in and explore this easy, 1st level spell!
Dissonant Whispers 5e Overview
D&D 5e Dissonant Whispers is a first-level enchantment and available in the Player’s Handbook. It is from the Enchantment school of magic and available to the Bard class only. This spell can be found on page 234 of the Player’s Handbook.
The stat block for 5e Dissonant Whispers looks as follows:
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
The spell description reads as follows:
You whisper a discordant melody that only one creature of your choice within range can hear, wracking it with terrible pain. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw.
On a failed save, it takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows from you. The creature doesn’t move into obviously dangerous ground, such as a fire or a pit.
On a successful save, the target takes half as much damage and doesn’t have to move away. A deafened creature automatically succeeds on the save.
There is also a note for upcasting:
When you cast this spell using a slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 1st.
This damage boost can be weak for higher-level parties, but great for low-level parties. Dissonant Whispers 5th edition is a great starting spell for bards and is best used before Level 10.
However, if you are desperate, you can easily upcast it for a quick effect. This extra damage can be very nice as a final touch. Who knows? Upcasting may even be the difference between taking an enemy down to 0 or extending the fight!
One important note is that Dissonant Whispers cannot be used on deafened characters. Since they cannot hear the whispers, they wouldn’t be affected. This is one of the few spells where an imposed condition might actually help your party!
In addition, if your character is Deaf, they have a natural immunity to the spell effects of Dissonant Whispers. They can easily keep fighting and avoid the spell, making an opponent waste their own spell slot in their attempt. You could even use this to force an enemy into their melee range, while keeping your player character safe from their enchantments.
In addition, as the spell description explains, a creature cannot be driven into the obviously dangerous ground or terrain. They use the example of a fire or a pit, but there are plenty of other options that could be an exception for the enemy. You can’t set a completely lethal trap for your target, but you could push them into difficult terrain and slow them down.
So while this spell can be useful in fighting, it cannot take an enemy completely out of the fight in one go and some opponents can be immune. You should plan your attacks to carefully make the most out of this spell’s power while adhering to the spell rules.
Dissonant Whispers can be used in all kinds of situations but are best used in combat or close quarters. This spell is best when you need to make the distance between you and your opponent. In addition, since it is a simple spell with only verbal components, you can use it as long as you can speak.
Since the opponent needs to move as far away as possible after they fail the Wisdom save, it is a great option for bards who do not have close combat prowess. You can give your fellow party members distance too.
Many opponents move with at least 30 feet in a given round. Countless enemies can move faster than that. As a result, you can easily force an opponent to move out of the melee range and into the path of other spell attacks.
Dissonant Whispers, like most other 1st Level spells, is exceptionally easy to cast and prepare. There is exactly one component to cast this spell. It is also instantaneous but takes a whole action to cast. It deals a decent amount of damage and you can keep casting it at later levels.
All you have to use to cast the spell is a verbal component. The spell description says that it should be a discordant melody, but you could easily change that to something just as unsettling or scary. For example, if you know any fears the opponent has, you could manipulate those. Your DM might even reward you with Inspiration if you can tap into the darkest fears of the target.
This spell is easy to cast and prepare. It takes one action, like most spells, and is instantaneous. It takes effect immediately and only lasts for the target’s reaction. This means you do not need to worry about concentration or taking damage while the spell is active.
The ease is also transferred to the upcast versions of DnD Dissonant Whispers. You do not need to scale the components up to justify going up a level or expending spell components. This is simply because there aren’t any; a great option for long dungeon crawls when components are easily lost!
In the vanilla 5th edition, only bards can use Dissonant Whispers. However, some homebrew rules may allow you to pull from other spell-casting lists. You will have to talk to your Dungeon Master about setting up a homebrew spell list if you aren’t happy with the vanilla bard spell list.
However, there are plenty of other spells that give longer effects that are only available to certain classes. It might be a better choice to look within your spell list to find options before going off the list.
As a DM, you can use Dissonant Whispers to force your players to get away from your enemy, reveal character details, and set the stage for future conflicts. This is a great way to prepare for future sessions while also doing damage to your players.
If your party has been completely on top of your enemy and if they refuse to leave the melee range, you can drive them off with Dissonant Whispers. This forces the party back and will give you more time to prepare for their next assault.
Since this spell requires a verbal component, you can easily slide in some details to raise tension. These can be about your player characters’ backstories, deepest fears, and regrets, but they need to put the fear of the gods in the characters.
Finally, one of the other, best things that DMs can do with Dissonant Whispers is to set the stage for other, future encounters. You could use this spell to put the fear of your Big Bad Evil Guy into the heart of your bravest PC and key them up for the next encounter with them. You could also use it to give your players some kind of plot hooks if you are scrambling to find a good loop.
No, Dissonant Whispers 5e does not frighten your enemies. That being said, it does scare them and they have to make certain movements, which is similar to the frightened condition. This is very similar to frightening but isn’t.
How is this any different from frightening an enemy, though?
Frightening an enemy means that you have imposed the frightened condition. This condition means that your enemy is terrified of the target and has several debuffs. It also usually takes several turns to remove after making different saves.
First, the frightened creature has disadvantage on all ability checks and attack rolls while in line of sight with the thing that frightened them. In addition, the frightened creature cannot move any closer to the source of their fear.
Dissonant Whispers does not impose the Frightened condition. Instead, you get some of the benefits without fully imposing the condition. On top of that, the opponent doesn’t have to make a saving throw.
Finally, this spell only makes the action last until the end of the reaction. It does not last more than the turn and it will not continue to stay in effect. This is nice if you are the target, but if you are casting this on an enemy, it can be a minor inconvenience.
Take it or Leave it?
Dissonant Whispers 5th edition is a great early game enchantment with many applications. It can be used as an overall debuff and a battle technique to gain distance between enemies and party members. However, it lacks power as the player levels up and has a light upcasting ability.