In any party, the cleric traditionally fills the role of healer and protector. Browse through the spell lists, and you’ll see that the lion’s share of cleric spells are in the vein of healing, purification, or protection of some type.
Likewise, this supporting role is usually well represented in the cleric’s domain spells and abilities as well. Only in a few specific domains, like War, does this healing and support role move out of the spotlight.
Still, even a cleric fully enmeshed in this role can’t stay in it 100% of the time. Eventually, inevitably, even the most support-oriented cleric needs to take a swing or two themselves. And with that in mind, we need to look at a 1st level spell made for when a cleric has to take that swing in D&D 5E: Inflict Wounds.
What is Inflict Wounds?
Inflict Wounds is a 1st level spell on the cleric lists. While earlier editions of D&D simply made Cure Light Wounds a reversible spell (with the reversed version, Cause Light Wounds, inflicting the same amount of damage it would normally heal), in 5E Inflict Wounds is a standalone necromancy spell with the following stats:
Casting Time: 1 action
Components: V, S
The spell allows the cleric to make a melee spell attack against any creature they can reach, inflicting 3d10 necrotic damage. When cast using a spell slot above 1st level, the damage is increased by 1d10 for each additional level.
Who can cast Inflict Wounds?
As noted, Inflict Wounds is on the cleric spell lists, and is thus accessible to any cleric at 1st level. It is not, however, among the domain spells for any of the base domains in the Player’s Handbook, nor (at least, so far) for any official domain added in the expansion books such as Xanthar’s Guide to Everything.
Sorcerers of the Divine Soul origin (from Xanthar’s Guide to Everything) can access Inflict Wounds just as they can any other cleric spell of a level they can cast. Likewise, bards can access the spell through their Magical Secrets class ability at 10th level (or, for bards of the College of Lore, at 6th level).
Oathbreaker paladins (as detailed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide) have Inflict Wounds as one of their 3rd level Oathbreaker spells. Of course, this is generally only an NPC class, but any DM is free to allow it as a player option if it fits their game.
What are its Pros and Cons?
So, is Inflict Wounds worth taking up the valuable real estate of a spell slot? At least Domain spells are freebies, so even if one is kind of a dud for your particular cleric, you didn’t have to trade off another spell for it.
But since Inflict Wounds isn’t among anyone’s Domain spells, we have to do some analysis to see if it’s worth taking up space in your spiritual quiver.
Let’s start off with the basics – the spell does pretty darned good damage. A 1st level spell that does 3d10 of any sort of damage is no slouch, and the fact that Inflict Wounds deals necrotic damage only sweetens the deal.
Resistance to necrotic damage may be a lot more common than resistance to radiant damage, but it’s rarer than resistances to the more basic elemental types of damage – fire, cold, lightning – as well as resistance to non-magical weapon attacks.
More to the point, resistance to necrotic damage isn’t a trait that pops up randomly. The creatures that have it will generally (though not exclusively) be of the undead variety.
That means that, as a general rule, if you can’t see protruding bones, you can probably be confident you’ll be dealing full damage with it.
Balancing out the good damage of Inflict Wounds is the fact that it’s an up close and personal attack. The spell relies on a melee spell attack, meaning you can only use it against enemies you can touch – which is an indirect way of saying you can only use it against enemies that can touch you.
There are at least a few spells that let the cleric take magical pot-shots from a safe distance – the 60’ range of the Sacred Flame cantrip is a good example.
You can fill that kind of distance with a lot of combat-heavy frontliners to stand between you and whatever you’re zapping.
Inflict Wounds, on the other hand, requires you to be right up in the melee, unless you’re dealing with an enemy that’s somehow wormed their way behind the line. With certain priesthoods, like those of the War domain, a priest might be perfectly comfortable being right in the thick of things.
For many others, though, a spell that requires getting in smacking range of the enemy isn’t an ideal choice.
Lastly, consider the lack of a saving throw when it comes to Inflict Wounds. Those who’ve taken the time and effort to run the numbers (for whatever reason) can tell you that attack rolls generally work in an attacker’s favor more often than relying on the enemy to fail a save.
With the exception of constructs, who generally are stronger on AC than they are on save bonuses, the majority of creatures in each type are weaker against attack rolls.
Especially when you’re talking about lower CR creatures, whose armor classes are going to be lower compared to their average saves, spells based on attack rolls are going to be a more reliable choice.
So, is It Worth Casting?
Short answer: maybe. No spell exists in a vacuum. Deciding whether to take up a spell slot with Inflict Wounds depends not just on the details of that spell, but on what other spells you could use in that slot instead.
It can’t be said too many times that the final decision of what’s a good choice for your character – be it a spell, a weapon, a feat, or just about any other choice on a build – depends heavily on the play style you’re building it for and what you want and don’t want to get out of that character.
Obviously, if you have a healing-focused cleric who’s meant to support from the rear, a “good choice” for you is going to be different than if you’re building a hardcore war priest who’s ready to stand right on the front line.
Likewise, if you’re focusing on using your action for weapon attacks, stabilizing critically wounded allies, or using magic items, a spell that costs a standard action to cast may mean less to you than one you can throw with a bonus action.
And in any case, a spell is only as good as how you use it. Blunt instruments like Inflict Wounds are simple enough to use to decent effect. Other, more subtle spells might require a little more strategic thinking, but if used well can have an impact that far outweighs their damage in raw on-the-page numbers.
How Does it Stack Up?
These kinds of considerations may shape your decision of whether or not Inflict Wounds is worth keeping on hand far more than the actual details of the spell. But for the sake of argument, let’s cut down some of these variables.
If we assume that you are a priest that’s going throw standard-action spells that damage (or at least affect) enemies a reasonable amount of the time, we can move on to a few apples-to-apples comparisons of alternative spells available to a cleric and how Inflict Wounds measures up against them.
It’s already been pointed out that clerics don’t have a lot in the way of direct damage spells, and they only have one cantrip in that vein, Sacred Flame. That said, it’s a pretty respectable cantrip, and worth making a comparison to Inflict Wounds.
Like Inflict Wounds, Sacred Flame takes a standard action to cast and has instantaneous effect. Unlike Inflict Wounds, however, Sacred Flame is a ranged spell, letting the caster stay safely back up to 60 feet. It also does radiant damage, which is a significantly rarer damage resistance than Inflict Wound’s necrotic.
Also Sacred Flame doesn’t operate on an attack roll. Instead, the target has to make a Dexterity save – albeit with no benefit for cover. And as already discussed, saving throw spells are usually going to run in the caster’s favor less often than attack roll spells, even though DEX isn’t the worst save to cast against, statistically.
But the most alluring thing about Sacred Flame is that it’s a cantrip. It’s not taking up a precious spell slot and can be cast on multiple rounds if desired. At first blush, that would seem to make it compare favorably with any 1st level attack spell, but let’s look at that closer.
The average damage for Inflict Wounds comes out to 16.5 hit points when cast with a 1st level spell slot. Again, that’s pretty snazzy for a 1st level spell. Since Sacred Flame only does 1d8 damage, it averages to about 4.5 hit points per successful casting.
Now, we’re going to ignore the byzantine math of the success rates of each spell. Yes, statistically Inflict Wounds will hit more often, but for purposes of this let’s just assume we have a few lucky rounds where every spell lands. Likewise, let’s ignore the impacts of the different resistances and assume each caster is only using it against targets that will take full damage.
In that case, it’s still going to take 4 rounds – four standard actions – for Sacred Flame to do the same damage as a single casting of Inflict Wounds. That’s a pretty big chunk of time, especially for a cleric who, no matter how involved in actual combat he or she may be, is still going to have support duties that need attending to.
But what about a 1st level spell to 1st level spell comparison? Well, there’s only one other spell on the cleric list that involves direct damage against an enemy, and that’s Guiding Bolt.
This, again, is a standard action spell, one with even more range than Sacred Flame at 120 feet. And it allows the caster to target any creature within range – not, strictly speaking, a creature they can see, meaning Guiding Bolt can be handy even for creatures on the other side of barriers, in adjacent rooms, or invisible creatures within range so long as the caster is aware of them.
It also deals radiant damage, in this case 4d6. And Guiding Bolt runs on a spell attack roll just like inflict Wounds, giving the two spells the same odds of success.
But the impact of Guiding Bolt doesn’t end with the damage. Rather, it gives the next attack on that target – from any source – advantage, up to the end of the cleric’s next turn.
That means a cleric casting at a distance could use Guiding Bolt to whack an enemy while simultaneously setting up a melee-ranged ally for a successful follow-up attack. Or a frontline warrior cleric could smack a melee opponent with magic, then follow it up with a mace upside the head on their next turn.
Let’s look at the damage comparison. With 4d6, Guiding Bolt is going to average out to 14 hit points – close enough to Inflict Wound’s 16.5 hit points. Advantage on the next attack is hard to quantify in raw damage terms, but it’s pretty near certain that over the long run the increase in successful follow-up attacks will more than make up for that 2.5 hit point difference, although it might not do so for any individual opponent.
This is a bit of a funkier comparison since Command doesn’t actually do damage. It is, however, a spell that’s targeted at foes, and one that can have a significant impact on combat if used well and at the right time.
Like the others listed, this is a standard action spell, and has a range of 60 feet. Unlike Guiding Bolt, this spell can only target creatures the caster can see. Unlike the others, it has only a verbal component.
The spell does work on a Wisdom saving throw, reducing its odds somewhat from attack spells like Inflict Wounds. However, Wisdom is one of the more favorable saves for casters, in terms of average creature bonuses, so at least it’s not as bad as it could be.
The main limitations of the spell are that the target has to be able to understand the verbal command, so it has to A) be intelligent enough to understand language, and B) understand the language in which you’re giving it the command.
It goes without saying, therefore, that the spell is useless against beasts, oozes, or other unintelligent monsters. It also has no power versus the undead, making it useful in a much more limited range of combats.
Within that range, though, the spell has great potential. With the right one-word command, you can make the target lose all actions in their round or drop whatever they’re holding (most notably weapons or magic devices) or make them drop prone or even approach you in a straight line (heedless of whatever opportunity attacks from your allies that nets them along the way).
Is that as satisfying as directly zapping an enemy? Maybe not, but it can certainly be more strategic. While knocking down an enemy’s HP is always valuable, clever use of a spell like Command can be worth more in the right situations.
Again, in the end it all depends on how you plan to play your cleric, and what other skills/feats/spells you plan to include in your build. That said, Inflict Wounds is a nicely effective 1st-level spell for those who aren’t afraid to get up close and personal in melee, and while other spells have their definite strengths, this is one well worth considering having in your back pocket for your next combat.
While it is first and foremost a cleric spell, Inflict Wounds is also accessible to sorcerers of the Divine Soul origin, bards of sufficient level to gain the Magical Secrets ability, and the (usually NPC) Oathbreaker paladin.
By spending his action to cast Inflict Wounds, the cleric makes a melee spell attack on any creature within reach. If the attack is successful, the target takes 3d10 necrotic damage, with an additional 1d10 for each spell slot level above 1st.
Inflict Wounds is a 1st level cleric spell, available to all clerics at 1st level. Bards can access it through the Magical Secrets class ability, and sorcerers of the Divine Soul origin – who can take cleric spells in place of those from the sorcerer’s list – can use it as well. While they are normally only an NPC class, Oathbreaker paladins also receive the spell at 3rd level as one of their Oathbreaker spells.
You cannot pair a weapon attack with the casting of Inflict Wounds. The spell is cast via a standard action (meaning you can’t also take an Attack action) and success is determined by a spell melee attack rather than a standard weapon attack roll. If you’re looking to combine magical attacks with melee damage, you’d have to cast Guiding Bolt instead.