Particularly for low-level spellcasters, whose spell slots are severely limited, it’s important to have at least one or two reliable cantrips designed for combat. Without that, you’re reduced to popping off your few leveled spells and then just trying not to get hit while the fighters (hopefully) finish the encounter.
But a good damage-dealing cantrip, or one that likewise can have an impact on melee combat, can let a caster stay useful and contribute to the party’s effectiveness (and action economy) round after round. And with that in mind, let’s take a look at one particular cantrip that pops up on a number of spell lists in D&D 5E – Poison Spray.
Details of the 5E Poison Spray Cantrip
First, the nuts and bolts of Poison Spray:
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S
Classes: Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
Raising their hand to a creature they can see in range, the caster projects a plume of noxious gas from their palm. The target must make a Constitution saving throw or take 1d12 poison damage. This damage increases by an additional 1d12 at 5th, 11th, and 17th level.
When making a saving throw, your players, npc’s, or the enemy, will need to make a roll based off of the stat that is mentioned (in this case, it’s Constitution ) that is higher than your Spell Save DC.
As noted above, Poison Spray is a cantrip on the 5e Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard spell lists. Clerics of the Nature domain would also have access to it via the Acolyte of Nature class feature. Bards can also gain it through the Magical Secrets feature, and rogues taking the Arcane Trickster path would be able to take it from the wizard spell list.
The Good and Bad of DnD Poison Spray
Let’s take a deeper dive into this particular cantrip, and what makes it worthwhile (and what doesn’t):
Poison Spray does good damage for a cantrip, 1d12. Comparing that to the options by class – 1d8 fire damage for the Druid’s Produce Flame or the 1d6 piercing damage of Thorn Whip; the 1d6 acid damage for the Sorcerer’s Acid Splash, 1d8 necrotic damage for Chill Touch, or 1d8 lightning damage for Shocking Grasp; the 1d10 force damage for the Warlock’s Eldritch Blast; or the Wizard’s 1d10 fire damage for Fire Bolt – it’s obvious that Poison Spray offers the highest damage of any of these cantrips (though Acid Splash can potentially deal 1d6 damage to two targets instead of just one, so long as they’re within 5’ of each other).
And more than just the raw damage, many of the other cantrips deal damage that is more commonly resisted than poison such as cold, fire, lightning, or necrotic. It also has the benefit of not requiring material components. Also, as an instantaneous spell, it won’t require concentration when you want to cast Poison Spray.
But while resistances to other forms of damage may be more common, outright immunity to poison damage is much more common than immunity to any other form of damage.
While this immunity tends to be distributed among particular categories of creatures, like undead and fiends, it still greatly cuts down the number of enemies that the spell can affect, especially as compared to the seldom-resisted force damage of Eldritch Blast.
The cantrip also takes a standard action to cast poison spray, and while the damage is decent enough, whether or not there are better ways to spend a standard action in combat is a decision that would have to be made in the moment.
The Best Times to Use Poison Spray
With its 10-foot range, Poison Spray is an up-close-and-personal spell. That would generally mean you have to be at the front lines of melee to use it. However, with a little clever thought, there are alternate (and safer) ways you might be able to bring this cantrip to bear.
For one, note the spell description – “project a puff of noxious gas from your palm”. This means that technically you only need an opening large enough to hold your hand up to (and see your target through).
This means that a narrow window or the peephole of a sturdy door can give you a way to cast Poison Spray while remaining largely protected from counterattack – at least until the enemy finds a way into the room you’re casting from.
Poison Spray can also make for an interesting sneak attack. As noted, rogues following the Arcane Trickster build have access to wizard cantrips like Poison Spray.
Granted, it’s debatable whether Poison Spray is an optimal choice for a rogue, given the limited number of cantrips they can take (Mage Hand plus two others initially, adding a third at 10th level) and the number of cantrips on the wizard list that seem better suited to thievery and general roguishness such as Minor Illusion.
Still, if an Arcane Trickster does elect to take Poison Spray, it could make an effective attack spell used when sneaking up on an opponent.
And while spell damage isn’t eligible for the rogue’s Sneak Attack feature, a DM could rule that a successful Stealth roll prior to casting would give the target disadvantage on their save, though this would depend on whether the DM decides that the Constitution reflects an active defense on the target’s part (holding one’s breath, for example) or if it’s merely the target’s natural resistance to the poison attack (in which case the target’s awareness of the poison would be irrelevant).
Of course, using this spell for a stealth attack would only be “safe” for the initial round. Assuming the target survives, the rogue would be in normal melee unless they’re combining their stealthy approach with the window/peephole method already noted.
In fact, that may be one of the few occasions it would make more sense for the rogue to use Poison Spray rather than using an appropriate weapon and getting the 1d6 damage bonus from Sneak Attack.
When Not to Use Poison Spray
It goes without saying that Poison Spray is of little use against a target that has resistance to poison damage, and of no use at all against targets with immunity to poison. And as already mentioned, there are a surprisingly large number of creatures in the latter category including a wide array of undead, constructs, and fiends as well as more conventional enemies like Grung and Yuan-ti.
Those with poison resistance (less prevalent but still distressingly common) include many lesser creatures in the same categories. And then are creatures like Duergar, who don’t have actual poison resistance, per se, but do have advantage on saving throws against poison.
Simply put, a lot of potential enemies are going to be able to brush off, either completely or in part, the damage from Poison Spray. And still others at least have significantly better-than-average odds of shrugging off the cantrip. It’s important to have a grasp on at least the broad categories of enemies against whom poison damage is a poor choice, or you’ll waste an action on a futile casting.
This also applies in terms of human opponents. Remember that certain classes – fighters and barbarians, as well as sorcerers – add their proficiency bonus to Constitution saves, making them more likely than the average humanoid to evade the effects of Poison Spray.
While it might be difficult, at least initially, to distinguish a sorcerer from other spellcasters such as wizard, it’s easy enough to know a barbarian when you see one, and likewise the guy in chainmail wielding a longsword is probably not someone you want to try hitting with Poison Spray.
Is Poison Spray 5e Worth it?
While poison spells in D&D 5E aren’t always the most useful, due to the large number of enemies that have immunity (or at least resistance) to poison, Poison Spray does impressive damage for a cantrip when used on enemies that lack that immunity.
And while the short range makes it often dicey for spellcasters who tend to fare better staying back from melee, the damage it deals as a mere cantrip, and its possible use in “trick-shots” like casting through a peephole, make it a cantrip worth having on hand.