The world's most popular fantasy role-playing table-top game wouldn't be the same without magic. And we're not talking about the "magic" of using your imagination. A lot of characters you'll encounter in Dungeons & Dragons have access to spells. Wizards, Warlocks, Sorcerers and Druids rely on it while Bards, Clerics, Paladins and certain types of Rogue will use a mixture of spells and physical moves in combat. This diversity of classes has come a long way from the very first D&D game set that comprised of just the Cleric, fighting man and magic-user. (Thief -- the precursor to Rogue -- was later added in the first expansion, Greyhawk.)
Just like in any other magical world, spells in D&D can be used from anything to blasting any enemy away with a single hand gesture, to ridding an ally of poison, to simply adding a bit more flavor to your dinner. Need to interrogate a passing cow? There's a spell for that. Need to summon a noble steed out of thin air? There's a spell for that. Need to make a corpse glow in the dark like a Halloween-themed nightlight? Yes, there's even a spell for that. Much like the variety of classes, the variety of spells reflects the fact that there's a lot more to D&D than smashing through hordes of goblins. Not all spells were made equally, either, and discussion of this imbalance ranges from frustration about "broken" game mechanics to gleeful hand-rubbing at the chance to be a god of your world. For this list, we'll be ranking spells that cause the most damage or enable a user to wield scary levels of power.
20 MASS SUGGESTION
This level six spell pretty much does what it says on the tin. You make a quick, simple suggestion and up to 12 creatures within the spell's range that can understand you (and aren't immune to being charmed) will be compelled to act out whatever you've suggested. Basically, it's the kind of creepy magic that turns you into Purple Man.
The biggest catch -- other than the restrictions previously listed -- is that you can't make anyone do anything that's obviously contrary to their own wellbeing. That means if you want to make a group of creatures do something stupid like jump off the nearest cliff, you'll have to be really creative with your instructions.
19 ANIMATE OBJECT
This spell has a lot of juice for level five. With it, you can bring up to 10 small, non-magical objects to life, as long as they're not being used by someone else. (Medium objects count as two and large ones are four. Anything bigger than "Huge" won't be affected.) In combat, you also get the sweet bonus action of making one newly-animated object carry out an attack.
For the necromancers, "Animate Dead" does exactly the same thing but for small or medium corpses, creating a skeleton or zombie servant ally for you. These life-giving spells are useful in battle if you need to even the odds, or -- out of combat -- help you reenact Merlin's packing scene from Disney's The Sword in the Stone.
18 ARCANE HAND
Essentially, this is a suped-up "Mage Hand" that you can cast at level five. The hand is big, ghostly-looking and can copy the movements of your own. It's also quite hardy, with an armor class of 20, equal hit points to your maximum, a Dexterity of ten and a Strength of 26 (+8.) You can also move it up to 60-feet as a bonus action.
Unlike "Mage Hand," this bad boy isn't just limited to picking stuff up for you like a glorified butler. With moves like "Clenched Fist" and "Forceful Hand," you can fly it around the field of battle to punch, grab and push enemies around. If "Mage Hand" is The Addams Family's Thing, "Arcane Hand" is Super Smash Bros.' Master Hand.
17 HOLD PERSON/MONSTER
Without a doubt, this is one of the most casually scary spells you can cast in D&D. You just pick a person or monster within a certain distance from you and, on a failed Wisdom saving throw, they can't move a muscle until either the spells ends or they're no longer alive. (They can attempt to break free at the end of each turn.)
It's a ridiculously powerful one for level two. Casting it will make your character not only seem like they're packing serious psychic powers but will probably scare the crap out of the rest of your party when you do it for the first time; or at least, any of them who don't dabble in the dark arts themselves.
16 REVERSE GRAVITY
Once again, what you read is what you get with this one. At level seven, you can cast this to make a poor, unsuspecting creature suddenly start falling towards the ceiling as though the world has been tipped upside down around them. It's not just one creature, either. The spell encompasses a 50-foot radius and stretches 100-feet into the air.
Any creature within that range will have to grab onto something for dear life or take an awful lot of falling damage. They'll also have to dodge being pummelled by falling objects and debris too, as basically anything that isn't nailed to what used to be the ground is going to fall victim to this spell too.
15 TIME STOP
A spell that disrupts the flow of time seems like it should take a higher spot on this list, but to be honest, for level nine -- the highest level you can go -- it's just not that overpowered. When this is cast, you can freeze time for everyone except yourself, and while they're all living statues, you have the luxury of taking 1d4+1 consecutive turns in battle.
What you do with those extra turns is up to you. You could do something really mean like turn someone's weapon on themselves mid-thrust so that they unwittingly impale themselves when the spell wears off, or -- for the jokester personalities -- you could just tie everyone's shoelaces together for maximum pranking.
14 CIRCLE OF DEATH
Described as a "sphere of negative energy," this level six spell hits everything within 60-feet of you to possibly devastating effect. On a failed Constitution saving throw, creatures in the affected area take 8d6 necrotic damage, which goes up by 2d6 if you cast it at level seven or higher for each slot above level six. It can reach up to 150-feet away from you, too.
The darkest aspect of this spell is that your victims wouldn't know what hit them. One minute they're minding their own business or engaged in combat, and the next, they're overcome by a crippling wave of bad mojo -- like having the worst anxiety attack of your life.
13 DESTRUCTIVE WAVE
In the real world, a destructive wave is a powerful wave of water, whipped up by a storm. In D&D, this fifth level evocation has nothing to do with choppy seas. Commonly used by Paladins, the spell allows the user to spill out energy up to 30 feet around them. Creatures in that radius that fail a Constitution saving throw take 5d6 thunder damage.
In addition, they take 5d6 radiant or necrotic damage -- whichever the user prefers -- and are knocked prone. That makes the maximum potential damage 60 in total, plus the indignity of the victim falling flat on their butt from the sheer force of the blast -- which will cost them half their speed on their turn to stand back up.
When people talk about overpowered spells in D&D, "Fireball" almost always gets a mention. The spell's attributes describe it as "a bright streak flash[ing] from your pointing finger to a point you choose" that then "blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame." That explosion engulfs everything in a 20-foot circle.
On a failed Dexterity saving throw, any unfortunate creature within that area is dealt 8d6 fire damage and survivors have to walk around eyebrow-less for a few days afterward. Why is this spell considered to be so overpowered? It's available at level three. For reference, "Circle of Death," which deals a similar amount damage, is a whole three levels higher.
Fancy giving a troublesome creature a magical time-out? This level seven spell will do the job nicely. "Forcecage" creates a 2o-foot "immobile, invisible, cube-shaped prison" around something up to 100-feet away. For extra security, you can choose to create a smaller box instead with no bars for the trapped creature to try and squeeze through.
The best part is that the entrapped creature can't bust out without using magic. They can use whatever spell they can to try and escape -- except for "Dispel Magic" -- but teleportation or travel using the Ethereal Plane will require them to pass a Charisma saving throw first. If they don't want to waste slots, they could just wait until it disappears... in an hour.
10 CHAIN LIGHTNING
For those that like to do Storm impressions, D&D boasts a couple of different lightning-based spells that will electrify your opponents. The "Thunder Wave" cantrip sits at the bottom of the pile at level one, but once you advance to level six, you can upgrade to "Chain Lightning," which makes "Thunder Wave" look like a cute little zap in comparison.
What's particularly great about this spell is that the three bolts you create can target up to three individual creatures within 30-feet of each other. They have to pass a Dexterity saving through to dodge the attack or take a hefty 10d8 in damage. (Team Rocket's "we're blasting off again" moments come to mind here...)
9 BONES OF THE EARTH
"Bones of the Earth" is a spell for anyone who like flashy, dramatic magic. This sixth-level transmutation makes up to six stone pillars erupt from the ground from up to 120-feet away from you underneath a small or medium-sized target. The pillars are five-feet wide and 30-feet high with an armor class of five and hit points totaling 30.
Any creatures in their path have to succeed a Dexterity saving throw or be carried with the growing pillar until they take 6d6 bludgeoning damage and become trapped on top. Even if the pillars are destroyed they can cause havoc -- each one leaving a 10-foot radius of difficult terrain behind them that takes precious minutes of combat time to clear.
A lot of spells are intended to cause harm, but "Harm" is explicitly about making a target suffer. This level six incantation allows the caster to "unleash a virulent disease on a creature." On a failed Constitution saving throw, the infected creature takes 14d6 necrotic damage. The only caveat is that the target's hit points can't drop below one.
This sounds like a mercy but is actually an even greater cruelty. This is a spell you'd cast on someone or something that you'd rather watch become violently ill than take their life. Plus, their hit point maximum falls by the amount of damage they took for an hour, so even if they heal, they'll be temporarily more vulnerable.
"Sunburst" is a lot like the spell that Gandalf uses to light up his staff and ward off Nasguls in The Lord of the Rings. Described as "brilliant sunlight," the beam emanates 60-feet away from the caster and everything it hits must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, they take 12d6 radiant damage and -- even on a pass -- are blinded for one minute.
The spell is particularly effective to those sensitive to this kind of magic, like zombies, skeletons and oozes, who roll with disadvantage. In D&D, being blind means you can't pass any ability checks that you need your eyes for, and even if you can attack you roll with disadvantage, while your attackers roll with advantage.
This level six transmutation is particularly handy -- and horrible -- if you want to make sure that when your enemy goes down, they stay down. When cast, a "thin, green ray" bursts from your finger onto a creature, object or magical force. On a failed Dexterity saving throw, the target is hit with a devastating 10d6+40 force damage.
The disintegration part kicks in if this blast saps all of the target's hit points away, reducing it down to dust a la the Infinity War Thanos snap. This includes their clothes and worldly possessions -- with magical items left behind ready for the caster to pocket for themselves. If cast on a target classed as "Huge," only a 10-foot-cube of them is disintegrated, which is... really gross.
If you like to mess around with your enemy's head rather than their body, then "Maze" is the spell for you. Taking inspiration from the classical Greek myth, this level eight conjuration lets you target a creature up to 60-feet away and teleport them to a "labyrinthine demiplane" where it will stay until it escapes or the spell ends.
It can attempt to escape on each of its turns by making a DC 20 Intelligence check, otherwise, it's just left to confusedly panic. Only Minotaurs and Goristro demons can find their way out naturally without having to make the check. While the spell doesn't inflict any pain, it's an effective -- and over-the-top -- way to remove a creature from your dimension for a while.
4 PRISMATIC WALL
As defenses go, you can't get much more fortified than the level nine spell, "Prismatic Wall." It creates a multi-colored wall of light that's up to 90-feet long, 30-feet high and seven layers thick. (You can also shape it into a sphere up to 30-feet in diameter.) The light emitting from it is so bright, creatures within 20-feet of it become blinded on a failed Constitution saving throw.
While you and your allies can magically pass through it, your enemies have to get through a literal rainbow of pain to reach you. On a failed Dexterity saving throw, each differently colored layer inflicts 10d6 of fire, acid, lightning, poison or cold damage, and restrains or blinds the invader as they reach each one.
3 METEOR SWARM
Nothing says you mean business than lifting your hands to the heavens and willing huge fiery balls to hit the earth at blistering speed. At level nine, this is one of the most intimidating moves a Wizard or Soceror can pull, pummelling everything within a 40-foot radius of them, and up to a mile away. (You'll want to give your party members fair warning first.)
Creatures within range must pass a Dexterity saving throw or suffer 20d6 fire damage and 20d6 bludgeoning damage. Any object hit that can go up in flames, will go up in flames. What you'll be left with is a battlefield pockmarked by giant, smoking holes full of squished, charred bodies and traumatized survivors.
"Wish" is described as the "mightiest spell a mortal creature can cast," and for good reason. "By simply speaking aloud, you can alter the very foundations of reality in accord with your desires." This all-mighty ninth-level conjuration can, in its simplest usage, let you replicate any other spell, amass huge wealth, perform mass healing and undo recent actions.
Or, you can be more creative. Technically, you can wish for anything you want. But -- and it's a crucial but -- the less specific you are and the greater your desire is, the more allowance the Dungeon Master has to make the wish go awry. For instance, wishing for immortality could mean you're transformed into stone. Those kinds of wishes also exact heavy tolls on your HP and stats.
1 POWER WORD SPELLS
Power Word Stun and its lethal equivalent of a similar name are the least amount of effort for the maximum amount of reward. Quite simply, you speak a "word of power" and a visible creature within 60-feet of you is instantly stunned or, if you use the lethal version, has the lifeforce drained from it instantly. And... that's it.
The level nine enchantment only works on creatures with 100 hit points or fewer, but other than that, there are no downsides to the spell. Nothing happens if the spell fails other than you'll be able to confirm the minimum number of hit points the creature you targeted has. As power goes, it's pretty god-like. You better pray you don't meet an enemy Wizard that knows it.