Last Updated on January 31, 2023
There are over 500 spells to be found throughout the various Dungeons & Dragons 5e sourcebooks. The overwhelming majority are focused on combat — either dealing damage to enemies (or debuffing them in some other way), healing and protecting allies (or resurrecting them when the healing didn’t go to plan), or otherwise enhancing a character’s ability to be effective in a fight.
However, there’s a lot more to D&D than beating up monsters for their lunch money, and when it comes to solving tricky problems, magic can be one of the most effective, versatile tools in an adventurer’s arsenal.
Today, we’re going to be talking about a few of our favorite spells that are designed to work outside combat whether you’re exploring a dungeon, solving a mystery, or trying to make it through one. Single, Session. Without the rogue murdering something.
What Is a Utility Spell in DnD 5e?
A utility spell refers to a spell that doesn’t have a function tied to combat. A utility spell doesn’t deal damage, block damage, debuff enemies, or heal hit points. Instead, utility spells provide a wide range of interesting effects from opening locked doors to increasing the distance you can travel in a day. They’re more like magical tools than arcane weapons and armor.
Ceremony allows the caster to perform a magical ritual over the course of an hour, choosing one of the following rituals, which takes effect if the intended target remains within 10 feet of the caster for the duration of the casting.
- Atonement. You touch one willing creature whose alignment has changed, and you make a DC 20 Wisdom (Insight) check. On a successful check, you restore the target to its original alignment.
- Bless Water. You touch one vial of water and cause it to become holy water.
- Coming of Age. You touch one humanoid who is a young adult. For the next 24 hours, whenever the target makes an ability check, it can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to the ability check. A creature can benefit from this rite only once.
- Dedication. You touch one humanoid who wishes to be dedicated to your god’s service. For the next 24 hours, whenever the target makes a saving throw, it can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to the save. A creature can benefit from this rite only once.
- Funeral Rite. You touch one corpse, and for the next 7 days, the target can’t become undead by any means short of a wish spell.
- Wedding. You touch adult humanoids willing to be bonded together in marriage. For the next 7 days, each target gains a +2 bonus to AC while they are within 30 feet of each other. A creature can benefit from this rite again only if widowed.
The sheer range of interesting and wholly unique effects that this 1st-level spell can provide easily make Ceremony one of the most versatile (if situational) lower-level spells available. These are the kind of applications that probably won’t come up more than once per campaign (apart from Bless Water, which is probably the best regular usage, assuming you’re fighting a lot of fiends or undead), but when the moment is right, they absolutely have the potential for much greater impact than a 1st-level spell would suggest.
As a dungeon master who delights in having powerful villains resurrect fallen party members as vampires or wights to hunt down their former comrades, this spell feels like it was made to foil me. Atonement is also a genuinely powerful effect, even though it’s tied up with a DC 20 check.
Coming of Age and Dedication are both nice little buffs to apply before a final battle or trial, and Wedding can be pretty outrageously powerful (cast this on some fighters in platemail, and you’ve got some 20+ AC frontliners on your hands) but comes wrapped up in some really fun roleplaying. Great stuff all around and probably one of the most inventively written 5e spells.
The caster chooses up to five creatures within range that are currently falling. Using their reaction, the caster then slows the target(s)’ rate of descent to 60 feet per round for the duration. If the creature lands before the spell ends, it takes no falling damage, and the spell ends.
Feather Fall is the kind of spell that you might carry around in your spell list for years and never use, but you can be certain that the minute you switch it out for Thunderwave, you’ll find yourself tumbling head over heels off the side of an evil wizard’s tower, secure in the knowledge that if the fall damage doesn’t kill you, your party members falling alongside you just might.
Even outside of life and death situations, Feather Fall is a great way to navigate in vertical space (especially when paired with my Honorable Mention utility mobility spell: Levitate), which is handy when a lot of an adventurer’s work involves going “down below.”
The caster chooses a locked, sealed, or otherwise barred object in range — like a door, chest, set of manacles, padlock, etc. The spell then unlocks, unbars, or otherwise opens the object (if there are multiple locks or mechanisms holding the object shut, only one is opened).
If the object is being held shut by means of the Arcane Lock spell, the spell is suppressed for 10 minutes, during which time the target can be opened and shut normally.
When the spell is cast, a loud knock, audible from as far away as 300 feet, emanates from the target object.
More than any other spell, Knock makes me feel like a professional adventurer — like I explore dungeons for a living and am darn good at it. Whether you’re just trying to bypass a difficult lock-picking exercise (and your rogue can’t seem to roll above a 13) or there’s something very big and bad chasing you and you need this door open right now, Knock has saved more than one of my characters on more than one occasion.
The biggest drawback (especially if you’re trying to gain access to somewhere without being detected or liberate valuables from a locked safe, for example) is the loud knocking noise. Thankfully, you can get around this with a simultaneous use of my Honorable Mention Utility Dungeoneering spell: Silence.
The caster summons a large, quasi-real creature within range. The creature resembles a horse and has the characteristics of a Riding Horse, except it has a speed of 100 feet and can travel 10 miles in an hour, or 13 miles at a fast pace. When the spell ends, the steed gradually fades, giving the rider 1 minute to dismount. The spell ends if the caster uses an action to dismiss it or if the steed takes any damage.
Now, obviously, there are serious combat benefits to being mounted (which are often sadly underappreciated and that I go into in depth here), but the added utility of being able to move around the wilderness faster and pull heavy stuff (like a carriage or open a locked door) can be hugely helpful to an adventurer. The added bonus that, as a ritual spell, Phantom Steed doesn’t consume a spell slot is especially nice.
Honorable Mention Utility Travel spell (because this is a thing now, apparently): Misty Step.
The caster forces the spell’s target to make a Wisdom Saving Throw (with advantage if they’re fighting), and on a failed save, the target becomes incapacitated and unaware of their surroundings for the next minute. During that time, the caster can modify the target’s memory of an event (that lasted no longer than 10 minutes) from the past 24 hours, either changing an existing memory, adding a false one, allowing them to recall the event with perfect clarity, or permanently removing a memory altogether.
The modified memories take hold when the spell ends and the target’s mind works to fill in the gaps to accommodate the new memory. Any memory that the DM deems too illogical or contrary to the target’s nature can be rejected by the target’s mind as a bad dream or bout of madness. A modified memory doesn’t necessarily change the way a creature behaves or thinks.
A remove curse or greater restoration spell cast on the target restores the creature’s true memory.
At Higher Levels. If this spell is cast using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the caster can alter memories from farther in the past — up to 7 days ago (6th level), 30 days ago (7th level), 1 year ago (8th level), or any time in the creature’s past (9th level).
While this is undoubtedly a spell with a certain amount of moral grayness attached to it, the potential applications of Modify Memory are virtually endless.
Whether you need to create an alibi for yourself (“Why, Officer, how could my friends and I have robbed that bank when at that precise moment we were enjoying some fancy cocktails with The Mayor!?”), quickly make a guard forget they saw you, or bring back an important memory with perfect clarity (retroactively giving yourself or a key witness a photographic memory can be just the bombshell a court case needs), the applications of this spell are only limited by your imagination.
Oh, and my Honorable Mention Utility, uh, Messing With People spell? Dream.
That’s all from me on my five favorite utility spells in D&D 5e, but these certainly aren’t the only options out there. Let us know your favorite utility spells for getting out of (or into) a jam in the comments below. Until next time, happy adventuring.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.