There are a lot of creatures in D&D. Everything from animated skeletons to gods themselves are viable to show up at your table with a thirst for blood and eye for your characters. With over 2000 creatures, there are bound to be some crazy things we come across.
Today, we’re going to be discussing a subset of creatures that is beyond exciting: Living Spells.
We’ll talk about what they are, how they’re formed, and where you might encounter them. We’ll also discuss a bit of how you might homebrew up your own version.
What are Living Spells in 5e?
Living spells are a subset of creatures belonging to the creature type: construct. In areas that harbor incredible wells of magical power, these spells come into existence and become living beings. Living spells are typically sentient versions of conjuration or evocation spells.
Constructs alone are an exciting category of the creature world, but this smaller subset is really interesting, and allows for interaction with a truly magical world.
Whether you’re exploring the Mournland on Eberron, or traversing the icy wasteland near Icewind Dale on Abeir-Toril, these spell creatures are sure to put up a fight and invoke fear in your players.
As of right now, there are less than 10 of these creatures to speak of, and they’re pretty powerful creatures. Since their nature is entirely magical, and their power is tied to the fact that they are a spell, it’s not too surprising that they all pack a punch
What are some living spells?
When living spells were introduced in Eberron: Rising from the Last War there were three spells. Living versions of Burning Hands, Lightning Bolt, and Cloudkill were presented as templates for CR 1, 5, and 7 constructs, respectively.
Now, there are seven living spells, but more are likely on the way.
- Living Bigby’s Hand; CR 4
- Living Blade of Disaster; CR 8
- Living Burning Hands; CR 1
- Living Cloudkill; CR 7
- Living Demiplane; CR 0
- Living Lightning Bolt; CR 5
- Living Unseen Servant; CR 0
Spell vs. Living Spell
Below is the description for the spell Burning Hands along with the stat block for Living Burning Hands.
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self (15-foot cone)
Components: V S
Classes: Sorcerer, Wizard
As you hold your hands with thumbs touching and fingers spread, a thin sheet of flames shoots forth from your outstretched fingertips. Each creature in a 15-foot cone must make a Dexterity saving throw.
A creature takes 3d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The fire ignites any flammable objects in the area that aren’t being worn or carried.
At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 1st.
The living spell has damage immunity to the damage type of the origin spell, along with an attack called spell mimicry which mimics the wording of the spell itself.
Naturally, it comes with some cool abilities, like the Amorphous ability, since it has no solid structure and is made of purely magical energy.
Living Burning Hands is a great example of what a simple living spell can look like. Higher leveled living spells really just tend to gain Multiattack (the ability to make multiple attacks during their attack action) and more health.
Spell Mimicry is something that can take many forms. The less simple the spell, the more complex the living spells abilities will be.
Take the Living Demiplane as an example. Although it has a CR of 0, it can warp creatures it makes contact with into its extradimensional chamber. Creatures can escape by destroying 5 foot portions of the walls, and thus destroying the spell itself.
Rather than a spell used to conceal or possibly trap foes, this creature is just an unaligned eating machine. Another difference from the spell to its sentient version is that the spell ending causes creatures to be trapped within the chamber, while the creature dying releases any creatures stuck inside.
Another example of extra abilities is the Living Blade of Disaster. It has many abilities that go beyond “Spell Mimicry” but one of the most interesting is its ability Unfettered.
The ability allows the living spell to go through any barrier, even a wall of magical force that would normally stop any magical effect from passing through.
How To Make A Living Spell
To create a customized living spell to put in your worlds, follow the template set by the other living spells. Higher-level spells tend to be higher CR, and a spell’s damage type should match the living spell’s damage immunity. Then take the wording of the spell and work it into abilities, reactions, or actions for your new creature.
Normally when I’m giving homebrew advice it’s based on practice and experience, a bit of trial and error. This time, we have homebrew advice straight out of the source material itself.
When Eberron introduced this category of creatures they realized that 3 was nowhere near enough variety, so they said that the 3 in existence were templates for other spells you might want to transform.
The beginnings did give us a very limited crop though. We were instructed to use mainly damage-dealing conjuration and evocation spells. Then, Rime of the Frostmaiden brought us spells that went a bit beyond that. Living Demiplane deals no damage, and is instead an interesting tool for DMs to use in lieu of a puzzle.
Exploring areas of chaotic magical energy should be an experience that transcends just another fight.
I’m going to roll up a few random spells and talk about what their sentient versions might be if one makes sense.
Antimagic field is an 8th level abjuration spell that creates an invisible sphere of antimagic energy with a 10ft radius. Spells and other magical effects, except those originating from an artifact or deity, can’t pass through the sphere.
If this sphere were to gain sentience, it certainly wouldn’t be dealing damage, but it might try to suppress magic users or magical items. One problem we run into is that of actually dealing damage to the sphere itself.
Since it cancels out magic, the only way to attack it might have to be through nonmagical methods.
Where do we attack it?
Well, normally the sphere is centered on the caster, so perhaps instead of that, we have its sentience focused on a point in the middle of the sphere. This could be a glowing orb, an elemental-looking creature, or whatever soothes your creative spirit.
We end up with a Living Magic Field that probably has a relatively small AC, maybe just 10, and high HP. It gets a unique Antimagic ability, and maybe a con save related ability akin to a concentration saving throw to keep the antimagic field itself up and running whenever the core is hit.
Let’s say that if the field goes down the core can be attacked by magic.
A Living Chain Lightning would function extremely similarly to a Living Lightning Bolt. The main differences are that Chain Lightning is a higher level spell, dealing more damage and likely creating a higher CR creature, and the fact that Chain Lightning chooses one main target and three secondary targets.
If this spell becomes a creature, we might not want to let it attack four creatures each turn, but we still want to give it the same feel. I would give the living spell the ability to attack twice on its turn, but give it a reaction that functions like a very wide opportunity attack.
If a creature comes within 30 feet of the living spell it can bolt to that creature’s location and deal some amount of damage that is slightly less than the normal lightning damage on an attack.
Animate Objects is a spell that turns items into constructs. Now how on earth could this gain sentience? It’s just conceptual right? Wrong!
Here’s how I would do it. The Living Spell has two main abilities, Possess and Animate. One allows this sentient spell to take over an object and use it as a body, the other allows it to animate an object like with the spell.
To make this balanced, the living spell would have to be dispatchable while it is in the possess form, and it would have to have a recharge on its ability to possess new objects.
You would also need its hit points to carry over. As for animation, we’d have to limit that, so it would only be able to animate one object every few turns, also on a recharge.
It would also be a good idea to connect the size of the object with the length of time it takes to recharge. A tiny construct might only cause 2 turns while a huge might take a whole combat, exponential growth anyone?
When the living spell is possessing an object it can attack as a construct of the same size according to the spell.
I’m glad this spell was one of the ones generated because it is an example of a spell which I can’t figure out how to give sentience to. This, and more than a few utility spells, are very difficult to transform because they have 0 combat value.
Things that directly buff or debuff creatures will typically make for bad sentient creatures themselves, but they are limited to your creativity. So long as the creature is recognizable as a version of the spell, you should be fine.
Can you use dispel magic on a living spell?
No, you can’t dispel creatures, and most living spells should have an ability that makes them resistant to spells and other magical effects.
How do you make a living spell?
If you’re talking about homebrewing a creature, view the above section. If you’re talking about in game, cast a spell inside of an area of strong magical energy and see what your DM does.