What Is Psychic Damage in 5e?
In Dungeons and Dragons, psychic damage is harnessed mental energy used to harm others. This damage type can be found in psionic weapons, mental powers, and many powerful spells.
While this is a great tool to have on your side, it’s also extremely dangerous, especially when it’s in the hands of some of the toughest creatures out there.
From telepathy to psychic lances, the power of the mind is a concept deeply explored in D&D 5e.
In fact, aside from straight-up magic, psionic abilities are probably the most common form of abilities that aren’t mundane.
One could even argue that if we didn’t just call every cool ability a spell, we might have a full roster of psychic powers.
As cool as moving things with your mind or reading the thoughts of another might be though, we’re here to talk about things that actually deal damage.
This brings up a really important thing to know about damage types.
They’re just damage types. There is nothing inherently tied to a damage type – no status conditions or secondary effects that are guaranteed to come up.
For psychic damage, this means that while we might be able to use our thoughts to control others or break the minds of our foes, the only guarantee is that we hurt someone.
Typically, when you’re trying to destroy a mob of enemies, that’s what counts.
At the end of the day, the only mechanical importance of psychic damage is that some creatures might be resistant or vulnerable to it.
Common Abilities That Come With Psychic Damage
Damage types may only matter when it comes to resistance, but that’s not the whole truth. In reality, we can see some patterns for most damage types that let us know what to expect.
Psychic damage isn’t as simple as fire damage having a tendency to burn things, but let’s see what we can gather.
First off, we should understand that psychic damage always deals with the mind. Either it targets a foe’s mind or is some sort of focused mental energy.
Vicious Mockery is a great example of attacking someone’s mental faculties. Just insulting someone is enough to actually deal some significant damage. Say no to bullying, kids.
On the other side of this, we have a Soul Knife rogue’s titular blades made of harnessed psionic energy. Aside from the ability to create these blades at will, they aren’t anything more than really cool weapons.
So let’s look at vicious mockery in a bit more depth. It’s a cantrip, which means we’re seeing the low end of what a psychic spell can really do.
Still, it gives your target disadvantage on the next attack roll it makes before your next turn. In insulting your foe, you’ve not only managed to deal damage to them, but you’ve also shaken them up to a point that they’re off balance.
Not every psychic damage-dealing ability is going to cause disadvantage, but the theme is going to hold mostly true.
In psychic spells and attacks, we tend to see abilities that weaken our targets’ minds.
This makes a lot of sense. We’re not just dealing damage to them, we are often literally damaging their mind or their psyche.
This definitely gives us a theme to work with, but it’s still kind of vague. What does it all mean?
Well, much like an insult might cause you to blunder your next attack, when you take damage to your mind, you tend to be worse at doing things. After all, your mind is generally in control of your body.
Another great source (not so great if you’re a player) of psychic damage is the famous Mind Flayer.
This race of hive-minded, telepathic, mind-controlling creatures are absolutely essential to thinking about this damage type. Going up against them means a very real chance of having your brain extracted (which yes, will kill you).
They are so full of psionic energy that even just grappling you with their tentacles can deal psychic damage. That’s not good because it sets you up to have your brain sucked out and served with a nice Chianti.
Their other attack, a mind blast, deals our favorite damage type and stuns you. Again, this is an instance of psychic abilities making it harder to do things.
In this case, since mind flayers are so powerful, the effect that comes along with the damage is completely incapacitating.
Not every psychic damage you take is going to come with some form of debilitating effect, but that’s definitely something you might want to anticipate if you hear the word cross your DM’s lips.
An even better tell is if you are forced to make a saving throw. A bad roll followed by an “ooh” from your Dungeon Master is probably a pretty good sign that you’re in for a bad time.
How Good Is Psychic Damage?
Psychic is a damage type that fits right in the middle as far as the numbers are concerned.
When we talk about how good a damage type is, we’re typically concerned with how many creatures resist it. By that metric, it ranks as the 5th least-resisted damage in 5e.
Of course, things aren’t quite that simple. Weighing damage resistances is a bit complicated because it’s treating all of the 5e monsters as if they were equally likely to show up in a campaign.
The fact is, because of popularity and published adventures, mind flayers and beholders are a lot more likely to show up than more obscure creatures like rakshasas or monodrones.
But then, not all creatures that deal psychic damage are resistant to it, and vice versa. This isn’t Pokemon after all.
In fact, the opposite is more often true since many monster species have some form of lore regarding infighting.
What’s really insane about psychic damage is the way more creatures are immune to it than resist it.
That means that while there are a little over 40 creatures that take half damage, there are 81 creatures that are completely unaffected by this damage type.
Those numbers might seem insane, but they’re a bit skewed. Constructs make up 61 of those with immunity.
That’s probably the most predictable immunity you can account for in all of D&D 5e, so if we just don’t include it, psychic damage becomes a whole lot more effective.
Avoiding most constructs with your psychic spells shifts the placing of this within the ranks of the other damage types, down to the fourth least resisted.
That might seem much better, but it’s half as resisted as the now 5th-ranked acid damage.
All together, about 4% of all published 5e creatures are resistant or immune to psychic damage.
How likely are those 4% to show up? Well that depends on your DM and your campaign setting. I’d say chances are if you have psychic-type attacks, you’ll be able to deal your full damage most of the time.
Which Spells Deal Psychic Damage?
As of writing this article, there are only 18 spells that deal psychic damage. Luckily, these have a really nice level spread, being found from cantrips all the way up to 9th-level spells.
If you’re looking to harness the power of your mind, here are your options.
I’ve even selected a few of my favorites to explain below the list. Check them out, and add them to your arsenal.
- Mind Sliver – Enchantment Cantrip
- Vicious Mockery – Enchantment Cantrip
- Chaos Bolt – 1st-level Evocation
- This spell can deal several damage types; psychic is just one of them.
- Dissonant Whispers – 1st-level Enchantment
- Wrathful Smite – 1st-level Evocation
- Mind Spike – 1st-level Divination
- Phantasmal Force – 2nd-level Illusion
- Shadow Blade – 2nd-level Illusion
- Tasha’s Mind Whip – 2nd-level Enchantment
- Phantasmal Killer – 4th-level Illusion
- Raulothim’s Psychic Lance – 4th-level Enchantment
- Staggering Smite – 4th-level Evocation
- Synaptic Static – 5th-level Enchantment
- Mental Prison – 6th-level Illusion
- Feeblemind – 8th-level Enchantment
- Maddening Darkness – 8th-level Evocation
- Psychic Scream – 9th-level Enchantment
- Weird – 9th-level Illusion
Tasha’s Mind Whip
This second-level spell deals 3d6 of psychic damage, which is nothing to scoff at. It’s what comes next that’s really cool.
The target can’t take any reactions until the end of its next turn, and on its next turn it has to choose between moving, taking an action, or taking a bonus action.
This isn’t quite as effective as actually stunning a creature or causing some other beefy status condition, but for a second-level spell, this is an incredible amount of usefulness.
Its availability to both wizards and sorcerers makes it a great candidate for things like twinned spell or spell mastery.
Raulothim’s Psychic Lance
This spell has the ability to deal 7d6 psychic damage and incapicitate your foe. That’s cool and all, and it’s perfectly expected of a 4th-level spell.
What makes this more interesting is that you can name your target instead of just choosing one via sight. So long as your named target is in range, you have a lock.
There are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to see your target. Blindness, cover, invisibility and more can all prevent you from having a target for most spells.
This spell means that you don’t just have to fire off AOE spells until you get lucky enough to attack an unseen target. Even if you don’t care about psychic damage, this spell is invaluable.
Feeblemind is probably one of my favorite spells, because it is absolutely terrifying. It’s an 8th-level spell that only deals 4d6 damage. What’s the catch?
On a failed Intelligence save, the target’s intelligence and charisma are both reduced to 1. If that weren’t enough, the creature can’t cast spells, activate magic items, understand language, or communicate in any intelligible way.
That’s pretty rough, right? I mean, that takes your target almost out of the game for a couple turns or so. But wait, this isn’t a concentration spell.
This spell lasts for a minimum of 30 days at which time they can attempt the saving throw again. Good luck on an INT saving throw with a modifier of -5.
This spell is ridiculously powerful, and it can put an entire combat to a swift end.
Don’t waste it on a creature with legendary resistance, and make sure to cast some debuffs on your target before you let this one rip, and you are golden.
What Else Deals Psychic Damage in 5e?
While there are a lot of different psionic abilities gifted to characters through races and subclasses, there are only a few that actually deal any form of psychic damage.
These abilities are rare for a reason though, as each one is incredibly powerful, and a multiclass build can be downright insane.
Surprisingly, the Psi-Warrior only deals extra force damage (which is still amazing), and the Aberrant Mind sorcerer is much more focused on spells than it is dealing any sort of extra damage.
Both are great subclasses in their own right, but they’re not what we’re looking for.
Below is a list of subclasses and abilities that make you toxic to the mind. I’ve only omitted the Oathbreaker paladin because it doesn’t get a psychic damage dealing ability until its capstone feature.
Soul Knife Rogue
This roguish archetype harnesses psionic energy in plenty of incredible ways. From teleportation to invisibility, there’s a lot that makes this an amazing subclass.
Perhaps the most unique feature of this subclass is its Psionic Blades.
These blades, made of pure psychic energy, can be conjured up at any time and deal 1d6 (or 1d4 for the secondary blade) psychic damage.
Since most rogues pride themselves in being incredibly stealthy, the ability to have blades that don’t even need to be concealed is invaluable.
Rebuke of the Talisman and Maddening Hex are the invocations to grab up if you’re looking for psychic damage in your warlock build.
Rebuke of the Talisman allows you to deal psychic damage as a reaction when someone attacks the wearer of your talisman. Naturally it’s only available to those who take the talisman pact boon.
Maddening Hex allows you to deal damage to the target of your curse (either through Hex or a warlock class feature) and any surrounding creatures.
The ranger subclass of Fey Wanderer gets psychic damage immediately. Whenever you make weapon attacks, you can deal extra psychic damage to each target you hit once per turn.
This makes a great case for sitting back with a bow and arrow and launching your attacks at different targets.
College of Whispers Bard
Students of this bardic college have learned how to channel their bardic inspiration into extra psychic damage on their weapon attacks.
This has a pretty incredible curve rivaling sneak attack that goes from 2d6 all the way to 8d6 at 15th level.
Considering that bards have access to a lot of the spells listed above, this is a great way to make a psionic build.
Oath of Conquest
This paladin’s aura frightens creatures. If those frightened creatures have the misfortune of starting their turn inside the aura, they’ll be looking at psychic damage equal to half your paladin level.
Admittedly, this is a pretty rare occurrence based on how frightened works in 5e. If you want to deal this bonus damage, you’ll have to really take the conquest motif to heart.
Order of Scribes Wizard
Okay, technically, this doesn’t have a feature that explicitly mentions psychic damage. What it does have is the ability to swap the damage of a spell you’re casting for the damage type of another spell you have that is the same level.
This lets you turn some of your powerful AOE spells into psychic spells in a method that is ripe for really flavorful descriptions.
Great Old One Warlock
The great old one’s expanded spell lists has some of the spells listed above that a warlock wouldn’t typically have access to along with some great psionic (but not psychic dealing) abilities.
It’s just a really great class if you’re more interested in the psychic theme than the psychic damage, and it also works great as a multiclass with the College of Whispers, especially if you take the pact of the blade.
Psychic damage is a really cool damage type. It’s unique in not having a clear counterpart among the rest of the types, and it certainly leads the way for some really impressive abilities.
I hope you get the chance to play some form of psionic build sometime soon, and as always, happy adventuring.