One of my favorite parts (and trust me, I have a lot) of D&D is that damage is never just damage. There are many different types of damage out there that spells and weapons can deal.
Even if the types don’t do anything on their own, they add such an important level of detail to the world.
Fire damage may not always burn its victims, cold damage may not always freeze things, but when you deal damage of any type, especially elemental damage, it just paints such a beautiful picture.
It’s that fine level of consideration the game designers have that really sells immersion for me.
Damage types also open up the door for all sorts of resistances and cool effects. There’s an amazing spell that feels like such a natural result of damage types, known as Absorb Elements. This spell is what we’re going to be focusing on today.
We’ll be telling you all about what exactly Absorb Elements does, how useful it is, and who can utilize it best.
Stick around and by the end of this article and you’ll be ready to decimate any attackers who even attempt to snare you up with some elemental damage.
1 reaction *
Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning, or Thunder
Artificer, Druid, Ranger, Sorcerer, Wizard
* made when you take acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage
The spell captures some of the incoming energy, lessening its effect on you and storing it for your next melee attack. You have resistance to the triggering damage type until the start of your next turn.
Also, the first time you hit with a melee attack on your next turn, the target takes an extra 1d6 damage of the triggering type, and the spell ends.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the extra damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 1st.
What is Absorb Elements?
Absorb Elements is a spell that allows you to reduce incoming damage of a specific type and then add that damage type to the next melee attack you make.
It’s a powerful 1st level spell that you cast as a reaction with only somatic components, which might be as simple as raising your hand out in front of you.
Reaction spells are really cool, they allow casters to have meaningful responses to things happening around them. Without spells like this, casters would just be looking at their spell lists and thinking about the next turn.
This specific spell is a very powerful reaction because it is extremely versatile. The five damage types listed make up half of the non-physical damages, and therefore account for a good majority of attacks that will be coming your way.
The fact that this spell encompasses each of these five “elemental” damage types, and isn’t split into Absorb Fire, Absorb Frost, etc. is what really seals the deal.
The resistance provided to you also lasts until the start of your next turn. That’s incredibly important because you could be easily misled into thinking it only protects you from the first attack of that damage type. In large battles against groups of similar enemies, this can mean resistance to several attacks.
Having this as one of your prepared spells means that in most fights you get into you’ll have a powerful spell to both protect you and dish out some damage. At the core, that’s what this spell is. It’s a spell that turns something harmful to you into something beneficial for you.
It’s also a spell that can be upcast by quite a lot, since it’s a 1st-level spell. As you grow stronger and more capable, you’ll be able to drop this at higher spell slots, with a 9th level spell slot providing you with 9d6 of a given damage type on your next melee attack.
Let’s talk about melee attacks. The wording here is very important. A common misconception for this spell is that it requires you to attack with a weapon. Since it doesn’t specifically state melee weapon attacks, that’s not the case. In reality, this can also be used for melee spell attacks.
So, a quick summary.
This spell gives you resistance to the damage type of an oncoming attack until the start of your next turn, and then allows you to make a powerful melee attack, with a spell or weapon, that deals extra damage of that type. Powerful indeed.
When and Where to Cast Absorb Elements?
An important thing to remember about Absorb Elements is that it dishes out the same type of damage that you were originally taking. While that’s incredibly straightforward, it leads to an interesting dilemma. A lot of creatures will have resistance to an element that they’re dishing out.
My go-to example when it comes to elemental discussion is a fight against an elemental.
If you’re toe to toe with a fire elemental and they touch you (yes, their attack is just a touch) then you should not react with Absorb Elements. Why? Because fire elementals are immune to fire damage. Sure, you’re picking up a resistance, but there are other ways to get that result.
Fire elementals are a pretty easy case. In fact, I was able to confidently write that paragraph before consulting a stat block to make sure I was right. Not all creatures’ resistances, immunities, and attacks are going to be so straightforward.
Since it would be insane to tell you to look up every single creature and memorize their resistances and immunities, I won’t do that. I will tell you to use some common sense before you go absorbing every damage type you can with this spell.
There are a couple of ways to use this properly and efficiently.
One way is to use this when you’re facing a variety of enemies. I’m not talking about five fire elementals either. A good example is going up against a magic user with some backup.
An evil mage with a few cultist henchmen is a prime example. That caster might send a powerful Lightning Bolt at you from a distance while you’re knee-deep in a group of cultists.
A situation like that is the perfect time to let Absorb Elements do its job, and wipe out a cultist in the process. You can’t be sure that whatever henchman doesn’t have resistance, but the weaker the fodder the more likely your attack will strike true.
The other way to make this spell work right every time is to test the waters. All of the classes that can take this spell can at least have a few other elemental spells prepared for the day. Using a spell with fire damage as a sample test on your opponents will let you recognize if they have resistance.
This isn’t always the case, some DMs are sneaky about damage, keeping all of the numbers behind the screen. But if you roll a 14 for damage and your DM says okay that’s 7 points of damage… that’s a pretty big clue.
Even if you can’t decipher your opponent’s defenses, packing some spells that deal varying damage types is a great way to ensure your effectiveness in any battle. Bonus points if those test spells are cantrips that you can rip off over and over without burning through any of your spell slots.
Who Should Take Absorb Elements?
This spell is on the list of quite a few casters, making it a possible option for quite a few different builds. I’d genuinely say it’s viable for most builds as well, since it is a very versatile spell of only 1st level. It doesn’t take up a lot of space on your spell list, and can be very powerful when applied properly.
You should take this spell if you’re going to benefit from both parts of it. The first part, gaining a temporary resistance, is easy. Most characters will benefit from that.
In fact, just about the only player character that wouldn’t benefit from that is a Path of the Totem Warrior barbarian that chose the bear totem at 3rd level. So we’re off to a good start.
Next up is making melee attacks. This is where it gets a bit more niche, with most casters typically taking a stance as ranged combatants. Especially at early levels, wizards and sorcerers tend to be pretty squishy.
Plus, even though this does work for melee spell attacks, those only make up about 3% of all spells. So we can’t really say this is great for casters who focus on melee spells either. This spell, then, sees the most utility when in the hands of someone who also wields a melee weapon.
Of course, any caster can use weapons, it’s just a matter of how likely they are to be a staple of your combat experience. Rangers and artificers land at the top of this list as half-casters.
Their entire character build as gish combatants means that most of their attacks are coming from weapons, with their spells supplementing them along the way.
Druids that make a heavy use of shillelagh take a solid third place. That one simple druid cantrip can shape an entire build and turn you into primarily a melee combatant.
Druid subclasses like circle of spores or wildfire that don’t focus on using wild shape for beast form can shine with the combination of shillelagh and absorb elements. Filling the rest of their spell list with other elemental spells makes for an exciting, visually stunning build.
As for wizards and sorcerers, there are many spells out there that will allow you to feel more in command of the elements. The only good reason to grab this is if you have a specific plan built around the combination of Absorb Elements with a melee spell.
Absorb elements is also a great candidate for multiclassed characters or soft multiclasses like the eldritch knight and the arcane trickster. Characters that are almost solely focused on martial combat don’t often use spells, it’s why they tend to have so few spell slots.
This is a great spell for a character like that because it is highly situational, just like their casting. Having it be one of the few spells the character knows is perfect because it allows them to be focused on melee combat and pull out the spell as necessary, on a reaction mind you.
They don’t even have to waste an action that they could be funneling into a powerful attack to benefit from this spell.
How Good is Absorb Elements 5e?
Absorb elements is an interesting spell. Since it isn’t incredibly powerful offensively, its main purpose is to give you a quick reactionary resistance. This is super helpful, but when you have only a few spell slots it can be hard to justify the casting. For this reason, it’s a spell that actually gets more powerful the higher of a level you are.
Spell slots, often even more so than damage, determine how powerful a spell is. Being an effective caster has a lot to do with knowing when to use your spell slots and when to save them. Absorb elements is a great example of a spell that begs to be used often.
In a more forgiving world, absorb elements would be a spell with a longer-lasting effect. It would give you resistance for a few rounds of combat, and it would deal more damage. In this world, it’s effective for a single turn of combat and has the potential to only help you resist one single attack.
It’s very much a spell you want to hold in your back pocket. If you get trigger happy with this spell and use it every time a triggering damage type comes at you, you won’t be a very happy camper after a few turns when you’ve dealt 11 damage and burned through four first-level spell slots.
When you’re at a lower level, even in second-tier play, this is even more true. Low-level spell slots are the backbone of your casting, with the higher slots coming out for big powerful moments here and there.
In higher tiers of play though, 1st-level spell slots are still a resource, but a much less valuable one. Resistance though? Resistance scales indefinitely. Resistance to a damage type, especially as a reaction, is going to feel just as helpful for a 1st level wizard as a 20th level wizard.
This makes Absorb Elements an amazing candidate for an 18th level wizard’s 1st-level spell choice in Spell Mastery. Being able to cast this without burning a spell slot means free resistance turn after turn, even if you never use a single melee attack.
Even when it does cost a spell slot, higher-level casters will get the incredible result of an easy resistance without having to sacrifice a higher spell slot. Just having this sitting on your spell list is like paying for damage insurance.
Spells Like Absorb Elements
Every spell that deals damage deals a damage of a specific type. So that part of this spell is as easy to find as flipping to a random page in the spells section of the PHB. Gaining resistance is a bit trickier though. Here are some spells that can provide that rare buff to you or possibly to some of your companions.
Protection from Energy, 3rd-level Abjuration
This concentration spell grants a willing creature you touch resistance to one damage type from the same set of damage types listed in absorb elements. This effect lasts for 1 hour, until you end the spell, or until your concentration breaks.
Protection from Poison, 2nd-level Abjuration
Along with other fun poison-related effects, this grants a willing creature you touch resistance to poison damage.
Fire Shield, 4th-level Evocation
This spell grants you resistance to either cold or fire damage for 10 minutes. It also deals damage to creatures who hit you with melee attacks, 2d8 of the damage type you didn’t gain resistance to.
This spell is really like a much better, if more specific, version of absorb elements.
Aura of Life, 4th-level Abjuration
This concentration spell creates a 30 ft aura centered on you that provides resistance to necrotic damage for all non-hostile creatures.
This isn’t a full list of spells that offer resistances, but they are some of the more exciting (or lower leveled) ones that are available. For more information on resistances, check out our article on the resistances, immunities, and vulnerabilities in 5e.
Absorb Elements is a great spell. Like all great spells, it isn’t the right spell for every caster out there. Think carefully about how you proceed in combat. Consider if there are 1st-level spells more important for you to cast. If not, grab this up and get ready to resist a whole lot of damage.
And as always, happy adventuring.