Color Spray in DnD 5e: Dazzling (& Deadly) Illusion Magic

A stream of brightly colored sand falls between the mage’s fingers. As a torrent of arcane syllables tumble from her lips, the sand flares like phosphorous, arcing outwards toward the oncoming goblin warband. 

For a moment, dazzling shades of blue, pink, green, violet, red, yellow, and searing white fill the cave; even the mage’s companions must shield their eyes from the glare. When it fades (as suddenly as it began), the mage’s fellow adventurers find that the half dozen murderous goblin warriors they were facing down have been replaced by a whimpering, terrified pile of blinded creatures, fumbling around them in confusion. Helpless.  

The mage gestures for the rogue and fighter to step forward with a courtly bow. “They’re all yours. Better hurry up before it wears off.”

Today we’re going to be talking about one of the most powerful, unexpectedly deadly 1st-level spells available to spellcasters in Dungeons & Dragons 5e: Color Spray. We’re going to break down what this spell does, why it’s great, and how you can use it to effectively end a combat encounter before it’s begun.

Color Spray

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: Self (15 ft)
  • Duration: 1 round
  • School: Illusion
  • Class: Sorcerer, Wizard
  • Level: 1st
  • Damage/Effect: Blinded
  • Attack/Save: Constitution Save
  • Components: V, S, M (pinch of powder or sand that is colored red, yellow, and blue)
  • Concentration: No

You emit a dazzling blast of multicolored light from the palm of your hand. Roll 6d10; the total result rolled equals the number of hit points this spell can affect. Creatures in a 15-foot cone originating from you are affected in ascending order of their current hit points (ignoring unconscious creatures and creatures that can’t see).

Starting with the creature that has the lowest current hit points, each creature affected by this spell is blinded until the end of your next turn. Subtract each creature’s hit points from the total before moving on to the creature with the next lowest hit points. A creature’s hit points must be equal to or less than the remaining total for that creature to be affected. 

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, roll an additional 2d10 for each slot level above 1st.

Source: Basic Rules pg. 222

How Does Color Spray Work? 

Color Spray lets the caster potentially affect up to seven enemies (the number of medium-sized creatures that fit inside a 15-foot cone), blinding them until the end of your next turn. 

The number of creatures affected is determined by the total hit points you roll when casting the spell, which are determined by rolling 6d10. Start with the lowest hit point creature within the area of effect (disregarding any blind, eyeless, or unconscious enemies), subtracting their hit points from the total rolled. Then, go on to the next until you no longer have enough hit points left in your pool to blind the next creature. 

This means you are much more likely to blind a low-hit-point creature than one with a larger hit-point pool (unless it’s already damaged). This can severely limit the effectiveness of the spell against more powerful creatures. 

Because it doesn’t deal any damage, only lasts a round, and is more or less negated by tanky enemies, Color Spray is often underestimated by players who would rather pick up something with strong damage like Thunderwave. However, while it can be tricky to pull off (and also relies a little more on the overall composition of your party) the real power of Color Spray lies in the benefits granted by the blinded condition. 

How Does the Blinded Condition Work?

A blinded creature (either permanently or temporarily) loses their ability to see. Note that creatures that don’t rely on their eyes to see are immune to the blinded condition and the effects of Color Ray

  • A blinded creature can’t see and automatically fails any ability check that requires sight.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s attack rolls have disadvantage.

Basically, if you want to escape a charging pack of wolves, momentarily disorient a gaggle of cultists, or prevent the evil wizard from targeting their next spell, Color Spray is a great way to do it. This is especially effective if you have allies in your party who rely on or especially benefit from having advantage on their attack rolls. 

Also, “any check that requires sight” is a pretty broad criterion. Dodging a deadfall trap or a falling net or spotting your quarry in a crowd are all going to be rendered more or less impossible. Also, most AoE spells, like Fireball (anything with a Dexterity saving throw, really) rely on sight to avoid, and therefore, you could probably argue that Color Spray is a great way to tee up some enemies for a guaranteed failure and, therefore, full damage.  

Who Can Cast Color Spray? 

Only wizards and sorcerers can cast Color Spray as part of their standard spell list, making it one of the more exclusive spells in the game. Other subclasses that cast spells from the wizard and sorcerer spell lists, like the Arcane Trickster rogue or the Eldritch Knight fighter can also select this spell, although it’s nowhere near as effective when cast by a character who isn’t a full spellcaster (for reasons I’ll go into more in a minute). 

Bards were given access to Color Spray by the additional bard spells rules update in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. This is still technically optional material and depends on whether your GM uses the material found in TCoE at their table.

If you’re not a wizard or sorcerer (or other arcane caster with access to their spell list) and you want to get your hands on Color Spray as a way to inflict mass temporary blindness, you can do so by taking a Feat that grants you access to 1st-level spells like Magic Initiate. You could also seek out spell scrolls, a ring of spell storing, or magical tattoos that let you fire off spells without necessarily knowing how to cast them yourself. 

I think who does and doesn’t have access to Color Spray (druids, clerics, paladins, etc.) makes pretty good thematic sense; the magical manipulation of dazzling beams of light more akin to the lasers at a Pink Floyd concert than anything from the pages of an epic fantasy novel feels wizard-ey in the most 1980s, blacklight poster-having, custom unicron paint job panel van-driving sense of the word. Casting it feels like it should be accompanied by a 20-minute keyboard solo and the hiss of a smoke machine. 

*Hawkwind intensifies*

This spell actually hails from the earliest editions of D&D and was part of an Illusionist spell supplement published in the very first issue of Dragon magazine in 1976. It may be a matter of nostalgia for a childhood I never experienced, but there’s something about the Color Spray spell that always felt really emblematic of old-school Dungeons and Dragons in a way that other, more timeless incantations did not. Basically, in OD&D and B/X, if you blinded or put an enemy to sleep, there was nothing to stop you from just walking up to them and cutting their throat, meaning that this relatively simple incantation could effectively end a fight as soon as it started — barring the grim work of wandering around stabbing defenseless cultists for five minutes. 

In 5e, Color Spray obviously isn’t as effective, but it’s still a woefully underappreciated 1st-level spell that can turn the tide of a fight in no time. 

Should I Take Sleep or Color Spray? 

Much like the spell Sleep (another absolute favorite of mine for eliminating enemies quickly and subtly), Color Spray is ostensibly a nonlethal disabler spell that can debilitate your enemies, making it harder for them to attack you and easier for you to attack them. You roll a fistful of d10s, and then (without saving) a certain number of creatures within your 15-foot cone may end up going blind for 10 seconds. 

Now, while Sleep may be a stronger option for stealth missions where you need to take people out silently one at a time or when you want to polish off a bunch of already weakened enemies, Color Spray serves a slightly different function. It’s probably not going to allow you to maintain your cover, but it can certainly serve to ensure you gain the element of surprise. 

Think of Sleep as the D&D equivalent of a rag soaked in chloroform. Well, Color Spray is the D&D equivalent of a flashbang grenade. It’s not exactly subtle, and it’s not going to kill anyone by itself, but used correctly, it will give you and your allies a huge advantage over your enemies. 

When Should I Cast Color Spray? 

When you’re trying to decide the best moment to use Color Spray, try asking some of the following questions: 

Are my enemies grouped up? Color Spray is a spell that works best against larger groups of enemies and has a relatively short range and awkward footprint of effect. Make sure as many targets are in range as possible before you let fly. 

Are my enemies weak enough? The biggest problem with one-third-casters like the Arcane Trickster taking Color Spray is that they don’t gain access to the spell until higher levels when there’s no guarantee that the enemies they are facing will have small enough hit-point pools to be affected. This spell works best against large groups of low-hit-point enemies (goblins, kobolds, etc.), which will ensure that the least number of hit points rolled are wasted because they weren’t enough to knock out the next enemy in line. 

If you think you can take out a few enemies (i.e., their collective hit points don’t add up to much higher than 30 — which can be a tricky bit of guesswork if your DM rolls for hp), then by all means fire away. If not, then softening them up with an AoE damage effect like Thunderwave (or even just a trusty flaming oil flask) can be a good first step. 

Are my allies in position to take advantage? This is a spell that works best when it’s the opening salvo in a series of deadly attacks. Whenever your fellow party members are at their most deadly is when you’re going to want to fire off this spell. 

Common Questions About Sleep

We get a lot of questions here at the Citadel, so we gathered the four most common ones and answered them here.

You’re welcome.

Does Color Spray Deal Damage? 

No. Color Spray only blinds the creatures it affects until the end of the caster’s next turn. However, they’re likely to take more damage from other sources during that time thanks to attack rolls against blinded enemies having advantage. 

Does Color Spray Affect Allies? 

Yes. Unless specifically stated, any area-of-effect spell affects all the creatures within its range. The sorcerer’s Careful Spell metamagic option could be used to shield allies from its effects. 

Can You Save Against Color Spray? 

There is no saving throw against Color Spray, as whether the spell works or not depends on the affected creature’s or creatures’ hit points and cannot be saved against.