If you’ve spent any time playing D&D, you know that traps can really get your heart racing. The sense of danger and never knowing what lies around the next corner – it can really make an adventure exciting.
Well, today we’re going to talk about a spell that puts that power into the hands of players. It’s not just the DM that can set up traps anymore. No, players are just as capable with a simple Glyph of Warding spell.
Glyph of Warding
- Casting Time: 1 hour
- Range: Touch
- Duration: Until dispelled or triggered
- School: Abjuration
- Class: Bard, Cleric, Wizard, Artificer
- Level: 3rd level
- Damage/Effect: Fire, Acid, Cold, Lightning, Thunder / Control
- Attack/Save: Dexterity
- Components: V, S, M (Incense and powdered diamond worth at least 200 gp, which the spell consumes)
When you cast this spell, you inscribe a glyph that later unleashes a magical effect. You inscribe it either on a surface or within an object that can be closed to conceal the glyph.
The glyph can cover an area no larger than 10 feet in diameter. If the surface or object is moved more than 10 feet from where you cast this spell, the glyph is broken, and the spell ends without being triggered.
The glyph is nearly invisible and requires a successful Investigation check against your spell-save DC to be found.
You decide what triggers the glyph when you cast the spell.
For glyphs inscribed on a surface, the most typical triggers include touching or standing on the glyph, removing another object covering the glyph, approaching within a certain distance of the glyph, or manipulating the object on which the glyph is inscribed.
For glyphs inscribed within an object, the most common triggers include opening that object, approaching within a certain distance of the object, or seeing or reading the glyph. Once a glyph is triggered, this spell ends.
You can further refine the trigger so the spell activates only under certain circumstances or according to physical characteristics (such as height or weight), creature kind (for example, the ward could be set to affect aberrations or drow), or alignment.
You can also set conditions for creatures that don’t trigger the glyph, such as those who say a certain password.
When you inscribe the glyph, choose explosive runes or a spell glyph.
When triggered, the glyph erupts with magical energy in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on the glyph. The sphere spreads around corners. Each creature in the area must make a Dexterity-saving throw.
A creature takes 5d8 acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage on a failed saving throw (your choice when you create the glyph) or half as much damage on a successful one.
You can store a prepared spell of 3rd level or lower in the glyph by casting it as part of creating the glyph. The spell must target a single creature or an area. The spell being stored has no immediate effect when cast in this way.
When the glyph is triggered, the stored spell is cast. If the spell has a target, it targets the creature that triggered the glyph. If the spell affects an area, the area is centered on that creature.
If the spell summons hostile creatures or creates harmful objects or traps, they appear as close as possible to the intruder and attack it. If the spell requires concentration, it lasts until the end of its full duration.
At Higher Levels
When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the damage of an explosive runes glyph increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 3rd.
If you create a spell glyph, you can store any spell of up to the same level as the slot you use for the glyph of warding.
What Is a Glyph of Warding?
Glyphs are runes, sigils, or any other pictographic language often associated with spells.
In the context of this specific spell, a warding glyph is a magical trap that, when triggered, can either explode and deal a lot of damage or create the effects of just about any other spell.
Normally I cut out a decent amount of “fluff” from a spell’s description when I write it out in these articles.
You’ll notice that this spell still has a rather robust description, and that’s because so much of it is incredibly useful. That’s also because this spell can do so much.
At its core, this is a triggered spell that takes you an hour to cast and then lasts almost indefinitely.
There are a few ways for it to be dispelled without being triggered, but typically this spell will stay in place until something causes it to react.
When it does finally trigger, there are two things that can happen.
It can either explode, causing an effect similar to a fireball but with a bit less damage and a lot more options on which damage you’re dealing.
The second possibility is that you stored another spell in the glyph, which will trigger accordingly.
So, how does a glyph of warding work? Well, let’s break it down into those sections to make it a little bit easier to digest.
Casting Glyph of Warding
Casting it requires an hour of your time, so you won’t be casting this in the middle of combat. That time is spent drawing out the glyph and fueling your magical energy into it. How exactly you do that is up to you.
The casting of the spell takes up a lot of the spell’s description since there are so many ways that you can place your glyph. You decide whether your glyph is drawn on a surface or on the inside of some sort of object.
Basically, the only restriction to creating your glyph is that it can only cover a circle that is 10 feet in diameter. So, you could draw a giant glyph or something small and inconspicuous. The details are up to you.
Triggering a Glyph of Warding
The actual triggering of a glyph of warding also has a lot of rules text, but all of these are just examples rather than restrictions.
The spell states some common ways to trigger but doesn’t go as far to say that any triggers are off the table. In fact, it almost goes out of its way to tell you that you can basically make anything the trigger.
If you want someone walking nearby the glyph to set it off, that makes perfect sense. If you want to have the glyph only respond to a specific word, be our guest.
You can set some really specific conditions if you don’t want to take any chances.
The spell states that you can specify creature kinds (goblins, drow, whatever), but there’s nothing to say that you can’t name a specific individual.
It basically says that you can trigger in response to any sort of creature that you can specify and any sort of action that you specify.
The basic triggers are proximity when you draw it on a surface and opening when you draw it on the inside of an object, but don’t let that hold you back.
Don’t go so specific that it will never trigger, but you have the power to make it trigger when, and only when, you want it to.
It even gives you the option to make a sort of anti-trigger. You can specify certain creatures that it won’t go off for, make a password, or any other way you want to keep your allies safe.
Passwords are certainly going to be the easiest here, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can do.
Now we’re getting into what this spell can actually do. The explosive runes version of this spell is a pretty straightforward damage dealer.
It even gives you a nice selection of damage types to choose from, meaning you can customize this for when you’re dealing with certain creatures whose resistances you are aware of.
This gets interesting when you start to stack it up against the spells that you can put into a glyph of warding.
For example, if you’re going to have this deal fire damage, you’re better off just attaching a fireball instead. It’s not a huge difference, but 8d6 is going to do more than 5d8.
That example works well because both situations deal fire damage in a 20-foot sphere.
If we start looking at other damage types, we might have to settle for a stranger area size when picking a spell, making the explosive runes an attractive choice.
By far the coolest part of this spell is the ability to put other spells inside of it. Now, this is a doozy, so buckle up.
You can essentially place any spell that you have prepared into a glyph of warding since spells that don’t affect a single target or area are far and few between.
This spell basically functions like a Ring of Spell Storing that can hold a single spell. That spell triggers based on whatever strange condition you program into the glyph and can be of whatever level you cast your glyph of warding at.
You don’t even need to expend a spell slot on the second spell. In a strange way, your glyph functions as a sort of delayed response casting of whatever spell you store in it.
So! Which spells can we store in it?
Well, basically anything that doesn’t specifically target multiple creatures or objects.
That’s not a lot of spells considering that multiple targets either happen because a spell targets a range or happen as a result of an upcast single target spell.
This means that we have options – a lot of them.
We’ll go into how to use this below, but first, let’s just cover how the spells work.
Single-target spells are going to target whatever triggered the glyph.
The spell doesn’t specify how attack rolls work, but it’s safe to assume that it uses your spell-attack bonuses for any rolls made or your spell-save DC for any saving throws.
I genuinely think they just ran out of room for that specification when writing the novel that is this spell.
Area effects are centered on the triggering creature or object as well. Again, any saving throws that your attached spell requires will be based on your spellcasting ability.
Summoning spells are completely fair game, so naturally there are rules for that as well. The spell’s description tells us that the summoned creatures, objects, or traps appear as close to the trigger as possible and are hostile toward it.
Then we come to the piece that makes glyphs so incredibly useful, as if everything else about this spell wasn’t already insane.
If you have your spell glyph produce a concentration spell, it requires no concentration. The spell simply lasts until the end of its longest possible duration.
While that’s going to commonly be used for buffs/debuffs that you don’t want to waste your concentration on, there are some insane implications here.
If you were to put a wall of stone inside a glyph of warding it would last until the end of its duration and then become permanent!
That’s insane, and that’s not the only spell with a ridiculous prize for holding concentration.
Who Should Use Glyph of Warding?
Using a glyph of warding as a player isn’t impossible, but it isn’t very common.
DMs are typically the ones laying traps since most villains have lairs where they can do that kind of thing.
For players, this spell makes the most sense if you’re the kind of person to set up ambushes or if you are going to end up defending your own stronghold or base.
While there are hundreds of uses for this spell, there’s only one way to cast the spell.
If you aren’t going to be stationary for a period of time, then it just makes more sense to cast a normal damage-dealing spell or whatever other spell you might’ve been storing.
So, characters that are going to be stationary for periods of time can get a lot of value out of this spell.
If you’re going to be setting up a stronghold or home base or defending any sort of position, you can spend a few days setting up a variety of glyphs of warding and making the environment deadly for any intruders.
If you want to use this to step up more short-term traps, that’s entirely within your rights as well. Maybe your campaign involves a lot of tracking people down, like working for some sort of bounty-hunter’s guild.
If you have a good idea about where someone’s going to be, you can drop a glyph down in an hour, and then just wait.
Of course, this spell isn’t useless for your standard adventuring party. Even regular dungeon delving can provide you the opportunity to lay some traps.
Rather than over relying on a Leomund’s Tiny Hut, you can set some magical traps around you before taking a long rest.
Dungeon Master’s Tool
A glyph of warding is, at the end of the day, a tool for dungeon masters to do some insane things.
It’s a simple, in-game justification for your BBEG to have 20 or so buff spells on them at any given time. It’s also one of the coolest ways to make some traps that aren’t your standard pitfalls and falling boulders.
This spell is essentially a simple if/then statement. You put a trigger condition that can be as simple or detailed as you want and then set up what the response is going to be with very few limits on what either of those can be.
Once you have it set up, you let your players loose in the dungeon and let chaos reign.
Since this spell requires an active investigation check, it’s not necessarily something your players will be able to find.
You might want to give some clues or put a smaller trap in the beginning of a dungeon to let them know a little bit of what’s in store.
Then, it’s all up to how dangerous you want to make your dungeon.
With a spell that’s complicated enough to set up an actual turing complete computer within your game, reminiscent of Minecraft’s redstone computers or the MTG turing complete deck, you get the idea.
Let’s just say that if you can build a computer with this spell, there’s not much you can’t do with it.
Sure, you may need several glyphs in place, but your BBEG has had years to set up their lair; there’s no telling how much protective magic they have lying around.
Spells To Use With a Glyph of Warding
We’ve discussed that you can put just about any spell inside of a spell glyph, but which kind of spells are best?
Some categories to think about are buffs, health, traps, and damage. You should also keep in mind that concentration spells get a huge value boost when put inside of a glyph.
Buffs are any spells that are going to make you or your allies stronger.
Things like a Fire Shield, which gives resistance to damage and deals damage to anyone who would attack you at close range, or Haste, which doubles your speed along with some other nice bonuses, are great spells to have lying around.
Essentially, you could just set up quite a few support spells like this that can be triggered by a password during combat so you can have way more buffs than you’d normally get.
There are a lot of healing spells available to the cleric, with a decent amount leftover for bard and some in the wizard and artificer spell lists.
With a glyph of warding, these follow the same concept that a buff would. You or your allies can easily heal without needing to pull someone’s attention for a whole turn.
Traps are probably the most common way to set this up. While the normal definition of trap in D&D tends to include damaging effects, I’m pretty much just talking about things that can trap someone.
The spell Forcecage quite literally would trap an intruder inside of a cage. Then there are things like Wall of Stone that become a little bit more permanent.
There are so many more options; it just takes a little bit of creativity to figure out what will work best for your situation.
Lastly, we have damaging spells. You can easily use the explosive runes to deal some generic damage, but most spells you can store in a glyph will have some additional effects or deal more damage.
Something like a Black Tentacles spell would be absolutely terrifying for someone who just happened to walk into a room.
They’d take damage and more than likely be restrained, or a Tidal Wave could knock intruders prone while dealing damage to them.
Of course, there’s always a Fireball, which, as we discussed, deals more damage than an explosive rune anyways.
There are few limits on what sort of damage you want to deal. You may need to upcast your glyph of warding to get some really powerful spells into it, but it will be well worth it.
So that’s a glyph of warding. It’s probably one of the most complicated spells in all of D&D because unlike most spells, it has very few constraints.
If you’re a player, watch out for these in your DM’s dungeons, and try to take advantage of it whenever possible. If you’re a DM, have fun, and try not to make life too hard for your players.
As always, happy adventuring.
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.