Phantasmal Force 5e Spell Guide: Full User Guide & Examples

Phantasmal Force       

  • Casting Time: 1action       
  • Range: A 10-foot cube within 60 feet      
  • Duration: Concentration, 1 minute    
  • School: Illusion    
  • Class: Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard, Some Warlocks     
  • Level: 2nd    
  • Damage/Effect: Psychic   
  • Attack/Save: Intelligence Save      
  • Components: V, S, M (a bit of fleece), Concentration

From the Player’s Handbook, p, 264

Spell Description

You craft an illusion that takes root in the mind of a creature that you can see within range. The target must make an Intelligence saving throw.

On a failed save, you create a phantasmal object, creature, or other visible phenomenon of your choice that is no larger than a 10-foot cube and that is perceivable only to the target for the duration.

This spell has no effect on undead or constructs.

The phantasm includes sound, temperature, and other stimuli also evident only to the creature.

The target can use its action to examine the phantasm with an Intelligence (Investigation) check against your spell-save DC. If the check succeeds, the target realizes that the phantasm is an illusion, and the spell ends.

While a target is affected by the spell, the target treats the phantasm as if it were real. The target rationalizes any illogical outcomes from interacting with the phantasm.

For example, a target attempting to walk across a phantasmal bridge that spans a chasm falls once it steps onto the bridge.

If the target survives the fall, it still believes that the bridge exists and comes up with some other explanation for its fall – it was pushed, it slipped, or a strong wind might have knocked it off.

An affected target is so convinced of the phantasm’s reality that it can even take damage from the illusion. A phantasm created to appear as a creature can attack the target.

Similarly, a phantasm created to appear as fire, a pool of acid, or lava can burn the target.

Each round on your turn, the phantasm can deal 1d6 psychic damage to the target if it is in the phantasm’s area or within 5 feet of the phantasm, provided that the illusion is of a creature or hazard that could logically deal damage, such as by attacking.

The target perceives the damage as a type appropriate to the illusion.

Is Phantasmal Force Worth Having?

While at first this spell may seem complicated and difficult, the truth is that this spell and others like it are the most easily interpreted spells to use and visualize.

This is “magic” in the most literary of ways. It can do whatever you want.

This spell is limited only by your wits in a quick-thinking situation. To be honest, though, the damage is negligible. 1d6 psychic damage is nice, but it generally isn’t enough to swing the fight in your favor.

If you can’t think of a way to use magic outside of just blasting critters to bits with your staff of blowing-things-up, this spell is not for you.

If, however, you love being able to stretch your use of magic to the limit and play with your target’s heart, mind, and soul, this should be one of those keystone spells for which your character is known.

When To Use This Spell

Being an Illusion spell, it can change any battlefield, any conversation, and any boring night by yourself while you are supposed to be on watch.

This spell has the Damage, Control, and Deception tags, meaning it can be used for any of those purposes.

By Damage, the spell is simply referring to the 1d6 psychic damage caused by interacting with the illusion once the target fails their save, but again, 1d6 is not much. So this should not be your go-to damage spell.

That little 1d6 of psychic damage can serve a dual purpose. Let’s keep it simple and say you create an illusion of a wizard’s chemistry set exploding. And let’s say that wizard also fails her INT save.

That 1d6 psychic damage they take from the “fire” can also serve to reinforce the illusion.

As DMs, many of us here at the Citadel would take that damage and also apply it as a penalty on the wizard’s next saving throw against the illusion.

We just love making things harder for the NPCs. It warms our blackened little hearts.

By Control, the description means you can use it to control or influence the actions of a single target in a tactical way.

This use far surpasses any damage-dealing capability and instead functions to force the enemy to move in a predictable way, thus allowing you and the rest of your party to enact some heinous plan.

By Deception, the description means the very simple fact that this spell only works if you intend to deceive your target.

On the battlefield, you can use this spell to place a boulder the rogue can hide behind, cause a fire to seemingly block off an escape route, or spill a mass of writhing snakes from the ceiling to make a target panic.

Consider using this spell to cover a trap of some sort, like a carpet of caltrops.

The target can not only step on the caltrops and take that damage, but they can also look down and see the illusion that the caltrops are actually spiders in their mind.

The damage from the caltrop reinforces the idea they were bitten, and they could possibly take an additional 1d6 psychic damage from the phantasmal spiders.

If you are being chased, you can make an illusion of yourself turning a corner while you are doing something totally dignified like hiding in a dumpster.

You could hop a fence and then cast this illusion to top the fence with razor wire and machine gun turrets.

If at any point the target fails their INT save and believes these things to be real, they can take 1d6 psychic damage as proof that it is real.

Remember, though, they can only take this damage if they interact with the illusion, meaning those machine guns won’t fire until your target is within the 10-foot cube.

If you are having tea with the queen and the bard says something completely inappropriate, you can make a phantasm of that bard’s voice apologizing to the queen and promising to atone at the temple after their meeting.

Only the queen will hear this voice, so the bard will continue as their usually charming self without reproach.

A List of Skills To Use Phantasmal Force in Combination With

Animal Handling. If you are trying to influence an animal’s behavior, you can:

  • Use an image of fire or the smell of smoke to make a horse bolt.
  • Use the smell of blood or meat to attract a predator away from your location.
  • Use the image of a loved one or former trainer to calm an animal.

Deception. This one is fairly obvious. By weaving the illusion into your lie, you can easily deceive a person. After all, seeing is believing, is it not?

Insight. Perhaps you can replay a memory for all to see, allowing you to study it from a different angle and reach more and deeper conclusions.

Intimidation. Like Deception, it is easier to intimidate someone when they see literal fiery wings emanate from your back and feel the heat from your breath.

Performance. A little special effects go a long way!

Persuasion. What is the truth, anyway? Seeming is believing.

Sleight of Hand. Phantasmal Force can create the best distraction there is! Even though it won’t specifically help you lift an item, it may give your target disadvantage on opposed Perception rolls.

Stealth. You can create an illusion of a table, boulder, statue, or whatever else you can think of in order to hide behind, or you can use the illusion to create the sound of high winds or a distant alarm to mask the sounds of your footsteps.

Do not use this spell against constructs. They don’t have a brain!!!

Even the dumbest of monsters can be fooled and take psychic damage – but not constructs. They can’t be fooled because they aren’t thinking creatures at all.

The implications of this are encouraging, however. If you’ve ever fallen prey to a prank, at least you’re smart enough to be deceived. Don’t feel bad.

Phantasmal Force in 3e and Other Illusion Spells in 5e

In Dungeons and Dragons 3e, phantasmal force was not a spell, although phantasmal killer was. Minor illusion was not a cantrip but a leveled spell. Major image was also a leveled spell.

How Does 5e Differentiate Between These Spells, and What Is the Difference?

For this we have to look carefully at both the mechanical aspects of the spells and also the etymology of the names.

The word “phantasm” has its roots in the word phenomenon, which means “a thing which is happening.”

However, the word is also related to our root words for fantasy, which means “the calling forth of imaginary reality.”

Therefore, one definition of “phantasm” is “an imaginary thing that is happening.”

Thus, spells like phantasmal force and phantasmal killer are things that are actually happening. This is why they can damage a creature.

However, they are still illusions, and their description explicitly says they are occurring in the mind of the target creature and nowhere else.

The minor and major illusion spells are broadcasted for everyone to see. Everyone in the area must make a saving throw to see through them.

However, since these are “illusions” and not “phantasms,” they are not actually happening in any meaningful way and therefore do no damage themselves.

Common Questions About Phantasmal Force

Can Phantasmal Force Apply Conditions?

This question asks if phantasmal force can apply conditions such as blinded, deafened, restrained, poisoned, etc. This is a very tough question with two different answers.

No. The Rules as Written say that the spell can only cause 1d6 psychic damage and the target rationalizes that damage as whatever the spell looks like.

If it’s fire, the target thinks they were burned. If the phantasm looks like a monster, the target will think they were bitten.

Even though they may think they are restrained by the phantasmal ropes you created, they gain a new INT save every time they interact with the spell by, say, struggling against the ropes.

The target may not think they can move, but if they try to move they will succeed. Perhaps, if the DM is willing, you could be lucky enough to have the target take 1d6 psychic damage from the pain of “snapping” the ropes.

– Yes, due to verisimilitude, which is a fun word that means “truth-seeming.” Seeming is believing.

If your target thinks they were sprayed in the eyes by snake venom, they could think they were blinded until they made the INT save, SO LONG AS YOUR DM ALLOWS IT.

However, what would most likely happen is that the target would open their eyes and think, “Oh thank the gods I’m not blind.”

But the DM makes all such decisions based on how persuasive you are.

One common thing we do here at the Citadel, though, is to scare the ever-living daylights out of our PCs and NPCs alike.

If a player tries to scare a target, there is no harm in making a WIS save vs. the spellcaster’s DC or be frightened for a single turn.

Can Phantasmal Force Knock on a Door, Open a Window, Play a Piano, etc.?

No, but it can make the target hear a knock on the door, feel the breeze of an open window, or hear a child’s version of chopsticks. Only the target could experience these things – no one else in the room.

Final Thoughts

We hope this guide has been a useful addition to your toolbox. And remember, next time a snake shows up in your path, make that INT save before the DEX save, just in case.

Well… maybe not. You do you, boo.