Power Word Kill Spell Guide 5e: Bang! You’re Dead

Simple, direct, and elegant. Who cares about fireballs and lightning bolts, illusions and zombies? This is the point.

This. Is. Power.

Power Word Kill

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: 60 feet
  • Duration: Instantaneous
  • School: Enchantment
  • Class: Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
  • Level: 9th
  • Damage/Effect: Death (if target has less than 100 HP)
  • Attack/Save: None
  • Components: Verbal
  • Ritual/Concentration: No

You utter a word of power that can compel one creature you can see within range to die instantly. If the creature you choose has 100 hit points or fewer, it dies. Otherwise, the spell has no effect.

When To Use Power Word Kill

With these in mind, here’s the general rule around the Citadel.

Use Power Word Kill on WEAKER monsters if:

  • You need to clear the battlefield of the Boss’s minions.
  • You need to make an Intimidation check and want a social advantage.
  • You’ve got one 9th-level spell slot left and you are about to take a long rest.

Use Power Word Kill on STRONGER monsters if:

  • You are last in the initiative. This will give the other party members time to get the monster below the 100HP threshold.
  • You have been saving back that one last 9th-level spell slot for just this occasion.
  • You have made an Insight check (or the healer has made a Medicine check) to determine how much HP the monster has left.

Questions about Power Word Kill

Does the target get a saving throw? No.

Is the target permanently dead? No. They may still be raised or potentially healed.

Does the target get to make death saves? That is up to the DM, but according to the Rules as Written, yes. The target goes to 0 HP, meaning that, if your DM allows it, they may start making death saves.

Generally speaking, the average goon does not make death saves, but if the main antagonist gets to make a few, they can become a recurring villain!

Does the target have to understand the language you are speaking in order to be affected? Not according to the rules, but if you want to weasel your way out of being affected by the spell or you want to weasel your NPC’s way out of dying, you could totally make a case like that.

But we don’t recommend it. It can too easily violate rule number 1, which is to have fun! Robbing your players of a clever win will do that.

What happens if you are polymorphed and then become the victim of Power Word Kill? You die. Power Word Kill says you die. It does not say you are reduced to 0HP. There is a difference.

Because Power Word Kill is such a powerful spell (You die, now! No saving throw!), it has a few restrictions:

  • The target must be at fewer than 100HP. This means you can either use a powerful spell on a weakling NPC for guaranteed success or you can use it to end a Boss that is already on their way out.

The spell is 9th level. Just being a 9th-level spell is a restriction by itself. You’ll have to be 17th level, at least, to cast it. Do you really want to use a 9th-level spell slot on a weaker NPC? Sometimes.