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
What Is Power Work Kill?
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.
Sometimes, a Boss fight has been dragging on forever. Everyone at the table is like, 18th level, they get perhaps a million actions per turn, and the Wizard just keeps saying, “Let me go last, and get them under 100HP!”
So, the fighter is swinging their sword (four times!), the cleric is keeping everyone alive, and the barbarian is about as spent on rages as a well-wrung dishrag.
The rogue has already looted the chamber, and no one has seen the ranger for at least three turns, excepting the Boss who has about 1300 arrows in him.
Finally, it’s the wizard’s turn; he makes an Insight check to see if the Boss is weakened, and he gets a nod from the DM.
The wizard puffs himself up to an imposing 5’6” and a full 98 pounds, points his long finger at the Boss, and says, “Die!”
The Boss dies, and everyone else is glad it’s over, even if it was a little anticlimactic.
Congratulations! You have entered the realm of Power Word Kill!
Who Can/Should Be Casting Power Word Kill?
Easy answer? The spellcaster. But not every spellcaster is the same.
This spell is available to all arcane casters capable of 9th-level spells, so this rules out the Cleric and the Druid.
But not even every wizard is alike, and not every Sorcerer is flavored for this kind of spell.
The Warlock may be a different type of Warlock, and it’s hard to believe there’s a bard out there with enough levels to even gain 9th-level Bard spells.
Therefore, the best type of caster for this particular spell is the caster who is more of a focused-duelist-style caster.
For example, if your favorite spell is fireball, you would be better off using that 9th-level spell slot to cast the biggest darn fireball there has ever been.
But if you favor spells like crown of madness or dominate person, then Power Word Kill is for you.
This is the type of spell that can take out key enemy personnel instead of spamming them with explosions and seeing what’s left standing.
Other 9th Level Spells
When you get to the point where you can choose from the most powerful spells in the game, you’re hard pressed to pick the right spell for your character.
With Power Word Kill, you won’t significantly change the battlefield as if you had taken Prismatic Wall; nor will you drop a ton of minions every turn as if you had taken Psychic Scream.
You won’t add chaos as if you had taken gate or mass polymorph.
But with Power Word Kill, you will be the one who ends the fight, and that is definitely a good tactic to keep in your back pocket.
Furthermore, if your enemy has a trusted lieutenant who orders around the horde of minions, then use Power Word Kill to take that guy out while the flashy sorcerer or druid lays elemental waste to the rabble that remains.
Power Word Kill is for the focused, tactical spellcaster who wants to take the knees out of their opponent.
It is for the magician who seeks the weak point and exploits it, leaving the evil mastermind alive long enough to watch their entire plan crumble.
Restrictions of Power Word Kill
As a 9th-level spell, Power Word Kill is one of those goal-setting milestones, especially if you have necromantic tendencies.
That being said, Power Word Kill is an enchantment spell, but the first step in any necromantic enterprise is the death of your subject. As the dark magicians say here at the Black Citadel, “The sooner they fall, the sooner they rise.”
Here are a few questions commonly asked by travelers such as yourself.
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.
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.
For DMs: Helping Your Players Determine a Monster’s HP
When your players ask, “How injured does this thing look?”, instead of giving a vague response like, “It’s fairly hurt,” tell your players to make an Insight or Medicine check to determine the level of its health.
Use the following guide:
In addition, it helps if you can do a little planning and change the monster’s tactics depending on their health level.
Maybe at the start of the fight, they confidently engage in melee, and the lower their health gets, the more they either rely on defensive techniques or even start throwing more powerful but wild and careless attacks.
This will let your players do a little “table insight” before they start asking you questions and rolling dice themselves.
A Gift: The Obelisk of Sacrifice
We have a nasty little magic item we like to use in our boss fights here at the Citadel.
Feel free to throw this into your game tonight, and punish those meddling adventurers!
The Obelisk of Sacrifice
This monument of black obsidian stands 9 feet tall by 5 feet wide and glows with an inner light ranging from sickly green to bruise-colored purple.
It was created by the Dread Necromancer Onoveron Tane, whose soul currently resides inside the Obelisk.
When activated, the Obelisk casts Power Word Kill on a random creature within line of sight. It acts on an Initiative count of 0. Should the target have more than 100 HP, the spell effect is wasted for that turn.
Activating the Obelisk requires a ritual to be performed that requires 500 GP of dark materials, at least 2 participants, and 1 hour of time, after which, one participant must make a DC 20 Religion check while another participant makes a DC 20 Arcana check.
A failed check consumes the materials and wastes the ritual time. Should the check fail, roll a 1d8 on the mishap chart to see the mishap effect.
Once activated, the Obelisk operates until it has consumed 500 HP through its Power Word Kill ability.
The Obelisk is a construct with a movement speed of 0, an AC of 5, and 900 HP + the amount of HP it has consumed since being activated. It is immune to poison, psychic, and necrotic damage. It is vulnerable to radiant damage.
Furthermore, any character who deals damage to the Obelisk must make a DC 12 CHR save or be frightened of the Obelisk for 1 minute. A character may repeat this save at the end of every turn to overcome this effect.
Even if overcome, the character must make this save again if they continue to damage the Obelisk. Characters who are immune to being charmed are immune to this effect.
1. A random participant has their soul sucked into the Obelisk, and the obelisk still activates.
2. The Obelisk releases the soul of Onoveron Tane. The soul escapes into a clone that Onoveron prepared for himself ages ago that is currently residing in a secret compartment located in the obsidian pedestal on which the Obelisk rests.
Once the clone is revived with Onoveron’s soul, he simply casts mold earth to open the compartment and escape. The Obelisk does not activate.
3. The Obelisk casts a mass animate dead, creating 100 uncontrollable zombies and/or skeletons in a 60-foot radius. The Obelisk does not activate.
4. The Obelisk explodes, dealing 20d12 piercing damage to everyone in 120 feet. Passing a DEX save DC 20 will negate half of this damage. The participants have disadvantage on the save.
5. The Obelisk cracks, releasing the souls inside and summoning 50 Specters that are hostile to every creature in the area.
6. The Obelisk cracks, releasing a psychic scream effect to everyone within 60 feet. Participants have disadvantage on this saving throw.
Onoveron Tane was a warlock who dearly wished to join his patron in the Shadowfell but refused to meet him until they could present a gift of 500 souls trapped in a giant magic jar.
Onoveron created The Obelisk of Sacrifice for that purpose, hoping to present it to the patron. Initially, the Obelisk was meant to not only cast power word kill but then to trap the soul of the victim via a magic jar spell.
Fortunately for the world, Onoveron was betrayed by his lieutenant, and the consecration ritual was never finished. Onoveron and his entire cabal was consumed by the Obelisk.
Once inside the Obelisk, Onoveron’s soul grew in power as it consumed all the others trapped within. A millennium has passed since his soul was the last one, and should Onoveron be released, he will be a force unlike any the world has seen in some time.
This item makes for a great trap to lock in a room with unsuspecting adventurers.
Ideally, it would be an item activated during a major Boss Battle. And yes, the Boss would be affected by the Obelisk as much as any other character in the room, but that just makes the Boss all the crazier!
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Rich is an avid D&D player and DM. He has been playing since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions. He has run campaigns of various editions with family and friends for over 20 years. Playing DnD 5th Edition in person at local game stores and online with VTT’s over the past 10 years has provided a consistent connection to how the game has grown. He strongly believes in understanding the source material, but catering the games to your individual players. Feel free to ask anything in the comments or drop him an email: [email protected].