Vicious Mockery is an iconic bard cantrip that lets you debuff and damage enemies with the power of sick burns.
In this guide, we’re going to go over exactly how this cantrip works and why it’s such a good piece of mechanical and thematic game design – especially in contrast to previous editions.
We’re also going to cover how best to utilize this spell in combat and how to gain access to this spell even if you don’t have a bard in the party.
- Casting Time: 1 Action
- Range/Area: 60 ft.
- Duration: Instantaneous
- School: Enchantment
- Class: Bard
- Level: 0 (cantrip)
- Damage/Effect: Psychic
- Attack/Save: Wisdom
- Components: Verbal
You unleash a string of insults laced with subtle enchantments at a creature you can see within range.
If the target can hear you (though it need not understand you), it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or take 1d4 psychic damage and have disadvantage on the next attack roll it makes before the end of its next turn.
This spell’s damage increases by 1d4 when you reach 5th level (2d4), 11th level (3d4), and 17th level (4d4).
Damage Table – Vicious Mockery
|1st level||5th level||11th level||17th level|
Vicious Mockery might be as closely linked to the bard class as Eldritch Blast is to warlocks; it’s not only an iconic cantrip, but the way it works actually serves as a great object lesson for the role of the class within the party.
Eldritch Blast, for example, is a long-range, high-damage cantrip that warlocks can upgrade and tweak with powerful invocations.
Not only does it give a unique, powerful lodestone for the class to revolve around, but it more or less single-handedly allows the warlock to remain among the ranks of “full casters,” despite only having two spell slots to work with.
Likewise, Vicious Mockery encompasses the bard’s role within the party within a single cantrip.
Bards (even members of the College of Swords) aren’t a full-on damage-dealing class. Their spells aren’t as lethal as a sorcerer or warlock, and they can’t hang in the front line like a rogue, fighter, or paladin.
Instead, bards are a social, utility, and support-focused class. Vicious Mockery demonstrates this perfectly.
Narratively, it’s a damage cantrip that comes neatly wrapped in a roleplaying opportunity. Mechanically, it makes it clear that bards are less geared toward doing damage than they are debuffing enemies and turning the tide of battle in their favor.
For a bit more detail on the subject of why Vicious Mockery is such a good piece of design, let’s look at how bards used to work in 3/3.5e.
This is also how bards used to work in Pathfinder 1e, which was my first system – I played a bard in that campaign for a year, and this was a recurring problem.
Bards in previous editions were essentially walking auras with a rapier. Their song abilities buffed up allies or had other effects, but they happened passively with virtually no scope for being helpful in a way that was player-directed.
If you wanted to be an active participant in a combat encounter, you had to pull out your rapier and get stuck in, usually with little effect.
As a result, bards were stuck for a while between a boring rock and a hard place (melee).
By contrast, 5e does a great job – thanks to features like Jack of All Trades, Inspiration, and spells like Vicious Mockery – of making the bard feel like a more active member of the party.
As a cantrip, the damage is negligible – although it’s still good at breaking enemies’ concentration.
The fact that it forces a Wisdom saving throw means it’s a great spell to throw at physically powerful enemies that might be mentally weak (the kind of heavily armored bad guys that your party might be struggling to hit, let alone kill), which also usually has the effect of imposing disadvantage on the most physically dangerous enemy in sight.
When Do I Cast Vicious Mockery?
It’s a cantrip, so unless you have something else you desperately need to be doing, Vicious Mockery is your go-to move.
Pick the biggest, baddest, most emotionally insecure looking enemy on the battlefield (high Strength and high AC usually means low Wisdom), and impose disadvantage on their attacks while steadily chipping away at their HP.
Monsters and NPCs with high Wisdom probably aren’t worth casting this spell at, however.
The same goes for enemies with more than two attacks per round; these creatures tend to have a few weak attacks that they use first, meaning they’ll have burned through your disadvantage by the time they get around to using their big (usually bite) attack.
In these scenarios, you’re better off either using a ranged weapon or casting Blade Ward on yourself and jumping into melee range alongside the fighter.
Roleplaying Vicious Mockery
More than just about any other spell (definitely more than any other cantrip), Vicious Mockery provides real scope for roleplaying at the table.
No other spell in the game, that I’m aware of, can also justifiably demand that you also come up with a personalized insult to go along with it.
Dungeons and Daddies Episode 60 “Goblin”
Before we continue, I just wanted to set the tone with a short excerpt from one of my favorite D&D podcasts, Dungeons and Daddies.
For context, the party is locked in a tense, upsetting standoff with the BBEG, and the bard just made a weird bluff that they have “a goblin army” on the way.
[BBEG]: You guys just got here. I’ve been here for [whispered] So. F***ing. Long. If you were going to actually lie, you should’ve lied about something impressive. Goblins? I f***ing eat goblins for breakfast. It doesn’t matter—
Bard: You mean… [already starting to laugh] goblin on… deez nuts?!
Druid: Oh my God! Oh!
Druid: Oh my God!
[DM]: [indecipherable yelling]
Rogue: Oh my god.
Glenn: Goblin on… deez nuts! Ah!
[group laughter continued]
Druid: [scream] Oh my God, what did you do?! He’s gonna kill us!
Obviously, if you can’t think of anything or don’t enjoy the roleplaying element of D&D 5e as much as the mechanics and gameplay, that’s totally fine.
You can describe rather than roleplay your insults, or just do whatever the bard in my last campaign did whenever she cast Vicious Mockery: Point a finger and yell “Screw you in particular, buddy!”
It’s the magic the insults are laced with that does the damage, not the quality of the insult itself.
That being said, I love a good insult delivered at the table.
As a DM, one of my favorite times to hand out inspiration is when the bard delivers a truly devastating insult (with 1d4 psychic damage tacked on for good measure), and I’ve been known to encourage this sort of roleplaying in other ways as well, like treating especially good burns as criticals or giving the target disadvantage for longer.
It can be loads of fun to tailor your insults to the enemy – especially if your campaign has recurring villains. I heard tales of one bard who consistently threw the BBEG off their game by pretending to keep forgetting his name or that he even existed.
BBEG: “At last, my nemesis, we meet again! This time you shall not escape with your life!”
BBEG: “… Seriously?”
Bard: “I’m SO sorry. Totally drawing a blank. We fight a lot of big dudes with skulls on their armor, you know?”
BBEG: [clutching head] Arrrrghhh! Every time!
If you’re after something a little more multipurpose, however, try rolling a d20 or picking something from the list below:
- Eww, there’s something on your face… Wait, no. It’s okay. It’s just your face.
- I bet your parents wished they’d used Protection from Evil the night you were conceived.
- I’m going to turn you into a really ugly hat.
- I’m glad you’re so big; this way there’s even more of you to despise!
- When I punch you in the head, I bet it’s going to echo.
- Someone cast turn undead! Oh wait, no. It must be a skin condition.
- Ugh, are you just permanently casting Grease on your hair?
- The time when I didn’t take you seriously is definitely coming to a middle.
- Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder…which is what you look like. A Beholder.
- Your death will leave no lasting impression on me.
- So I take it the gods let the new guy have a go when it came time to make you, huh?
- It’s incredible you can bring such joy to a room by simply leaving it.
- Your best chance against a Mind Flayer is to starve it to death.
- The best feature of people like you is that you die easily.
- Aaaghhh! A troll! Kill it with fire- Oh wait, you’re human.
- Is your species supposed to age like that?
- So, male pattern baldness isn’t just a human thing, then?
- I smelled you coming three rooms away, you moldering pile of yeast!
- Begone! Foul fiend! Back to the Nine Hells! Wait… You’re human aren’t you? Sorry, my mistake.
- I hope you get reincarnated as something prettier, like a tapeworm.
How To Cast Vicious Mockery When You Don’t Have it Memorized
If you’re a bard that didn’t prepare Vicious Mockery, your best route to gaining access to this excellent cantrip is by getting your hands on a Spell Scroll.
Spell Scrolls are single-use pieces of parchment or paper that allow the user to cast the spell recorded on it once, which destroys the spell scroll.
If the spell is on your class’s spell list, you can read the scroll and cast its spell without providing any material components. Otherwise, the scroll is unintelligible gibberish.
Spell scrolls don’t function like memorized spells, instead having a fixed DC and attack bonus. As a cantrip, a Scroll of Vicious Mockery would have a Save DC of 13.
Also, once you use them, spell scrolls crumble to ash. For high-level, super impactful spells, this seems like a fair deal.
For a cantrip, however, you’re better off looking for a Magic Wand, Rod, or Stave – especially if you’re not a bard as you wouldn’t be able to read bard spell scrolls anyway.
While there’s no specific “Wand of Vicious Mockery” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, there are plenty of magic items that let anyone replicate the effects of a particular spell (or even several different spells) a number of times per day.
Asking a local wizard to infuse a wand with a cantrip shouldn’t break the bank.
If you don’t want to go down the item route, the next best way to get access to the Vicious Mockery cantrip is by taking the Magic Initiate Feat.
This excellent, super versatile feat lets you choose the bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list. You learn two cantrips of your choice from that class’s spell list, as well as one 1st-level spell.
Bards have a whole host of great low-level spells, and therefore their spell list makes a great candidate for your Magic Initiate feat.
Common Questions About Vicious Mockery
Is Vicious Mockery a Bonus Action?
No. Vicious Mockery is a cantrip with a casting time of 1 action.
Does Vicious Mockery Work on the Undead?
Yes! Vicious Mockery works on any creature that is not immune to Psychic Damage or deafened.
Does Vicious Mockery Work on Animals?
Yes. Vicious Mockery does not require the target to understand you, only to hear you.
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When I’m not writing about RPGs, I’m playing Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, X-Wing miniatures, and many other lovingly-crafted tabletop games with the people I love.