Skip to Content

Toll the Dead 5e D&D Guide

Toll the Dead 5e D&D Guide

Toll the Dead is a great expansion spell. It was added to multiple spell lists and adds to any character that wants to play on the darker side.

Dealing necrotic damage instead of radiant damage (dealt by spells such as Sacred Flame) is a great flavor component.

The rules for Toll the Dead can be found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, page 169.

Toll the Dead 5e

Necromancy Cantrip

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: 60 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Instantaneous

You point at one creature you can see within range, and the sound of a dolorous bell fills the air around it for a moment. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw to avoid taking 1d8 necrotic damage. If the target is missing any of its hit points, it instead takes 1d12 necrotic damage.

At Higher Levels: The spell’s damage increases by one die when you reach the 5th level (2d8 or 2d12), 11th level (3d8 or 3d12), and 17th level (4d8 or 4d12).

The rules for Toll the Dead reveal the damage boost over Sacred Flame if the target is missing any hit points, increasing to 1d12. Like all damage cantrips, the damage increases with the character level. This spell also calls for a wisdom save from the target, separating it further from the dexterity-based Sacred Flame.

Is Toll the Dead Good?

How good is Toll the Dead? That comes down to what you are comparing it to. If it is compared to the other options, such as Sacred Flame, for similar spellcasters, it is effectively a wash.

Toll the Dead vs. Sacred Flame:

  • 1d12 damage vs 1d8 damage
  • Necrotic Damage vs. Radiant Damage
  • Wisdom Save vs. Dexterity Save

Toll the Dead does more damage, but necrotic damage is more often resisted than radiant damage. Enemies, on average, have lower wisdom than dexterity, so it may hit more often. The two spells have the same range and increase at the same rate per level. The big difference in the spell is the flavor.

If Toll the Dead is compared to a basic attack cantrip like Firebolt, it seems severely underpowered in most instances.

Toll the Dead vs. Fire Bolt:

  • 1d12 damage vs 1d10 damage
  • Necrotic Damage vs. Fire Damage
  • Wisdom Save vs. Ranged Spell Attack (can crit)
  • 60 feet range vs. 120 feet range

The damage difference between Toll the Dead and Firebolt is minimal on a regular hit. Both also feature damage types that are commonly resisted.

The first major difference is the wisdom save of Toll the Dead compared to the ranged spell attack of Fire Bolt.

Spells without attack rolls cannot get critical hits, meaning d12 is the highest damage for Toll the Dead possible. Fire Bolt, on the other hand, can get critical hits, meaning it is possible to deal 2xd10 damage. Also, the chance to hit increases with the character when using Fire Bolt, and it does not with Toll the Dead.

The second difference is the range of the spells. 60 feet compared to 120 feet in-game is a difference between a common enemy being in melee range in one turn versus two turns. This can be critical for a spell caster not interested in getting their hands dirty.

Hot Tip
Toll the Dead and Sacred Flame only require you to see the target, meaning they ignore all but full cover. Ranged spell attacks have to abide by the cover rules, thus providing additional balance.

Toll the Dead is a good damage cantrip for the cleric. It is almost superior in every way to Sacred Flame. Overall, Toll the Dead is still an all-or-nothing cast.

If the target saves, the spell doesn’t do anything. This can be incredibly frustrating for characters who are relying heavily on spells for other purposes.

The lack of satisfaction from getting a natural 20 on an attack also doesn’t help it much either. It does level with the character as all cantrips and can add a great role-playing flavor if radiant damage just doesn’t fit the character concept.

What Does Toll the Dead Do?

When Toll the Dead is cast on a target, according to the description, the sound of dolorous bells fills the space around them for a moment forcing them to make a wisdom save or take damage.

That is a straightforward description but offers little in the way of the actual description of the attack.

When Toll the Dead or any cantrip is cast often enough, it is easy to fall into a rut for a DM of saying, “It doesn’t save, roll damage.”

This can be underwhelming, and while not every cast needs a fantastical description, it is nice to mix it up for the players. This is especially true when you have competing casters using similar spells, such as necromancer and healer clerics.

Hot Tip
Cantrips can get boring over time. The players and DM need to introduce variety to the casting and effect of the spell. For instance, when a target for Toll the Dead gets hit, how do they respond? Do they grip the sides of their head and shake violently? Does the ringing send ripples of energy through their form? Thinking about the spell effects and describing accordingly can add depth to otherwise mundane spells.

Toll the Dead 5e FAQs

How Do You Use Toll the Dead in 5e?

Toll the Dead has quite a simple mechanic that you should take advantage of. If the enemy you are targeting already has HP missing, they take more damage than they would’ve.

If you look at the damage of Toll the Dead, which is 1d8 Necrotic when cast without the creature having lost HP, it doesn’t seem like much. However, if you target a creature that’s already lost HP, it will take 1d12 Necrotic damage, which is far more than previously thought.

Therefore, you should try to use Toll the Dead whenever a creature has already lost HP, and since the spell is a Cantrip, you can continue using it after you’ve already dealt damage once.

What Spells Can Be Used With Toll the Dead in 5e?

Toll the Dead doesn’t work that well with other spells, but if you want to get the maximum value out of it, you should first use a high-damage spell before moving on to Toll the Dead.

Spells like Eldritch Blast, Fire Bolt, or Chill Touch (if the creature can regenerate) are good Cantrips to use before using Toll the Dead to get maximum damage from the spell.

Final Thoughts

For clerics, spells like Sacred Flame and Toll the Dead are almost a must-have. Generally, these cantrips make up the bulk of ranged attacks for this class. It is nice to see Toll the Dead get a damage bump and not give up anything for it.

Ultimately though, in comparison to other basic cantrips Toll, the Dead feels a little flat.

An all-or-nothing spell can be an encounter-changing event at low levels, and not having the ability to critically hit doesn’t help build excitement. Maybe it is better to just hit them with a mace.

Top 15 Best Necromancy Spells in D&D 5e [Ranked]

Monday 21st of August 2023

[…] like Toll the Dead are great if you want to lower your spell cost but up your […]

Ray of Frost 5e D&D Guide [2023]

Monday 26th of June 2023

[…] debuff allows it to become on par with other high-damaging Cantrips like Toll the Dead and Fire […]

Top 20 Best Paladin Spells in D&D 5e [Ranked]

Thursday 11th of May 2023

[…] Toll the Dead gives you insane damage for its level, combined decent range (60 feet), and no Concentration. […]

Top 20 Best Cantrips in D&D 5e [Ranked]

Thursday 6th of April 2023

[…] damaged in a battle are one step closer to death, and Toll the Dead brings them ever closer […]

Sacred Flame 5e D&D Guide [2023]

Saturday 18th of March 2023

[…] expansion materials, however, it has fallen out of favor. Players are leaning towards spells like Toll the Dead and Word of Radiance as […]