Dissonant Whispers 5e

You whisper a discordant melody that only one creature of your choice within range can hear, wracking it with terrible pain. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you. The creature doesn’t move into obviously dangerous ground, such as a fire or a pit. On a successful save, the target takes half as much damage and doesn’t have to move away. A deafened creature automatically succeeds on the save.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 1st.

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V
Duration: Instantaneous
School: 1st-level enchantment

Player’s Handbook, pg. 234

Dissonant Whispers 5e

Dissonant Whispers is a wicked good Bard spell that deals decent damage and has a rider effect with incredible utility. It’s also one of the most frequently-asked-about spells in the game, mostly due to its forced movement effect.

We’ll do our best to answer all these questions, as well as provide tips for players using Dissonant Whispers and for DMs who love to abuse this spell just a bit too much.

Who Can Cast Dissonant Whispers in 5e?

The following classes have Dissonant Whispers on their spell list:

The following subclasses get Dissonant Whispers for free:

What Does Dissonant Whispers Do in 5e?

Dissonant Whispers forces a target to make Wisdom saving throw and deals 3d6 psychic damage on a failed save or half that on a success. If the creature fails their save, they also have to use their reaction to move away from the caster using all of their speed (but they will not move into obviously dangerous ground).

Finally, the spell relies on the target hearing the spellcaster, so it won’t affect deafened creatures or creatures that are effectively deaf.

That’s the basics — now onto the many, many rules conversations surrounding the spell.

dungeons and dragons miniatures

What Are the Rules for Dissonant Whispers in 5e?

The rules for Dissonant Whispers in DnD 5e are as follows:

  • The movement from Dissonant Whispers does provoke opportunity attacks. Here’s the deal: you don’t provoke an opportunity attack “when someone or something moves you without using your movement, action, or reaction” — Dissonant Whispers is using a creature’s reaction, so that creature is an eligible target for opportunity attacks (PHB 195).

    This was also explicitly confirmed in the Sage Advice Compendium: “dissonant whispers requires the target to move using its reaction (if available), so that activity also provokes opportunity attacks” (SAC 10). This includes your own opportunity attack, if you have a reaction available.
    including your own opportunity attack (SAC 10).

    If that’s not enough for ya, here’s a Sage Advice thread confirming it.

  • Dissonant Whispers does not cause the frightened condition. So even creatures that are immune to the frightened condition are still affected by Dissonant Whispers. When a spell causes the frightened condition, the spell’s description will explicitly say so.

    This also goes for the charmed condition. Dissonant Whispers causes its own unique and specific effect that does not fall under any of the conditions laid out in the general rules.

  • Targeting a creature with Dissonant Whispers still requires a clear path to the target (RAW). While the logic behind Dissonant Whispers is tied more to the creature hearing the caster, the spell still quires “a clear path to the target” as outlined in the rules (PHB 204).

    However, as this Sage Advice thread points out, it’s the DM’s call whether you can use this spell to ignore total cover.

  • The movement from Dissonant Whispers does not count against a targeted creature’s movement speed on their turn. Movement is separate from speed, as described in the rules (PHB 190). Movement taken during your reaction has nothing to do with the movement you have on your turn.

  • Dissonant Whispers forces movement on a failed save, even if the target is immune to psychic damage. If you’re dealing with a construct or some other creature that’s immune to psychic damage, then Dissonant Whispers won’t deal any damage to them.

    However, if they fail their Wisdom saving throw, then they’ll still be forced to move their speed away from the caster. Again, there is no way to be immune to the effect of Dissonant Whispers (besides things like Legendary Resistance).

  • Movement Dissonant Whispers is involuntary movement, so it doesn’t trigger effects like Booming Blade. Because Booming Blade specifies that it only deals damage “if the target willingly moves,” it won’t work with Dissonant Whispers, which is forced movement.

  • Dissonant Whispers has no effect and deals half damage to deafened creatures. Because deafened creatures’ automatically pass the saving throw for Dissonant Whispers, they’ll never be forced to move by the spell. They will still take half damage, though, if you still think it’s worth targeting them with this spell.

  • Dissonant Whispers forces total movement equal to the creature’s speed. So if a creature has a 30-foot speed, it moves 30 feet away from the caster. “Away from” the caster can be interpreted in different ways depending on the layout of the environment, but that’s the DM’s domain.

  • Even if a target can’t move, it’s reaction is still used. If a creature has 0 speed for some reason (grappled, restrained, etc.), then it won’t be able to run away from the caster. However, its reaction is still eaten up from the spell’s effect.

  • The verbal component of Dissonant Whispers is separate from the “discordant melody” that the spell creates. This comes from a general ruling in the Sage Advice Compendium that “verbal components are mystic words, not normal speech…the utterance of the verbal component is separate from, and precedes, any verbal utterance that would bring about the spell’s effect” (SAC 20).

    This means, RAW, Dissonant Whispers can’t be cast stealthily just by whispering the discordant melody itself.

  • Spike Growth is DM-dependent. Since Spike Growth’s spell description specifies that a Perception check is necessary to perceive that the ground is dangerous, and since Dissonant Whispers specifies that a victim won’t move onto “obviously dangerous ground” (emphasis added), it appears that a creature probably runs through Spike Growth and takes additional damage, if that is indeed the route that takes them away from the caster.

    But this might come down to DM discretion, and might depend on whether the creature perceived Spike Growth as dangerous earlier in the fight, or if the creature continues running into more Spike Growth territory after taking the first bit of damage.

  • Dissonant Whispers’ forced movement effect requires that the target has a reaction to use. So if they’ve already taken an opportunity attack on the same round of combat or cast a spell like Shield or Hellish Rebuke, they won’t be forced to move away from the caster. They’ll still take damage, though.

How Do I Use Dissonant Whispers in 5e?

Here are some of the best ways to make the most of Dissonant Whispers in your next DnD game:

  1. Set up huge opportunity attack frenzies with martial allies. The #1 application of Dissonant Whispers is allowing for your martial allies to make an insane amount of opportunity attacks. This is especially good with Rogue’s Sneak Attack, which can trigger once per turn, not once per round.

    If you’re looking for a great breakdown of just how much damage per round this first-level spell can add to your party, I highly recommend Pack Tactics video that goes over the math way better than I can:

  2. Keep enemies away from important/squishy allies/things. If you need to protect an escort NPC, a squishy ally, or some sort of MacGuffin, Dissonant Whispers opens up good battlefield control. However, this application is limited against larger groups of enemies.

  3. Target low-Wisdom creatures. Wisdom is a fairly middle-of-the-road ability score on creatures, and you can usually tell which creatures wouldn’t be considered “wise.” Skeletons, Zombies, Kobolds, and Ogres, just to name a few common ones.

  4. Pair with the War Caster feat. The third bullet point of the War Caster feat allows you to cast some spells in place of an opportunity attack.

    This can be incredibly potent, especially when paired with effects like Booming Blade. While Booming Blade will not deal damage when they run away from you (as covered in the rules above), it will cause damage if the enemy tries to move back into position. Here’s Sage Advice confirmation.

Who Can I Target With Dissonant Whispers 5e?

You can target any creature in the game with Dissonant Whispers — no creature is immune to its forced movement rider effect on a failed saving throw. However, creatures can still be immune or resistant to psychic damage (mostly constructs, as well some aberrations and a few undead, like the Demilich and Revenant).

Also, creatures with Legendary Resistance will be able to shake off a certain amount of failed saving throws each day.

Is Dissonant Whispers 5e a Good Spell?

Yes, Dissonant Whispers is an insanely good 1st-level spell that opens up the door for massive party damage in a single round of combat. The fact that Wisdom saving throws are not stellar across the game’s creatures and that there’s no way to be immune to Dissonant Whispers’ forced movement effect means that the spell stays great throughout the game.

While the upcast potential is there, most spellcasters won’t see much point in upcasting — 10.5 average damage is fine as a first-level spell, but the scaling of +3.5 damage per slot level just isn’t worth it most of the time.

However, the forced movement is just as strong with a first-level spell as a third-level upcast. And it’s the (basically) free damage you’re handing your party’s melee martial classes/subclasses that makes Dissonant Whispers the stellar spell that it is.

Dissonant Whispers 5e Compared to Command

TCoE’s additional class features opened up the Command spell to Bards, creating a compelling choice between two great control spells.

There are pros and cons to each spell, but the main thing that Command has going for it is upcast potential. When upcast, it can affect multiple creatures, both ensuring that you can pull off the great opportunity attack frenzy you want more often and allowing for more potential allies to join in on the fun.

Command also has many other utilizations, which can be very useful in and out of combat, whereas Dissonant Whispers always does the same thing.

The downsides to Command are that it requires the target(s) to understand your language and not be undead.

Ultimately, the two spells shouldn’t be seen as mutually exclusive in my opinion. It’s perfectly reasonable for a Bard to pick up both of these spells and use the multi-target Command spell when it makes sense (like your party and the enemies are spread out) and use Dissonant Whispers for the single-target occasions.

Dissonant Whispers 5e DM Tips

As a DM, you have a few things to consider when responding to Dissonant Whispers, For starters, don’t worry too much about what the right direction to move is. Just follow the spirit of moving “away from” the caster and don’t stress about the difference between “as the crow flies” distance and just running down the nearest corridor.

Please, please, just don’t do the cheeseball move of wasting your movement by struggling to climb something to keep the creature in close range. It never feels good when a DM metagames a spell into uselessness like this.

However, if you’re frustrated that Dissonant Whispers is making your badass baddies look like scaredy-cat chumps too often, you do have legitimate options. For starters, choosing foes (or simply giving your NPCs) Legendary Resistance ensures that you can scoff off at least a few Dissonant Whispers each day by automatically passing the saving throw.

You can also do more subtle things, like make the Wizard pay for using their reaction on an opportunity attack by targeting them with a brutal assault for the rest of the round — sorry buddy, no Shield spell for you!

Other than that, you may have to interpret what “obviously dangerous ground” means from time to time. Spike Growth probably isn’t obvious, while something like Create Bonfire probably is, as a starting point.

Simple Dissonant Whispers 5e Spell Text

Dissonant Whispers: (1st-level enchantment, 60 feet, V) Force a target to make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you. The creature doesn’t move into obviously dangerous ground. On a success, the target takes half damage and doesn’t move away. A deafened creature automatically succeeds.