The spell ends for an affected creature if it takes any damage or if someone else uses an action to shake the creature out of its stupor.
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: S, M (a glowing stick of incense or a crystal vial filled with phosphorescent material)
School: 3rd-level illusion
Player’s Handbook, pg. 252
Hypnotic Pattern 5e
Hypnotic Pattern is considered a “must-pick” spell by many players who have access to the spell. But others are left wondering just what makes this area of effect lockdown spell just so powerful.
We’ll cover exactly why Hypnotic Pattern is so good, how to use it well, common rules questions, and tips for DMs looking to fight back against a party that relies on this spell too often.
Who Can Cast Hypnotic Pattern in 5e?
The following classes have Hypnotic Pattern on their spell list:
The following subclasses get Hypnotic Pattern for free:
What Does Hypnotic Pattern Do in 5e?
Hypnotic Pattern creates an effect within a 30-foot cube that forces all creatures who can see to make a Wisdom saving throw. If they fail, they become charmed for up to 1 minute. More importantly, while they’re charmed, they’re also incapacitated (can’t take actions or reactions) and have a speed of 0 (so they can’t move).
If a creature passes its saving throw, nothing happens to it.
Hypnotic Pattern can end in four ways:
Concentration breaks. Via damage, casting another concentration spell, choosing to end it, or environmental effects. This breaks the effect on all creatures who are effected by the spell simultaneously.
Another creature uses an action. This is a special action: “shake the creature out of its stupor.”
An affected creature takes any damage. Even 1 hit point of damage will instantly end the effect of Hypnotic Pattern. Note that other, non-damaging effects will not break Hypnotic pattern early.
Duration runs out. It’s a 1-minute max spell, which works out to 10 rounds of combat.
Before we get into the rules, let’s talk about the spell’s range and area of effect. The spell’s 120-foot range refers to where you can place a point “anywhere on a face of the cubic effect” (PHB 204). This means that it’s possible to create Hypnotic Pattern’s effect in a place where you don’t have line of sight.
The purple square is the caster. The gray line is a wall that fully covers line of sight from the caster. The green circle is the “point of origin” of Hypnotic Pattern. The green square is the area of effect of the spell (the caster could choose many different configurations using that same point of origin).
Note that full cover still blocks the effect of Hypnotic Pattern itself. In other words, if there were a wall providing full cover that divided the green square in half vertically, only the space in the left-hand area of the square would be affected.
What Are the Rules for Hypnotic Pattern in 5e?
The rules for Hypnotic Pattern in DnD 5e are as follows:
You cannot close your eyes to Hypnotic Pattern to ignore its effects. Some players like to argue that the spell’s stipulation that it only works on “each creature who sees the pattern,” therefore making it possible to simply shut one’s eyes to avoid friendly fire. This is not how spells or effects that require sight work.
Basically, if a creature can see the pattern, then it does see the pattern, regardless of which way it’s facing. Take the rule on line of sight, which simply states that a line “doesn’t pass through or touch an object or effect that blocks vision…then there is line of sight” (DMG 251).
While this rule doesn’t precisely cover what we’re talking about, we can also use the practical “slippery slope” argument. What’s stopping enemies from closing their eyes, thus making the spell pointless? Or how about conditions/effects like frightened, that require line of sight — do those not work if someone’s able to shut their eyes real quick?
But creatures that suffer from the blinded condition or are permanently blind are immune to Hypnotic Pattern. Since seeing the pattern is what causes the spell to work, a creature that truly cannot see cannot suffer from the effects of the spell.
This could be someone suffering from a spell effect that causes blindness or simply having a blindfold on or being asleep.
Hypnotic Pattern has no effect on creatures who are immune to being charmed. Here’s Sage Advice confirmation that the spell affects all creatures except those immune to being charmed.
This is because the incapacitate and 0-speed effects are contingent on the creature suffering from the charmed condition that the spell causes.
Hypnotic Pattern works in darkness (magical or mundane). This is similar to the “close your eyes” debate in that there’s no strict RAW to turn to. However, the spell’s materials involve a “glowing stick of incense” and “phosphorescent material,” which indicates that this “twisting pattern of colors” is indeed some sort of light show/flashbang grenade.
Shoving an affected creature doesn’t break Hypnotic Pattern’s effect. The spell’s description is very specific that a creature must take the (ad hoc) action of “shak[ing] the creature out of its stupor.” The shove action is not this action, so it has no interaction with Hypnotic Pattern.
Hypnotic Pattern’s effect is persistent, but the area of its effect is safe after casting. In other words, Hypnotic Pattern works like a one-time flashbang — the light-show happens over ~6 seconds, and any creature who sees it and fails their save suffers its effects.
But other creatures are free to enter the area that the spell affected afterward with no negative consequences. Likewise, an affected creature can be moved out of the spell’s area of effect and still suffer from the spell’s effects.
You do not have advantage on attacks against incapacitated targets. And they still make saving throws as normal. These are clarifications on how the incapacitated condition (PHB 290) works more than a rule for Hypnotic Pattern.
How Do I Use Hypnotic Pattern in 5e?
Here are a few ways to use Hypnotic Pattern in DnD 5e:
Deal with the enemies who pass their saving throw first. The reason Hypnotic Pattern is so powerful is that you can reliably remove a significant portion (50-70%) of enemies in a large space. The remaining 30-50% of foes are now much, much easier to deal with, and your party will take a lot less damage in the process.
After that, you can move on to those who failed their saving throw in whatever way seems best — on your terms.
Pair with charm resistant effects and consider allies. The large area that Hypnotic Pattern effects can be a detriment when the baddies are all mixed up with your allies. But with the right party composition/planning, you can make sure that you only hypnotize the folks who you want to hypnotize.
Some good combinations include Devotion Paladins (Aura of Devotion, a 7th-level feature that makes allies within 10 feet immune to charms) or a Sorcerer’s Careful Spell metamagic (automatic saving throw success for allies), or simply targeting areas where your party’s Elves (or any other race with Fey Ancestry) are (Fey Ancestry gives advantage on saving throws against charms).
Cast it around corners. As we showed in the section above, Hypnotic Patterns big range paired with a big, cubic area of effect makes it possible to hit creatures that are out of your direct line of sight.
This can be really powerful for setting up a fight, as you’ll not only have the initiative in kicking off combat, but you’ll also have 50%+ fewer enemies to deal with. And with no verbal component, you might even be able to follow this up by surprising the remaining enemies (DM discretion required).
Restrain incapacitated enemies. If you’re able to dispatch of the foes who weren’t affected and still have time to spare, you can always choose to restrain the incapacitated creatures with your remaining time.
Note that there aren’t any indications of how long it takes to tie someone up in the rules, so DM discretion is again required for this one. But this can be handy for keeping one witness alive to answer questions/send a message to someone after the slaughter is over.
Prepare and pick off enemies one at a time. Things like shoving them prone to get advantage on follow-up attacks, applying debuffs to powerful enemies before they snap out of it, etc. can be great for really doubling down on the massive advantage that Hypnotic Pattern affords.
Know your enemies. Charm-immune creatures like Undead, or resistant ones like Elves are things you should familiarize yourself and/or remember once you run into them once. Hypnotic Pattern is indeed a powerful spell, but 1 in 5 DnD creatures* are immune to the charmed condition (*from official sourcebooks).
Protect your concentration. Savvy enemies are going to come after the spellcaster who’s actively wiping out half of their force — be ready for this by positioning wisely and working with your party to make yourself a suboptimal target.
Is Hypnotic Pattern 5e a Good Spell?
Yes, Hypnotic Pattern is undoubtedly a great spell in DnD 5e. But why?
Why Is Hypnotic Pattern a Good Spell?
Here are the main reasons why Hypnotic Pattern is an incredibly powerful 3rd-level spell:
It tips the action economy heavily in your favor. The math of DnD combat really boils down to “the side that does more stuff has the advantage.” When you remove 50%+ of an enemy force, they’re doing 50% less stuff to you, and you only have to focus your attention on half as many targets.
Many new players come in at this point and say, “sure, but all a non-affected enemy creature has to do is use an action to wake up their buddy, making the spell pointless.”
What these players are missing is that an enemy had to use their entire action to wake up their buddy — now you’ve wasted the turns of twice as many baddies, which really puts the enemy force in a “rock and a hard place” position where neither move is ideal.
Players also say that the fact that damage breaks the effect makes HP a bad spell. But with any level of party communication/coordination, this is never really an issue.
Big area of effect. 36 whole squares, if you’re using a 5 feet = 1 inch square battle map. That’s enough to reliably capture enough of just about any enemy force. Just be careful about using this too early, when enemies are spread out or waiting in ambush.
New players also point to this big area of effect as a weakness in terms of friendly fire, but again, planning and communication can help negate this downside.
Only one saving throw. Almost every persistent crowd control effect caused by a DnD 5e spell has a continuous saving throw that the affected creature can make once per round of combat. The fact that Hypnotic Pattern just keeps working after one failed save is something that makes it truly special in its reliability.
No verbal component. Take that, Silence spell and mouth gags!
Stays good through an entire campaign. This is the last point, but certainly not the least important. While flashy 3rd-level spells like Fireball do pack an undeniable punch at levels 5-10, they become obsolete eventually.
Incapacitating 50%+ of any group of enemies is just as powerful at 20th level as it is at 5th level (even more, one could easily argue). Plus, spell save DCs tend to scale faster than enemy ability scores, so the spell landing on more enemies only becomes more reliable as you progress.
Hypnotic Pattern 5e DM Tips
Nobody really questions that Hypnotic Pattern is a powerful spell once they see it in-game. So powerful, in fact, that many DMs are left frustrated by players who continually trivialize some of their most difficult encounters with it.
Here are some tips for DMs that find themselves in this position:
Incorporate charm-immune/resistant enemies. As covered above, 20% of DnD 5e’s creatures are immune to the charm condition. Another bunch have Fey Ancestry, which gives them advantage on saving throws against becoming charmed.
Utilize these creatures to force your players to consider alternative crowd control options or find a new way of dealing with a challenge.
Target the spellcaster to break their concentration. Don’t meta game too much, especially if you’re running monsters that have no reason to understand how magic works. But if you are running a smarter creature that knows a thing or two about magic, the obvious choice is to attack the guy who’s shutting down half your army first.
If you can bust concentration quick, the action economy will be tipped back even, you’ll have blown a player’s 3rd-level spell slot, and the party might have put themselves in an unsafe position in the cockiness of their numerical advantage.
Spread out and utilize full cover. Hypnotic Pattern will only affect 50-70% of the creatures you’re running if it can hit 100% of your force — don’t let that happen. Keep reserves in separate rooms, on different levels, or just behind cover.
And while HP can be cast around corners, the effect itself doesn’t penetrate full cover. If you create an environment with lots of pillars, rocky outcrops, and other line-of-sight obstructions, players will never have a good chance to use Hypnotic Pattern to full effect.
Spells like Counterspell or Dispel Magic. If the creatures you’re running have any spellcasters in their ranks, these two simple spells can work to shut down Hypnotic Pattern with relative ease and reliability. Just don’t lean on this too heavily, or players will start to call BS.
At the end of the day, you don’t have to work too hard to nullify your players’ potent spells. But it does make for a richer experience (for everyone) if they’re sometimes forced to consider novel ways to approach a problem.
Simple Hypnotic Pattern 5e Spell Text
Hypnotic Pattern: (3rd-level illusion, 120 feet, Concentration, up to 1 minute, S/M (a glowing stick of incense or a crystal vial filled with phosphorescent material)) Each creature who can see and is inside a 30-foot cube within range makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature becomes charmed. While charmed by this spell, the creature is incapacitated and has a speed of 0.
The spell ends for an affected creature if it takes any damage or if someone else uses an action to shake the creature.