Phantasmal Force 5e

You craft an illusion that takes root in the mind of a creature that you can see within range. The target must make an Intelligence saving throw. On a failed save, you create a phantasmal object, creature, or other visible phenomenon of your choice that is no larger than a 10-foot cube and that is perceivable only to the target for the duration. This spell has no effect on undead or constructs.

The phantasm includes sound, temperature, and other stimuli, also evident only to the creature.

The target can use its action to examine the phantasm with an Intelligence (Investigation) check against your spell save DC. If the check succeeds, the target realizes that the phantasm is an illusion, and the spell ends.

While a target is affected by the spell, the target treats the phantasm as if it were real. The target rationalizes any illogical outcomes from interacting with the phantasm. For example, a target attempting to walk across a phantasmal bridge that spans a chasm falls once it steps onto the bridge. If the target survives the fall, it still believes that the bridge exists and comes up with some other explanation for its fall; it was pushed, it slipped, or a strong wind might have knocked it off.

An affected target is so convinced of the phantasm’s reality that it can even take damage from the illusion. A phantasm created to appear as a creature can attack the target. Similarly, a phantasm created to appear as fire, a pool of acid, or lava can burn the target. Each round on your turn, the phantasm can deal 1d6 psychic damage to the target if it is in the phantasm’s area or within 5 feet of the phantasm, provided that the illusion is of a creature or hazard that could logically deal damage, such as by attacking. The target perceives the damage as a type appropriate to the illusion.

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (a bit of fleece)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
School: 2nd-level illusion

Player’s Handbook, pg. 264

Phantasmal Force 5e

Illusion spells are downright fun, and they don’t get much funner than Phantasmal Force. At the same time, it has the longest spell description of any Illusion spell in the Player’s Handbook. That, and a boatload of misunderstandings about how the spell works have led to Phantasmal Force being one of the most frequently asked-about spells.

With that in mind, we’ll try to do our best to give a comprehensive view of everything a player or DM might want to know about how Phantasmal Force works in 5e.

Who Can Cast Phantasmal Force in 5e?

The following classes have Phantasmal Force on their spell list:

The following subclasses get Phantasmal Force for free:

What Does Phantasmal Force Do in 5e?

When you cast Phantasmal Force, you force an enemy within 60 feet to make an Intelligence saving throw. If they fail, you create a visible illusion (creature, object, etc.) that is only perceivable to the target. Other stimuli are also evident to the creature, like heat and light.

The target will behave as if the illusion is real, and if something illogical happens while interacting with the illusion, the creature rationalizes it. However — and this is important — it does not stop the creature from trying to do what any reasonable creature of its kind would do if the illusion were real.

For example, if you were to put illusory chains on a creature, it would try to break free, and since the chains are illusory, it would automatically succeed. It would still think the chains are on it, but it would attribute its freedom to weak chains (or something).

While the illusion is in the target’s area or within 5 feet of it, it does 1d6 psychic damage to the creature on your turn, as long as the illusion is something that could realistically cause damage (like a weapon or a fire). The creature perceives that damage as appropriate to its type (so it considers illusory arrows to be dealing piercing damage to it, but the spell is really doing psychic damage).

Phantasmal Force lasts for up to 1 minute and requires concentration. It cannot be upcast.

What Are the Rules for Phantasmal Force in 5e?

The rules for Phantasmal Force are an absolute doozy in DnD 5e. At the end of the day, take everything written below with a grain of salt. Remember that your DM is the ultimate adjudicator when it comes to any illusion spell’s capabilities. Try to work with them rather than against them, and keep these rules-as-written/Sage Advice guidelines in mind:

  • Phantasmal Force can Blind or Deafen a creature. Lead Rules Developer Jeremy Crawford confirmed that Phantasmal Force can effectively cause the Blind effect. Based on the spell’s ability to cause auditory illusions as well, it seems reasonable it could also Deafen a target who is overwhelmed by illusory noise.

  • Phantasmal Force cannot restrain a creature. While you can certainly create an illusion of being restrained, most creatures will immediately attempt to break free, and automatically succeed since nothing physical is blocking them (although an exception exists, below).

  • However DMs are free to innovate (as always). As Jeremy points out on Sage Advice, “a DM is free to allow additional effects” to Phantasmal Force.

  • Phantasmal Force can move with the creature. Sage Advice confirmed that a bag can be placed on a target’s head, which then follows the creature around. Presumably, similar effects of a “worn” illusion work as well.

The important spirit of the rule to remember is that Phantasmal Force changes the creature’s perception of reality, not reality itself. That’s why sensory conditions, like blind and deafen, are possible, while physical conditions, like restrain or prone, are not (usually).

Of course, a creature walking over an illusory bridge can still certainly fall, take damage, and become prone. Or a creature could be mentally convinced of something so terrible surrounding it that it becomes mentally “restrained.”

teleporting tiefling spellcaster

How Do I Use Phantasmal Force in 5e?

Phantasmal Force has as many applications as the human imagination can dream up, and we don’t presume to have all of them listed below.

  1. Fatally dangerous terrain islands. The classic “floor is lava” illusion is a classic for a reason — it works really well. Feeling the scorching hot stimuli, taking “fire” damage on your turns, and a general fear of burning to death common to all beings is a good motivator for an enemy to stay out of the fight.

    Go nuts with radioactive pools of toxic sludge, a bottomless chasm moat, or whatever else you’d really not like to find yourself surrounded by.

  2. The classic beehive trick. The beehive on the head trick is another old stand-by for players, as it lands a Blind, Deafen, a reason to deal damage, and the ability to follow the creature around. To be honest, it makes the spell a little too powerful if you always go for the beehive. Not to mention that DMs and your fellow players might not like you abusing Phantasmal Force in this way.

    That being said, if you use the spell this way sparingly, it shouldn’t bother anyone.

  3. “Summoning” a protector. Who needs Conjuration when you can just summon up any Large creature or smaller with Phantasmal Force? Of course, it won’t hit like the real thing, but if you know your monster lore and can summon up the perfect foe (a young red dragon, to cause all the kobolds to bow down in awe, for example), it could be just the thing.

  4. Makeshift enchantment spell. If you’re stuck trying to get past an ornery guard, you can always send a Phantasmal Force of a threatening creature (like a spooky Banshee) or something more mundane like a comrade come to relieve his shift. Be warned that a failure might result in you jumping into combat with said guard.

  5. Optimize by joining the Wizard’s School of Illusion. Wizards can have extra fun with Phantasmal Force. With Malleable Illusions, picked up at 6th level, an Illusion Wizard can use their action to change the nature of an illusion mid-spell. This can come in handy if a creature is starting to become suspicious about the original illusion.

    Even better, at 14th level, Illusion Wizards can use Illusory Reality to make part of their illusion real for 1 minute as a bonus action. So while you can’t normally restrain someone with Phantasmal Force, you can as an Illusion Wizard. The “fake” manacles you put on their hands will actually be real — which should make them stop even trying to use Investigation checks on the illusion.

    Keep in mind that this is limited to inanimate, nonmagical objects, so don’t go trying to make a crazy monster or legendary item turn real.

Who Can I Target With Phantasmal Force 5e?

You can target any type of creature within 60 feet with Phantasmal Force. However, it will not affect undead creatures or constructs.

Is Phantasmal Force 5e a Good Spell?

Phantasmal Force is as good as your DM allows it to be. The most extreme players who effectively transform Phantasmal Force’s power into a 6th- or 7th-level spell definitely get good utility out of a second-level spell slot. In reality, it’s a middle-of-the-road spell with an extreme amount of potential for flavor.

That being said, Phantasmal Force certainly isn’t the most powerful damaging spell, but creative players will have ceaseless fun casting it. Plus, effective uses of it can create other advantages, such as controlling an enemy (and dealing a small amount of damage to boot) while you deal with its allies.

Phantasmal Force 5e DM Tips

An absolute nightmare spell for DMs to rule and a real terror in the hands of the wrong player, Phantasmal Force also has the potential to create antagonism between players trying to abuse the spell and DMs going too far in metagaming the actions of creatures.

If you have a player who’s really excited about using Phantasmal Force, be sure to have an away-from-table chat about the spell’s limitations (in general terms). As much as you can avoid it, you don’t want to tell a player “you can’t do that” at the table.

That being said, you do have to manage players who try to get away with ridiculously overpowered effects from a second-level spell. It makes other players feel less helpful when their peer is completely outstripping their utility.

Another thing to look out for (with all illusion spells) is metagaming. It’s really hard to separate what you know from what the affected creature knows. This spell really puts DMs most important skill to the test: empathy.

Do your best to step outside of yourself and imagine how a hobgoblin would react to spiders biting its face or what a troll would do when surrounded by a blazing wall of fire. Don’t just ignore the thing and continue attacking the most optimal targets — that’s no fun for the player who cast the spell.

Simple Phantasmal Force 5e Spell Text

Phantasmal Force: (2nd-level, 60 feet, concentration, up to 1 minute, V/S/M (a bit of fleece)) Force an Intelligence saving throw on the target. If it fails, create a <10-foot cube visible phenomena that only the creature can see. It may produce other stimuli as well.

The target can use an action to make an Investigation check against your spell save DC. If it succeeds, the spell ends. If the illusion could realistically cause damage and it is on or within 5 feet of the target, the target takes 1d6 psychic damage on your turns. Does not affect undead or constructs.