The spell’s damage increases by 1d10 when you reach 5th level (2d10), 11th level (3d10), and 17th level (4d10).
Casting Time: 1 action
School: Transmutation cantrip
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, pg. 163
Primal Savagery 5e
The Druid-exclusive melee spell attack cantrip, Primal Savagery is a tempting spell for anyone interested in short-term pseudo-lycanthropy.
But many players have questions about Primal Savagery’s rules, as well as how to build a character around the cantrip. And for non-Moon melee Druids, there’s the eternal question: Primal Savagery or Shillelagh?
We’ll cover all that and more below.
Who Can Cast Primal Savagery in 5e?
The following classes have Primal Savagery on their spell list:
No subclasses get Primal Savagery for free. However, Rangers can access Druid cantrips via the Druidic Warrior fighting style (TCoE 57).
What Does Primal Savagery Do in 5e?
Primal Savagery is a melee spell attack that deals 1d10 (5.5 average) acid damage on hit. Its damage automatically scales at 5th (2d10; 11 average), 11th (3d10; 16.5 average), and 17th (4d10; 22 average) levels.
It also comes with the flavorful choice of sharpening your nails or teeth upon casting (which is what you’re attacking with). This flavor is neat, but it’s also the source of a few common rules misconceptions.
What Are the Rules for Primal Savagery in 5e?
The rules for Primal Savagery in DnD 5e are as follows:
Primal Savagery uses the Cast a Spell action; not the Attack action. This has certain implications. Namely, it doesn’t work with things like Extra Attack, two-weapon fighting, Monk’s Martial Arts feature, Paladin’s Divine Smite, anything that requires a weapon attack, etc.
Note that this is in contrast to Shillellagh, another melee Druid feature that allows for enhanced (non-spell) melee weapon attacks that can interact with things that require the Attack action or making a weapon attack rather than a spell attack.
Primal Savagery’s range cannot be extended beyond 5 feet. Even with things like the Spell Sniper feat or Sorcerer’s Distant Spell metamagic. Besides the fact that the spell’s range is “Self” (making it ineligible for both things), the spell’s text explicitly states that it can only target a creature within 5 feet of the caster.
Note: you can still use the Spell Sniper feat to learn Primal Savagery, as it’s an attack roll-based cantrip on the Druid spell list; it’s just that its range won’t be affected by the feat.
Primal Savagery doesn’t work with Symbiotic Entity (TCoE 37). This 2nd-level subclass feature from the Circle of Spores causes your melee weapon attacks to deal an extra 1d6 necrotic damage. Unfortunately, Primal Savagery is a melee spell attack, and therefore doesn’t function with this feature (RAW).
The spell’s range is Self, but the target is still the creature you’re attacking. This mostly matters because it means that Primal Savagery can still be used with the War Caster feat (PHB 170).
How Do I Use Primal Savagery in 5e?
Here are a few ways to use Primal Savagery in DnD 5e:
Be a non-Moon melee Druid. Which, in it of itself, is kind of a rare thing. The Druid subclass that lends itself most to non-Wild Shape’d melee combat is the Circle of the Spores, so that’s a good shout for Primal Savagery Druids. However, the spell attack not working with the Symbiotic Entity feature is rather disappointing.
Despite this, the temporary hit points from Symbiotic Entity are still nice for a Druid who plans to be in melee range using Primal Savagery.
Even if you’re not a Spores Druid, be aware that using Primal Savagery means being in melee range, so you oughtta be comfortable with that. By which I mean, get some AC and some other ways to survive, either through defensive feats or utility spells that make enemies less threatening.
Take advantage of the somatic-only component. The fact that Primal Savagery doesn’t have a verbal component puts it in a rare 5.5% of DnD 5e spells. That means you can cast it while in the area of effect of the Silence spell or if you’re gagged.
Scare someone. Some DMs might let you make use of your terrifying transmutation into a savage beast by granting you advantage on an Intimidation check.
Who Can I Target With Primal Savagery 5e?
While the range of Primal Savagery is “Self,” the target of the spell is still the creature you’re attempting to hit with the melee spell attack, who must be within 5 feet of you (an explicit part of the spell’s description).
That’s why Primal Savagery works with the War Caster feat, but not with something like the Spell Sniper feat or Sorcerer’s Distant Spell metamagic.
Is Primal Savagery 5e a Good Spell?
Primal Savagery is an okay spell, but it has a few things going against it. For starters, most Druids don’t like to be in melee range — they’re full casters as a base class, after all.
On the plus side, acid damage isn’t a very common resistance or immunity (just don’t waste your time using Primal Savagery on an ooze). Overall, acid resistance/immunity is about as common as necrotic, and only slightly more common than psychic resistance/immunity.
However, the two types of Druids who do like to be in melee range are Moon Druids (who rely on Wild Shape and, therefore, won’t usually need a damaging melee spell cantrip) and Circle of the Spores Druids (who are better served by Shillelagh, which actually works with their Symbiotic Entity feature).
Which brings us to the ultimate question of whether or not Primal Savagery is good when compared to the vanilla melee spell cantrip from the Player’s Handbook: Shillelagh.
Primal Savagery 5e Compared to Shillelagh
Primal Savagery vs. Shillelagh has been a constant question that new Druids ask since Xanathar’s Guide to Everything came out. The standard response is: Primal Savagery scales with levels while Shillelagh doesn’t, so Primal Savagery is better at levels 5+ but Shillelagh reigns supreme at early levels.
It’s a little more complicated than that.
Shillelagh deals 1d8 + Wisdom modifier damage (safe to assume an average of 7.5 at levels 1-4, going up to 8.5 average damage at level 5). It also is a normal melee weapon attack, and so works with Extra Attack, opportunity attacks, and things that require weapon attacks (like Booming Blade, Green-Flame Blade, Divine Smite, two-weapon fighting, etc.).
Primal Savagery scales from 5.5 average damage to 11 damage at 5th level. Most people say 11 > 8.5, so Primal Savagery > Shillelagh at levels 5+. But if you have access to Extra Attack, Shillelagh stays better until at least level 11 (which is why, ironically, Shillelagh is better on Rangers than Druids).
And if you’re a Circle of Spores Druid who wants to get that sweet extra Symbiotic Entity damage, Shillelagh stays better for the entire campaign.
Overall, the extra utility, less resisted magical bludgeoning damage, bonus action cast-time, and 1-minute, no concentration duration of Shillelagh means that it’s usually the better option, even when Primal Savagery’s average on-hit damage is slightly higher.
Primal Savagery 5e DM Tips
If you have a Druid PC who really wants to be a Circle of Spores Druid who uses Primal Savagery instead of Shillelagh, I’d say it’s a fine thing to allow. Symbiotic Entity’s 1d6 bonus necrotic damage on-hit isn’t crazy high, so there’s no balance issue caused by allowing this.
Simple Primal Savagery 5e Spell Text
Primal Savagery: (Transmutation cantrip, Self, S) Make a melee spell attack against one creature within 5 feet of you. On hit, target takes ld10 acid damage. | +1d10 at 5th, 11th, and 17th levels.