You ward a creature within range against attack. Until the spell ends, any creature who targets the warded creature with an attack or a harmful spell must first make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature must choose a new target or lose the attack or spell. This spell doesn’t protect the warded creature from area effects, such as the explosion of a fireball.
If the warded creature makes an attack, casts a spell that affects an enemy, or deals damage to another creature, this spell ends.
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: 30 feet
Components: V, S, M (a small silver mirror)
Duration: 1 minute
School: 1st-level abjuration
Player’s Handbook, pg. 272
Sanctuary is a situational 1st-level abjuration spell that can feel useless — right up until it doesn’t. While losing your offensive abilities leaves many players scratching their heads as to why you’d ever use Sanctuary, there are plenty of times when it’s the perfect answer.
We’ll cover the basics of Sanctuary’s rules, as well as some of the more fun and optimal uses of the spell.
Who Can Cast Sanctuary in 5e?
The following classes have Sanctuary on their spell list:
The following subclasses get Sanctuary for free:
Warlock of The Genie — Dao have Sanctuary on their expanded Warlock spell list (TCoE 73).
Way of the Open Hand Monks also gain the effect of Sanctuary at the end of a long rest, starting at 11th level (PHB 80). It lasts until the start of the Monk’s next long rest, or under the normal conditions under which the Sanctuary spell ends.
What Does Sanctuary Do in 5e?
Sanctuary protects one ally within 30 feet. If an enemy tries to attack or cast a spell targeting that ally, they first have to make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, they have to redirect that same attack or spell at a new valid target or lose the attack or spell.
Sanctuary offers no protection from area-of-effect spells — it only works when directly targeted.
If the affected creature makes an attack, casts a spell that affects an enemy, or damages a creature, Sanctuary ends.
Sanctuary lasts for one minute. The two really special things about Sanctuary are that its casting time is a bonus action and it requires no concentration to maintain. This combination of great action economy and no-hassle upkeep is what makes Sanctuary worth looking at twice.
What Are the Rules for Sanctuary in 5e?
The rules for Sanctuary in DnD 5e are as follows:
Sanctuary doesn’t end if a spell you already cast deals damage. Rules as written, a spell that’s active and causing continuous damage or a continuous negative effect on an enemy, continuing that damage or effect does not break Sanctuary. Here’s Sage Advice confirmation.
However, he also states that the rules as intended were for any damaging activity to end the effect of Sanctuary. Like many rules, it comes down to DM discretion.
You can have two Sanctuary spells active, but you’re only benefiting from one at a time. If multiple casters put Sanctuary on the same target, the creature will have all of those effects concurrently on them.
However, a creature that attempts to target them with an attack or spell will only have to make one Wisdom saving throw against the most potent Sanctuary active on the target, which should be whichever spellcaster’s spell save DC is higher.
That’s according to the Player’s Handbook, which states “the effects of the same spell cast multiple times don’t combine…instead, the most potent effect–such as the highest bonus–from those castings applies while their durations overlap” (PHB 205).
But once the most potent Sanctuary falls off (from time, a dispel effect, or whatever) the second Sanctuary will continue until that’s broken as well.
You can affect multiple targets with Sanctuary. Since the spell doesn’t require concentration and nothing in the spell’s description indicates otherwise, you are allowed to cast Sanctuary on multiple targets.
If you’re in combat, you’ll have to wait until your turn each round to re-cast it, since you only get one bonus action per round under normal circumstances.
Opportunity attacks against you don’t get redirected if the creature fails its saving throw. If you trigger an opportunity attack while under the effects of Sanctuary, and the attack fails its Wisdom saving throw, it cannot then redirect that saving throw at one of your allies, even if that ally is within range.
One of the implied parts of Sanctuary’s spell description, when it reads “choose a new target,” is “choose a new valid target.” Since a valid target of an opportunity attack is only a creature that moves out of melee range of a creature, none of your allies are valid targets for this redirected attack.
The OA is simply wasted, and that creature no longer has a reaction available for the rest of the round, to boot.
The attacker can’t move after failing save. Using the same logic from above regarding “valid” targets, a missed attack can’t be broken up with movement before the redirected attack. As the spell reads, the attacker chooses their method of attack (e.g., short sword, longbow, magic missile, etc.) and then tries to attack the Sanctuary’d target.
If they fail the save, they don’t get to pocket that attack or spell. Sequentially, they must choose at that moment who they’d like to redirect that same attack against. If it was a melee attack and no other valid targets are in melee range, they’ve lost the ability to attack this round.
However, even if they fail the saving throw and can’t redirect their attack, they can still move after failing the attack, as usual.
Grappling and shoving both break Sanctuary. Even though these are special attacks, they’re still attacks. Confirmed in the Sage Advice Compendium (SAC 20).
How Do I Use Sanctuary in 5e?
Here are a few things to keep in mind when using Sanctuary, as well as some alternative uses of the spell:
Attack first, then cast Sanctuary. Since Sanctuary’s cast time is a bonus action, there’s no reason not to use another action beforehand. You can Dash, Dodge, or whatever, but most importantly, you can be offensive before Sanctuary’s effect closes that door to use.
To take this further, you could even grapple an enemy, then cast Sanctuary with your free hand. On subsequent rounds, you could maintain the grapple, and even use Dodge, all while keeping Sanctuary active.
Protect a fallen ally. Sanctuary’s meant to be used as a defensive boon for a creature that doesn’t plan on going offensive. That makes it perfect for unconscious allies who just need a bit of breathing room without getting smacked into multiple death save failures.
Sanctuary adds an extra layer of protection if healing said target doesn’t make sense given other circumstances.
Channel Divinity and other offensive non-attack options. Cleric’s and Paladin’s Channel Divinity doesn’t count as an attack or spell, so rules as written, they can be used without breaking Sanctuary’s effect. Again, Jeremy Crawford also stated that rules as intended, any damaging effect should end Sanctuary, so consult with your DM for the final word.
Protecting NPC escorts. Sanctuary is perfect for protecting squishy, non-combative allies. Think mounts, NPC escorts, and familiars. When it’s your job simply to keep somebody alive, Sanctuary is the ticket.
This can be extremely useful when combined with the Owl familiar in particular. Flying in with Flyby allows no OAs to be triggered, using the Help action doesn’t break Sanctuary, and then flying out back to safety again. And if the enemy does decide to take a shot at the Owl familiar, they’ll have to get through that extra defense Sanctuary provides.
Pair with Dodge or Help. Your Owl familiar’s not the only thing on the battlefield that has more utility than just attacking. Helping an ally in combat gives them advantage on their attack, and it won’t break Sanctuary to do so (PHB 192).
Pairing Sanctuary with Dodge offers a laughably high defense that any enemy will be hard-pressed to break through, making for the ultimate tank.
Pair with continuous damage/effect spells. We touched on Spirit Guardians working well with Sanctuary. Other options include spells like Eye Bite, Phantasmal Force, Phantasmal Killer, Hypnotic Pattern, etc.
Again again, it’s ultimately up to your DM whether this is allowed at their table, but RAW, these things (and others) do work.
Locking down narrow corridors. One remarkably effective thing to do is create a choke point with a Paladin or plate-wearing Cleric up front. Then, that tank continuously uses the Dodge action while under the effect of Sanctuary. Nobody can get past them, and it’s nearly impossible to land an attack on them.
Rules as written, this player also provides half cover to allies behind them (PHB 196), although most DMs don’t really adhere to this rule, as it’s a giant PITA to always keep in mind. Plus, that would mean that enemies are also benefiting from half cover provided by that same ally, so it’s a wash anyway.
Protecting concentration. Losing concentration can be devastating, especially with something like a Sorcerer’s Twinned Haste that’s buffing two martial classes in the front line. Sanctuary makes targeting that PC much less tempting, and much less likely to succeed.
Completing tasks. Some enemies, like Undead, have laughably low Wisdom modifiers. If you have to get past a horde of Zombies to help kill the Necromancer who raised them, steal the MacGuffin they’re protecting, or whatever, go ahead and do it. With Sanctuary on, you can pretty much ignore all those idiots.
Use before summoning. While summoning in combat isn’t optimal, it’s worth noting that most summoning spells have a 1-minute cast time. Just as long as Sanctuary, conveniently.
Diplomacy booster. If you want to break up a fight or stop someone who’s attacking you to give you a chance to explain a situation, Sanctuary can be a good option.
Fueling Arcane Ward. Like all low-level Abjuration spells, Sanctuary is great for fueling Abjuration Wizard’s Arcane Ward. Even if an Abjuration Wizard attacks, casts Sanctuary, and then attacks/casts a spell again the next round (immediately breaking Sanctuary’s effect), they still got one round of great defense plus a bunch of temporary health.
Who Can I Target With Sanctuary 5e?
You can target any creature with Sanctuary, willing or unwilling, as long as they’re within 30 feet.
Is Sanctuary 5e a Good Spell?
Yes, Sanctuary is a good spell. Decent range, a bonus action casting time, no concentration requirement, and a measly first-level spell slot all combine to make Sanctuary a worthwhile spell to have prepared.
Plus, most classes with access to Sanctuary don’t have “Spells Known” — Clerics, Paladins, and Artificers all simply prepare spells as they like from their spell lists. Genie Warlocks (The Dao) are the only exception to this.
This is important because Sanctuary is highly situational. Sometimes, it might be useless. But it doesn’t take a huge commitment to prepare Sanctuary for a quest or encounter where you think it might be useful.
Sanctuary 5e Compared to Shield of Faith
A common comparison and question Paladin and Cleric players have is whether Sanctuary or Shield of Faith is the better option. Shield of Faith provides a straight-up +2 AC bonus to a target within 60 feet. It requires concentration and can last up to 10 minutes.
Shield of Faith requires less thought to make use of — simply buff the person who the enemy is focusing on, and you’ve done your job. Sanctuary requires a bit more finesse and planning to make effective use of. That being said, when you pull off a great stunt with Sanctuary, it can be a much more game-changing than Shield of Faith.
Again, both classes that have access to Sanctuary and Shield of Faith get to prepare spells from their entire class list at the end of a long rest, so there’s no harm in trying out both and seeing which feels better for you, and which makes the most sense for the challenge that you’re up against.
Sanctuary 5e DM Tips
Your biggest challenge as a DM is whether you decide to continue focusing on the creature benefitting from Sanctuary or switch to a squishier target. It all comes down to what monsters you’re running.
Stupid Zombies might fail to realize the futility of their attacks, while a savvy spellcaster might get around Sanctuary’s protection with a well-placed area-of-effect spell.
Your other big Sanctuary decision as a DM is whether continuous effects, like Spirit Guardians, can continue to deal damage while the player who summoned them continues to gain the benefit of Sanctuary.
RAW, Sanctuary stays on; RAI, it falls off whenever they do any damaging activity. It’s up to you whether the spirit or letter of the law takes precedence. It’s also up to you to weigh the power that such a combination allows for.
Simple Sanctuary Spell Text
Sanctuary: (1st-level, 1 bonus action, 30 feet, 1 minute, V/S/M (a small silver mirror)) For the duration, the target is protected. If directly targeted by an attack or harmful spell, the attacker must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, they must choose a new target or lose the attack. If the warded creature makes an attack or casts a spell that affects an enemy creature, this spell ends.