5E Illumination Cantrips Compared and Analyzed
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    Illumination Cantrips Compared and Analyzed

    5e has lots of cantrips which can create illumination. The intent of this thread is to discuss the various uses of such cantrips. Comment is welcome on how you've used such cantrips in the past, different uses you can imagine, and anything I get wrong or forget when reviewing these cantrips.

    First, a list of light sources in the game:



    Now, on to the Cantrips!

    Control Flames: 60' Range; Instantaneous; Alterations last 1 hour
    Key use: You double the area of bright light and dim light cast by the flame, and can do this up to three times with all running simultaneously
    Other uses: dim light, expand flame into adjacent square, extinguish flame, create simple shapes in flame.

    Example Uses: I've listed the radius expansions for non-magic flames in the above Light Sources list. This is a pretty powerful effect in my opinion. Getting a cone of 120' bright light and another 120' dim light from a bullseye lantern means you're spotting Drow and Svirfneblin at the same range their special darkvision could spot you, which would mean at best they'd have disadvantage to spot you in your darkness while you can light them up and attack as normal (and the regular hooded lantern is pretty great with this as well). You can use mage hand to move the lantern to an apprporiate spot as well, therefore keeping you and your party in the dark while illuminating massive sections of your environment. And you could even put out a light from range if you needed to, and then re-lite it at range later with this cantrip.

    And since you can cast this three times and have all three going at once, you could effectively light almost the entire region around you while still keeping your party in the dark, if you place those lanterns well. Remember, it's a cone, and a cone for bullseye lanter, is as wide at it's maximum range as it is distant from the light source - so it's 120' across at that point. That 120' is so much I felt the desire to map it (and you could have three of these going at once):



    Dancing Lights: 120' range, Duration 1 minute, Concentration
    Key use: four torch-sized lights within range, each light sheds dim light in a 10- foot radius, each movable with bonus action up to 60 feet to a new spot within range, provided each is still within 20' of another.
    Other uses: Can make them appear as torches, lanterns, or hovering glowing orbs; can combine them into one glowing vaguely humanoid form of Medium size.

    Examples: @Treantmonklvl20 posteda great video on why he thinks this spell is underrated. I highly recommended watching it (and all his videos). In fact, that video was the inspiration for this thread, and I am going to borrow some of his graphics to demonstrate some of the uses he suggests (and I hope he does not mind my doing that).

    Treantmonk suggests the following formation for the four lights created by this cantrip, which enables lighting a large area in a dungeon or similar environment while keeping your party in the dark so foes have a harder time perceiving the party and targeting the party:



    Similarly, once you hear a foe in the distance, you can move the lights to illuminate your foes, while keeping your party well out of the range of their darkvision and ability to target you, like such:



    Treantmonk does a better job describing these uses than I can, but he stresses the mobility of the lights created by this cantrip, and utility of being able to move all four independently and at a pretty fair distance and high movement rate, can be very useful in lighting up your foes while keeping your own party in the darkness. And remember, darkness means either the foe cannot spot you at all if you're outside the range of their darkvision, or at worst it means the foes have disadvantage to spot you with darkvision (because darkvision just makes darkness into effectively dim light, which still applies disadvantage on perception checks).

    Light: Touch Range, 1 hour duration
    Key use: One object that is no larger than 10 feet in any dimension sheds bright light in a 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional 20 feet.
    Other use: The light can be colored as you like; Can target an object held or worn by a hostile creature (they get a save)

    Example uses: You can cast it on a rock and throw it or toss it down something. You can use Mage Hand to move that rock or other small object. You can cast it on a shield or other part of your armor so you don't need a hand to hold a torch or lamp. You can cast it on an arrow or bolt and shoot it into something. You could cast it on a tongue piercing and turn it off just by closing your mouth. As this is the most popular illumination cantrip, I am sure people can offer many interesting examples of it's uses.

    Produce Flame: Range Self; 10 Min Duration
    Key Use: Flame sheds bright light in a 10-foot radius and dim light for an additional 10 feet.
    Other Use: Can attack with flame.

    Example Uses: It's not really a primary illumination spell, as I think most people take it for the attack portion of the spell. But it's handy to have illumination from your attack cantrip, when you're not attacking with it. I know my halfling druid enjoys that aspect of this spell.

    Honorary mention:

    Create Bonfire: The spell technically doesn't say it creates illumination. I'd rule it does (probably same as a hooded lantern), but as it doesn't give details it's hard to discuss it's illumination relative to other cantrips.

    Thaumaturgy: You cause flames to flicker, brighten, dim, or change color for 1 minute. Illumination is not really a key use of this spell, though if it brightens flames such that it extends the range of illumination then it could be. The spell details don't really tell us what mechanical impact the "brigten" effect has, however, so it's hard to discuss it further.

    Druidcraft and Prestidigitation: You instantly light or snuff out a candle, a torch, or a small campfire. Mentioning this for completelness, but illumination is not a key use for this spell.
    Last edited by Mistwell; Tuesday, 2nd April, 2019 at 07:20 PM.
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    One thing people forget about light is that it can be useful to illuminate your enemies but not yourself. If you cast light on an arrow and fire it at the enemy or cast dancing lights far from you but near them, you can generate a situation where you can see them but they can't see you.

    While you may not want to go into detail on every light-producing spell and effect, there's one that may be worth adding: Fire elementals shed bright light in a 30' radius and dim light for another 30'. Unlike a lot of other short duration effects, you might have this one around for a significant time - a 10+ level moon druid can turn into one essentially constantly, 9th level druids and wizards can conjure one for an hour at a time, and with planar binding you can have one permanently in your entourage.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mistwell View Post
    Produce Flame: Range Self; 10 Min Duration
    Key Use: Flame sheds bright light in a 10-foot radius and dim light for an additional 10 feet.
    Other Use: Can attack with flame.

    Example Uses: It's not really a primary illumination spell, as I think most people take it for the attack portion of the spell. But it's handy to have illumination from your attack cantrip, when you're not attacking with it. I know my halfling druid enjoys that aspect of this spell.
    The main problem with using produce flame for illumination is that once you attack with it, it goes out and you're in the dark until next round.

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    That is an excellent point about dancing lights--that you can send it out to light up the enemy while staying in the dark yourself. Of course, the enemy can probably move more than 20 feet per round. But if you can engage in a corridor where they have to come at you from one direction, you could create a "gauntlet" of illumination up to 80 feet long, with your party standing in the dark at the far end. Pretty nifty.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dausuul View Post
    That is an excellent point about dancing lights--that you can send it out to light up the enemy while staying in the dark yourself. Of course, the enemy can probably move more than 20 feet per round. But if you can engage in a corridor where they have to come at you from one direction, you could create a "gauntlet" of illumination up to 80 feet long, with your party standing in the dark at the far end. Pretty nifty.
    You can move them all 60' at once, you just can't separate any two by more than 20' or else the lagging one winks out.

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    Hey Mistwell! A dark skin Vulcan wants to talk to you about your research. He is waiting in the alley.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mistwell View Post
    You can move them all 60' at once, you just can't separate any two by more than 20' or else the lagging one winks out.
    But maybe obvious maybe not but you can have two separate pairs. Each has to be within 20' of another, not all others.

    So dancing light can be illumination ahead of you with one pair and behind with another.

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    Mistwell: Consider this my permanent permission to use any images you like from my videos!
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    Light is a touch spell, so your familiar can deliver it. The owl in the night can fly by the enemy and touch something near them and light them all up. This way the enemy doesnt see the light coming their direction. They probably wouldnt suspect a stealthy owl caused the illumination.
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    Quote Originally Posted by smbakeresq View Post
    Light is a touch spell, so your familiar can deliver it. The owl in the night can fly by the enemy and touch something near them and light them all up. This way the enemy doesnt see the light coming their direction. They probably wouldnt suspect a stealthy owl caused the illumination.
    Good one! Boy, the uses for familiars are nearly endless.

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