D&D 5E Power Word Kill Houserule: Any <100 hp within 1 minute


I like it. I've got a vairant spell in my campaign that fills the slot differently. It is part of a series of spells that involve chants for casting times. These spells grow in power the longer you chant, but if the target gets away from you, the growth stops.

Final Chant
Enchantment - 9
Casting Time - Varies
Target - One creature
Range - 90 ft
Component - V
Duration - Varies
Attack/Save - None

You select a target and utter a loud and powerful chant of power that can compel one creature to set up lethal vibrations in their own body. The casting time for this spell is as long as you maintain the prolonged casting. You must spend your action each turn casting the spell, and you must maintain your concentration while you do so. You can speak or cast a spell as a bonus action while continuing the chant of this spell. If the target can hear you when you begin casting the spell, apply 7 vibration counters to the target. Roll 1d6 and apply that many vibration counters to the target for each action you spend casting the spell, including the first. If your concentration ends, if your target leaves the range of the spell, if the target cannot hear you at the start of your turn, or if the target gains total cover the spell ends immediately. When the spell ends, reduce the targets current and maximum hit points by 10 for every vibration counter on it and remove the counters unless the target is in anti-magic. The reduction on the target cannot be prevented or avoided by any means other than the target being in anti-magic when the spell ends.

While under the effects of this spell, the target can feel the violent and unsettling vibrations and sense the source of the vibrations (you). If the reduction reduces the target's maximum hit points to 0, the vibrations are so violent as to shake the target apart on a molecular level reducing the target to a bloody pulp.

Yes, if you have a helpless target this is an automatic kill. If you have a spellcaster with 9th level spells and a target is helpless for a prolonged period, then that is reasonable. Players that have taken it (or the prior version of it in earlier editions) enjoyed building the tension when they used it. When bad guys used it on PCs, there were some heroic opportunities (stay and fight or flee to end the spell ... effectively taking you out of the fight).

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I feel like the problem with the spell is that the 100 hp threshhold is too low for modern D&D.

What about something simple like "This spell automatically kills one creature - A legendary creature may expend a legendary saving throw to negate the effect?"


To me an ongoing effect of any type goes against the theme of the spell, which is the swift, brutal, "kill with a single, overpowered word of ancient, foundational magic". The instant success or failure is part of the vibe, the problem is simply that by time you gain access to it everything worth spending your best spell on is not going to be vulnerable. And the problem on the DM side is that they usually either know a PC is below 100 HP or above, and as much as you might try to compartmentalize that metagame knowledge away, ultimately you usually cast it knowing that you either definitely will or will not kill a PC.

Really I think it should kill any creature below 100 HP but also be a save or die for creatures above. Then it still won't break combats against creatures with legendary resistances (which should be most important combats by time you are wielding 9th level magic), but will not have so much consequence ride on the particular HP which just incentivizes metagaming too much. It would also vastly increase the times when it felt fair for a DM to use it on player characters.

This is my take too. I think the spell is generally fine (except for being a bonus action), but it does not fit what I think of with power word kill thematically. Raising the hit point threshold would be a better option or alternatively have some debuff if they have more than 100hps - like if they have more than 100hps they manage to survive the assault but have disadvantage on attacks and saves for a turn as they are recovering from their near death.

Other than that the bonus action seems out of place, especially since by the time you get this most players will have powerful magic items or abilities they can use with an action.


What about something simple like "This spell automatically kills one creature - A legendary creature may expend a legendary saving throw to negate the effect?"
The problem is that would be a nerf to the spell in many respects. The main good thing about the spell as it stands is the enemy can not save against it, so legendary saves are useless.


Something just caught my eye - does Power Word Kill work on Undead and Constructs?
Yes, as long as they have less than 100hps.

It works on Dracoliches, Demon Princes, Vecna, everything, and it can be twinned by an enchantment wizard to affect 2 enemies. The 100hp throeshold is a concern but when you have enemies below that it is extremely powerful.


I think the main feature of PWK has always been that the target gets no save, but the palette is limited by hit points. The problem is detecting that the target is valid.

If I were to give a shot at changing this, I'd change it that creatures of 100 hp or less get no save, all other creatures get a save, taking 100 hp damage on a failure and 50 on a success.

I'm also ruminating still if it should affect undead and constructs, or if that was just an oversight.
<EDIT> Looking at old versions, it looks like it's alway been "creatures"; I'd misremembered it as being "living creatures". Also interesting to note the old version used to have an option to kill multiple creatures, as long as no individual creature had 60 hp or more - to a max of 120 hp worth of creatures.
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Mod Squad
Staff member
So you're giving some "I've never actually played high level D&D, only read the books and looked at the numbers" vibes here brah.

Mod Note:
And, in accusing folks of ignorance, you aren't exactly sending great vibes yourself... brah.

So, how about you not use that as a talking point. In general, consider removing accusations of ignorance from your rhetorical bag of tricks, what with the personal nature of it and all...



I appreciate the excellent discussion so far. The main criticisms are concentrated into two areas:

  • This spell misses the "instantaneous" flavor of the power word series of spells.
  • The bonus action for this effect is too powerful.
The first one I can't argue; I can respect that some people want the power word spells to be a very "one and done" type effect. That said, you could argue spells like Power Word Stun or Pain have ongoing durations (those are save ends), but the "magic" is technically done.

So lets focus on the second for a bit. Is the spell effect equivalent enough to other 9th level spells that are an action....that this spell is also worthy of an action? Taken at its core, this spell has several key notes:
  • It can "automatically" kill anything that has 100 hp or lower. Saves and resistances don't matter.
  • This kill can happen the second the creature lowers to 100 hp, aka outside the caster's turn.
  • Unlike damage, this bypasses going to 0 hp. This means effects like a barbarian's ability to come back from 0 HP, or a spell like death ward, is bypassed.
  • We have introduced a few ways to turn off this spell.
    • Dispel Magic
    • Remove Curse.
    • A contingency type effect or reaction that can heal us should we drop below 100 hp (depending on how your DM rules the order of operations)

Now in terms of "automatic" damage, realistically there are a lot of effects that can provide automatic damage. Magic Missile for example is automatic, and deals on average 58.5 damage in a 9th level slot. Meteor Swarm produces 70 damage on average even on a passed save, and of course can effect many more targets. But on the flipside both of those spells have types that can be resisted (fire easily by many targets). There are ways to adjust energy types to avoid some of that, but its still a factor.

The bypassing 0 hp part can be scary against certain creatures, though very few monsters truly have a "come back from 0 hp" mechanic built in.
Probably the biggest advantage is bypassing death ward, which you would expect many boss monsters with access to spells or spellcasting minions to have access to. When it comes to players though, players have a number of effects that get them back up from 0 hp.... and so I think this spell would look a lot scarier in a villain's hands than the PCs. This is reinforced by the HP disparity, a big boss dragon for example, might have like 250 HP, so the 100 threshold is close to 40% or so of their max health. But a 17th level wizard, 100 hp could actually be nigh close to their maximum.

The effect is pretty solid...but it is but a single creature for a single moment. Now that creature is probably a boss monster, I don't think anyone gives a damn if someone uses PWK on a joe schmoe monster. Meteor Swarm can affect a boss and their entire minion entourage, stripping the battlefield of bodies in moments. Or foresight.....which is an 8 hour duration spell.... its hard to overstate how much impact this spell can have over an entire adventuring day.

So that is what I keep coming back to. Sure for that one moment against the boss, this spell looks solid. But other spells are no slouch against a boss either AND either last a lot longer or affect many more targets. So can we really say this spell is the equal of those with an action casting time?
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