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D&D 5E removing cantrips: what to give instead?

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I think for most folks, it’s specifically about damage-dealing cantrips. A wizard can cast Prestidigitation and Mage Hand all day e’rry day for all I care. But handing them an at-will ranged attack that keys off their casting stat, has no ammunition cost, does as much damage as a heavy crossbow, and scales better than a Fighter’s extra attack is a bit silly. I have no problem with the basic idea of casters’ “basic attacks” being magic instead of weapons, but damage cantrips are just better than weapon attacks (even those made by martial characters) in pretty much every way. Toning them down at least a bit seems perfectly reasonable to me.

I, on the other hand, am not that worried about damage-dealing per se. I just can't wrap my head around all the setting implications of any 1st level spell caster being able to do at-will magic that significantly impacts the environment. There are maybe 10% of the 5e cantrips that seem plausible as "at-will", and even then I want to be able to impose the same restrictions that one would on physical activity - without getting into a dust-up with entitled spell casters.
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Another obvious possibility is to reach all the way back to the original take on cantrips: trade in one 1st level slot for 4 cantrip 'slots.'

Since I use spell points anyway, I've considered making cantrips cost 1 sp and bumping up the costs of leveled spells and the spell point pool appropriately. Next campaign, maybe.
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Wand60 ft1d6 forcelight, focus
Staff120 ft1d8 forceTwo-handed, focus
Rod90 ft1d6 forcefocus
Orb60 ft1d4 psychiclight, focus
Crystal90 ft1d6 radiantfocus
Amulet60 ft1d6 radiantfocus
Reliquary30 ft1d10 radiantTwo-handed, heavy, focus
Totem90 ft1d8 psychicfocus
Mistletoe twig60 ft1d12 poisonfocus, light

There's something about a twig being the most powerful item on the list that seems ... off. But it would also be pretty funny. OMG, watch out - he's putting down the reliquary and going for the TWIG.


Mage Hand: as the cantrip, 15 lbs instead

I'd probably let Mage Hand last significantly longer also - 10 minutes, or even an hour seems ok.

Evocation: A creature that save against your evocation spell or that you miss with a spell attack take damage
equal to your Int mod from the same type as the spell.

I was skimming and having "equal" right below "Evocation", I initially read "Equivocation". Now I want a School of Equivocation.


Goblin Queen
First, I don't see any issues with cantrips the way they are though I don't see any issue if folks want to look at other options.

However, the main reason I don't see any issue with them is probably because I don't agree with " but damage cantrips are just better than weapon attacks (even those made by martial characters) in pretty much every way."

1) Cantrips don't benefit from magical weapon bonuses to .. to hit and damage. You can get a wand of the war mage for the to hit side of things but most casters won't have an attunement slot for it.

2) Most cantrips do not add the casting stat to damage the way most weapon attacks typically do.

So consider ... a plain long bow attack at level 11 is 2x(d8+5) from any martial character since they all have extra attack by that point. Average damage is 19. Firebolt is 3d10 at this level which is 16.5 damage. Add a +2 magical weapon and the bow goes to 23 average damage. The bowman will also likely benefit from Archery fighting style significantly increasing the chances of actually hitting the target.
For sure, cantrips don’t put out as much DPR as most martial classes’ weapon attacks. The disparity will be different for different groups depending on how many magic weapons they tend to see. Still, I find the scaling in number of damage dice and the range wit no ammunition cost a bit much for my taste.

That is the lowest base ranged attack for most martial classes. It only scales up from there. A paladin with improved divine smite at 11 and the dueling fighting style with a 20 stat does far more. A rogue with sneak attack does far more. GWM/SS/Xbow Xpert/PAM builds can all do massively more damage than the piddly cantrips. Yes, the primary contribution of most casters is their spell casting but the spells are limited resources, none of the martial abilities mentioned here are in any way limited.
Divine Smite is very much limited, by spell slots no less. And sneak attack is very powerful but that’s to compensate for the rogue’s lack of Extra Attack. Still, I do see your point, and I was being a bit too hyperbolic calling damage cantrips “better than weapon attacks in almost every way.” I still think they’re stronger than they should be,

In my experience, when comparing cantrip damage to all the other options ... it just gives the caster something to do so that they feel like they are contributing to the fight and at least doing something when they don't burn a spell slot on a spell that may or may not be effective.
I get that, and I certainly agree that’s what Cantrips ought to be. For me though, damage dealing cantrips are a bit too strong. By all the means, give the casters something useful to do when they don’t have enough or just don’t want to spend spell slots. Just not something quite so good that it makes the archer feel like a chump spending arrows to do what the spellcaster can do for free.

The one exception to this is agonizing blast since, because it adds the casting stat to damage on each bolt, it remains competitive damage wise. Of course, SS/GWM builds will far outdamage it but it remains a useful amount of damage compared to any other cantrip damage options for most casters.
Ironically, Eldritch Blast with Agonizing Blast is in my opinion the most fair damage cantrip. Because the warlock dedicates a significant portion of their class features to keep up with the martials in terms of at-will DPR. An Eldritch Blast focused warlock is functionally a more magic-themed archer, and about on par with its martial counterpart, if slightly behind, which it makes up for with roughly one leveled spell per encounter. Whereas other casters, while a bit further behind on the at-will DPR get it in addition to a deep reserve of daily spellcasting power.

By level 17, when firebolt does 4d10 ... it still doesn't (and shouldn't) even keep up with the three weapon attacks from a level 11 fighter.

So, no, I don't think cantrips are just better than weapon attacks, because they aren't (with the possible exception of agonizing blast).
Yeah, that’s fair to say. I should have been more precise, most damage dealing cantrips aren’t just better than weapon attacks. I still think they’re a bit much, though. YMMV.

Li Shenron

Lets say I wanted to remove cantrip because reasons. What would be a fair trade in term of power for the classes that get them?

  • Light armor prof?
  • Simple weapon/ short selection of martial weapons?
  • More skills?
  • extra attacks (at level 6, 7 or 8 or 11?)?
  • Extra slots (+1 for spell level 1 to 4 ?)
  • Something else
  • Mish mash of all of the above?

Its not a poll, its not a discussion about the reasons why someone like or not cantrips: its just a whiteroom design for now :)

Look for design elements which grant cantrips for a comparison.

The Magic Initiate feat grants 2 cantrips, but it also grants a 1st-level spell 1/day.
Recently some Unearthed Arcana article proposed fighting styles which grant 2 cantrips.

So if I were to remove cantrips from one of the classes, I would start by granting them a bonus feat or a fighting style (if appropriate).

Normally a spellcaster class knows significantly more than 2 cantrips, but I would not equate every e.g. every 3 cantrips to an extra bonus feat, because IMO further additional cantrips are worth somewhat less than the first ones. I would stay safe and just give one single bonus feat or fighting style. [edit: poorly explained... I just mean I would grant one single feat/ft.style at level 1 to all spellcasters who normally get cantrips, no matter how many cantrips they normally get, I would not grant a second bonus feat when they would reach their 5th or 6th cantrip for example]

There may be other adjustments needed later, for example if the character would get Potent Cantrip from an archetype, I would replace it with a same-level feature from another archetype.


I would also be for removal od damage dealing cantrips if we implement reserve feats from 3.5e.

Feat fiery blast,

Prerquirement; spellcaster with 1st level or higher spell slots. must know or have prepared "fire" spell of 1st level or higher
+1 int, wis or cha

You gain special magical ability, range 60ft, 5ft burst, it deals 1d6 fire damage per highest spell slot level that you have. dex save for half damage.

Magic arrow,

Prerquirement; spellcaster with 1st level or higher spell slots. must know or have prepared "force" spell of 1st level or higher
+1 int, wis or cha

You gain special magical ability, range 100ft, make ranged spell attack, if you hit deal 1d6 force damage per highest spell slot level that you have.


I'm not buying it. Cantrips are there for the full casters to feel like full casters. Mechanically, its also not as simple as 'I want to remove them so i'll just replace them with something else'.

Clerics for example, would be completely borked. If you replace cantrips with Heavy Armor prof, then what about the subclasses that grant it? They have to be replaced too, otherwise they would simply be one feature short. Also, Domains like Death Cleric has features that require cantrips, like Reaper. And Illusion Wizard's Improved Minor Illusion.... what of it then? They'd be severely nerfed without Minor Illusion to play with.

Don't mess with the mechanics if you don't understand the consequences.
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I think the point is, you couldn't just "replace X with Y". You would have to create individual new rules for all of those instances, plus a lot more that we haven't thought of.

My feeling is the best way to get rid of cantrips would be to use an earlier edition ruleset.


Easiest way to reduce the number of cantrips in the game is to restrict the number of players in your game who are allowed to select a class that has cantrips.

Players can select as many barbarians, fighters, paladins, monks, rangers, and rogues they want... but there can only be a single player who can take a bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. Thus you have now reduced the amount of at-will magic that appears in your game.


Small God of the Dozens
Encounter planning also has an effect on the impact of cantrips, specifically damage cantrips. Those are ranged attacks for the most part, and a spell caster getting to use them every round is assuming, obviously, that he isn't in HtH. If you run more encounters with a number of monsters equal to or exceeding the number of PCs then that spellcaster will end up in HtH more often. Obviously this doesn't impact the melee caster who's spamming booming blade or green flame blade but I don't think those casters are the main issue for this thread.

The above doesn't address the impact of removing cantrips, but I do think it's important to think about in terms of what cantrips are used for in a lot of games and how often they can be used.


I would probably give a Shillelagh-like class feature to full caster classes. As a bonus action, you can enchant a weapon, so it uses your spell casting ability for attack rolls and damage.

Damage type could be linked to class: psychic or thunder for bards, radiant or necrotic for clerics, fire, cold,acid, lightning or force for wizards and sorcerers. Subclass could also play a role, so for instance a tempest cleric would be allowed to enchant its weapons with thunder and lightning.

  • give clerics minor prayers- work like cantrips but all have longer casting times
  • make EB a class feature
  • sorcerer would need something choas bolt cantrip?
  • druids could get natural blessings same as cleric but all naturey
  • bards cutting word is a class feature
  • wizards can lose them and probably be just fine
  • artificer would need mending + something to fill the void like bonus to damage done by adventuring gear + prof in attacks made with them.
  • EK/AT could get the Scag cantrips lite as features.


Make Cantrips require the players Focus/Holy Symbol/Instrument etc. If they don't have it, it uses a 1st level (or higher) spell slot to cast.

That goes a long way towards one of the most common complaint of "Cantrips are so much better because you can't be disarmed while I have to lug around this big bow".


Small God of the Dozens
Yeah, no being able to disarm the mage mitigates for harsher treatment of mage prisoners too, so that might not always be a bonus for the mage in question.


I just recalled an idea I had if I ever ran a 2e or basic game of DnD again: Basic wands and staves that allowed a ranged magical attack.

For 5e it might look something like the following:
Wand120 feet1d6 + spellcasting modifier force damage
Staff60 feet1d10 + spellcasting modifier force damage
This could also lead to granting extra attack to a magic-user allowing two attacks at level 5 when using an implement only. More powerful implements might have additional effects like a push or slow effect.
But really, instead you could have implements let you cast cantrips.

A spellcaster could be proficient in up to (# of cantrips known) such implements.