In Dungeons & Dragons, wizards always seem to go for the flashy, damage-inducing spells.
But there are other spells that are way more effective (in various situation), and I feel, are way better than those flashy spells.
I want to try and expand your thinking when it comes to choosing your wizard’s spells. Or, to help you make do with the ones you randomly rolled.
I have broken this up into three editions of the game – OSE (Basic), D&D3e, and D&D5e – listing five from each edition.
I had one basic rule with this list: I only took into account spells from the respective Player’s Handbook.
OSE (Basic D&D)
My five 1st-level spells better than Magic Missile in OSE:
- Sleep – this is one powerful spell. It affects 2D8 HD of creatures under 4HD. For those low level pesky runts, there is no better spell. Also, once they are asleep: Creatures enchanted by this spell are helpless and can be killed instantly with a bladed weapon. Nice!
- Charm Person – Man, this spell is poorly underrated. Anyone under 4HD can be charmed if they fail a saving throw and they will consider you a friend and ally. And this lasts anywhere from one day to one month! (depending on their Intelligence). You could charm an average NPC for a week! And at the end of the week, they only get another save. If they keep failing, they will still be charmed.
- Light – A great utility spell that can be a combat spell. We all understand what a great spell this can be when the lanterns and torches go out. But it can also be cast into the eyes of an enemy up to 120-ft away, blinding them and making them unable to attack.
- Read Languages – For 20 minutes the caster can read any language, code, map, or set of written instructions. While this is one of the least flashiest spells around, it would be extremely useful in those ancient tombs and crypts, when dead languages abound.
- Floating Disc – This spell was originally designed with carrying treasure in mind, but with a max load of 500lbs, it could easily carry dead bodies back to the surface or injured companions. It would also be a good way to get past traps as well.
Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition
My five 1st-level spells better than Magic Missile in D&D3e:
- Alarm – This spell create a silent or audible alarm if anyone comes within a certain range. The spell lasts 2 hours per level of caster, so by 4th level you could have a spell that would alert you to visitors for up to 8-hours (the required time for sleep). Something that would be super beneficial when resting in dangerous places.
- Grease – I cannot tell you how many times this spell has saved me. A 10-ft x 10-ft area is covered in slippery substance that means anyone who crosses that area must save or fall prone. Combine this with a reach weapon and you have a bonus to your attack and a free attack if they try and stand up. It also means that even if they save they move at half speed. This spell can also be cast on an item as well, giving it all sorts of interesting possibilities with enemy’s weapons or magic items.
- Unseen Servant – For one hour per level you get an invisible servant to do your bidding. It has a STR of 2 but can open stuck door, trigger traps, and clean – all very handy in a dusty old dungeon. This is one of those spells the wizard can get really creative with.
- True Strike – This continues to be an underrated spell. You cast it one round and your attack on the next round gains a +20 insight bonus and ignores concealment. This is pretty much an auto hit every other round. Gold for wizard who has run out of spells or a wizard who has a few ranged touch attack spells.
- Magic Weapon – At low levels it could be some time before anyone in the party has a magic weapon. Even at mid-levels, not everyone does. And as soon as you encounter a monster which can only be hit by magical weapons, you really feel it. This spell is one of those that is not always used, but when it’s needed, it is a god-send.
So many good spells in 3rd edition, this was a difficult list to just limit to five. Let me know if I missed any good ones.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Just for completeness, my five 1st-level spells better than Magic Missile in D&D5e:
- Colour Spray – Another offensive spell but quite an effective one. It will blind up to 6D10 hit points worth of creatures. This means they will get disadvantage on all attacks and can be attacked with advantage. Any time you gain advantage or give disadvantage is great, but this does both to multiple enemies!
- Expeditious Retreat – This gives you bonus Dash action each and every round. Definitely worth it if needing to be somewhere else on the battlefield quickly, get into range for a spell (and get out again), or running away from the enemy.
- Disguise Self – This is completely underrated. You can change your appearance, including items worn, into someone else completely. This could come in handy in many situations and you could easily use this spell to infiltrate an enemy camp, or to evade them.
- Unseen Servant – It made my 3rd edition and 5th edition list. It’s just that good. I have used it in 5e quiet effectively. I was driving a bad guy mad with it, mended a door with it, and also you can place it between you and an enemy and it will give you a round delay as the bad guys pumps into an invisible “enemy”, attack it instead of you. And you can cast it as a ritual if you are not in a hurry.
- Protection from Evil or Good – Unlike its name suggests, this spell will protect you from multiple monster types: aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead! And they will all get disadvantage on attacks against you. In addition, you cannot be charmed, frightened, or possessed by them – no need to make those saving throws.
There you have it, five better 1st-level spells beyond Magic Missile for three editions of D&D.
Do you agree? Any I missed? Let me know in the comments below.
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4 Replies to “Five 1st-Level Spells In D&D Better Than Magic Missile”
I don’t agree with many of your choices. True Strike is one of the worse spells out there with only situational uses. It takes two rounds to cast and use. I’d rather have Magic Missile and hack away with my staff on the second round than use the spell. Read Language/Magic can, in some very specific situations, be more useful than MM but, in a Vancian system, I would not risk memorizing such a spell on the off chance that it might be useful for the almost certain chance that MM WILL be useful (that’s one of the many reasons why I use a spell point system). Same goes for Unseen Servant (plus, traps a Thief’s job). Magic Weapon is only useful if you encounter an enemy that can only be hit by magic. Magic Missile is useful in most situations. Sure, if you know there’s a Vampire around the corner, you take Magic Weapon, but otherwise, don’t risk getting stuck with a useless spell. Expeditious Retreat locks you into a flight position. I’d rather fight with MM and run away the old fashioned way than the opposite. Again, in a Spell Point system, there’s more versatility. Alarm can be mostly replaced by setting a watch. It can be useful but MM tends to be more useful. Disguise Self can be way more useful in some situations but, not so much in a dungeon crawl, so it really depends on the situation. An uncast spell is a waste. At high levels you can risk taking a situational spell but at low level, you get spells that WILL be useful. Not spells that might be useful.
Hey, thanks for the reply. I pretty much disagree with you – sorry about that. 🙂
True Strike is one of the worse spells out there with only situational uses. It takes two rounds to cast and use. I’d rather have Magic Missile and hack away with my staff on the second round than use the spell. So, you would rather put yourself in melee combat as a wizard than be a perfect sniper from afar? Poor choice, in my opinion. As soon as you are in melee with your wizard, you have failed.
Read Language/Magic can, in some very specific situations, be more useful than MM but, in a Vancian system, I would not risk memorizing such a spell on the off chance that it might be useful for the almost certain chance that MM WILL be useful… I guess it comes down to the types of dungeons you play in – in my campaigns dungeons abound with ancient languages with clues and useful knowledge. On walls, statues, scrolls, books, and in tombs and crypts. Sounds you like play a more battle-oriented game, so usefulness may vary.
Same goes for Unseen Servant (plus, traps a Thief’s job). A thief’s job? Hmmm, doesn’t sound very imaginative. There are more ways to skin a trap. So, maybe the spell Find Trap should not be in the game?? If you can think outside the box, Unseen Servant is one of the best spells to have. I mean, why go into the cavern and face off against the goblins with one MM when you can send in an Unseen Servant to grab the idol instead? And what happens if your thief is low on HP – a backup is nice to have.
Magic Weapon is only useful if you encounter an enemy that can only be hit by magic. Yup! As mentioned in the post. “This spell is one of those that is not always used, but when it’s needed, it is a god-send.” But then again a good +1 to attack and damage never goes astray either.
Expeditious Retreat locks you into a flight position. I’d rather fight with MM and run away the old fashioned way than the opposite. I think you are taking the name of the spell too literally. It adds to your combat speed – it’s not just for running away. And as mentioned in the post, this means you can get into and out of the battle quickly. Way better than one MM, then death.
Alarm can be mostly replaced by setting a watch. Alarm can lessen the need for a watch. And it has the added benefit of not falling asleep on the job or failing a perception check. 🙂
Disguise Self can be way more useful in some situations but, not so much in a dungeon crawl… So, you don’t think looking like an orc and infiltrating a nest of them is an effective strategy? Why fight when you can hide in plain sight?
Hope that help clear things up! 🙂
True Strike takes effect over two rounds. I’d rather hit automatically with magic missile inflicting the same damage on one round and be free to do whatever I want on the second round. Like attack with a normal weapon. So it’s either attack once every other round with a normal weapon using true strike or attack with MM and then do something else (like, as an example, attack with a normal weapon).
In 35 years, I’ve seen RL (the Thief skill) useful twice and RM once. Almost always a skill check on a language will suffice for the former. To suggest it as an alternative to MM because YOUR campaigns have scripts to read is silly. If reading scripts is really all that important in your campaign then the Wizard or the thief will learn to read ancient scripts as a skill. Combat oriented is not what I play necessarily. But it’s rarely (in fact never in 35 years) immediate necessity to read something versus immediate necessity to defend oneself in combat. If I have multiple slots, I will never take RL or RM but I would take other spells.
I love the way you cherry pick my arguments without looking at the entire argument. For Unseen Servant, I KNOW it can be used to find traps but a Thief can do that always. so why waste a slot on US when you can use MM. Again it’s on the off chance that it’ll be useful versus always useful. If I have only one slot, MM is almost always better than US. Backups are only nice if you have the slots but we’re talking about taking US instead of MM.
Be consistent, you moan about a Wizard going into combat being a failure but then you say ER is good for getting into combat. As a Wizard, if I have one slot, then MM has a chance of killing something that has been wounded but ER does nothing unless we decide to run away or if I decide to go into combat. Yes I can move faster to tactically redeploy, but, compared to MM, it is not worth it.
When you set a watch, two people are on watch and a perception check is rarely required in any campaign I’ve played in. Yes, it can happen that someone falls asleep or that the enemy sneaks up successfully. Again a niche situation as if it happened often enough then any party without a Wizard with Alarm spell would die on the second or third night. Compared to my only slot being used on MM, it’s a no brainer.
Disguise Self might be useful in some very specific situations (although it would never work on orcs unless the Wizard is an Orc). But again, you’re giving niche uses against something universal.
All of the above results 90% of the time in either an uncast spell or a failure. MM is useful 90% of the time. When you only have one spell slot, you choose the spell that WILL be useful over the spell that MIGHT be useful. I’ve seen too many players fill their slots with niche spells only to be completely useless when we get in the thick of it. Nothing you have said even remotely proves your point that these spells are BETTER than MM. You have given VERY niche situations for the use of spells. So, no, it does not clear things up.
The proper fix to this is to use a spell point system so that the Wizard can use all his spells creatively when the situation comes up. That way, you don’t lock your spell slot into a spell that will rarely be useful but you can then choose to use that spell, for example, Unseen Servant in that suspicious looking corridor (or to grab the idol) when the Thief is low on hit points or Expeditious Retreat to retreat or to tactically redeploy.
Let’s just agree to disagree.
Happy to agree to disagree as I don’t think we will agree as I feel we probably play differently, at least wizards differently. I like my wizard more well-rounded and more than a one-trick pony. Magic Missile is a one-trick pony of a spell that may not have any impact on an enemy (other than wounding it).
Also, I will say that just because you say a situation is “niche” doesn’t make it so. But that goes back to playing differently.
Magic points are nice (but not really D&D), but you can still have a wizard who can contribute each session with slots – again, you need to be creative with your spell selection and your use of them. The spells I mentioned are better than MM because they can be used in many situations.
And I didn’t cherry pick your arguments, you have just failed to understand mine. Unseen Servant can be used for many uses, as a substitute for thieving skills as just one of them. Again, you need to think creatively. If a wizard doesn’t use it for that, he can use it for something else. A very versatile spell! Hence, better than MM. Does that clarify things?
Anyway, thanks for the comments. Always good to see.