Toll the Dead is a great expansion spell. It was added to multiple spell lists and adds to any character that wants to play on the darker side. Dealing necrotic damage instead of radiant damage (dealt by spells such as Sacred Flame) is a great flavor component.
The rules for Toll the Dead can be found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, page 169.
Toll the Dead 5e
Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
You point at one creature you can see within range, and the sound of a dolorous bell fills the air around it for a moment. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw to avoid taking 1d8 necrotic damage. If the target is missing any of its hit points, it instead takes 1d12 necrotic damage.
At Higher Levels: The spell’s damage increases by one die when you reach the 5th level (2d8 or 2d12), 11th level (3d8 or 3d12), and 17th level (4d8 or 4d12).
The rules for Toll the Dead reveal the damage boost over Sacred Flame if the target is missing any hit points, increasing to 1d12. Like all damage cantrips,the damage increases with the character level. This spell also calls for a wisdom save from the target, separating it further from the dexterity-based Sacred Flame.
Is Toll the Dead Good?
How good is Toll the Dead? That comes down to what you are comparing it to.If it is compared to the other options, such as Sacred Flame, for similar spellcasters, it is effectively a wash.
Toll the Dead vs. Sacred Flame:
- 1d12 damage vs 1d8 damage
- Necrotic Damage vs. Radiant Damage
- Wisdom Save vs. Dexterity Save
Toll the Dead does more damage, but necrotic damage is more often resisted than radiant damage. Enemies, on average, have lower wisdom than dexterity, so it may hit more often. The two spells have the same range and increase at the same rate per level. The big difference in the spell is the flavor.
If Toll the Dead is compared to a basic attack cantrip like Firebolt, it seems severely underpowered in most instances.
Toll the Dead vs. Fire Bolt:
- 1d12 damage vs 1d10 damage
- Necrotic Damage vs. Fire Damage
- Wisdom Save vs. Ranged Spell Attack (can crit)
- 60 feet range vs. 120 feet range
The damage difference between Toll the Dead and Firebolt is minimal on a regular hit. Both also feature damage types that are commonly resisted.The first major difference is the wisdom save of Toll the Dead compared to the ranged spell attack of Fire Bolt.
Spells without attack rolls cannot get critical hits, meaning d12 is the highest damage for Toll the Dead possible. Fire Bolt, on the other hand,can get critical hits, meaning it is possible to deal 2xd10 damage. Also, the chance to hit increases with the character when using Fire Bolt and it does not with Toll the Dead.
The second difference is the range of the spells. 60 feet compared to 120 feet in-game is a difference of a common enemy being in melee range in one turn versus two turns. This can be critical for a spell caster not interested in getting their hands dirty.
Toll the Dead is a good damage cantrip for the cleric. It is almost superior in every way to Sacred Flame. Overall, Toll the Dead is still an all-or-nothing cast. If the target saves, the spell doesn’t do anything. This can be incredibly frustrating for characters who are relying heavily on spells for other purposes.
The lack of satisfaction from getting a natural 20 on an attack also doesn’t help it much either. It does level with the character as all cantrips and can add a greatrole-playing flavor if radiant damage just doesn’t fit the character concept.
What does Toll the Dead do?
When Toll the Dead is cast on a target, according to the description, the sound of dolorous bells fills the space around them for a moment forcing them to make a wisdom save or take damage. That is a straightforward description but offers little in the way of the actual description of the attack.
When Toll the Dead or any cantrip is cast often enough, it is easy to fall in a rut for a DM of saying, “it doesn’t save, roll damage.” This can be underwhelming, and while not every cast needs a fantastical description, it is nice to mix it up for the players. This is especially true when you have competing casters using similar spells, such as a necromancer and healer clerics.
For clerics, spells like Sacred Flame and Toll the Dead are almost a must-have. Generally, these cantrips make up the bulk of ranged attacks for this class. It is nice to see Toll the Dead get a damage bump and not give up anything for it.
Ultimately though, in comparison to other basic cantrips Toll, the Dead feels a little flat. An all-or-nothing spell can be an encounter-changing event at low levels, and not having the ability to critically hit doesn’t help build excitement. Maybe it is better to just hit them with a mace.