The ghostly, skeletal hand of chill touch grasps at its victims, draining their lifeforce while preventing their wounds from closing. This necromantic cantrip is a powerful tool for wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, with unique effects that can tactically turn the tide in many encounters. This definitive guide contains everything you need to master chill touch in your campaigns.
Understanding Chill Touch Mechanics
On the surface, chill touch appears to be a humble cantrip – it has a range of 120 feet and requires only verbal and somatic components to cast. However, don’t let its unassuming exterior fool you. When cast successfully on a target within range, chill touch directs a spectral, skeletal hand to burst forth and clutch onto them. This chilling grasp deals 1d8 necrotic damage to the victim, while also preventing them from regaining hit points until the start of the caster’s next turn.
Additionally, if the target is an undead creature, they suffer disadvantage on any attack rolls made against the caster until the end of the caster’s next turn. This gives chill touch some extra potency when facing the legions of the dead.
As the caster gains power, so too does chill touch. At 5th level, the necrotic damage increases to 2d8. At 11th level it rises to 3d8, and finally caps out at a whopping 4d8 at 17th level. Compared to other cantrips like fire bolt which deal a measly 1d10, chill touch boasts some of the best scaling cantrip damage in 5th edition.
Of course, raw damage output isn’t the only reason chill touch sees frequent use. The spectral hand clinging to victims prevents all forms of hit point regain, whether from rest, potions, regeneration, spells, or class features. Very few effects in 5th edition can totally prevent healing, making chill touch a rare gem. Additionally, the visual of a skeletal hand draining the lifeforce of foes provides creepy flavor that will thrill your players.
Shutting Down Regeneration and Healing
The number one use of chill touch is preventing monsters from utilizing regeneration, magical healing, and other ways to restore lost hit points. Considering how many deadly foes rely on these abilities, chill touch often proves an invaluable tool in dismantling them.
Trolls are the poster child for abusing regeneration. A troll regains 10 hit points at the start of its turn unless the damage was caused by fire or acid. Otherwise, the troll keeps regenerating even if reduced to 0 hit points. Chill touch allows spellcasters to bypass this ability entirely – no regeneration occurs from chill touch as the ghostly hand clings to the troll. Without the constant stream of healing, trolls become much less threatening.
Other regenerating monsters like hydras and svirfneblin also rely on regeneration to stay alive. PCs frequently waste precious resources chipping away at these creatures' massive hit point pools, only for them to rapidly regenerate. A well-timed chill touch cast on these foes shuts down their sustain, allowing the party to finally make meaningful progress.
The hand of chill touch also grasps vampires, stopping their regeneration unless they take radiant damage or exit their coffin. Since most parties lack reliable radiant damage at low levels, chill touch lets even novice adventurers tackle vampiric threats. Nothing is quite as satisfying as watching a smug vampire lord's face turn to horror when their unnatural healing fails them.
Healing potions, spells like cure wounds, and class features like a paladin’s lay on hands all prove useless against chill touch's effects. That cleric trying to heal the owlbear mauling the rogue? Chill touch turns them into a glorified cheerleader. The hobgoblin warlord quaffing healing potions between rounds? Chill touch relegates them to the fate they deserve. Such subversions of expectations make for memorable moments around the gaming table.
Tracking Invisible Enemies
While invisibility is an effective tactic used by many monsters and villains, chill touch unveils their location. Since the spectral hand remains visible while afflicting creatures, it continues clinging to vanished enemies until the start of the caster’s next turn. Keen-eyed party members can pinpoint invisible adversaries by watching for the skeletal hands drifting through the air, allowing the party to strike accurately.
This trick proves invaluable against threats like greater invisible stalkers, phase spiders, night hags, and rakshasas. In fact, clever casters can continually bombard disappearing foes with chill touch, negating their advantage entirely. It’s hard to hide when a skeletal hand keeps dragging you into the light.
Shield Against Undead
When undead creatures fail their saving throw against chill touch, the ghostly appendage hampers their attacks. Undead that are struck have disadvantage on attack rolls against the caster until the end of the caster's next turn. This imposes a significant accuracy penalty, making chill touch an effective shield when confronted by the living dead.
Since many undead use devastating strikes and touch attacks, giving them disadvantage seriously curtails their damage output. Vampires, wraiths, mummies, and specters all have ways to rapidly overwhelm victims. A properly timed chill touch cast dramatically improves a caster's odds of resisting their touch attacks unscathed.
Against ghosts, a chilling hand grasping their ethereal form may be the key to surviving their Withering Touch. Watching a ghost fumble its attack in confusion from beyond the grave is a delight. Holding the shield of chill touch against such phantasmal foes emboldens casters, allowing them to contribute meaningfully to undead battles.
Countering Enemy Healers
In battles against humanoid spellcasters, chill touch acts as anti-healer tech. By restricting magical healing, it forces opposing parties to rely solely on unstable healing potions and prayer. This pressures enemies immensely, making chill touch an important tool when confronting hostile clerics, paladins, druids, and the like.
Does the enemy cleric keep reviving their front line fighters with healing word? A spectral hand around their neck puts a stop to that nonsense. Is a druid using cure wounds to undo your party’s progress? Show them the chilling embrace of undeath. Such initializers may try cleansing the hand to no avail, as only waiting until your next turn ends the curse.
This ability is particularly effective against healers that require verbal components for their restorative magic. The chilling grasp constricting their throat makes chanting healing verses quite difficult indeed. Chill touch forces enemies to reconsider their tactics, setting up your party to press the advantage.
Reliable Necrotic Damage
Compared to other common elemental damage types like fire or cold, necrotic damage has few resistances and immunities. Fiends, undead, and Oathbreaker paladins have notable immunity, but most creatures take full damage from the chilling hand. This makes chill touch one of the most dependable cantrip damage options in 5th edition.
Evokers salivate over fire bolt’s impressive 1d10 base damage, but soon learn of fire's constant resistance woes. Meanwhile, chill touch deals only 1d8 damage yet bypasses resistance far more consistently. That minor damage gap seems a pittance weighed against chill touch's utility.
In a similar vein, sacred flame's radiant damage seems fantastic given its few resistances. However, its measly 1d8 damage and reliance on repeated saving throws instead of spell attack rolls make it mathematically inferior for consistent damage. Comparatively, chill touch boasts equal damage dice and a far more reliable attack roll mechanic.
For Warlocks, chill touch even rivals the mighty eldritch blast when fighting the undead. Since many undead resist or ignore force damage, chill touch's reliable necrotic damage and imposed disadvantage provide a strong alternative. In short, don’t underestimate the value of rarely resisted damage dice.
Tactics, Strategies, and Creative Uses
Now that we have covered the major strengths of chill touch, let’s highlight some clever strategies and outside-the-box uses for the cantrip. Implementing these tactics will enable you to maximize chill touch’s potential.
Prioritize Anti-Heal Over Damage
With chill touch, landing the anti-healing is often more significant than maximizing the damage dice. Healing prevention completely changes the complexion of battles against regenerating foes. Consider using chill touch even when other cantrips may deal more damage on paper.
For example, a warlock could cast chill touch or eldritch blast against a wounded gnoll. Eldritch blast likely deals more damage, but the chill touch anti-heal could prevent the gnoll from using healing potions for a round. This long-term benefit outweighs the difference of a couple damage dice. Evaluating each situation and using chill touch strategically reaps major rewards.
Heighten Your Advantage
Landing chill touch against hardy foes is crucial, as missing negates the anti-healing effect entirely. If possible, use chill touch when you already have advantage on an attack to increase accuracy. Spells like faerie fire, familiars granting the Help action, and similar effects help guarantee a successful chill touch.
Additionally, heighten your chance of success by getting as close as possible before casting chill touch. While its range reaches 120 feet, moving into shorter ranges boosts spell attack accuracy. Don't be afraid to approach before casting, as long as you remain clear of melee range.
Pair with Fear Effects
Several necromancy-themed subclasses like Death or Grave domain clerics and Shadow sorcerers gain access to fear and frightened manipulation in their abilities. When using such features, pairing them with chill touch intensifies your battlefield control.
Casting chill touch on a feared target means their attack rolls already have disadvantage. Adding a second source of disadvantage via chill touch essentially cancels all their attacks, as two instances of disadvantage do not stack. Alternatively, a frightened creature fleeing from your party will have a very hard time escaping when burdened by the ghostly hand.
Empowered Chill Touch
When facing legendary foes, combining chill touch with magic to improve its effects can exponentially increase its impact. The spell holy weapon temporarily transforms a weapon into a magical artifact, even applying this effect to ranged spell attacks. By infusing chill touch with holy power, its necrotic damage increases substantially.
Alternatively, a Divination wizard could grant chill touch a critical success with a low portent roll, guaranteeing both max damage and the anti-healing effect. Such synergies require cooperation across party members, but yield epic results. Don’t underestimate the explosive potential of an empowered chill touch!
Describing chill touch creatively improves its impression drastically. Portraying the skeletal hand as icy cold, dripping with viscous ooze, wreathed in eldritch flame, or any other vibrant imagery makes the spell more engaging. Tailor the hand’s appearance to reflect the caster’s personality or the campaign's mood.
Leaning into creepy vibes also enhances chill touch. Describe the skeletal fingers slowly dragging across the target's skin, refusing to release its grip no matter how vigorously the target struggles. Make the spectral hand behave intelligently, reacting to threats with cunning purpose while fulfilling its chilling embrace.
Finally, reskinning the cantrip’s name removes the misleading implication of cold damage. Popular alternatives include Clenched Fist of Death, Lich Slap, Necrotic Grasp, and Wraith Hook.
Warlocks with the Chains of Carceri eldritch invocation can gain an interesting benefit from chill touch. This invocation allows casting hold monster at-will on a creature marked by the warlock’s chains. Since chill touch lasts until the warlock’s next turn, it effectively “marks” enemies with its spectral hand long enough for the warlock to paralyze them. Such combos create potent lockdown.
Casters like sorcerers with the Twinned Spell metamagic option can nefariously cast chill touch simultaneously on two enemies. This pressures your foes to avoid grouping together, as they risk getting twin cursed by the chilling curse. Such positioning mind games offer creative tactics to control the battlefield.
The Hand That Mocks
Through creative roleplaying, chill touch provides avenues for taunting your foes. When striking an enemy knight, describe the spectral hand sarcastically clapping at their failure to deflect your magic. Against a fleeing opponent, have the hand wave goodbye and beckon them to return. The possibilities are endless for humiliating egomaniacal villains.
Eternal Chill Touch
In some grim, gothic campaigns, DMs may allow the spectral hand to persist indefinitely once cast on a target. Victims find themselves permanently clasped by the hand until the curse is somehow lifted. This chilling harbinger of darkness follows them eternally, serving as a warning against defying the agent of death that grasped them.
Chill Touch FAQ
Let’s review some frequently asked questions about using chill touch:
Can chill touch prevent regeneration from activating at all?
Yes. Most regeneration only functions if the creature has at least 1 hit point. Since chill touch prevents any healing, regeneration cannot activate if reduced to 0 HP.
Does chill touch stop temporary hit points from being gained?
No. Temporary hit points are their own unique mechanism separate from normal hit points. So chill touch does not prevent gaining temporary hit points.
Can chill touch target creatures in magical shelters like Leomund's Tiny Hut?
No. The interior of such sanctuaries are off limits to chill touch and similar spells per the sheltering magic’s rules. The spectral hand impacts the exterior but cannot breach within.
How long does the anti-healing effect from chill touch last?
The anti-healing only persists until the start of the caster’s next turn after casting chill touch. Once the caster begins their next turn, the effect ends and normal healing can occur again.
Mastering the Chilling Grasp
Our journey together has illuminated the skeletal hand’s impressive capabilities. Now you are ready to master chill touch in your own games of Dungeons & Dragons. This guide equipped you with mechanics, uses, strategies, synergies, and creative potential for D&D’s chilling cantrip.
When an enemy's regeneration seems unstoppable, remember the ghostly grip that halts such magic. Facing a vampiric foe terrorizing the land? Arm yourself with the chilling embrace that drains their powers. Require raw necrotic might or strategic anti-healing? Call upon chill touch.
So in summary, use chill touch when:
- Enemies consistently heal or regenerate mid-battle
- Preventing healing for a round is worth more than dealing max damage
- You need a defensive edge against undead creatures
- Necrotic damage won't be resisted or ignored
- Creative tactics with empowering spells, fear effects, or positioning are possible
Few spells offer such unique utility in 5th edition. Mastering chill touch requires seeing beyond damage dice and recognizing its tactical applications. Once internalized, chill touch transforms from an innocuous cantrip into a potent tool in defeating recovery-reliant foes. Now plunge into your next dungeon, skeletal hand at the ready, and embrace the chilling possibilities of chill touch!