The sounds of clashing steel and shouting voices fill the air as you and your adventuring party are embroiled in combat. Arrows fly past you as you duck behind cover, surveying the chaos. Just a few feet away, your fighter is toe-to-toe with a hulking ogre, trading blows. That's when inspiration strikes – with a mere whisper you can turn the tide of this battle. You take a deep breath, let the words of power form on your tongue, and release a discordant melody only your foe can hear. As your whispered spell takes hold, the ogre clutches its head in agony. Before your fighter can react, the creature turns and flees, provoking an attack of opportunity. The opening created by your spell has changed the course of the fight.
This narrative illustrates the immense power held within even simple 1st level D&D spells like Dissonant Whispers. An enchantment available to bards, Dissonant Whispers may seem unassuming at first glance. However, clever use of this spell can completely alter the outcome of a battle. From its formidable psychic damage to the tactical opportunities created by its forced movement, Dissonant Whispers is regarded as one of the best low-level control and damage spells in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons.
Yet mysteries still shroud Dissonant Whispers. How exactly does its forced movement work? What character builds and party compositions can maximize its impact? Are there clever combos and optimal uses that take Dissonant Whispers to the next level? This extensive guide aims to uncover Dissonant Whispers' secrets. From digging into its mechanics to strategizing its use both in and out of combat, this is the definitive reference for mastering Dissonant Whispers in your 5E games.
The Dissonant Whispers Spell Description
Before delving into uses and strategies, let's break down exactly what Dissonant Whispers does in 5E D&D. Dissonant Whispers is a 1st-level enchantment spell available on the bard spell list. Casting it takes a standard action and its range is 60 feet. Here is the full spell description from the Player's Handbook:
“You whisper a discordant melody that only one creature of your choice within range can hear, wracking it with terrible pain. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you. The creature doesn’t move into obviously dangerous ground, such as a fire or a pit. On a successful save, the target takes half as much damage and doesn’t have to move away. A deafened creature automatically succeeds on the save.”
Let's break this down step-by-step:
- As an action, you target a single creature within 60 feet that can hear you. The discordant melody can only be heard by the target.
- The target must make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC. Many creatures are weak in Wisdom, so this gives Dissonant Whispers an advantage over Con or Dex save spells.
- On a failed save, the creature takes 3d6 psychic damage immediately. This averages out to 10 damage, quite impactful for a 1st-level spell.
- Additionally, the target must use their reaction to move as far away from you as they can, up to their full movement speed. Importantly, this forced movement does provoke opportunity attacks if they are engaged with other melee combatants.
- On a successful save, the target still takes half damage, but does not have to move away.
- If the target is deafened, it automatically passes the save and takes half damage without having to flee.
- Casting Dissonant Whispers at higher levels increases its damage by 1d6 per slot above 1st. There is no additional effect for upcasting.
Now that we've reviewed the basic mechanics of the spell, let's dive deeper into optimizing its use and impact in your D&D games.
Mastering Dissonant Whispers in Combat
Though simple in description, Dissonant Whispers offers a plethora of tactical opportunities in combat for clever players. Taking full advantage of this versatile 1st level spell can greatly enhance your usefulness in any battle. Here are some of the top ways to maximize Dissonant Whispers in a fight:
Opportunity Attack Overload
One of the most powerful combat applications of Dissonant Whispers is the opportunity attack potential it creates. By forcing the target to use its reaction to flee, if that movement provokes attacks of opportunity, you're able to pile on extra damage. Set up Dissonant Whispers by getting within 60 feet of a target engaged with your melee allies. If it fails the save, it will likely trigger reactions from your entire frontline as it runs away. Positioning is key here – you want to make sure the target's only viable path is past your fighter/barbarian/paladin. A well-executed Dissonant Whispers can allow a Rogue to trigger Sneak Attack twice in one round!
Punish Low Wisdom
Keep an eye out for enemies with apparent low Wisdom scores, such as beasts and brutes. Dissonant Whispers forces one of the more commonly weak saving throws, so against creatures like Orcs, Ogres, and Zombies you'll have a high chance of success. You can quickly discern the most vulnerable targets based on their defensive reactions in combat. Does the Orc Shaman cast Shield at every opportunity? Does the Gnoll Pack Lord still get hit frequently despite its high AC? Target these foes with Dissonant Whispers to exploit their low mental fortitude.
Upcast Against Bosses
While Dissonant Whispers scales based on spell slot used, the increased damage is its only benefit. However, that extra 1d6 per level increment can really add up against tough bosses and solo monsters. If your party is facing off against a deadly chimera or hill giant that will take multiple rounds to defeat, using Dissonant Whispers at 2nd or 3rd level instead of 1st could end the fight several rounds earlier. The extra psychic damage coupled with opportunity attacks from your party may be enough to take down creatures well above your pay grade.
Dissonant Whispers forces the target to use its reaction immediately. This minor action economy victory can make a difference against enemy spellcasters. If you can force a cult fanatic to use its reaction fleeing in terror, it cannot cast Shield or Absorb Elements if your party unloads damage spells in response. Pair Dissonant Whispers with your party's biggest single-target offensive spells to leave dangerous mages vulnerable. Just make sure to account for initiative order to ensure the reaction gets burned.
The movement forced by Dissonant Whispers can also give your backline some breathing room. If that owlbear gets too close for comfort to your wizard or ranger, a quick Dissonant Whispers can force it away and give you space to utilize ranged attacks. This escape method won't work against highly intelligent creatures that could differentiate between you and an ally, but against simple brutes it shines. You could even coordinate with the party Rogue to make it appear they cast the spell, misleading the target.
Set Up Hazards
Though Dissonant Whispers prevents a target from fleeing directly into obvious dangers like pits and fire, you can still trick them into hazards with some creativity. Use Minor Illusion to make a pit seem filled. Draw the target into a trap like a Glyph of Warding then hit them with Dissonant Whispers. They'll run but likely into your trap. Employing this spell to drive targets into out-of-combat preparations can make in-fight use even deadlier.
Ultimately, the more you coordinate with your party, the more devastating your Dissonant Whispers will become. Keep these tips in mind and you'll have hordes fleeing in terror in no time.
Character Builds for Dissonant Whispers
While bards intrinsically have access to Dissonant Whispers, the spell's power means other classes may want to find ways to incorporate it into their repertoires. Here are some of the most potent, fun character builds for making the most of Dissonant Whispers:
Bard 1 / Sorcerer X
Starting with a 1 level Bard dip gives you Dissonant Whispers right out of the gate, which you can then upcast using Sorcerer spell slots. Metamagic options like Twinned Spell and Heightened Spell work fantastically as well. Careful Spell can protect your allies if they are caught in the fleeing target's path. Combine this with Booming Blade cantrip and the Mobile feat and you have an extremely dangerous encounter controller.
Warlock 2 / Paladin X
A 2 level Hexblade dip gives you access to Dissonant Whispers through the Expanded Spell List feature. Pair this Warlock start with the heavy armor and smite capabilities of a melee Paladin and you have the perfect opportunity attack fisher build. Your Channel Divinity options like Vow of Enmity further incentivize clustering enemies around you. When surrounded, cast Dissonant Whispers and unleash a maelstrom of opportunity smite attacks as they flee from you in terror.
Druid 2 / Monk X
This multiclass combines the crowd controlling power of Dissonant Whispers with the speed and forced movement capabilities of the Mobile Monk. Use Wild Shape for access to Dissonant Whispers via the Druid spell list and cast it from the safety of beast form. When enemies are grouped up, transform back and cast Dissonant Whispers, using your incredible speed to reposition around fleeing targets and Flurry of Blows to capitalize on opportunity attacks.
Bard 10 / Paladin 2
At 10th level, Lore Bards gain access to extra Magical Secrets spells from any class. Choose Dissonant Whispers along with its ideal companion, Booming Blade. Combine with 2 levels of Paladin for heavy armor and smite slots. Stack opportunity attacks, Booming Blade secondary damage, and smite nova damage all triggered by a single Dissonant Whispers!
Rogue 3 / Knowledge Cleric X
This build relies on Expertise and the Knowledge Cleric's Channel Divinity: Knowledge of the Ages for auto-passing Dissonant Whispers saves against non-boss enemies. Start Rogue for Expertise in Arcana, Religion, Nature or other knowledge skills. Grab Dissonant Whispers via the 1st level Cleric domain spells. When surrounded by a group of weaker enemies, unleash Channel Divinity to force fail their Wisdom saves against Dissonant Whispers and trigger a full round of devastating Sneak Attacks as they flee.
Creative Multiclassing combos provide great ways to gain access to Dissonant Whispers on classes that don't intrinsically have access. Just a 1-3 level dip unlocks fantastic opportunity attack potential.
Top Feats for Dissonant Whispers
Beyond multiclassing, several powerful feats can enhance a Dissonant Whispers-focused build:
Allows you to cast Dissonant Whispers in place of an opportunity attack. Combos extremely effectively with Booming Blade. Also boosts concentration checks to maintain Dissonant Whispers or other ongoing spells in melee.
Quicken Spell combines perfectly with Dissonant Whispers, allowing you to cast it immediately after casting another leveled spell like Hold Person. Careful Spell has great synergy as well.
Lets you reposition around the enemies forced to flee by Dissonant Whispers, punishing them with opportunity attacks without reprisal.
Allows you to stop any fleeing enemies in their tracks with your reaction, triggering yet another round of attacks. Dissonant Whispers into Sentinel attack into Booming Blade is a nasty combo.
Advantage on saves against Dissonant Whispers isn't great, but preventing reactions limits enemy counterspells and utilizing your own reaction to strike fleeing casters is fantastic synergy.
Being first in initiative order allows you to Dissonant Whispers a choice target before they can act, maximizing the reaction lockdown and opportunity attack potential.
Expertise in Deception allows for greater subterfuge to trick enemies into hazards or disguise the source of your spell.
These and other feats that boost mobility, initiative, concentration, Metamagic use, and spellcasting abilities work well for Dissonant Whispers builds.
Creative Uses Outside of Combat
While Dissonant Whispers shines in combat, creative applications outside of battle should not be overlooked. Here are some examples of how to make use of Dissonant Whispers' abilities in non-combat scenarios:
Need a distraction to sneak past a guard or create an ambush opportunity? Dissonant Whispers forces the target to flee, drawing attention away from your party's true motives.
Gaslight a chosen target by planting haunting phrases in their mind that only they can hear. Dissonant Whispers' limitations mean the pseudo-hallucinations won't immediately drive them insane, but could unsettle them for your party to exploit.
In a crowded setting, target an agitated citizen with a carefully selected Dissonant Whispers incitement to provoke a brawl, commotion, stampede or other chaotic distraction that serves your purposes.
During a crucial moment like a royal address or wedding vow, target a key participant with a well-timed Dissonant Whispers to force them into a spectacle that sabotages the event.
If cultists are mid-ritual, use Dissonant Whispers to force their ritual leader to flee, potentially buying time or causing a critical disruption.
Repeated forced psychic agony to gain information or compliance from a prisoner, provided you have the stomach for such ruthless tactics.
The single target limitations of the spell prevent widespread havoc, but clever DMs and players can certainly find ways to extend its use beyond the battlefield.
Dissonant Whispers in D&D – FAQ
Let's wrap up our guide by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about using Dissonant Whispers in your Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition games:
Does Dissonant Whispers cause Frightened condition?
No. Despite the fleeing behavior, Dissonant Whispers does not inflict the Frightened condition. Its effect works even on creatures immune to Fear.
Does Dissonant Whispers trigger Opportunity Attacks?
Yes. Because the target is forced to use its reaction to move, this movement provokes opportunity attacks just like voluntary movement out of threatened squares normally would.
Can you cast Dissonant Whispers on an Invisible Target?
Yes. As long as they can hear you and you know their location, invisibility does not prohibit targeting a creature with Dissonant Whispers.
Can total cover block Dissonant Whispers?
Yes. Despite not needing to see targets, Dissonant Whispers does still require a clear path to function, so total cover will obstruct its effect.
Does Dissonant Whispers work on Deaf targets?
No. The target needs to be able to hear the whispered melody. Deafened creatures automatically succeed on the save and take half damage without any forced movement.
Does Dissonant Whispers trigger Booming Blade damage?
No. Booming Blade requires targets to move willingly, while Dissonant Whispers forces movement on a failed save. It will not trigger Booming Blade's secondary damage effect.
How long does the Dissonant Whispers movement last?
Only until the end of the target's current turn. The movement forces them to use their reaction but does not otherwise impact their next turn if they survive.
Does Dissonant Whispers break Grapple or Restrain?
No. Forced movement from Dissonant Whispers does not allow escape from grappled or restrained conditions. The target remains grappled or restrained after moving from Dissonant Whispers.
How far does the target move from Dissonant Whispers?
The target must flee using their full movement speed directly away from the caster. With a 30 foot speed, they would move precisely 30 feet away, using the most direct route possible.
The Haunting Melody of Dissonant Whispers in 5E
Dissonant Whispers stands apart as one of the most versatile and underestimated low-level spells in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. Deceptively simple yet endlessly customizable through creative use, it is a staple Bard pick that can also shine in the hands of other classes. This exhaustive guide illuminated optimal uses in and out of combat, from tactical opportunity attacks to subterfuge and mind games. Our FAQ tackled the spell's most pressing rules considerations.
The siren song of Dissonant Whispers will beckon adventurers for years to come thanks to its lasting power and flexibility. No matter your class and build, incorporating Dissonant Whispers into your repertoire is sure to yield moments of glory plucked from the jaws of defeat when employed with care. Heed well the strategies within these pages, and may your own Dissonant Whispers tales regale taverns and campfires for ages more!