Okay, folks. We’re tackling the elephant in the room today, the thing so many other channels and blogs have addressed… because I’m feeling especially masochistic. Seriously, though, true strike is arguably the single worst cantrip in all of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. In order to properly address it, let’s start by analyzing just what makes true strike so underwhelming.
Mechanical weakness & inferiority of true strike
Here are the reasons true strike is inferior:
- It requires your action, meaning you sacrifice a chance to attack. Even if dual wielding, you must take the Attack action with your main hand weapon on your turn in order to make an attack with your offhand weapon.
- It requires your concentration, meaning you would lose concentration on any other spells that require it, and it doesn’t combo well with your other spells.
- Its range (30 feet) is within a single round’s movement for most creatures. This means (without external factors), your target is likely to be able to reach you on its next turn and attack. In others words, your target is likely going to be able to break your concentration, even if your their primary method of assault is melee.
- Your target is the creature becoming more susceptible to the true strike, not a creature you grant advantage to. Since it only works for you, you can’t use this as a ranged version of the Help action.
- Even if you manage to maintain your concentration within proximity of your target for the full round, it only benefits your first attack against the creature, as opposed to a full round of attacks against it.
- It is mathematically inferior to simply making an attack each turn, instead of ever using this cantrip in the first place. This inferiority is exponentially accentuated in cases where you might have a cantrip that allows for multiple attack rolls, like a warlock’s eldritch blast.
- Along a similar vein, you only gain advantage, and depending on your GM this might be fairly easy to come by in the first place.
- The cantrip’s duration is a single round, meaning if any circumstances change (your target flees faster than you can keep up, etc.), then you have literally wasted your action. It’s fairly common for such situations to occur, and if this happened, you would then have to recast true strike, hoping you might have the chance to make an attack.
- This spell only grants advantage to you against your first attack roll against the target. It does nothing for saving throws.
Thematic inconsistency in D&D
Not only is true strike mechanically inferior, but this inferiority breaks theme with other D&D combat-focused cantrips. Most combat-oriented cantrips in D&D 5E improve at different play tiers, usually adding more damage dice. True strike never gets any better — what you get is what you get. Usually, cantrips that never improve leave a great deal to interpretation or creativity. For example, you might put a light spell on the tip of a target’s nose, blinding them. You could use your mage hand to distract an enemy at range, effectively using the Help action at a distance (more or less what this cantrip is trying to do but sucks at). And prestidigitation is essentially the thematic equivalent of, “Hey, GM, can I try to do something weird?”
True strike offers no such creativity. It’s simply advantage. Mechanical. Simple. Boring. It never improves.
The lack of improvement not only contributes to this cantrip’s weakness, but it breaks theme with the very theme of combat-focused cantrips. Whereas the examples above are not exclusively useful in combat, true strike really only has combat application. However, other combat cantrips with more versatility like firebolt improve at different tiers of play, demonstrating enhanced magical prowess.
Okay, so it’s the worst cantrip…is it?
In all fairness, some D&D character builds might be able to use true strike to some impressive degree, but the vast majority of the time, this cantrip is just bad. However, for sake of fairness, let’s list the thing’s redeemable properties.
- It grants advantage on your next attack, period. This can be very useful for negating some terrible circumstances, and it doesn’t require a great deal of thought to accomplish. It simply does a thing.
- There is no contested roll or saving throw required. It just does what it does. For an offensive cantrip, the lack of a saving throw is really nice!
- Its only component requirement is somatic, meaning it works in areas of silence, and if your character has some weird pinch where they can’t speak for verbal components, this offers a nice alternative requiring no materials either. Your character might even be able to cast this while bound, since the spell specifically calls out what the somatic components look like (say, if your character is just chained to a wall or something). As long as you can point your finger at your target, you can cast this cantrip.
A precarious fix
Here’s the real thing with true strike: there are a lot of easy fixes that come to mind for this cantrip, but when you think a while about their implications and how easily they could be exploited, a satisfying solution that doesn’t outright break the game in terms of power is surprisingly elusive.
Some example fixes that immediately come to mind that don’t work are:
- Make the cantrip require a bonus action to cast, not a reaction. This doesn’t work for a number of reasons. The biggest is that bonus-action-auto-advantage is terrifying to just always have for free. Even if you have to wait a round for it, it feels just… wrong.
- Extend the spell’s range. While this might seem to help (and it does, because true strike is literally that bad), this doesn’t address some of the thematic problems and it still leaves the gaping danger of suffering damage at range.
- Choose a creature within range to gain the advantage, instead of granting it only to yourself. This fix offers a potential solution, though it has the problem of being rather lackluster, when examined more closely.
Not all of true strike’s drawbacks are bad
Yes, you read correctly. I don’t think all of true strike’s drawbacks and limitations are actually bad. When it comes to mechanical balance for D&D spells, it’s a very fine and delicate thing. The folks over at Wizards of the Coast have made it very clear they’re concerned about power creep, and they intend to implement gentle power creep gradually but not to the extent it undermines the rest of the established game at large. In my opinion, that’s one of the primary ways in which both 3.5 and fourth editions failed — they jumped the proverbial shark.
True strike has drawbacks for a reason, whether it’s range, the concentration requirement, or any number of other things previously mentioned. Magic is thematically and mechanically powerful. Implementing limitations and drawbacks is necessary for game balance, and it also aids with suspension of disbelief, which if you read my previous article you know I value heavily. So, the question then becomes, “How do we balance this cantrip?”
I know I’ve been a touch long-winded to come to this point, but here we are: the conclusion. I think this fix is much simpler than people might initially expect, but this alternative to true strike maintains the spirit of the cantrip, adjusts the drawbacks to a more reasonable degree, and fits this combat-focused cantrip more thematically with its peers. My solution for this cantrip is a new version, a better version.
Ladies and gentlemen, nonbinary people of every gender, I proudly present (insert drum roll here)…
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Duration: Up to 1 round
Classes: Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
You extend your hand and point a finger at a target in range. Your magic grants you a brief insight into the target’s defenses. On your next turn, you gain advantage on your first attack roll against the target, provided that this spell hasn’t ended.
When you reach 5th level, you can choose one additional creature within range to gain advantage on its next attack against the target (including yourself), provided the spell hasn’t ended. At 11th level, choose a second additional creature that also gains advantage on its next attack against the target. When you reach 17th level, the number of additional creatures you can choose with this spell increases by one (for a total of three additional creatures).
What do you think about truer strike as a solution for true strike? Let us know!
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Steven Partridge is an aspiring author and experienced tabletop gamer.
As a child, he dreamed of growing up to be a dinosaur, but as with many children, his childhood dreams were dashed when the rules of reality set in. However, our valiant Steven never allowed this to sway his ambition. He simply… adjusted it to fit more realistic aspirations. Thus, he blossomed into a full-fledged nerd with a passion for the fantasy genre.
When he’s not working on his debut novel or filming YouTube videos, Steven can be found lap swimming, cooking up some pescatarian cuisine, or playing D&D with his friends. He works in the mental health field and enjoys sharing conversations about diversity, especially as it relates to his own place within the Queer community.