So minor illusion isn’t actually a druid spell, but it is one of my favorite spells in the game. I usually wind up with it due to constantly taking “Magic Initiate” as a feat. Find familiar is my goto for the 1st-level spell, so it only makes sense to grab minor illusion off the Wizard spell list as well. (Make the last one shape water and you’ve added a boatload of utility to any class in the game.) Today I wanted to discuss why it’s worth the steep cost of earning it.
What minor illusion does
Minor illusion’s main job is to create static, unmoving images that can fit within a 5-foot square. These images cannot move or make noise, and anything that touches it will pass right through. You can alternately create sound instead, which can shift or change in pretty much any way for the duration. Anyone who grows suspicious can choose to make an Investigation (Int) check to determine whether it’s an illusion. Notably, this spell does not require concentration despite lasting for a minute. It also doesn’t have a verbal component, aiding its use for surreptitious means.
How to get it
If you’re not a class who gets it normally, there are a few ways to obtain it. The first, which I’ve already mentioned, is the Magic Initiate feat. This is my personal preference, but comes with the downside that your illusions call for Intelligence saves. As a Druid, my Int spell-save is garbage and I just assume any enemy who investigates my illusion will pass. But this just encourages me to use it smartly, and create sensible illusions nobody will second-guess. That said, there are a few other ways to get minor illusion as well. Forest gnomes get it for free, and High Elves or Tieflings can earn it by choosing variant subraces. None of these races synergize well with Druid, however, which is why I usually rely on the feat.
The many uses of illusions
The sheer flexibility of this spell comes from your ability to make anything that fits the parameters. The main limiting factor is that it can’t move, but that still opens tons of doors for distractions, bluffs, or communication tools. To say nothing of the audio version, which can replicate any sound on the planet. Here are just a few of the ways I’ve used this spell in my career:
While you can distract people with visual illusions, I’ve always preferred the audible version. Create the sounds of a fight breaking out in town square to lure away some guards, or a knight’s commander ordering him to come hither. Visually, the classic “pile of coins” always works to draw the eye of any greedy goblin or bandit. I once created a fake masterwork crossbow hanging on a wall, knowing a certain assassin character would waste a round of combat to go pilfer it.
2. Communicating with teammates
This is a great use for druid, since you can’t speak while in wildshape form. Just cast the audio version right before turning into an animal. Even outside that, you can make floating notes appear in front of allies if in a situation where you can’t communicate audibly. Minor illusion is also great for conveying information; you can show them exactly how a certain thing looked or sounded like, or generate a map of an area you’ve seen.
3. Instant cover
If you’re looking for a quick hiding place, create a boulder (when outside) or piece of furniture (when inside) and crouch inside it. In combat, you can even “peek around it” to fire off your attacks, and enemies who believe the illusion will have to fire at you as if you have concealment.
4. Fake traps
An illusory patch of caltrops or grease can still dissuade anyone from moving into that square. This can be great for zoning off hallways or slowing down pursuers.
5. Look through a closed window
If you were hoping to peek inside a sealed room, create an illusion of the window/blinds and quietly slide it open from the outside. Since you know it’s an illusion, the fake window will be transparent, letting you view the interior.
6. Coverup conversations
On one memorable occasion, my character needed to carry a conversation with a teammate while we were at a fancy party. We used minor illusion to fake our voices talking about something trivial while we whispered the real exchange. This also works if you need to cover for someone’s absence, so long as the two of you aren’t visible by whoever you’re fooling.
7. Coverup pits
If you’ve made a hole in the ground, fill that pit with the terrain that used to be there. Woe befalls whoever treads there next!
8. Playing music
This is still technically a distraction, but one where you’re calling attention away from someone else. Borrow any instrument, start pretending to play, and rely on minor illusion to give the crowd a musical performance of a lifetime.
9. Give somebody one round of blindness
Conjure a pitch-black sphere around your target’s head. They’ll need to burn an action to investigate the illusion (or simply move away) to negate it, but both of these things can’t happen until its their turn. If your teammates can get something done in exactly one surprise round, they can capitalize on this opportunity.
10. Creating whatever you like against animals
Remember, creatures with terrible Intelligence are fair game for incredibly cheeky nonsense. This holds true for most nonsentient beasts, who are lucky if they have Intelligence scores above 3. Pursuing wolves will likely believe a 5ft wall that randomly appears in front of them, or the roar of a much-scarier predator nearby. Even if you’re a character (like me) with a low Intelligence spell save, whole categories of common enemies are nevertheless perfectly easy to fool in spite of all rationality.
The main reason I love this spell is the degree to which it rewards creativity. Guile players that weigh their environment, their enemy, and the opportunity can pull off brillant little strategic victories with the potential behind this spell. But at the same time, it punishes foolish or poor play by becoming far less useful if your enemies wise up to your tricks. It’s practically an entire playstyle contained within a single cantrip, and I can’t bear to adventure without it.