Sapping Sting: D&D 5e Spell Guide

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The release of Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount brought with it a number of new spells referred to as ‘dunamancy’.

Let’s take a look at the lowest-levelled spell of the bunch, a little number called sapping sting.


Sapping Sting Spell Details

Type: Necromancy Cantrip
Casting Time: One Action
Range: 30 Feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous


The spell allows you to pick one creature within the spell’s thirty foot range.

That creature has to succeed on a Constitution saving throw or fall prone and take a d4’s worth of necrotic damage. Like all damage-based cantrips, the damage scales as you level up.

Who Gets It?

The answer to this question ranges from “very few people” to “anyone.”

Sapping sting is one of the dunamancy spells introduced in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.

Sadly, that means it is only automatically selectable by wizards who choose the Arcane Traditions of Chronurgy or Graviturgy.

There is a sidebar in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount that goes into allowing other classes and spellcasters access to spells like sapping sting. Ultimately, it depends on whether or not you can convince your DM to let you learn it.

But there are a few ways you might be able to get ahold of it.

Clerics of the Death Domain get access to one necromancy cantrip from any spell list. To be very specific, it doesn’t say “any class’s spell list” like the warlock’s Book of Ancient Secrets invocation.

It says “any spell list”.

Should this count as a loophole? Absolutely.

There is a dunamancy spell list, and sapping sting is on it.

Will it work? Will this convince your DM to let you have this fun toy that’s otherwise kept unfairly beyond your reach?

Maybe.

The Death Domain also requires DM approval. If your DM is willing to let you play a specialized ‘evil high priest’ subclass from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, they might be cool with you learning sapping sting.

The same applies to bards’ magical secrets, the magic initiate feat, and frankly all spellcasters in general.

 

Sapping Sting: Tips & Tricks

To be clear, the most interesting function of this spell is the prone condition.

So let’s check that out in detail.

Prone in Melee

Knocking an enemy creature prone comes with a lot of advantages, pun intended.

If you’re within five feet of a prone creature, you have advantage on all attacks against it. Not only that, it has disadvantage on all attack rolls.

This is a great move if your party has a number of melee combatants. Melee rogues will love this because it gives them advantage for sneak attack.

Paladins will appreciate being more likely to get off a divine smite, and barbarians can avoid endangering themselves with Reckless Attack.

All this advantage can make prone a pretty punishing condition. If you’re lucky, a creature with Legendary Resistances might have to burn one if they fail the Constitution save.

Doing that with a cantrip is excellent, since you’re not expending any resources to weaken the boss and burn those Legendary Resistances.

You may not also be able to (lots of powerful monsters have good Con saves). But it’ll still be useful against non-legendary monsters with weaker Con scores.

This also gives a great opportunity for anyone with a high bonus to Athletics checks.

 

Grappling

There’s a mechanic in D&D called grappling.

Anyone can use the Attack action to make a grapple check. The ‘grappler’ has to roll an Athletics check versus the target’s Athletics or Acrobatics check.

On a success, the creature is ‘grappled’ and their speed becomes 0.

More of the monstrous enemies you might face won’t be proficient in either check. While you might not be able to grapple a giant (too big), you do stand a chance of grappling plenty of large-or-smaller creatures, especially humanoid ones.

If they have more than one attack, they can make multiple grapple checks, giving them several chances to lock a creature down.

The reason this matters is because the grappled condition can prevent a prone creature from being able to stand. You have to use half your movement to stand up from being prone, and they’ll have a hard time halving 0.

That allows you to lock down potentially annoying foes with lots of movement. Especially ones that couldn’t be knocked prone normally with a shove attack.

 

Flying Creatures

Prone is a very fun condition to inflict on flying creatures—namely because of the damage they take when they hit the ground.

According to the Player’s Handbook, a flying creature that’s knocked prone falls. Hopefully onto something sharp or painful (if you knocked it prone).

When a creature falls, it takes 1d6 bludgeoning damage for each ten feet it falls. The range of sapping sting is only thirty feet, but that’s still a potential 1d6 to 3d6 bludgeoning damage on top of the necrotic damage from the spell.

If you happen to have some levels in sorcerer, you can pick up the Distant Spell metamagic. Distant Spell allows you to double the range of a spell.

At a max of sixty feet, a fall from sapping sting could do up to 6d6 damage (averaging about 21 damage).

Oddly enough, this gives you a good defensive option.

Let’s say you’re being attacked by perytons. These flying bird-deer hybrids have a Flyby ability that lets them swoop in, hit, and swoop away without being hit by opportunity attacks.

That gets annoying. Especially for any melee-focused fighters.

Sapping sting can come in handy here. On your turn you can take the Ready action. This lets you prepare an action that you use as a reaction when a specific trigger happens.

A trigger like “when a peryton gets within thirty feet of me.”

If a peryton swoops in, planning to use some or half of its movement to fly away after the attack, you can use this readied action to cast sapping sting.

Hopefully it falls, taking falling damage on top of the cantrip’s damage. If it wants to get out of being prone on its turn, it still needs to use half of its movement.

With any luck, that traps the peryton on the ground, in-range of the now very happy melee characters.

If it had less than half its movement left, it might even have to stay prone.

 

Truly Nasty Falls

What if you’re also flying?

Assuming you can hit a high-flying creature with the spell, you could potentially do the maximum amount of damage from falling in D&D: 20d6 bludgeoning damage.

That’s an average of about 70 damage.

Some DMs don’t like that the falling damage stops there, and choose to raise the ceiling on the maximum fall damage. But that’s individual to each DM’s play style.

However, we can still milk some more damage out of this.

What if the flying creature falls into lava?

Princes of the Apocalypse has a couple of examples where entering lava for the first time on a turn deals 6d10 fire damage. There’s also sharp rocks, boiling water, or other dangers to consider.

Assuming everything goes well and you drop a flying creature 200 feet into a lava flow, you’re looking at an additional 70 bludgeoning damage and 33 fire damage on top of the necrotic damage sapping sting deals.

103 potential bonus damage on a cantrip is a pretty nice deal.

Granted, you might not always be 200 feet up in the air. Or above a lava pool.

But there’s plenty of nasty places to drop a creature into. You could use sapping sting to drop a creature into a spell that affects a zone like Evard’s black tentacles or a wall of thorns.

Maybe you’ll get lucky and have the cantrip readied before a monster jumps over a spike pit.

 

Spell Downsides

Sapping sting has some drawbacks, on top of potentially being pretty hard (or impossible) to learn.

First, it targets Constitution saving throws. Lots of powerful monsters are proficient in Con saves, and many large ones simply have high Constitution modifiers.

That makes it a very conditional spell.

It’s much more useful against smaller enemies or monsters with low Constitution scores.

The prone condition is the other issue. While melee attacks get an advantage because of the prone condition, ranged attacks are made against prone creatures with disadvantage.

The crossbow-using rogue or bow-wielding fighter won’t necessarily appreciate having a more difficult target they need to hit.

One other issue: some creatures are immune to the prone condition, or have a magical flying speed.

If a creature can hover, or is being held up by magic like the fly spell, it doesn’t fall when it gets knocked prone. Some creatures, like beholders, are simply immune to the prone condition.

These kinds of creatures can’t be knocked prone by the spell, reducing its effects to a bit of necrotic damage.

 

Some Final Thoughts

Even with those drawbacks, sapping sting can be a fun spell.

There’s a limited number of ways to knock a creature prone, but doing so at range is a bit harder. The Battle Master can do it at range with a weapon attack, but only to a creature that is Large or smaller.

The Open Hand monk has an easy-to-use prone ability, but it can only be done in melee.

The same applies to shove attacks.

Other spells can cause the prone condition, but they require spell slots to use.

All-in-all, sapping sting is a cantrip with some very situational uses. But if those situations arise, it can be devastating for your opponents.

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