The Player’s Handbook is home to all the basic schools of magic for Wizards to hone in on. Illusionists – practitioners of the School of Illusion – focus on tricking the wisest people that something is real. Perhaps you use your illusions to entertain children and adults alike. Maybe your illusions are used to calm the desperate or nervous. Perhaps you’re a more malicious spellcaster, and use your illusions to sow fear. In any event, illusionists are little more than entertainers. What would an adventuring party wish to do with one? Let’s discuss it in our Illusion Wizard 5E Guide!
Construct Your Reality: Illusion Wizard 5E
The Illusion school focuses on creativity. There is a single ability in this wizard school that gives your strict, mechanical benefits. All of the other abilities focus on making your illusions more impactful and harder to disbelieve. This subclass’s power, therefore, varies entirely with how good you are – and your GM is – at imagination.
Before anything else, you gain a Savant skill, specifically for Illusions.
Beginning when you select this school at 2nd level, the gold and time you must spend to copy a Illusion spell into your spellbook is halved.
Like the rest of this class, this ability is good depending entirely on your GM’s mercy. If you fight a Wizard and they drop a spell book, you might get some good options. Most Wizards might have Blur, or Mirror Image, or Invisibility. If you happen to run into an illusionist, or spend a lot of time in a library, you might find even more illusion spells at a discount.
But, if your GM is less willing to design spellbooks, then you must take it on yourself to learn these spells. Make sure you get the essential illusion wizard spells; the Images, Patterns, maybe even Phantasmal Force/Killer.
When learning spells, do remember you have a major weakness to creatures that cannot see illusions. Make sure you have basic damaging or controlling spells, like Fireball or Bigby’s Hand, so you can be useful against Constructs or Undead.
Improved Minor Illusion
At level 2, you buff a cantrip. This would normally be bad, and yet I can’t help but smile.
When you choose this school at 2nd level, you learn the Minor Illusion cantrip. If you already know this cantrip, you learn a different wizard cantrip of your choice. The cantrip doesn’t count against your number of cantrips known.
When you cast Minor Illusion, you can create both a sound and an image with a single casting of the spell.
So, the first half of this ability is that you get to learn another cantrip. That’s not necessarily bad; your list of cantrips is quite limited, so getting an extra one is nice. Minor Illusion would normally be a potential waste of a cantrip slot, so you’re at least getting your school’s cantrip without spending a known slot.
And check that out, you get a sound and an image! That’s pretty substantial. Normally, you’d only get one or the other. Now you get 1 minute of creating a pretty decent effect.
Hell, other than time, Minor Illusion now beats Silent Image! In some cases.
Minor Illusion has always been a potential problem solver, but now it can get real. A guard is more likely to investigate a child running down a hallway if he hears the laughter and footsteps and then sees something knocked over in that hallway. And goblins might be less willing to ignore a messy eater if they see a stolen empty plate and hear munching in the corner. This makes Minor Illusion go from a pretty optional aspect of the Illusion school to nearly 1st-level spell status.
Always raise this up when your party discusses ways that you can initiate a fight. With a simple cantrip, you can legitimately shape a battlefield, if only slightly.
Admittedly, the Image spells have always been a bit flat. They aren’t really able to react to a new situation, for example. Well…
Starting at 6th level, when you cast an illusion spell that has a duration of 1 minute or longer, you can use your action to change the nature of that illusion (using the spell’s normal parameters for the illusion), provided that you can see the illusion.
Now they just can.
This is a pretty major game-changer for your Illusion spells in general. Minor Illusion can now be a full minute of a dynamic, shifting situation; if your GM interprets this ability in a certain way, you could basically do stop-motion animation for people or an object as a cantrip. Major Image could seem as real as talking with a real person. And Mirage Arcane can be a fantastic way to see an apocalypse or something.
There are limits to how good this is, especially if your GM is a bit of a sour puss. Having a reactable illusion doesn’t mean much if the creature sprints right through it right away in order to disbelieve. And if they make the Investigation check in the first place, you’re not gonna be in good shape.
But this is so cool, and can do so much interesting stuff! Consider looking at the non-Image spells that have a duration of 1 minute, like Simulacrum or Dream, and seeing what you can get away with.
This is the only Illusionist ability that your GM can’t say “no, that doesn’t work” to. It doesn’t make it the best ability the school has, but it’s close.
Beginning at 10th level, you can create an illusory duplicate of yourself as an instant, almost instinctual reaction to danger. When a creature makes an attack roll against you, you can use your reaction to interpose the illusory duplicate between the attacker and yourself. The attack automatically misses you, then the illusion dissipates.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Dodge an attack once per short rest? That’s not bad. This ability doesn’t specify if you can see the result or not, so we’ll assume that this is a “you choose to expend this when the attack is made against you.” If your GM lets you know the result beforehand, that’s even better.
So then how good is a free dodge? Well, infinite AC isn’t too bad. This is infinite AC, but can also avoid crits. Only once per rest, sure, but that means you can guarantee you’ll dodge a devastating hit from the Terrasque, a Disintegrate, a massive boulder flying at you…
It’s unfortunate that this doesn’t let you dodge a spell being targeted specifically at you, but that doesn’t change too much. At this point in the game, your Frontliners should be familiar with combat, you should be Flying, and potentially invisible. Or, if your GM’s cool, you could use illusions to potentially make the monsters miss a few times first. You will want to use this the first time something makes a dangerous attack against you to just ignore it. Then, you’ll hope that your Cleric or Warlock will want to have a short rest soon-ish. Or just stand still, cross your arms, and say you won’t move until you get one.
Try to coordinate short rests, folks!
This ability is almost to the same level as the level 10 benefit, but that sourpuss GM we mentioned earlier could still ruin this.
By 14th level, you have learned the secret of weaving shadow magic into your illusions to give them a semi-reality. When you cast an illusion spell of 1st level or higher, you can choose one inanimate, nonmagical object that is part of the illusion and make that object real. You can do this on your turn as a bonus action while the spell is ongoing. The object remains real for 1 minute. For example, you can create an illusion of a bridge over a chasm and then make it real long enough for your allies to cross.
The object can’t do direct harm to creatures, nor can it deal damage. No illusions of a massive ballista for you! Which is actually super sad.
It shouldn’t be too hard to see how useful this is, even if it can’t deal damage. Now, when you cast an illusion of a cage around the goblins to fool them into thinking they’re trapped… They’re actually trapped. You can finally use illusions to lock down Constructs and Undead.
Also, have you heard about Wall of Stone? Well, now Wall of Stone can become a 15 ft wide block. As a 1st level spell. Nice.
Your GM’s sourpussness might stop you in some places. If they say the Wall of Stone you conjure from an Illusion is weaker than the spell, then that’s fair enough. But, remember that you can change the nature of your illusions as an action. That means you can reinforce that Wall of Stone with some steel!
The example that the guide gives is quite charming, and also really effective in saving 3rd level spell slots (for Fly). But, realistically, everyone should be able to fly by now. Think bigger! Put a window on a cell door and open it to escape imprisonment. Make an illusion of a king, cause him to die of a heart attack, and make his corpse real. Then cast another illusion to make him fade into the ether when the minute ends, allowing the real king to flee his castle! Nothing here says the object lasts as long as the illusion, right?
This spell has infinite roleplay potential and semi-infinite combat power. The world is finally your oyster… As long as your GM plays along.
Best Race for Illusion School Wizards
Illusion Wizards need high Intelligence, so people don’t just shake off their illusions. They’ll then want the defensive stats (Dexterity and Constitution) up; When people get angry that they were tricked, you want to be able to take the punch in the face.
Alright, this one might have been a little bit obvious… Even the school description mentions Gnomes!
The Forest Gnome is legitimately perfect for this school. +2 Intelligence, +1 Dexterity is a rare statline for any race, so you’ll be quite happy with that. You’ll be next to immune to any mental magic (like Maze), and Darkvision is useful for most campaigns. The Forest Gnome’s Minor Illusion cantrip comes for free, allowing you to get a “staggering” 7 cantrips. Finally, Speak with Small Beasts is adorable, and can add some realism to your low-level illusion shenanigans.
Besides, Gnomes have been illusionists since Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. You don’t wanna take that away from them, right?
The Warforged, from Eberron: Rising from the Last War, aren’t as good as Gnomes, but make for good Illusionists. +2 Constitution’s not bad for survival, and that +1 can be put into Intelligence. Constructed Resilience and Sentry’s Rest combine to make you a valuable night watch (and, if your GM allows it, you can potentially concentrate on Illusions during the night!). Integrated Protection essentially adds +2 to your Dexterity without actually doing so, and Specialized Design gets two proficiencies under your belt.
Really great race, and you get the flavor that you’re actually making holograms, sci-fi style. That’s amazing.
Conclusion – Our Take on the School of Illusion Wizard 5E
The Illusion school is a really, really cool one, but is almost completely reliant on your – and your GM’s – creativity. Illusions are a school that has a few creatures that are completely immune, so you can’t rely completely on it… At least until level 14, when you can become a fantastic combat controller. If you want to get creative with a GM you like, then you can get some value out of this subclass.