What are the limits of Prestidigitation?
There are a huge array of creative uses for the Prestidigitation cantrip that can leave DMs scratching their head over a ruling. Let’s start with the exact wording, as written in the Player’s Handbook (PHB):
“This spell is a minor magical trick that novice spellcasters use for practice. You create one of the following magical effects within range:
- You create an instantaneous harmless sensory effect such as a shower of sparks a puff of wind faint musical notes or an odd odour.
- You instantaneously light or snuff out a candle a torch or a small campfire.
- You instantaneously clean or soil an object no larger than 1 cubic foot.
- You chill, warm, or flavour up to 1 cubic foot of nonliving material for 1 hour.
- You make a colour a small mark or a symbol appear on an object or a surface for 1 hour.
- You create a nonmagical trinket or an illusory image that can fit in your hand and that lasts until the end of your next turn.
If you cast this spell multiple times you can have up to three of its non-instantaneous effects active at a time and you can dismiss such an effect as an action.”
On top of this description, it’s useful to keep in mind that Prestidigitation has a casting time of 1 action, a range of 10 feet with verbal and somatic components.
What can and can’t be done with Prestidigitation
As always, it’s down to your DM’s discretion what happens in-game, but we’ve done some rule interpretation for you below that might help speed up your decisions, backed up with our reasoning!
Can Prestidigitation create a knife?
Technically, “a small knife”, yes, but it’s a terrible idea. On page 160 of the Player’s Handbook (PHB), the list of trinkets includes a “small knife (#32), which means you could throw it as an improvised weapon. Now, why you would want to do that is another question. Casting Prestidigitation takes up 1 action, so you would need to use another action (normally wait for your next turn) to use the improvised weapon. You would have the same effect by simply picking up a rock and lobbing it at your enemy, which would not cost you the action. It is also worth keeping in mind that the range of the spell is 10 feet, meaning it would dispel out of this range.
A type of fearsome trinket knife that can be brought to bear by Prestidigitation
Can Prestidigitation make weapons?
No. While we detailed how to make a small knife, this is technically a trinket to be used as an improvised weapon, not a weapon itself.
Can Prestidigitation create fire?
Yes, it can, within limits! The rules as written say you can light “a candle a torch or a small campfire“. This does mean if you start a small fire somewhere, it may well spread to be something more significant. When it comes to lighting enemies on fire, while DMs are free to make their own call, most will opt for “no”. If you consider the flammable capability of Prestidigitation to be similar to that of a match, you can understand why it might be difficult to try and ignite a creature with one!
Your command of fire with Prestidigitation will be very limited
Can Prestidigitation ‘clean’ or purify water such as saltwater to make it drinkable?
No. You cannot use Prestidigitation to desalinate saltwater into freshwater or remove toxins from water to make it drinkable. You can of course disguise the flavour or change the temperature of the water, but it does not make it safe to drink.
Can Prestidigitation make a key?
Yes. There are examples of keys on page 160 of the Player’s Handbook (PHB) in the trinkets list, such as “An Old Key”. However, whether the key will serve the intended purpose of opening a lock comes down to your DM. Arguably, to be able to fabricate a key that will function to open the lock, the caster will need a detailed, accurate image of the key to know what to create. Without this, while the caster could create a key, it would be a perfectly sound ruling that it would not simply open any lock.
A key made by Prestidigitation that won’t fit in anything. Looks nice, though.
Can Prestidigitation clean clothes?
Yes, most clothes. The spell states: “instantaneously clean or soil an object no larger than 1 cubic foot.”, so assuming the clothing can fit within 1 cubic foot, then you’re good. This rules out, for instance, large plate armour.
Does Prestidigitation clean permanently?
Bang, the dirt is gone – and stays gone. Yes.
Can Prestidigitation clean my player?
No, because your player is not an object, the rules specifically state “clean or soil an object”, not a creature. So Prestidigitation may help you sort out your underwear after an accident, but your botty is going to need an old-fashioned wash!
Can Prestidigitation clean hair?
Okay, look, we know that hair is technically “not living”, so you could argue an exception to the above rule and… Well, that would be fine. Why would you stop your players from doing something for flavour that has no real impact? RAW probably, “no” as hair part of the target, which is a creature, but who are we to stand in the way of shiny locks?
Can Prestidigitation dry clothes?
Possibly, most DMs will allow this but will depend on your DM’s ruling as the written rules are very open to interpretation. The argument is that ‘warming’ clothes would mean it is possible to dry them. While Prestidigitation would not be able to stop the clothes from getting wet, warming them could certainly speed up drying.
Can Prestidigitation create light?
Not in a way that would allow you to say, light a room. You can create a “harmless sensory effect” that is instantaneous, so only briefly creating some light not even powerful enough to illuminate a full square. You would be better off using Prestidigitation to light a candle if you have one!
Can Prestidigitation remove rust?
Most DMs would rule yes, you could remove the rust in a similar fashion to how you might clean a rusted item. However, Prestidigitation will not repair the damage caused, such as pitting caused by the rust.
Can Prestidigitation ignite oil or grease?
The rules as written for igniting objects are explicit to: “light or snuff out a candle a torch or a small campfire”, it does not say “items such as”, therefore we would rule “no” in this instance. You could, of course, light a candle and throw it into the oil or grease, though!
Can Prestidigitation change hair or eye colour?
You’ll find lots of different answers online for this! Our ruling at Deathsave would be “no”, based on firstly a conflict with the “Glamour” cantrip, and secondly, the spell as written again does specify “objects”, not living creatures.
Can Prestidigitation boil water or melt ice?
There is an instantaneous effect described as either “warm” or “chill”, which would indicate the material cannot under a change of state. We would rule “no”, that Prestidigitation cannot either boil water or melt ice, but there are plenty of other cantrips that will!
Can Prestidigitation make coins or fake money?
Well, a coin could definitely be classed as a “nonmagical trinket”, so yes, you could make a coin with Prestidigitation, but there are a couple of things to consider: Firstly, this trinket is going to last “until the end of your next turn.”, a whopping 6 seconds, so it’s unlikely that Prestidigitation-created coins are going to be much good for trade! Secondly, the cantrip has both verbal and somatic components, meaning if you’re planning on pulling a fast one with the shopkeep, it’s going to be incredibly obvious you’re casting a spell.
Can Prestidigitation make music?
Yes, the rules specifically state creating musical notes: “a puff of wind faint musical notes”, within the context of an “instantaneous harmless sensory effect”. We’re thinking very much “crimes in the distance” rather than “front row of Metallica gig”, though.
Can Prestidigitation flavour food?
Yes! Become best friends with your caster for tastier meals! The rules clearly state you can “flavour up to 1 cubic foot of nonliving material for 1 hour.”, so dig in!
No more bland provisions if you’re friendly with your spellcaster friend!
Can Prestidigitation do damage?
No, not directly. The rules specifically state the effects it creates are “harmless”. Of course, fires started by Prestidigitation could go on to be dangerous and magical trinkets can (ineffectively) be used as improvised weapons on another action.
Final words on Prestidigitation
Hopefully, this list has sped up your decision-making, but do remember, Prestidigitation is intentionally left vague as it’s meant to be a fun little cantrip to add flavour without breaking anything. Think of it as a level 0 Wish spell without any of the consequences of dire outcomes. Generally, if Prestidigitation is within the limitations, and its use is not encroaching on other spells – let them have fun!