Why You Should Consider the Wizard’s School of Abjuration
We’re going to begin this exploration of the wizard’s abjuration spells with a rather lofty declaration—one that’s founded upon years and years of trial-and-error, hands-on, spells-cast observation:
Wizards fight best only when they focus on changing the very fundamental terms of the combat.
Fighters, barbarians, rogues, rangers, and—heck—even sorcerers do a better job of dishing out damage. They don’t need prep time to start into the damage dealing, and they can just keep using the same attacks over and over… and over.
Bards and clerics do a better job of propping up the rest of the party. Sure, wizards can buff other characters, too, but unless you’re the sort of wizard who’s an Elven Bladesinger using self-buffs to masquerade as a fighter, you’re probably better off leaving the buffs to the bards and the clerics.
You? The wizard? You want to alter the battlefield or other terms of the combat in such a way that your party gains the upper hand in action economy as soon as possible—and to as high a degree as possible.
You’re the one who Teleports the fighters across the lava field so that they can enter melee with the rock-hurling fire giant. You’re the one who responds to the raging barbarians by Dominating the leader and using him to convince the others to broker peace. You’re the one who frustrates the enemy’s guards by turning your whole party Invisible and marching past them.
And—when the spellcasters threaten to turn your party to ash with Fireballs, Lightning Bolts, and Disintegrate spells—you’re the one casting the spells that keep the rest of your party safe from harm and able to focus on hitting back. How? Abjuration. Abjuration spells may not be the flashiest, but they’re the proverbial ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure.
Making Magic Work for Your Side (Alone)
Adventurers in Dungeons & Dragons aren’t just heroes—they’re superheroes. They have powers and abilities that other people can’t fully comprehend. Just look at the barbarian’s rage, the rogue’s sneak attack, the bard’s bardic inspiration, and the spellcasters’ ability to unlock and reconfigure the very fabric of reality through the use of magic.
But since most campaigns begin at 1st level—or at least some other lower level—it’s a bit more difficult to comprehend just how much like superheroes your characters are—or how powerful your magic can be. The rogue’s 1d6 sneak attack isn’t entirely lethal, and your wizard’s spells are limited enough that you’ll need to think hard about when to cast anything other than a cantrip. At the lower levels, using the Marvel Universe as a point of reference, you’re street-level heroes like Daredevil, the Punisher, and Iron Fist. You’re already exceptional, but you’re not ready to answer Tony Stark’s call and join the Avengers.
That starts to change through the mid-levels (5th to 9th) where you’re more like Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming. You’re definitely a force with which to be reckoned, but it’s hard to tell which challenges are within your reach and which are likely to get you killed.
At the higher levels, though, you’re definitely like the Avengers in Avengers: Infinity War. Your fighters are like Captain America and Thor, with fantastic strength, skill, and gear. They’re sure to deal damage if you can get them into the fight and keep them in the match. And you—the wizard—are something like Doctor Strange, the Scarlet Witch, or Iron Man. Your spells can cause objects to appear from nowhere, make the impossible possible, and answer nearly any problem to which you put your mind.
The problem is that many of your enemies have magic, too.
And the spells that can make you the Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, and/or Iron Man of your party can also make those enemy spellcasters as significant a threat as all of those characters. In fact, high-level magic is just dangerous all around, and while you like it as a force that’s dangerous in your favor, you can’t afford to let it become a force that’s dangerous against you. In the deadliest of high-level fights, if a spell manages to disable or distract a portion of your party for even a round, you could see the tide turn against you and build momentum to crash against you just a few rounds later.
The spells that prevent magic from taking full effect against you and your party lie almost exclusively within the school of Abjuration, and while it’s probably never going to be as sexy as a Delayed Blast Fireball, the Counterspell that prevents the enemy’s Forcecage from removing your cleric from the fight is almost certainly far more valuable.
So if your job is to dictate the terms of the combat, tilting them in your favor (measured by action advantages), you can look to your Abjuration spells as essential tools—especially when you realize that many of them, like Counterspell, fall outside of the “standard action casting, instantaneous or concentration duration” that define so many other combat spells.
This means that many of your Abjuration spell effects can maintain their effects alongside any other spell on which you must concentrate, and walking into combat with multiple pre-cast spells is a fantastic way to gain action advantage.
For example, the ever-popular Mage Armor lasts for 8 hours, Protection from Evil and Good lasts for 10 minutes, and Protection from Energy lasts for 1 hour. If you know you’re headed into a fight with a lich Evoker and his undead minions, why wouldn’t you cast all those spells before heading into the lich’s lair?
Which Spells to Use?
The Player’s Handbook says that abjuration spells emphasize “magic that blocks, banishes, or protects.” It goes on to say that detractors claim Abjuration is “about denial, negation rather than positive assertion.”
Well, as we stated earlier, we believe that Abjuration is largely about preparation, planning, and readiness. The proper use of Abjuration magic puts you in a better position to focus your efforts more effectively within a fight.
To that end, the best Abjuration spells are typically those that last the longest or that you can cast with your reaction.
Mage Armor lasts 8 hours and significantly increases your defense, setting your base AC to 13 plus your Dexterity modifier. Given how little wizards like being hit and how little this effort it takes to cast this spell, there’s almost zero reason for a wizard to avoid learning and casting it at the beginning of every adventuring day.
Shield is the first of our reaction spells and grants a whopping 5 points of AC for 1 round. You can even cast it after you determine that it would prevent you from taking damage. Shield adds tremendous value to your wizard’s reaction, but the spell slot is a steep cost at the lower levels—when you might want that spell for some game-changing control magic. Nonetheless, you cannot control the battlefield when you’re sprawled all over it, face-down, in a pool of your own blood. And by the time you get to the higher levels, your 1st level spell slots won’t be nearly as valuable in combat as the extra AC.
Absorb Elements, from the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, is another reaction spell that functions much like Shield, except that it reduces or prevents elemental damage, rather than damage from physical attacks. However, because Absorb Elements only reduces 1d6 points of damage per spell level (1d6 at 1st level, 2d6 at 2nd level, etc.) and lasts for only 1 round, it’s not nearly as useful as the 3rd level spell, Protection from Energy, which lasts for an hour and provides ongoing resistance against the element of your choice. One possible exception might be for melee-focused spellcasters like the Bladesinger, who can use the spell not only to reduce the elemental damage they might suffer, but then turn around and deal that damage to their foes—without requiring an action on their turn.
Just as Protection from Energy grants 1 hour of resistance to a single element, Stoneskin allows 1 hour of resistance to all non-magical bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing attacks. Stoneskin is touch range, too, which means you can use it on the characters you want that are being attacked. After all, you’re much better off helping your fighter endure twice as many rounds toe-to-toe with the hill giant than you are finding yourself the target of the giant’s club…
Dispel Magic is the closest thing that Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition has to a magic eraser—automatically able to end all spells active on a target creature, object, or item equal to or lower than the level at which you cast it. Dispel Magic also offers you a chance to end higher level spells, although to do so you must first succeed at an ability check using your spellcasting ability against a DC of 10 plus the targeted spell’s level. While Dispel Magic is likely the spell most guilty of supporting the argument that Abjuration is about “denial” rather than positive assertion, it’s also a tremendous defense against such formidable effects as Antilife Shell, Flesh to Stone, and Wall of Thorns. As soon as you find yourself attacking your enemies with 4th and 5th level spells, it’s worth having Dispel Magic at the ready, even if only at 3rd level.
Our number one Abjuration spell, however, is Counterspell, which costs only a reaction but can turn the tide of battle as heavily as any spell your enemy might cast. Like Dispel Magic, it automatically works against any spell of a level equal to or lower than the level at which you cast it, and it requires an ability check to succeed at spells cast at higher levels. But it’s the fact that Counterspell can be cast as a reaction that genuinely makes it shine. Not only can it be used to prevent such back-breaking attacks as Dominate Monster, Reverse Gravity, and Meteor Swarm, Counterspell works against spells like Wall of Force and Forcecage that can’t be affected by Dispel Magic. Counterspell can even prevent your foes from escaping; a timely Counterspell can prevent your opponents from turning Invisible or using Teleport to flee the battle. If your side is winning the fight, Counterspell ensures that you’ll hold your advantage. If your party is losing the battle, Counterspell ensures you won’t be struck by spells that push you further down—meaning that your other spells will start to turn the battle in your favor.
These are your must-have Abjuration spells. Without them, your wizard sacrifices a large part of the battle’s course and tempo to your opponents’ actions. With them, you make your party harder to hit, harder to damage, more resilient, and more capable of fighting on the terms you choose.
Notably, Stoneskin is the highest-level of these spells—at just 4th level. The higher level Abjuration spells like Antimagic Field, Mind Blank, and Invulnerability can win some combats all on their own, but they’re also far more situational (as is Protection from Evil and Good) and enter this summary of key Abjuration spells as honorable mentions (along with Protection from Evil and Good). You can generally expect to face bludgeoning, slashing, piercing, and elemental damage in your adventuring days; you can’t always be sure you’ll face fey or demons—although when you do, it’s great to have the right spells ready.
Divinations (and Scouts) Are the Abjurer’s Best Friends
Finally, it’s worth noting that all the Abjurations mentioned above (as do nearly all spells) work best when you know what’s coming. For this reason, your wizard should be putting forth every possible effort to figure out what you and your party can expect to encounter before you encounter it.
Divination spells are your friend, here. Sending an Arcane Eye into the dungeon ahead of you can help you figure out whether or not to cast expensive Abjurations like Stoneskin—and when (and where) you’re most likely to need it. Divination and Commune are great for getting knowledge even further in advance, but you’ll need to convince your party’s cleric of their worth—try offering the cleric a Stoneskin. In a pinch, Contact Other Plane is a more powerful—and dangerous—version of Commune, but it’s one you can potentially cast yourself.
Finally, you can always figure out where you’re most likely to need your protective spells by casting Invisibility on your rogue or other sneaky scout and sending them to determine where the enemies are, as well as who or what they are.
Only a fool walks into a trap blindly and unprepared. As a good wizard, you’re going to step into the trap protected by a suite of Abjurations that will ward you and your party from your enemies’ physical and magical attacks. This allows you to fight on your terms, pressing your attack from the outset, rather than finding yourselves in scramble-and-heal mode, trying to catch a break and rally.
Without Your Magic, You’re Only Mortal
In the end, if your Dungeons & Dragons characters are like superheroes (and they are), the best wizards aren’t really like Doctor Strange, the Scarlet Witch, or Iron Man. They’re like Batman. Without the right tools and preparation, they’re talented but vulnerable. But once they know how to prepare themselves and approach an encounter, they’re every bit as capable as demigods like Superman—and far more versatile.
Embrace the versatility. The next time you prepare a day’s worth of spells, look at how your Abjurations might change your combats in your favor.
How have you utilized the Wizard's school of abjuration for the protection of your adventuring party? Let us know in the comments below!