Contagion 5e was once one of D&D’s most controversial spells. Since summer 2014 released the Player’s Handbook, a lengthy online debate has raged about this spell. It was unclear that the rules were interesting and not clear. Two valid interpretations of the spell’s texts were possible: one that rendered it powerful and rendered it almost useless. Recent errata made an elegant but still significant change to the attack. It transformed it from a spell that caused fury across the internet to one that can be easily added to any druid or cleric’s spellbook.
The Old Contagion Woes
Contagion spells are 5th-level spells that clerics or druids usually cast. It infects one target with a magic disease that can ruin their week. Six conditions were available to you when you cast the spell. Each one corresponded to your six abilities. Although it seems straightforward on paper, there was a problem: The spell didn’t explain how it worked. Here’s the controversial text of the spell’s original.
“Your touch causes disease. You can use melee spells against any creature that is within your reach. You can inflict the creature you choose with any of the conditions listed below.
Each target must make a Constitution saving throw at the end of each turn. The disease’s effects will last for the target’s favor if the creature fails three of the saving throws. The animal is cured of the disease after they succeed on three of the saving throws.
Although it may seem quite innocuous, there is a serious problem. It doesn’t indicate when the disease will take effect. It can be read in one way. The spell causes the target to feel the results immediately. If it fails to make three Constitution saves, it will remain with the disease for seven days. Contagion 5e is a powerful spell when combined with the Slimy Doom illness. That gives the target disadvantage in Constitution saving throws and makes it more difficult for the afflicted to resist the disease.
However, the other reading of this spell is less impressive. Contagion ultimately will ask you to use a 5th-level spell to do nothing for at most three rounds. If the target makes three failed saving throws, the disease will take effect for seven days. However, the battle is likely over by this point.
It is important to note that 5e Contagion’s effects are extremely overpowered if they are interpreted charitably. Dnd contagion was almost ineffective in combat if you rate it less. The disease would have taken root by the time most fights were over. That is assuming that the target didn’t fail its saves. This reading showed that it was best used as an out-of-combat, slow-paced spell to infect NPCs with a slowly-ravaging disease.
That has all changed, thankfully.
The New Shiny Contagion
In a November 2018 update to the rules, Contagion received some attention. It is not a buff or a nerf. It makes one read of the old regulations more enjoyable than another. It does, however, clear up any confusion about how the spell works. The spell casts poisoning on the target creature. The creature must make a Constitution saving roll at the end of each turn while poisoned. It is immune to the disease if it has three wins before it fails three times. However, if it fails three times in a row, the condition will kick in.
This errata fixes Contagion’s biggest issues by removing any ambiguity from the original rules. The “weaker” Contagion has been highlighted in the new rules as the correct reading of the spell. This version has also been given a nice buff. You might feel that your favorite spell has been lowered a bit if you were using the Contagion before. It’s ultimately for the best. 5e Contagion still occupies a clear niche, which is why it won’t be causing nearly as many arguments.
It’s not perfect.
5e Contagion’s Awkward Deficits
Contagion has had a very serious flaw. It’s very easy to cure D&D-related diseases, especially when Contagion is being used against your character. The only thing that will get rid of the infection is lesser restoration. Although it is a good trade for heroes, it is not a good deal for the evil necromancer who cast the 2nd-level spell. It’s also possible to become immune from disease. The 3rd-level Paladins can attain this power through their Divine Health feature. Additionally, the perapt of health grants immunity to illness for the price of an uncommon magic item.
However, Contagion is a benefit to most characters. They won’t be frantically hunting for a periapt or health. Monsters and poisons can be deadly and dangerous. But they don’t appear all that often. The process of overcoming disease is not as heroic as dealing with monsters or poisoned daggers. This spell can be useful against many characters, so many characters will likely be caught unawares. Very few Dungeon Masters will remember to give their most important villains a perapt of health.
However, the new Contagion adds the poisoned condition to the mix. First, poison can be treated just like any other disease. A simple lesser restoration will still work. The spell ends when the poisoned creature is free from the need to make saving throws against the disease. Nothing has changed so far.
The problem lies in immunity to poison. Contagion has suddenly become less useful for player characters while still being effective for Dungeon Masters by introducing poisoned conditions into its process. Although most characters aren’t immune to poison, who would buy a periapt for proof against poison? Many monsters are. The poisoned condition is immune to undead fiends as well as celestials, elementals and constructs. There are also a few aberrations and monstrosities and some random creatures.
Even though they aren’t immune from diseases, the immunity to poison keeps Contagion at bay. It makes sense, however, that these creatures are not resistant to diseases. A DM should have full power to declare them safe. Some edge-case animals, such as the dire tromp, are immune to poisoning simply because of its mutations or their strong stomach. This paltry immunity should not be considered a guarantee of protection against disease. It causes blindness or enflames your mind. Green dragons are immune to poisoning under their poisonous breathing, and the same applies to them. It shouldn’t be granted immunity to diseases.
That is a rule quirk that can stymie players who believe in RAW. Many of these players have been seen in the D&D Adventurers League. Ultimately, the role of the DM is to ensure that the rules are followed consistently. It makes sense that a creature, which cannot be poisoned due to its lack of blood or living flesh, is also immune to diseases and the contagion 5e spell. Contagion’s “poisoned effects” should be subject to Contagion if it is not poisoned by using poisonous gas or venom in its attacks.
- Level: 5
- Casting time: 1 Action
- Components: V, S
- Range(area): Touch
- Attack(save): CON save
- Damage(effect): Blinded
- School: Necromancy
- Duration: 7 Days
Your touch inflicts the disease. Against a creature that is within your range, you can make a melee spell attack. When it hits, you can afflict a creature with a disease of your choice.
It must make a Constitution saving throw at the end of each of the target turns. If three saving of this throw fails, the effect of the disease lasts for the duration. The creature doesn’t make saves. Suppose the three of the saving throw succeeds. In that case, the creature recovers from the disease, and the spell ends.
With the help of the Contagion 5e spell, a natural disease is induced in the target. Any effect that removes a condition or otherwise ameliorates a disease’s effects applies to it.
Blinding Sickness – Pain grips the mind of the creature, and its eyes turn milky white. The beast has a disadvantage on Strength saving throws and Strength Checks.
Flesh Rot – Flesh of the creature decays. It has a disadvantage on vulnerability and Charisma Check to all the damage.
Filth Fever – An intense fever sweeps through the body of the creature. The creature has a disadvantage on Strength saving throws, Strength checks, and attack rolls that use Strength.
Mindfire – The mind of the creature becomes feverish. On intelligence checks as well as Intelligence saving throws, the animal has a disadvantage. In addition, the creature behaves as if beneath the effects of the confusion spell during combat.
Seizure – The creature is overcome with shaking. It has a disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws, Dexterity checks, and attack rolls that use Dexterity.
Slimy Doom – The creature begins to bleed uncontrollably. The beast has a disadvantage on Constitution saving throws and Constitution checks. Moreover, it is stunned until the end of its next turn whenever the creature takes damage.