Contingency has, unsurprisingly, come up in every example wizard we’ve made. Even with it being weaker in this edition than previous editions, it’s still a utility powerhouse. I know we’ve used this wording in other locations, but its uses really are only limited by your imagination.
The trick here is that, unlike with Wish where there is actually a mechanical reason why you can’t have incredibly long wording to avoid unintended consequences, there’s no such restriction with Contingency. There’s also no requirement that it be anything that makes sense or is tangible or even quantifiable in the game.
A perfectly valid trigger would be “when a human named Random who controls my actions snaps his fingers, cast Blink on me.” I went looking for Crawford tweets to prove me wrong and the only thing I can find is a helpful note that says that, even if the contingent spell requires concentration, it doesn’t actually come into existence and therefore start using your concentration until the trigger happens.
As you can see in the text below, it sure specifies something that makes sense like being submerged in water, but nowhere does it say that this is mandatory like some spells have in the past.
Table of Contents
- Things to do with triggers being vague
- Stop that; use Contingency as intended
- What spells should I use with Contingency?
Because I can, and thanks to the magic of the SRD, I will reproduce the text of Contingency here.
V, S, M*
Choose a spell of 5th level or lower that you can cast, that has a casting time of 1 action, and that can target you. You cast that spell–called the contingent spell–as part of casting contingency, expending spell slots for both, but the contingent spell doesn’t come into effect. Instead, it takes effect when a certain circumstance occurs. You describe that circumstance when you cast the two spells. For example, a contingency cast with water breathing might stipulate that water breathing comes into effect when you are engulfed in water or a similar liquid.
The contingent spell takes effect immediately after the circumstance is met for the first time, whether or not you want it to, and then contingency ends.
The contingent spell takes effect only on you, even if it can normally target others. You can use only one contingency spell at a time.
If you cast this spell again, the effect of another contingency spell on you ends. Also, contingency ends on you if its material component is ever not on your person.
* – (a statuette of yourself carved from ivory and decorated with gems worth at least 1,500 gp)
Things to do with triggers being vague
I hope you’re ready for your DM to never speak to you again, because that’s a possible outcome of using Contingency. Given that, like I said above, there are functionally no limitations on what the trigger is as long as it’s something you can describe, you can dramatically abuse this. It doesn’t even require that you have any knowledge of the triggering event. Cast Contingency and Prestidigitation saying something like “If someone lies to me, cast Prestidigitation to turn my hand purple.” Intrigue campaign ruined. Use the same spells but change the wording to anything else you can imagine:
- If someone is actively creating a plan to attack me or my party members in our sleep
- If someone is sneaking up on us with malicious intent
- If someone is trying to sneak into this location we’re trying to guard
- If my party member loses full control over themselves
- If the BBEG becomes aware of our plan to [x]
- If the local regent is secretly a Lich
Contingency is the best divination spell ever created.
Stop that; use Contingency as intended
Ok, fine. So let’s pretend that isn’t possible and instead just focus on the good, intended uses of the spell. We’ll go back to triggers for a moment. By the time you can cast Contingency, you’re one among the top small percentage of powerful beings on the planet. Something more powerful than you is probably aware of your existence and actively trying to either make said existence very difficult or end it entirely. Mind control via spells like Geas or Dominate Person is a pretty common way of doing that. If the BBEG has been scrying you, they may have watched you set up your contingency and may therefore know how to trigger it at a time you don’t want. Workaround: include the phrasing “when I [x] of my own free will.”
So, what should the triggering action be? Well, I can think of very few reasons to have it interact with the in-game world beyond what your character is thinking. Absolutely nothing in the game says that it stops you from thinking except for things that make you no longer a living being. Now, admittedly, if you are polymorphed into something with a low intelligence, your thinking will probably be very different, but if that’s a common tactic for you, just borrow a party member. “If one of my party members thinks Waluigi of their own free will, cast [x] on me.” In fact, nothing stops you from phrasing it “If I think Waluigi of my own free will, or one of my party members thinks Waluigi of their own free will, cast [x].”
The best part of both of those types of triggers is that they don’t require any kind of action, and, like I said, thinking isn’t actually inhibited by anything your opponents can do to you except to turn you into something very dumb or a statue which we’ve just given you a tool to combat. This will let you cast your spell in ways you wouldn’t normally be able to. Not only does it remove the need to provide any components at the time of casting (you already provided them when doing the Contingency), it also will let you get the effect of two leveled spells on the same turn without resorting to Action Surge.
What spells should I use with Contingency?
First off, don’t use Water Breathing. Seriously, what a terrible choice. It already lasts all day and, if you cast it with Contingency, you trade the part where it’s supposed to be a whole-party buff away for… no benefit I can think of. So let’s examine some actually good options. Do note that a Wizard is usually the only thing capable of casting Contingency (Bards can take it as a magical secret, but that’s a tough sell when there are already so many good options for them), so that’s the spell list we’re combing through. If you are a Bard, and you take it, add Lesser and/or Greater Restoration to the list and have the trigger be something paralyzing you. Easy fix for that.
Keep in mind that when the spell takes effect, you need to maintain Concentration on that spell if the spell would normally require it. If you’re running another Concentration spell, that can be a problem.
- Detect Thoughts: It has a short duration and casting it in the presence of people is a good way to get them to be immediately mad at you. Cast it earlier in the day with an appropriate trigger.
- Dimension Door: You thought bonus action teleportation was good? How about no action teleportation.
- Dispel Magic: The way to fix someone polymorphing you against your will. Tyler has informed me that I can’t cheese the wording on this to upcast Dispel at a level higher than 5th, but you can certainly upcast it all the way to 5th.
- Feign Death: In case you want to pretend to die on cue so you can escape Verona with your boyfriend. Just make sure not to tell him about the plan first.
- Fly: Cast it at the start of the day so you can trigger it when a combat you need to fly in starts and save your action.
- Greater Invisibility: Remember that part about two spell effects on the same turn? Activate Greater Invisibility with no action at the start of combat and still drop a Fireball.
- Polymorph: Easily one of the best options. It’s so versatile, and it doesn’t require you to choose what you’re turning into until it actually takes effect. Break grapples by getting small. Turn into a T-rex while silenced. Spend your first turn in combat putting on a Fire Shield and turning into a T-rex before walking into melee, enjoying the fact that you have a ton of hp you don’t care about that people will take damage for burning through with melee attacks.
- Protection from Evil and Good: Really, really scared of being possessed? Problem solved.
- Telekinesis: The wording on it could be argued, but the fact that it lets you do it immediately and as your action on every turn it’s active could very reasonably be interpreted to let you use it twice on the turn you activate it with Contingency.