Nate, who has been playing Tusken Tumble, the Half-Orc Acrobat in my West Marches game, started a 5E game using the free content WotC has been putting out during the coronavirus lockdown. He started us as 1st level PCs in the Lost Mines of Phandelver module, which is I guess the 5E equivalent of Keep on the Borderlands.
I rolled up a Wizard (Conjurer specialist now that he's 2nd level). And among his spells, only one cantrip does direct hit point damage. It's called infestation, and it summons up fleas, mites, etc. to bite and annoy the target. All of his other cantrips and spells are 'utility' magic.
Out of four sessions Nate has run, I've only played in two (the most recent last Friday night). So I just hit level 2 after this past session while everyone else is level 2 or 3 already. But that didn't really matter. I've been a pretty effective character when I've been there.
Minor Spoilers for Lost Mines of Phandelver below:
In my first session (second of the campaign), we were exploring a goblin cave to rescue some prisoners and stolen goods. The goblins had wolves (dire? worgs? not sure) as guards. Dean's Gnomish Bard and I combined our minor illusion cantrips to get the sound and image of a cat, to lure them out, which worked. We were able to take them on more easily as some were chained and some were not. Later, inside the cavern, my familiar (a Raven, not the most optimal familiar, but stylish!) scouted out a chamber that was up a hill of bones and rubble, and found several goblins, a bugbear, stolen goods, and a prisoner. Some of the party climbed up, but then retreated when they saw how tough the opposition was. I cast my second spell (the first being mage armor) to grease the slope, and the goblins that pursued slid down into our waiting warriors' axes/swords/pummeling fists. Then we all went up the slope, rescued the prisoner (Jeff's character, as he joined the session late), and when reinforcements arrived, I was back to using infestation and minor illusion to distract.
Last night, I felt like I was a bit more creative with my spells. We started out in town, seeking information on the Red Brand bandits who the party had tussled with in the third session which I missed. We ended up impressing a farm boy who knew the secret location into the lair by my mending cantrip and Bumblesnick's minor illusion cantrip. Once we got in the lair, we encountered a creature called a nothic (one-eyed twisted former mage with mental powers) and decided to fight it. The Ranger and Monk did most of the work there.
But after we killed it, we found a room with some red cloaks. They were filthy, maybe diseased, but a prestidigitation cleaned them. But since they wouldn't be much good as disguises shiny clean, more prestidigitation gave them cosmetic soiling.
The final room we investigated had three sarcophagi with armed skeletons leaning on them. With the help of both my and Bumblesnick's unseen servant rituals, we had the servants thread ropes gently through the bones of the skeletons to tie them up. When Denis' Tortle Monk entered the room, they animated of course, but the ropes kept them from mobbing Chell the Monk while we battled them.
Finally, we had a cache of weapons, beaver pelts, and the treasure from the nothic. It was a lot to carry. So I cast Tenser's Floating Disk to carry the loot out.
Dustie, playing a Half Orc Ranger, was wondering why I wasn't blasting away at things. I just laughed and in character wondered why any spell-caster worth his salt would be so crude.
Considering that a very high percentage of spells in 5E are damage dealing spells, I don't think Dustie was overreacting. I just found it amusing that I was getting by without much in the way of direct damage spells, and definitely making things easier for the party.
In my West Marches game this afternoon, the party was asked by the local king of the Fair Folk to wipe out a lair of river sahuagin (piranha people instead of shark people), in exchange for help transporting their large piles of treasure taken from the fledgling dragons last session. Justin's character, Queeg, is an antiquarian (MU/Thief).
On the way to the dungeon, they met hostile satyrs, but Queeg's phantasmal force spell (or was it the wand of illusion?) of frolicking nymphs distracted most of them.
Queeg has a stone of earth elemental control which he used to summon an elemental to battle the sahuagin (until it was dispelled by the sahuagin priestess of Blibdoolpoolp). That weeded out a fair number of sahuagin guards.
Then the party waded in. The remaining front room guards were reinforced by the priestess and her retinue, plus they had a giant crab. While battling, Queeg made good use of continual light to blind the priestess, his wand of paralyzation, and his mirror image spell to even the odds a bit (very necessary, as the priestess had used hold person and paralyzed Abernathy the Dragonborn Fighter/Magic-User, and Calvin the Half Orc Cavalier) [Yes, home brew Classic D&D!]. He also used a staff of dispelling to remove the paralysis of the hold person spell.
Later, fighting the Sahuagin Baron and his bodyguards, Abernathy finally got to shine, with sleep spells (Queeg also used sleep) and magic missiles.
Two things are clear from this: One, Justin is also using utility magic well to solve problems. Two, Queeg has a lot of magical gear (being the only MU in the party for some time, he got a lot by default).