There are countless spells that an unscrupulous wizard can abuse. Lets have a look at the cantrip Message.
Message, Cantrip, Range: 120ft
You point your finger toward a creature within range and whisper a message. The target (and only the target) hears the message and can reply in a whisper that only you can hear.
You can cast this spell through solid Objects if you are familiar with the target and know it is beyond the barrier. Magical Silence, 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood blocks the spell. The spell doesn’t have to follow a straight line and can travel freely around corners or through openings.
Today in the modern world the cell phones can be quiet annoying. People sending SMS or calling at weird hours. If you have ever been the target of a stalker, you also know that after just a short while this becomes very irritating and even scary. Luckily for us we can block numbers or turn off the phone. There is no such ward against Message. Also there is nothing stating that the target will actually know it is originating from the wizard. An unfamiliar whisper can be hard to recognise. Furthermore there are no ways to avoid it or save against it and since it is a cantrip, the lowliest of low wizards can cast it all night long. That gives me the shivers.
The wizard could potentially sneak around the unsuspecting victim at night and send whispers. Granted, the wizard have to be nearby but 120ft still leaves a good margin to skulk around. And it is more fun to see the victim slowly turning mad. How many days would it require to totally break down someone with whispers around the clock. Not long I would imagine. The poor victim would have to seek out a Wizard or perhaps the village priest for help, a potential adventure hook.
What could an unscrupulous hope to accomplish?
Drive the victim mad or even slowly implant certain thoughts combined with a Deception. A slow but methodical brainwash. “Sell the house, leave the house, marry your daughter with a suitor, kill someone”?
And how would a target react to have these whispers while sleeping?
This cantrip in our own world would be extremely powerful in the wrong hands and could be used as such in a fantasy setting.
Now lets have a look at the next cantrip in the Unscrupulous Wizard’s repertoire: Minor Illusion.
Minor Illusion, Cantrip, Range: 30ft
You create a sound or an image of an object within range that lasts for the Duration. The Illusion also ends if you dismiss it as an action or cast this spell again.
If you create a sound, its volume can range from a whisper to a scream. It can be your voice, someone else’s voice, a lion’s roar, a beating of drums, or any other sound you choose. The sound continues unabated throughout the Duration, or you can make discrete sounds at different times before the spell ends.
If you create an image of an object – such as a chair, muddy footprints, or a small chest – it must be no larger than a 5-foot cube. The image can’t create sound, light, smell, or any other sensory effect. Physical interaction with the image reveals it to be an Illusion, because things can pass through it.
If a creature uses its action to examine the sound or image, the creature can determine that it is an Illusion with a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check against your spell save DC. If a creature discerns the Illusion for what it is, the Illusion becomes faint to the creature.
Whisper is a powerful cantrip to mentally terrorise someone, and Minor Illusion is even more so even if the range is slightly limited to 30ft. There is no mentioning in the spell description if the spell requires line of sight. I would assume that the wizard can place it pretty much anywhere within range, especially if it is a sound. Its duration is only a minute but being a cantrip it can be recast again and again to properly frighten the target.
The Minor Illusion can be used to strengthen the effect of Message with a visual component. If the wizard knows what the target is afraid of, or abhors, that can be used to create even more powerful illusions. For example the target keeps a clean house, add maggots, lice, mould dirt to already cleaned areas. This will likely send the target scrubbing and scrubbing all night. It won’t take much of an effort for the target to start doubting his or her sanity.
The spell is also excellent in discrediting someone of shifting blame. For example there has been a murder in town, add the illusion of a bloodstain appearing on a target. Even if they figure out it is not real, doubt has been planted; perhaps it is a manifestation of guilt? Even if a target sees through the illusion, they will most likely not know it is a spell and who cast it unless a successful arcana check is passed. Highly unlikely unless adventurer or highly educated.
What if that precious item of your suddenly starts to whisper, attract spiders and cockroaches – perhaps it is time to sell it or bury it deep in the backyard!
Minor Illusion does not require any verbal commands, so this one is even more stealthy than the Message cantrip.
Keep them up all night with dancing lights:
Dancing Lights, Cantrip, Range: 120ft
You create up to four torch-sized lights within range, making them appear as torches, lanterns, or glowing orbs that hover in the air for the Duration. You can also combine the four lights into one glowing vaguely humanoid form of Medium size. Whichever form you choose, each light sheds dim light in a 10-foot radius.
As a Bonus Action on Your Turn, you can move the lights up to 60 feet to a new spot within range. A light must be within 20 feet of another light created by this spell, and a light winks out if it exceeds the spell’s range.
The Cantrip Dancing Lights also allows a unscrupulous wizard to keep a target awake during the night and seriously doubt their sanity. A dancing light in the corner of the ceiling in the shape of head is bound to create a scare and combine it with Message and Minor Illusion for stronger effect.
There are a few more cantrips:
Mold Earth – allows to do create shapes or writing in the stone that lasts up to an hour. Potential uses: write short scary messages such as “Leave” or “Yield” or whatever suits the desired outcome. Subtle dire symbols, monster shapes can be used. Relatively short range but very stealthy as it requires only gesticulation on the wizard’s part.
Prestidigitation – Allows the wizard to do many interesting things such as making a targets food or drink taste like pee, blood or similar. It is relatively short range, only 10ft (should be enough in a Tavern) so that would limit its use slightly if the wizard wishes to remain undetected.
The above spells combined with Stealth, Intimidation, Persuasion, and Deception can create a very nasty novice wizard. Sometimes it is not about direct confrontation – since most cantrips would kill a non-adventurer in one or two strikes and with very little material evidence.
It would be interesting to create a very interesting low-level wizard NPC that bullies and deceives a small village. The effects on the villagers could be huge.