In D&D, there are few things that are as versatile as spellcasting. You have spells that deal damage all at once. You have spells that apply damage on a later turn. And in some cases, there are spells that do all of these things. One of those spells is witch bolt. The spell is much -maligned, but is it really that bad? You might be surprised at our answer. Learn all about what this spell does and how to get the most out of it with our Witch Bolt 5E Guide.
Witch Bolt 5E Guide
Class: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
Range: 30 feet
Components: V S M (a twig from a tree struck by lightning)
Casting Time: Action
Duration: 1 Minute
A beam of crackling, blue energy lances out toward a creature within range, forming a sustained arc of lightning between you and the target. Make a ranged spell attack against that creature. On a hit, the target takes 1d12 lightning damage, and on each of your turns for the duration, you can use your action to deal 1d12 lightning damage to the target automatically. The spell ends if you use your action to do anything else. The spell also ends if the target is ever outside the spell’s range or if it has total cover from you.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the initial damage increases by 1d12 for each slot level above 1st.
Witch Bolt Spell Breakdown
Witch bolt has a lot of moving parts, especially for a first-level spell. At first, it is like most evocation spells. You have to make a successful spell attack roll against a target within the spell’s range. So far, this is not unlike most spells that deal damage. Where Witch Bolt gets strange is the subsequent rounds.
Witch Bolt is a concentration spell. If you successfully cast it on another target and maintain concentration, the following round you automatically deat 1d12 damage to your target. There is no need to make another attack roll, and there is no saving throw for the target to mitigate the damage.
Witch Bolt also has a limited range of 30 feet. This is important, as the spell ends when your target leaves the range of your spell. The spell does not include any ability to prevent your target from escaping. This results in a notable downside for the spell.
Benefits of Witch Bolt
There is one primary benefit that comes with casting Witch Bolt, especially as a low-level character: damage. In a best case scenario, casting Witch Bolt at first level could lead to 11d12 damage. That’s a maximum of 132 points of damage, potentially by a first level character. Of course, a lot has to go right to get maximum damage from Witch Bolt. The fact that it is even possible makes this spell an enticing option.
Witch Bolt is one of the few spells that allows you to automatically deal damage. You have to succeed on the initial spell attack roll, but from that point forward, the dice cannot fail you. You only need to maintain concentration and remain within the range of the spell to keep dropping 1d12 lightning damage on your opponent round after round. Of course, meeting those conditions can be easier said than done.
Why is Witch Bolt Bad?
Witch Bolt has some negatives to consider. They are not enough for most people to swear off the spell, but it is not the best damage-dealing option in every situation. There are two major drawbacks to this spell to keep in mind. The first is that the limited range makes it possible for your target to cause the spell to end. The second issue is that there is little value in upcasting.
The biggest drawback with Witch Bolt is the limited range. Your Witch Bolt does not include a way to keep your target stationary. With only 30 feet of range, your target can typically escape the range within a single turn, causing the spell to fail. This downside can be resolved by targeting enemies who cannot escape the range due to geography or who have been immobilized by an ally. In addition to the risk of your target getting out of range, the short range on this spell means that you need to be close to your target to cast it. That isn’t the best option for squishy casters.
Next, it is worth noting that you can upcast Witch Bolt. But why bother? The real bonus of Witch Bolt is the potential to deal damage each round that it is active automatically. Unfortunately, that damage does not scale even if you cast it at a higher level. You get additional damage when the spell is first cast when using a higher spell slot, but you are capped at 1d12 for each additional round no matter what.
Witch Bolt also limits what you can do with your action. While this is not a major trade-off since you are getting automatic damage out of the deal, any other action besides dealing Witch Bolt damage causes the spell to end.
When to Cast Witch Bolt
Witch Bolt has the potential for big damage, but only under the right circumstances. In most real battles, it is not likely to be an optimal use for a level one spell.
The best time to cast Witch Bolt is when your target cannot simply run out of the range of your spell. Arguably the best use of the spell is when another character as the target is immobilized with something like a Hold Person spell. Another situation would be a fight in close quarters where the target cannot physically get out of your range.
Another consideration is your level. Witch Bolt is a solid option for first level casters. That is not the case for high-level characters. More powerful casters can get as much or more damage from cantrips, and other first-level spells will deal far more damage in most situations. Once you reach level three, the situations where Witch Bolt is useful fall off dramatically.
Witch Bolt FAQ
Due to the unique wording of this spell, there are a lot of questions about what is possible while staying within the confines of the rules. This FAQ answers some of those questions.
Can You Move While Using Witch Bolt?
Compared to other concentration spells, Witch Bolt has some unusual language regarding how the spell ends. According to the text, the spell ends “if you use your action for anything else” other than dealing Witch Bolt damage. That means the circumstances where moving would cause Witch Bolt to end are limited.
One of the important parts of your turn in D&D is movement. You can move up to your full speed during your turn, depending on other factors like being underwater. Since your movement does not take up your action, moving does not cause this spell to end.
Of course, there is one exception to consider: using your action to dash. The dash action essentially doubles your movement. However, since it requires the use of your action (unless your class allows you to dash with a bonus action, like the Monk’s Step of the Wind) this action would end the spell.
Can You Change Targets With Witch Bolt?
You cannot change targets with Witch Bolt. By default, spells last up to their stated duration unless they end early due to loss of concentration or some other factor. To cast a spell on a new target, you are required to expend another spell slot. There are some exceptions to this rule. However, those exceptions are explicit in the spell description.
Witch Bolt does not have language that allows you to switch targets. If it did, it would have wording similar to Hex, which lets you use a bonus action on a subsequent turn of yours to curse a new creature. Without that type of language, you cannot switch targets without casting Witch Bolt again.
Twinned Witch Bolt: What Happens?
You can twin spell Witch Bolt, but you probably shouldn’t. Using meta magic to twin Witch Bolt lets you target two creatures instead of one. That’s great on the first turn, as you deal 1d12 damage to each if you manage to hit. The problem arises on subsequent turns. As Mike Mearls discussed in an AMA, twinning a spell results in two targets for the same spell. This is important, as the fact that you have two targets but only one action in the next round is what causes problems for you.
According to the spell, Witch Bolt ends if you fail to use your action to deal additional damage to the target. You have two targets, but only one action. That means on the first subsequent turn, you can at most use your action to damage one of the targets. The spell automatically ends against the second target. In other words, you are burning a sorcery point to deal the damage of a cantrip. It’s not worth the effort.
Does Witch Bolt Consume the Twig?
Witch Bolt has a material component to cast, namely a twig from a tree that has been struck by lightning. The twig is not consumed when casting Witch Bolt. Remember, a component is only consumed when the spell description says as much. Since that language is not present, the twig is not consumed.
That makes casting this spell simple. The twig is included in a spell component couch. Alternatively, you could cast the spell with a spellcasting focus like a magic wand and ignore the material component completely.
Who Can Cast Witch Bolt?
Witch is not the most common of spells. In total, it can only be found on the spell list of three classes: Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. Other classes have some ways to secure the spell later, though.
An Arcane Trickster Rogue has the option to get Witch Bolt at level 8. This is because at level 8, they can add a spell from any school of magic instead of being limited to enchantment and illusion spells. Eldritch Knights gain access to the spell at level 3 depending on their choice of martial archetype, and bards can pick it up with their 10th level feature, Magical Secrets.
Remember: Witch Bolt becomes less optimal after each level. That means while an Arcane Trickster can pick it up at level 8, at that point, there are infinitely better options available.
Is Lightning Damage Good?
Witch Bolt deals lightning damage, which is not one of the most common damage types. It is a nice damage notion to have in your aresnel, given that there are very few creatures immune to it. There are only a handful of creatures, including flesh golems and bronze dragons, that are immune to lightning damage. Witch Bolt is a nice secondary option if you rely on firebolt and encounter a creature that is immune to fire.
What Does Witch Bolt Look Like When Cast?
The spell description does not give a lot of detail other than Witch Bolt causes a beam of crackling blue energy to connect you to your target. When describing the spell as a player, I like to think of Witch Bolt as a chain of blue electricity that extends from my hand (or spellcasting focus) and wraps around the torso of my target.
Concluding Our Witch Bolt Guide
So, is Witch Bolt bad? This spell has gotten a bad wrap online, and the criticism is fair. There is no doubt that this spell should not be in your arsenal at higher levels, as your caster will start getting better options at level three. Still, for a first-level caster I would suggest adding this to your arsenal. Under the right circumstances, this spell punches far above its slot level.
That wraps up our Dungeons and Dragons 5E Witch Bolt Guide. This is a fun spell that is a great fit thematically for a warlock character. If you are thinking about the warlock for your next character, see our Warlock 5E Guide.
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