Armor can be a lifesaver in D&D 5e, almost acting like a second skin that most adventurers will rarely if ever take off. The rules for AC, as well as how nearly everything certain adventuring groups do will end in bloodshed, stops most parties from ever doffing their armor during a campaign. This can really cause a problem whenever heat metal becomes a spell in their enemies’ arsenal.
Heat Metal might not seem like a cool spell, especially when compared to all the other 2nd level spells that can be used, but it is very powerful despite its underdog status. But how do you use heat metal effectively? Is it worth it to be used in combat? Should you even try it, or fear the spell when it is cast on you? Here’s our Heat Metal 5e guide to this spell.
What Is Heat Metal?
- 2 level transmutation
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 60 feet
- Components: V S M (A piece of iron and a flame)
- Duration: Concentration, Up to 1 minute
- Classes: Bard, Druid
Choose a manufactured metal object, such as a metal weapon or a suit of heavy or medium metal armor, that you can see within range. You cause the object to glow red-hot. Any creature in physical contact with the object takes 2d8 fire damage when you cast the spell.
Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your subsequent turns to cause this damage again. If a creature is holding or wearing the object and takes the damage from it, the creature must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or drop the object if it can. If it doesn’t drop the object, it has a disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks until the start of your next turn.
At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d8 for each slot above 2nd.
Alright, let’s break this spell down here. First, it is a 2nd level transmutation spell that takes one action to cast. It can go up to sixty feet for its range and requires a verbal, somatic, and material component to be cast. It lasts for up to one minute with concentration and can be cast by a bard or a druid.
Once the spell is cast, the caster picks a manufactured metal object (this is important and we will explain why later). The object in question glows red hot, to the point where it is painful to hold. Any creature in physical contact with the object will take 2d8 fire damage that can’t be negated with any saving throws.
Until the spell ends (which is about 10 rounds of combat if the concentration is not dropped due to choice or due to taking damage), you can use the bonus action on your turn to keep the damage going. This forces the character to take another 2d8 damage, and this goes until the spell ends.
Now, if the creature is holding or wearing the object that you have set red hot, then they must succeed on a Constitution saving throw to keep a hold of the object. If they fail, they must drop the object if they can. If they don’t drop the object, they have a disadvantage on attack rolls and checks until your next turn starts. Finally, if you choose to upcast the spell the damage increases by 1d8 per upcasted spell slot.
There’s quite a lot here, so let’s get started with analyzing the spell!
Why Is Heat Metal So Good?
A lot of players sing the praises of heat metal, and for good reason. First, let’s start with the fact that it does guarantee fire damage. 2d8 base damage is nothing to scoff at, and if you upcast it you will be doing even more. While resistances and immunity to fire can still counter this, very few creatures in the game have these abilities.
For everyone else, there’s no saving throw or minimum safe distance. Instead, it just happens and there’s nothing they can do if the item can’t be dropped.
Then, with spending of bonus actions (not actions, bonus actions), the damage keeps on going! Disregarding any changes to the caster’s concentration, and you could get up to 10 rounds of 2d8 base damage. This is often more than enough to kill most enemies, but wait there’s more!
While most players look at the spell and go ‘Alright, but if I make the Bugbear’s sword really hot and he drops it, doesn’t the damage go away?” Well, yes it does. However, you also need to realize that the creature you are fighting has now become disarmed. You’ve disarmed a tough creature, so now it will either need to spend an action grabbing for its still red hot weapon, or it needs to fight you with something else.
This is either a second, less powerful weapon, or their natural teeth, claws, and strength. It’s not as powerful as a sword, so the creature has a severe disadvantage for the rest of the combat. Additionally, you can cast the spell at their metal armor, causing them to either make the saving throw and suffer the pain of their armor cooking them alive, or they need to doff their armor.
How Does Armor Come Off?
Since most parties do not doff their armor, here’s a quick rundown on how the process works. Depending on the type of armor the creature is wearing, it takes a certain amount of time for it to be removed or put on. The rules from the Player’s Handbook state that Light armor takes 1 minute (10 combat rounds) to don and doff. Medium armor takes 1 minute to doff (again 10 rounds of 6-second combat) and heavy armor takes the longest at 5 minutes to doff (50 rounds of combat).
Since most metal pieces of armor are in the heavy armor category, then it will take a while for a heavily armored creature to get their hot gear off. Even with the help which reduces the time it takes by half, heavy armor isn’t coming off in combat. This gives the spell a lot of utility because heavy armor also increases a character’s AC by a lot!
If you can get a tough character focusing on getting their boiling hot armor off, not only are they not attacking you but you can get their AC down by a bit too. That’s one of the reasons that makes Heat Metal so valuable to use in combat. The constant damage aside, you are able to effectively make enemies weaker in combat, which means you can slay them faster and use fewer resources to do it.
Plus, if the creature decides to push through the pain and still attack, not only are they taking 2d8 base damage every round, but they will also be attacking at disadvantage every turn as well. This further weakens them and can turn a heavily armored orc warlord miniboss into sweating and boiling mess of an opponent who can’t hit anything.
What Do I Need To Cast The Spell?
In order to cast the spell, you need a verbal component, a somatic component, and a material component. The materials you need are a piece of iron and a flame, which can be easy to get. The spell doesn’t specify if you need a piece of raw iron, or if something like an iron nail, amulet, or manufactured item can fit the bill. In most cases, the DM will allow manufactured items made of pure iron, but it does depend on who you are playing with.
Even then, iron is a fairly common ore so finding a hunk both on the roadside and also in various markets should be an easy and cheap endeavor. Plus, if your adventure starts in a mine you are all but guaranteed to find one piece. A flame can be a bit harder to have if your character doesn’t have access to a lighter or the fantasy equivalent.
Most DM’s will allow things like lanterns and torches to serve as the flame component since you aren’t using up the flame to cast the spell. They might also allow your character to draw energy from nearby flames, braziers, or torches in the environment.
Additionally, the rules state that you can use your character’s component pouch to provide the material components. As said in the Player’s Handbook: A component pouch is a small, watertight leather belt pouch that has compartments to hold all the material components and other special items you need to cast your spells, except for those components that have a specific cost (as indicated in a spell’s description).
While you can’t store a flame in a pouch, it isn’t inconceivable to think that your character might strike the iron against a piece of flint to create a quick flame. You can also use a focus instead: Casting some spells requires particular objects, specified in parentheses in the component entry. A character can use a component pouch or a spellcasting focus (found in “Equipment”) in place of the components specified for a spell.
Your character might have a focus, such as a holy symbol or other items that allows them to ‘create the flame’ for the spell. In the DM’s case, it is best not to worry about material components unless the characters are in a position where they need to worry about them.
Heat Metal FAQs
Question: What About Natural Armor?
Answer: Of course, while we like to think that everyone uses metal for protection, not every monster or NPC does. Some use hide, stone, or wood for armor, and are protected just fine through mundane or magical means. If you try to cast heat metal and there is no metal on the target, then the spell fails and you have just burned a spell slot.
This limits the spell’s usability not just to the creatures that wear armor, but also to the creatures that wear metal armor. So you aren’t going to be able to use heat metal on a kobold in wooden armor or an enemy druid in stone armor. Even on the off chance that their gear has some metal in it, it is lightly too little metal to do damage to them.
The same goes for weapons that are not made of metal as well, as they will not be affected.
Question: Is Their Anyway To Defend Against Heat Metal?
Answer: If you are unlucky enough to be the victim of heat metal, you really only have one object. You need to find a way to break the enemy’s concentration on you. Hitting them with ranged or magic attacks can potentially break their concentration on the spell and save you from getting cooked, so try to weather the burning while your allies get into range.
Additionally, some DM’s allow sufficiently powerful cold spells to be used to negate the effects of heat metal. Powerful spells like Ice Storm, Chill Metal, and protection from fire could be used to cool the character down, however, these are homebrewed solutions that need to be talked over with your DM. The spell can also be dispelled by powerful enough dispel magic castings, but that does require your dispeller to be prepared with the magic.
Question: What Is Under The Umbrella Of Manufactured Metal?
Answer: Now, if you are confused as to what manufactured metal means, then for the purposes of the usability of the spell it means all weapons and armor. Once the metal is taken out of its ore form and worked into something useable, then it becomes manufactured. In that case, you can use heat metal to affect the item.
Nails, horseshoes, posts, beams, keys, and tools all also go under the umbrella too. You might be able to use this information to use the spell out of combat too!