A drunk man is stumbling and mumbling through the filthy streets of Waterdeep’s slums as he walks near an alley and starts to urinate on the corner of a restaurant. Near him, a little tiefling, a half-human half-demon, is rummaging through the garbage for some food that the restaurant has thrown away.
The human grunts and urinates over the demon girl with a grin on his face. The little one startles and falls prone, crawling a bit before getting up with anger. The man looks at the girl’s defiance with a smile and starts walking toward her. “Creatures like you…,” he says as a HHH symbol shines in his jacket’s left flap.
Knowing the organization’s xenophobia, the girl tries to run but gets caught by the shoulder, and the man chokes her to the near wall. “Creatures like you are not welcome in this city.” Almost losing consciousness, the girl manages to point her finger towards the twisted smile of the human and whispers, “Creatures like me have no place to go… but you can go to hell.”
Running out of an alley in the big city of Waterdeep is the blazing figure of a man wrapped in fire. He cries and screams as he loses control of his body and falls unconscious to the ground. His skin dissolves, and his bones crackle in flames. Near him, a demon girl is running away with a loaf of bread under her arm.
Welcome to a Hellish Rebuke 5e Guide.
How does Hellish Rebuke work?
“Hellish Rebuke” is a 1st level evocation spell located in the PHB (Player’s Handbook) on page 250. The casting time is one reaction (which you take in response to being damaged by a creature within 60 feet of you that you can see), the range is 60 feet, and the duration is instantaneous. The components are Verbal and Somatic. The effect is as follows:
“You point your finger, and the creature that damaged you is momentarily surrounded by hellish flames. The creature must make a Dexterity saving throw. It takes 2d10 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 1st.”
Breaking down the spell’s characteristics
A 1st level spell is a relevant asset at the game’s beginning. Spell slots, in general, are scarce for spellcasters at first levels, so any effect must be pertinent to occur. Nonetheless, as the game progresses, these spell slots become more expendable, and therefore, spells need to be broadly applicable or scale well enough, like cantrips.
The evocation school is all about bursts of energy. “Momentarily surrounded by hellish flames” matches this definition perfectly, so there’s not much to discuss here.
The spell needs your reaction to being cast. This has some specific implications to have in mind.
- All reactions in the game need a trigger to be used, and this is a very specific case: “1 reaction, which you take in response to being damaged by a creature within 60 feet of you that you can see”. The enemy must have damaged you somehow, and you must be able to see the attacker. So if the enemy failed their attack, you are blinded, immune to the damage, or shrug it off somehow; you can’t cast it.
- Reactions are a type of resource during combat that you can cast outside your turn, which is the spell’s main appeal. This resource is only usable by default in Opportunity Attacks, which are situational and weak for most spellcasters. Therefore, having a big burst spell as a security measure is good.
- Reactions can also be cast in your turn. If the enemy attacked you during your turn, you could cast the spell while you make your standard actions.
The range of 60 feet is average. Most of the time, you’ll want this spell to be used against a foe at melee range in hopes of taking it off you. However, a 60 feet range is almost assured to encompass the entirety of any indoor location, where most combats happen. Beware of snipers, thou. You can’t repay an arrow thrown from 300 feet.
The instantaneous duration is evident with this spell. It’s just a quick revenge slap.
The two components requirement is pretty standard, which means that you need to be able to speak and move your hands to cast the spell. If you have a sword and shield while you’re being attacked, you can’t cast it.
If you’re inside a “Silence” spell, you can’t cast it. There are many situations where you may not be able to cast this spell unless you have something to mitigate this downside, like the Subtle Spell Metamagic from sorcerers or the War Caster Feat.
Breaking down the spell’s effect
The spell is simple enough so that anyone can use it properly. However, some things are not explicit, which are essential to consider, especially when you are adjudicating rules as a DM:
The first sentence is mostly flavor. Nonetheless, it specifies “the creature that damaged you,” meaning you can’t use this spell against another creature when you receive damage. It must be the one that hit you.
“Dexterity Saving Throw” for halved damage: These are very common saving throws, meaning most creatures have a high chance of succeeding. That said, even if they succeed, some damage is almost assured. Another good thing about Dex Saves is that it’s a visible characteristic, so most of the time, you’ll notice if the creature has a low or high chance of succeeding. A large bulging gelatinous cube is much easier to hit than a tiny quickling.
The damage is mainly on the high end for 1st level spells. You can compare it to Inflict Wounds, the highest damaging single target fist level spell, which does 3d10, or to one of the smites that only deal 1d6 damage on hit. Of course, each spell has different things going on, but for simple damage output, it’s remarkable.
Fire is the damage type of the spell and is the second most resisted damage type of the game, making it very likely that the enemy would receive less or no damage from the spell. With that said, the resistances of monsters depend very much on the campaign, so keep it in mind when your DM tells you where the campaign will be.
Higher levels: Up-casting a spell is an excellent way to maintain its utility throughout the game, and damage-dealing spells are better the bigger the dice they have. In the case of Hellish Rebuke, they get an extra d10 with every spell slot’s level. This is awesome compared to almost all spells and is even better for Warlocks, but we’ll talk about it later.
Lastly, the spell omits many things, which leads to multiple interpretations when the situation arrives at the table. I’ll give you some examples, but each table is different, so I recommend having good communication with your party and DM:
- The spell doesn’t specify where the flames come from or if they burn flammable objects. Remember this when you have a creature over a puddle of oil. Rules as written, it wouldn’t ignite, but it’s up to you.
- The spell says, “You point a finger,” but it doesn’t say “towards the creature,” so you could trick someone into thinking the spell is going to come from another direction. Mostly flavor, but it’s there.
- If you get hit during your turn, nothing stops you from moving towards the creature that hit you and then taking the reaction. For example, if you are affected by a spell that deals damage at the beginning of a turn and the caster is 70 feet away, you could move and use the spell.
Who can get fiery revenge?
Hellish Rebuke is a 1st level spell available in the Warlock spell list on page 276 of the PHB. In this regard, the spell is very restricted. However, ANY character at the fourth level can grab it with the “Magic Initiate” feat. Besides, Bards can learn it with magical secrets at the 10th level, and Oathbreaker Paladins add it to their spell list. Also, the base Tiefling has is available once a day.
For any dungeon master out there, ANY Warlock NPC you want to put in the game would make good use of this spell. If you need some inspiration, there are some stat blocks with this spell in their spell list: Firenewt Warlock of Imix, Yuan-ti Pit Master, and Warlock of the Fiend. As you can see, this spell is tied to the idea of a Warlock.
Who is the best for this spell?
If it’s not clear already, this spell is made for warlocks. It’s not just a thematic correlation. The spell benefits a lot from Warlock’s Pact Magic. The fact that the spell up casts so well, and it’s a simple burst reaction, pairs well with the progression of spell slots of Warlocks and their regeneration of spell slots on short rest.
A Sorcerer with Magic Initiate in the Warlock spell list may be able to empower a Hellish Rebuke, but it would be just a little damage burst for a hole feat. On the other hand, a Warlock at the fifth level has two 3rd level spell slots dealing 4d10 damage with a Hellish Rebuke and regaining those spell slots on short rest.
Enhance your payback
This spell is simple, but the game has its complexity. As it is, the spell is just some damage, but if you start to consider more things, the spell is better or worse, depending on how and when you use it and the abilities you and your allies have to enhance it.
Being in the front-line
This spell has a range of 60 ft. You need to be damaged for it to be castable. Being in front of the battle may be bad for a spellcaster. Still, if you have a character that usually receives damage near their enemies, this reaction is tremendous extra damage in a battle, especially at early levels.
With this feat, you can bypass all the fire resistances in the game, which are a lot. Remember that immunities still prevent this damage from happening.
Saving Throw manipulations
This is a good combination with another party member: If you force an enemy into making the saving throw for Hellish Rebuke, another party member can cast Silvery Barbs, turning the enemy’s success into failure and granting another ally advantage. Furthermore, a cantrip like Mind Sliver can make Hellish Rebuke more effective.
Interesting Read: Comprehensive DnD 5e Guide to Mind Sliver.
Dex Saves inhibitors/enhancers
Things in the game grant bonuses or losses to Dex saves. For instance, if an enemy attacks you from behind a wall, they probably have some cover, so Hellish Rebuke would be less effective. However, the opposite is also true. For example, if you cast something like “Slow” on the enemy, they now have lower chances of succeeding in their Save.
Customizing your revenge
Here is the part of the article where I like to take a step back from all the mechanics focusing on the game’s role-play aspect. The spell is battle oriented, but it doesn’t mean it just does damage. It may lack the complexity of a Polymorph spell, but sometimes “basic” is better.
The Dungeons and Dragons game allows all its players and DMs to describe their abilities as they see fit. Descriptions are a big part of the game, and making them as cool as possible is essential. For that reason, I’d like to give you some examples of thinking about this spell and improving the game experience for you and your friends.
The intended fantasy
Hellish Rebuke is a spell born from the depths of hell. Its flames are not simple fire. They can be black and bloody red. They are vicious and angry, wrapping around their victim like a swarm of red beetles. Hellish Rebuke comes from a sentiment of pure hatred, hate from an offense taken.
Is the act of being hurt that causes you to explode? Or is it the fact that, in beating you, they are hurting your pride? Are the flames coming from your hands, your eyes, or the ground under the target? I imagine this kind of Hellish Rebuke as one of Scorpion’s combos. Scorpion is a ninja character from Mortal Kombat with a mastery over fire.
Even though “hell” is in the name of the spell, you don’t need to stick to that premise. After all, magic comes from many places, for example, your Warlock patron. If you are a Warlock of the Great Old One, perhaps your flames come from outer space, appearing as glimpses of star fire around the enemy before engulfing them in blue and orange flames. Or maybe you are a Hexblade Warlock, in which case, the fire is gray, coming from your blade in the form of a flying line of heat.
Other places mean more possibilities. If you have this spell for your Oathbreaker Paladin, maybe your hate is so strong that the mere look of your eyes troubles your enemy, and when they attack you, black flames come from their weapon and lash onto their face. Or perhaps you are a Bard with Magical Secrets, and your fire is orange and yellow, like little sparkles of light that tickle your enemy before they start to burn.
Where does your magic come from? What sentiments do you have against your enemy?
Lastly, one of the easiest ways of changing a spell is to tweak its damage type. It is good to remember that not every damage type is made equal, so changing its damage from fire to any other would probably make the spell stronger. As with all Homebrew, the DM has the final word on how this will work. You can also change the damage type with the Metamagic Transmuted Spell, but I don’t recommend it. Nonetheless, you can still say that the spell does “fire damage” but describe it in another way.
With that out of the way, how can we change this spell? When I think of Hellish Rebuke at its core, I think of a quick response, almost as an instinctive reaction. Think of a Winter Eladrin whose reaction to receiving damage is to throw a colossal ice ball at its attacker, or maybe a Yuan-ti that spits at his enemy’s face some poison.
When we enter Homebrew, the sky is the limit, so I’ll leave the rest to your imagination and hope you have a great game.
Question: Can you use Hellish Rebuke if the damage taken drops you to zero HP?
Answer: The short answer would be no. But the “rule of cool” may disagree. Rules as written, you fall unconscious first for dropping to zero hp, thus, you can’t take any reactions. Nonetheless, reactions happen in a fraction of a second after the trigger is met. You could treat the “dropping to zero hp,” and the reactions happening simultaneously as an epic moment.
QUESTION: DOES HELLISH REBUKE IGNITE FLAMMABLE OBJECTS?
Answer: No. The spell’s description doesn’t specify what happens to things coming in contact with the flame, except for the target. Therefore, rules as written, only the target is damaged. Nothing they carry or wear gets ignited, but the dm can rule otherwise.
QUESTION: IS HELLISH REBUKE AN “EVIL” SPELL?
Answer: As with any other spell in the game, it’s neutral in its core. It’s only evil if used for malicious purposes or by evil creatures. Even though “hell” is in the name, their magic doesn’t need to come from the lower planes.
So, is Hellish Rebuke good?
Hellish Rebuke is a good spell with great potential. It does a decent amount of damage throughout the game, and it’s very thematic in its core. Warlocks are especially inclined to take it as an alternative to damage-dealing spells, and they are almost assured of having a great time in battle.
There are ways to make this spell better, and sometimes it’s just not worth wasting a spell slot to use it, so always consider the alternatives you’re not taking to use this spell. Have a great game with this fun and iconic spell!