There’s a lot of weapons in the D&D universe. From blades to bludgeons to even guns, there’s a lot of different official weapons that your character can be armed with. Even with spellcasters who are traditionally armed only with spells, they get a few extra spells that can be classified as weapons. Ice Knife is one of them.
Ice Knife is an interesting and cool spell that can be very fun to play with because it has a lot of cool applications and also spawns some other spells you can use to play with if you want to be a necromancer. But how do you use Ice Knife? What makes it a cool spell? When should you use it in battle? Here’s our Ice Knife 5e Guide to this spell.
What Is The Ice Knife Spell?
This spell comes with the Xanathar’s Guide to Everything book, and here is the stat block for the spell:
- 1st level conjuration
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 60 feet
- Spell Lists: Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard
- Components: S, M (a drop of water or piece of ice)
- Duration: Instantaneous
You create a shard of ice and fling it at one creature within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d10 piercing damage. Hit or miss, the shard then explodes. The target and each creature within 5 feet of the point where the ice exploded must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 2d6 cold damage.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the cold damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 1st.
Let’s break this spell down. First, it is a 1st level conjuration spell that takes 1 action to cast. The spell has a 60-foot range and requires a somatic component and a material component. It takes an instant to cast. Once you cast the spell, you create an ice shard and then hurl it at a target. On a ranged spell attack hit, the target takes 1d10 piercing damage and then the shard explodes.
Each target within 5 feet, as well as the target all, needs to make a dexterity saving throw or they will take the 2d6 cold damage. When you upcast the spell, the cold damage increases for each slot level you upcast it with. Finally, it can be used by a Sorcerer, Wizard, and Druid.
Alright, now let’s take a look at the spell and its useability in the world of Faerun.
Why Use Ice Knife?
Ice Knife is a pretty useful spell in the right circumstances. It isn’t a cantrip meaning that it does cost a spell slot to cast, which can be a problem for low-level characters. Do you use your spell slot to potentially pin an attacking goblin to a tree, or do you use the spell slot to potentially heal your fighter after that same goblin cuts his hp pool in half with an axe?
The main reason to use Ice Knife isn’t because of the 1d10 cold damage you inflict on the target if you hit, but instead the spell’s secondary effect. Because this spell does require you to make a ranged spell attack against the target, the spell can miss or just bounce off the target’s AC. Whether it hits or misses, its secondary effect activates and the shard explodes.
This requires a saving throw from the target and any creatures within 5 feet of the target, and if they fail the save, they take damage from the explosion. 2d6 cold damage can do a lot of it isn’t dodged.
When Should You Use Ice Knife?
The best time to use an ice knife isn’t against the larger enemies that threaten your party, but instead, the smaller foes that all gather around your party.
For example, let’s say your party is fighting three goblins, and they all clump together, firing arrows at your team. You can throw an ice knife at the middle goblin and if it hits, they take the 1d10 piercing damage. The knife will then explode and the damage will catch all three. Assuming all three fail their rolls, that’s some pretty good damage.
It might even kill the original target if they end up failing their saves. Ice Knife is also a great spell to use if you are facing a lot of weaker enemies, as the damage from the explosion might finish wounded enemies off. Finally, the spell also has a lot of usage in hallways, where enemies are often clumped together and will take the splash damage.
What Is Needed To Cast Ice Knife?
First, you need a somatic movement, so a hand gesture. This is typically you creating the knife and then either throwing it or propelling it via magic. You also will need a drop of water or a piece of ice to cast the spell. If you are playing in the northern reaches of Faerun or inside of some other frozen location, then finding ice shouldn’t be a problem.
If ice is either hard to come to buy or you just want to use water instead, a drop of water is enough to cast the spell. Typically the contents of an adventurer’s canteen or water source are enough as it is just a drop. Even if you are playing a very hardcore campaign that limits your resources, you should be able to cast this spell without too much trouble.
Who Can Cast Ice Knife?
Officially, Sorcerers, Druids, and Wizards are all allowed to cast the spell. Still, if you have a homebrew class built around ice and frost magic, you can talk to your DM and see what they think about your character casting the spell.
Officially, no monsters can cast this spell or have an ability like it. However, it is a unique ability that can be added to any number of arctic enemies or NPC’s. You could have frost elves, goblins, or yetis use this ability or cast this spell.
Bigger arctic creatures might shoot a flurry of ice daggers at their foes to soften them up. This can add a cool dimension to combat because no matter what the party does to dodge or deflect these knives, they will still explode and cause damage if the saves are failed.
What To Do If Ice Knife Misses
Now, according to the rules of the spell: Hit or Miss, the shard then explodes. On a hit, it is pretty easy to figure out where the knife is: embedded in the target. Now, what happens if the knife misses? In most cases, you can assume that the ice knife has hit the target in some fashion, just not enough to damage it. Maybe the knife cuts the skin of a bugbear but doesn’t pierce the thick hide.
It could have embedded itself into the shield or hide armor of a goblin, or it might have just bounced off of the intended enemy and then fallen at their feet. Additionally, it could have embedded itself into the wall, floor, or into the scenery behind the enemy. It would still be very close, but it could have been a bad miss.
How the knife misses doesn’t really matter, the point is that the missed knife is still within 5 feet of the target and will affect it when it explodes. Most DM’s simply state ‘the ice knife missed’ without too much fanfare, but if you want to have some fun with it you can. No matter what though, the target will still need to take the splash damage from the explosion if the check fails.
Is Ice Knife Worth It?
With a ranged attack roll to hit, depriving you of extra damage if the target manages to dodge out of the way, as well as a second chance for the enemies to dodge if they are near the exploding shard, the damage that you can deal with the spell is not guaranteed. This can make it seem pale in comparison to other 1st level spells that either deal guaranteed damage or provide direct buffs and debuffs to your allies and enemies.
If you know you are going to be fighting in a lot of cramped areas with enemies that have very low dexterity saving throws, such as undead, then it is a useful spell for crowd control and some serious damage.
Even tossing the spell out once before combat truly begins will give your party an edge on these weaker foes. However, if you aren’t going to be fighting in cramped areas and your enemies have higher dex, you might want to skip over this spell for something more beneficial.
Ice Knife FAQ
Question: Does It Have To Be A Knife?
Answer: Now, despite the fact that the spell is called ‘ice knife’ the description for the spell says: You create a shard of ice and fling it at one creature within range. So is it an ice knife or an ice shard? Well, the answer to that, is that the spell is whatever your character wants it to be. If you have a very elegant sorcerer, he might hurl ice daggers based on the steel knives that he sees the rogue fight with.
For Druids, they might appreciate the raw beauty of nature and instead form the drops of water or shards of ice into something bigger. There’s nothing like impaling your enemies on spikes of ice after all!
Talk to your DM if you want to cosmetically flavor the spell, as most of the time they will allow you to do so. Especially if you can give the character a backstory reason to flavor their ice knife spells this way.
Question: Can You Use It On All Creatures?
Answer: Ice knives are pretty fun to use, but what about whenever you hurl them against creatures made of ice or fire? For Example, let’s say you are battling a frost giant, which is made from ice and snow. In the stat block for a frost giant, the immunities list states that it is immune to cold damage. So you could throw the dagger, but it would have no effect whatsoever.
Other creatures might have resistance to cold damage, so they would take half damage from any cold attacks that you would make. Now, what about fire creatures? Can you use this attack against a fire elemental for example?
Yes, you wouldn’t deal any extra damage as it is not vulnerable to the cold, but the attack would go off as planned. If your DM wants to be realistic or roleplay the situation better, there’s actually a way to do that. Fire elementals have an ability called ‘Water susceptibility’ which states the following:
Water Susceptibility. For every 5 ft. the elemental moves in water, or for every gallon of water splashed on it, it takes 1 cold damage.
While an ice knife isn’t going to splash a fire elemental with a gallon of water, your DM could easily roleplay that while the ice knife melts against the enemy, the water still melts on it and that causes a lot of damage to the fire elemental. It’s purely cosmetic, but it can add a lot of flavors and even some realism to the game. Most players will appreciate that.
Question: Can I Throw Multiple Knives At Once?
Answer: Of course, nothing is more fun than tossing multiple knives at once towards a target. However, while homebrewed enemies might be able to fire a knife swarm at the party, you won’t be able to do the same without doing some homebrew yourself. Otherwise, your character will just need to content themselves with being able to upcast the spell.
You could say that the reason the cold damage goes up on an upcast is that the ice knife itself is much bigger and explodes into more shards, but that’s probably as close to the official version of multiple knives as you are going to get.