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There are dozens of spells in the world of D&D, to say nothing of all the homebrew content. While most spells tend to do their damage and then either add an effect or simply shut down, some other spells last for a few rounds or even can strike multiple targets. Witch Bolt is one of those spells, which can bring a lot to the battlefield.
But how do you use this unique witch bolt spell? When should it be used? And how do you make it useful whenever the battle heats up? You’ll find all that out with our Witch Bolt 5e Guide.
What Is The Witch Bolt?
The stats for the witch bolt, as in the Player’s Handbook, are presented here:
- 1st Level Evocation
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 30 feet
- Classes: Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
- Components: V, S, M (a twig from a tree that has been struck by lightning)
- Duration: Concentration, up to 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.
Let’s break this spell down. First, it is a 1st level evocation spell and can be used by a sorcerer, warlock, or a wizard. It has a range of 30 feet and has a vocal, somatic, and material component that we will get to later. It is also a concentration spell that also lasts for 1 minute or 10 rounds of combat if that concentration is not broken.
First, a beam of blue energy goes towards a creature within range and the lightning arcs between you and the target. Think like force lightning from Star Wars. You need to make a ranged spell attack and if it hits the target takes 1d12 lightning damage.
Now, for every turn (up to 10 rounds), you can use an action to send more energy down the arc and zap the target with another 1d12 of lightning damage. If you do anything else, even move, the spell ends. It also ends if the target leaves the 30 foot range or ducks into total cover.
When you upcast the spell using a higher spell slot, the initial 1d12 damage goes up a d12 for every spell slot. Now, it’s important to say that this is only the initial damage and not the 1d12 damage done over time. That stays at 1d12 no matter what.
Using Witch Bolt-In Combat
This level 1 spell is pretty powerful and can be awesome if you use it correctly. The witch bolt tethers both you and your target together with an energy lance, and you can deal 1d12 lightning damage if your ranged attack roll hits. Then you can keep sending that 1d12 down the chain until the target is dead or you take another action.
If you use the 1d12 for its full effect when you are casting Witch Bolt, you could potentially do 1d12 worth of damage! That’s a pretty hefty spread of damage that will easily turn all but the deadliest enemies to ash, and if they aren’t slain outright, they will be damaged enough for others to finish off without too much trouble.
You can use this on the bigger enemies that are already pinned down by your heavy hitters so they won’t be moving too much, and then you can keep sending damage down the lance for as long as you want. However, the spell does have a few drawbacks that potential casters will need to know about.
The Downsides of Witch Bolt
First, you need to make a ranged attack to see if your attack hits its target, and if the spell misses against the enemy’s high AC, you’ve burned a first-level spell slot! Additionally, even if you tether your enemy with the first strike, there are so many ways the spell could end. If the enemy moves more than 30 feet away from you or into full cover, the spell ends.
If you use your action to do anything other than sending another 1d12 point of damage down towards the enemy, that ends the spell. While moving can be done as long as you keep the enemy within 30ft of yourself, you can’t attack, cast another spell, assist, dash, or do anything else. Basically, you’ve tied yourself and your target together for the duration of the spell.
Finally, while the initial damage does go up if you are upcasting the spell, the damage over time says at 1d12. That doesn’t make the spell useless as every bit of damage, even against lightning-resistant enemies, can help, but you’ve probably got better options by the time you are higher level.
It’s not a bad spell, and the damage output is fantastic, but it is weighed down by its restrictions. Still, for the early game, Witch Bolt is a good spell in any player’s arsenal.
Keeping Enemies Still
Of course, if you don’t want your enemies simply scampering their 30 feet of movement straight out of your range, you will need to keep them still. Using the spell ‘Hold Person’ to paralyze a target for up to one minute can be the perfect tag-team spell with another caster. Of course, a hold person only works on humanoids, but enough monsters fit that description to where it works 80% of the time.
You can also have your fighter knock the enemy prone, and even if they get up they need to use half their movement to do so. That can slow them down long enough for you to get back into range. Keeping enemies still can be a bit gimmicky unless your tanks have charged into battle and are keeping the large monster occupied, but it can work.
Can You Move While Casting Witch Bolt?
This one is a bit confusing because the rules for Witch Bolt say: The spell ends if you use your action to do anything else. Now, in most cases, things like swinging your sword to hit someone, drinking a potion, and using an ability can all cost actions. However, what about bonus actions, reactions, and movement?
Well, this would be up to your DM and their house rules, but for most players reactions are not considered actions. You can dodge an attack with uncanny dodge, make a melee attack of opportunity, and respond to other triggers. Bonus actions are considered bonus actions as well, where they don’t count as actions.
Movement generally doesn’t count as an action unless you use both your actions to dash. Otherwise, you can move and as long as you stay within 30 feet of the target, you are fine. However, any other action ends the spell.
How To Homebrew Witch Bolt
Witch Bolt is a fantastic spell weighed down by some restrictions. Some DM’s and players like to homebrew their spells to make them make more sense in the game world, work better with a character’s archetype, or just have them be more fun without being overpowered. For starters, Witch Bolt homebrew focuses on the fact that you are connected to your target through a beam of energy.
So, instead of simply having the target move away and instantly break the spell, some DM’s will give the enemy a reason to struggle. They might need to make strength checks against the caster’s wisdom save, or both parties might need to make constitution checks as they struggle in a game of mental tug of war.
There are even players who cast the spell into the water, shocking any enemy that is nearby for environmental damage.
Some DM’s draw a physical battle map the caster to their target on the battle map, and anyone who touches that line takes 1d12 lightning damage from the Witch Bolt. This can make fighting, especially in indoor spaces where room to maneuver was already limited, even tougher as everyone has a natural hazard to contend with.
It can also help make repeated dungeon crawls less of a slog to go through if your spellcaster needs to take the manuverability of the party into account. That can open up some very interesting tactics and team ups as you map out the plan of attack in each room.
Witch Bolt 5e Guide: FAQs
Question: What Enemies Are Vulnerable To Lightning?
Answer: While you might want to throw the Witch Bolt on the biggest and toughest looking enemy on the field and hope they don’t have any lightning resistance, it can help to do some research first. According to the monster manuals released for the game, only 35 enemies have resistance to lightning, and 10 are completely immune to it. No monsters are vulnerable to lightning damage.
Unless you are fighting a Djinni, Behir, Bronze Dragon, Ochre Jelly, Will-O-Wisp, Blue Dragon, Black Pudding, Flesh Golem, Shambling Mound, Storm Giant, or a Kraken you will be fine. All of the listed enemies are immune to lightning damage. But most of them are also high CR and very special enemies. You won’t be stumbling into a Black Pudding nest or Bronze Dragon Lair during your random encounter for the day!
Other than that, you might find some resistances on certain foes, but for the most part, your Witch’s Bolt is going to do the damage it needs to do. Plus, your DM might even add in third-party or homebrew creatures that are vulnerable to lightning, and in that case, you will want to light them up!
Question: How Do I Roleplay Witch’s Bolt?
Answer: Well, you could treat it just like force lightning, blue beams of energy that get more painful over time as you feed more energy into it. Really, it depends on the characterization of your caster. For example, a wizard who worships the god of death might throw decaying energy on the target, causing it to wither and die.
A warlock might draw upon their patron to color the lightning with the color of their deity, maybe adding sounds or other effects to really freak out the target. Finally, you could have the attack be one-handed at first, but the caster can add two hands into the mix if they want to throw more power at the target.
Have some fun with it, because it isn’t just a cool spell damages, it’s a cool spell period. Especially since you won’t be using it too much in the late game due to all the better options available.
Question: Should I Save Witch’s Bolt For Big Fights?
Answer: It is amazing how many spell casters get through fights on nothing but cantrips and good luck until the time for the long rest happens. While that works, you do want to use your spell slots otherwise they just go to waste. In the case of Witch’s Bolt, you should save it for big fights against the tough bruisers your DM sends at you.
The large damage, coupled with a few fighters or spells to keep a creature from moving out of range, can be very helpful for you and your party. Chances are you don’t want to be trading blows with the mimic or the large gnoll boss you’ve found at the end of the dungeon when everyone is bloodied and low on resources. The Witch’s Bolt Spell can even the odds, if it works. It’s a big if, but it can make sure that combat slides in your favor and then you can take a long rest.