You instantaneously expand the flame 5 feet in one direction, provided that wood or other fuel is present in the new location.
You instantaneously extinguish the flames within the cube.
You double or halve the area of bright light and dim light cast by the flame, change its color, or both. The change lasts for 1 hour.
You cause simple shapes—such as the vague form of a creature, an inanimate object, or a location—to appear within the flames and animate as you like. The shapes last for 1 hour.
If you cast this spell multiple times, you can have up to three of its non-instantaneous effects active at a time, and you can dismiss such an effect as an action.
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Duration: Instantaneous or 1 hour
School: Transmutation cantrip
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, pg. 152
Control Flames 5e
One of four elemental-themed cantrips introduced in Xanathar’s, Control Flames drips with cool roleplay potential. But many players wonder what the heck it’s actually good for.
I’ll quickly cover the spell’s rules before turning to how you can use Control Flame in different situations.
Who Can Cast Control Flames in 5e?
The following classes have Control Flames on their spell list:
No subclasses get Control Flames.
What Does Control Flames Do in 5e?
Conrtrol Flames affects a nonmagical flame that fits within a 5-foot cube in one of four ways:
Expand Flames to an adjacent space thas has fuel.
Extinguish Flames to…extinguish them.
Alter Flames to make them cast light for twice or half as much distance, change color, or both.
Animate Flames to make vague, animated forms appear within the flames.
Bullets 1 + 2 are both instantaneous effects, while 3 + 4 last for 1 hour. You can have up to 3 instances of bullets 3 + 4 active at the same time, and can dismiss these effects with an action.
What Are the Rules for Control Flames in 5e?
The rules for Control Flames in DnD 5e are as follows:
Control Flames can work on SOME fires caused by spells. While this cantrip definitely doesn’t work on magical flames, it can work on flames created by magic — as a 5e dev puts it, “the trick is going to be the duration of the fire-creating spell. If the duration is instantaneous, the resulting fire is non-magical. If it has a longer duration, the fire is magic.”
Basically, if a firey spell creates a fire that lasts beyond the spell’s duration, it’s just a regular fire that can be controlled by Control Flames. If a fire is dependent on magic to exist/isn’t feeding on actual fuel, it’s a magic fire that can’t be controlled by Control Flames.
Here are some lists to make your life easier:
Fire Spells You Can Control With Control Flames
Spell Level Druidcraft 0th (cantrip) Prestidigtation 0th (cantrip) Firebolt 0th (cantrip) Flaming Sphere 2nd Fireball 3rd Lightning Bolt 3rd Summon Fiend 6th Delayed Blast Fireball 7th Fire Storm 7th
Fire Spells You Can’t Control With Control Flames
Spell Level Create Bonfire 0th (cantrip) Continual Flame 2nd Flaming Sphere 2nd Flame Blade 2nd Fire Shield 4th Wall of Fire 4th Incendiary Cloud 8th
You cannot stack the “double light range” effect. Because “the effects of the same spell cast multiple times don’t combine” (PHB 205).
For example, if you cast Control Flames to brighten a torch (normally 20-foot bright/20-foot dim light), you increase its light range to 40-foot bright/40-foot dim. However, you cannot cast Control Flames to brighten the same torch to increase its range to 80-foot bright/80-foot dim.
How Do I Use Control Flames in 5e?
Fire is a pretty common thing in a pre-tech world; from torches to campfires to braziers, most people require fire to see in dark places. My first major tip is to always be on the lookout for fires that you can manipulate with Control Flames. Other than that, I’d like to point out that Control Flames only has a Somatic component — no Verbal or Material. That means it’s a spell you can cast stealthily a lot of the time, with just the wave of an arm.
With those important points out of the way, here are a few ways to use Control Flames in DnD 5e:
Create distractions. If you see a torch or brazier near something flammable, say a tapestry or a wooden table, using Control Flames to spread the fire in a way that looks “accidental” can provide your party with the perfect distraction.
Most people will react instantly and try to put the fire out, during which time you can sneak somewhere, steal something, or run away from pursuers.
Create a zone of control. Whenever you’re somewhere with lots of flammable ground (i.e., wood), you can create mini walls of fire that can be used for all sorts of things. For example, blocking chokepoints to prevent or dissuade pursuers or enemies running away from you.
Or for preventing enemies from reaching an objective that you’re trying to protect.
Deal damage? This one requires DM buy-in, but most will grant that spreading a fire into a space occupied by a creature will result in that creature possibly taking fire damage.
I’ll touch on this more in the DM tips section, but 1d4 or 1d6 fire damage on a failed Dexterity saving throw seems like a fair value for this use of the spell.
Carry a torch or candle. This is just a general tip — you can’t conjure flames with the spell, so you’ll need to bring your own source of fire. A torch is handiest, but if you’re worried about being seen, a candle has a much smaller light radius.
Pair with subclasses/groups that enjoy darkness. Subclasses like the Gloomstalker Ranger and the Shadow Monk come to mind. Gloomstalkers are invisible in darkness to any creature that relies on darkvision, and Shadow Monks can teleport to/from areas of darkness, as well as become invisible in darkness at higher levels.
Basically, Control Flames is a good budget option for groups that can rely on Darkvision to take advantage of regular darkness, don’t want to go all in on the magical darkness thing. Snuff out all the light sources in the room, and you’re good to go.
Resolve collateral damage. A very common use of Control Flames is for firefighting missions…sometimes caused by someone’s careless Fireball spell, or sometimes caused by a purposefully-made fire that gets out of hand.
This could be either you or your enemies — whoever’s carelessly slinging fire around flammable stuff.
Be stealthy. Putting out torches isn’t just for combat bonuses — it’s also great for sneaking by enemies undetected. However, to really sell this and not make it MORE suspicious, try to pair it with something like the Minor Illusion sound of wind blowing, so that nobody’s suspicious of why the torch suddenly blew out.
Or you could even use the very fact that a torch going out is suspicious as a distraction to sneak by.
See farther. The Underdark can be a spooky place, but if you’re extra-scared of the dark, Control Flames is your best friend. With the third bullet point, you can turn a bullseye lantern’s 120-foot light range into a crazy 240 feet (PHB 152). Just be aware that you’ll also be visible from that distance as well…
Be (somewhat) stealthier. If you’d rather not become a shining beacon in dark places, you can go the other route and use Control Flames to dim your lights. Bringing a regular torch down from 40 feet of light to 20 feet can be perfect for seeing where you’re going without being so easy to spot.
Enhance your performances. Making flames colorful can work as the medieval equivalent of pyrotechnics for your Bard’s performance. And changing the brightness of the flames to add drama to their storytelling can be equally impactful.
Intimidate plebs. Kinda like a Thaumaturgy-lite, using Control Flames to brighten flames when you’re shouting angrily, or dim them when you’re getting serious, can work to scare folks who’ve never encountered a magic user before. And making colorful flames with the wave of your hand? That’ll spook some plebs for sure.
Signal. If you need to send a signal to distant allies, changing the brightness or color of a torch can be a good option.
Enhance your performances. Creating images of the story your Bard is singing about is a seriously cool special effect that’ll have villagers huddled around for the show of their life.
Pretend to be a fortune-teller, soothsayer, etc. These all basically boil down to charlatanism. If you use Control Flames to make images appear that confirm what you’re saying, you can trick people into believing all sorts of things.
For example, you could predict someone’s future (i.e., you will meet this man, before that man, your friend, enters town the next day), in order to gain their trust. Or you could trick a village into believing that an item is cursed by showing it in the flames, surrounded by demons.
Communication at a distance. This one’s pretty niche, but if your buddy is far away (up to 60 feet) but carrying a torch, you can put a symbol or object in the flames to communicate with them. For example, you could assign the shape of a skull as “we’re in danger” or a smiley face as “all good back here, continue with the plan.”
On the flip side, a scout could look ahead and then transmit images of the room’s layout back to the party via a torch they carry. Or images of the monsters that they see, giving the rest of the party a clue as to what they’re up against.
Finding people/things you’ve seen before. Make the flames show an image of the thing or person you’re looking for to ask if someone has seen it. The forms are vague, so this isn’t great if you require a lot of detail to make the thing recognizable, but it’s definitely workable with really distinctive looking people and objects.
Is Control Flames 5e a Good Spell?
Control Flames is an okay spell with fun roleplaying potential, a bit of utility, and the ability to prevent collateral damage from your group’s resident pyromancer. But it’s not that great of a spell unless you anticipate a lot of chances for your party to make use of it.
For example, a party that operates on stealth tactics or often gets into firefights in flammable structures you care about maintaining.
That being said, if you’re building a spellcaster who just loves playing with fire, Control Flames is an essential starter spell to make your character thematically complete. And the utility and fun that Control Flames does offer can be quite satisfying for players who like creative problem-solving.
Control Flames 5e DM Tips
The Control Flames question that many DMs run into at some point is, “can this spell deal damage?” While not explicit in the spell description, most agree that there are certain conditions when Control Flames can be used to deal damage to a creature.
Basically, if a player moves an existing fire onto a fuel source that a creature is standing on, they can effectively create a fire that’s certainly harmful for the creature’s health. The question is, how harmful?
My take (and many other DMs) is that Control Flames probably deals 1d4 or 1d6 fire damage on a failed Dexterity save from the creature (against the caster’s spell save DC) and 0 damage if it passes.
The logic is based on the cantrip Create Bonfire dealing 1d8 damage on a failed Dex save. The reason that most rule that Control Flames deals lower damage than a similar cantrip is that it has so much more out-of-combat utility.