The next time you make a ranged weapon attack during the spell’s duration, the weapon’s ammunition, or the weapon itself if it’s a thrown weapon, transforms into a bolt of lightning. Make the attack roll as normal. The target takes 4d8 lightning damage on a hit, or half as much damage on a miss, instead of the weapon’s normal damage.

Whether you hit or miss, each creature within 10 feet of the target must make a Dexterity saving throw. Each of these creatures takes 2d8 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

The piece of ammunition or weapon then returns to its normal form.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the damage for both effects of the spell increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 3rd.

Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
School: 3rd-level transmutation

Player’s Handbook, pg. 255

Lightning Arrow 5e

The Ranger-exclusive EMP grenade, Lightning Arrow is the premier area-of-effect blasting option at this level. We’ll cover some common rules questions, cover the best ways to use Lightning Arrow, and compare it to Conjure Barrage as a 3rd-level AoE option.

Who Can Cast Lightning Arrow in 5e?

The following classes have Lightning Arrow on their spell list:

  • Ranger

No subclasses get Lightning Arrow for free.

What Does Lightning Arrow Do in 5e?

Lightning Arrow changes the ammunition of your next ranged weapon attack to deal 4d8 (18 average) lightning damage on hit, or half as much on a miss, instead of the weapon’s normal damage. This is still considered a normal ranged weapon attack, meaning you add your regular modifier (Dexterity or Strength; weapon dependent) for the attack and damage rolls of this attack.

Regardless of whether the attack hits, each creature within 10 feet of the target must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 2d8 (9 average) lightning damage on a failed save or half as much on a success.

The ammunition returns to normal after the attack.

Lightning Arrow is a concentration spell that can be “held” for up to 1 minute.

Finally, Lightning Arrow can be upcast, increasing the damage of both the initial attack and the area of effect damage by 1d8 per slot level above 3rd.

What Are the Rules for Lightning Arrow in 5e?

The rules for Lightning Arrow in DnD 5e are as follows:

  • You still add normal attack and damage modifiers to the attack you make with Lightning Arrow. So if you’re attacking with a longbow, for example, you’ll still add your Dexterity modifier to the attack roll and the on-hit damage.

    You’re just replacing the weapon’s normal damage (1d8 piercing, in the case of the longbow) with Lightning Arrow’s damage (4d8 lightning damage).

    Lightning Arrow can also benefit from the bonus damage of the Sharpshooter feat (PHB 170) for the same reason. We have two separate threads where Jeremy Crawford says this in different ways: “apply any modifiers that…aren’t specific to the weapon you’re using,” and “damage = roll + modifiers.”

  • Lightning Arrow only affects the first attempted attack after casting it. Lightning Arrow lasts for up to one minute, so that’s how long you have to make your attack before the spell dissipates. That doesn’t mean that every ranged attack you make for that minute benefits from Lighting Arrow.

    Even if your Lightning Arrow attack misses, the spell is still used up.

    And even if you have Extra Attack, your turn will look like this (assuming all attacks land):

    (4d8(Lightning Arrow) + Dexterity Modifier) + (1d8(longbow) + Dexterity Modifier)
  • Lightning Arrow’s splash damage doesn’t affect the attack’s target. The target of the actual attack takes 4d8 lightning damage (at 3rd level) while each creature within 10 feet of the target takes 2d8 lightning damage. Sage Advice confirmation.

  • Lightning Arrow deals damage to friendly creatures. So be careful with your aim.

  • Lightning Arrow’s initial damage can benefit from a critical hit, but not the splash damage. If you roll a 20 on your attack roll for Lightning Arrow, you can roll twice as many dice (8d8 at base level) and add your attack modifier twice.

    However, the area of effect damage remains the same (2d8).

  • Lightning Arrow has no special interaction with Volley (Hunter subclass feature; PHB 93) or Conjure Volley (spell). Volley just allows you to make more ranged attacks; only the first one benefits from Lightning Arrow. And Conjure Volley doesn’t involve a ranged weapon attack.

d&d dwarf lightning caster mini

How Do I Use Lightning Arrow in 5e?

Here are a few ways to use Lightning Arrow in DnD 5e:

  1. Use it on big groups of enemies. Kind of obvious, but Ranger’s most-damaging 3rd-level area of effect spell is good at cutting down waves of bad guys.

    It’s especially fun to kick off an ambush with Lightning Arrow, when ranks of foes are marching, sleeping, chatting, or doing anything else where they’re all nicely bunched up within 10 feet of one guy.

    Another good tip is to whip out Lightning Arrow when you’re fighting anything with Pack Tactics (wolves, kobolds, etc.) since they’re incentivized to stay close to one another. Clearing out riff-raff is no longer a full-caster exclusive trick once you’ve got lighting in your quiver.

  2. Prepare it pre-combat. Lightning Arrow is a concentration spell for a reason — best to take advantage of the ability to prep it before a fight breaks out and save your bonus action. Especially if you need your bonus action every round of combat (two-weapon fighting, Beast Master, etc.).

  3. Use it before setting up concentration spells. In a fight against a lot of enemies, some Ranger spells come in handy — spells like Spike Growth, Silence, and even Fog Cloud come to mind.

    But these are all concentration spells, meaning that you have to end them if you want to cast Lightning Arrow while they’re active — not great.

    The solution is simple: start your fight with the big damage from Lightning Arrow, then lay down your long-term battlefield control spells afterward. Pretty much the shock and awe approach for Rangers.

Is Lightning Arrow 5e a Good Spell?

Yes, Lightning Arrow is great at what it does when the appropriate scenario appears. The problem is that Rangers only get access to 3rd-level spells at 9th level — you know, when Wizards have been tossing out 8d6 Fireballs (with double the area of effect) for the last four levels.

It kind of makes this blasting spell feel underwhelming. Especially with other great options like Conjure Animals, Revivify, and Summon Fey becoming available at the same time.

It’s also annoying that what’s typically a one-off spell cast competes for your concentration. It makes a combat spell essentially unusable in combat once you’re concentrating on something important.

Lightning Arrow 5e Compared to Conjure Barrage

Conjure Barrage is another 3rd-level, Ranger-exclusive area-of-effect spell. It affects a 60-foot cone and deals 3d8 (13.5 average) damage to creatures who fail a Dexterity saving throw, or half that to those who succeed.

Conjure Barrage’s area-of-effect damage deals 50% more than Lightning Arrow’s 2d8, and the 60-foot cone is decidedly bigger than the 10-foot radius afforded by Lightning Arrow.

However, Conjure Barrage cannot be upcast, so Lighting Arrow can easily win out on raw AoE damage. Additionally, Conjure Barrage requires the Ranger to be much closer to enemies, which ranged Rangers don’t usually like to do.

Overall, Lightning Arrow is the better option for bow-wielding Rangers, while Conjure Barrage is a nice trick for melee Rangers to pull out when enemies line up nicely for them.