The 5 Best AoE DnD Spells and Cantrips – Fireball, Color Spray & More

Area of Effect spells are what make spellcasters unique among the other types of classes.

There are many players and DMs who think that Area of Effect spells are really the only reason to play spellcasters.

This is absolutely not true — but it also isn’t wrong. There are many reasons to play spellcasters, but AoEs definitely top the list.

This post is here to give you the best AoE spells for each tier of play for your spellcaster. The large majority of these spells will be Wizard or Sorcerer spells, but we will try to skip around.

Each spell will be considered the best for multiple reasons. We will try to have the best damage-dealing spell for each tier, but we will also go for an AoE spell that maybe does something a little different because, yes, wizards can be hammers who only see nails, but there are many, many ways to control your nails. You don’t always have to pound the mess out of them.

What Is an AoE Spell in DnD 5e?

Area of Effect (AoE) spells are those spells that affect every creature in the area in which they are centered.  They do not require an attack roll, usually, but instead demand saving throws.

Understanding AoE spells

Area of Effect spells often have a shape to them and a distance at which they can be cast.

For example, if a spell affects a “20-foot sphere centered on a point within a range of 60 feet,” that means you pick the center of the spell’s effect. That center can be within 60 feet of you, and the spell area goes out in all directions for 20 feet.

The various shapes an AoE spell can take are:

  • Line. Lines have a width and a length, such as 5 by 30 feet. This makes a rectangle on the board, and every creature in that rectangle is affected by the spell.
  • Cone. Cones begin with the caster and spread out to a specific distance, usually 15 feet. This shape is a triangle on the board. Draw the point of your triangle at the front of your caster with the lines going out 10 feet. Your caster will be opposite of the hypotenuse. The hypotenuse will be 15 feet long. Every creature in that triangle is affected by the spell.
  • Sphere. A sphere makes a circle on the board, and every creature within the diameter of the circle is affected by the spell. Be careful to ready the spell effects as some spells will give you the radius of the sphere while others will give you the diameter.

The Best AoE Spells for each Tier

At Tier 1, you are just starting out.

You won’t have many AoEs to choose from, but the ones you do have will require a bit of wit and cleverness to use well.

My two favorites are Entangle and Color Spray.

Entangle

Entangle

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range/Area: 90 ft. by 20 ft.
  • Duration: 1 minute/concentration
  • School: Conjuration
  • Class: Druid
  • Level: 1st
  • Damage/Effect: Restrained
  • Attack/Save: Dexterity
  • Components: V, S

Spell Description 

Grasping weeds and vines sprout from the ground in a 20-foot square starting from a point within range. For the duration, these plants turn the ground in the area into difficult terrain.

A creature in the area when you cast the spell must succeed on a Strength saving throw or be restrained by the entangling plants until the spell ends. A creature restrained by the plants can use its action to make a Strength check against your Spell Save DC. On a success, it frees itself. When the spell ends, the conjured plants wilt away.

Entangle is a druid spell that restrains everyone in the area. Strength is not a common Saving throw proficiency, so you can use this spell to pin down any enemy rogues types or spell casters in the area.

While so restrained, your friends can make attacks with advantage, so the rogue in your party will love you forever!

Color Spray

Color Spray

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range/Area: Self, 15-ft. cone
  • Duration: 1 round
  • School: Illusion
  • Class: Sorcerer/Wizard
  • Level: 1st
  • Damage/Effect: Blinded
  • Attack/Save: None
  • Components: V, S, M

Spell Description 

A dazzling array of flashing, colored light springs from your hand. Roll 6d10; the total is how many hit points of creatures this spell can affect. Creatures in a 15-foot cone originating from you are affected in ascending order of their current hit points (ignoring unconscious creatures and creatures that can’t see).

Starting with the creature that has the lowest current hit points, each creature affected by this spell is blinded until the end of your next turn. Subtract each creature’s hit points from the total before moving on to the creature with the next lowest hit points. A creature’s hit points must be equal to or less than the remaining total for that creature to be affected.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, roll an additional 2d10 for each slot level above 1st.

This spell is a favorite among Arcane Tricksters! With this spell, you can blind your opponents, leaving them open to all sorts of mischief, including sneak attack!

The tough part of this spell is that it affects your opponents in order of their lowest HP, so either save it for when you only have one big creature next to you or when you are surrounded by lots of little mobs.

At Tier II, you will have more damage capability available. While technically you can do this damage at Tier I with a few AoE spells like Fireball and Thunderwave, those spells increase in power with every level spell slot you gain.

In Tier II, those 3rd-level (Tier I) AoE spells just get better. For this reason, at Tier II, I prefer to use Fireball and Black Tentacles.

Fireball

Fireball

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range/Area: 150/20-ft. sphere
  • Duration: Instantaneous
  • School: Evocation
  • Class: Sorcerer/Wizard
  • Level: 3rd
  • Damage/Effect: Fire
  • Attack/Save: Dexterity
  • Components: V, S, M

Spell Description 

A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you choose within range and then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame. Each creature in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A target takes 8d6 fire damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.

The fire spreads around corners. It ignites flammable objects in the area that aren’t being worn or carried.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 3rd.

Fireball is the most iconic, classic, standard magical spell that goes back as far as tales of magic and sorcery go. Michael Bay is not doing anything new.

There are only two things to be concerned about:

  1. Don’t blow up your friends.
  2. The DM might try to counter your spell by saying the “bright streak” that flashed from your finger gets blocked by something, and the spell blows up in your face.

This happened once to me, and I did it once to a villain. When it happened to me, I threw a fireball into what I thought was a room of bugbears. The image was an illusion, and I actually threw a fireball into the wall that the illusion was covering and burned myself to a crisp.

The other time, the villain was popping off with a wand of fireballs. I held my action to throw a shuriken at the “bright beam” the next time he cast Fireball. When he did, I blocked the beam with my shuriken and blew the jerk up.

Talk to your DM to see what they think about these events because while they were controversial in our gaming group, we worked it out for everyone’s enjoyment.

But this was back in the lawless days of DnD 3e where anything could and did happen.

Black Tentacles

Black Tentacles

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range/Area: 90 ft. by 20 ft.
  • Duration: 1 minute
  • School: Conjuration
  • Class: Sorcerer/Wizard
  • Level: 4th
  • Damage/Effect: Bludgeoning
  • Attack/Save: Dexterity
  • Components: V, S, M

Spell Description 

Squirming, ebony tentacles fill a 20-foot square on ground that you can see within range. For the duration, these tentacles turn the ground in the area into difficult terrain.

When a creature enters the affected area for the first time on a turn or starts its turn there, the creature must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 3d6 bludgeoning damage and be restrained by the tentacles until the spell ends. A creature that starts its turn in the area and is already restrained by the tentacles takes 3d6 bludgeoning damage.

A creature restrained by the tentacles can use its action to make a Strength or Dexterity check (its choice) against your Spell Save DC. On a success, it frees itself.

Black Tentacles are awesome for all the same reasons that Entangle is awesome, except that now the restraining element also deals bludgeoning damage!

I realize that some folks can get squeamish about tentacles (I myself am one), so feel free to replace the tentacle flavor (yum!) with thick whip-like vines or giant earthen arms.

At Tier III, you are now living out your own legend. Everything you do in Tier III will cement your reputation as heroes of old long after your timely demise.

Area of Effect spells here only get better – both your old spells and the new ones you gain.

In general, the best newly offered spell for Tier II characters is Delayed Blast Fireball.

Delayed Blast Fireball

Delayed Blast Fireball

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range/Area: 150/20-ft. sphere
  • Duration: 1 minute, concentration
  • School: Evocation
  • Class: Sorcerer/Wizard
  • Level: 7th
  • Damage/Effect: Fire
  • Attack/Save: Dexterity
  • Components: V, S, M

Spell Description 

A beam of yellow light flashes from your pointing finger, then condenses to linger at a chosen point within range as a glowing bead for the duration. When the spell ends, either because your concentration is broken or because you decide to end it, the bead blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame that spreads around corners. Each creature in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes fire damage equal to the total accumulated damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.

The spell’s base damage is 12d6. If at the end of your turn the bead has not yet detonated, the damage increases by 1d6.

If the glowing bead is touched before the interval has expired, the creature touching it must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the spell ends immediately, causing the bead to erupt in flame. On a successful save, the creature can throw the bead up to 40 feet. When it strikes a creature or a solid object, the spell ends, and the bead explodes.

The fire damages objects in the area and ignites flammable objects that aren’t being worn or carried.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the base damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 7th.

This spell goes way beyond the standard “Imma-blow-you-up-now” school of Southern hospitality!

With this spell, you can hold the fireball, letting it charge and get more and more unstable until the explosion is simply stunning. What makes this spell truly great though, is what you can do while holding it.

You can use it to make intimidation checks, knowing that people will be looking at your little pocket bomb and wondering if you will really let it go off. You can also put it out there and let someone with a high dexterity save rebound it to a place you normally couldn’t reach due to line of sight or sheer distance.

If you can manage to pull off that technique, you will have won Dungeons and Dragons. The rest of us will have to take our books and go home.

In Tier IV, all of the Area of Effect spells just get better because of the heightened spell slots available to you.

At this point, your Area of Effect spell will become part of the legend that follows you around. Literally any one you choose will be a showstopper!