© Wizards of the Coast by Kieran Yanner

Green-Flame Blade 5e – The Cleaving Cantrip

The Green-Flame Blade cantrip is a unique cantrip for spellcasters who like to get up close and personal. Strike an enemy with a weapon and splash green fire onto another foe within melee range.

Green-Flame Blade is a fantastic way to deal damage to multiple enemies, as well as beef up your damage as your character progresses since it’s one of the few cantrips that scales its damage at higher levels. 

The spell was added to Dungeons & Dragons 5e as part of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and then again in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (with some minor changes).

In this guide, we’ll go over how Green-Flame Blade works, as well as some of the classes and subclasses that can get the most out of this spell. 

Green-Flame Blade 

Evocation cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action

Range: Self (5-foot radius)

Components: S, M (a melee weapon worth at least 1 sp)

Duration: Instantaneous

You brandish the weapon used in the spell’s casting and make a melee attack with it against one creature within 5 feet of you. On a hit, the target suffers the weapon attack’s normal effects, and you can cause green fire to leap from the target to a different creature of your choice that you can see within 5 feet of it. The second creature takes fire damage equal to your spellcasting ability modifier.

At Higher Levels. At 5th level, the melee attack deals an extra 1d8 fire damage to the target on a hit, and the fire damage to the second creature increases to 1d8 + your spellcasting ability modifier. Both damage rolls increase by 1d8 at 11th level (2d8 and 2d8) and 17th level (3d8 and 3d8).

Spell Lists. Artificer, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard

Source: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Green-Flame Blade Benefits 

  • Guaranteed flat damage to a secondary target 
  • Damage scales at higher levels 
  • Good way to hit multiple targets for classes with single attacks per round

Green-Flame Blade is one of the weirder damage cantrips in D&D 5e because it deals damage indirectly to an enemy standing nearby the actual target of a weapon attack.

This means it functions as a magical cleave effect – although at higher levels it increases the damage you inflict to the attack’s primary target as well. 

This is interesting because, while hitting multiple enemies with the same attack is a fairly common feature of video games, it’s actually quite rare in D&D.

In 5e, the only abilities that come close to approximating the effect of swinging a huge blade and striking multiple foes are the Ranger’s Horde Breaker ability and the Great Weapon Master Feat, neither of which deliver guaranteed damage to the secondary target. 

Green-Flame Blade, on the other hand, delivers guaranteed damage equal to your spellcasting modifier (plus 1d8, 2d8, or 3d8 at higher levels) to a secondary target.

It’s one of the best cantrips to throw out against a group of enemies, particularly if you’re playing a class with a single attack like an Arcane Trickster Rogue, Artificer, or Bard (assuming you’ve picked up the Magic Initiate Feat to get access to the Wizard spell list, or are playing a High Elf with a free Wizard cantrip). 

Also, the fact that this cantrip scales as you level up means that you’re going to get a nice damage bonus (somewhat akin to a Paladin’s Divine Smite) to both the initial target and a secondary enemy. That kind of extra damage can really make a difference over time. 

Thanks to its unique benefits and scaling over time, Green-Flame Blade gets held up a lot as a “must-have” cantrip for a lot of half-caster/half-martial classes like Eldritch Knights, Arcane Tricksters, Hexblade Warlocks, and Bladesinger Wizards. 

However, I think a fair number of people fall victim to the hype surrounding this spell. Like any ability, there are costs and trade-offs to consider.

If you want to maximize your effectiveness and are considering Green-Flame Blade, it’s worth taking a look at some of the drawbacks of this cantrip. 

Green-Flame Blade Drawbacks 

  • Prevents you from taking additional attacks
  • Weak vs solo monsters 
  • Fire is the most common monster resistance 

Let’s look at some of the issues with Green-Flame Blade. Now, while the ability to cast this spell for free whenever you want is fantastic, Green-Flame Blade’s action cost is where things start to look a little more like you get what you pay for. 

Let’s say you’re playing an Eldritch Knight fighter who’s up against a standard, classic monster like a… uh… (mind’s gone blank, bear with me) a flumph!

Yeah. Classic. Actually, this is the “cleave” cantrip, so make it a pair of flumphs. 

As a fighter (who’s, say, level 5), you’re going to be getting two attacks per turn. This means that using Green-Flame Blade to make a melee weapon attack at flumph number one (as long as it hits) guarantees damage on flumph number two.

However, you could potentially deal more damage against each one by just attacking twice. Even though Green-Flame Blade involves making an attack, you’re not actually taking the attack action; you’re casting a spell.

As such, if your character can make two, three, or more attacks each round, this cantrip gets less and less viable the more attacks it prevents you from making. 

The more attacks you can make per round, the higher the opportunity cost of spending an action to cast Green-Flame Blade. Trading off one, or maybe two, attacks in order to fire up this cantrip might be worth it, depending on your spellcasting modifier and the number of enemies.

However, if you’re a fighter who can make three attacks every round, trading all of those attacks for an extra splash of damage just isn’t worth it. 

There’s a really good article by RPGBot that breaks down the damage output of melee attack cantrips like Green-Flame Blade and Booming Blade versus just making an extra attack with different weapons and classes if your goal is purely to maximize the damage per round that your character can dish out. 

That being said, while dealing secondary damage is nice, if your character doesn’t have a great bonus to their spellcasting ability modifier, it can start to feel a lot less nice.

The effectiveness of that second dose of damage is entirely dependent on your spellcasting ability modifier. 

Because this spell is suited to so-called “gish” builds (characters that combine offensive spellcasting and martial abilities) your character is more likely to be MAD (multi-ability dependent) which means your average ability score is going to be lower.

A lower ability score means less damage, which means you might be better off just trying to use the action needed to cast Green-Flame Blade to make another attack.

Being a SAD (single-ability dependent) character like a Hexblade Warlock (which uses Charisma for spell and melee attacks) means you’re more likely to dish out more hurt because your focus is more exclusively on a single ability score. 

This potential drawback, mixed with the reality that the cantrip is basically useless at lower levels and a lot less potent at higher levels when you’re fighting a solo opponent, as well as the fact that fire is one of the most common damage types for enemies to have a resistance against, means that this is very much a situationally useful spell.

When conditions are right, Green-Flame Blade can be a decidedly potent cantrip, but change the conditions in which you use it even a little, and you’d be much better off casting something else or just swinging your sword again. 

How to Get the Most Out of Green-Flame Blade 

This cantrip’s strengths and weaknesses mean that Green-Flame Blade is a far more potent cantrip in the hands of characters… 

  • That can’t make multiple attacks per round. 
  • That are single-ability dependent (SAD). 
  • That are used to fighting against multiple enemies. 
  • Have small pools of known spells and spell slots. 

… And less useful in the hands of characters who… 

  • Are multi-ability dependent (MAD). 
  • Find themselves frequently fighting against solo opponents. 
  • Can make multiple attacks per round. 

Let’s talk about how to get the most out of Green-Flame Blade, as well as the classes and subclasses that can benefit the most from having this cantrip in their arsenal. 

First of all, obviously, you’re going to want to use this ability to target multiple enemies. Whenever a group of enemies bunches up together, it’s time to throw a little green fire their way.

You also get to choose which target within 5ft that secondary damage hits. If a boss monster has troublingly high AC, for example, but is surrounded by low-AC minions, then smack a minion and automatically hit the “impervious” boss for a dose of free damage.

Basically, start by hitting the lowest AC creature and work upwards in order to guarantee that you deal the most damage per round, and that the more dangerous enemies will be nicely softened up when you finally get around to kicking their ass. 

If your character isn’t particularly good at melee combat (every wizard runs out of spell slots at some point) then this can be a great way to pile some free damage on top of that 1d4 +1 piercing damage from your weeny little dagger. 

If your character is good in melee, however, you’re quickly going to start running into the opportunity cost of weighing up multiple attacks versus the extra damage from Green-Flame Blade. 

Once you get past 5th level, if you’re not trading off multiple attacks (say, if you’re a Paladin, Ranger, Fighter, Barbarian, etc.) you can just assume you want to slap Green-Flame Blade on every attack. 

However, if you do have multiattack, you’re probably not going to want to use this cantrip every time. Use Green-Flame Blade… 

  • To throw guaranteed splash damage onto a nearby enemy with high-AC. 
  • To wear down multiple enemies at once. 
  • To attack a target behind an enemy you’re fighting. 
  • To force spellcasters to make a concentration save. 

Now, while there are several subclasses that can make good use of this spell, there is one class that Green-Flame Blade pairs with almost perfectly. 

Rogue (Arcane Trickster)

Whether you’re playing an Arcane Trickster subclass, took the Magic Initiate feat, or are playing a race with innate spellcasting like a High Elf, any rogue that can gain access to Green-Flame Blade is in for a good time. 

First of all, rogues are the only martial class that doesn’t gain multiple attacks per round. Instead, they’re almost wholly reliant on using their sneak attack to pile massive damage onto a single hit.

Because Green-Flame Blade causes you to make a melee weapon attack, it’s been confirmed that the cantrip does proc your Sneak Attack feature. 

Not only does a rogue with Green-Flame Blade bypass the usual opportunity cost that other martial classes experience when using this cantrip, but the spell solves the issue of Rogues being unable to damage multiple opponents in a round without using two-weapon fighting.

This does mean that the cantrip doesn’t synchronize with a two-weapon-fighting rogue. However, any rapier-wielding duellist worth their salt can benefit from throwing a bit of extra fire on top of every attack. 

Fighter (Eldritch Knight) 

At 7th level, the Eldritch Knight subclass gains the feature War Magic which means that, if you use your action to cast a cantrip, you can make a melee weapon attack as a bonus action, which goes a long way towards mitigating the opportunity cost of using this spell instead of making multiple weapon attacks. 

Sorcerer 

By using the metamagic effect Quickened Spell, you can use this cantrip to essentially give your sorcerer multi-attack by casting it as both an action and a bonus action.

It’s worth noting that you cannot cast Green-Flame Blade using Twinned Spell because it can affect multiple targets. 

Wizard (Bladesinger) 

Lastly, the only melee-focused wizard school is a prime candidate for this spell thanks to the fact that, even though they get to make multiple attacks per round, the bladesinger can replace one of them with a cantrip.

This means that you could use Green-Flame Blade against an enemy and then make a melee weapon attack, overcoming the main drawback of this cantrip. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is Green-Flame Blade a concentration spell? 

No. Its effect is instantaneous and happens at the same time as you make a melee weapon attack. If the attack misses, the spell ends – as opposed to a Paladin’s Divine Smite, for example

Is Green-Flame Blade overpowered? 

While some classes (like the Arcane Trickster Rogue) can make potent use of this cantrip, Green-Flame Blade is inherently situational, and is far less effective in the hands of characters with multi-attack. Therefore, it’s sometimes very good, but its drawbacks limit it enough to prevent it from being considered “overpowered”. 

What’s better: Green-Flame Blade or Booming Blade? 

Both cantrips are situationally good. Green-Flame Blade allows you to apply damage to multiple enemies when they bunch up. Booming Blade is better for controlling a single enemy, forcing them to decide between moving and taking 1d8 thunder damage.