Burning Hands is a classic DnD spell that goes back a long way. Often it is your first available Area of Effect spell and is scalable into higher levels.
Note: if you Google “Burning Hands,” make sure you specify for Dungeons and Dragons… otherwise you’ll be told to call a doctor.
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 15-foot cone originating from self
- Duration: 1 action
- School: Evocation
- Class: Wizard, Sorcerer, Warlock (The Fiend, The Genie), Cleric (Light Domain), Druid (Circle of Wildfire)
- Level: 1st and higher
- Damage/Effect: 3d6 Fire Damage
- Attack/Save: DEX save for half
- Components: Verbal and Somatic
- Ritual / Concentration: None
As you hold your hands with thumbs touching and fingers spread, a thin sheet of flames shoots forth from your outstretched fingertips. Each creature in a 15-foot cone must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 3d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
The fire ignites any 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 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 1st.
From the Basic Rules, pg. 220
At first glance, this is a fairly straightforward spell. You hold out your hands, and a fan of fire shoots out from your fingertips.
Have you ever put your thumb over the spout of a garden hose and sprayed the water in all directions? It’s like that, except hotter.
The spell originates from you and goes in a 15-foot cone. This means that you decide which way your character is facing and then draw two lines at 45 degree angles from your front. Extend those lines 3 squares if you are on a grid map or 15 feet.
Another way to visualize this is to imagine your character standing at the point of an equilateral triangle that extends three squares if you’re on a map, 3 inches if you are on a tabletop with no map, and 15 feet if you don’t use miniatures because you have Crowley-esque brain power albeit with much better table manners.
And we know you have good table manners, don’t you? Because we don’t put up with that behavior here at the Citadel. We’ll feed you to the black pudding we use to make compost for our gardens.
Every creature in that triangle must make a DEX save against your Spell Save DC (8+spellcasting modifier + proficiency bonus) or take 3d6 fire damage. If they pass the save, they take half of what you roll.
The damage increases depending on what level spell slot you use to cast it.
Burning Hands Damage Chart
Is Burning Hands a Good Spell To Have?
That depends entirely upon your build. You have to be pretty close to the action to make use of this spell.
So, I wouldn’t choose it unless you have a high enough AC or a high enough movement speed to avoid being targeted.
So, if you are playing one of the Warlock, Druid, or Cleric subclasses that gain access to this spell or even an Arcane Trickster or Way of Four Elements monk, then sure!
Take this spell, and spray your burning arcane fire-juice all over the low-level mobs trying to swarm you. It’ll be fun.
Like wading hip-deep through popcorn chicken.
If you are a Wizard or Sorcerer, it’s probably best to exchange this spell for one that will get you out of that situation instead, like Misty Escape.
We all know that too many magic users out there just really like to burn things. It’s a little concerning, to be honest.
So, here at the Citadel, we came up with a handy-dandy guide on how to crispify all the critters without losing any precious hit points.
Get In. BURN!!!! Get Out.
Alright, so you want to play one of those wizards. The burney ones. The ones who like fire just a little too much. The ones who make up for their poor eyesight and bad aim by spraying magical burn chunks in every direction.
You’re going to take this spell whether we advise against it or not. If that’s the case, then you must take Expeditious Retreat.
Use a bonus action to cast Expeditious Retreat, and then follow that up with one of your cantrips while you move into a good position.
On your next turn, you will need to move your full speed toward the nearest cluster of mobs, let this spell loose on as many as you can, and then use that bonus action to run away in a courageous example of discretion.
Just don’t get close enough to get hit with an opportunity attack.
Burning Hands vs. Dragon’s Breath
If you have access to the spell Dragon’s Breath, you will notice it is virtually identical to Burning Hands with two exceptions.
First, Dragon’s Breath is a second-level spell that deals 3d6 damage plus 1d6 every level after. This means it does less damage than Burning Hands but only by 1d6.
Second, Dragon’s Breath is a bonus action, but for the next minute you can spray an energy of your choice in a 15-foot cone as an action.
This spell essentially allows you to cast Burning Hands up to six times with a single second-level spell slot, and you aren’t even restricted to fire.
Therefore, take Dragon’s Breath if you can. It is available in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
The Best Way To Use Burning Hands
To be fair, I know I’ve seemed a little harsh on this spell. It’s really kind of limited. That being said, Burning Hands is a great spell if you can keep it in a magic item.
The Staff of Fire, the Ring of Elemental Command, a homebrew wand or weapon — any of these are good options to store Burning Hands in without taking up a precious spell slot.
There will be times when you find yourself in a situation that is too close for comfort, and you will want a close-range damage-dealing spell that will let you flex your wizardly muscle while in the front lines with the smokin’ hot paladin person you’re crushing on.
Being able to whip out a burning brand and fry a small hoard is a great way to melt the ice between you.
Maybe this one would be impressed by your wand?
Does Burning Hands Require Both Hands To Cast?
This is a very common question we’ve seen on Reddit and the DnD Beyond forums. There are two possible answers to this and a third answer that is better than the previous two.
- Yes. According to the spell description, you are to put your hands together with your thumbs touching. This is problematic if you are the type to carry a staff, shield, or arcane focus. If this is how your table plays it, Burning Hands is no longer a good spell to have.
- No. The spell has Somatic components, and the rules say Somatic components only require one hand. The spell description is just flavor.
- DM’s call. It doesn’t matter what the spell says. If you and your DM work out a mutually beneficial solution, then that’s what you go with.
Is Burning Hands Better Than Hellish Rebuke?
This is a good question! Hellish Rebuke does not put out as much damage as Burning Hands, but it is cast as a reaction, which means it is like an extra attack you can make in a round.
The Pros and Cons here do not directly cancel each other out, so in the end it depends on your tactical style.
Will you be a good target? Then hellish rebuke is a good choice because you will get hit.
Will you be running into melee with a shield? Stick with Burning Hands.
What Happens When You Use Distant Spell Metamagic for Burning Hands?
There is a misconception that Distant Spell will expand your Burning Hands cone out to 30 feet. This is wrong.
Burning Hands has a casting range of “Self.” This means Distant Spell will allow you to cast Burning Hands from any point within 30 feet of you, but it does not expand the cone.
Instead, the cone originates from the point you choose and blasts out from there.
This suddenly makes Burning Hands an amazing spell to have! Instant Area of Effect from any point within range. You don’t even have to risk getting hit, you glass cannon, you!
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.