Chaos Bolt is new to 5e DnD as far as I know.
(It may have shown up in some of the later publications of 3e toward the end there when they published everything that had previously been discarded without even giving the books a single editing pass for consistency, grammar, and basic spelling. I may be a little bitter about that, but it is what made a younger me decide to go into publishing).
Its main mechanic is dependent on the different energy types available in 5e, which didn’t matter as much in 3e.
This spell can utilize any of what I call the elemental damage types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, or thunder, which means it could potentially skirt around damage resistances or even take advantage of vulnerabilities.
Let’s check out the stat block below before we get into the specifics of who should cast this spell, when they should cast it, and whether it is even a good spell to take considering other spells of the same level.
Then we will stop by the FAQ office here at Black Citadel and see what pulls up for Chaos Bolt.
If we have time at the end, I’d like to offer something to the DMs out there to take this spell and make a unique feature out of it that you can use in your game tonight.
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 120 feet
- Duration: Instantaneous
- School: Evocation
- Class: Sorcerer
- Level: 1
- Damage/Effect: Acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, or thunder
- Attack/Save: Ranged
- Components: V, S
- Ritual/Concentration: No
You hurl an undulating, warbling mass of chaotic energy at one creature in range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 2d8 + 1d6 damage. Choose one of the d8s. The number rolled on that die determines the attack’s damage type as shown below.
If you roll the same number on both d8s, the chaotic energy leaps from the target to a different creature of your choice within 30 feet of it. Make a new attack roll against the new target, and make a new damage roll, which could cause the chaotic energy to leap again.
A creature can be targeted only once by each casting of this spell.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, each target takes 1d6 extra damage of the type rolled for each slot level above 1st.
Through some dark sorcery and the assistance of a cursed magic item called Microsoft Excel, I was able to calculate the average damage you can do if you cast Chaos Bolt from any of the available spell slots.
This table assumes you did not get the rare yet absolutely awesome bonus attack.
Who Can Cast Chaos Bolt?
Chaos Bolt is the only spell in the game that is unique to Sorcerers.
I can not really fathom why that is outside of a mercenary game balance perspective. I feel that saying the sorcerer’s magic is untrained and therefore Chaotic is limiting from a character-flavor perspective.
It is absolutely possible to make an intelligent reason for wanting a spell that randomizes damage types; therefore, this spell should also be available to Wizards and Artificers as well.
I mean, what if by adjusting the etheric output at the expense of spatial-temporal stability you can create a multiversal binding that causes a planar spin in the quantum field and thereby induces a randomization effect on the energy manifestation?
But if, for Wizard’s sake, we decide to keep this spell firmly in the Sorcerer camp, then it should be fair to say that this spell is the keynote spell for the Wild Magic sorcerous origin.
It is just as random as they are.
This spell probably wouldn’t flavor so well with Draconic Sorcerers since they tend to specialize in a single energy type, but if you wanted to say that you were descended from Tiamat or some such, you could get away with the multiple energies being thrown.
Is Chaos Bolt Better Than Other 1st-Level Spells?
Meh. Chaos Bolt is a heavy-damage-dealing 1st-level spell. You sacrifice control and cognitive reason in exchange, but if you aren’t too picky about how you damage the bad guys, it is perfect.
When compared to Chromatic Orb, Chaos Bolt does do slightly less damage, but you get more opportunities. There is a 1 in 8 chance that your spell will split off and grant you a second attack, and that apparently is what makes this spell a favorite for some players.
At higher levels, Chromatic Orb will always deal higher damage, but without Twin Spell, it will never grant you a free attack.
Other combat spells in this decision are Ice Knife, Magic Missile, and Witch Bolt.
Chaos Bolt is equal to any of them. There are distinct differences you must consider, such as the splash damage of Ice Knife versus the guaranteed hit of Magic Missile and the long-term effects of Witch Bolt.
Considering the give and take, the choice really comes down to the personality of your character and the flavor of your magic.
In the end, Chaos Bolt is the purview of tricksters and gamblers who will pay a little risk in exchange for a chance at a big and satisfying reward.
When Should You Cast Chaos Bolt?
The easy answer? When you want to blow up a bad guy.
In truth, it isn’t that easy. At lower levels, you won’t have loads of spell slots to spare for one-off damage spells. So at lower levels, maybe don’t throw this spell unless you have advantage on the attack.
Once you get to about 5th level, though, feel free to sling these things at everyone who even looks at you with anything less than total adoration.
If you are facing a monster that obviously has a damage resistance of one type or another, you should still feel free to cast this spell.
When choosing the damage type, you get two choices. Just make sure you don’t choose “fire” when facing a fiend. If you do happen to roll doubles for fire on the damage-type chart, at least you know you will get a second attack that spins off of the first and will give you a new damage type.
Common Questions About Chaos Bolt
I rummaged through the FAQ desk here at Black Citadel and found these goodies here for you.
For the most part, we try to stick to the RAW in these answers, but we will refer to or create a homebrew rule if warranted.
Does the Extra Attack Target Allies?
Only if you have an evil DM (which can be great sometimes)! The spell says that you choose the next target. If there are only allies within range, you should be able to simply say “no target” or target a random piece of furniture.
Can This Spell Be Twinned?
It can not be twinned. The RAW for Twin Spell says the spell must be incapable of hitting multiple targets, and, as we all know, Chaos Bolt is capable of hitting multiple targets.
That’s why we took it in the first place.
Some DMs may allow it, which would greatly increase the potential damage output of the spell. Instead, you would get two chances for this spell to break off, thus doubling your chances to double your attack output.
This could get exponentially out of control, which is kind of the point of Chaos Bolt! So, that one is up to the DMs, even though the official stance is that it cannot.
Is the Random Damage Type the Damage Type for the Whole Spell or the Damage for That One Die?
The random damage type is for the entire spell’s damage. You just pick one of the options presented to you by the 2d8s.
It is worth saying that the 2d8s are also factored into the damage of the spell.
Does Empowered and Other Metamagic Apply to the New Roll if the Damage Leaps?
Yes. If you use the Empower, Distant, or Seeking Spell metamagic abilities, you may apply those to both of the attacks granted by Chaos Bolt.
In the case of Seeking Spell, you will have to spend the additional two sorcery points since the ability says you may use Seeking Spell whenever you roll an attack roll.
My justification for this is that if you were to cast a Scorching Ray, you could apply the bonus to each ray you throw. Therefore, you can apply them to the extra attack of Chaos Bolt.
For the DMs
Chaos Bolt is a super fun little offensive spell that can make a player extremely happy if the dice allow it, but how would you recreate that in other types of spells?
For defense, you could create a spell that is like Absorb Elements. Instead, you roll 2d8 and decrease the amount of energy damage you take by that amount. When you roll that 2d8, you can choose which energy type you resist according to the same chart as Chaos Bolt. If you roll doubles, then you can deflect that much damage to a target within 60 feet of you.
For utility and summoning, you could make a version of Flaming Sphere that operates the same way as Flaming Sphere, except that it changes damage type each turn. That particular gem could make for a great trap or environmental feature in a dungeon.
Call it a Chaos Sphere.
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Rich is an avid D&D player and DM. He has been playing since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions. He has run campaigns of various editions with family and friends for over 20 years. Playing DnD 5th Edition in person at local game stores and online with VTT’s over the past 10 years has provided a consistent connection to how the game has grown. He strongly believes in understanding the source material, but catering the games to your individual players. Feel free to ask anything in the comments or drop him an email: [email protected].