Cordon of Arrows 5e: Mechanics and Guide to Using the Spell

You know, most of our spell articles have to be broadly applicable. We cater each one to anyone who could take the spell. Not today! Today I’m talking to all you rangers out there.

Shooting your bow and arrow is fun, and I know you’re casting Hunter’s Mark every session to show your worth as an offensive combatant.

Today though, we’re going to be looking at a more defensive spell, one that lets you channel those ranger thematics into a bonafide strategic advantage.

That’s right, we’re talking about Cordon of Arrows.

Cordon of Arrows

  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: 5 ft.
  • Duration: Instantaneous
  • School: Transmutation
  • Class: Ranger
  • Level: 2nd Level
  • Damage/Effect: Piercing
  • Attack/Save: Dex Save, 1d6
  • Components: V, S, M (four or more arrows or bolts)

Damage Table

2nd level5th level7th level9th level
Damage Dice1d6XXX
Minimum Damage1XXX
Average Damage3.5XXX
Maximum Damage6XXX

Spell Description

You plant four pieces of nonmagical ammunition – arrows or crossbow bolts – in the ground within range and lay magic upon them to protect an area.

Until the spell ends, whenever a creature other than you comes within 30 feet of the ammunition for the first time on a turn or ends its turn there, one piece of ammunition flies up to strike it.

The creature must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 piercing damage. The piece of ammunition is then destroyed. The spell ends when no ammunition remains.

When you cast this spell, you can designate any creatures you choose, and the spell ignores them.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the amount of ammunition that can be affected increases by two for each slot level above 2nd.

What Is Cordon of Arrows?

Cordon of arrows is a defensive spell that lets you set up a magical trap. This trap sends pieces of enchanted ammunition flying at anyone that enters within a 30-foot radius.

The targets then get to make a dexterity save to avoid the arrows, taking 1d6 piercing damage on a failed save.

You also get to increase the amount of arrows you’re sticking in the ground by two for each spell slot above 2nd. This means that a 5th-level cordon of arrows is going to send out 10 arrows over the course of a few turns.

This spell does say it affects more than just a creature entering the radius. It also will hit them if they end their turn in the radius.

This means that a creature entering the radius actually gets hit by two on their turn, provided there are still two affected arrows in the ground.

You might be thinking that 1d6 isn’t a lot of damage, and you’re right. We need to think about this spell in a bit more of an abstract way to see its value.

Mainly, it has the potential to deal 4d6 at its normal casting cost. Just because this is dispersed among different creatures doesn’t mean it’s not dealing that damage.

In relation to other things we can do as rangers, that 1d6 is basically one attack with a shortbow. So, this one action turns a second-level spell slot into four attacks. That’s what I call action economy.

When To Cast Cordon of Arrows?

Cordon of Arrows is an interesting spell; it’s defensive but also one of the best offensive 2nd-level spells available to rangers.

Because of this, there’s really no wrong time to cast it. I mean, it even lasts for a whole 8 hours, no concentration needed.

This spell is functionally a trap, one that you can even disguise a bit to make it pass inspection.

By sticking your arrows in the ground concealed by undergrowth or even just putting some brush on top of them, you’re basically making them invisible while changing none of their magical properties.

Doing it this way is great for setting up an ambush. If you know that the group of bandits you’re after normally travels a specific road, then you just lay out your trap and sit by biding your time. 

Another creative use is as protection while you and your party lie down for a long rest.

First off, you’re going to get the spell slot back when you sleep, so if you have the slot available, it’s basically casting it for free.

Second, if you strap some bells to your arrow or rig up another noise-making contraption, you’ll have a protective trap that deals some damage to your assailants and wakes up your party.

There’s almost no end to the creative things you can do with this spell. An 8-hour magical trap naturally has a lot of versatility.

Of course, there’s the obvious way a lot of us rangers end up using this. Pure offense.

If you’re about to get into combat or even in the first few turns, this is a great spell to cast. An absolutely excellent turn one strategy is to lay down a cordon of arrows and then choose a target for your Hunter’s Mark on a bonus action.

With two spells, you’ve set yourself up for an outstanding combat, even if you never use another spell.

As a ranger that’s the perfect way to go about things. Your spells should supplement your larger plan of attack. In this scenario, your main plan of attack is to literally use the attack action as much as possible. 

Why Should You Take Cordon of Arrows?

Rangers don’t get 2nd-level spells until they hit 5th level in their class. At that point they have two of these slots available, and they only get a third 2nd-level slot at 7th level.

Because spells are in such short supply for rangers, it’s important to make sure you’re getting as much value as possible out of the spells you do use.

This means taking a look at the other 2nd-level spells that we have access to and kind of comparing them against each other. When we do this, we also want to keep our build in mind.

Rangers aren’t necessarily my favorite class because often they don’t excel at anything.

Where a paladin loosely feels like the best parts of cleric and fighter combined, a ranger just feels like a mediocre blend of druid and fighter archetypes.

There are some great things that come from this, but it doesn’t allow for a lot of built variety.

Because of this, most rangers will end up turning their hunters mark on early in combat and just letting off as many shots as they can, interspersing their subclass features accordingly.

It’s typically a very offensive build that might use a little bit of stealth and, if anything, be more focused on exploration than combat.

Now, looking at our 2nd-level spells, we see a lot of truth in this breakdown of the ranger class.

Spells like find traps, locate animals or plants, pass without trace, and darkvision all echo the exploration focus. In fact, the only other offensive 2nd-level spell is spike growth, a concentration spell that creates damaging difficult terrain.

If you want to be using your hunter’s mark or even the favored foe variant class feature, you’re not going to want a competing concentration spell in battle, so spike growth gets left to the druids.

Now you’re down to your cordon of arrows, and it almost feels like the decision was made for you.

Don’t get me wrong, rangers have some variety, but most of that comes in their actual abilities. Unfortunately, most of the spellcasting that they get access to is pretty dry. 

If all of that wasn’t enough to convince you to grab this spell at 5th level, let me remind you that this spell is just incredibly cool.

Starting off a battle by shoving some arrows into the ground and then watching as they dart up into the air after your foes… amazing.

Bardon of Arrows

We all know Magical Secrets is a great feat. Bards get to steal spells from anyone’s spell list and enjoy the fun.

Since you can build a bard in just about any way you want, this could potentially be a great spell.

Not only do you get a really cool spell, you can improve on it. Bards are full casters, so they can cast this at 9th-level for a total of 18 arrows flying at your enemies.

A great way to deter enemies from coming near you and a great way to remind everyone of the bard master race. What more can you ask for?

Similar Options to Cordon of Arrows

There are a few ways that a spell can be similar to cordon of arrows.

We have spells with a similar theme, which are mostly ranger spells centered on the use of arrows or bolts, but we also have other spells that allow you to set up a versatile trap. 

We’ll be going through both of these so rangers can be sure to pick up more awesome spells and so that non-rangers know which trap spells to put in their arsenal.

Arrow Spells

There are quite a few, but these are my favorites.

Lightning Arrow, 3rd-Level Transmutation

This is a great bonus-action spell to dramatically increase the damage of your next shot.

It deals 4d8 lightning damage on a hit, or half damage on a miss and dishes out more lightning damage to creatures within 10 feet of your target.

Conjure Volley, 5th-level Conjuration

You’ll have to wait a while to get this spell, but once you have it, you’re golden.

Let a piece of ammunition rip from your bow, crossbow, or gun (or throw a weapon), and create a swarm of duplicates to rain down on a 40-foot radius centered on a point of your choosing. 

This is a beast of a spell that deals 8d8 damage on a failed dex save and half as much on a successful one. Not only that, but this is one of the coolest things to visualize, and it calls to mind the rain of arrows trope that we all know and love.

Spell Traps

Once you start using spells as traps, you’re starting to think like a villain. I love it; let’s do it.

Alarm, 1st-level Conjuration

Alarm is the go-to spell to alert characters to unwanted intrusion. I mean, it’s called “alarm” for Moradin’s sake.

It’s also going to last 8 hours just like cordon of arrows, but instead of rigging arrows with bells and dealing some damage, you’re just creating a sound.

You’re either going to get a ping in your mind that wakes you up or everyone is going to hear a loud hand bell.

Guardian of Faith, 4th-level Conjuration

Available to clerics, a few paladins, and the pact of the celestial warlock, this creates a spiritual guardian that reacts to creatures coming within 10 feet of it.

This big ghosty boy deals out 20 points of radiant damage on a failed dex save or 10 on a success. The spirit guardian remains until it has dealt 60 damage or until the spell ends after 8 hours.

Here you have a spell that feels extremely similar to cordon of arrows – you spend a turn creating some magical presence that is going to dish out a lot of damage to creatures entering a certain space.

Again, at a duration of 8 hours this is perfect for rest protection, but it can also be used as you head into combat.

Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound, 4th-level Conjuration

One of the coolest spells in this category, mordenkainen’s pup can see invisible creatures and can even see into the ethereal plane.

When a creature comes within 30 feet of it without speaking the password you gave to it, it starts barking very loudly. 

That’s obviously not enough, so it will also bite creatures that come within 5 feet of it, which is easy to do since it is invisible. The pup’s bites deal 4d8 piercing damage, so your enemies will definitely not enjoy this trap.

Snare, 1st-level Abjuration

Back to a more traditional trap, this spell sets up a magical rope trap with a 5-foot radius. Creatures ensnared by this are restrained and suspended upside down in the air.

They do have ample chance to get out with a dex save at the end of each of their turns, and even have the chance to evade it with their initial dex save.

Still, it’s definitely a trap, and you might end up with a nice little goblin snatched up in the air.

Overall Thoughts

Cordon of Arrows is a great spell for rangers (or bards) that really fits perfectly into the magical archer theme we know and love.

It has a wide range of uses, so it’s perfect for a half caster class that isn’t getting too many spells in the first place. Plus, it’s going to do enough damage to matter, and that’s what really counts.

If you’re excited to play a ranger, then I hope this spell has made you excited to make it all the way to 5th level and get right into 2nd-tier play. 

As always, happy adventuring.