Hail of Thorns is one of the newer spells in Dungeons and Dragons. Made specifically for 5e, it is unique to the ranger spell list.
In the past, rangers simply had a narrower selection of spells from the druid spell list. With the updates to 5e, rangers got their own list of spells that honestly made them much cooler.
They are no longer just dumber druids who like to get their bows off. Now they have their own magical prowess that works in concert with their preferred combat types. They’re like archers with their own arcane ability… yet, they aren’t arcane archers, which is weird.
Either way, one of the best spells you get as a ranger is hail of thorns. It scales very well, it gives you multiple targets in a single attack, and you can hold on to it via concentration so that you won’t lose the spell slot if you miss.
All around, this is the best spell for ranged-combat-specialist rangers. The damage is comparable to any spell at any spell slot, and it helps you keep up with the melee classes as far as the number of enemies you can take on and how much damage you can spread around.
Hail of Thorns
Hail of Thorns Stats
- Casting Time: 1 bonus action
- Range: Self
- Duration: 1 minute
- School: Transmutation
- Class: Ranger
- Level: 1
- Damage/Effect: Turns a ranged attack into an AoE
- Attack/Save: Dexterity
- Components: V
- Ritual / Concentration: Concentration
Spell Description. The next time you hit a creature with a ranged weapon attack before the spell ends, this spell creates a rain of thorns that sprouts from your ranged weapon or ammunition. In addition to the normal effect of the attack, the target of the attack and each creature within 5 feet of it must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 1d10 piercing damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.
At Higher Levels. If you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 1st (to a maximum of 6d10).
Who Can Cast Hail of Thorns?
Rangers. That’s it. Furthermore, since there is no “ranger” option for the magic initiate feat, literally no one else can cast this spell without multiclassing into ranger.
This is both a good and a bad thing. By giving rangers this unique spell list, it protects their integrity as a valuable class in their own right. However, by giving them a unique spell list, they almost negate the integrity of the Arcane Archer by becoming themselves a spellcasting class of archery specialists.
So, simply put, having two levels in ranger is the only way to cast this and many other spells.
Who Should Cast Hail of Thorns?
Well, at the risk of stating the obvious… the ranger should be casting hail of thorns in true spam-worthy fashion, provided they are the type of ranger that prefers ranged combat over melee.
When Should You Cast Hail of Thorns?
This is a bit trickier. Hail of thorns is a concentration spell. The only other ranger spell that is as good as hail of thorns for ranged-combat situations is hunter’s mark, which is also a concentration spell.
Therefore, if you are not already concentrating on hunter’s mark, be at liberty to cast hail of thorns. If you are concentrating on hunter’s mark, then make sure you have a positional advantage via stealth before you cast hail of thorns.
That way you can gain the benefit of hail of thorns without having to concentrate and lose the benefit of hunter’s mark.
Spells That Pair Well With Hail of Thorns
When concentrating on hail of thorns, you are fairly limited in the number of spells you can cast.
This is not a big deal for rangers because you don’t have many spell slots anyway.
If you’ve taken the druidic warrior fighting style, you’ll get a couple of cantrips that can still be cast, one of which is magic stone. If you use hail of thorns on a magic stone, the extra damage applies, and you don’t disrupt your concentration.
Other than those, the best spells to pair with hail of thorns all come from other spellcasters in the party. Fog cloud and any of the wall spells will work to help keep your enemies grouped together so that you hit as many as possible within the limited AoE of hail of thorns.
Faerie fire will make sure you have advantage on the attack roll so that you don’t accidentally waste the spell, and if you juggle the concentration correctly, spells like spike growth, entangle, and grasping vine will all work to group your enemies up into a nice target.
Improving Hail of Thorns
One of the best ways to improve hail of thorns that may not be so obvious at first is with the piercer feat.
The piercer feat allows you to reroll damage dice if you roll low any time you deal piercing damage. Since hail of thorns deals piercing damage (as do all of the other “thorn” spells, you will get this benefit. In addition, if you happen to roll a critical, you will deal an extra die of damage.
Another feat you could find beneficial would be the sharpshooter feet. This will give you better range capability with your ranged weapon and will thus make hail of thorns a more effective option for you.
Common Questions About Hail of Thorns
We get a lot of questions here at the Citadel surrounding hail of thorns, so I took the liberty of tracking down the local rangers (which was hard) to figure out what you needed to know.
How Can Hail of Thorns Use a 6th-Level Spell Slot if Rangers Only Get 5 Levels of Spells?
If you multiclass ranger with another spell-casting class such as druid or warlock, then you stand a fair chance of being able to cast 6th-level spells once you hit Tier IV. The 6th-level cap on hail of thorns is there for balance purposes because even a Tier IV character borders on broken if they can drop nearly 70-90 damage on multiple targets with a bonus action.
Does Hunter’s Mark Add to the Bonus From Hail of Thorns?
Yes, but only the original target of the attack takes the extra damage, not the surrounding creatures. This is per the rules of hunter’s mark, which applies only to a single target.
Does the Bonus Damage Apply to All Attacks During 1 Minute, or Does the Spell End When You Make a Hit?
This question is the single most common question about hail of thorns, and it seems to me that it comes from players not reading the spell description and instead only seeing what they want to see.
The answer is that the spell only does the extra damage on one attack. The concentration is there in order to save you from expending a spell slot in case you miss the attack. You get to hold it until you succeed on an attack.
If you can’t land an attack in 1 minute of combat, you should consider running away.
What if the Target Is Larger Than Medium? Does This Increase the Hail of Thorns’ Effect?
According to the RAW, it does not matter how big the target is. You will deal that extra damage to every target within 5 feet. This is great if you are facing a large or huge creature with lots of small minions! You can hit them all.
Is the Piercing Damage From Hail of Thorns Magical?
Yes. As a spell, it produces magical damage.
Hail of Thorns Homebrew for the DMs
“Thorns” provide a wonderful flavor element to your ranger (or druid too, to be honest).
With that in mind, we’ve created a few homebrew options that build off of the hail of thorns spell that you can choose to allow in your game for either players or the occasional NPC.
Thorn-Based Magic Items
Uncommon, requires attunement
When worn, these gauntlets will add an additional die of damage to the thorn whip cantrip and the hail of thorns spell. In addition, while wearing these gauntlets, your unarmed attacks deal 1d4 piercing damage instead of their normal damage type.
This cloak is lined with thorns on the outside. Once per long rest, when you cast hail of thorns, you may instead cast the spell as a 10-foot burst centering on yourself.
When fired, this arrow will reproduce a hail of thorns effect wherever it lands. If you miss your target, it still holds the spell and can be retrieved.
At the uncommon level, it is as if cast with a 2nd-level spell slot. At the rare level, it is cast with a 4th-level spell slot. At the very rare level, it is as if cast with a 6th-level spell slot.
This jar of crushed thorns has been alchemically improved. It contains 1d4 + 1 doses when found and can be refilled by anyone with proficiency in an herbalism kit or alchemist supplies.
Whenever you cast a spell that uses thorns or vines, you may use one dose of thorn powder as a material component. If you do, you may deal additional damage equal to your spellcasting modifier.
Rare, consumable, comes in packs of 3
These darts act as nonmagical darts. However, when hail of thorns is cast on them, they will increase the Dexterity save required by 1 and will deal an additional die of damage. Once they are used this way, they are unrecoverable.
Prerequisite: ability to cast ranger or druid spells with the word “thorn” in the name
Any target damaged by a spell you cast with the word “thorn” in the name must succeed on a Constitution saving throw equal to your spellcasting DC or be poisoned until the start of your next turn. This bonus also applies to any other spell that deals piercing damage on either the ranger or the druid spell list.
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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.