Ice Knife in its current incarnation has been around since the Millennial days of Dungeons and Dragons 3e.
Originally a spell designed for the War Mage class (which has instead become a subclass), Ice Knife was a nice alternative to Magic Missile when 3e didn’t have much to offer in direct, damage-dealing offensive spells.
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: 60 feet plus a 5-foot burst
- Duration: Instantaneous
- School: Conjuration
- Class: Wizard, Sorcerer, Druid
- Level: 1st
- Damage/Effect: Piercing and Cold Damage
- Attack/Save: Ranged Spell Attack and Dexterity Save
- Components: V, S, M
- Ritual/Concentration: No
Spell Description. You create a shard of ice and fling it at one creature within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d10 piercing damage. Hit or miss, the shard then explodes. The target and each creature within 5 feet of it must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 2d6 cold damage.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the cold damage increases by 1d6 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 Ice Knife from any of the available spell slots.
This damage table assumes you hit the target AND the target fails the saving throw. Secondary targets, assuming they also fail the saving throw, will take some, but not all, of this damage as well.
Who Can Cast Ice Knife?
Ice Knife is available for Sorcerers, Wizards, and Druids, which is an improvement on where this spell started in 3e.
It makes sense Druids would have Ice Knife because of its elemental nature. It also makes sense that Sorcerers have Ice knife because of their potential sorcerous origins. And while personally I still don’t understand why Wizards should have elemental spells, I have been on the losing side of that argument for DnD’s entire existence, and therefore wizards can cast Ice Knife as well.
Is Ice Knife Better Than Other 1st-Level Spells?
Yes, for many reasons!
For Wizards and Sorcerers, Ice knife is better for those who prefer conjuration over evocation. It deals better damage than Magic Missile, and it can spread damage out over multiple enemies.
Is it better than Chromatic Orb? Not really, unless, of course, you have a nicely positioned group of enemies that can take the AoE damage of Ice Knife.
In all honesty, Magic Missile is an overhyped spell and not really worth its reputation. In the original DnD, Magic Missile could be juiced into producing some truly astonishing numbers but not so much anymore.
For Druids, it is your most offensive spell. Other offense spells in the Druid spell list mainly serve to enact some penalty on the target (Entangle, Thunderwave), whereas Ice Knife is all about chipping away at that HP.
Who Should Cast Ice Knife?
In general, this is your best shot for an offensive spell; however, like all offensive spells, it uses an entire spell slot for just one effect.
For lower-level spellcasters, they are better off using that 1st-level spell slot to change the battlefield or have a longer-lasting effect to boost your allies.
Once you get to a high enough level to have 1st-level spell slots to burn, Ice Knife is a good one to use for its range of damage.
When Should You Cast Ice Knife?
Cast Ice knife whenever you:
- Are facing a foe with vulnerability to piercing or cold.
- Manage to find a group of foes standing conveniently next to each other.
- Want to severely damage a specific foe.
- Want to impress the Ice empress with your appreciation for her element.
Common Questions About Ice Knife
If You Use Holy Water as the Material Component, Does It Deal Extra Damage to Undead?
Technically, no. But that is such a cool idea that I don’t see why a DM would disallow it.
To achieve a sense of balance and fair play, you could easily say that cold damage is replaced with radiant damage, or you could simply add 1d6 to the piercing damage.
If You Miss, Does the Knife Continue Until It Hits Something and Then Explodes, or Does It Simply Explode in the Target’s Square?
Since the target is also subject to the explosion, it is best to say that the knife explodes after hitting the target but it did not overcome the target’s AC, meaning it exploded against their shield, armor, or armor.
If your target does not have a shield, a weapon, or armor, then say the ice knife was rigged to explode near the target because the caster was just that clever!
Does the Blast Radius Increase as the Size of the Primary Target Increases?
Technically, yes. The knife explodes in a 5-foot radius around the target, which would mean a large target would allow your explosion to affect eight surrounding squares instead of simply four.
This is hard to imagine, though. Therefore, you can say that the Ice Knife bounced off of the target’s head and into the air where it exploded in a lovely crystal shower of pointy debris.
Why Does the Original Target Take No Damage From the Explosion if They Were Hit by the Knife?
That’s a great question! Many DMs will give the primary target disadvantage on that saving throw or will allow the primary target to save for half damage.
For the Rule of Cool DMs, that’s you, you beautiful, beautiful storyteller.
A DM’s Guide to Ice Knife
Altering Ice Knife is fairly easy. You can always change the damage type for players or monsters if it meets their particular flavor.
Ice Knife can also be used as the base spell for a trap. Imagine a corridor filled with poison needle traps, except they fire off Ice Knife instead of poisoned needles.
A Wand of Ice Knife is also a fairly serviceable little grenade launcher, and Ammunition that turns into an Ice Knife spell when fired can also be handy rewards for players at 1st or 2nd tier.
A monster or a suit of armor capable of casting Ice Knife in multiple directions at once could also be a thrilling foe to encounter. Imagine an Ice elemental firing a burst of Ice Knife shards within 30 feet, forcing your PCs to make Dexterity saves against cold damage.
Ice Knife is a simple concept: I shoot a bullet made of ice that explodes on contact. As a DM, you just need to figure out from what direction such a bullet comes.
The PCs are investigated to find an assassin. A Detect Magic spell reveals the victim was killed with a conjuration spell, and a blast radius shows the structures to be chipped from scattershot or ricochet.
The Detect Magic spell in the hands of a skilled investigator reveals a signature in the magical aura that can be traced to an artificer who creates illegal weapons.
The murder weapon? A wand of Ice Knife whose magical ice melted in the minutes after the weapon was fired.
From there, it is a standard whodunit mystery!
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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.