The Unsung Hero of Ranger Spells: A Comprehensive Guide to Cordon of Arrows in D&D 5e

cordon of arrows
Table of Contents

It was utter chaos. The bandit camp was in an uproar as alarms blared from all directions. Sentries shouted in confusion, scrambling to identify the source of the attack. But no matter where they turned, arrows seemed to materialize out of thin air to assail them. Some tried to flee out the front gate, only to be riddled with a hail of missiles. Others barricaded themselves in tents, believing themselves safe, never noticing the ammunition methodically piercing the fabric around them.

In mere minutes, the entire camp was decimated without the bandits ever catching a glimpse of their assailant. A lone elf emerged from the treeline, collecting the mysterious magical arrows planted around the perimeter. With a satisfied grin, he set out in search of his next target.

This impressive display of power came not from some mighty barrage of destructive spells, but rather a clever application of one of the most underappreciated magic arrows in the ranger's quiver – cordon of arrows.

Understanding the Mechanics

The basics of cordon of arrows are straightforward. By planting four pieces of nonmagical ammunition and imbuing them with magic, you create a protective zone. Any creature that comes within 30 feet of the ammunition triggers one piece to strike them unless they succeed on a Dexterity saving throw, taking 1d6 piercing damage. A creature can only be targeted once when first entering the area and once at the end of their turn.

But understanding the finer details is key to mastering this versatile spell:

Higher Level Casting

While 1d6 damage doesn't seem impactful, upcasting cordon of arrows significantly increases its potency. For each slot level above 2nd, two more pieces of ammunition are animated, up to a maximum of 18 pieces using a 9th level slot. More ammunition means more chances to deal damage each round.

Selective Ignoring

When cordon of arrows is cast, certain creatures can be ignored, allowing allies to freely pass through. Clever battlefield placement means enemies trigger your ammunition while your party remains unharmed.

Destroyed Ammo

Each piece of animated ammunition is destroyed after striking once. This limits the total number of attacks based on your spell slot. Carefully track ammunition remaining to avoid surprises.

Bending Arrows

Unclear if the spell allows ammunition to bend around corners or obstacles. This discretion is left to the DM. Clear communication about intended limitations is key.

Two Strikes Max

Creatures only take one attack when entering the area and one at the end of their turn. They won't take continual damage by moving in and out.

Visible Ammunition

Nowhere does the spell say arrows are invisible after planting. Enemies may see and avoid them unless you camouflage the ammunition.

Limited Damage

While damage increases substantially when upcast, base damage remains low. Creative uses and combinations are key to maximize impact.

Get Creative with Cordon of Arrows

With an understanding of the mechanics in your quiver, we can explore creative applications to take cordon of arrows from mild nuisance to devastating field control.

Difficult Terrain and Hazards

Entangling an area before planting ammunition causes enemies to struggle crossing the area, imposing disadvantage on their Dexterity save. Grease, spike growth, and web synergize perfectly here. Guiding enemies into other hazards like caltrops also stacks the odds in your favor.

Added Alarm Systems

Pairing cordon of arrows with alarm spells alerts you precisely when a creature enters your protected zone, allowing you to prepare actions and attacks. Spells like alarm and glyph of warding work for this combo.

Cascading Traps

For elaborate traps, plant multiple overlapping cordons as creatures are funneled from one to the next. This barrage of semi-automatic fire becomes tough to withstand.

Restricting Movement

Shutting down corridors, bridges, or doorways with cordon of arrows is perfect for controlling enemy movement on the battlefield. Cut off reinforcements, protect your back line, or quarantine dangerous enemies.

Applying Poisons

Though rules don't specifically allow poisoning the ammunition, creative DMs may allow applying poisons before planting for added effects. This synergizes perfectly with the ranger's capabilities.

Increased Radius

While 30 feet is the default radius, clever rangers can amplify their zone of control by arranging ammunition in formations spanning 60 feet or more in diameter when terrain allows.

These examples only scratch the surface of possibilities. Every combat presents new opportunities for clever cordon of arrows placement to manipulate the battlefield in your favor.

When Does Cordon of Arrows Really Shine?

Understanding where cordon of arrows excels helps discern when to add it to your prepared spells. Here are prime situations where it provides major benefits:

Before Long Rests

The 8-hour duration means you can cast cordon of arrows around your campsite while rests. Awakening to an alarming cacophony of shrieks as your ammunition finds its mark is sure to put a smile on your face.

Ambushes and Initiating Combat

Since cordon of arrows requires no concentration, it's perfect for ambushes. Pepper the enemy while hidden, then close in for the finish as they reel. It also helps dictate engagement range.

Controlling the Battlefield

Few spells allow excellent area denial, blocking, or movement manipulation like a well-placed cordon of arrows. Shutting down parts of the battlefield or shepherding enemies into kill boxes works flawlessly.

Supporting Other Spells

Pairing cordon of arrows with difficult terrain or hazard effects greatly improves its efficacy. It also combines perfectly with alarm type spells for alert systems.

Fighting Hordes

While single target damage is mediocre, cordon of arrows truly shines against large groups of weaker enemies like goblins, kobolds, or zombies where ammunition can wreak havoc across multiple targets.

Of course, standard combat use is still effective, but cordon's utility really emerges in these specialized scenarios. Prep it ahead of time before the perfect opportunity arises.

Heightening Efficacy Through Clever Spell Combinations

Some spells naturally enhance cordon of arrows through creative combinations. Understanding these spell synergies allows you to compound effects.


Entangle restrains creatures, imposing disadvantage on Dexterity saves. This makes avoiding your animated ammunition much harder. Entangle also benefits from cordon of arrows combatting creatures that escape its grasp.

Spike Growth

Spike growth is difficult terrain that damages creatures moving through it. This discourages enemies from simply walking out of your cordon of arrows, taking more hits.


Alarm alerts you when a creature enters an area, working flawlessly in conjunction with cordon of arrows for intelligent traps and ambushes. No one gets past your perimeter unnoticed.


Much like entangle, web impairs Dexterity saves with its restrained condition. The ammunition tears through the webbing, shredding creatures further.


Grease knocks creatures prone, giving them disadvantage on Dexterity saves and preventing them from standing up without further risk.

Fog Cloud

Fog cloud heavily obscures the animated ammunition, preventing enemies from destroying them while your party retains advantage on attacks.

These are just a few excellent combinations, but nearly any spell that impedes movement, reduces enemy capabilities, or obscures vision synergizes well with cordon of arrows. Explore all the possibilities!

Specialized Character Builds and Subclasses

While every ranger can benefit from cordon of arrows, certain builds and subclasses particularly amplify its potential.

Hunter Ranger

Hunter rangers excel when fighting multiple foes thanks to Horde Breaker. Cordon of arrows delivers repeated AoE attacks to maximize your capabilities. Volley also synergizes by hitting all creatures in the ammunition's radius.

Gloom Stalker Ranger

Gloom stalker's extra first turn attack synergizes perfectly with cordon of arrows for a deadly ambush. Dread Ambusher lets you pincushion foes before engaging.

Arcane Archer Fighter

Arcane archer fighters infuse arrows with magic. Though cordon of arrows requires nonmagical ammunition, arcane archers could plant multiple overlapping cordons using their magical shots once combat has been initiated.

Battle Master Fighter

A battle master fighter controlling the battlefield with maneuvers like pushing attack and goading attack becomes even more deadly when enemies must navigate a maze of animated ammunition as well.

Assassin Rogue

The assassin rogue is already adept at traps and ambushes. Pairing their capabilities with cordon of arrows is brutally effective. The automatic ammunition attacks complement sneak attack damage to down foes quickly.

Scout Rogue

With Skirmisher enabling movement after each attack, the scout rogue can dart around planting ammunition in key locations mid-combat when openings appear. Their mobility amplifies cordon of arrows' dynamic potential.

Shepherd Druid

A shepherd druid's hawk spirit provides opportunity attacks for allies when enemies enter spaces, compounding cordon of arrows' reactive damage. The spirit also enhances the ammunition's accuracy.

War Wizard

A war wizard's Arcane Deflection provides allies bonus AC when affected by enemies nearby. This reduces the risk of planting cordon of arrows ammunition amidst dangerous foes.

These classes and subclasses represent just a taste of the potential. Nearly any build relying on ranged attacks, battlefield control, or reactive damage can benefit greatly from cordon of arrows. Don't underestimate how creativity multiplies its effect.

Frequently Asked Questions

For first-time cordoneers, some questions frequently arise. Having the right information prepares you to leverage this spell to its maximum potential.

What's the Maximum Damage Possible?

When cast using a 9th level spell slot, cordon of arrows can animate 18 pieces of ammunition. If each piece strikes once, this allows for 18d6 or 63 average damage.

Does It Work on Invisible Creatures?

Nothing in the spell specifies immunity to invisible creatures. The ammunition attacks any creature entering the protected area unless immune to the damage type.

Can You Leave the Range After Casting?

The cordon's effects persist even if you move beyond the 50 foot range. The ammunition will continue attacking any intruding creatures as normal.

Can It Cause Friendly Fire?

When casting cordon of arrows you can selectively designate creatures to ignore, allowing allies to move through safely without being targeted.

How Much Does the Ammunition Cost?

Nonmagical arrows or bolts used as ammunition are typically 1gp per 20 units. Cordon of arrows does not alter this cost unless the DM rules otherwise.

Dig deeper into each aspect of this versatile spell and you'll continually uncover new tactics, combinations, and clever applications for weaving cordon of arrows into your combat repertoire.

A Vastly Underrated Gem

Cordon of arrows lacks the flash and thunder of the ranger's most popular spells. At first glance, its effects seem mildly impactful for the required spell level. But properly planted ammunition can control the battlefield, funnel enemies into kill zones, barricade areas, and menace creatures while barely lifting a finger. This schtick grows exponentially when you carefully combine cordon of arrows with other spells for compounded effects.

This guide has only scratched the surface of possibilities. True mastery requires endless creativity and experimentation. But armed with the fundamentals, you're now prepared to explore cordon of arrows' maximum potential.

So next time you prepare your ranger spells, give this unsung hero a chance to shine. Cunning cordoneers can transform simple ammunition into a dynamic tool for weaving combat precisely to their advantage. Your foes will grow to fear the unseen arrows materializing from the ether as you master this underappreciated gem.


Get Your Free Book

Enter your email address below and you’ll immediately receive an email with download links to my best selling novel, ForeverQuest: Online Battle Arena.

You’ll also receive regular updates about great specials, new books, additional freebies and much more…