The enemy cleric chuckles from behind the overturned table, confident that the +5 cover bonus will protect him from your party’s attacks. With no clear line of sight, your fighters and rogues are powerless to stop his piercing bolts of sacred flame picking off your wizard in the back. But you read the spell description carefully – cover means nothing before the divine! You lift your holy symbol, invoking sacred flame and calling down a pillar of radiant fire upon the heretic. His laugh turns to a scream as your flame sears right through the table, the cover bonus meaningless in the onslaught of your deity’s wrath.
As that anecdote illustrates, sacred flame is one of the most underutilized yet potentially impactful cantrips in the 5th edition cleric’s arsenal. This guide will explore the spell’s mechanics, optimal uses, limitations, and how it compares to other damage-dealing cantrips. My aim is to provide players with the complete understanding of sacred flame necessary to unleash its full potential at the table.
Understanding Sacred Flame's Unique Mechanics
The sacred flame spell description states: “Flame-like radiance descends on a creature that you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 radiant damage. The target gains no benefit from cover for this saving throw.”
There are several important implications here. First, sacred flame is an evocation cantrip, meaning it creates a magical effect rather than summoning an entity or altering something preexisting. Also, as a cantrip, it can be cast over and over without using spell slots. The 1d8 radiant damage scales up as you gain levels, rising to 2d8 at 5th level, 3d8 at 11th level, and finally 4d8 at 17th level.
Unlike spells that require an attack roll, sacred flame simply hits the target if they fail a Dexterity saving throw. This key distinction makes Dexterity the spell’s key ability score. More importantly, the description specifies that cover grants no benefit to the save. This allows sacred flame to essentially ignore cover, making it unique among damaging cantrips. Lead D&D designer Jeremy Crawford has confirmed that this allows sacred flame to bypass total cover as well.
Finally, note that despite the name, sacred flame deals radiant damage not fire. This is advantageous since far more creatures resist fire than radiant damage in 5th edition. With an understanding of these mechanics, let’s delve into optimal uses.
Using Sacred Flame Effectively
To leverage sacred flame’s strengths, target enemies with low Dexterity scores or modifiers first, as they’ll struggle with the saving throw. The spell reveals its real value against high AC foes using cover. If your heavily armored enemy has bunkered down behind a low wall, sacred flame simply ignores their +5 cover bonus. Although the radiant pillar must descend from above, you only need line of sight, not a clear path.
At higher levels, sacred flame’s reliable damage combined with its range can finish off damaged enemies your rogues or fighters might not be able to reach. Against undead, preventing regeneration can be pivotal. Vampires regenerate every turn unless immersed in running water, sunlight, or damaged by radiant attacks. Sacred flame’s radiant damage shuts down this regeneration entirely if they fail the save.
When your spell slots have been depleted, sacred flame provides a useful fallback option. Compared to attacking with a mace, sacred flame saves you from having to approach within melee range or rely on a low attack bonus. While its single damage die limits potential damage, you can concentrate on mobility or support while chipping away from the backline.
Of course, sacred flame is no silver bullet. Some tactics to overcome its drawbacks include combining it with effects imposing disadvantage on Dexterity saves like the prone condition. Using it against groups slightly improves the odds of hitting at least one target. But if surrounded by hordes of zombies, an area-effect damage spell like word of radiance will serve you far better.
Sacred Flame vs. Other Cleric Cantrips
With its mediocre damage, sacred flame compares unfavorably to other cleric cantrips like toll the dead at first glance. However, the saving throw type is key – Dexterity is typically a monster's strong save, while Wisdom saves tend to be weaker. Sacred flame's advantage against cover may counter a high Dexterity score, while toll the dead suffers no drawback against high-Wisdom foes.
Meanwhile, word of radiance can target all enemies within 5 feet of you. Its 1d6 damage will quickly outpace sacred flame against groups, but you must be adjacent to enemies rather than firing from the backline. Overall, sacred flame fills a valuable niche, but toll the dead's higher damage makes it mathematically superior in most single-target scenarios.
However, each cantrip has situations where it shines. Against a vampire, sacred flame's radiant damage prevents regeneration, while its necrotic damage actually heals undead foes. When facing swarms of undead, toll the dead struggles while word of radiance clears out mooks. Weigh your campaign and party composition as you choose when to rely on sacred flame over its cantrip cousins.
Multiclassing and Character Build Options
For clerics, the Light and Knowledge domains make perfect use of sacred flame’s reliable radiant damage. The Trickery domain’s blessings can impose disadvantage on Dexterity saves to amplify it. War clerics can utilize its ignore cover effect while wading into melee. Ultimately, any cleric can find a use for this signature cantrip.
Several effective multiclass combinations exist as well. Fighter's Archery fighting style mitigates the Dexterity save weakness by boosting your spell attack bonus if you multiclass. Sorcerers can spend sorcery points to gain additional sacred flame uses. Subtle spell metamagic even allows you to cast it secretly! Meanwhile, bard and rogue multiclasses allow more utilization through items like the illusionist's bracers.
The astral elf subrace receives sacred flame as a racial cantrip option. Alternatively, the magic initiate feat can grant sacred flame to any cleric lacking it or other classes like druid, wizard, and barbarian interested in its benefits. With creativity, there are myriad builds that can unlock sacred flame’s potential.
Mastering the Divine Flame
In summary, sacred flame's ability to bypass cover provides an occasionally critical option missing from other cantrips. While toll the dead deals higher damage in most situations, sacred flame has greater versatility and utility against certain enemies.
Ultimately, sacred flame occupies a unique place in the 5th edition cantrip roster. No other cantrip can reliably damage targets beyond barriers. Clever tacticians gain a secret weapon against certain encounters. Sacred flame is no mere magical torch, but a conduit to the divine – opening pathways where none existed. Just take care when using its holy power against the goddess of luck herself!
As that anecdote demonstrates, sacred flame can accomplish what few other spells can. But do not let its unassuming appearance fool you; in the right circumstances, this humble cantrip may just save the day. I hope this guide has provided the insights, tactics, and knowledge necessary to harness sacred flame to its fullest. May the radiance of the gods light your path, illuminating victories ahead!
Frequently Asked Questions
This section covers some common sacred flame questions that may arise at your table.
Does sacred flame deal fire damage?
No, sacred flame deals radiant damage, not fire damage, despite the name. This gives it an advantage over fire-based cantrips.
Can I target objects with sacred flame?
No, sacred flame can only target creatures you can see within range. The radiant flame has no effect on objects or the environment.
Is sacred flame an attack roll or saving throw?
Sacred flame requires the target to succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take damage – no attack roll is made by the caster.
Can monsters use sacred flame too?
Yes, if you are facing an evil cleric or other monster with access to the spell, they can potentially use sacred flame against the party. Few creatures resist radiant damage.
Does sacred flame work on invisible enemies?
No, sacred flame requires you to see the target creature. Invisible creatures cannot be targeted by sacred flame.
How do I get sacred flame if I'm not a cleric?
Feats like Magic Initiate can provide access to cleric cantrips like sacred flame. Multiclassing one level of cleric or divine soul sorcerer will also add it to your list.
For even deeper sacred flame tactics and character builds, consult these additional resources:
- Sacred Flame vs. Other Cantrips spreadsheet – Compares average damage by level of sacred flame to fire bolt, chill touch, and other cantrips.
- “Bypassing Cover in D&D 5e” blog post – Covers sacred flame and other ways to overcome total cover in D&D 5e.
- Sacred Flame Character Build Videos – YouTube series exploring unconventional cleric multiclass builds utilizing sacred flame.
With the insights from this guide and a mastery of sacred flame's unconventional mechanics, you are now ready to unlock this potent cantrip's divine potential. No enemy or barrier can stand before the righteous fury of your deity channeled into crackling flame. So blast forth and incinerate the wicked, confident that your sacred flame shall light the way to victory!