Learn all about area of effect spells and find out which ones are the best
In D&D, casters have loads of options for spells from damage and healing to buffs, debuffs and utility spells. Sometimes though, you need to deal with a bunch of enemies at the same time either to take damage from them quickly, or to do a bit of crowd control.
In these situations, area of effect (AOE) spells can be one of your strongest options as they can affect multiple enemies at once. In this guide, we’ve put together all the AOE spells you can cast and evaluated them on their effectiveness so you can decide which spells are best for your character.
What is an AOE spell?
Area of effect spells are spells you can cast that cause an effect over a large area that is more than just a single creature. The area affected by such a spell is measured in feet (with 5 feet affecting a single square on a battlemap).
AOE spells can be cast in different shapes too including:
- Spheres (like fireball)
- Cubes (like fire storm)
- Cones (like Prismatic Spray)
- Cylinders (like call lightning)
- Lines (like wall of fire)
Area of effect spells can also impact things above them too, potentially impacting creatures on some kind of elevation or that are flying.
Because AOE spells affect a large area, they are great in situations where there are a large number of enemies that you want to direct an attack against. Even better if they’re gathered together in a small space! Of course, with a large space being impacted, players do need to be careful of causing friendly fire as allies caught in the spell might also be harmed by the effects (depending on the spell).
Area of effect spells all operate in different ways. Not all AOE spells are damage dealers like fireball. Some are designed to confuse enemies, debuff them or restrict movement. We’ve considered all these options in determining the best AOE spells later in the guide.
How does area of effect work in D&D 5e?
There are 5 shapes with which an area of effect spell can take which determines the space it covers and who is affected by the spell. These are:
Each area of effect spell will have a point of origin which is a space the caster chooses within range (all spells have a range from the caster at which the spell can be cast) but it can also originate from the caster as is the case with cones. Area of effect spells don’t typically go through obstructions like walls which is also worth bearing in mind when considering who is hit.
The distance of an area of effect spell is determined by the number of feet described in the spell description.
Cones – A cone spell will draw it’s distance at 45 degree angles from the point of origin at the distance described.
Cubes – Cubes have a point of origin at the centre of a face of the cube. The distance described in the spell is the length of each side of the cube.
Cylinders – A cylinder has its point of origin at the centre of the circle with the effects of the spell reaching upwards the distance described in the spell as well as outwards the same distance as the radius described in the spell.
Lines – A line extends in a straight line from the point of origin to the distance described in the spell. Lines will have a thickness that helps determine who might be affected by the spell.
Spheres – A sphere takes up an area determined by the radius in the spell reaching in all directions from the point of origin including horizontally, vertically and diagonally.
What AOE Spells are there?
There are a lot of area of effect spells in D&D 5e from pure damage spells like fireball to crowd control spells like confusion to ones in between like Evard’s Black Tentacles. Thankfully, we’ve listed them all out below along with important details around what the spells do and who can use them. Don’t worry, we’ve also put together some handy information below to help you choose the best AOE spell for your caster because there’s a lot.
|Abi-Dalzim’s Horrid Wilting||8th||150 ft (30 ft cube)||Constitution||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Wizard||12d8 necrotic||Wilts plants|
|Aganazzar’s Scorcher||2nd||30 ft (30 ft long and 5 ft wide line)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Wizard||3d8 fire||None|
|Arms of Hadar||1st||Self (10 ft radius)||Strength||Instantaneous||Warlock||2d6 necrotic||No reactions for a turn|
|Burning Hands||1st||Self (15 ft cone)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Wizard||3d6 fire||Ignites flammable objects|
|Call Lightning||3rd||120 ft (60 ft radius cylinder, 10 ft tall)||Dexterity||10 minutes concentration||Druid||3d10 lightning||None|
|Circle of Death||6th||150 ft (60 ft radius sphere)||Constitution||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||8d6 necrotic||None|
|Cloudkill||5th||120 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Constitution||10 minutes concentration||Wizard||5d8 poison||None|
|Cone of Cold||5th||Self (60 ft cone)||Constitution||Instantaneous||Wizard||8d8 cold||Frozen if killed|
|Confusion||4th||90 ft (10 ft radius sphere)||Wisdom||1 minute concentration||Bard, Druid, Sorceror, Wizard||None||Confused|
|Conjure Barrage||3rd||Self (60 ft cone)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Ranger||3d8 of same type as weapon used for spell||None|
|Conjure Volley||5th||150 ft (40 ft radius, 20 ft high cylinder)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Ranger||8d8 of same type as weapon used for spell||None|
|Darkness||2nd||60 ft (15 ft radius sphere)||None||10 minutes concentration||Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||None||Can’t see in the area|
|Delayed Blast Fireball||7th||150 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Dexterity||1 minute concentration||Sorceror, Wizard||12d6||Ignites flammable objects|
|Destructive Wave||5th||Self (30 ft radius)||Constitution||Instantaneous||Paladin||5d6 thunder and 5d6 radiant or necrotic||Prone|
|Earthquake||8th||500 ft (100 ft radius circle)||Dexterity||1 minute concentration||Cleric, Druid, Sorceror||Possible damage falling into fissures and being hit by falling buildings||Prone, fissures, estroys structures|
|Entangle||1st||90 ft (20 ft square)||Strength||1 minute concentration||Druid||None||Restrained, difficult terrain|
|Erupting Earth||3rd||120 ft (20 ft cube)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Druid, Sorceror, Wizard||3d12 bludgeoning||Difficult terrain|
|Evard’s Black Tentacles||4th||90 ft (20 ft square)||Dexterity||1 minute concentration||Wizard||3d6 bludgeoning||Restrained|
|Fireball||3rd||150 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Wizard||8d6 fire||Ignites flammable objects|
|Flame Strike||5th||60 ft (10 ft radius, 40 ft high cylinder)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Cleric||4d6 fire and 4d6 radiant||None|
|Fire Storm||7th||150 ft (ten 10 ft cubes)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Cleric, Druid||7d10 fire||Ignites flammable objects|
|Fog Cloud||1st||120 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||None||1 hour concentration||Druid, Ranger, Sorceror, Wizard||None||Heavily obscures vision|
|Hallucinatory Terrain||4th||300 ft (150 ft cube)||Intelligence||24 hours||Bard, Warlock, Wizard||None||Illusion|
|Hunger of Hadar||3rd||150 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Dexterity||1 minute concentration||Warlock||2d6 cold and/or 2d6 acid||Difficult terrain|
|Hypnotic Pattern||3rd||120 ft (30 ft cube)||Wisdom||1 minute concentration||Bard, Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||None||Charmed|
|Ice Storm||4th||300 ft (20 ft radius, 40 ft high cylinder)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Druid, Sorceror, Wizard||2d8 bludgeoning and 4d6 cold||Difficult terrain|
|Incendiary Cloud||8th||150 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Dexterity||1 minute concentration||Sorceror, Wizard||10d8 fire||None|
|Insect Plague||5th||300 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Constitution||10 minutes concentration||Cleric, Druid||4d10 piercing||None|
|Investiture of Flame||6th||Self (15 ft long, 5 ft wide line)||Dexterity||10 minutes concentration||Druid, Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||4d8 fire||Various|
|Investiture of Ice||6th||Self (15 ft cone)||Constitution||10 minutes concentration||Druid, Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||4d6 cold||Various|
|Investiture of Stone||6th||Self (15 ft radius sphere)||Dexterity||10 minutes concentration||Druid, Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||None||Prone, various others|
|Investiture of Wind||6th||Self (15 ft cube)||Constitution||10 minutes concentration||Druid, Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||2d10 bludgeoning||Various|
|Lightning Bolt||3rd||Self (100 ft long and 5 ft wide line)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Wizard||8d6 lightning||Ignites flammable objects|
|Maddening Darkness||8th||150 ft (60 ft radius sphere)||Wisdom||10 inutes concentration||Warlock, Wizard||8d8 psychic||Darkness|
|Meteor Storm||9th||1 mile (4 40 ft radius spheres)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Wizard||20d6 fire and 20d6 bludgeoning||Ignites flammable objects|
|Otiluke’s Freezing Sphere||6th||300 ft (60 ft radius sphere)||Constitution||Instantaneous||Wizard||10d6 cold||Freezes liquid surfaces|
|Prismatic Spray||7th||Self (60 ft cone)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Wizard||Various||Random effects|
|Programmed Illusion||6th||120 ft (30 ft cube)||Intelligence||Until dispelled||Bard||None||Illusion|
|Shatter||2nd||60 ft (10 ft radius sphere)||Constitution||Instantaneous||Bard, Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||3d8 thunder||None|
|Sickening Radiance||4th||120 ft (30 ft radius sphere)||Constitution||10 minutes concentration||Sorceror, Warlock||4d10 radiant||Exhaustion, prevents invisibility|
|Snilloc’s Snowball Swarm||2nd||90 ft (5 ft radius sphere)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Wizard||3d6 cold||None|
|Spirit Guardians||3rd||Self (15 ft radius sphere)||Wisdom||10 minutes concentration||Cleric||3d8 radiant or necrotic||None|
|Stinking Cloud||3rd||90 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Constitution||1 minute concentration||Bard, Sorceror, Wizard||None||Incapacitated|
|Storm of Vengeance||9th||Sight (360 ft radius sphere)||Constitution||1 minute concentration||Druid||Various||Various|
|Storm Sphere||4th||150 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Strength||1 minute concentration||Sorceror||2d6 bludgeoning and/or 4d6 lightning||Difficult terrain|
|Sunbeam||6th||Self (60 ft long, 5 ft wide line)||Constitution||1 minute concentration||Druid, Wizard||6d8 radiant||Blinded|
|Sunburst||8th||150 ft (60 ft radius)||Constitution||Instantaneous||Druid, Sorceror, Wizard||12d6 radiant||Blinded|
|Synaptic Static||5th||120 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Intelligence||Instantaneous||Warlock, Wizard||8d6 psychic||Muddled thoughts|
|Thunderwave||1st||Self (15 ft cube)||Constitution||Instantaneous||Bard, Druid, Sorceror, Wizard||2d8 thunder||Pushed 10 ft away|
|Vitriolic Sphere||4th||150 ft (20 ft radius sphere)||Dexterity||Instantaneous||Sorceror, Wizard||10d4 acid and 5d4 acid||None|
|Wall of Fire||4th||120 ft (60 ft long, 20 ft high and 1 ft thick line)||Dexterity||1 minute concentration||Druid, Sorceror, Wizard||5d8 fire||None|
|Wall of Ice||6th||120 ft (various shapes and sizes)||Dexterity||10 minutes concentration||Wizard||10d6 cold||None|
|Wall of Light||5th||120 ft (60 ft long, 10 ft high, 5 ft thick line)||Constitution||10 minutes concentration||Sorceror, Warlock, Wizard||4d8 radiant||Blinded|
|Wall of Thorns||6th||120 ft (60 ft long, 10 ft high and 5 ft thick line)||Dexterity||10 minutes concentration||Druid||7d8 piercing||None|
|Web||2nd||60 ft (20 ft cube)||Dexterity||1 hour concentration||Artificer, Sorceror, Wizard||None||Restrained|
|Weird||9th||120ft (30 ft radius sphere)||Wisdom||1 minute concentration||Wizard||4d10 psychic||Frightened|
|Wrath of Nature||5th||120 ft (60 ft cube)||Dexterity||1 minute concentration||Druid, Ranger||4d6 slashing and/or 3d8 bludgeoning||Restrained, difficult terrain|
|Zone of Truth||2nd||60 ft||Charisma||10 minutes||Paladin||None||Must speak the truth|
Best AOE spells
This is a tricky question to answer as there are so many AOE spells and the answer can depend on the level of your caster, the class (as many are limited as to the AOE spells they can choose) and even what you’re trying to accomplish. No need to fear though, we’ve sifted through all the spells and have picked out the ones we think are best for a variety of different things.
Best AOE spells for damage
At 1st level, your options for AOE are very limited, but thunderwave is a great option that can grow in power as you increase your spellcasting levels. It’s got decent damage output and is worthwhile even if you only hit a single target. The only downside is it means having your caster in melee range of an enemy, though this isn’t too bad if you’re a blade, a druid or a battlesmith. Plus it can push enemies away from you allowing you to make a timely escape.
while a great spell, because of its situational nature, thunder wave only managed 6th place.
Cloudkill is not only a great damage dealer, but also great at dispersing the crowds as it tends to linger (as long as you can hold your concentration). It doesn’t deal as much damage as other spells at this level, but because it has a habit of sticking around, it can cause much more damage in the long run. It’s especially good for a tactical approach, blocking off an enemy’s route at you while you fire away with projectiles and spells or let them charge through the spell for lots of damage. Its main drawback is making sure it isn’t a nuisance for your allies over that extended concentration time.
its the challenge of keeping cloud kill useful that means it doesn’t sit higher, especially as enemies could just avoid it.
4th Meteor swarm
Ever want to recreate what happened to the dinosaurs? Meteor swarm is an absolute extinction level spell with 4 40 ft radius blasts doing a total of 40d6 damage each! It’s no wonder that this is a 9th level spell and reserved only for the very upper echelons of spellcasters!
meteor.swarm is clearly the most powerful AOE spell around, but its high level means it’s so inaccessible that many will never use it.
Shatter is a fantastic low level AOE spell. True, the radius isn’t huge (10 ft) and it’s 3d8 damage is less than most AOE spells, but this is a measly 2nd level spell capable of some very solid damage output and it’s one of the few AOE spells available to a bard (not counting the spells they can steal from other classes’ lists).
shatter makes it 3rd on our list as a great, low level, AOE spell.
2nd Call lightning
Call lightning is one of the better 3rd level AOE spells with 3-4d10 of damage each turn to a point of your choice within a 60 ft radius (which is as large as you need for most battles). Each turn you call down a lightning strike and though the area it hits is small (5 ft radius) it can still hit multiple targets each turn and is very easy to avoid friendly fire. Over the course of a battle, this spell can be a very high damage dealer.
with potential to cause masses of damage over the course of an entire combat, call lightning deservedly takes 2nd place.
Fireball is the classic of AOE spells and often one of the first when a caster starts casting level 3 spells. It’s for good reason with 8d6 damage that scales at higher levels and a 20 ft radius sphere, it’s great for obliterating crowds of low level monsters or knocking off a chunk from tougher opponents. The main challenge with fireball is it’s equally deadly for your allies so best used at the start of combat if you can before those pesky martials get in your way!
there’s a reason every wizard takes fireball. It’s just so damn good! A lowish level spell that puts out high damage across a large area that scales with levels, fireball is excellent!
Best AOE spells for battlefield control
Not all AOE spells are about raw damage output, some allow you to control the battlefield whether it’s by incapacitating enemies, debuffing them or creating obstacles to funnel enemies in a certain direction. We’ve put together the best crowd control AOE spells below:
6th Fog cloud
This spells obscures a 20 ft radius area making it excellent for making a quick escape or forcing enemies that need to see clearly (that’s most of them) to move from a potentially more favourable location. And this is just for a 1st level spell.
It’s the least effective option on the list but does justify its place as it’s a 1st leavel spell so available to the lowliest of spellcasters.
Want to slow your enemies down even more by completely stopping them in their tracks? Web’s got you covered at level 2. What’s more is those sticky webs get even harder to escape from as you get more powerful as they’ll need to check against your spell DC.
you may struggle to ensnare stronger enemies (of which there are many) making it less useful in some situations so it only makes 5th on our list.
4th Spike growth
Need to slow the enemy down a bit with some difficult terrain? Look no further than spike growth. It’s got decent radius and does some bonus damage (it might only be 2d4, but that’s for every 5 ft travelled through it so potential to really stack up the damage). Enemies may well favour going around this growth (why wouldn’t they) but that will also slow them down or stop them in their tracks completely, especially if they’re low on health, allowing you to take them down from afar.
Spike growth is more reliable at slowing enemies down than web as it doesn’t have the opportunity for a save. It does sacrifice the ability to completely stop an enemy in their tracks but with some decent damage output, it certainly justifies its place on the list.
Darkness is a really useful spell as it allows you to escape if needs be, blocks darkvision and essentially means those in the area can’t see anything. It’s great at getting your ranged enemies to move into a more vulnerable position but can also be used as a shield for enemies to not see through ready for you to emerge at close range.
Darkness is an extremely versatile and low level spell meaning it makes 3rd.
You may want to take that crowd control a little further and get your enemies to do your fighting for you. If that’s the case, then confusion is probably your spell. It’s a relatively small radius at only 10 ft, but those that fail their wisdom saving throw will do all sorts of daft stuff from moving in a random direction to hitting whoever’s closest (hopefully another of your enemies).
confusion justifies itself in 2nd as not only can it effectively crows control enemies, it can also cause them to harm each other and is saved against wisdom which many monsters do not excel in. It’s relatively small AOE does prevent it reaching 1st though.
1st Hypnotic pattern
At level 3 and with a 30 ft radius, hypnotic pattern is excellent at getting a load of enemies within its grasp and incapacitating them if they fail a wisdom saving throw. It may not be so great against high wisdom spellcasters, but is excellent against the usual thugs and creatures you might face.
The most effective crowd control option on this list. With a large AOE, a wisdom saving throw that many will struggle against and effectively preventing enemies from acting, hypnotic pattern is very effective for a 3rd level spell.