Cleric - Cantrip Level Spell
Casting Time: 1 Action
Range: 60 ft
Components: Verbal and Somatic
Reference: PHB 272
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.
The spell’s damage increases by 1d8 when you reach 5th level (2d8), 11th level (3d8), and 17th level (4d8).
My Comments: This spell should be totally straight forward- target makes a dex save or takes damage, no big deal.
Except there’s some language that’s generally ignored and some that seems to be interpreted incorrectly.
One is that, despite many artistic references, this is a flame-like radiance that descends on a creature. It isn’t a beam that shoots from the caster to the target, it’s flame that descends from the caster’s divine source (usually a god) and strikes the target. This is why cover isn’t as useful in avoiding the spell attack.
That leads into the other thing- “The target gains no benefit from cover for this saving throw.”
Some people are convinced that this means that cover has no effect whatsoever on the spell. As I read it (RAW) though, you still have to be able to see the target, so if the target has 100% cover, then they most likely also can’t be seen and are safe from being targeted. The spell description only states that cover has no effect on the saving throw.
This bit is in reference to the fact that half Cover and Three-Quarters Cover provide a +2 and a +5 bonus to saving throws, so in the case of Sacred Flame these bonuses are ignored.
And then there’s Jeremy Crawford. Just to confuse things further, Crawford states the following:
So sacred flame is one of the few spells that allows you to target somebody even if they’re behind total cover. -Jan. 19, 2017 episode of Dragon Talk (“Wolfgang Baur on DMing for Girl Scouts”). Starting at 36:20
To be clear, he’s still talking about targets you can see. For example, being behind a transparent wall or window can provide full cover for most spells or attacks and this is not true of Sacred Flame. Again, this is because the flame originates from an otherworldy source to strike the target.
It doesn’t mean that the caster can target a goblin hiding behind a stack of crates just because the target is known to be there, they still have to be able to see the goblin.
All of that aside, I tend to think this is an essential cantrip for Clerics. It’s simply a handy ranged attack to keep in your back pocket, especially for targets that have reduced saves or low dexterity.
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I’m confused. So – I can only burn people I see with my god born fire… but not ones I don’t see, and not the pile of wood that the may be hiding behind? Shouldn’t fire burn everything? (Like a ray gun)
RIght, good question!
It’s “flame-like” radiant energy, so it isn’t actually fire. There are a lot of spells in D&D that have names implying something they aren’t. Like how Chill Touch isn’t actually cold, it’s just the “chill of the grave” and causes necrotic damage.