In the many volumes of D&D lore which have graced our shelves over the decades, there have been spells of unmatched utility and shocking devastation. We have seen spells that summon entities from ineffable realms and those which twist flesh, raise the dead, and bend the strongest of wills.
Among these many magical wonders, is a somewhat innocuous spell called Faerie Fire. Curiously, it neither summons any actual Fae nor invokes actual flame. Despite its somewhat tame nature, this spell has existed in one form or another in every single edition of Dungeons and Dragons from the original to 5th edition. So, what makes this spell so very special and absolutely worth a caster’s time? And can I tell you without a painful number of bad puns?
Let’s find out…
What Is Faerie Fire Anyway?
Before we dig into the gritty details, let’s take a quick look at the barebones elements of the spell itself.
Faerie Fire is a 1st level evocation spell
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
Classes: Artificer, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Ranger, Warlock
Each object in a 20-foot cube within range is outlined in blue, green, or violet light (your choice). Any creature in the area when the spell is cast is also outlined in light if it fails a Dexterity saving throw. For the duration, objects and affected creatures shed dim light in a 10-foot radius.
Any attack roll against an affected creature or object has advantage if the attacker can see it, and the affected creature or object can’t benefit from being invisible.
Very illuminating and fairly straightforward, right? It makes pretty lights and you get to pick the color!
Well, yes, but it’s so much more than that.
First, you might have noticed that it’s an Evocation spell and not an Illusion spell. This is actually a very important distinction. Illusion magic typically focuses on deception, shadows, and beguilements. It is the art of the unreal. Evocation, on the other hand, is focused very much on the real and tangible. It’s notably the D&D school of magic that unleashes the most brutal elemental effects.
Faerie Fire, while not a spell that burns or electrocutes, could actually be seen as an Evoker’s answer to some of the pesky tricks of the Illusionist. Its effect clings to those beings who are not agile enough to avoid its flames, as well as any objects in the area, and reveals their presence to all within line of sight.
A burglar is attempting to hide in the deep shadows behind a throne? Hard to do when he’s covered in glowing green flame!
Invisible Stalker? Think again!
A darkmantle is creeping along slick cavern walls and spreading magical darkness? Hm. Well, this one requires just a touch more explanation.
Faerie Fire Details
First, I wanted to point out that any creature affected by Faerie Fire is not only a living (or unliving as the case may be) fireworks display, but this enhanced visibility gives their attackers advantage on all attack rolls against them while the spell is active. Pretty darned useful, especially when paired with a party member who can Sneak Attack!
Another very important aspect of the spell that can be easily overlooked is that it does require that the spellcaster maintain Concentration. It’s a small price to pay, but pay it you must.
Now, on the subject of that darkmantle, there’s an important caveat regarding how Faerie Fire interacts with the Darkness spell. You see, Darkness has a great little bonus whereby “If any of this spell’s area overlaps with an area of light created by a spell of 2nd level or lower, the spell that created the light is dispelled.”
So if you cast Faerie Fire into the area of a Darkness spell or effect it would simply fizzle to no effect. However, if you are capable of casting Faerie Fire using a spell slot of level 3 or higher, that tricky monstrosity will be illuminated by colorful fire from within his tenebrous aura! In a case like this, the affected creature would be dimly illuminated within the area of the Darkness spell out to a range of 10 feet.
This would allow any creature within that range to engage the creature normally. This also means that if the affected creature moves within 10 feet of the edge of the Darkness spell effect, it would be visible and subject to attack (with advantage!) from attackers outside the Darkness effect.
So that’s Darkness squared away. How exactly does Faerie Fire interact with Invisibility in 5e? I’m glad you asked!
This one’s easy to manage and is definitely one of the situations in which Faerie Fire shines!
When a creature is Invisible, the rules state that “Attack rolls against the creature have disadvantage, and the creature’s attack rolls have advantage.”
But, when they’re affected by Faerie Fire, they gain no benefit whatsoever from being invisible. This means that the invisible creature does not gain advantage on their attack rolls and that the advantage from Faerie Fire counteracts the invisible creature’s disadvantage, leaving a straight dice roll as the result.
So, if you suspect that a foe might be lurking invisibly somewhere nearby, you could certainly do worse than to throw a Faerie Fire spell over a likely area and see what shines!
To be clear, the invisible creature is still unable to be seen, but the same is not true of the flickering violet flames which cling to them. So, you may not be able to actually see the look of utter surprise on their face when their skulking is revealed, but you can rest assured that it’s there.
While Faerie Fire may have started off as a Druid spell when it was first introduced in Supplement 3: Eldritch Wizardry back in 1976, it has spread fire and wide since then. In fact, not counting various monsters and magic items, there are six classes, an Eberron Dragonmark, and an entire Elven subrace that have the opportunity to cast Faerie Fire. Let’s break them down.
- Drow: First, the Drow subrace of Elves gains access to Faerie Fire at 3rd level, once per long rest.
- Mark of Finding: The Dragonmarked of House Tharashk gain access to Faerie Fire at 1st level.
- Artificer: Whether geared towards Alchemy or other inventive endeavors, the Artificer can gain access to this utilitarian spell as early as 1st level.
- Bard: From special effects during storytelling to revealing assassins at court, one can imagine many uses for Faerie Fire in a Bard’s repertoire.
- Cleric: While most of those who do the will of the Gods don’t gain access to Faerie Fire, there are two notable exceptions. Those who take service with deities who offer the Divine Domains of Light or Twilight can add it to their available spells.
- Druid: Naturally, the class which first gave us Faerie Fire retains access to it to this day.
- Ranger: Specifically, the Swarmkeeper Archetype gets to add Faerie Fire to their spell list when they achieve 3rd level.
- Warlock: Finally, as you might suspect, any Warlock who undertakes an oath to the Archfey as their Patron is also given knowledge of Faerie Fire.
Obviously, Faerie Fire doesn’t just have to be utilized offensively, like to counter invisibility or give you advantage against your enemies. It can be used defensively as well. Here’s one way that might not be immediately obvious. Use it on your own party members!
Remember, each and every person inside the spell’s cube has to make a Dexterity save, including your allies. Is there a reason that saddling your party members with an effect that gives their attackers advantage could be seen as a good thing? Well, so long as they are aware that you’re intending to use this tactic (Barbarians especially are known for not liking surprises) you may be able to parlay Faerie Fire into a little battlefield control.
As there are few combatants who’d give up an advantage, they may choose to focus on the glowing targets instead of the rest of the party. So, cast Faerie Fire in an area where it only affects your front-line fighters. Sure, they’re more likely to be attacked now, but they’re also far more likely to have the higher AC and hit points.
Additionally, this leaves potentially less stalwart and more range-focused members of the party a little less likely to be targeted and able to hang back where they can do their thing. It’s definitely some twisted thinking, but it could really come in handy!
As a side note, depending on your game’s house rules, it may or may not be possible for a character to skip the Dexterity save entirely; thus choosing to allow the Faerie Fire to take effect on them.
Lastly, a tip that might not strictly qualify as defensive but could still be useful in a pinch. Don’t forget that, ultimately, Faerie Fire is a spell that makes light. When your heroes inevitably find themselves in a dark place, it’s never a bad idea to have extra options for being able to take a look around and not trip over traps, chests, or particularly quiet dragons.
1st level spells are subject to an unfortunate trend. While they might still see a little action from time to time, or find use in very niche situations, it’s fairly common for players to outgrow 1st level spells as higher-level options become available.
Faerie Fire, however, ranks among those rare exceptions which are pretty darned good at every level. Sometimes a 1st level spell stays useful by casting it with a higher-level spell slot, which might come with more overall power (damage dice, increased area of effect, etc.). But, in Faerie Fire’s case, it’s simply a case of it being a solid spell right out of the gate and staying that way as levels and challenges increase.
The key here is that there are no level-dependent variables. Whether cast by a 1st level Bard or a 20th level Archmage, Faerie Fire does its thing with only that pesky Dexterity save standing in the way. The one outlier to Faerie Fire’s 1st level magnificence, as mentioned previously, is its interaction with Darkness spells and effects. When faced with these, it’s definitely a good idea to go big and use a 3rd level or higher spell slot so it’s more likely to stick to the foes.
While I’ve covered most of the pivotal stuff above, and with a bare minimum of puns I might add, let’s take a moment to recap some of the questions that are most likely to pop up regarding the uses of Faerie Fire in a 5e game session.
It highlights any creature or object in the spell’s area of effect with colored flames. These flames don’t burn but do make the target easier to hit with an attack and spoil the effects of many efforts at concealment.
Artificer, Bard, Clerics with either Light or Twilight Domains, Druid, Swarmkeeper Rangers, and Warlocks with the Archfey Patron.
When a standard casting of Darkness (2nd level) meets a standard casting of Faerie Fire (1st level), regardless of which came first, the Faerie Fire is dispelled. If the Faerie Fire is cast at 3rd level or higher, it will persist and take effect.
Absolutely. If the caster is within the area of effect and does not make the required Dexterity save, they’ll be illuminated just like everyone and everything else.