When you hear the word “cleric”, the first thing that pops in your head would likely be “healer”. That is their reliable and vital niche in any party, after all. But clerics are more than just walking medical kits – they also have an important role in buffing and otherwise supporting their comrades.
Whether it’s through protection auras, blessings, or repelling (or even destroying) undead foes, clerics have many more ways to aid the party than just patching up the tanks. And while there are a number of spells and abilities that demonstrate this range, we’re going to look at one spell in particular that not only shows the cleric’s more-than-healing potential but which – when used properly – can demonstrate the power of coordinated teamwork against even the toughest foes: 5E’s Guiding Bolt.
What is Guiding Bolt?
Guiding Bolt is a 1st level cleric spell from the evocation school. The stats, per the Player’s Handbook, are as follows:
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 round
When casting Guiding Bolt, the cleric selects a target within range and rolls a ranged spell attack. On a hit, the spell does 4d6 radiant damage. And while that’s pretty good for 1st level spell, there is more to it. Until the end of the cleric’s next turn, the next attack roll against that same target will have advantage. If cast with a higher spell slot, the spell will do an extra 1d6 of radiant damage for each level beyond 1st.
So not only is Guiding Bolt dealing respectable damage, but it’s also setting up an easy (or at least, easier) hit for either another party member or (since the effect lasts until the end of the cleric’s next turn) the cleric himself. It’s easy to see how that could be useful against a tough enemy – and all for just the price of a 1st level spell slot.
And while it’s of course primarily for clerics, it’s also accessible to bards through the Magical Secrets ability starting at 10th level (or 6th level, for bards of the College of Lore), and it’s an option worth considering. Guiding Bolt has more than adequate range to make it a safe attack for characters not normally on the front line, and the follow-up effect lines up well with the bard’s more supportive role, and especially if the bard uses his bonus action to give Bardic Inspiration to the companion who’s taking the “advantage” swing.
Using Guiding Bolt 5e
So, let’s talk about how to use Guiding Bolt. There are right and wrong times – and right and wrong enemies – for most spells in DnD 5E, and Guiding Bolt is no exception. There are some simple guidelines you can follow to make sure you’re pulling it out of the quiver at just the right time.
First off, it shouldn’t be your kobold-killer. Guiding Bolt is wasted on anything that might be taken down with the spell’s initial damage, which averages at about 14 HP and could cap out at 24 – and remember, since you’re rolling a ranged attack for this spell, natural 20’s will crit, doubling the damage. If you think there’s even a reasonable chance this spell could drop an opponent outright, use something else to make sure that follow-up attack with advantage doesn’t go to waste.
Best Uses of 5e Guiding Bolt
It’s best utilized against beefy opponents like giants as an effective one-two punch to wear down these larger foes. And since you don’t run into too many foes with resistance to radiant damage, it’s a useful spell to pull out in most boss fights.
And since the whole point of Guiding Bolt is to set up a second attack for success, suggestion number two is to make that attack special. You could just have an ally take a regular swing, but – since you’re ideally using this spell on a tough opponent and/or boss – optimize the advantage with a special attack.
The advantage attack from Guiding Bolt can be a great time for a fighter of the Battle Master archetype to pull out maneuvers like Disarming Attack, Distracting Strike, or Pushing Attack. It’s also a great time for a Paladin to use Divine Smite (stacking on even more radiant damage). Rangers of the Hunter archetype can use this attack as a chance for their Colossus Slayer ability.
Monks can use the set-up of Guiding Bolt to use their Stunning Strike – or for a Four Elements monk to add some fire damage with Fangs of the Fire Snake. And of course, it gives rogues a chance to use their Sneak Attack.
And bear in mind – the text of the spell says “the next attack roll”, not the next weapon attack roll. In other words, Guiding Bolt can give advantage to spell casters as well as fighters and rogues.
For Sorcerers, that opens up cantrips like Chill Touch or Ray of Frost, or spells like the 1st-level Chromatic Orb or Witch Bolt all the way up to the 7th-level Crown of Stars (from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything). Wizards can use the advantage attack for everything from the cantrip Fire Bolt to the 2nd-level Acid Arrow to the 7th-level Mordenkainen’s Sword.
Warlocks don’t have as many qualifying spells – though the few they do have include what is possibly their best cantrip, Eldritch Blast, as well as the hurt-them, heal-you 3rd level spell Vampiric Touch.
The druid’s eligible spells include the cantrip Thorn Whip – another “gimmick” spell that can be very handy with proper teamwork – as well as the more straightforward cantrip Shillelagh. Beyond cantrips, however, they only have the 2nd level Flame Blade.
In their base list, bards have only Mordenkainen’s Sword, making them the spellcasting class that benefits the least from a cleric casting Guiding Bolt. Though remember that through the Magical Secrets ability, a bard could collect a number of spells with melee or ranged attack rolls that might fit the bill.
And as for clerics, they have the 1st level Inflict Wounds and the 2nd level Spiritual Weapon – aside from the Guiding Bolt cantrip itself, which raises an interesting possibility. Two clerics working in concert (or bards, if they’ve obtained the spell) could cast Guiding Bolt back-to-back, with the second caster getting advantage. Then the next attack after that would get advantage after two consecutive hits of 4d6 radiant damage. Now that’s how you whittle down a boss.
Or, since the effect lasts until the end of the cleric’s next turn, the original caster could conceivably cast it again. It has to be said, though, that if the turn order has come all the way around to the cleric again and no one else has had the chance to make an attack on the target, it was probably the wrong time to cast Guiding Bolt in the first place.
The precise timing of when it’s best to pull out Guiding Bolt in a fight depends largely on what the follow-up attack is going to be. Certain spells or abilities have more punch in the beginning of a fight, when their lingering effects can persist though a number of rounds. Others are strongest as a coup de grace ora late-stage gambit (a Warlock healing himself with Vampiric Touch, for example, is probably more useful well into the battle when he’s actually taken some damage). It takes strategy, communication and some good old out-of-the-box thinking to pick the right moment.
Other Benefits of D&D Guiding Bolt
The text of Guiding Bolt notes that the advantage on the next attack is due to a “mystical dim light glistening on the target”. That immediately calls into mind the spell Faerie Fire, which similarly outlines targets while negating the advantage of invisibility.
The text of Faerie Fire even describes its effect as a “dim light” just like Guiding Bolt, and the descriptions of the spell effects (Faerie Fire also gives advantage on attacks), sure seems to suggest Guiding Bolt would likewise negate the disadvantage for attacking an invisible creature for the next attack, though this isn’t stated explicitly.
Of course, unlike Faerie Fire, the cleric would first have to make the attack roll (with disadvantage) on the invisible creature to begin with. That makes it a much riskier application, and whether it was worth the gamble would depend largely on the strength of the invisible creature (remember that first guideline about not using this for weaker enemies) and whether the cleric could get some kind of buff on his attack roll.
A second point to note about Guiding Bolt is that it does not, expressly, require a line of sight. The text doesn’t specify “a target you can see”, but merely “a creature of your choice”. That means you only need to be aware of the target, have it in range and make a successful attack roll. And a 120-foot range gives you a pretty long reach without line of sight.
A cleric could, for instance, cast Guiding Bolt on a target in the next room, or on the next floor up, or on the other side of a Wall of Fire. Remember, though, that you want to cast it when allies are in position to make an attack afterward, meaning it won’t be the right spell for all these sorts of situations. But if you do have party members engaged in melee out of your immediate view, Guiding Bolt provides an excellent way to send help.
Is Guiding Bolt Worth It? YES!
Guiding Bolt is a fairly potent 1st-level spell, if used correctly and in coordination with other party members. Some might even call it a bit overpowered, but that’s somewhat of an ambiguous concept. Even spells that are relatively humble based on the text can be devastating when used intelligently, and likewise so-called “overpowered” spells can be duds when thrown around carelessly.
It is safe to say Guiding Bolt has the potential to be hard-hitting for such a low-level spell, but that depends on the caster. If you can use it at the right time and set up a combination with an ally’s special attack, abilities, or spells, it can be a game changer. But that “if” is bigger for some than for others.
And while any spell slot taken by a cleric for attack spells is one less Cure Wounds to go around, sometimes the sacrifice is worth it. And Guiding Bolt definitely seems like a good investment of a 1st level slot – so take along a few extra healing potions, instead.
Well, it certainly has a lot going for it. For only being a first level spell, it deals good damage (4d6) of radiant damage – a type most enemies aren’t resistant to. Coupled with that, it gives the next attack on that target advantage, which can be a serious benefit when used wisely.
With a successful spell attack roll, Guiding Bolt deals 4d6 radiant damage on the target (no save). Further, the next attack on that same target gets advantage due to the dim mystical light surrounding it. This effect lasts either until an attack is made or until the end of the cleric’s next turn.
Oh, no. Then it would definitely be overpowered. It’s already on the potent side among 1st-level spells. Sorry, but you’re going to have to burn a 1st-level spell slot for this one.