Warlocks have a pretty enviable list of spells. Especially at 1st level when spell slots are scarce, it can be hard to narrow down the few that are good enough to make the cut.
But there is one spells that should be considered by any Warlock – a spell that lets them clap back against any enemy that gets lucky enough (or perhaps unlucky enough) to deal damage. We’re going to take a look at that spell every Warlock should want – Hellish Rebuke.
What is Hellish Rebuke?
Below are the stats for Hellish Rebuke in D&D 5E:
Level: 1st Level
Casting Time: 1 reaction, triggered by taking damage from a creature you can see within the spell’s 60-foot range
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
By pointing your finger at an eligible target within range, you cause them to be surrounded by hellish flames.
The creature takes 2d10 fire damage, or half as much on a successful Dexterity save. When cast with a higher-level spell slot, Hellish Rebuke does an extra 1d10 fire damage for each spell slot above 1st.
The spell appears only on the Warlock spell lists, though it is of course also available to Bards via the Magical Secrets ability. It is also one of the spells available at 3rd level for the Oathbreaker Paladin villainous class option.
Additionally, most Tieflings regardless of class can cast Hellish Rebuke as a 2nd level spell (3d10 damage) once per long rest.
This ability falls under the Infernal Legacy trait of Tieflings of the Bloodline of Asmodeus (the most common bloodline, and the default described in the Player’s Handbook).
Note that other Tiefling bloodlines (described in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes) receive different gifts via Infernal Legacy in place of Hellish Rebuke.
The Good and the Bad
There’s a lot right with Hellish Rebuke in 5e. First of all, it’s a reaction spell – meaning you can cast it and still use your turn to cast a standard or bonus action spell.
Though bear in mind you only get one reaction a turn, meaning Hellish Rebuke takes opportunity attacks or other reaction spells, like Shield, off the table for that round.
And Hellish Rebuke doesn’t just let you strike back against melee attackers. With it’s 60’ range, enemies that attack with missile weapons or spells can also be viable targets.
That’s especially handy when those enemies are keeping themselves insulated from melee, such as by being on a balcony over the combat, or on the other side of a chasm.
The damage of Hellish Rebuke is right in line with where it should be for a 1st level spell, and it scales decently enough.
With the Warlock’s standard progression, Hellish Rebuke will add an additional 1d10 of damage at 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th levels.
And that damage is precise – Hellish Rebuke doesn’t affect an area, nor does its fire damage “splash” onto allies that are near or even grappling the target.
That gives the caster the freedom to send it at an enemy even if they’re up close and personal with other members of the party.
On the downside, Hellish Rebuke is dealing fire damage, which is the third most common resistance and second most common immunity.
That leaves you with a lot of potential enemies that would make poor targets for this spell.
And finally, the spell works on a Dexterity save rather than a spell attack roll. Especially at low levels, the math on attack roles plays slightly more in favor of the caster.
And while Dexterity isn’t the best save bonus for most creatures, it’s certainly not the worst, either.
Using Hellish Rebuke
While the spell is good enough to stand on its own as a simple revenge-damage reaction, there are some tricks and strategies you can use to make it play even more in your favor.
So, while you can cast Hellish Rebuke at any enemy within range that hurts you, it’s worth considering whether you should or shouldn’t cast it for any specific foe, and how to maximize the effect if you do.
The spell’s key limitation, of course, is that you can only target an enemy who deals damage to you. But Hellish Rebuke doesn’t require an attack, per se – just that an enemy damaged you in some way.
That can include area spells like the classic Fireball or the 5th level Druid spell Wrath of Nature (from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything) or even a passive aura effect like Investiture of Flame (from the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion).
Since Hellish Rebuke doesn’t require an attack to trigger, you can respond even when the damage isn’t the result of a creature specifically targeting you.
Hellish Rebuke Example
So, let’s say that in the same round you were in the area of effect of a Fireball (but made your save), and had an archer pierce you with an arrow – you’d be able to pick where to send Hellish Rebuke.
Is the enemy caster likely to have more damaging spells in store, or are they likely depleted? And are they currently running a concentration spell you’d like to disrupt?
By the same token, has the archer been effective in prior rounds, or did they just get lucky on this one? Who’s likely the bigger threat to the party (or you)?
These are the kind of calculations that play into elevating Hellish Rebuke from a good spell to one that can help turn the tide of a combat.
And if you’re locked in melee with a tough opponent, the ability to slap back at the Wizard over there who just tapped you with Magic Missile might be less important than whittling down the person right in front of you who’s swinging a mace at your head.
That situational call will depend on your current hit points, remaining spell slots or abilities, and how the combat is going in general.
And sometimes it’s worth it to wait for your moment. If an enemy has hit you with something that does recurring damage – say, for instance, the 1d4 acid damage each turn from a hit by a Flumph’s tendrils – you don’t necessarily need to throw Hellish Rebuke on the first turn that happens, just a turn where you take the damage.
Depending on your allies’ actions or other circumstances, it might be best to take your revenge a turn or two down the line instead.
Likewise, you don’t have to cast it just because some pesky Gnome rogue sticks you with a dagger or some Sorcerer throws a cantrip from across the room. Save it for the targets – and moments – that make a difference
With a little creative battlefield management, you can line up a particular enemy you want to have trigger your reaction, perhaps moving to a position designed to catch the Sorcerer’s attention or striking a foe you want to engage with you.
You can even move to tempt an opportunity attack, though that’s honestly a questionable tactic.
While it’s already been noted that Hellish Rebuke is a great way to reach otherwise unreachable enemies who are still managing to send damage your way, that’s not necessarily always the target you want.
Remember that if that rival spellcaster is another Warlock, your Hellish Rebuke could set off their Hellish Rebuke and have you taking additional damage yourself.
For the same reason, Hellish Rebuke is a poor choice to send against a Tiefling of any class. Not only are they one of those enemies that’s resistant to fire damage, but they can most likely send a Hellish Rebuke back to you just as another Warlock could.
Spells that Work with Hellish Rebuke
And while Hellish Rebuke is a fine spell on its own, there are some spells you can pair with it that really elevate its effectiveness.
Dealing an extra 1d6 necrotic damage on each hit is good, especially for a Pact of the Blade Warlock or other character that’s likely to be in actual melee.
But the fact that Hex also allows you to give the target disadvantage on one chosen ability roll means you can give your preferred target disadvantage on their DEX saves before they deal damage to you, greatly increasing the odds that your Hellish Rebuke will take full effect.
The 5 temporary hit points help mitigate the downside of Hellish Rebuke – that you have to take damage to kick it off. And if you’re using your Hellish Rebuke against an enemy in melee, they’ll not only get the Hellish Rebuke, but the 5 cold damage from Armor of Agathys as well.
While neither of these are on the Warlock spell list, they would be available to a Bard or (Oathbreaker) Paladin. And you can probably find another spell or two that fits the same bill – something that gets an enemy to target you rather than someone else.
Again, trying to take damage is a weird strategy, but if you’ve buffed your defense well enough to make the damage you’ll take worthwhile, spells like these are one way to reel in your target.
Speaking of buffing your defense, spells that grant resistance to damage are a definite plus if you’re looking for a chance to pull the pin on Hellish Rebuke.
Why take 10 hit points when you can just take 5 and still fire off the spell? Resistance to Energy is another option here, depending on what kind of damage you’re expecting, and you can find a few other spells that will fall along this same line.
Is Hellish Rebuke Worth It?
As a reaction spell that does pretty effective damage, Hellish Rebuke is a win. If you simply fire it off at the first thug that smacks you, it’s good.
If you use it creatively to hit the right target at the right time, it’s great. While Warlocks have more than a few nice spells at 1st level, this is one you definitely want on your list.
With good damage, decent range, and the fact that it’s a reaction spell that leaves your standard and bonus actions free, Hellish Rebuke is indeed, quite good. There’s no good reason for a Warlock not to have it, especially Pact of the Blade Warlocks that will likely be in melee.
All Tieflings of the Bloodline of Asmodeus (the default Tiefling described in the Player’s Handbook), regardless of class, can cast Hellish Rebuke once per long rest beginning at 3rd level. This is a racial ability that does not cost spell slots (if the character has any) and is cast as a 2nd-level spell using Charisma as the spellcasting ability.