The Call Lightning spell description says that you pick a point for lightning to strike, and each creature "within 5 feet of that point" are affected by the strike. What does that mean?

I'm tempted to read it as only affecting a single 5-foot square, but the wording suggest that it is intended to be an AOE attack (unless it's accounting for the very rare occasion of two creatures sharing a space).

So, when using a standard grid, does the caster pick a square, and then all adjacent squares are affected? If so, why not say it affects a 15-foot cube centered on the target-point? (I guess the spell effect section doesn't describe square areas, just cube areas.)

Similarly, does Arms of Hadar affect 10 squares from the caster in every direction (so, ultimately a 50-foot square area)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Arms of Hadar affects targets within 10 feet of the caster. Distances in 5e are always specified in feet (or miles), never 'squares'. \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Jul 7 '17 at 10:13

It means 5 foot radius.

  • You pick a point (If you're using a grid, that would be a grid intersection)
  • All creatures within 5 feet (ie, squares surrounding the grid intersection) are affected.

If it only affected a 5-foot square, that would be a 5-foot diameter (or 2.5 foot radius).

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to add the DMG's definition of "point of origin", found in page 251: "Choose an intersection of squares or hexes as the point of origin of an area of effect" \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jul 7 '17 at 1:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, interesting. That was one interpretation my players came up with but I didn't like it because I thought picking a grid intersection was a wonky non-conventional reading. (We didn't argue it too much, since going for two enemies with the broader area of effect would have fried one of the PC's). I had no idea the DMG specifically said that. \$\endgroup\$ – Max Antinone Jul 7 '17 at 6:01

As Adeptus points out, Call Lightning's effect extends in a radius from the targeted point. Per the general rules on spells' area of effect:

A spell's effect expands in straight lines from the point of origin.

As for where that point may be placed, the 2019 Sage Advice Compendium clarifies this matter for a different spell that functions in a similar way on page 14:

Using 5-foot squares, does cloud of daggers affect a single square? Cloud of daggers (5 ft. cube) can affect more than one square on a grid, unless the DM says effects snap to the grid. There are many ways to position that cube.

The point here is that a point (or area of effect) is not required to "snap" to the grid. In the case of Call Lightning, the point may be positioned at the intersection of grid spaces, thereby affecting up to 4 adjacent targets/spaces.

It may also be positioned smack in the middle of a space. In this case, a 5 foot radius technically extends to include the 8 spaces around the centrally targeted grid space.

However, the rule on space states:

A creature's space is the area in feet that it effectively controls in combat, not an expression of its physical dimensions. A typical Medium creature isn't 5 feet wide, for example, but it does control a space that wide.

This means that, even though the 5-foot radius extends into the adjacent 8 spaces, it doesn't necessarily mean that all creatures in those spaces are literally within 5 feet at any given time.

Allowing only a single creature/space to be affected by a lightning strike (as you propose) seems a little underpowered to me while allowing it to affect up to 8 might be pushing the bounds of what is reasonably balanced. Ultimately a DM must adjudicate how to handle each specific situation.

For my money, if four spaces are affected when a grid intersection is targeted, that seems like a good standard maximum to use.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The DMG says "Choose an intersection of squares or hexes as the point of origin of an area of effect, then follow its rules as normal. If an area of effect is circular and covers at least half a square, it affects that square." So, for areas of effect that are point & radius (ie, circle), if you're using a grid, they do snap to the grid. The cube ruling is different. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Sep 18 '20 at 2:14
  1. You pick "a point", and affect everyone "within 5 feet". A point is usually an intersection, and 5 foot is 1 square. This means that call lightning has a 2-square-by-2-square area.

  2. Arms of Hadar, with a 10-foot (not 10-square) radius, affects everyone within 2 squares, so a 5-square-by-5-square area, centered on the caster (a potential maximum of 24 targets {25 total, minus one for you}).


I also read it as a 15 cube using a grid table, since you could target an empty square, and everyone in a 15 foot cube creating the border of that 5 foot square would be within 5 feet.

Arms of Hadar: 10 foot radius. So thats two squares out from your square, which at best is 25x25 foot square. Some DMs enforce literal distance using a protractor, so the four corner squares might not count.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nit: A protractor measures angles, not distances. Maybe you meant a compass? \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Jul 7 '17 at 10:16

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