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The "Damage Rolls" section of the rules (PHB p. 196, also in the online Basic Rules) says this:

If a spell or other effect deals damage to more than one target at the same time, roll the damage once for all of them. For example, when a wizard casts fireball or a cleric casts flame strike, the spell’s damage is rolled once for all creatures caught in the blast.

The Magic Missile spell (PHB p. 257, also in the online Basic Rules) has this effect:

You create three glowing darts of magical force. Each dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range. A dart deals 1d4 + 1 force damage to its target. The darts all strike simultaneously, and you can direct them to hit one creature or several.

  1. If I target three different creatures with the darts, the spell says quite clearly says that the darts strike at the same time and the Damage Rolls rule says that in that case (as multiple targets are being dealt damage at the same time) I roll only once for all of them. So my reading of that is that I roll my four-sided die just once, add 1, and apply that much damage to each target. Is that correct? It seems the straightforward reading, but then the next scenarios make me unsure.
  2. If I target just one creature with all three darts, then it seems that the "more than one target" clause of the Damage Rolls would no longer apply. So, does that mean that I effectively roll 3d4+3 (rolling my four-sided die three separate times, one for each dart), since there's no longer anything saying to use the same roll for each dart?
  3. And how about if I target creature A with one dart, and creature B with two darts? Per the Damage Rolls section I should roll once for both of them, but that doesn't make any sense they should be taking different amounts of damage, right?

I'm sure I'm just reading things too literally, but it all seems rather contradictory to me, and now I'm unsure how many dice should be rolled for Magic Missile in any scenario. Is there further direction somewhere I'm missing? (I currently only have the PHB, the Starter Box, and the online Basic Rules, so maybe there's more guidance in the other books? I wouldn't think so, though.)

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Jeremy Crawford answered this one with authority on Twitter:1

Magic missile. RAW: You roll 1 damage die (see "Damage Rolls," PH, 196). RAI: It doesn't matter; you choose. #DnD https://t.co/AYRRX2j3AP

— Jeremy Crawford (@JeremyECrawford) September 8, 2016

You are correct that you only need to roll once for all darts, regardless of number of creatures hit, according to RAW.

But tradition and fun (I like rolling dice!) can override this with little to no effect on the damage dealt, according to RAI.


1 Although Jeremy Crawford's tweets are no longer considered official rulings, the rules he refers to in PHB 196 does answer the question:

If a spell or other effect deals damage to more than one target at the same time, roll the damage once for all of them.
PHB 196 Damage Rolls

So, though the tweet never really made it to the official Sage Advice Compendium, the answer still stands.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So, even if all the darts have the same creature as their target, it still counts as having three targets? I'd love to see that more explicitly, but what you found seems to be as authoritative a word on the subject as we might expect. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Nov 11 '17 at 2:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for tradition and fun! Besides, damage is less swingy, closer to the average when you roll more dice. \$\endgroup\$ – Meta4ic Nov 11 '17 at 3:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ The difference can become rather large if you have a feature that lets you add a bonus to one damage roll of a spell, such as Empowered Evocation for Evocation Wizards. \$\endgroup\$ – CTWind Nov 11 '17 at 9:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CTWind How does Empowered Evocation work with Magic Missile?- It is consistent with this answer. If you rolled for each missile, you'd still add the int bonus to all missiles. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Nov 11 '17 at 10:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Looking back at my confusion, I think I was accidentally importing targetting rules from Magic: the Gathering, where if it all pointed at one creature it would only be considered one target. But that's not a rule in D&D, so the spell always has three targets ("a dart deals damage to its target"). \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Nov 12 '17 at 12:47
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New to DMing, but long time interest in D&D: I disagree. If you target one creature, you get to roll a d4 for each missile: at level 1 that is three darts: so 3d4 + 3.

If more than 1 target, then you roll only one d4 die.

For those who disagree, I am sorry. However the PHB leaves the issue vague, and therefore up to the DM.

Note that the description on P. 196 references "fireball" and "flame strike". Both of these attacks hit an area and do NOT target specific NPCs or characters. So a single roll of the hit die or dice is appropriate. However, targeting a specific target allows each attack its own damage...in my opinion.

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Each missile deals damage to one target only - roll each separately.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And so the fact that the spell "deals damage to more than one target at the same time" doesn't apply to Magic Missile for some reason? Do you have a citation or source? \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Nov 11 '17 at 2:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ If a dart did damage to more than one target you would only roll once, like with fireball. However the spell description states there are multiple missles, and I read it as they each do their own separate damage. \$\endgroup\$ – JPicasso Nov 12 '17 at 17:09

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