Create Bonfire (XGtE p152):

You create a bonfire on ground that you can see within range. Until the spell ends, the bonfire fills a 5-foot cube. Any creature in the bonfire’s space when you cast the spell must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 fire damage. A creature must also make the saving throw when it enters the bonfire’s space for the first time on a turn or ends its turn there.

I am aware that spells only do what they say they do, but usual bonfires do create light. While illumination is not mentioned, it is hard to imagine a bonfire without flames and light, and the spell does not indicate in any way that this is not a usual bonfire.

It should be brighter than a torch for sure, but how much exactly?


Since even a normal, non-magical bonfire is absent from the list of light sources, you (or the DM) will have to make it up.

As you mentioned, strict "spells do only what they say they do" reading suggests no light at all, but other than that, about a torch level should not break the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Euch you raise several points. 1) I am not saying they need to stack, lightsources do not stack , not in DnD and not in real life, at least not the way you present it. (If I wanted them "stacking" I'd add maybe extra 5 ft per extra torch?) 2) You really cannot put concentration aside 3) Daylight does much more, it's portable and able to dispel lesser magical darkness \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Jun 15 '18 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure what to make of the part of your answer where "a few torches worth [of light] should not break the game" then. I don't know how much light that is. I would argue with the Daylight doing "much" more part... it's primary utility is to illuminate 120 feet worth of stuff. It's being portable and dispelling darkness aren't negligible to be sure, but I would venture that most players who take the spell want it for the light it sheds. \$\endgroup\$ – Euch Jun 15 '18 at 16:14

No one has really given an answer to the actual question you asked, so I will take a shot.

How bright is a bonfire?

We can't consider real-world examples because we have to be mindful of breaking all the other light sources. Instead, lets look at a few light sources:

  • Light Cantrip: 20 ft. Bright / 20 ft. Dim
  • Torch: 20 ft. Bright / 20 ft. Dim
  • Hooded Lantern: 30 ft. Bright / 30 ft. Dim
  • Bullseye Lantern: 60 ft. Bright / 60 ft. Dim (only casts light in a cone)

I have excluded Daylight because it has the added benefit of injuring or impairing any creatures with Daylight Sensitivity. That said, we must consider that a bonfire would realistically be brighter than a torch, simply on account of its size. To that end, one could put it at about 40 ft. Bright / 40 ft. Dim without totally breaking the game.

But that makes it better than all other (low level) full-radius light sources!

Well, not exactly. While the Hooded Lantern only sheds light for 30 ft. / 30 ft., it also does not require concentration. True, a hand to hold it is also a resource, but it is not nearly as costly as concentration. Casting Bonfire to shed light during combat would require the use of an action (if the characters has entered a new area and hadn't been ambushed / lured enemies into their ambush) as well as preventing the casting of any concentration spells. The Hooded Lantern requires only a hand to hold it, and a relatively inexpensive resource (oil). Does this make the lantern less appealing? Absolutely. I don't advise this option for everyone. But if you want a realistic bonfire, this is what I would recommend.

What I would do:

As per NautArch's answer and his line of reasoning about the remainder of fire spells that do not shed light, I personally would not have the Bonfire shed any light. I would specifically describe it as having a strange color for a fire (dark red, almost the color of blood) and would state that it glows enough to be seen in darkness, but not enough to cast light with which to see (like a red LED on a PC in a dark room).

I advise this option because, as you can see from our attempts to assign light to Bonfire, it would obviate other spells / light sources or make them much less appealing. In fact, adding light to Bonfire at all practically renders Produce Flame completely useless (it was almost useless anyway, so I count this a small loss). I don't like making changes that cascade into breaking other features of the game, so I wouldn't mess with it. But you are welcome to, and no, it wouldn't be the end of the world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron While that much is true, you can just keep zapping your bonfire to a new spot 40ft. ahead of you every few moments. Annoying, yes, but it would become possible. Thus is largely makes Produce Flame irrelevant - the only benefit of Produce Flame is that it doesn't cost an action to move. But who is holding Produce Flame in the middle of combat? I think Produce Flame would become a very poor choice if Bonfire can produce so much light. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Jun 15 '18 at 20:43

RAW is no light

Spells do what they say, and no more. Create Bonfire (Elemental Evil, 152) states:

the magic bonfire fills a 5-foot cube

This is a magic fire, and not a real fire. This magic fire may simply not shed any light, or not enough to be of any mechanical consequence. There are spells that utilize fire AND provide light, but they are a small subset of the fire damage spells and Create Bonfire is not included in them if looking at RAW only.

Comparing against similar spells

Mechanical Consequences may be the guide here. There are a lot of spells that deal fire damage that do not also have a light aspect to them. Some do, like Fire Shield and Produce Flame.

In areas where there is darkness, this is going to make a difference as an extra bonus to the spell that isn't actually there.

If you like at Fire Shield (a 4th level spell), you get both Light and damage.

Produce Flame (a cantrip), gives you Light and 1d8 damage (increasing with levels). Once the spell is used for damage, it ends.

Create Bonfire (a cantrip), gives you the same damage structure of Produce Flame at the same cost, but the trade-off is that Create Bonfire remains after dealing damage. Adding Light does increase the value of Create Bonfire because now you've got the damage of Produce Flame, but you can keep it going for the duration.

Why not allow it to shed light?

At face value, it probably wouldn't do much harm to allow some light, but there is an increase in the spells value if you add functionality to it.

Choosing Cantrips is a cost in itself. You are often limited by the choices you've made and can't swap them out when leveling. If you can get a single cantrip that sheds light and can deliver damage over the duration of the spell,then this increases the value of Create Bonfire.

Yes, you'll need to separate some reality from your game, but aren't we doing that already? :D

Somewhat related is Crawford's ruling on the use Create Bonfire underwater as an example of realistic expectations and D&D:

Create bonfire lasts for its duration, regardless of the environment.


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