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When using the Web spell it states that:

The webs fill a 20- foot cube [...].
The webs are flammable. Any 5-foot cube of webs exposed to fire burns away in 1 round

If Fire Bolt is cast on a creature caught in the middle of the webs, would that count as exposing them to fire?
Or would the webs ignite only if a fire spell is targeting them?

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If the fire bolt hits the creature in the webs, only the creature will take fire damage.

If the fire bolt hits the web rather than the creature, then the web would ignite.

The fire bolt spell description states "A flammable object hit by this spell ignites if it isn't being worn or carried." If a fire bolt also ignited objects adjacent to what it hits, the description would say so. Compare this to an area-of-effect fire spell such as fireball, which says "it ignites flammable objects in the area that aren't being worn or carried."

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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI, the creature could be clothed with oiled paper, only the creature would take damage/burn. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Oct 30 '19 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mdrichey Thank you! So the webs filling the squares firebolt goes through before getting to the creature's aren't "exposed to fire" either right ? \$\endgroup\$ – Cerise St Hilaire Oct 31 '19 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CeriseStHilaire With a fire bolt cantrip, I wouldn't rule "exposed to fire" as meaning anything other than hit by the fire bolt. I think it is a matter of the difference between the power of a cantrip and that of a higher-level spell. See Ryan Thompson's answer for a differing point of view. \$\endgroup\$ – mdrichey Oct 31 '19 at 15:55
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It depends on whether or not you consider the webs on the target to be "worn" by that target.

Fire Bolt can ignite any flammable object which is not being worn or carried. Importantly, the fire bolt spell doesn't do splash damage, as the fireball spell can. So hitting the targeted creature with fire bolt shouldn't have any effect on the webs around the target creature. Hitting the web well away from the creature avoids this entirely, and a burning web can do damage to something caught in it.

The bigger question is if the closeness of the character to the web counts as that segment of web being worn or carried. A web stuck to a character's exposed forearm is closer to being worn or carried than, say, a cape might be, but the cape definitely cannot be ignited if it is worn by the target of the spell.

The intent of the rule seems pretty clearly to be to limit the overall damage that the spell can do:

  • If targeting a creature, you get up to one single, acute hit of fire damage with the fire bolt, and do not get even the possibility of later burning damage
  • If targeting something flammable that is not a creature, and is not something that a creature is holding or wearing, you can use the spell to reliably start that object on fire in the hopes of causing burning damage later (see this question for more detail). Using the spell this way you give up the chance to do the acute fire damage (you won't hit a creature, and so won't roll the damage die for the spell). But once ignited, this fire can cause burning damage to creatures and can also potentially ignite items worn or carried by creatures

These relate to the question because it sounds as though this scenario is intended to get both effects at once: hit the creature with fire bolt, dealing damage from the spell as normal, and then also causing a fire immediately around the target which will affect the target afterwards. The way the spell is written precludes that plan, and similar but higher-level spells (I'm thinking specifically of fireball) can produce this effect. That strongly suggests that the cantrip should not be able to produce that same outcome.

As always, it's up to the DM to adjudicate this kind of scenario and I think a fair argument can be made either way. The bigger concern would be if this becomes a common tactic for the party (whether of NPCs or PCs) to ensnare and burn groups of enemies with one modest-level spell and one cantrip.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Paragraph 3 about reliable burning damage could use some clarification. I assume you are talking about setting the web alight deliberately, but it almost sounds like a default option on firebolt at any time given your wording. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Oct 29 '19 at 18:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Thanks for the feedback, I tried reformatting that section to be clearer. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Oct 29 '19 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case Thank you! Is it the same rules for the "unoccupied" squares that are between the caster's and the creature's squares (those also filled with webs)? \$\endgroup\$ – Cerise St Hilaire Oct 31 '19 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CeriseStHilaire Yes. With fire bolt only a targeted object which is not worn or carried can be ignited. If targeting the webs in an otherwise unoccupied square you can ignite them on a hit. For webs in unoccupied squares between the caster and their target, nothing would happen. They're not targeted, so they can't be hit by the spell (unless your DM is doing something unusual with missed ranged attacks). \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Oct 31 '19 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Upper_Case I understand that they are not hit, and don't take fire damage. The thing is that the Webs ignite when they are "exposed to fire". Do they really have to take damage or even to be targeted/hit? In general, what happens if some fire passes through without hitting them, does it count as being "exposed" ? \$\endgroup\$ – Cerise St Hilaire Oct 31 '19 at 15:35
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Maybe

Fire Bolt states

A flammable object hit by this spell ignites if it isn't being worn or carried.

Web states

The webs are difficult terrain and lightly obscure their area...The webs are flammable. Any 5-foot cube of webs exposed to fire burns away in 1 round.

If the DM rules that the spell hits the web by going through the web, then it would catch fire. If it isn't counted as hitting the web then no. The key is in the spell description for Fire Bolt it says "hit" not "targeted". Also, the Web spell says the web is flammable so it meets that prerequisite. This situation is DM dependent.

This accepted answer (see this answer for more detail). States clearly that the web is only light concealment.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In order to hit something, you must target it. The purpose of rolling against a creature’s or an object’s AC is to determine if you hit or miss it: “When you make an attack, your attack roll determines whether the attack hits or misses. To make an attack roll, roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers. lf the total of the roll plus modifiers equals or exceeds the target's Armor Class (AC), the attack hits.” - page 195 of the PHB. But before you can make an attack, you must choose a target: “Pick a target within your attack's range: a creature, an object, or a location.” - PHB 194 - 195. \$\endgroup\$ – Liam Morris Oct 30 '19 at 2:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ That isn't necessarily the only way to hit a target. \$\endgroup\$ – Omegastick Oct 30 '19 at 7:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LiamMorris So if I'm shooting an arrow at someone on the other side of a hanging sheet and the arrow goes through the sheet, is the sheet not hit? \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Oct 30 '19 at 13:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LiamMorris I can not view the referenced link so I can not respond to that but how can you not target a creature you can see? If the creature is silhouetted you have something to shoot at. It would be at disadvantage or a -5 penalty for three quarter cover but you could still target the creature. \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Oct 30 '19 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LiamMorris I'm still not able to. Most things are blocked for me at work. As a DM I would ignore anything saying against being able to target something you can see. Common sense rules in my favor no matter what JC says. \$\endgroup\$ – Eternallord66 Oct 30 '19 at 13:46
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Fire Bolt ignites all the webs along its flight path

From the Web spell, we know that

Any 5-foot cube of webs exposed to fire burns away in 1 round [...]

So we just need to determine how much of the webs are exposed to fire. Fire Bolt says:

You hurl a mote of fire at a creature or object within range.

By this description, the mote of fire actually travels through the air from the caster's hand to the target. This means that every point along the line of effect from the caster to the target is exposed to fire, and therefore every 5-foot cube of the web that intersects Fire Bolt's line of effect is ignited as the mote of flame flies through it. This includes the caster's and target's own spaces, if either one is within the webs.

Note that the webs along this path are ignited regardless of whether the attack hits or misses. Either way, the webs have still been exposed to fire. If the attack misses, the DM might additionally decide that the mote of fire continues onward until it reaches its maximum range and burns out or until it hits an obstruction. If so, all the webs along the entire flight path will be ignited.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You have missed out the part where Firebolt explicitly states “A flammable object hit by this spell ignites if it isn't being worn or carried.” It does not say that flammable objects are still ignited even if the attack misses, therefore your answer cannot be true from a Rules as Written perspective. Also, as i mentioned in my comment under @Eternallord66‘s answer, in order to hit something, you have to target it first, and by targeting the creature you were not targeting the web. \$\endgroup\$ – Liam Morris Oct 30 '19 at 13:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Liam you are assuming the negative of a statement and it does not work like that. The rule states that the object hit ignites. The firebolt cannot go through an object without hitting it, so your reasoning is that objects it doesn't hit aren't burnt. However, the webs are not an object. Therefore they can't be hit. Ryan's reasoning is that the webs are exposed just by the firebolt's passing. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Oct 30 '19 at 14:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LiamMorris The Web spell also gives a condition for igniting the webs, and that condition is fulfilled by Fire Bolt regardless of whether it hits or misses. Why are you accepting the clause in Fire Bolt about igniting objects but ignoring the clause in Web about igniting the webs? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Oct 30 '19 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson Because the webs only ignite when exposed to fire “ Any 5 foot cube of webs exposed to fire”, fire damage is not fire. It only creates a fire if its description says it ignites a flammable object when it hits it, until then there is no fire. Take Heat Metal, for example “ You cause the object to glow red hot. Any creature in physical contact with the object takes 2d8 fire damage when you cast the spell”, it causes fire damage but mentions nothing about creating fires, simply that it deals fire damage. Fire Bolt is the same unless it hits a flammable object to create a fire. \$\endgroup\$ – Liam Morris Oct 30 '19 at 14:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LiamMorris You've claimed that Fire Bolt doesn't create a fire unless it hits a flammable object and ignites it. However, the very first sentence in the description of Fire Bolt, quoted above in my answer, clearly says otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Oct 30 '19 at 15:53
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No, spells only do what they say they do

Firebolt’s description reads:

You hurl a mote of fire at a creature or object within range. [...] A flammable object hit by this spell ignites if it isn't being worn or carried.

If you targeted the creature, neither the web nor the creature would not catch on fire. As a creature is either wearing and/or carrying any flammable objects in its possession, they do not ignite on fire. The creature simply takes fire damage.

If however you specifically targeted the 5ft cube of web the creature was in, it would then catch on fire and do 2d4 damage to the creature, as per Web’s spell description:

The webs are flammable. Any 5 foot cube of webs exposed to fire burns away in 1 round, dealing 2d4 fire damage to any creature that starts its turn in the fire.

However, there is a possible way this could happen, albeit via homebrew

If you used the optional rule for Hitting Cover, found on page 272 of the DMG, and treated the web as cover, you could potentially ignite the web by targeting (and missing) the creature.

When a ranged attack misses a target that has cover, you can use this optional rule to determine whether the cover was struck by the attack. First, determine whether the attack roll would have hit the protected target without the cover. If the attack roll falls within a range low enough to miss the target but high enough to strike the target if there had been no cover, the object used for cover is struck.

I will point out that this is more of a homebrew use of this optional rule because, as stated previously, spells only do what they say they do, and web says nothing about providing cover.

Alternatively, the DM could simply rule that “because the web is such a huge target, it still lights on fire” or “because the firebolt had to pass through the web to hit the creature, it lights on fire”. Again though, this is a not a Rules as Written ruling.

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