Xanathar's Guide to Everything has a method to determine spell areas with tokens under Spellcasting, p. 87. It says that the method is "meant to make areas of effect tactile and fun":

Using Tokens. Every 5-foot square of an area of effect becomes a die or other token that you place on the grid. Each token goes inside a square, not at an intersection of lines. If an area's token is in a s quare, that s quare is included in the area of effect. It's that simple. Diagrams 2.3 through 2.6 show this method in action, using dice as the tokens (...) Tokens for a cone

And here are example instructions for laying out the Cone:

Cones. A cone is represented by rows of tokens on the grid, extending from the cone's point of origin. In the rows, the squares are adjoining side by side or corner to corner, as sh own in diagram 2.5. To determine the number of rows a cone contains, divide its length by 5. For example, a 30-foot cone contains six rows. Here's how to create the rows. Starting with a square adjacent to the cone's point of origin, place one token. The square can be orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to the point of origin. In every row beyond that one, place as many tokens as you placed in the previous row, plus one more token. Place this row's tokens so that their squares each hare a side with a square in the previous row. If the cone is orthogonally adjacent to the point of origin, you'll have one more token to place in the row; place it on one end or the other of the row you just created (you don't have to pick the side chosen in diagram 2.5). Keep placing tokens in this way until you've created all of the cone's rows

I have never used this method, and on reading it, it seems eminently impractical to me. Normally you have a lot of little figurines standing around on the battlemat, making it fiddly to place dice in the squares in-between them. You obviously cannot place dice on the squares where you have a figurine, unless you lift it up and place the dice underneath. If you don't, this does not even show you explicitly what squares are affected. If you do, you have to lift off all the figurines, put dice, then put them back, making sure it does not fall off, as many dice are smooth and have somewhat rounded corners.

What's more, this seems to be somewhat time consuming, you have to put down all of these dice, every time you cast a spell. Cast Leomund's Freezing Sphere, a spell with 60 foot radius, and the rules tell you to make a square using the diameter as the length of a side. That is 24 by 24 5-foot squares, or 576 dice you have to put down. And, once the spell has resolved, pick back up. This will make the action slow to a grinding halt of setting down dice.

But, as I have never used this method, I thought I'd ask: has anyone used it in practial play, and what have your experiences been? Is it fast enough in practice, when you mostly cast fireballs and other smaller area spells? Is it indeed fun in your expreince?

Please, no theoretical anwers, I am looking for experience from someone who tried this, or is regularly using it.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ A digital tabletop might take the tedium out of this but I don't think I've ever seen any of them implement it since they can just as easily make templates work in a simple and deterministic way. And obviously they'd be missing out on the advertised "tactile fun"... I'd be curious to hear if anyone (even the people writing this) has actually ever used these rules! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 11:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the best use case is a tiny cone that doesn't hit anything, the most fun you can get out of the burning hands spell 🤣 \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 12:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't tried this, so I'll refrain from answering but here's a tool I love (some stackizens will recognize the creator) that can somewhat replicate this effect much faster: spelltemplates.com \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 1:47

1 Answer 1


We use the algorithms, but not always the tokens.

In practice, my table does indeed use the Using tokens method you point to in Xanathar's Guide to Everything algorithmically, but we don't (always) use dice or other physical tokens. Instead, we start by using the grid-alignment algorithms described in that section to figure out which squares are affected. As we do this, we physically indicate (usually by pointing) which squares the grid algorithm says are affected. From there:

  • If the effect is instantaneous, that's enough for us to figure out which creatures/objects are affected (e.g. burned by a Fireball spell), without the use of any physical tokens. The DM and players pay attention during the pointing to see if the creatures they control are indicated. The effect happens, and we stop there. (This speeds things up.)

  • If the effect is persistent,

    • and we're using a dry-erase surface for our map, we draw an outline on the perimeter of the affected area, at the intersection lines between grid squares.

    • and we're using a paper or other surface for our map, we place unpainted miniature bases within the grid squares on the perimeter of the affected area. This does include picking up minis that are already on those squares and placing the base underneath them. Some notes:

      • We don't bother to place bases on the non-perimeter grid, as we can "fill in" that area with our mind. (This speeds things up.)
      • We don't find this annoying because we already have a process for quickly placing painted bases underneath minis to set apart identical monsters when they take damage, gain a status effect, or otherwise need to be differentiated.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason you don’t use tokens for it? Physically pointing seems to open up to mistakes where putting tokens down doesn’t. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 12:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Speed. We run combat as fast as possible, using many techniques. This is one of them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kerrick
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Talking about your experience with the tokens and why you don't use them much would be helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Updated with speed comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kerrick
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answer. I will wait around a bit longer to see if anyone has actually been trying the method as described, and if not, will accept this. (It looks like your approach is fixing some of the problems I see in the one as written, like using flat bases to avoid the issue of toppling figures, only using the outlines, to avoid the issue of needing literally hundreds of dice and this taking forever). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 16:54

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