The description of sacred flame reads (emphasis added):

Flame-like radiance descends on a creature that you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 radiant damage. The target gains no benefit from cover for this saving throw. (Player's Handbook, page 272)

Meanwhile, the opening paragraph describing cover reads (emphasis added):

Walls, trees, creatures, and other obstacles can provide cover during combat, making a target more difficult to harm. A target can benefit from cover only when an attack or other effect originates on the opposite side of the cover. (Player's Handbook, page 196)

Given that the first sentence of the description of sacred flame already explains that the effect originates above the target (as opposed to traveling from the caster to the target, which one might presume to be the default), why is it necessary to explicitly state that the spell ignores cover? So far I haven't found any other spell in the Player's Handbook that uses similar language.


4 Answers 4


Partial cover grants a bonus to Dexterity saving throws, which Sacred Flames ignores.

An often forgotten section of the rules (emphasis mine):

Half Cover

A target with half cover has a +2 bonus to AC and Dexterity saving throws. A target has half cover if an obstacle blocks at least half of its body. The obstacle might be a low wall, a large piece of furniture, a narrow tree trunk, or a creature, whether that creature is an enemy or a friend.

Three-Quarters Cover

A target with three-quarters cover has a +5 bonus to AC and Dexterity saving throws. A target has three-quarters cover if about three-quarters of it is covered by an obstacle. The obstacle might be a portcullis, an arrow slit, or a thick tree trunk.

Which means that a creature partly hidden by a table, which the DM rules to be granting half-cover, would have a +2 bonus to its Dexterity saving throw against Acid Splash, but not against Sacred Flame. This is an advantage of that spell and a mechanization of the flavor text "Flame-like radiance descends on a creature". You are right that no other spell has this particularity, though the feat Spell Sniper adds this benefit to all your ranged spell attacks, but not spells that require a saving throw.

Do note that you cannot target a creature with full cover, both because of the "that you can see within range" clause and because of spells requiring a clear path to the target, though there is some controversy for this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sacred flame actually can target a creature behind full cover, so long as the caster can see the creature and it is within range. This is per jeremy crawford. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ford Davis
    Dec 5, 2023 at 16:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FordDavis Jeremy Crawford’s rulings are not official rulings. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 5, 2023 at 17:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov maybe not, but that's not some cooky houserule but follows from a pretty straightforward reading of what the spell says it does. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Dec 5, 2023 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FordDavis the problem with that is that a creature behind full cover cannot be seen by definition: "A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle." \$\endgroup\$
    – Kryomaani
    Dec 6, 2023 at 2:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kryomaani: Consider a case of a creature hiding under a table, but caster far enough away (or crouched down) to see them. They have total cover from above, the direction Sacred Flame comes from (if it starts at the ceiling of the room rather than the underside of the table). They don't have total cover from the caster. Sacred flame "descending on" the target creature would hypothetically (if cover mattered) introduce a distinction between its point of origin vs. the clear-path-to-target from the caster to the target. (Or from the caster to a point above them?) \$\endgroup\$ Dec 6, 2023 at 7:17

Although 5e does not have a clear-cut distinction between flavor text and mechanics, "descends on a creature" sounds more like flavor text than mechanics, since "descends" does not have any specific meaning in the game. Even if we do interpret it as having mechanical importance, nothing about descending necessitates it ignores cover in all situations. Nowhere does it say the flame descends from directly above the creature; I can easily imagine a player arguing the flame descends at an angle and would be blocked by a tall obstacle, or that it descends from the sky and is blocked by a roof. I'm not saying those would be valid arguments, but that line is helpfully included to remove any and all ambiguity.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I note that the question itself, by stating "sacred flame already explains that the effect originates above the target", showcases the need for this clarification, because it implies that the direction of origin of the flame is important in determining cover (e.g., from a roof). So, without that clarification, those arguments might very well be valid. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bielna
    Dec 5, 2023 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or if the character is under a table, they'd have a good argument for a cover bonus, or even total cover from the direction of the flame. So the mechanical clarification is crucial in that case. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 6, 2023 at 7:12

Cover can extend above a creature. Such as in the case of wall of force or force cage. Ignoring cover means sacred flame can extend through such objects.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Or that it starts at the bottom of the cover, e.g. starting under the table someone's hiding under. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 6, 2023 at 7:13

The issue I've seen no one bring up is (a) you don't roll attack to see if you make the AC threshold) (b) it hits automatically unless the targets resists it by rolling the saving throw, so an AC bonus from cover means nothing.

Combat rules are the rules unless the spell, ability or weapon states different.


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