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In D&D 5e, if the secondary target of the Chain Lightning spell (one of the 3) casts Hellish Rebuke as a Reaction, is Hellish Rebuke resolved against Chain Lightning's first target (the original victim from who the three additional bolts spring) or against the spell's caster?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack Randolph_Carter! Take the tour when you have a moment, and feel free to peruse the help center for more in-depth info about the site. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 24 at 21:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I'm a 1e player/DM that my son and friends wanted to run a campaign in 5e, so occasionally I still struggle with the nuts and bolts a bit. Thanks to all who provided clarification for this scenario. It hasn't played out yet, but I anticipate it. The party is attacking an antagonist with more than a little lightning and radiant energy at his disposal, and with one of the group being a metal construct and therefore likely to fail a save vs. lightning, he seems like the logical primary target of the spell. After that, esp. with the Rebuke-happy Tiefling, things seemed less clear. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25 at 0:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Somewhat related: What is damage you do vs. damage a creature takes? (and Dark One's Blessing). In particular, for Hellish rebuke, did the creature who cast chain lightning damage you or did the chain lightning damage you - or both? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 30 at 16:47

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The original target didn’t do anything to you.

The text of hellish rebuke makes it clear that you target a creature that damages you:

the creature that damaged you is momentarily surrounded by hellish flames

What did the target of chain lightning do to you? Nothing. Besides making a dexterity saving throw, which in the narrative is something like trying to dodge the lightning, they didn’t do anything at all, much less damage you. So you cannot cast hellish rebuke on the target of chain lightning because they are not a creature that damaged you.

The caster, however, cast a spell, chose you as one of the targets, and damaged you with their spell, making them an eligible target for hellish rebuke.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd cut out the "chose you as a target" part because it is irrelevant for HR's conditions. it might confuse some readers. But then again, one hopes the confused ones will read this comment. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MindwinRememberMonica I’m not sure what you’re getting at. The fact that the caster chose you as a target is part of what makes the caster “the creature that damaged you”. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25 at 13:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov That is true, but Hellish Rebuke doesn't require that the caster target you, only that they damage you. And this is an important distinction in certain cases - such as continuous spell effects that damage creatures in an area after the spell has been cast. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Apr 25 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ not necessarily. HB would work with a fireball just by being in the area of effect, hidden from the caster so they don't even know who's there. It might be a part in this context, but not a REQUIRED part for the mechanic to work. Therefore, it's irrelevant (not wrong) and may confuse some people. It did confuse me at first glance, hence the urge I felt to leave a comment. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25 at 17:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes The case I'm thinking of specifically is Spirit Guardians, which creates an area of damage for any creature that enters or ends the area of effect of the spell. There is no specific target at all for that spell - but as long as you can see the individual who cast it and are within 60 feet of them, Hellish Rebuke should still work. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Apr 25 at 17:22
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The target of Hellish Rebuke is the caster of Chain Lightning ...

The damage you received comes from the lightning that has been evoked by the caster of Chain Lightning, even if they did not choose you explicitly as a target of their spell1. The first target of the spell had no role in damaging you, even if they succeeded in the saving throw.

Hellish Rebuke hence targets the caster of Chain Lightning, because they are

the creature that damaged you.

... unless you cannot see them.

Beware of the requirements of Hellish Rebuke (emphases mine):

Casting Time

1 Reaction which you take in response to being damaged by a creature within 60 feet of you that you can see.

As pointed out here, there must be a clear path from the caster to the 1st target, from the 1st target to the 2nd target and so on, but not from the caster to the secondary targets.

It could happen that someone casts Chain Lightning beyond a left turn of 90 degrees in a corridor, hits one of your allies and then the lightning leaps to you, but you cannot see the original caster, hence you cannot cast Hellish Rebuke against them.


1 See How does the Chain Lightning spell target? for some discussion on how to choose the targets of Chain Lightning.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Eddy nice catch on the 'that you can see' bit. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 26 at 12:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Thanks, actually a couple of years ago during a one shot I was in a very similar situation as the one I depicted in the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Apr 26 at 18:09
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Chain Lightning says:

You create a bolt of lightning that arcs toward a target of your choice that you can see within range. Three bolts then leap from that target to as many as three other targets, each of which must be within 30 feet of the first target. [...]The target takes 10d8 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Hellish Rebuke says:

You point your finger, and the creature that damaged you is momentarily surrounded by hellish flames.

The "creature that damaged you" is clearly the one that casts Chain Lightning. It was the one that cast the spell and the one that chose you as one of the targets. And you received damage as a direct consequence of this action.

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