Does the caster choose all targets or only the initial one?

Must the secondary targets be in the caster's line-of-sight?

I'm probably way over thinking this, but the 6th-level chain lightning spell description states, in relevant part:

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. A target can be a creature or an object and can be targeted by only one of the bolts. [Emphasis added] (PBR, p. 85; PHB, p. 221)

Only the initial target is specified as being seen and the choice of the caster. However, since "a creature or an object" can be a target, there could be nearly limitless secondary targets within 30' of the initial one (e.g., bricks, rocks, leaves, etc.). The language "can be targeted" may imply that the caster is the one doing the targeting, but the fact that the caster may not have three secondary targets and exactly three bolts (not up to three bolts) come from the initial target seems to suggest that the bolts do the targeting (either randomly or by conductivity, etc.). This language is somewhat contradicted and confused by "as many as three targets," yet definitely three bolts.

If the caster chooses the secondary targets, and line-of-sight is not required, does this mean a caster could hit creatures around corners or behind barriers by simply by targeting an initial object within 30' of the actual unseen targets? For example, targeting the sconce at the bend in a dungeon to hit three creatures around the corner, or targeting a closed door (or doorknob) to hit three creatures in the room on the other side?


2 Answers 2


There are two factors at play here. Line of sight and Clear path to target (what previous editions called Line of Effect).

Line of sight is only required for the first target. It's not specified as required for the secondary targets so you should not require it.

From "Targeting" on page 204 of the PHB:

To target something, you must have a clear path to it, so it can't be behind total cover.

If you place an area of effect at a point you can't see and an obstruction, such as a wall, is between you and that point, the point of origin comes into being on the near side of that obstruction.

So a valid target on the first part of spell is something you have a clear line of sight to, and also a clear path towards. The secondary targets do not need a clear path from you, but from the initial target since that's the point from which they emanate.

As far as your reading of the spell with respect to secondary targets, you're reading "As many as" incorrectly. This means "up to 3" not "exactly 3", so if you only have 2 available targets (that you want to hit), you're welcome to do so. While three bolts are created, they do not all need to be targeted and can be assumed to ground harmlessly.

The targets are chosen by the caster as it's not specified they are chosen randomly.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think you got most of that right but the 3 bolts leap to as many as 3 targets which means if you have 3 bolts and 2 targets one target can get one bolt while the other target can be hit by two. or if you have 1 target all three bolts can leap to that target. \$\endgroup\$
    – Duck
    May 9, 2018 at 5:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Duck "A target [..] can be targeted by only one of the bolts." from the spell description. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Jul 4, 2019 at 13:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you could improve this answer by making the last sentence more prominent. The first sentence in the question is "Does the caster choose all targets or only the initial one?" and you hide the answer to that very low in your answer which made me miss it at first :/ \$\endgroup\$
    – findusl
    Apr 18, 2021 at 14:40
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It would be up to the DM whether you can attempt to target someone / something that recently went out of your sight behind an opaque wall, especially if you have no idea what location it might be in back there. Chain Lightning's description doesn't stop you, and I'm not aware of a specific rule about cases like that. It might come down to the DM's common sense, especially given that it's a Dex save to avoid, so it's not "locked on" to a creature, more like aiming where they are. (Unlike Mass Cure Wounds which also doesn't need sight, but you know your allies.) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4, 2022 at 5:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ You would need a clear path / line of effect from the first target to the additional targets; that's implied by the Chain Lightning description of "leap"ing from the primary target. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4, 2022 at 5:38

You target the first target only. All the others are determined randomly. If there are less than four total targets, then you already know who gets hit, if there are more then you need to work it out.

I work it out based on who is closest to the first. Role if he gets hit, go to next closest and do the same. Repeat until all bolts are spent, even if you have to return to the first guy who wasn't hit previously.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know who down voted my answer, and that's fine, but that is exactly how the spell works RAW and RAI. You can't choose anything except your first target, the rest is random \$\endgroup\$
    – Escoce
    Jan 25, 2015 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ You need to provide evidence as to why you think the spell works this way, e.g. quoting relevant rules from the books. Just saying something works a certain way doesn't make it so, and is usually considered a poor answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2015 at 6:10

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