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If someone casts Hellish Rebuke on someone, does anyone in contact with the target catch on fire too?

You point your finger, and the creature that damaged you is momentarily surrounded by hellish flames. The creature must make a Dexterity saving throw. It takes 2d10 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 1st.

There is nothing in the descriptions about contact other than “the creature that damaged you is momentarily surrounded by hellish flames.” That “surrounded” suggests a sort of area effect, but it doesn't specify anything about whether or not this spell does/does not spread through contact (that is to say, whether the "surrounding flames" also affect anyone within the radius or in direct contact with the target).

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No.

The spell's mechanics are explicitly given: it deals damage to the foe that damaged you, with more damage in higher level spell slots and less on a save. Nothing in the text says it spreads through contact or has any other AOE aspect. The flames thing is merely a description of what the spell looks like.

Because 5e's designers hate everyone[citation needed], they have chosen to blend the flavor text in with the rules text rather than dividing them nicely the way 3.X and 4e generally did. A certain amount of confusion has ensued.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like "Case in Point" fits in here :P \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Aug 27, 2015 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ You really need to find a citation for that, it'd be hilarious : "Because 5e's designers hate everyone[Citation Needed]" \$\endgroup\$
    – Mouhgouda
    Aug 27, 2015 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ A lot of 3.x and Pathfinder spells do the same blending of flavour and mechanics (separation of roleplaying vs simulation would be a nice rule). \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Aug 27, 2015 at 21:43
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No, it does what it says on the tin, exactly. That's how spells work in D&D 5e.

Since it says nothing about an area effect or causing damage to others nearby, it does not.

However, D&D 5e also gives the DM significant leeway to make sensible spot rulings. In the case of rebuking someone who is, I don't know, giving a piggy-back ride to another creature, then it might be the DM's judgement that the flames affect them as well. However, it's entirely up to them — it's also reasonable to say that the momentary flames are not around long enough to hurt or damage anyone or -thing nearby, only the target surrounded by them.

So assume no, the flames won't hurt anyone else. But if a circumstance arises where that “no” stretches the suspension of disbelief, ask your DM what they think. (Then abide by their ruling, of course!)

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for allowing believable effects. Just about any spell can be used this way. Make sure you ask your DM if the environment is ever applicable to your actions, such as if the creature were standing in a puddle of oil or alcohol. Or even the spell Web, which specifically outlines what happens and what damage is applied when it catches fire \$\endgroup\$ Aug 27, 2015 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TomSterkenburg A good policy when attempting any kind of clever plan in D&D! \$\endgroup\$ Aug 27, 2015 at 1:27
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The rules on spell targets say that

A spell’s description tells you whether the spell targets creatures, objects, or a point of origin for an area of effect (described below).

Hellish Rebuke says that "you point your finger, and the creature that damaged you is momentarily surrounded by hellish flames."

That is, it specifies a single creature. Even going off the description, there's a big difference between being surrounded by hellish flames and touching someone else who is.

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While people are correctly pointing out that since the spell description makes no reference to the flames being capable of damaging other creatures, it would not be out of order for a DM to decide that the momentary flames are capable of igniting nearby materials. A shelf full of old papers, a puddle of lamp oil, or a flimsy curtain could catch fire, providing an interesting environmental hazard near the target. But that's a judgment call. If it were capable of dealing damage to creatures or objects in the vicinity of the target, it would say so in the description.

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