Cutting Words says (PHB, p. 54, emphasis mine):

When a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a damage roll, you can use your reaction to expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration and substracting the number rolled from the creature's roll.

Now, if a bard uses Cutting Words in order to alter the damage roll of a creature throwing some AoE at the party (a wizard casting a Fireball, a dragon's breath weapon, etc.), does it "cut" the damage done to each target affected by the AoE effect?

That would seem pretty powerful, considering that a 5th level Lore bard with a charisma of 18 can use Cutting Words once per round, up to 4 times between each short rest, using d8s to "cut" the damage done by those effects.


Yes, Cutting Words Reduces AoE Damage Rolls

As you quoted, any damage roll can be reduced. While this may seem powerful—reducing a fireball's damage by 1d8—it's not very.

At 5th level, a bard can use cutting word 4 times for 1d8 each time but a fireball at 5th level is doing 8d6 damage. Compared to 8d6, 1d8 reduction isn't that big of a deal.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Too be fair, if you have 6 players in the AoE, it is 1d8 times 6 of damage that is averted, nearly an equivalent of (avg) superior healing potion (8d4+8), which can be very, very expensive item. Or, three cutting words equal a Mass Cure Wounds, more or less. Though if your players stay in a fireball AoE for 3 turns, they have bigger problems ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Gerino Sep 6 '16 at 15:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ While true, cutting words is a reactive damage mitigation, not a proactive damage reversal. In order to use cutting words, damage has to already have been rolled. A potion can be quaffed at any time. Also, a potion is more potent because all 8d4+8 healing is applied to one character. \$\endgroup\$ – Christopher Sep 6 '16 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comparing it to a potion is a little bit of a bad comparison. It should be compared to other uses of a bardic inspiration die. Should I reduce this fireball by 1d8, or should I potentially cause one attack to miss? Unless that one attack is fairly large, the use against a fireball is effective use of a die. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Sep 6 '16 at 19:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're right. After some calculations, I've found that CW using a d8 mitigates 4%-29% (avg. 16%) of a Fireball's damage, which is much less than, say, the 50% spell damage reduction provided by the Oath of the Ancients Paladin's Aura of Warding (not to mention the Aura of protection already granted as a lvl 6 class feature, stacking on it). So not that big of a deal after all. \$\endgroup\$ – Meta4ic Sep 6 '16 at 21:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ worth noting that it affects the damage roll directly, which means that it's before vulnerability/resistance/etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden May 31 '19 at 18:42

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