Hellish rebuke is a reaction-based 1st-level spell, falling under the Warlock spell list.
It is mainly overlooked due to players not knowing that the spell scales incredibly well with levels, spell slots, and multi-classers (be sure to check with your DM if it suits your table rules).
Looking at the Player’s Handbook, the specifics of hellish rebuke are listed below:
Hellish Rebuke 5e
Casting Time: 1 reaction, taken when you are damaged by a creature within 60 feet of you that you can also see
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
As you point your finger, the creature that damaged you will be surrounded by infernal flames for a mere moment. The surrounded creature will need to make a Dexterity saving roll.
If the saving roll fails, the creature takes 2d10 fire damage, however, only half (1d10) as much damage is taken if the roll is successful.
At Higher Levels: If you cast hellish rebuke using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, your damage will be increased by 1d10 for each slot level above the 1st.
Is Hellish Rebuke Any Good?
We have to look at hellish rebuke in terms of other spells available as cantrips and 1st-levels for warlocks.
Spells such as Eldritch Blast, Witch Bolt, and Thunderclapare some very reliable damaging spells that can be compared to hellish rebuke.
If we look at only the damage types of these four spells, hellish rebuke will come in last due to it dealing fire damage. Mostly because many creatures have resistance and immunity to fire.
The other three spells have damage types, with significantly fewer creatures being resistant or immune to them (force, lightning, and thunder damage).
On the other hand, fire also has the most amount of creatures that are vulnerable to it. Therefore even though fire is resisted quite often, it is still very effective against specific creatures.
Another great way to compare these spells is by looking at the damage output. Using only its lowest level when the spell is cast, we notice that hellish rebuke has a very reliable damage output of 2d10s, where the highest damage dies for the other spells is a 1d12.
If we incorporate spell slots of higher levels, we see an instant increase in the damage of hellish rebuke. This is due to the damage increasing by 1d10 for every slot level above the 1st.
Another great addition is your casting time. It is set as 1 reaction, making it great for players who are playing characters with excellent reaction times. More regarding reactions come up later in the text!
When Can You Use Hellish Rebuke?
I just want to clarify exactly when you can use hellish rebuke. Just to be clear, this spell is reaction-based. Meaning you react to something happening to you. Most commonly, this will be something damaging you.
For example: If you are damaged by a creature in your turn, and it either casts hellish rebukeor some other spell requiring a reaction point, you may then react back. I
f you react back with hellish rebuke, your reaction point is spent, and you will need to wait until your next turn for another reaction point.
Note: You may not cast a bonus action spell before or after hellish rebuke. If you have done so, then, you may not cast hellish rebuke at all!
However, casting a bonus spell on your turn does not remove the fact that hellish rebuke can be cast as a reaction outside of your turn. Make sure to plan carefully before casting!
How to Optimize Hellish Rebuke
Here are some simple mechanics and play styles that might help you optimize hellish rebuke to its fullest. I know some players want to completely obliterate their enemies without struggle, or is that just me?
Pairing spells is the easiest way to create extremely satisfying and very powerful play styles in D&D.
If you choose the warlock class to always be based in the center of combat, then hellish rebuke will be your new best friend. Spells like Hex and Armor of Agathys pair especially well with this playstyle.
When it is your turn, you can quickly cast Armor of Agathysas you are surrounded by foes. This spell provides you with 5 extra temporary hit points.
It also does 5 extra cold damage to any creature that hits you with a melee attack while you still possess those 5 temporary hitpoints.
Now, if you take melee damage, your opponent will take 5 cold plus 2d10 fire damage (1d10 if the opponent passed the saving roll). If the opponent hasn’t done enough damage to take away your 5 temporary hit points, then your character hasn’t even lost any real health yet!
Another good pair is with the hex spell. You place a curse on a target within your range that you can see. Until the spell ends (hex lasts up to 1 hour), you will deal an extra 1d6 necrotic damage to the target whenever you hit it with an attack.
If the target drops to 0 hit points before the spell ends, then you are given a bonus action on your following turn to curse a new target. Therefore whenever you are attacked, and you react with hellish rebuke, all damage done will also apply necrotic damage.
Lastly, commoners will fear your name. Magic is quite common within D&D parties, however, in many ordinary universes, magic is still very uncommon. Among peasants, rural folk, and ordinary lords, your ability to cast demonic flames around an opponent can be seen as divine wrath.
You might even obtain the respect of peasants in the region as they witness you commanding the power of some demonic deity.
I believe hellish rebuke should be adopted more often, not only because it’s a good spell but because it’s just so damn enjoyable.
Who wouldn’t want to stand among their foes while watching them burn in agony while foolishly trying to attack you? I know I would, so why don’t you give it a try? Maybe some villagers will even start to worship you!