Magic Missile 5e D&D Guide [2021]

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Magic Missile is one of the most iconic spells throughout the history of the game. For wizards, its popularity might outpace any other spell in the game. It maintains the same properties in the latest edition; automatic hits with multiple projectiles for low damage.

The rules for Magic Missile are found in the Players Handbook on page 257.

Magic Missile 5e

Evocation 1st Level

Casting Time: 1 Action

Range: 120 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Instantaneous

You create three glowing darts of magical force. Each dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range. A dart deals 1d4 + 1 force damage to its target. The darts all strike simultaneously, and you can direct them to hit one creature or several.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the spell creates one more dart for each slot level above 1st.

The rules for the Magic Missile allow the character to focus fire on one enemy or spread it out over multiple targets. The number of targets increases as the spell is cast at higher levels. The tradeoff for automatically hitting multiple targets is low damage and the lack of ability to critical on the attack.

Is Magic Missile Good?

Magic Missile is an automatic hit that at base level creates three magical darts of force, each doing 1d4+1 damage. They can all hit one target or be separated to multiple targets. Each up-cast creates a new dart that follows the same rules.It is an Iconic spell that finds its way into just about every wizard’s spellbook.

But is Magic Missile good? First and most obvious, the Shield spell blocks Magic Missile completely. Also, Magic Missile can’t critically hit because there is not a roll involved. Additionally, it can only target a creature you can see.

At low levels, Magic Missile can deal enough damage to take out or significantly damage an enemy or enemies. As you increase in levels, the damage doesn’t really stand up if you are looking at straight damage capability. Other spells, like Burning Hands and Scorching Ray, can quickly overpower Magic Missile.

Hot Tip
Magic Missile deals force damage which is less commonly resisted than other damage types. This should be taken into consideration when comparing Magic Missile to spells like Burning Hands.

Does Cover Affect Magic Missile?

Cover does not affect Magic Missile in 5e. Provided you can see the target, Magic Missile will hit.Anything less than total cover only provides an armor class bonus. Since Magic Missile doesn’t require a roll, cover does not impact it.

Aside from being immune to cover, Magic Missile also doesn’t require material components.

Does Magic Missile Always Hit?

Technically yes, Magic Missile will always hit a target the caster can see. This hit could be negated by a Shield spell or magic item such as the Brooch of Shielding.

Can Magic Missile Target Objects?

The spell description states, “a creature of your choice.” This prevents Magic Missile from targeting objects.

Does Magic Missile Cause Separate Concentration Checks?

A concentration check is required each time the caster is hit by Magic Missile. While the spell description states, “darts all strike simultaneously,” there are still three (or more) individual hits. This would require a concentration check for each hit.

Hot Tip
A concentration check is a constitution saving throw vs. 10 or half the amount of damage taken, whichever is greater.

Magic Missile vs. Burning Hands

Magic Missile

  • 120 Foot Range
  • 1-3 Targets at base cast
  • Automatically hit for 1d4+1 per dart (3) average of 9
  • Verbal and Somatic Components
  • 1 Action

Burning Hands

  • Self (15 Foot Cone)
  • Area of Effect (6 potential targets)
  • Dexterity Save for half damage 3d6(average of 9)
  • Verbal and Somatic Components
  • 1 Action

Comparing the spells in this manner help to identify the advantages and disadvantages in Magic Missile and Burning Hands. Both are level 1 spells that can damage multiple enemies.The result of the comparison is a bit inconclusive. Like many spells in the game, they are situationally dependent.

For one target at long range, Magic Missile is the only choice. For smaller targets at close range, Burning Hands is probably the way to go. Even breaking down the damage doesn’t really clarify anything as, numerically, they are similar. Burning Hands does deal fire damage which is a fairly common resistance.

Hot Tip
Chromatic Orb is another first-level spell that is popular. The issue with Chromatic Orb is the material component cost of 50 GP (diamond). Magic Missile and Burning Hands are significantly more accessible to early-level adventurers.

Final Thoughts

In many games, Magic Missile is a must-have. It would represent the first spell a wizard was taught. In 5e, there are plenty of spells that can compete early on or bypass outright at higher levels.

Magic Missile is a trusty standby, but it doesn’t have the staying power of other spells to compete at higher levels. It is, however, fun and nostalgic to cast Magic Missile, and really that should be enough.

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World builder, lore creator, author and story teller, all around RPG enthusiast.
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