A Beginner's Guide to Radiant Damage in 5e; Woman emanating radiant energy from her forehead

Your Guide to the Radiant Damage Type in D&D 5e

Of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition’s many damage types, Radiant damage is one of the best. Very few creatures resist or have an immunity to it but player characters have a wide variety of spells available which causes it.
 
But, what is Radiant damage? How do you describe it? And, how effective is it against creatures?
 
This article outlines everything starting Game Masters and players need to know about Radiant damage in 5e.

First off, let’s start with describing what Radiant damage is in D&D 5e.

What is Radiant Damage?

Woman surrounded by radiant light
Radiant is one of D&D 5e’s many damage types standing as harm caused by divine or holy energy

Radiant damage is essentially D&D 5e’s version of holy or divine magic. It serves as the sort of antithesis to necrotic damage and often stands in opposition to negatively-aligned creatures like undead and fiends.

Basically, Radiant is the holy damage type of D&D 5e. It represents divine energy causing harm against a creature or object either physically or spiritually.

D&D’s rules describe Radiant damage in the following way on page 196 of the Player’s Handbook:

Radiant damage, dealt by a cleric’s flame strike spell or an angel’s smiting weapon, sears the flesh like fire and overloads the spirit with power.

Source: DnD Beyond | Basic Rules – Chapter 9: Combat

Since Radiant is a more magically-aligned damage type, unlike a more natural (but still magical) type like lightning damage, describing it becomes a bit tricky.

How To Describe Radiant Damage

Man standing in water with bright light shining down on him
Being a more magically-inclined damage type, Radiant damage may be a bit difficult to describe, but allows GMs & players plenty of freedom in their descriptions

The Player’s Handbook describes Radiant damage as a searing pain. This serves as the default, but since D&D has a wide variety of deities, describing this damage type can be just as varied. Furthermore, using senses other than sight is a good way of defining this more magical damage type.

Now, the easy way to describe Radiant damage in 5e is through the searing pain it causes. Now, this wouldn’t result in physical burns resulting from something like fire damage. If anything, the physical indicators of Radiant damage may be something more akin to radiation burns or like the physical attributes of a creature burned away due to the existential harm of this damage type.

As with any damage type, visual cues are important to demonstrating what happens to a creature or object. But, being a more mystical damage type, the other core senses help in adding a little pizzazz to Radiant damage.

Here are some example ways to describe Radiant damage using the five core senses.

What Does Radiant Damage Look Like?
Smooth, shimmering burns crawling over a creature’s skin in a spiral pattern; the creature’s eyes, ears, and nose emit a bright light; luminescent lines of energy rapidly trace the blood vessels of the creature’s body and dissipate
What Does Radiant Damage Sound Like?
A long, deep ringing of a distant, massive bell; rapid twinkling like that of a thousand wind chimes; a low, almost metallic thrumming of energy releasing
What Does Radiant Damage Feel Like?
Sharp, stabbing pain in the creature’s bones; an almost electrical pain originating from the point of contact; an excruciatingly painful stomachache for the duration of the damage
What Does Radiant Damage Smell Like?
The after-rain smell; ozone (similar to the smell of a printer working); a dusty, almost mildew like smell
What Does Radiant Damage Taste Like?
A metallic, coppery taste; like the spiciest pepper with no flavor; fresh, pure spring water

Of course, these are only suggestions. Also, this could vary wildly based on which domain or deity the Radiant damage comes from.

There are a good number of Cleric domains in 5e, each one representing a divine aspect of creation, not necessarily a specific deity or deities. Clerics and other creatures don’t necessarily need to have a bond with a specific deity, but the Domains are a good way of differentiating how Radiant damage interacts with a target. Some are…trickier than others, but the diversity adds a new level to your game and adds a level of depth to your game’s world.

Here are just a few examples of how you can alter how your describe Radiant damage based on Domain.

Knowledge
The pain centralizes in the head and radiates down the neck and shoulders; celestial runes ring the target’s head and rapidly constrict around them; a chorus of celestial voices detailing the tale of an ancient tale echo around the target
Nature
A strong smell of fresh roses surrounds the target which quickly turns into that of rot; harsh, shrill birdsongs echo around the target; floating visions of leaves appear and accost the target
War
A war horn radiates from the target creature as it writhes in pain; a glowing, ethereal weapon appears and strikes; an invisible weight falls upon the target creature
Grave
The smell of freshly disturbed dirt emanates from around the target; the tolling of a temple bell rings out originating around the creature; a faint fog enwraps the creature and begins searing their flesh
Twilight
Several motes of light resembling stars rapidly appear and disappear around the target; a magical apparition of the phases of the moon appears; an evening mist smelling faintly of wolfsbane (evergreen / lemony) tightly wraps around the creature

Of course, this is only a sampling of the many Cleric domains. Both Game Masters and players have limitless options for describing how the source of their Radiant damage looks, sounds, feels, smells, and tastes like depending on the character / creature and Domain.

This leads to the sources of Radiant damage in 5e. So, let’s start with the spells which deal this damage type.

Radiant Damage Spells in 5e

Many holding a radiantly glowing orb
D&D 5e has a number of spells which deal Radiant damage, spanning many spell levels

D&D 5e has 21 spells which deal Radiant damage according to DnD Beyond. A little under half of these spells require a target fail a Constitution saving throw, but nearly as many only require a caster to hit with a weapon or spell attack.

There are actually surprisingly few spells which deal Radiant damage in D&D 5e. Even worse, most of these spells are only available to Clerics or Paladins.

That said, there are a few available to other classes, some of actually exclude Cleric and Paladin. So, you have some options for playing a character with access to these spells. The downside with them is some of them are of a higher level, meaning you won’t be able to use them until later in your game.

The upside here is you do have options basically at every level if you’re willing to play a Cleric.

Here’s a list of spell which deal Radiant damage in 5e:

  • Sacred Flame (Cantrip) – Cleric
  • Word of Radiance (Cantrip) – Cleric
  • Divine Favor (1st-Level) – Cleric (War Domain), Paladin
  • Guiding Bolt (1st-Level) – Cleric, Paladin (Oath of Glory), Warlock (The Celestial)
  • Branding Smite (2nd-Level) – Artificer (Battle Smith), Paladin, Warlock (The Hexblade)
  • Moonbeam (2nd-Level) – Cleric (Twilight Domain), Druid, Paladin (Oath of the Ancients, Oath of the Watchers)
  • Blinding Smite (3rd-Level) – Paladin
  • Crusader’s Mantle (3rd-Level) – Cleric (War Domain), Paladin
  • Spirit Guardians (3rd-Level) – Cleric, Paladin (Oath of the Crown)
  • Spirit Shroud (3rd-Level) – Cleric, Paladin, Warlock, Wizard
  • Guardian of Faith (4th-Level) – Cleric, Paladin (Oath of Devotion, Oath of the Crown), Warlock (The Celestial)
  • Sickening Radiance (4th-Level) – Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
  • Dawn (5th-Level) – Cleric, Wizard
  • Destructive Wave (5th-Level) – Paladin
  • Flame Strike (5th-Level) – Cleric, Druid (Circle of Wildfire), Paladin (Oath of Devotion, Oath of Glory), Warlock (The Fiend, The Celestial, The Genie)
  • Holy Weapon (5th-Level) – Cleric, Paladin
  • Wall of Light (5th-Level) – Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
  • Forbiddance (6th-Level) – Cleric
  • Sunbeam (6th-Level) – Cleric (Additional Cleric Spells), Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard
  • Crown of Stars (7th-Level) – Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard
  • Sunburst (8th-Level) – Cleric (Additional Cleric Spells), Druid, Sorcerer, Wizard

Now, of these 21 spells, nine force a Constitution saving throw to deal Radiant damage. Many of the others (eight) simply require you hit with a weapon or spell attack, and the rest either require a Dexterity save (three), Wisdom save (one), or just deal the damage if the right conditions are met (one). So, many high-Constitution creatures have an easier time avoiding the effects of spells which deal Radiant damage, but you still have plenty of other options to avoid this.

Of course, players may need to consider the viability of Radiant damage against the various monsters in D&D.

Monster Interactions with Radiant Damage

Centaur wielding a staff casting a radiant damage\ spell
Few monsters have resistance, immunity, or vulnerability against Radiant damage

Very few monsters directly interact with Radiant damage. This damage type is resisted by very few creatures and ever fewer have an immunity against it.

Radiant damage is second only to force damage in terms of resistances and immunities when it comes to the non-mundane types (bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing). Meaning very few creatures resist or outright ignore Radiant damage.

On the other hand, almost equally few monsters have a vulnerability to Radiant damage. So, while few creatures mitigate this damage type, you most likely won’t deal extra damage by the same token. The silver lining here is Radiant is pretty reliable for dealing damage.

Monsters with Resistance to Radiant Damage

Only about 22 out of approximately 2,173 monsters resist Radiant damage in 5e.

The number of monsters with resistance to Radiant damage is second only to those which resist force damage; 22 vs 9. So, the chances a creature reduces Radiant damage are pretty low all things considered.

Here’s a list of monsters resistant to Radiant damage in 5e.

  • Alseid
  • Crystal Dragon Wyrmling
  • Undying Soldier
  • Couatl
  • Battleforce Angel
  • Young Crystal Dragon
  • Silverquill Professor of Radiance
  • Animated Tree
  • Deva
  • The Abbot
  • Chardalyn Dragon
  • Radiant Idol
  • Adult Crystal Dragon
  • Firemane Angel
  • Deathpact Angel
  • Fazrian
  • Planetar
  • Ancient Crystal Dragon
  • Solar
  • Aurelia
  • Archduke Zariel of Avernus
  • Zariel

Monsters with Immunity Against Radiant Damage

Roughly 13 creatures out of 5e’s full catalog have an immunity against Radiant damage.

Even fewer creatures have an immunity against Radiant damage then those which resist it. And, again, the number of creatures is second only to those with an immunity against force damage; 13 vs 5. Furthermore, a good number of these creatures are fairly high in Challenge Rating, so you probably won’t encounter them until later in your game.

So, here’s a list of creatures with an immunity against Radiant damage.

  • Mighty Servant of Leuk-o
  • Skulk
  • Light Devourer
  • Aeorian Reverser
  • Aeorian Absorber
  • Undying Councilor
  • Aeorian Nullifier
  • Alyxian the Callous
  • Archon of Falling Stars
  • Hollow Dragon
  • Shadrix Silverquill
  • Crystal Greatwyrm
  • Aspect of Bahamut

Monsters Vulnerable to Radiant Damage

Approximately 13 of D&D’s over 2,000 monsters have a vulnerability to Radiant damage.

The downside to the rarity of Radiant damage sources is few creatures take extra damage from it. About the only good news here is some of these creatures are pretty low-level, so you may encounter them and have an opportunity to use a Radiant damage spell before too long.

Here’s a list of the creatures with a vulnerability to Radiant damage in D&D 5e.

  • Shadow
  • Shadow (Variant)
  • Shadow Duplicate
  • Flying Horror
  • Shadow Demon
  • Undead Bulette
  • Gidean Lightward
  • Gloomstalker
  • Auril (First Form)
  • Shadow Assassin
  • Shadow Horror
  • Atropal
  • Skittering Horror

5e Radiant Damage FAQs

Radiant beam of light shining through a gap

Does Radiant Damage Count as Sunlight?

No. Radiant damage on its own does not count as sunlight. Some spells which deal Radiant damage create sunlight, but the damage type itself doesn’t not equate to sunlight.

Nothing specifies Radiant damage as doing anything other than causing harm to a creature or object. So, it doesn’t count as sunlight for specific rules purposes like the Vampire’s Sunlight Hypersensitivity trait.

Is Radiant Damage Holy Damage?

Essentially, yes; Radiant damage can be equated to holy damage. This damage type is divine in nature and stands as the opposite to necrotic or unholy magic.

Radiant damage is basically divine damage, so it could be considered 5e’s equivalent of holy damage.

 

Summary of the Radiant Damage Type in D&D 5e

That about covers what Radiant damage is for beginning D&D 5e GMs and players.

Radiant damage is one of 5e’s many damage types equating to divine or holy damage. There are a good number of spells which cause it, spanning almost the entire range of levels, but most of these spells are only available to Clerics or Paladins. This damage type is second only to force damage in terms of number of creatures with resistance or immunity against it.

What’s your favorite Radiant damage spell? Have you used a creature resistant / immune to this damage type against your players? Leave a comment below sharing your thoughts!

Make sure to follow Role Players Respite for more rules breakdowns, mechanic explanations, and inspiration for your game!

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