Cone of Cold: A 'Dungeons & Dragons' Player's Worst Nightmare

Wielded by the right enemy, the cone of cold spell can be a dangerous weapon against even [...]

Wielded by the right enemy, the cone of cold spell can be a dangerous weapon against even mid-level adventurers.

Last night, my D&D group almost got TPKed by a bheur hag in her lair. The encounter was supposed to be a tough one - the hag knew the party was coming and had extra time to prepare because of the party's overly cautious nature. She had a few minions, a couple of lair actions that were perhaps a little too effective (swarms of insects pestered the rear of the party, while the hag's furniture flung itself at the frontliners), but the real issue was that the hag created an effective barrier when she unleashed an ice storm within her own home and turned most of her kitchen into difficult terrain.

As the party slid their way into the kitchen and paused to either heal themselves or wait for back up, the hag flew in from her bedroom and unleashed her trump card - a cold of cone. The first blast took out the party's cleric, causing a mad scramble to rescue her after she took an unlucky hit and took two death saving throw failures. The second blast a round later took out the just revived cleric and three more members of the party, leaving only the barbarian, the warlock (who had lingered outside of the wintery kitchen death trap), and the druid to figure out how to save their friends from a hag who had barely taken any damage.

Cold of cone is an area of effect spell that deals out a whopping 8d8 worth of cold damage to anyone within a 60 foot cone. It's an effective spell, in part because players have to make a Constitution saving throw instead of a Dexterity saving throw (which prevents a rogue from using their Evasion ability) and because it has an insane amount of power. Cone of cold does an average of 36 damage per player every time its cast, or 18 damage when a player makes their saving throw. Most 5th or 6th level players can't survive more than a single cone of cold blast, which makes it a very dangerous spell in the hands of the right enemy.

Terrain is another factor to consider - a cone of cold is perfect for stopping frontal assaults and is deadly when there's a bottleneck of some kind. That's one thing I didn't initially factor when planning my hag encounter. The party got stuck in the hag's kitchen, giving the hag a group of targets that were far too close together. While proximity to the paladin probably saved several party members (any player within 10 feet of her gets a +4 to saving throws), the party could have avoided damage all together had I made the kitchen a little bit bigger or given it more than two egress points.

The oni is probably the best example of a monster who thrives because of its access to cone of cold. The oni is a CR 7 monster that can pose as a lesser threat because of its Change Shape ability and reveal its cone of cold ability to surprise enemies. Critical Role fans are probably familiar with how dangerous a cone of cold can be, as the oni Lorenzo used its cone of cold to nearly defeat the Mighty Nein twice. The Mighty Nein's first encounter with Lorenzo ended with a permanent party death, and the second encounter was equally scary.

The key to fighting a monster with a cold of cone is to attack it from multiple angles. Clustering together is a recipe for death, so stay spread out and use teleport abilities like misty step or fey step to close the gap on the monster if needed. Even if the monster uses a cone of cold on one party member, you should be fine if you're attacking from two or three different directions.

My party ended up getting lucky - the warlock used a command spell to halt the hag in her tracks and give the party a valuable round to recover. By that point, the barbarian had gotten into the hag's face and prevented her from flying into the next room to smoke the party once again. Two rounds later, the hag was dead, but the encounter was probably the closest I've come to permanently losing a party member at my table...especially in an encounter that wasn't supposed to be that deadly. Cone of cold is definitely not a spell to be trifled with, and I'm sure my players can't wait to use it against me when they level up.

What are your favorite Dungeons & Dragons spells to use against an enemy? Let us know in the comment section or find me on Twitter at @CHofferCBus to talk all things D&D!