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If a caster readies an action to cast the spell silence next to an enemy wizard who begins casting a spell with a verbal component, what happens?

  • The silence interrupts the casting attempt, causing the spell and action to be wasted
  • Or, the wizard has a chance to recognize the silence effect, and can abort casting; choosing instead to perform a different action. (Perhaps even moving out of the silenced area and casting the spell there.)

The rules about readying an action say that

The action occurs just before the action that triggers it. If the triggered action is part of another character’s activities, you interrupt the other character. Assuming he is still capable of doing so, he continues his actions once you complete your readied action.

But they seem silent on what happens if they can't continue their action. Of course, it is explicitly possible to distract a caster by damaging them.

You can ready an attack against a spellcaster with the trigger "if she starts casting a spell." If you damage the spellcaster, she may lose the spell she was trying to cast (as determined by her Concentration check result).

I think my house rule would be to allow aborting a spell with a concentration check, since that seems most consistent with the rest of the rules. But I'm curious if there's a strict interpretation of the RAW here.

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If you have the ability to abort your action, especially a spell, in response to a readied action, then that defeats the purpose of readying an action. Half the reason to ready an action to interrupt a spell is to make the other caster waste that spell. Letting someone abort the spell mid-cast without spending the slot undermines that. –  DuckTapeal Aug 31 '12 at 21:24
    
There are very specific rules about what happens when you hit attack a spell caster that cause them to lose the spell; no matter what is true in general, the specific rule overrides that. –  starwed Aug 31 '12 at 21:45
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1 Answer

Once the triggered action has begun, there's nothing the other (N)PC who caused the readied action to trigger can do to "un-trigger" it. The action is taken and the silence spell gets cast.

If this wasn't true, readied actions would be non-functional. The (N)PC could always simply choose to change their mind and do something else to avoid triggering the action. That's just not the way the rule was designed to work.

As for what happens next, the original spell being cast that triggered the readied action to cast silence would be lost. The character has already committed to the action and begun it (else the trigger couldn't happen), so they're in the middle of it:

If the triggered action is part of another character’s activities, you interrupt the other character.

The rules use "interrupt" in the normal English sense: the action is happening and the readied action interrupts it, happening while it's in progress and before it has its effect.

Don't let the part about distracting spellcasters confuse you. It's not relevant to this case. That rule adds to the general case, saying that damage can distract a caster and prevent the spell from being completed. Another way to prevent a spell from being cast would be to ready and action to grab them and cover their mouth, but that's handled by the general ready rule being used to make (verbal) spellcasting impossible. Without the damage-equals-distraction rule, spellcasters could still be prevented from casting by suddenly being gagged or silenced, but they'd be able to keep casting just fine when stabbed – and that's now how the designers wanted stabbing spellcasters to work. It's providing an extra way to inconvenience spellcasters, not the only way.

It might be easier to picture what is actually happening to understand how the rule works:

PC: I'm readying an action to cast silence if Voldemort starts casting anything.

GM: Okay. So Voldemort starts casting power word: kill. He's opening his mouth and pointing at you, but you're ready and you interrupt him with your silence spell. *Rolls saving throw* …Aaaand he failed. He's just standing their with his mouth open like a dweeb with no sound coming out, and the spell fizzles.

They key thing to remember is that the readied action happens before the action that triggers it, but the triggering action still started to happen.

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A lot of readied actions trigger based on where a character is -- "I attack the guy when he runs past me." In such cases, there's not actually a way to abort. I'm even having trouble thinking of other readied actions that would be negated if the enemy were allowed to 'abort' the rest of the trigger. –  starwed Aug 31 '12 at 18:22
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Are you specifically having trouble with the part that says "Assuming he is still capable of doing so, he continues his actions once you complete your readied action." and wondering what happens if they aren't capable of continuing? Are you wondering if the spell is lost? I'm just not sure what running around or aborting actions has to do with anything. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 31 '12 at 19:09
    
Well yes; your interrupt occurs before they have actually followed through with the action, so if it makes the action impossible, what do they do? –  starwed Aug 31 '12 at 21:52
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@starwed Ah. They lose the spell. They've already committed to the action, so the casting is interrupted. I'll expand the answer. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 31 '12 at 21:55
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