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Suppose a divine caster is casting a spell that targets "Allies in a 20-ft.-radius burst". And suppose that unbeknownst to the caster, someone she thinks is an ally is actually an enemy. Does the spell target that false-friend, or not?

I specified a divine caster because I imagine that even if the caster doesn't know the traitor is actually an enemy, her deity probably does.

So, does the caster "choose" the targets according to who she thinks her allies are, or does the deity providing the spell "choose" the targets according to what he knows about who her allies truly are or are not.

I can think of some interesting roleplaying if a character happened to find out about a traitor in that way, but it probably makes it "too easy" to figure out who your friends are.

Do the core materials specify anywhere how it is determined who is an ally and who is an enemy for the purposes of spell targeting?

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Except if the caster is very high level and performing a quest that directly involves the destiny of the universe and of deities themselves, I doubt any deity would actually care to look at every battle their priest are involved in. Or else there are numerous abuses of the wish spell which would have provoked unexpected reaction from the deities when they realized what those are used for – Epeedefeu Jul 4 '14 at 10:15
@Epeedefeu except that Wish don't come from deityes, but from Arcane Casters, and it's Divine-Equivalent, Miracle, explicitly needs the god approval. – Thales Sarczuk Jul 4 '14 at 14:49
up vote 16 down vote accepted

There is no information in any official D&D 3.5 book that defines rigorously what an "ally" is.

I've also looked through some Pathfinder docs, and I can't find anything there either. Ditto for 3.0. It seems like "ally" is another one of the numerous things that are not terribly well-defined in 3.5. If you're looking for an official RAW ruling on this, I'm afraid you're out of luck.

Practically speaking, there are some rules that seem to imply that you choose who counts as an "ally".

Some spells have a target or targets. You cast these spells on creatures or objects, as defined by the spell itself. You must be able to see or touch the target, and you must specifically choose that target.

Emphasis mine. That line makes me believe that the caster is the person who decides who counts as an ally for the purposes of spellcasting. The quote here refers to spells that have targets specifically, but I think implies that targeting decisions (like who counts as an "ally") are made by the caster. This isn't a particularly strong argument, but I think it's the most reasonable one that I can find, based on the rules.

That said, if you want to make a houserule that says that spells (divine or otherwise) can determine who is an ally and who isn't, that's cool too. The big problem that will cause is that you now have a foolproof way of determining whether a party member is a double agent or not: cast bless and see who isn't affected.

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Worse, you also have a foolproof way of finding hidden, invisible, or otherwise undetectable opponents. – GMJoe Jul 4 '14 at 7:40
@GMJoe I'm not sure. I've always assumed it "just worked" on every enemy, even if you don't know they are there. They'll just get the malus, and you won't even know it. – o0'. Jul 4 '14 at 13:32
The you must be able to see or touch the target suggests that invisible allies or enemies in a burst would not be affected. How do folks usually play this for either allies you know are there, and/or enemies you don't. – PurpleVermont Jul 4 '14 at 15:54
A spell like Bless or Prayer however has an Area and not Targets, so I think that would work on unseen and unknown creatures in the area (just as a fireball certainly would). As to determining whether a party member is a double agent by casting bless, does being affected by the spell necessarily create any visible or detectable effect? The DM can silently make necessary adjustments to the dice rolls as appropriate. – PurpleVermont Jul 4 '14 at 16:06
It doesn't create a visible effect, but you can use detect magic and see who has the spell active on them. – DuckTapeAl Jul 4 '14 at 17:42

Someone is an ally if you designate them as such when you cast the spell.

No, the game does not go into the meta-philosophy of defining that. You get to choose who you think your allies and enemies are. If you choose poorly, then that's on you.

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Can you back that up? – PurpleVermont Jul 4 '14 at 4:04
"The game doesn't say." So we go by how everyone has played the game since the 1970s. There is no proving a negative, but you're welcome to look in the rules for the thing that doesn't exist. – mxyzplk Jul 4 '14 at 4:06
I'm pretty sure I read this interpretation in an official FAQ somewhere, but I can't find it now. – Bobson Jul 6 '14 at 5:11

If a Mind flayer ate the brain of your companion and polymorphed or altered himself to appear as one of your allies, and you were unaware of the change, the Flayer would be considered an "ally" because of the perceptions of your character.

However, if something were to happen ( like a sense motive check ) that would bring the actions of the disguised flayer into question, and you no longer believed him to be your friend, or perhaps you found the dead body of your friend with tentacle sucker marks on their face, and he was minus a brain.. then your spell would not affect him because you wouldn't believe him as such.

Put in layman's terms, if you suspect, he is not. If you don't suspect, he is.

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