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Charm Person has verbal and somatic components. Is there anything in the rules as written that defines how obvious those verbal and somatic components are? Would it be obvious the caster was casting a spell from 5' away? From across a crowded room?

I'm specifically interested in an answer based on the rules as written, although interpretation and individual opinion is not unwelcome.

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up vote 20 down vote accepted

Spellcasting is obvious, but the spell being cast isn't.

Verbal components:

Most spells require the chanting of mystic words.

Somatic:

Spellcasting gestures might include a forceful gesticulation or an intricate set of gestures. ... the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.

Contrast this with the sorcerer's metamagic ability Subtle Spell, which allows a sorcerer to cast a spell without verbal or somatic components. We can reason that if removing these components makes a spell "subtle", then a spell without those components is not subtle.

Charm Person has a casting time of one action, so it involves around five seconds of non-subtle chanting and forceful and/or intricate gestures with one hand. That sounds like something that would be noticed by someone standing next to the caster.

Generally speaking, I would say that casting a spell with verbal and somatic components is obvious if the caster is being observed, or to anyone standing close to them. For example, it's usually obvious when a spellcaster is casting a spell in combat. But in a crowded, noisy room, people not actively observing the caster might not notice a simple spell being cast.

Seeing that a spell is being cast isn't the same as knowing what the spell is. The rules don't specify how to handle this, but I generally allow an Intelligence (Arcana) check to identify a spell that a character observes being cast, provided they could reasonably know what the spell is. For spells that a character would have no knowledge of, I might allow them some information (e.g. "some kind of powerful invocation") on a successful check.

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My table generally allows a bluff to hide or disguise the spell. – Jason_c_o Mar 27 at 20:05

The Components are Obvious, but the Meaning Might Not Be.

Charm Person has verbal and somatic components. Verbal components are defined as a "particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, (which) sets the threads of magic in motion." Somatic components "might include a forceful gesticulation or an intricate set of gestures", and specifically requires the free use of at least one hand.

Neither of these things seem subtle to my reading. From 5' away they would be fairly obvious, although from across a crowded room they might be hidden. In the latter case the people next to the caster would likely observe these actions.

So the actions are obvious, but the meaning may not be. If bards are rare in the game world and people don't correlate fancy lutes with charms and spells, then perhaps the components will be treated as mere affectations. But if bards and wizards aren't merely the stuff of legend, even the simple peasants will have heard enough stories about clever bards and powerful wizards to understand that those strange gestures and odd songs are the stuff of magic. Those stories surely include some mention of the effects - few folks in the standard setting will be surprised that a spellcaster can charm people into strange behaviors. They will not recognize the specific spell as its cast, but people who witnessed the casting will be on guard, looking for possible effects.

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Verbal and Somatic components are both pretty obvious

Player's Handbook, p. 203, describes the various types of spell components. Of interest to us are:

Verbal... Most spells require the chanting of mystic words. The words themselves aren't the source of the spell's power; rather, the particular combination of sounds, specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion.

Somatic... Spellcasting gestures might include a forceful gesticulation or an intricate set of gestures

Both chanting and gesticulating forcefully are sound like they would be obvious to someone who was nearby. Across a crowded room they may be less obvious and perhaps a perception check would be appropriate.

Hiding casting: Stealth and/or Sleight of Hand

If someone does want to perform magic both the Stealth and Sleight of Hand Skills appear to apply. Slight of Hand lists legerdemain as one of its uses which fits perfectly with hiding somatic components. Stealth makes mention of sneaking without being heard so perhaps fits well with masking chanting. Personally I call for a check for each component of the spell (Verbal, Somatic, and Material) since it nicely makes simpler spells easier to hide.

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I like the idea of skill checks. I'm not sure that "combination of sounds, specific pitch and resonance" and an "intricate set of gestures" is necessary obvious to the uninitiated. – timster Feb 27 at 23:25
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@timster The, "chanting of mystic words", part is what makes it seem obvious to me. Though perhaps intricate gestures gestures could be explained away in a Mediterranean campaign. – Ceribia Feb 28 at 1:59
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"Sneaking without being heard" means skillful movement so as not to cause a sound. The rules citing that it's not the words but the sound of the words that gives the magical effect implies that the sound is necessary. I don't see how stealth would let you make sounds without making sound. Sleight of Hand to cover somatic components makes a lot of sense, although again if the gestures and movement are necessary you probably couldn't use sleight of hand to make it look like you're doing nothing at all, only to make it look like you're doing something that isn't spellcasting. – Ben Feb 28 at 3:40
    
@Ben That's one interpretation of sneaking but I'm happy using a more expansive one that includes masking/disguising the sounds. – Ceribia Feb 28 at 6:36

No. Charm Person is not obvious

Under Spellcasting…Targets, the PH states that spells with subtle effects can be cast without being noticed:

Unless a spell has a perceptible effect, a creature might not know it was targeted by a spell at all. An effect like crackling lightning is obvious, but a more subtle effect, such as an attempt to read a creature's thoughts, typically goes unnoticed, unless the spell says otherwise.

(PH, p 204, emphasis added)

Even the target typically doesn't know

The casting of charm person is subtle enough that even the target doesn't know about the spell until it expires.

When the spell ends,the creature knows it was charmed by you (Charm Person, PH 221)

If even the target of the spell is unlikely perceive it was cast, other observers would have less of a chance. (A court magician, trained in Arcana and watching for such things, would be a different case.)

Obvious Effects are called out in the spell description

Spells that are obvious when cast call that out in the description. For example, Knock makes a loud noise that alerts nearby creatures.

Social Spells are described in subtle terms

Compare Burning Hands:

As you hold your hands with thumbs touching and fingers spring, a thin sheet of flames shoots forth

...to Suggestion:

You attempt to charm a humanoid...

OK, that description just repeats the name of the spell, but consider Dominate Person

You attempt to beguile a humanoid...

These descriptions describe what casual onlookers will notice. You can try to charm or beguile someone without magic, it just might not be as effective.

Similar spells provide more detail. The components of Friends are described as:

A small amount of makeup applied to the face as the spell is cast

And after the Friends spell expires, the target "realizes you used magic to influence its mood" - calling out the effect of the spell, not the components of the casting, as having become obvious.

Lastly, let's consider Suggestion:

You suggest a course of action (limited to a sentence or two) and magically influence a creature

In this case the RAW are pretty clear, the physical manifestation of the spell is just that, there's no imp that appears on the targets shoulder to whisper in its ear.

Thus, when the wizard Suggest's to the head guard, "These aren't the constructs you are looking for," would we really expect the other guards to recognize the "combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance" in the old man's voice, and open fire?

Enchanters

Enchanter mages gain the ability to make targets of their charms unaware of the spell after it was cast, but there's no mention of the spell-casting itself going from obvious to subtle, which one might assume would be part of the enchanter benefits if it were needed.

Illusions

Also, if casting spells were tremendously obvious, many illusion spells would be not so useful.

Sorcerer Subtle Spell

Sorcerers have an ability called subtle spell which allows for casting without verbal or somatic components.

This has the power to make otherwise obvious spells subtle. For example, a manacled and gagged spell caster suddenly transforms into a wolf man and bursts his bonds. The guards think he's a werewolf, but he just subtly cast Alter Self and Knock.

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Thank you for your answer. I'm looking for a more RAW answer, and I've edited my question to reflect that. Your thoughts are welcome, though. – Jack Feb 27 at 20:21
    
Thanks. While the RAW doesn't address this directly in the casting a spell section, we can try to extrapolate from other areas (and the other answers have some good points). I would just be careful about being too strict with the magic users in this regard, as it would make their hard-earned spells pretty useless. – timster Feb 27 at 23:11
    
@timster characters won't know what spell is being cast, just that it is being cast. Using major image to cast an illusion of animate dead, arcane gate, or any other spell, should look, sound, and feel no different from an actual casting of it. Meaning, even if illusion spells are obviously being cast, the fact that it is an illusion is not obvious. – markovchain Feb 28 at 9:29
    
@timster - this is a pretty clever analysis. I never thought to compare the other social spells. – Jack Mar 3 at 12:52

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