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My question: is there any official statement that says that a spell has the same words/gestures independent of who's casting it?

So, for example, if a halfling wizard casts fireball: would the words he has to say as verbal components and the gestures he does as somatic components be the same as an elf sorcerer casting the same spell?

Would a ranger know that another ranger that he can see cast Hunter's Mark on him just by seeing the somatic components and/or hearing the verbal components?

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Unclear

The rules do not provide specific words for a spell, as they do with material components. Nor do they usually list specific hand gestures (Burning Hands is an example of an exception). The rules do say:

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, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion.

In the description of the Weave (which is not binding on non-Forgotten Realms campaigns), it goes on to say:

but casters have varied ways of naming and visualizing this interface

It is unclear from the text if this means "individual casters", or "types of casters", which could be grouped into arcane and divine, or even broken out by class or school.

Note that some casters can use Counterspell against another's spell, indicating that they know a spell is about to be cast, but there is nothing that says the caster of Counterspell knows in advance which spell is being cast, nor at what level. This would seem to imply that each caster's style is unique, but this is by no means a strong conclusion.

In the absence of specific wording to the contrary, the final interpretation must lie within the province of the campaign and the DM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ counterspell would be akin to sensing changes in the weave around them. you don't need to know how the weave is changing, only to know that it is (and recognise how to counter it) \$\endgroup\$ – AngryCarrotTop Jul 4 '17 at 10:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sidenote: The sourcebooks are very clear that the WRITTEN FORM of spells in Spellbooks vary heavily from caster to caster (even within one class), but this could also mean that they are simply using different words for "wave your hand" etc., so its not a strong indicator for either side \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Dec 13 '19 at 12:42
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No, they are not the same

First, look at verbal components.

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, with specific pitch and resonance[...]

Now, ask yourself if any two spellcasters can create exactly the same pitch as each other during spellcasting. Would a male and female spellcaster cast fireball with the exact same pitch, or is it more likely that the male caster will use a lower pitch, while the female caster will use a higher pitch?

If a specific resonance is required that is the same across all casters, does that mean nobody can cast inside an echo chamber? Being inside such a chamber will definitely create a difference in resonance, as the mystic words will start to overlap with each other, resonating with itself, totally unlike the caster's normal voice.

The answer to both questions is no. Spellcasters have different voices, between males and female, and between members of the same sex. They also change resonance from place to place. However, in any situation, regardless of gender, they should be able to cast the same spells (provided they know them, and the spells are in their class list). A male caster inside an echo chamber will be able to cast fireball just as well as a female caster outdoors.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You mean that 2 different spellcasters can cast the same spell using different pitches and that allow the words used to also differ? \$\endgroup\$ – Manner Jun 22 '17 at 23:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ The words themselves don't matter. The pitches and resonance do. But two casters can cast with differently pitched voices. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jun 23 '17 at 1:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ It says "the words aren't the source of the power", not "the words don't matter". The "combination of sounds" matters, along with pitch and resonance. This could mean that the words themselves are the same from caster to caster, but must be said with an acceptable pitch and resonance. "Wingardeum Levi-OH-sa", not "Wingardeum Levio-SAH", to use a pop culture example. ") \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jul 24 '17 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis Right, but in the HP universe, Dumbledore/Voldemort could probably cast the levitation spell with a flick of the wand, and many spells have nonverbal equivalents. So, in that universe, it's also not the same for different people, even with the same spell. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Jul 24 '17 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain I wasn't intending an extended metaphor, just an example of how the same words can vary by delivery. 5e doesn't give hard rules on this. I was merely showing that it might be a valid interpretation that the words could be the same from caster to caster, but that it's important that they be said in just the right way. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jul 24 '17 at 17:57
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Yes.

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, with specific pitch and resonance[...]

What we see here is that there is a specific set of sounds that a caster can make to create the a spell. This shows that the incantations are specific to the spell and not the caster.

If you need further proof, consider the scroll. A caster can only read a scroll if it is on her spell list. Imagine a Scroll of Light which casts the cantrip Light. The Light spell can be cast by the Wizard, Sorcerer, Cleric and Bard. If this Scroll of Light had a specific incantation written on it, specific to the Wizard (for example), then the other classes wouldn't be able to activate the scroll. Since this is not the case and any caster who has the spell from the scroll in their class list can use the scroll, we can see that the incantations for each class are the same.

As for recognising spells, if the second ranger is in range and able to see and hear the casting ranger AND knows the Hunter's Mark spell, I usually say that the second ranger would know that the Hunter's Mark spell is being cast, although he might not be able to guess who the target is. I would suggest an arcana check to determine the target as a reaction, and also to use the arcana check to know which spell is being cast if the second ranger does not know the spell. I would suggest a very high DC to determine the spell during a reaction, and if the spell is not on the class list of the ranger, I would suggest that it would be much higher.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That quote doesn't rule out the possibility that there might be multiple possible "combinations of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance" that produce the same effect. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jun 22 '17 at 12:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Yes, likewise the example of the scroll (class differences) seems to argue for there being more than one way to trigger the effect. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 22 '17 at 14:04
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Still no official answer, but XGtE makes it more likely

Xanathar's Guide to Everything, released Nov 2017 (five months after this question was asked and answered), contains the optional rule to allow characters to use a reaction to identify a spell as it is being cast, or to use an action to identify a spell by effect after it is cast. For the purposes of this question, the reaction is more important, for while identifying a spell after it is cast would rely on recognizing the effects of the spell, which are universal, identifying a spell as it is being cast argues strongly for universal verbal and somatic components that can, in fact, be recognized.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything p.85 (emphases mine)

Identifying A Spell
Sometimes a character wants to identify a spell that someone else is casting or that was already cast. To do so, a character can use their reaction to identify a spell as it's being cast, or they can use an action on their turn to identify a spell by its effect after it is cast.

If the character perceived the casting, the spell's effect, or both, the character can make an Intelligence (Arcana) check with the reaction or action. The DC equals 15 + the spell's level. If the spell is cast as a class spell and the character is a member of that class, the check is made with advantage. For example, if the spellcaster casts a spell as a cleric, another cleric has advantage on the check to identify the spell. Some spells aren't associated with any class when they're cast, such as when a monster uses its Innate Spellcasting trait.

This Intelligence (Arcana) check represents the fact that identifying a spell requires a quick mind and familiarity with the theory and practice of casting. This is true even for a character whose spellcasting ability is Wisdom or Charisma. Being able to cast spells doesn't by itself make you adept at deducing exactly what others are doing when they cast their spells

While none of this explicitly says that verbal and somatic components are the same for everyone, several details argue for that position.

  1. Perceiving someone in the process of casting a spell gives you a chance to identify it. If another caster had their own repertoire of sounds and gestures with which you were not familiar, what would there be for you to recognize? Note also that this is pitched at a DC15, a "Medium" check, not even a hard one.

  2. If the spell is on your spell list, you have advantage on the check. That is, you are more likely to recognize spells which you yourself can cast. That makes sense if what you are actually recognizing is the same sounds and gestures you yourself use. With the effective '+5 of advantage', recognizing spells you yourself can cast is essentially a DC10 "easy" check.

  3. The rules say you can use this if you are "perceiving" a spell - not seeing it. This makes it likely that you are not only recognizing the universal gestures but the sounds as well.

  4. The skill used is specifically Intelligence (Arcana). In this case, Intelligence is about memory, pattern recognition, and attention to detail. That makes sense if you are recognizing the familiar elements of universally used sounds and gestures. If it was more about understanding the intuitive 'feel' of the magic irrespective of different sounds and gestures, Wisdom (Perception) would be a better skill check, or Wisdom (Religion) for divine casters.

Thus, while not saying so explicitly, everything in these optional rules points to there being universal verbal and somatic components, just as we already know there are universal material components.

To answer your questions specifically:

is there any official statement that says that a spell has the same words/gestures independent of who's casting it?

Officially no, but the optional rules in XGtE make is seem very likely.

if a halfling wizard casts fireball: would the words he has to say as verbal components and the gestures he does as somatic components be the same as an elf sorcerer casting the same spell?

It appears so (with the caveat that the sorcerer may be using subtle spell metamagic so as to not use verbal or somatic components).

Would a ranger know that another ranger that he can see cast Hunter's Mark on him just by seeing the somatic components and/or hearing the verbal components?

Yes, provided he made an Intelligence (Arcana) check at DC16 with advantage and spent his reaction to do so.

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People are good at recognizing particular combinations of sounds

A spell’s verbal component, like any chant or song, is a “particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance” (PH p. 204).

Just as you can recognize a song even when it’s sung by a different singer, a creature might recognize the particular chant of a spell.

Somatic Components or a spell are also particular

Burning Hands mentions specific somatic gestures in the spell description — casters must touch their thumbs together. There is no allowance for a caster deciding they would rather make another gesture.

I would posit the somatic component of Burning Hands are not unusual, even if it’s unusual that the gesture is defined in the rules. It’s just the example that is called out. Other spells would have their own, particular “forceful gesticulation or…intricate set of gestures.”

Just like Material Components

The material components of given spells are quite particular. A caster cannot just substitute sapphires and a few garnets, instead of rubies. There’s no basis in the rules for assuming the verbal and somatic components are any more free-form. “Particular" (PH, p 2014) is the word.

But leveraging this knowledge is not automatic

Although the components of a spell are particular that does not make them obvious. Often, it is the effect of a spell that is obvious:

“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...” (PH 204)

Sage Advice backs up the notion that casting a spell is subtle: “Some spells are so subtle that you might not know you were ever under their effects.”

Unfortunately, we don’t really get any guidance on how to determine the how likely it is that the character “might not know” about the casting of a spell — that will be a matter of DM ruling.

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