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One of the bandit ready a melee attack against a wizard when he cast a spell. My PC knows something was off, and pulled a fake spellcasting (successful Performance).

First, I agree that the spellcasting has no perceivable effect, unless it says so (fire or whatever). So, sensing danger, the bandit use his reaction to attack the wizard.

Is it allowed to use the readied attack on a fake spellcast when the trigger is "when the enemy casts a spell?"

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The readied action should trigger if the creature believes a spell has been cast

The description for the Ready Action says:

First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction.

So, the trigger must be perceivable. Spells do not have effects before they are cast so the only things you can observe are the somatic, verbal, and handling of the material components. Then, of course you might be able to observe the actual effects of a cast spell.

Note: the readied action will always take place after the trigger has completed

If the trigger such as "when the enemy casts a spell" is used, then the readied action takes place after the spellcasting (or fake spellcasting) has been completed. The way the rules are written, no wording of a readied action can interrupt the trigger. It seems to be a matter of debate whether any readied action can be made such that the trigger would happen before the spell is completed. See Timing of the Ready action when the trigger is associated with spell casting? and Is it possible to interrupt spellcasting? for more discussion on this topic.

Let us examine how the readied action will work with the trigger "when the enemy casts a spell" for both a real spell and a faked spell.

  • Real spell (casting and effects perceivable) - would trigger

    This is the one of the clear-cut cases. If one can clearly observe the casting and the effects of a spell, clearly a creature would be able to see that a spell has been cast. Thus, after the spell has been cast completely, the readied action would be able to be taken.

  • Real spell (casting and effects imperceivable) - would not trigger

    This is the other clear-cut case. It is possible to make the casting of a spell imperceptible through the use of metamagic and/or other spells (eg silence). Pairing that with a spell whose effects were not observable, results in a spell that is completely imperceivable. Thus, there is nothing that would trigger a readied action.

  • Real spell (only effects perceivable) - would trigger

    If the spell was made to have imperceivable casting but perceivable effects the readied action would trigger because the spell effects would obviously be a sign that a spell had been cast.

  • Real spell (only casting perceivable) - might trigger

    At this point, things become murkier. If the caster makes the casting of the spell obvious but there are no observable effects of the spell the readied action may trigger.

    There is no real rules guidance for a case like this that I can find. However, it seems that a reasonable way to handle this would be for the DM to determine if the character could reasonably believe that a spell was cast. This could be through an arcana check or something similar. If the DM decides that they do suspect a spell has been cast, the readied action could trigger even if the effects if the spell are not perceivable.

    This makes sense from a narrative sense because a character is relying on their own knowledge and senses to watch for the trigger. If they suspect from their observation that the trigger has occurred, they will then proceed to carry out their planned action.

  • Fake "spell" (only "casting" perceivable) - might trigger

    In this case, the spellcaster would fake words and gestures and the handling of material components, but nothing would happen. Since they are not casting a spell, there are no spell effects. Since there are no spell effects, this case is murky just like the last one.

    In fact, from the action-readier's point of view, this case is identical to the last case (only casting perceivable) since without an observable spell effect there is no way to be certain that a spell was cast.

    Thus, similarly the DM should determine whether the character believes the trigger has occurred. In this case, this might involve an insight check or arcana check opposed against a deception from the caster. The DM can use whatever method of determination that seems best for the scenario. The important thing is that, if the character would truly believe the trigger to have occurred, they should be able to take their readied action. If the character recognizes that the caster is faking, then the character knows that the trigger condition has not occurred and will not take their readied action.

Other trigger wordings probably will work better

If one wanted to craft a trigger that worked when a spellcaster is casting a spell and when they are pretending to cast one, then you must use a different wording than "when the enemy casts a spell".

A more workable trigger if one wanted to achieve this goal might be "When someone looks like they are casting a spell" or "when the wizard raises his wand" or "when the spellcaster makes a movement that appears aggressive to me".

Since there are so many circumstances that can occur, it is going to be exceedingly difficult to craft a trigger that will work with certainty, but the above will certainly work in some circumstances and definitely will work if the spellcaster is pretending to cast.

Thus, through careful wording, you can trigger a readied action on either real and/or faked spellcasting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 27 '18 at 4:24
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The problem with doing this is that a readied action occurs after the triggering action is completed. PHB p.193: "When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes, or ignore the trigger." So if you ready an attack on the basis of spellcasting, the spell gets cast, and then the readied attack happens, RAW. Only the Counterspell spell actually allows you to interrupt the casting of a spell that takes an action (or less) to cast.

Now, the bandit in question may not know that spellcasting is so quick, so he might try to ready his swing to do this anyway, not knowing that he would not be quick enough to stop the casting. In which case, I think this was played correctly -- the mage faked spellcasting long enough for the bandit to react to it and swing, and the bandit, not knowing any better, was fooled and swung. The mage would then be free to actually use his action to cast his spell. The only reason I could see for the mage doing this is if he was intending to cast a Concentration spell, and didn't want the bandit to smack him and maybe make him lose the spell, so he wanted to take the hit first and then cast the Concentration spell after.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hitting someone before they get a spell off doesn't stop the spell from being cast, unless you happen to kill the caster. And faking a spell casting would like be considered an action, possibly including a Deception or Performance roll. Spellcasting is no quicker than an attack. Each takes an action. All a readied action would do would be to let you attack first. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Feb 27 '18 at 6:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's all DM rulings/interpretation. If the DM lets the bandit swing at the mage while he is still casting, then I agree with your first sentence. But that's not RAW; that's a DM ruling. RAW is that the spell is the trigger, and the trigger finishes before the readied action happens. Faking a spell may or may not be an action itself, depending on the elaborateness of the fakery. Since the mage in this example took the time to make a "Performance" roll to fool the bandit, then yes he probably used his action to do that, but that wouldn't always have to be the case. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Boncer Feb 27 '18 at 7:13

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