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The cantrip Message:

You point your finger towards a creature within range and whisper a message. The Target (and only the target) hears the message and can reply in a whisper that only you can hear.

Does this qualify as speaking to someone? Are there specific rules somewhere that state what qualifies as "speaking?"


I'm not sure if there are other abilities in other classes but College of Whisper Bard has an ability, Words of Terror, that in part reads:

If you speak to a humanoid alone for at least 1 minute, you can attempt to seed paranoia in its mind.

If the Message cantrip being whispered is considered speaking then it should be able to trigger Words Of Terror.


updated portion

I was planning on posting this as a separate question but seeing the answers I was receiving and comments on them when this was solely about Message it felt like it could be made as one question.

At 3rd level, you learn to infuse innocent-seeming words with an insidious magic that can inspire terror. If you speak to a humanoid alone for at least 1 minute, you can attempt to seed paranoia in its mind. At the end of the conversation, the target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC or be frightened of you or another creature of your choice. The target is frightened in this way for 1 hour, until it is attacked or damaged, or until it witnesses its allies being attacked or damaged. If the target succeeds on its saving throw, the target has no hint that you tried to frighten it. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

What in fact constitutes "speak to a humanoid alone?" Here are some scenarios I can think of that may help you consider possibilities before hastily answering:

  1. There are two guards 30 ft away from one another in front of a gate. I walk up specifically to the guard on the left and ask my comrades to distract the one on the right with their own conversation. Would this qualify as "speaking alone?"

  2. If we agree that Message qualifies as speaking, and only the mark can hear me and only I can hear the mark's reply would this qualify as "speaking alone?

  3. If a Rogue friend is lurking in the shadows to protect me if things go south but the mark has no idea would this qualify as "speaking alone?"

  4. If I stumble upon a barracks and two guards are sleeping in different beds and I Message only one of them would that qualify as "speaking alone?"

  5. If I multiclass into Warlock and acquire Dark Delirium would its use qualify as "speaking alone?"

  6. If I become invisible by potion or spell and talk to my Mark when others cannot hear us would that qualify as "speaking alone?"

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Since Dungeons and Dragons has no specific overriding definition for "Speaking" we have to rely on plain English:

the action of conveying information or expressing one's thoughts and feelings in spoken language.

The text for the Message spell indicates as much that you are communicating in a spoken manner.

Now here is where I think it gets a bit muddy but not unreasonable. You have to use the Cast a Spell action to do this and you would have to do so 10 times to meet the limitation of the Words of Terror ability. On top of that it would be reasonable to assume that the target is "alone" and possibly you are as well (still within Message range obviously), by implication of the wording. But this can be both literal and figurative and would be left to DM decision.

The "alone" in my opinion is to compound that feeling of isolation and paranoia without the ability to corraborate with others what is being said. However, a DM could rule that the medium of the spell satisfies that by itself. Your table mileage may vary.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Is it "if you speak to a humanoid while alone," "if you speak to ahumanoid that's alone," "if you speak to a humanoid and that humanoid alone," or "if you speak to a humanoid while you are both alone together" \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Apr 5 '18 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron I think the informal usage in English in this case lends itself to you and the target alone together but, all in all this is a creative usage as well as perfectly in line with the Class Archetype so I personally love the idea, I would just rule a few caveats to prevent abuse. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 5 '18 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to post a second unique question asking, "What constitutes alone?" but given the consistency of answers and comments here I've updated my Question to reflect this slightly broader scope. -- and @Slagmoth glad you like it, I'm a lvl 7 whisper bard and absolutely love getting creative with it. \$\endgroup\$ – RyanFromGDSE Apr 5 '18 at 18:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanFromGDSE yeah the rest of the question though is entirely DM discretion. In the absence of specific language to counter English we rely on English is the general rule but this is an edge case and will be entirely in your DM's wheelhouse. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 5 '18 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth you think I should roll back to leave it as just the Message part? \$\endgroup\$ – RyanFromGDSE Apr 5 '18 at 18:56
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This is potentially reasonable.

Words of Terror requires you to hold a conversation with someone, alone, for a minute. Use of the Message spell definitely enables you to have a private conversation with someone at a distance - that is the very purpose of the cantrip, and as it is a cantrip you can simply repeat it for as long as is required to achieve your communication - so, as a medium of communication, there's no reason that Message could not be used to deliver your Words of Terror ability.

The water is muddied where it is required that you have a conversation alone. I would suggest that, as written and intended, the target is required to be isolated - not in communication with anyone except you. Thus, I would not rule that you could use Message to effect Words of Terror on a target who was also conversing with other people, even though Message allows you to have a private conversation in such circumstances. You can use it to effect someone at a distance as long as they're already isolated, but you can't use Message to instil paranoia in a target who is in a social situation - if they talk to (or are talked to by) someone else while you're trying to do this, it ruins the effect.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, this was what I got, too. It's hard to Gaslight someone against everyone else when they are talking with other people. Now, if you used Dark Delirium (17th Level Archfey Warlock) with Words of Terror (3rd Level Bard), you could qualify that as being "alone" since the target can only see and hear you, themselves, and the illusion. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 5 '18 at 18:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeraphsWrath I love that character idea (evil NPC maybe... delicious), just jump into a political meeting and turn the king into a frightened child so he goes to war with the neighboring nation (with some expertise in Intimidation, Deception, and/or Persuasion of course). \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Apr 5 '18 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron I was actually thinking of something like that as I was writing this... If I ever do another Lawful Evil character, that's what I think I'm going to do. As it is, however, I have one character already in a game and one lined-up to be my next character. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 5 '18 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to post a second unique question asking, "What constitutes alone?" but given the consistency of answers and comments here I've updated my Question to reflect this slightly broader scope. \$\endgroup\$ – RyanFromGDSE Apr 5 '18 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm thinking that in the "two guards at a gate" situation, Messaging one might still constitute "alone" if the guards are either too far apart to converse or are still/silent, such as a Buckingham Palace guard (where, when on duty, they're generally not permitted to converse). \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Apr 5 '18 at 20:13
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Message would qualify as speaking

As you've stated, Message is a whisper which is a way of speaking. And they can even reply back, so this is area conversation, too.

A conversation between you and just one person definitely qualifies as speaking to them alone.

You got the time? You got the terror.

The harder bit is that Message is only 6 seconds. You'd need to maintain the ability to send 10 messages consecutively.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ But they have to be alone. Not just a single conversation, but the target actually has to be isolated from other people. This is easy physically, but if the target is talking to other people while you are using Message to speak to it, then they are not "alone." \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 5 '18 at 18:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeraphsWrath The message discussion is isolated between the caster and they're target. No one else can listen or participate. That seems like you're functionally talking to them 'alone'. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 5 '18 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeraphsWrath would you consider texting someone during a meeting talking to "them alone?" I would \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Apr 5 '18 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron But a Text wouldn't qualify as spoken words, and they are in no way obligated to not show everyone else your text or (@Nautarch) tell them about the Message, especially since it is just "simple, innocent words." Also, consider that the effect doesn't start immediately, only after you've been talking to them for one minute. So, until the minute has passed, they have no idea that you are seeding paranoia in their mind. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 5 '18 at 18:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron Informal versus formal usage in English. We commonly use talking/speaking/texting/chatting interchangably but they call can have different meanings in context, but are still considered the same by most common usage. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 5 '18 at 18:50
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To answer what qualifies as "Speaking Alone"

1.) There are two guards 30 ft away from one another in front of a gate. I walk up specifically to the guard on the left and ask my comrades to distract the one on the right with their own conversation. Would this qualify as "speaking alone?"

Yes, this qualifies as Speaking Alone, since you are physically isolated by 30 feet from the other guard and that character is not participating in the conversation nor in any other.

2.) If we agree that Message qualifies as speaking, and only the mark can hear me and only I can hear the mark's reply would this qualify as "speaking alone?

Not necessarily. The Mark could always tell his friends about the Conversation, which would mean that they are now involved, meaning that you are no longer speaking to the Mark Alone.

3.) If a Rogue friend is lurking in the shadows to protect me if things go south but the mark has no idea would this qualify as "speaking alone?"

I would rule this as a Yes, because the Rogue is not participating in any conversation, even a Side-Conversation, with the Mark.

4.) If I stumble upon a barracks and two guards are sleeping in different beds and I Message only one of them would that qualify as "speaking alone?"

No, because the Sleeping Guard is not capable of Listening to you, and you can't communicate with it through Dreams with Message. However, if you woke him, and he didn't wake the other guard, then you would be Speaking Alone.

5.) If I multiclass into Warlock and acquire Dark Delirium would its use qualify as "speaking alone?"

Yes, because, no matter who else can hear you, the conversation is uninterrupted (so long as you choose it to be) because the Mark is incapable of hearing anyone else try to interrupt. Thus, the only person who can be interrupted is you, because you are the only one who can hear the others.

6.) If I become invisible by potion or spell and talk to my Mark when others cannot hear us would that qualify as "speaking alone?"

If no one else is capable of hearing you or the Mark, then you are speaking to them alone. However, if they Can hear you, they can interject or interrupt, and then you are not speaking to the Mark alone.

So, to unify this all into an Answer

To be "Speaking to Someone Alone" requires that You Alone be speaking to you and the Target Alone listening and responding (different from replying). This is why Message can be murky: It does not prevent the Target from telling their friends about it and having a discussion on that, and, at that point, only the Target is speaking to you, but multiple people are speaking to the Target and the Target is speaking to multiple people. And, at this point, there are multiple people responding to what you are saying. They just aren't responding to you.

That no longer qualifies as "Speaking Alone," that's more like, "Speaking with a person through a Radio and the rest of the FBI van they are in," which can hardly be considered speaking with that person alone.

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