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The darkness spell can be cast on small objects, and can be covered, but can it be cast on the blade of a dagger, and covered by sheathing the dagger and leaving the rest bare?

Or do I have to cast darkness on the entire dagger, and keep the dagger covered in a cloth or pocket?

Alternatively, are pieces of whole objects valid targets for spells? What defines an "object"? Is a blade separate from a hilt? Is my ring separate from my hand?

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Yes; darkness targets a point, not an object

From the description of the darkness spell:

Magical darkness spreads from a point you choose within range to fill a 15-foot-radius sphere for the duration. The darkness spreads around corners. A creature with darkvision can't see through this darkness, and nonmagical light can't illuminate it.

If the point you choose is on an object you are holding or one that isn't being worn or carried, the darkness emanates from the object and moves with it. Completely covering the source of the darkness with an opaque object, such as a bowl or a helm, blocks the darkness.

As you can see, darkness does not target the object itself; it targets a point you choose within range, which can be on an object. If you covered the entire object except for that one point, the darkness would still emanate and would not be blocked. On the other hand, if you block that one point on the object, then the darkness is blocked even if you don't block the rest of the object.

In your example: you could cast darkness on a point on the blade of your dagger and then sheathe it, which would block the darkness from emanating from that point until uncovered.

Note that for the second paragraph of the spell description to apply, it has to be a point on either an object you are holding, or an object that isn't being worn or carried. Technically, those parts of the spell would not apply if you cast the spell on any other point.

(To clarify why I say darkness originates from a point on the object rather than the object as a whole: The entire object can't be "a point" that the darkness emanates from. The point of origin of the spell is a single point. If that point is on an object you're holding or an object that's not worn/held, then the point of origin "sticks" to that point on the object - but the entire object can't serve as the spell's single point of origin.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So you could just as well have a point on your fingernail that you could keep covered with a finger. Perfect answer, thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Zastoupil Jul 6 '18 at 23:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also: for the second paragraph of the spell description to apply, it has to be a point on either an object you are holding, or an object that isn't being worn or carried. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 6 '18 at 23:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast True. And I think that if you have a fake fingernail on your fingertip, then you aren't "holding" it (any more than you are "holding" a hat while wearing it on your head). If you want the spell to move with an object, the point you chose must be on an object you carry: not one you wear (and certainly not on a point on your own body, since that's part of a creature, not an object). \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Jul 7 '18 at 0:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suppose it wouldn't work on a fake fingernail, then. (That point didn't occur to me until I left that comment.) I've edited the answer to clarify. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 7 '18 at 1:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli It also matters that by RAW, you only get to interact with one object once on your turn for free: further interaction requires an action. So taking off a glove, casting a spell, and then putting the glove back on can't all be done on the same turn. So it seems to me it's hardly "pointless" whether or not you have to remove the glove. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Jul 7 '18 at 1:35

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