In my last D&D session I thought I was very clever when, while in ranged combat with an enemy, I ducked behind some large boulders (providing full cover) and then targeted him with Dissonant Whispers.

You whisper a discordant melody that only one creature of your choice within range can hear, wracking it with terrible pain.

This implies I don't have to be able to see the target creature. Just that the target has to be able to hear and be within the 60 ft range.

Further interpretation of the quoted sentence says the chosen creature can hear the melody but not necessarily has to be able to hear you. A deafened creature succeeds at the saving throw but can still be targeted and take damage from it.

Is this valid in RAW?
Are there any rules against targeting single creatures when they are unseen but you can guess where they are when the spell does not rely on sight? (Concealed or invisible, but not hidden)?
Does the cover obstruct the creature's ability to hear me?

  • \$\begingroup\$ You are aware of the differences between Cover and Concealment, correct? \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Aug 31, 2018 at 16:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ "A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle." This is only the quote I know about the subject, implies that concealment means cover as far as combat targeting is concerned. I was concealed by a large 10' round boulder and therefore unable to be targeted by the enemy's Magic Missiles, and he was unable to be targeted by my Eldritch Blast, but not Dissonant Whispers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Duncan
    Aug 31, 2018 at 16:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that cover definition gets a bit muddy when you consider that Wall of Force grants totaly cover as well... i will try to find the podcast resources and post an answer for you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Aug 31, 2018 at 16:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related on Do you need line of sight to cast spells on someone? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 31, 2018 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


You don't need to see them for this spell but you still need a clear path.

You have total cover from each other in this case and therefore do not have a clear path to the target (PHB, p. 204) to the target. Take a listen to the Dragon Talk podcast for 1/19/2017 (specifically starting on 32:14 for your issue). Jeremy Crawford goes into more detail on targeting and how it is supposed to work.

He also tweeted the following clarification while leaving it to an individual DM:

Q: Dissonant Whispers: is the first sentence good enough to ignore total cover, or must the spells description mention it?

JC: Dissonant Whispers isn't meant to circumvent the need for a clear path to the target, but hearing is the key part. DM's call.

Then the following tweet about the difference between visibility and cover: (emphasis mine)

Q: So "A clear path to the target" section on phb204 doesn't apply to Slow spell? Or is it for the casting point?

JC: The clear-path rule is about there being a path clear of total cover. It's not about visibility.

The clear-path rule as a definition is widely accepted (although it is ambiguously defined in the PHB) as you cannot have total cover between the caster and the target in a straight line.

Certain spells like Sacred Flame do not require a clear path to the target by design, as detailed by JC on that podcast, since it descends upon them from on high.

Comparisons and the exceptional.

From Sacred Flame:

...gains no benefit from cover for this saving throw.

No such text exists for Dissonant Whispers.

The general rule for all spells is that you require a clear path to the target. Dissonant Whispers does not countermand that general rule, therefore it doesn't remove that requirement. Unlike Sacred Flame which specifically says the target can't benefit from cover.

It could go something like this:

  1. You could cast the spell at your target then duck behind the cover.
  2. Then, of course, the enemy could easily use the Ready action to hit you with Magic Missile as soon as he sees you.
  3. Your next turn you would have to peak over your cover to target him again. Tactics in action.

You can target creatures you can't see with Dissonant Whispers but only if you have a clear path to it.

Credit to @Rubiksmoose for helping with the Tweets which are easier than going through the Podcast covering the same general material.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So if I am unable to target a concealed and/or covered creature with Dissonant Whispers because there is no direct path, could I still target an invisible creature that isn't hidden, meaning I still know where it is? There is a direct path to that creature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Duncan
    Aug 31, 2018 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Duncan Yes, you can target things with concealment that are not stealthed. You technically can target even those if you beat their Stealth check with your perception. The idea behind DW is that you can target things in the dark or invisible, not having to be able to see them but you still require a clear path. So no Wall of Force or Window or something like that. The Tweet that Aguinaldo Silvestre references is what JC was talking about which eliminates obscurement/concealment but not cover. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Aug 31, 2018 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ YOu may also want to include that there was a likely a very easy way for this to work. The bard was not behind that boulder the whole time (they had to have seen their target to know it was on the other side) and could have cast DW before ducking behind the boulder. Casting it from cover also creates the problem of how doyou move away from the bard if you don't know where the bard is :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 31, 2018 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch To correct your last sentence, I (a Warlock :P) was not hidden, so even if I was unseen the target still knew where I was. It didn't end up mattering because the psychic damage happened to be lethal. To add clarification to the "clear path" target requirement: are there any other examples of single target spells (not spell attacks) that don't require vision and have more explicit wording than DW? \$\endgroup\$
    – Duncan
    Aug 31, 2018 at 18:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trisped I added the source and link to Clear Path in the first instance of use in the first paragraph. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:03

Although the part you quoted doesn't mention seeing the target, you do still need a clear path.

This is detailed in the general spellcasting targeting rules. From the Player's Handbook:

A Clear Path to the Target

To target something, you must have a clear path to it, so it can't be behind total cover.

Note that for some spells the 'target' is just a point you specify (like a fireball). For those kinds of spells you could specify a point you can see to the side and beyond a rock and the fireball's area of effect could still affect someone hiding behind this rock.

But if the spell says it affects "a target", then you must follow the clear path rule quoted above.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that you can see a target and still not have a clear path (behind a sheet wall with a window in it for example). In your second sentence you seem to conflate the two when you say "it also doesn't mention that you don't have to see it.". \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31, 2018 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that the addition of AOE spells might confuse the target focus of this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Aug 31, 2018 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may find this and this JC tweet helpful. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31, 2018 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Many single target style spells explicitly mention "that you can see", for example , Healing word, which is also a verbal target spell. If they don't mention it I assume its not a requirement. The "clear path" requirement for a target is still being discussed in this thread, but it seems it might be a separate requirement from sight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Duncan
    Aug 31, 2018 at 18:54

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