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My human Pact of the Chain warlock will have a sprite as a familiar at level 3. I'd like to snag the Magic Initiate feat so I can grab the shillelagh cantrip, and have my sprite deliver it.

Can the sprite do this and use the weapon? If so, how would the attack and damage be calculated?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ More I was thinking of just giving the sprite a tiny-sized club from the get-go to replace its longsword, and it'd already have it handy. \$\endgroup\$ – Addo Oakwald Oct 22 '18 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're making a lot of assumptions and answers in your question. I'm going to try and clean it up to just the question and if you'd like you can submit an answer (that's okay!) with that material. If you don't agree, feel free to roll back the edit. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 22 '18 at 20:08
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The meaning of "You" should be consistent

Delivering touch spells via a familiar is usually a simple matter:

when you cast a spell with a range of touch, your familiar can deliver the spell as if it had cast the spell. (PHB, p. 240)

Usually, this means the spell functions as though you had cast it (for purposes of effects and modifiers), except that the familiar defines the range of the spell (within its reach).

But Shillelagh has a couple of terms within it that make the question of who had cast the spell problematic. Specifically:

for the duration, you can use your spellcasting ability instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of melee attacks using that weapon... The spell ends ... if you let go of the weapon.

Now, the meaning of "you" in the above sentence should be consistent. Either "you" is always the spellcaster or "you" is always the familiar. But neither option is good.

  1. If "You" is the spellcaster:

    In this case, the spell would automatically end immediately, because you are not holding the weapon in question, and thus you have effectively "let go of the weapon."

  2. If "You" is the familiar:

    As Szega pointed out, the familiar has no "spellcasting ability," and thus the damage would default to strength anyway (it would become a 1d8-4 attack and magical, but gain no other benefit). In many scenarios, this would be worse than its basic attacks. Or (as David Coffron pointed out in a comment) a DM might rule that the rules on magic items apply, and:

If you don't have a spellcasting ability...your spellcasting ability modifier is +0 for the item, and your proficiency bonus does apply. (DMG, p. 141)

Although this would become a 1d8+0 (a significant upgrade from the 1d1 it usually gets), it wouldn't be as effective as if you cast the spell on yourself. And the Sprite's poisoned shortbow would often be more effective (and certainly more likely to hit with a +6, rather than the +2 it would get from Shillelagh).

A DM could rule otherwise if they so desired (making "you" mean two different things, or ruling that since you never technically held the club in the first place, you haven't technically "let go" of it). But as written, the rules tend to discourage this strategy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Page 141 of the Dungeon Master's Guide says "If you don't have a spellcasting ability...your spellcasting ability modifier is +0 for the item, and your proficiency bonus does apply." This could also be a way for the DM to rule (while it usually only applies to magic items, this could be fitting). \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Oct 22 '18 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Where is this answer getting the 1d8 from? That'd be a pretty big upgrade for a sprite that normally deals 1d1 damage with its tiny-sized longsword. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Oct 23 '18 at 12:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Theik It's from Shillelagh, but it should be 1d8-4. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 23 '18 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the clarification @NautArch (and the question Theik). I've edited that in. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Oct 23 '18 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are we sure a shillelagh would have -4 damage from its strength? Neither of the sprite's weapons account for its ability score modifiers when regarding damage in its entry (its longsword does not account for strength penalty, and its shortbow does not account for its dexterity bonus) \$\endgroup\$ – Addo Oakwald Oct 25 '18 at 0:47
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Problem: What to use for the attack?

Most of the reasoning you present is correct. Shillelagh is a touch spell and it will be cast by the familiar. But a sprite has no spellcasting ability, yet it would have to use it according to the spell. The familiar can only use your spellcasting ability for spells that involve attack rolls(PHB 240), which shillelagh is not. Due to this it would have to use Strength, which is far from optimal.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Since it doesn't have a spellcasting ability, wouldn't it just default back to strength? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 22 '18 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Page 141 of the DMG says, for casting spells from items, that "If you don't have a spellcasting ability...your spellcasting ability modifier is +0 for the item, and your proficiency bonus does apply." So, that might suggest that the ability modifier here is just 0 + the sprite's proficiency. But that's nebulous at best since that section is only about casting spells from an item. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Oct 22 '18 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch If indeed you can't use it, then yes it would default to strength. I just meant to imply that this particular section might cause somebody to think that you're not locked out of using a spellcasting ability if you don't have one, since there is precedent in assuming it's 0+proficiency in the DMG. Even though I personally think that particular section is an exception rather than a general rule, I felt it worth addressing at least. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Oct 22 '18 at 20:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. As a wizard-only spell, a class without access to cure wounds, I would debate that familiars were meant to deliver it. I agree with Addo, that in that case it heals Xd8+0 or it cannot be cast. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Oct 22 '18 at 21:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. Even if you use "kind", you should pick an example that is actually a member of the set you are describing. My argument stands. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Oct 22 '18 at 22:59

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