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Sanctuary is a spell with the following clause:

If the warded creature makes an attack, casts a spell that affects an enemy, or deals damage to another creature, this spell ends.

The bolded part is the point of contention.

Do the following two scenarios count as "affecting an enemy" for the purposes of this spell?

  1. A caster using Sanctuary and then casting Minor Illusion to produce a Dragon Roar to scare off frightened villagers. [Scare]

  2. A Sorcerer using Sanctuary and then casting a Subtle Bonfire to convince a dimwitted bandit that he has been cursed with "Every time you ask a question, something catches fire around you" [Lie]

In both of these cases, enemies of the player are being affected, specifically by being convinced, through the uses of the spells. Should the player be attacked by something immediately after, are the effects of Sanctuary terminated in either case?

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There are multiple considerations here

Is the target an enemy?

Sanctuary (PHB, p. 272-273) specifies that an enemy may not be affected. It says nothing about neutral or allied characters:

If the warded creature makes an attack, casts a spell that affects an enemy, or deals damage to another creature, this spell ends.

In the case of the villagers, are they hostile? If not, then casting a spell that directly affects them would be allowed, though doing so might provoke the villagers which would mean that further spell casts would be against hostile creatures and therefore end sanctuary.

Does the spell affect the target or does it produce an effect to which the target reacts?

Minor illusion (PHB, p. 260) says (in part):

You create a sound or an image of an object that lasts for the duration. The illusion ends early if you dismiss it as an action or cast this spell again.

Minor illusion does not target a creature or specify an "area of effect." It creates an image. It affects a creature only in the sense that pleasant music or a sad story affects it. This is different from the rule sense of affecting a creature like fireball does.

Create bonfire MAY end the spell, but not necessarily so

Create bonfire (EEPC, p. 17; XGtE, p. 152) says:

You create a bonfire on ground that you can see within range. Until the spell ends, the magic bonfire fills a 5-foot cube. Any creature in the bonfire’s space when you cast the spell must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 fire damage. A creature must also make the saving throw when it moves into the bonfire’s space for the first time on a turn or ends its turn there.

Create bonfire then produces the same sort of effect as minor illusion, in that a creature may experience it as a stimulus (be "affected by" it). This assumes you do not cast the bonfire beneath a creature. However, if the creature moves into the space of the bonfire (say, to investigate), it would cause the creature to be affected by the fire in the rule sense (take damage), which would end the sanctuary spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What's the basis for a "rule sense of affecting a creature" that excludes what illusion spells do? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Dec 13 '18 at 6:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mark Wells, from the spellcasting rules: "Spells such as burning hands and cone of cold cover an area, allowing them to affect multiple creatures at once. A spell's description specifies its area of effect, which typically has one of five different shapes: cone, cube, cylinder, line, or sphere." \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Dec 13 '18 at 18:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's an explanation of "area of effect", not of the word "affect", which looks to have its usual English meaning of "to influence" or "to cause to change". \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Dec 13 '18 at 23:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Me answer relies on the fact that the rules say that they affect creatures when they mention creatures either as a target or as interacting with them in some way, usually by being in an area. Other spells, like minor illusion do not contain this interaction: targets are not specified and in fact the word "creature" isn't even used except to specify a DC for them to investigate if they choose. This is why my answer distinguishes between affecting creatures in a rules sense and a plain English sense. I believe the rules for sanctuary only care about the former. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Dec 14 '18 at 8:10
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No, it doesn't

If the illusory effect doesn't affect creatures, but affects the environment then the sanctuary spell stays. The effect might simulate a threat, but it's basically just a better intimidation, and intimidating doesn't break sanctuary, unless the illusion spell itself can deal damage or has some kind of effect in its description that makes creatures behave in a different way than is natural to them.

If the spell targets the environment and the damaging effect is misinterpreted by the creature, then the sanctuary stays, unless the bandit walks into the bonfire and takes damage from it.

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No, it doesn't

Scaring or lying to an enemy doesn't count as affecting them for the purposes of the sanctuary spell since the spell was written as a time-out: keeping you or an ally safe while preventing cheating - you harming an enemy's stats or HP value.

Also, the word "affect" isn't to be taken in the Webster's dictionary sense within a D&D definition. In D&D we cast spells to affect someone / something by placing an altering magical effect on them / it.

  • You aren't altering the minds or bodies of your enemies with a spell.

    You are hoping that your causation has an effect on your surroundings. While hope and faith are fundamental tools for a cleric I wouldn't count them as an unfair use of spells whilst in sanctuary.

In the future, if you or a DM (or if you are a DM) have questions about rules interpretation just keep in mind that the rules are meant to make the game fun to play. These tips may come in handy:

If you're playing with friends

Everyone at the table hopefully is on equal power levels and everyone is having a good time. That said, they're your friends so you can hopefully trust the DM if they are being stiff about you playing so cleverly - maybe they had another outcome in mind that required those villagers to hang around, or that guard to ask questions and you might be making it hard for the DM to move you through the story.

The best time for rules discussion is before or after a session, so as not to ruin the fun for everyone. The DM, being your friend, really wants to make the game fun for you but always respect their limitations.

If you're playing with acquaintances

Sometimes you can't find enough friends to run a D&D jaunt and you need to scratch that role-playing itch. This is a bad pinch. Always follow what the DM says is acceptable during a session. Don't bother arguing, you'll just be "that dude" that doesn't play well with others and you may have trouble picking up games at your local store in the future.

If you're playing in a sanctioned event

Generally there is a "rules lawyer" i.e. the person who runs the games for the store and is authorized to clarify the rules. If you feel unfairly treated, or think that there is an interpretation that is unclear, you'd ask them. The answers are generally logical, concise and consider your actions and weigh them against how the rules are intended to make the game run. This is a really great way to learn how to play without offending anyone and the chance to try out all your zany spell ideas.

Hope you find that perfect game!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already. This is quite a thorough answer, though I might suggest summarizing the "correct" rule interpretation before launching into a long discussion about why the DM might have done what they did or how one should handle rules discussions in general. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 18 '18 at 2:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see what you're saying there V2Blast. My answer belongs and has probably already been beaten to death on a more general topic about rules questioning. I got all longwinded and excited to write out my first helpful post. Honestly, all the "correct" rules interpretations had already been given so I decided to go with a different but complementary point of view. I can delete it - no probs - if you think it goes too off topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Val Dec 18 '18 at 2:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see no need to delete it, but it does need to stand on its own as an answer - even if you reference others' answers, you should at least summarize them so that your answer directly answers the question without relying on other answers that may eventually be deleted or edited into a different form. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 18 '18 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer stands well on its own. Don't let the rules lawyers dissuade you. Please review the edit to make sure you are satisfied with its modest revisions intended for presentation and organization. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 18 '18 at 3:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ha ha, thank you for the edits KorvinStarmast it really looks nice! It was terribly too general before my last edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Val Dec 18 '18 at 3:38
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Secondary effects are not 'effects' of the spell directly, and so will not violate Sanctuary

The effect of the spell is defined in the description. In the examples, the effect is the fire or the roar. That's it. The effect of the fire and roar, however, is to get a reaction from the enemy. Since the spell is not affecting the enemy directly, then Sanctuary is fine.

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