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As the ice knife spell can do damage in two separate ways, with one defined to happen after the other, would a caster damaged by both need to make multiple concentration checks?

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The target would need to make up to two saves.

The short answer:

Since Ice Knife deals damage twice, the target would indeed make up to two saves.


The long answer:

The rules for Concentration say (emphasis mine):

Whenever you take damage while you are concentrating on a spell, you must make a Constitution saving throw to maintain your Concentration. The DC equals 10 or half the damage you take, whichever number is higher. If you take damage from multiple sources, such as an arrow and a dragon’s breath, you make a separate saving throw for each source of damage.

The examples provided in the rule above aren't directly applicable to this situation since both damage sources in Ice Knife are coming from the same spell, but the portion about making multiple saving throws is still pertinent.

We have additional relevant information in how and when we roll for damage. We roll damage as soon as we hit with an attack:

3. Resolve the attack. You make the attack roll. On a hit, you roll damage...

When we make the the initial attack roll, we roll for damage on a hit. Then we have an independent DEX save, which is a separate damaging event that happens after we've already tried to hit and deal damage once. Since we're attempting to deal damage a second time—even with the same spell—the target may need to make an additional concentration check.

His public rulings are no longer considered official, but Jeremy Crawford has mentioned in the past that the Magic Missile spell provokes separate saves for each missile:

Concentration: "You make a separate saving throw for each source of damage" (PH, 203). Roll for each missile.

The aforementioned tweet—again, no longer official, but still speaks to his intent—indicates that each damaging part of a spell is considered an independent damage source for the purposes of maintaining concentration. Magic Missile is a bit of a strange example, though, since Magic Missile doesn't require an attack roll, as evidenced by the spell description:

You create three glowing darts.... Each dart hits a creature...

Note that even though we don't make an attack roll, we still roll damage "on a hit" for each missile. This seems to be what Crawford was getting at. However, this still leaves a little room for ambiguity since Magic Missile is a special case.

A better example for our argument is Eldritch Blast. From the description:

The spell creates more than one beam when you reach higher levels.... You can direct the beams at the same target or at different ones. Make a separate attack roll for each beam.

Let's say we cast Eldritch Blast when we're level 5, giving us two beams, and we choose the same target for each beam. Since we already know we roll for damage whenever we hit with an attack, and we know we're making multiple attack rolls, we therefore know we must make multiple saving throws to maintain our concentration if we're hit multiple times, since each beam in this case is its own source of damage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose the next logical question is about attacks that deal two types of damage in one blow (e.g., Flame Tongue's "deals an extra 2d6 fire damage"). Are they one or two sources? \$\endgroup\$ – Captain Man Jan 22 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CaptainMan that would be one thing (the sword) dealing damage, you just roll extra dice for the attack, and that much damage is of a different type than the rest. Spells like Flame Strike are also examples of this, where each successful hit results in Fire + Radiant damage from the same hit. What makes Ice Knife unique is there are two independent attempts to cause damage: 1) the attack roll, which may or may not hit and deal damage, and 2) the explosion and DEX save, which also may or may not deal damage. Both are distinct, hence two saves. \$\endgroup\$ – G. Moylan Jan 22 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @G.Moylan Thanks for the added info on Magic Missile. I was unaware of that ruling by Jeremy Crawford. I thought that would have been one save from MM. That answers this question very cleanly. \$\endgroup\$ – Overthinks Jan 23 at 11:03
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Yes. Two saves may be required.

Two concentration saving throws are required as there are two discrete damage instances. In addition to being explicitly stated as separate and ordered damage in the ice knife description, "Hit or miss, the shard then explodes", they're also completely different mechanics.

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The Ice Knife deals two types of damage, but is a single source of damage.

The PHB p203 states:

If you take damage from multiple sources, such as an arrow and a dragon's breath, you make a separate saving throw for each source of damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Concentration also says "Whenever you take damage," and since these are two discreet damage events, you would still need (up to) two saves. \$\endgroup\$ – G. Moylan Jan 22 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer would be improved if you could make a statement regarding the DC of the save. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jan 22 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Flame Strike is an example of a spell that deals two different damage types and IS only one source of damage, but a spell like Eldritch Blast is also technically "one source," and deals one type of damage, but can have multiple attack rolls, and thus multiple damaging events, like Ice Knife. The types of damage are irrelevant, it's how the damage is dealt that matters. \$\endgroup\$ – G. Moylan Jan 22 at 17:01
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I would argue 2 concentration checks are needed, since if one passes the dex saving throw they don't take the cold damage whatsoever. That being said, for this to happen the caster must hit the target, and the target must fail the dex save for 2 concentration checks to be required. The DC for each is relative to half the damage taken (for scaling purposes as the lvl increases), or DC 10, whichever is higher.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome! Please take the tour to learn more about the site. keep in mind that this site's format is different from a forum and answers are expected to be backed up by more than opinions (see this meta post for more info). Thank you for contributing and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jan 22 at 15:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you're close to a good answer here, but as written, it's a bit rambling and difficult to discern your exact intent. I recommend some proofing to clean up and sort your thoughts a bit more clearly. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jan 22 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se. Your answer is fundamentally correct, however you failed to back it up with references. See the differences between yours and the current top answer which make the same argument but in different ways. That answer is a great example of the type of answer we want on this site. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jan 23 at 0:33

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