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When considering spells that require a target, and spells with area affect, which types of spells can also damage vehicles? My assumption for this question is that a vehicle is an object rather than part of the environment, and that the vehicle has a total hit point value. Therefore in a combat between two vehicles, which spells can their passengers use to lower the hit points of the opposing vehicle? I understand that DMs discretion applies (and I'm not asking about that). I am asking, are there specific rules (RAW) or examples which apply in this case?


The rules on making an attack (Player's Handbook, Chapter 9) state that the first step is:

Choose a target. Pick a target within your attack's range: a creature, an object, or a location.

The rules on spell targets (Player's Handbook, Chapter 10) state:

A spell's description tells you whether the spell targets creatures, objects, or a point of origin for an area of effect ...

Spells that require a creature to be a target

Where a spell calls for the target to be a creature, can a vehicle also be a target?

Examples which specify a creature is the target

Chill Touch:

You create a ghostly, skeletal hand in the space of a creature within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the creature to assail it with the chill of the grave.

Magic Missile:

Each dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range.

Chromatic Orb (Player's Handbook, p. 221):

You hurl a 4-inch-diameter sphere of energy at a creature that you can see within range.

Spells that don't require targeting

These spells may have a clarification that specifies that objects other than the target creatures may be damaged. Would vehicles take full damage from the effects of these spells?

Examples where a target is not specified

Fireball:

A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you choose within range and then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame.

It ignites flammable objects in the area that aren't being worn or carried.

Shatter:

A sudden loud ringing noise, painfully intense, erupts from a point of your choice within range.

A nonmagical object that isn't being worn or carried also takes the damage if it's in the spell's area.

Lightning Bolt:

A stroke of lightning forming a line 100 feet long and 5 feet wide blasts out from you in a direction you choose.

The lightning ignites flammable objects in the area that aren't being worn or carried.

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closed as too broad by Rykara, Oblivious Sage, DuckTapeAl, sevenbrokenbricks, Miniman Jul 21 at 8:28

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This should probably be split into two questions: "Can spells that target a single creature be used to attack vehicles?" and "Do vehicles take damage from AOE spells?" \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Jul 21 at 3:28
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A vehicle is not a creature.

First off, a vehicle isn't a creature. At best, it's an object. Many spells can harm objects, and the DM is always able to decide that a particular spell causes damage to objects even if its description doesn't specifically say so, because rules adjudication is their job.

Whether a vehicle is an object depends on how the DM wants to handle it.

In the Dungeon Master's Guide, the section on how to damage or break Objects (starting on p.246) says:

For the purpose of these rules, an object is a discrete, inanimate item like a window, door, sword, book, table, chair, or stone, not a building or a vehicle that is composed of many other objects.

So according to this, a ship is neither an object nor a creature, but is composed of many objects, such as the mast, the sails, rigging, planks, and so on.

This suggests that a spell affecting creatures can't harm a ship, but might damage or destroy specific parts of the ship, such as setting the rigging on fire or shattering the mast.

However, on p.119, we have a section adventuring on "The Sea", with a table showing a list of sea and air vehicles, with ACs, HP totals, and in some cases a Damage Threshold that nullifies any damage less than that amount.

If the ship has an AC and hit points, that sounds like it should be treated as an object, at least to the extent of being a valid target for some spells. In this case, the ship is essentially taking damage as a whole unit, and doesn't lose specific parts or capabilities until the ship as a whole is defeated and sinks.

So what does this all mean?

It means the DM has some leeway to decide how much abstraction they want to use in a fight. If they want to treat a galley as the landscape or environment in which a fight occurs, they have the rules to do that. Spells can hit the elements of the ship and might be able to target objects like doors, walls, and stairs, and the splash from area spells might cause the environment to change -- just like in a cave, mansion, or forest. Alternatively, if the DM wants to have the players steering their vessel, firing spells and ballista bolts into a pirate ship while it tries to do the same to them, the rules are present for that, too, and you treat each ship as a single object, with all the implications that go along with that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was working on an answer citing the same Objects section of the rules, but your answer is better so I'll just up vote you instead. I'd note that land vehicles, like wagons and carts, generally being smaller than ships, are probably more likely to be reasonable to treat as single objects. Though there might still be situations where you'd try to break a chariot's wheel or a carriage's door, rather than the whole vehicle. \$\endgroup\$ – Blckknght Jul 21 at 3:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to add a clarification to my question based on your answer, my intention was to treat the vehicles as objects with a total hit point value (as in the pirate ship example), rather than as the environment of a combat with elements such as ropes. As you say, "Many spells can harm objects" can you suggest which spells are clearly amongst that category? \$\endgroup\$ – Penanghill Jul 21 at 4:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Penanghill I mean spells that specifically mention affecting objects. Shatter, Fire Bolt, Disintegrate, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, that sort of thing. Not really gonna give a complete list. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Jul 21 at 4:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK thanks, this is what I was looking for. RAW, spells targetting creatures alone can not be used to target vehicles. \$\endgroup\$ – Penanghill Jul 21 at 4:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Penanghill Right. By RAW, a spell can target objects if it says it can, or if it just say you make "an attack" without specifying a target type, but few spells do that. But a lot of DMs will let you shoot spells at objects if it makes sense -- like a Chromatic Orb says "a creature" but there's no real reason you shouldn't be able to throw an acid Orb into a door to try to break it. It can be more complicated with spells that have saves, which objects of course can't roll, but that's where things like Damage Threshold come in. Still, that's up to the DM. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Jul 21 at 15:12

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