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Certain spells, like Calm Emotions, allow a character to automatically fail their Saving Throw when resisting the effect:

Each humanoid in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on a point you choose within range must make a Charisma saving throw; a creature can choose to fail this saving throw if it wishes.

Calm Emotions, Player's Handbook, pg 221

However, a Sorcerer† casting Calm Emotions could choose to make a character automatically succeed at their Saving Throw with the Careful Spell metamagic:

[...] you spend 1 sorcery point and choose a number of those creatures [that are affected by the spell] up to your Charisma modifier (minimum of one creature). A chosen creature automatically succeeds on its saving throw against the spell.

Careful Spell, Player's Handbook, pg. 102

So if said sorcerer cast this spell on a group of characters, but chose to protect one of the targets (perhaps so that an existing Charm effect is not suppressed) but the target chooses to fail anyways, what happens? Is the target allowed to make this choice at all, or does the metamagic have precedence over the choice granted by the spell?

†It would have to be a Divine Soul Sorcerer, or a Multiclassed Sorcerer, since Calm Emotions is not on the Sorcerer Spell List

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like my question is now useless. As asking whether you can do something and then what happens if you do it might as well just be reduced to asking what happens if you do it (if you can't do it an answer would simply say the premise is wrong) \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 29 at 17:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 Your question is hardly useless: your question establishes that the premise of my question (that Careful Spell can be validly used on Saving Throws that creatures can choose to fail) is true. I've added your question as a link in this one so that users don't get confused on that point. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Aug 29 at 17:46
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The order of events matter: They succeed

In the scenario you provide, the sorcerer is casting the spell with the metamagic that allows them to choose who automatically passes the saving throw.

All but empowered spell metamagic uses the following language:

When you cast a spell...

This clearly states that metamagic is used at the time of casting. The language used for empowered spell references that by allowing it to be used separately:

You can use Empowered Spell even if you have already used a different Metamagic option during the casting of the spell.

This is the first event in the sequence. It's possible for this to be ended early by mechanics like counterspell, but once complete, the spell is cast with the requirements provided through the metamagic (target X succeeds automatically.)

At this point, the spell is complete and the saving throw result is predetermined for Target X. Because of that, Target X no longer has the option to fail because that option was removed with the metamagic determining success.

Here's the timeline:

  1. Sorcerer casts spell with metamagic
  2. Metamagic predetermines saving throw result
  3. Spell is fully cast and complete along with any predetermined results
  4. Targets resolve spell with predetermined saving throw result

The opportunity for the target to choose to fail was removed once the spell casting completed with the metamagic that predetermined the result.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So basically you're just saying that the word "automatically" takes precedence over any ability to choose to fail? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 29 at 17:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I'm saying that the metamagic happens first and does take precedence over choosing. They can no longer choose to fail because the caster already chose that they succeed. The casting and completion of the spell occur during the casting. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 29 at 17:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch While I tend to think you've got a good argument here (and I can't think of a better one myself), is there a good source you could cite that says that the metamagic happens before the rest of a spell's effect, especially given that saving throws generally happen during a spell's effect? I'm just not seeing why the order of operations has to be as specific as you're making it out to be, as D&D doesn't seem to have a clear ordering like MtG's rule 601.2. \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Aug 29 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCooperJr. How's that? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 29 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Thanks, I do think that's clearer. I'm probably just wishing for something in the rules specifically saying "casting happens before effects happen", but perhaps that's too obvious to need stating. \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Aug 29 at 20:08
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The target automatically succeeds at the Saving Throw because Careful Spell is the more specific effect

Citing the general rule of Specific beats General:

Remember this: If a specific rule contradicts a general rule, the specific rule wins.

Specific Beats General, Player's Handbook, pg. 7

In this situation, I would rule that the Less Specific Rule is the rule that Calm Emotions permits a target to automatically fail at their saving throw.

Conversely, the More Specific Rule is the rule that with this specific casting of the spell using this metamagic, the creature targeted by Calm Emotions automatically succeeds at their saving throw.

So because Careful Spell is more specific, it takes precedence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So you're saying Careful Spell is more specific because it applies to a certain casting and not the spell in general? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 29 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 Yes. The same sorcerer could cast Calm Emotions nine other times and not have this effect in play, but in this specific casting, it is. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Aug 29 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ The rules talk about general rules vs specific rules, and lists many sources of specific rules (spells, racial traits, etc). It says nothing about less specific and more specific, so I would say claiming that degrees of specificity matters not in the official rules. (Unless you can locate another source or errata that says degrees matter.) \$\endgroup\$ – Willem Renzema Aug 29 at 18:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WillemRenzema I believe that the levels of specificity is a very common way of interpreting this phrase. Otherwise you would run into the impossible problem of defining what counts as a "general" rule \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 29 at 18:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't disagree with this answer, but the argument used to get to it always rubs me the wrong way. What if I view this circumstance as (1) All spells cast with Careful Spell make targets X automatically succeed at their saving throws, but (2) This specific spell allows targets to willfully fail, so Calm Emotions is more specific, so it beats the general CS rules, and targets X can choose to fail? \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Aug 29 at 18:44

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