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Charmed condition says:

A charmed creature can't attack the charmer or target the charmer with harmful abilities or magical effects.

The charmed condition is just one example mentioning harmful effects/spells/abilities... I don't think it is clear what is a harmful ability or harmful (magical) effect

Obviously ability or spell dealing damage to the charmer is harmful, but what about other effects like:

  • hold person
  • suggestion
  • faerie fire
  • sleep
  • fog cloud
  • invisibility (cast on the charmer)

Is there an official definition of what harmful means in this or similar context?

If there is no official definition, what would be the most sensible definition of harmful effect/ability? If you believe that ultimately this should be decided by the DM, please provide your own definition.

There are related questions (below) but they are not interested in what is and is not harmful.

What can I do in combat when charmed

Can a charmed person harm their charmer with Burning Hands?

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There's no set definition, so it's ultimately up to the DM

"Harm" isn't defined in any of the official books, so it's up to subjective interpretation.

Merriam-Webster defines harm as:

to damage or injure physically or mentally

And Google's definition adds a "specially intentionally" clause that I find very useful for this question. I would say that Hold Person, as it paralyzes one's body, is pretty intentionally harmful, as it's both uncomfortable and distressing.

Faeirie Fire, however, deals no damage or direct discomfort, so it wouldn't fall strictly under "harm".

Update: As @Deeps pointed out, it might be interesting to add what would define as "harm" in more game-appropriate terms, and as such:

Harm can be considered any effect that can cause damage of any kind or intentionally stop, remove or impair any of the target's senses, movement or vital functions permanently or temporarily


It is also possible, however, to interpret Charmed as:

can't attack the charmer or target the charmer with (harmful abilities) or (magical effects).

Not necessarily meaning harmful magical effects, thus barring the target from using any magic effects towards the caster. This would make it so a charmed cleric would be unable to heal the caster, which is likely unintended, but it's something to be kept in mind.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What would your definition of harmful be in game terms without defaulting to the provided examples then? \$\endgroup\$ – Deeps Jan 24 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Deeps "any effect that can cause damage of any kind or intentionally stop, remove or impair any of the target's senses, movement or vital functions permanently or temporarily" is as unspecific as I can make it without any immediately obvious loopholes. \$\endgroup\$ – Tsugihagi Jan 24 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Simple: not harmed = cHarmed \$\endgroup\$ – Orc's Plunder Jan 24 at 19:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Simple and effective. So simple, I'll call it Orccam's Razor \$\endgroup\$ – Tsugihagi Jan 24 at 19:25
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There is no official description of "harmful" so let's break down the condition. The complete Charmed condition is:

  • A charmed creature can't attack the charmer or target the charmer with harmful abilities or magical effects
  • The charmer has advantage on any ability check to interact socially with the creature.

I would take this condition to mean that the charmed creature is favorably disposed towards the charmer and would take no action to cause the charmer to come to harm. Like a family member (well, usually). The Charmed condition is a stronger version of the Friends spell, so the target will regard the charmer as a really good friend. You don't make bad things happen to a friend. Also note that the Friends spell results in bad feelings after it's over and the charmed person learns they were charmed. It makes people mad, presumably because people feel like they have been harmed.

I would separate "abilities or magical effects" into three categories:

Good for the target

Obvious buffs or ability gains to the target. Fly, Guidance, Healing Word, Polymorph but only if used with intent to help, such as how it might be used on a party member, to give them hit points or abilities. These would be okay to target the charmer with.

Neutral to the Target

Utility spells that normally wouldn't be used in combat, like Telepathy or Rary's Telepathic Bond. I'm having trouble coming up with more, but these or similar would be fine to target the charmer.

Bad for the target

I put in this anything that would be used against the target or anything that would hurt the target in combat or disadvantage the target in interactions. Fairie Fire, Magic Missile, Friends, Polymorph if used with a target save, Bane, etc..

I would not allow rules lawyering to include AoE spells like Fireball, either. You wouldn't throw a Fireball at your children.

It doesn't seem hard to know as a DM what the intent of a spell is. If it is bad for and is targeted at the charmer, it would not be allowed. This would not prevent spells that are target at the charmed creature itself, like Armor of Agathys or Invisibilty, even if useful in combat against the charmer.

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While I like both of the examples above, I would like to point out that there may be situations where a spell like Hold Person which is normally considered harmful, to be beneficial to the recipient.

The description of the Charm Person spell says:

You attempt to charm a humanoid you can see within range. It must make a Wisdom saving throw, and does so with advantage if you or your companions are fighting it. If it fails the saving throw, it is charmed by you until the spell ends or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it. The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. When the spell ends, the creature knows it was charmed by you.

Nowhere does it say that the charmer can dictate actions, though reasonable requests would likely be agreed to. So the charmer doesn't really get anything out of it than a social advantage, to be dictated by role-playing.

For example, if the charmed person believes the charmer is under a sort of gaes or compulsion which will cause them to do themselves harm, hold person could be used to prevent this from happening long enough for the charmed person to find the charmer help.

It sounds to me like this was left intentionally vague for reasons such as this, where a review of the situation is merited. In such a situation if a spell that doesn't directly do damage to the target and has no long term effects, the charmed individual might have no other method of helping the charmed person, thus I would rule it in character for them to do so.

Also, mind you that the charmed individual need not know that this is true, only truly believe it to be so, so if the player could argue a strong point of logic in how he came to this conclusion and can show he has exhausted other methods of trying to help, I would allow it personally. This is a judgement call for the DM however, and the player should be very convincing in any case.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good addendum to the other answers. It doesn't contradict the content of the answers which boils down to "check with the DM." As you point out, sometimes, an ostensibly offensive spell can be used in a protective manner if used in the right context. If you're charmed by the BBEG and see him/her as a friend in addition to your party, you might cast a spell that restricts everyone from attacking each other as a precursor to opening dialogue and "talking it out" instead of fighting. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Jan 25 at 1:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is congruent with my understanding: The effect of being Charmed is a mental disposition, so "harm" is in the eye of the becharmed. \$\endgroup\$ – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Jan 25 at 4:36

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