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Heavily related to this question... But I don't think it's a duplicate.

The sending spell states:

You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with which you are familiar.

And there is great debate about what constitutes "familiar". But what if you're familiar with someone deceiving you?

  • You're very well acquainted with the mysterious shop keeper; or so you think. It's really 3 kobolds in a cloak!
  • You've had drinks numerous times with the salty dwarf named Barney Rubble. However there is no Barney Rubble. It's just a disfigured tabaxi Warlock named Gem In Rolling Waters that only goes out using Mask of Many Faces.
  • You pass by the same gentleman sitting in his rocking chair every day. But it's actually a doppelganger in one of their many shapes while the home owner is away.
  • You're always doing odd jobs for the town constable, so you see him a few times a month to collect a reward. But little does anyone know, that he was assassinated last week. Instead, it's a minion, whom you've only met in passing once, posing as the constable as part of a larger plot.

In all these cases, the caster is familiar with "someone", but who the caster knows and the reality of that someone they think they know are very different.

So would the sending spell be directed to who you think you know, to the person beneath the disguise, or just fizzle out?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ And there is great debate about what constitutes "familiar" - not really. A small group of 'dig into the weeds' analysts are engaged in a semantic debate; most people who use normal, everyday English have no misunderstanding. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 20 at 16:58
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You choose the creature, regardless of its name or true identity.

My interpretation is that you, the caster, envision who you're sending the message to. The spell does not say that you need to know the name of the creature, or their true form if they are disguised or shapeshifting. Therefore, I believe that even if you do not know the name of the creature, or only know a nickname or false name, as long as you can envision the creature itself as an entity, it will reach them.

To preface, this is of course speculation. As you already mentioned there's great debate over what constitutes a "familiar" creature.

  • In the case of the "3 kobolds in a cloak," I believe the message would reach the top kobold, the one you've been speaking with.

  • In the case of the Warlock using a Mask of Many Faces, you are imagining the creature, which is in fact still Gem in Rolling Waters despite the fact that you don't know his true name or form. Therefore the message should reach him.

  • In the case of the doppelganger, you are thinking of him, the doppelganger, and the message would go to the doppelganger. This is, unless you knew the old man prior. That, in my opinion, would cause the message to go to the man, since the one you're "familiar" with is the true man.

That being said, If you have known someone for a while, and someone were to attempt to take their place, as with your "constable" example, I believe the message would not arrive to the minion, since you envisioned the creature that the message is being sent to, the true constable. Since that creature is no longer living, You won't know if the message is received or not, except by the fact that you won't get a response.

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Often the results will be the same regardless of if you succeed or fail; no response.

All three answers to this question on asking if the caster knows if the spell succeeds or not, respond that the caster does not know if the spell fails.

In many cases a target that was masquerading as your target wont wish to respond when caught unprepared, or not presently in the form you are familiar with. Which is the same result as if the spell failed.


How I would handle it:

Assuming that the players are familiar with the disguised creature, and not the person the creature is disguised as:

In some cases I would rule that you are only sufficiently familiar with one guise of that creature, and so can only contact them when they are in that guise. Specifically for the doppleganger and other shapeshifters. You don't know the doppleganger, but you do know who the doppleganger pretends to be occasionally. Thus the spell works in contacting the doppleganger when you correctly envision the doppleganger in the guise of the old man, while he is in the form of the old man.

For illusory and physical disguises, I would generally rule that envisioning them fails as the physical appearance is not real. Possibly unless you were familiar enough with the disguise that the (fake, but more real than the disguise) personality was a major component of what you envisioned, but I'm less confident about that, and it would likely depend on circumstance.

If on the other hand, the players are familiar with who the target is supposed to be, and a third party is now disguised as that person:

Unless that disguised third party has an ability that interferes with such magic, such as perhaps assuming their identity in some more complete way than a mere disguise or shapeshift, then I would rule that the sending doesn't notice them at all, and goes directly to the intended target.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I generalized the situations for the question, but in my game there is a very real consequence of who is contacted. The Mayor of Smallville is kidnapped and replaced by a doppelganger. The party has met the doppel posing as the major who sent the party on a mission. The party casts Sending, "I want to talk to the Mayor of Smallville." If the spell contacts the doppel, it can keep up the disguise. But if the spell goes to the real Mayor, he would definitely reply with a 25-word plea for rescue. Not replying isn't an option, as the party would keep trying. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Mar 20 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott In this specific example, I believe the message would reach the true mayor. The reason is the intent behind the casting of the spell. You can use Sending to contact someone you have never met, as long as you are familiar with them (i.e. knowing key knowledge about them, such as name, position, or relations, for example). Because of this, calling the creature "Mayor of Smallville" would cause the message to be sent to the imprisoned mayor, and not the doppelganger. The doppelganger may be disguised as the mayor, but the mayor it is not. \$\endgroup\$ – Akira_Kurusu Mar 20 at 16:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Huh. In my answer I was assuming you meant that they primarily knew the disguised creature in that disguise i.e. they are not actually familiar with the target, but thought they were. Rather than trying to target someone they know, when a third party is pretending to be them. I may have to revise it to a) include that scenario, and b) clarify. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Mar 20 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ With regards to always answering, there are many reasons why someone would not answer - and not all of them bad, by any means. They could be asleep, they could be in a social encounter that makes it awkward - such as in the middle of an argument with their partner, or an important business meeting. They may, having been surprised, just not have an 'immediate answer', and reply too late, or not realise that they can reply. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Mar 20 at 16:50

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