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Does the 5e D&D spell Faerie Fire provoke a Dexterity saving throw? Part of the description states:

Any creature in the area when the spell is cast is also outlined in light if it fails a Dexterity saving throw.

It does not state that the creatures in the area of effect must make a save. It is missing the usual conditional statement:

The target must succeed on a (X) saving throw or (Y)

In other words, does a creature in the area of effect of the Faerie Fire when it cast have to make a save?

To me this sounds as if a creature is outlined in light when it fails a dexterity saving throw while simultaneously finding itself in the area of effect of Faerie Fire while the spell is being cast. These are hard conditions to meet.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @wz-billings Please don't answer, even partially, in comments. We try not to do that here \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 27 '20 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you arguing that a creature is only affected by faerie fire if it fails some unrelated Dex save while in faerie fire's 20-foot cube at the time the spell is cast? \$\endgroup\$ – mdrichey Apr 27 '20 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mdrichey to be fair, that would be the literal reading. Whether or not that is the intention is pretty clear, I think, but the existing answers cover that in detail already. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Apr 27 '20 at 22:52
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The spell is missing the usual wording. Make a saving throw when the spell is cast.

Very astute observation that the wording of faerie fire is unlike other area of effect spell such as web or create bonfire. The interpretation that faerie fire does not incur one so that a creature begins to be outlined in light if and only if it fails some dexterity saving throw from another source is an exceedingly literal one.

Common practice is for every creature in the area when it's cast to make a dexterity saving throw.

Warn players if you play with the very literal interpretation.

The common interpretation is that creatures in the area when faerie fire is cast make a dexterity save. Using a more strictly literal interpretation is like to be an unpleasant surprise to a player who has take the time to prepare the spell and used a slot to cast it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure that it's missing the wording. It's reworded, but it still says "any creature cast in the area is outlined in light if they fail the dexterity saving throw." It seems more like it still says it, just says it differently. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 27 '20 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: It actually says "if it fails a Dexterity saving throw." (at least according to DnDB and my PHB) which I think is the crux of the issue here. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 27 '20 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Ah! So it's the unclear "a" rather than the clear "the". Now it makes sense, but still +1. Just a confusion I had, because I never read it with that uncertainty. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 27 '20 at 19:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch in my cursory search of all other dexterity based aoe spells, it is the only one that doesn't have wording explicitly indicating the targets must make a saving throw. Or in the case of reverse gravity have the option of making a saving throw. \$\endgroup\$ – GcL Apr 27 '20 at 19:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: Same. Now that I see that "a" though, I can't unsee it. Very strange wording. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 27 '20 at 19:04
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The intent is for creatures to make a save when the spell is cast

You are correct that a literal reading of the spell description would mean that targets are only outlined if they fail an unrelated Dexterity saving throw during faerie fire's duration. A search of D&D Beyond turned up no other spells with the same wording. As you point out, spells that require a saving throw are typically worded like burning hands:

Each creature in a 15-foot cone must make a Dexterity saving throw.

I believe that the omission of a saving throw for faerie fire is likely an oversight. The only alternative is that a common 1st-level spell has a unique spell mechanic that only really serves to give it an extremely niche use-case.

A literal leading of faerie fire also makes it nearly useless for non-spellcaster drow, despite the fact that it (and darkness) are staples of drow combat in official adventures and novels.

There is precedent for effects triggering on arbitrary saving throws

The star spawn larva mage has the following reaction (MToF, p. 235):

Feed on Weakness. When a creature within 20 feet of the larva mage fails a saving throw, the larva mage gains 10 temporary hit points.

The larva mage doesn't have to be the one to force a saving throw. In fact, the saving throw could be caused by a PC targeting one of the mage's allies. All that said, this is a reaction ability on a CR 16 creature that is explicitly connected to bizarre cosmic horrors. It is unlikely that faerie fire is intended to be the one other case of this strange mechanic.

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