The message cantrip says the following:

You point your finger toward a creature within range and whisper a message. The target (and only the target) hears the message and can reply in a whisper that only you can hear.

The spell itself has a duration of 1 round and a range of 120 feet, but I assume this is for the caster's "outgoing" message. Is there a time limit or a distance limit on the recipient's reply?

I ask this because a player claims that the recipient of the message can reply any time in the future at any distance, because the spell does not specify that, and they have therefore used the message cantrip as a way to have an NPC tell them when someone is ready to collect (i.e. casting message on the NPC, with the message being "reply to this message spell when you're done").

I believe that the intent is that the recipient is expected to reply straight away, but that isn't specified. For contrast, the sending spell (which also has a duration of 1 round) does specify when the recipient is allowed to respond:

You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with which you are familiar. The creature hears the message in its mind, recognizes you as the sender if it knows you, and can answer in a like manner immediately.

Sending says that the recipient must reply immediately, whereas message does not specify when the recipient must reply, hence my player claiming that there is no time limit.

Regarding the distance thing, this is also treading on the toes of the sending spell somewhat, except that the caster of message still has to be within 120 feet of the recipient (it's only the recipient that seems to have no limit on distance), whereas sending allows the caster to be the one to initiate long-distance communication.

Is my player correct? Can the recipient of a message really reply after any length of time after they receive the message, and over any distance?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Does the Message spell truncate messages over 6 seconds long? (except that that question is about the "outgoing" message, not the "reply" message like what I'm asking about, and doesn't quite answer my question even so) \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 23:50
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Also note that if anyone feels that me asking about time and distance in one question is too broad, I can reduce the scope down to one or the other, but I feel like these two are closely related enough that it wouldn't be worth splitting them into two questions... \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 23:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ The player's time-delay interpretation also creates some potential world-altering convolutions: Why wouldn't every military leader preequip their scouts and sentries with at least one Message to provide an instant infinite-range alert system? If I receive a Message, and I can somehow indefinitely defer a response, why can't I receive multiple messages and defer responding to each of those until times of my choosing? Give me two spellcasters who load up on Messages to each other and a codebook and you have deferred instant cheap signaling across any distance. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2020 at 16:23

3 Answers 3


There's a time limit, but no distance limit


You have 1 round to use the Message. Although most uses occur on your turn immediately after you cast it, you can wait until you move (see below) or even wait until somebody else's turn to send the message.

Similarly, the recipient can wait until later in the round to reply. However, they have two limitations:

  1. They can't reply until after you have sent your message, and
  2. They must reply within the 1 round duration of the spell.


From the Range section of the spellcasting rules (emphasis mine):

The target of a spell must be within the spell's range. [...] Once a spell is cast, its effects aren't limited by its range, unless the spell's description says otherwise.

Your target must be within 120 feet when you cast the spell. However, you don't have to use the spell immediately - you have 1 round. If the distance between you and the target increases, by walking or teleporting or even if one of you goes to another plane, "its effects aren't limited by its range, unless the spell's description says otherwise." Message does not "say otherwise" so there is no distance limitation.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ nice catch! I'll let my players know that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2020 at 15:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ How does this idea about the sending of the message interact with the idea that the whisper is the verbal component, a la burning hands? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2020 at 17:31

You already answered your own question: 6 seconds (1 round) and 120 feet.

The Range section of the spellcasting rules says (emphasis mine):

The target of a spell must be within the spell's range. [...] Once a spell is cast, its effects aren't limited by its range, unless the spell's description says otherwise.

and the Duration section says (emphasis mine):

A spell's duration is the length of time the spell persists. A duration can be expressed in rounds, minutes, hours, or even years. Some spells specify that their effects last until the spells are dispelled or destroyed.

So we'll look at the easy one first. The duration of Message is "1 round". Once that round is up, the magic stops and the communication link is severed. There can be no reply. Of course, DMs can extend this to fit the narrative, but generally it should be an immediate reply.

Range is a little trickier, as the general description says the target must be within range. However it ends with, "its effects aren't limited by its range". This does not mean that the target can be at the edge of 120 feet and start walking away and still be considered "in range". It means that if you cast a Fireball which has a range of 150 feet, the 20-foot radius can extend past that point. So you can effectively hit a creature 170 feet away - but the point of origin must be within 150 feet.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You say "This does not mean that the target can be at the edge of 120ft and start walking away and still be considered "in range" but this is exactly what that wording does in certain cases such as the heat metal spell. This question has more details on that: the range of a spell ceases to matter that moment it is cast unless the spell explicitly makes an exception like levitate does: "[...] Otherwise, you can use your action to move the target, which must remain within the spell's range" \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 7, 2020 at 0:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe Medix2 brings up a valid flaw in this answer; the first half makes sense to me though - currently I feel like I would upvote the first half, but downvote the second half, resulting in a net total of me not voting at all... \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 8:19

Let's break it down:

  • What does the spell allow you to do? It allows you to send and receive a message.
  • What are the restrictions of this? Duration (1 round), and distance (120 feet).

So this means that a two way conversation happens within this distance and time frame. The duration in this instance is to specify that when you take your turn to send the message, the reply happens on their turn, within that one round. If they don't reply, the spell ends at the beginning of your next turn.

Generally for RAW, the rule of thumb in 5e is that all the information is specified within the description. If it doesn't specify something, then that isn't the case. For example, if it allows for the reply to be at any time or at any distance, it would say so.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I think OPs point is that it specifies that you can receive a reply but doesn't put any constraints on it. By the same logic you use, if it doesn't specify a restriction it doesn't have one. (Note that I actually agree with you just pointing out a flaw in your argument) \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 0:59

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