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The Dungeon Master's Guide has the following rule for objects (p.246):

Damage Threshold. Big objects such as castle walls often have extra resilience represented by a damage threshold. An object with a damage threshold has immunity to all damage unless it takes an amount of damage from a single attack or effect equal to or greater than its damage threshold, in which case it takes damage as normal. Any damage that fails to meet or exceed the object's damage threshold is considered superficial and doesn't reduce the object's hit points.

Page 119 of the DMG provides information for the statistics of a keelboat, which has 100 HP, 15 AC, and a damage threshold of 10. A wizard casts a 9th-level Magic Missile at the keelboat, creating 11 darts that do 1d4+1 force damage each. The darts each strike the keelboat simultaneously, and let's say they all do maximum damage for a total of 55 damage.

Now, does the keelboat take 55 damage or no damage at all?

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The keelboat takes no damage at all, but it has nothing to do with damage threshold.

This happens simply because the spell magic missile cannot hit nor damage objects (at least by the rules).

In 5e all spells clearly state what their target can be; magic missile in this case specifies that "Each dart hits a creature of your choice", with the target requirement being "a creature", hence an object is an invalid target. This is addressed in the spellcasting rules (included in the basic rules) under both the 'Range' and 'Target' sections.

To quote Crawford: "Some spells are drawn to or harm only the life force of creatures. You're not shooting projectiles." This was on a question regarding eldritch blast, but the same ruling applies since both those spells require the target to be a creature.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Oct 7 '20 at 11:43
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All damage from Magic Missile is part of a single effect, so the spell would have enough damage to overcome the damage threshold and damage the keelboat.

Even though there are different missiles flying around, Magic Missile is still just a single spell. Re-reading the Damage Threshold rules (emphasis mine), this means that the keelboat would take damage.

Big objects such as castle walls often have extra resilience represented by a damage threshold. An object with a damage threshold has immunity to all damage unless it takes an amount of damage from a single attack or effect equal to or greater than its damage threshold, in which case it takes damage as normal. Any damage that fails to meet or exceed the object's damage threshold is considered superficial and doesn't reduce the object's hit points.

As further evidence that Magic Missile is a single effect and not multiple effects, consider its interaction with Shield:

An invisible barrier of magical force appears and protects you. Until the start of your next turn, you have a +5 bonus to AC, including against the triggering attack, and you take no damage from magic missile.

Notably, Shield says you don't take the damage from the spell (notice the italics), not the projectiles/pieces of the spell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking the same thing, but I was conflicted based on my previous argument here. But I suppose this is possibly a great observation, yet again, for why online rulings were reset in 2019. \$\endgroup\$
    – G. Moylan
    Jun 4 '20 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer is correct but potential readers would benefit from seeing the sentence in the magic missile spell about all striking at the same time quoted as well :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Jun 4 '20 at 22:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @G.Moylan There's also this that falls within the same vein. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZarHakkar
    Jun 4 '20 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara that’s what makes me inclined to agree with this answer. I suppose I should go back and revise my previous answer to skip over the Magic Missile part and just stick with Eldritch Blast. \$\endgroup\$
    – G. Moylan
    Jun 4 '20 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, Eldrich Blast specifically uses separate attack rolls. Even then, I think you could argue that it's still a single effect since a single Counterspell would prevent all the beams. That's a bit more iffy though. \$\endgroup\$
    – ryanyuyu
    Jun 4 '20 at 22:39

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