I have created a custom enemy, a golem desgined to investigate new forms of magic, and my players are about to face him.

Among several other stuff, this creature has two spells called high and low arithmetics. Upon failing a saving throw, this spell deals damage each turn to whoever ends their turn on a place lower or higher than the golem, respectively.

My question is, would a character, upon taking damage the first time, know what the conditions for taking the damage would be?

I've seen tweet but as far as I'm concerned, that only tells them that indeed, they are victim of a spell. Is there any way for a character to figuring out the rules of a spell? (not counting deducing them by trial and error, of course). I don't think an arcana check (as is the common rule) would be suitable in this situation since this is a spell that none of them could have ever seen/heard of since it was made by this creature.

  • \$\begingroup\$ FYI, sageadvice.eu is NOT related to Wizards of the Coast's published Sage Advice articles. It's just a guy with a website who aggregates unofficial tweets. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, you've got a homebrew monster with homebrew abilities and you're asking if there's an in-game way for PCs to understand those abilities? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ What's your purpose in homebrewing this spell? It sounds like it's intended to be a puzzle, in which case it's self-defeating to provide a game mechanic that simply tells the player what it does--figuring it out by trial and error and deduction is the whole point. But maybe that's not your intent? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is not intended to be a puzzle, more like a thematic spell. Just like there is no puzzle in moving out of the Flame Sphere, but still it has sort of a "mechanic" behind it, I wanted to create something that a "Magical AI" would use, and that involves something more complex than moving out of a ball. Also, @NautArch , yes, because even though the effect is homebrewed, what I am asking is something that may happen with regular spells as well. I'm asking if characters instrinsically know about the effects they are suffering from a spell, be it homebrew or not. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ It may be better to remove the homebrew bit as I think it's confusing the question. If your question is more about "how do PCs recognize a spell and it's mechanics", then that should probably be the focus. I'm not yet sure if it's a duplicate, but I'd recommend searching the site to see if it's been asked. If I can find it, i'll let you know :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


The spell effect is not (only) the damage

As the DM you have to describe what happens to the characters and not what happens to their character sheets. How does a character know they have been hit by a fireball? The DM describes the flames engulfing them. Of course, there are some spells with less obvious effects, but characters can sense the world around and inside them.

How much you want to obscure the effects of non-obvious spells is a question of style, but I personally see little reason to do so, unless your aim is specifically to make the spell mysterious. E.g. you could conceal that a character is affected by bless, but that rarely if ever serves a purpose. You could instead say "You feel power surging inside, guiding your weapon and steeling your resolve." to breathe some life into the situation.

As for your spell

If you want it to be perceivable, make the damage force or bludgeoning and accompany it with a description like: "A great force emanating from the golem crushes down upon you.", maybe even "You see the air churn under the golem as an unseen force ripples out from it."

If you want it to be mysterious, make the damage psychic and narrate along the lines of: "The golem's presence presses on your consciousness, leaving you with a headache."

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ As opposed to Bane, which might steal your resolve :P \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:46

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