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The Morkoth (Volo's Guide to Monsters, pg. 177-178) has a reaction called "Spell Reflection":

Spell Reflection. If the morkoth makes a successful saving throw against a spell, or a spell attack misses it, the morkoth can choose another creature (including the spellcaster) it can see within 120 feet of it. The spell targets the chosen creature instead of the Morkoth. If the spell forced a saving throw, the chosen creature makes its own save. If the spell was an attack, the spell is rerolled against the chosen creature.

My question is if this applies to area-of-effect spells. The early wording only specifies it has to be a spell that forces a save or is an attack roll. However, "The spell targets the chosen creature instead of the Morkoth" seems to imply that it requires the spell to target the Morkoth specifically. Fireball isn't a spell that mentions having any "targets".

Does the Morkoth's Spell Reflection trait work on rea-of-effect spells like Fireball?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: "What counts as a target for a spell?" Basically, people disagree what a given spell targets \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17 '20 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth pointing out that fireball actually does mention targets: "[...] A target takes 8d6 fire damage on a failed save [...]" though whether or not those "targets" count as actual targets of the spell for the purpose of various features is not something people agree on \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17 '20 at 15:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Though it's also worth pointing out that those are not its targets in the sense used in the Spellcasting rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jun 17 '20 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Depends who you ask, which is exactly why I posted that related post at the top. I edited my comment to account for that though \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17 '20 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Huh, apparently this is a point of debate in quite a few places...namely because the Spectator has a very similar feature. The only thing I could find was a Mike Mearls "how I would rule it" statement, which is hardly an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17 '20 at 15:51
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It doesn't reflect fireball.

The key words are "The spell targets the chosen creature instead of the Morkoth."

"Do B instead of A" means "In a situation where you would do A, don't do A, and rather do B." (You are doing B in A's "stead".)

Fireball doesn't target the Morkoth, so it can't target another creature instead of the Morkoth.

"But fireball says 'a target takes 8d6 damage'"...

Yes, but it's wrong. Those aren't targets. These are targets:

Targets

A typical spell requires you to pick one or more targets to be affected by the spell's magic. A spell's description tells you whether the spell targets creatures, objects, or a point of origin for an area of effect (described below).

Note that the caster picks "one or more targets". For fireball (and area-damage spells generally), you don't pick the specific creatures; you pick the point of origin.

The rules sometimes, confusingly, use the word "target" to mean "anything affected by the spell". For example:

Saving Throws

Many spells specify that a target can make a saving throw to avoid some or all of a spell's effects. The spell specifies the ability that the target uses for the save and what happens on a success or failure.

Why do I acknowledge the point of origin as the real target of the spell, rather than the "targets" who are making saving throws? First, because one of them is described in a paragraph titled "Targets" in large bold letters. And second, because of this:

Range

The target of a spell must be within the spell's range. For a spell like magic missile, the target is a creature. For a spell like fireball, the target is the point in space where the ball of fire erupts.

That seems fairly conclusive: for purposes of the spellcasting rules, the target of fireball is the point of origin. Since you can't choose the Morkoth as the target (you have to choose a point!), its Spell Reflection can't choose something else as the target "instead".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This was my reasoning as well (see my deleted answer), but according to Medix2's comment under the question, there's some debate as to whether fireball does technically target the creatures in it's AOW or not... \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Jun 17 '20 at 15:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS There are many posts about various features that involve or revolve around what a spell does or does not target coming to various conclusions. This was a large reason I asked this more general question. But yeah... nobody agrees what a given spell does or does not target \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17 '20 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS There's "some debate" over lots of things. In this case I don't think it's justified and I'll edit to address that concern. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jun 17 '20 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's far better supported now that what my answer was; I mean, I always agreed with tge reasoning, but it is now taking a stronger stance than mine. +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Jun 17 '20 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I'll see what I can do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Jun 17 '20 at 16:41
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Area of effect spells, and fireball in particular, target the affected creatures.

There is a rule in the PHB which specifically uses "target" to refer to someone affected by an AoE spell, in the section "Targeting Yourself" (emphasis mine):

If you are in the area of effect of a spell you cast, you can target yourself.

Additionally, we see in the rules for Saving Throws (emphasis mine):

Many spells specify that a target can make a saving throw to avoid some or all of a spell's effects. The spell specifies the ability that the target uses for the save and what happens on a success or failure.

AoE spells are obviously in view here. Further, in the DMG's rules for Adjudicating Areas of Effect, we see (p. 249-250; emphasis mine):

If you would like more guidance, consider using the Targets in Areas of Effect table. To use the table, imagine which combatants are near one another, and let the table guide you in determining the number of those combatants that are caught in an area of effect. Add or subtract targets based on how bunched up the potential targets are. Consider rolling 1d3 to determine the amount to add or subtract.

[There is a table here]

For example, if a wizard directs burning hands (a 15-foot cone) at a nearby group of orcs, you could use the table and say that two orcs are targeted (15 ÷ 10 = 1.5, rounded up to 2). Similarly, a sorcerer could launch a lightning bolt (100-foot line) at some ogres and hobgoblins, and you could use the table to say four of the monsters are targeted (100 ÷ 30 = 3.33, rounded up to 4).

In the rules for using miniatures on a combat grid, we see the following about areas of effect (p. 251; emphasis mine):

The area of effect of a spell, monster ability, or other feature must be translated onto squares or hexes to determine which potential targets are in the area and which aren’t.

And finally, we have fireball, which explicitly refers to its victims as "target":

A target takes 8d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

So we have at least ten different uses of the word "target" to refer to a creature affected by an area of effect spell, which seems to me to be an overwhelmingly positive body of evidence in favor of "area of effect spells target their victims". The use of the word to refer to creatures in areas of effect is just too ubiquitous to be able to say "well the rules are just wrong". Cases where we can confidently affirm that the rules have made a mistake are usually instances where the mistake is singular, and the alternative is well attested to elsewhere. Here we have the opposite - "target" being used to refer to victims of AoEs is the well attested to position in the the text.

Fireball targets creatures in its area of effect, so the Morkoth can reflect it to another creature.

Since the Morkoth is targeted by fireball, it can use its Spell Reflection feature:

If the morkoth makes a successful saving throw against a spell, or a spell attack misses it, the morkoth can choose another creature (including the spellcaster) it can see within 120 feet of it. The spell targets the chosen creature instead of the Morkoth.

So the Morkoth is caught in the fireball and passes the saving throw. Spell Reflection says that the Morkoth can choose a creature, we'll call him Steve, and now fireball targets Steve. So Steve is a target of fireball, and fireball states:

A target takes 8d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Thus we conclude:

Steve takes 8d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

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