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Can others understand the content of the words embedded in the Message spell by the spellcaster, as well as those who respond to him, in D&D 5e?

Am I right that the meaning of the Message spell is transmitted through the verbal component, and for the answer the target must move its lips? (Can someone in this case understand the content transmitted by the spellcaster, by listening to sound or by reading lips, and the contents of the answer of the target, reading by its lips?)

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Conceivably by lip-reading, for example with the Observant feat

The Message spell says:

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.

Spells do what they say they do, so this means no one else can understand the message "by listening to sound," as you asked in one part of your question.

However, the spell says you "whisper", and we are to take that verb in the ordinary dictionary sense, which is (OED):

whisper: verb, a. intransitive. To speak softly ‘under one's breath’, i.e. without the resonant tone produced by vibration of the vocal cords; to talk or converse in this way, esp. in the ear of another, for the sake of secrecy.

Whispering in no way restricts or avoids the movement of the lips, and there is at least one way a player can be assured of having the ability to read lips, which is to take the Observant feat (p.168 of PHB), which includes:

If you can see a creature's mouth while it is speaking a language you understand, you can interpret what it's saying by reading its lips.

Notice it says "speaking" which is indeed in the definition of "whisper," above; whispering does count as speaking.

Thus if you have this feat and can see the spellcaster while casting and understand their language, you can interpret the message.

To clarify about the verbal component (as pointed out by Szega), it was clarified in discussion of the suggestion spell on p. 17 of this Sage Advice Compendium that the verbal components of a spell are "mystic words," separate from any "normal speech" entailed by the spell description.

But the Message spell's having a verbal component other than the whisper itself does not matter for the purposes of your question. Casting it involves whispering, which is a kind of speaking that can be lip-read.

Naturally, the same conditions would apply for someone potentially lip-reading the recipient's response to the Message spell.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think, then the question arises, in what language is the message being sent? In the same language that the caster thinks and the target speaks, or is there a wrapping in a certain arcane language and encryption / decryption? \$\endgroup\$
    – ben-ben
    Jul 11 '20 at 5:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Again because "spells do what they say they do" (unless your DM adds something to the effect of a spell, as is their right), then our default is not to assume some encoded language is used for the whispered message -- because if the spell did that, its description would say so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Valley Lad
    Jul 11 '20 at 6:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ To save a quote from the Sage Advice Compendium, "Verbal components are mystic words (PH, 203), not normal speech. The spell’s suggestion is an intelligible utterance that is separate from the verbal component. The command spell is the simplest example of this principle. The utterance of the verbal component is separate from, and precedes, any verbal utterance that would bring about the spell’s effect." \$\endgroup\$
    – ben-ben
    Jul 11 '20 at 10:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ As the message conveyed by this spell is not one of the verbal components of the spell, none of that would apply, unless the spell says so, which it doesn't. \$\endgroup\$
    – Valley Lad
    Jan 4 at 21:59

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