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This was thought up while reading the following question:


The dissonant whispers spell has only Verbal components and states:

[...] You whisper a discordant melody that only one creature of your choice within range can hear [...]

The Sage Advice Compendium document states:

Q. Is the sentence of suggestion in the suggestion spell the verbal component, or is the verbal component separate?

A. 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.

Is the "discordant melody" the "mystic words" (verbal component) of dissonant whispers? In other words, is the casting of this spell almost unnoticeable outside of the fact that your lips are moving? What is the verbal component of dissonant whispers?

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Spell components and spell effects are always separate

The section What Is A Spell? in the PHB (and Basic Rules) describes spellcasting thusly:

A spell is a discrete magical effect, a single shaping of the magical energies that suffuse the multiverse into a specific, limited expression. In casting a spell, a character carefully plucks at the invisible strands of raw magic suffusing the world, pins them in place in a particular pattern, sets them vibrating in a specific way, and then releases them to unleash the desired effect – in most cases, all in the span of seconds.

Notably, there are 2 separate "steps": a setup process, and then a release of the effect. The components of a spell are unambiguously part of the first step:

A spell's components are the physical requirements you must meet in order to cast it. Each spell's description indicates whether it requires verbal (V), somatic (S), or material (M) components. If you can't provide one or more of a spell's components, you are unable to cast the spell.

In short, from a purely mechanical perspective, the casting of a spell, including provision of all required components, always happens before any effects of the spell are produced. In fact, in the case of a readied spell, the end of the casting and the start of the effect may be separated in time by up to 6 seconds. Any verbal utterances made as part of the spell's effect cannot possibly be the same as the verbal component of casting the spell, because they simply can't occur at the same time.

So, for spells like suggestion, message, and yes, dissonant whispers, the caster first provides all the components, including the required mystic chanting for the verbal component, to cast the spell, and only then the spell's effect begins, at which point the caster can make their suggestion, send their message, or whisper their dissonant melody.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice use of the standard phb rules as support. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 18 '20 at 15:45
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The verbal component is separate as part of spellcasting, not effects

As you've quoted, the verbal components are not 'part' of the spell effects, but of the casting itself. The 'whispers' of the dissonant whispers are sounds generated by the spell that only the recipient can hear.

The utterance of the verbal component is separate from, and precedes, any verbal utterance that would bring about the spell’s effect.

So the verbal component remains noticeable, while the spell effect of the dissonant whisper is only heard by the target.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The sentence you (and the question) have quoted has some unfortunately ambiguous wording. "Verbal utterance that would bring about the spell's effect" sounds like it could be talking about the verbal component of spellcasting (which would make the sentence nonsensical), when it is actually referring to verbal utterances made as part of the spell's effect, i.e. after the casting is complete. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jul 18 '20 at 14:49

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