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Magic exists which can divine the intentions of other creatures toward me. For instance, the description of the wand of enemy detection magic item says, in part:

While holding it, you can use an action and expend 1 charge to speak its command word. For the next minute, you know the direction of the nearest creature hostile to you within 60 feet, but not its distance from you. The wand can sense the presence of hostile creatures that are ethereal, invisible, disguised, or hidden, as well as those in plain sight.

The Arcane Archer fighter can choose the Arcane Shot option Shadow Arrow (XGtE, p. 30; emphasis mine):

You weave illusion magic into your arrow, causing it to occlude your foe’s vision with shadows. The creature hit by the arrow takes an extra 2d6 psychic damage, and it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be unable to see anything farther than 5 feet away until the start of your next turn.

Abilities and effects do what they say they do. There is no fluff in descriptions.

As written, it appears that if I hit a creature with my Shadow Arrow, it does regular arrow damage plus 2d6 psychic damage. In addition, if the creature hit is my foe, it must make a Wisdom save or have its vision occluded.

Suppose I want to determine if an NPC of uncertain loyalty is my foe or not. I hit him with a Shadow Arrow. It seems that if his vision becomes occluded, he must be my foe; if not, he is either not my foe or he has succeeded on the saving throw. Is that right?

  1. Does the Shadow Arrow really know who is my foe, similar to a wand of enemy detection? Or does it assume that anyone I would shoot at must be my foe?
  2. If the latter, could an NPC that was trying to gain my trust volunteer to receive my arrow? Would that affect the result if they were being truthful vs. deceptive?
  3. If my DM house-rules that critical failures on attack rolls result in attacking allies when I fire into a melee, can I be confident that my Shadow Arrow will not be able to occlude the vision of anyone friendly to me?

Related questions:

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    \$\begingroup\$ If someone started randomly putting arrows in me, I'd certainly reconsider my disposition towards said person. \$\endgroup\$ – DvdZee Sep 11 at 8:44
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In context, "your foe" is whoever you're shooting with the arrow.

You're attacking someone with a deadly weapon; almost by definition, this makes them your enemy. If they weren't before, they almost surely are now that you've shot them.

The description goes on to say that "the creature hit by the arrow" must make a Wisdom save to avoid having its vision impaired, which, you'll recall, is the thing Shadow Arrow does to "your foe". Unless you're proposing that it impairs "your foe's" vision (which foe, and in what way?) and also causes the specific semi-blindness affliction to whoever it hits, this is the same creature.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have in-game support for the statement that attacking someone makes them your enemy? My PC's have to fight against charmed and dominated party members, suffer from friendly fire, and often test new magic items on one another, all without making them enemies. My reading of the text is that it works on foes, and thus the second line means the creature (who is your foe) has to save. You are saying that firing at anyone, even a party member, makes them your foe? So if a PC said "I went to test this shield, shoot at me" then the shield-holder would show up with a wand of enemy detection? \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Sep 12 at 19:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt No, I'm saying that the rules are written for typical situations, not excruciating correctness in every bizarre edge case. Shadow Arrow says "your foe" because normally that's who you're going to use it on, because you don't shoot arrows at people who aren't your foes. If this were Gun Racks & Gators: the Florida Man Roleplaying Game then I'd expect the rules to anticipate the possibility that you'll shoot at your friends to "test their shields", but it's not. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Sep 12 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I can certainly understand the sentiment in your comment, it bears little resemblance to your answer, in which you say that attacking someone makes them your foe. Similarly, nothing in your answer explains that the wording is what it is because it assumes typical situations. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Sep 13 at 0:20
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The wording makes your question moot

The creature hit by the arrow takes an extra 2d6 psychic damage, and it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw...

The creature hit by the arrow suffers two effects: the psychic damage and must save against its vision being occluded. Any creature that the arrow hits, foe or not, has a chance of its vision being blocked. Therefore, you can't tell if the target was your foe or not because every creature is affected.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So what is the effect of the previous line saying that it occlude's your foe's vision, if it works on any creature hit? \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Sep 12 at 20:08
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If a spell is meant to exclude friendly creatures it says so

We can look at this by examining each sentence of the rule.

You weave illusion magic into your arrow, causing it to occlude your foe’s vision with shadows.

This sentence says that the shadow arrow occludes the vision of your foes. It does not state, however, that the shadow arrow can only occlude the vision of foes and cannot impair allies. An ally being harmed by the shadow arrow does not contradict this sentence.

The creature hit by the arrow takes an extra 2d6 psychic damage, and it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be unable to see anything farther than 5 feet away until the start of your next turn.

This defines the effects that happen to a creature hit by the arrow. An ally hit by the arrow fulfills the criteria so the effects must apply to them as well. Spells do what they say they do and there are no hidden rules. If this spell was meant to exclude friendly creatures it would say so.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Typically "spells do what they say they do" is interpreted as "spells do only what they say they do", not "spells do what they say they do, PLUS anything else that does not directly contradict their text". It does not state that the arrow only occludes the vision of foes - nor does it state that it only affects creatures that the arrow hits. Can I claim that the arrow affects my foe's vision even if it doesn't hit, because nothing in the spell contradicts that? If not, you seem to be pleading a special case. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Sep 13 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ "If this spell was meant to exclude friendly creatures it would say so." You mean, in the part where it says "causing it to occlude your foe's vision", rather than saying "your target" or "the creature", like every other arcane shot option? \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Sep 13 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt sentences are a complete thought. If the spell was only meant to effect hostile creatures it would be easy to say "a hostile creature hit by the arrow..." in the second sentence. The first sentence gives a generalized description of the arrow's effect on a "foe". The second sentence says what happens when the arrow hits a creature. An ally being affected by the arrow does not contradict the first sentence but an ally being unaffected would contradict the second sentence. \$\endgroup\$ – Odo Sep 14 at 1:06

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