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You might be wondering how this could happen apart from a contrived scenario of casting a spell like cause fear on yourself (which is allowed). Turns out, it can happen by interacting with the local wildlife of Icewind Dale.

The Crag Cat has this ability:

Spell Turning. The cat has advantage on saving throws against any spell that targets only the cat (not an area). If the cat’s saving throw succeeds and the spell is of 7th level or lower, the spell has no effect on the cat and instead targets the caster.

So I cast cause fear on a Crag Cat, it passes the save, and then I fail on my save. I become the target of my own cause fear, which means I am now frightened of myself.

The frightened condition says:

  • A frightened creature has disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls while the source of its fear is within line of sight.
  • The creature can't willingly move closer to the source of its fear.

Do either of these conditions apply in some way while I am frightened of myself?

You might be thinking, "why not just drop concentration and end the effect?" Right, that would work, if the caster thought to do that. When this scenario played out in my game, the player whose character was frightened of himself was so worked up about his player being frightened of himself he didn't even think to drop concentration, which I thought was a great narrative expression of the effect. I ruled on the fly that he used all of his movement on his turn to run about wildly, trying to get away from himself, opting to make a quick ruling without spending much time thinking to preserve the tension of the situation. Now that I have had time to think about it, I'm not sure what the correct ruling would be.

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Both bullet points take effect, but the second one is vacuous.

In its title and in its body text, the question explicitly asks about what happens if you are frightened of yourself. This is exactly what I am going to answer. Whether casting the cause fear spell on yourself (intentionally or by Spell Turning) becomes a non-issue because being frightened would cause you to lose your concentration on the spell immediately, would be a different question.

Considering the first bullet point: The crucial question here is: is a creature considered to be within its own line of sight? The only precise definition of line of sight is given in the context of the optional rule of playing on a grid (DMG, page 251, emphasis mine):

To precisely determine whether there is line of sight between two spaces, pick a corner of one space and trace an imaginary line from that corner to any part of another space. If at least one such line doesn't pass through or touch an object or effect that blocks vision -- such as a stone wall, a thick curtain, or a dense cloud of fog -- then there is line of sight.

The word another seems to prohibit using this definition in order to decide whether there is line of sight within the same space - which would be the relevant case in this scenario.

In the absence of a general mechanical definition of line of sight, we will have to go with its plain English meaning. I just tried around a bit, and I find it difficult to move my body naturally without seeing any part of it (or the clothes I'm wearing), unless I close my eyes. In fact, no matter where I look, my nose and part of my beard are always in my peripheral vision. It takes active effort not to see any part of my body, so I'd find it rather unnatural not to consider a creature to be within its own line of sight. Being the source of its own frightened condition, it should thus be subject to the consequences of the first bullet point.

Note that this interpretation of line of sight is consistent with the rules on Targeting Yourself with a spell (PHB, page 201), as is discussed e.g. here, here, or here (thanks to NautArch for referring me to these questions).

Considering the second bullet point: Since there is no additional condition in this bullet point, it definitely takes effect. The only remaining question is whether it actually makes a difference. "Moving closer to something" is obviously supposed to mean "reducing the physical distance to something", not some metaphorical or spiritual distance, or whatever other notion one could come up with. The rules on movement in combat say:

On your turn, you can move a distance up to your speed.

This seems to equate the distance to something with the movement it takes to get there. Since staying exactly where you are costs no movement at all, the distance to yourself is therefore 0. As a negative distance is impossible, no conceivable move could bring you closer to yourself than you are at the moment. Consequently, you cannot move closer to yourself - regardless of whether you are frightened of yourself or not.

However: That said, I think your ruling sounds much more reasonable, more in line with the idea of the frightened condition, and simply more fun than sticking to this strict reading of the rules.

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Frame challenge: you can either choose to drop concentration, or you automatically do it.

You might be thinking, "why not just drop concentration and end the effect?" Right, that would work, if the caster thought to do that.

It may be more fun to play this out like you described it, if you so choose, but it doesn't make sense in my opinion.

Concentrating is a somewhat active thing, which is why it can be interrupted by taking damage or in other ways. If you're so worked up about being frightened of yourself that you forget about concentrating, I don't think you would maintain concentration. If you forget you're concentrating, you're automatically no longer concentrating. It's not an automatic thing for the character, despite being such for the player.

Note that both the common definition of concentrating ("to give all your attention to something and not think about anything else") and the information given on concentration in the PHB, pages 203/204, describe it as something you'd be actively doing. Compared to the normal meaning of concentrating, 5e's definition is somewhat less "occupying", but you still have to "maintain concentration" (PHB, p. 203), and "maintaining" doesn't happen passively per definition.


Either way, my logic of "If you forget you're concentrating, you're automatically no longer concentrating" leaves two options:

  • you don't forget about concentration, and thus either keep it up (which wouldn't be very clever in most or all situations) or choose to drop it.
  • you do forget about it, thus you automatically drop it.

If you go with the latter version, you / the DM would have to justify why the fear effect makes you drop concentration when cast on yourself, whereas it doesn't on other creatures. This shouldn't be too hard, though - you can't run away from yourself or hope that the source of your fear goes somewhere else if you're the source, unlike in a situation where you're afraid of, for example, a dragon (not that trying to run away from a dragon by nonmagical means is going to be very effective in most situations. Excluding, of course, just being faster than your "friends".)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 23 at 17:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ A case could be made the other way. You can concentrate on a spell while doing a jigsaw puzzle in a thunderstorm -- it's practically subconscious. And "you can end concentration at any time" sounds like a conscious choice. It could be like buttering bread when someone talks to you, and you've accidentally buttered the whole loaf. \$\endgroup\$ – Owen Reynolds Sep 24 at 1:08
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I believe that one should interpret the spirit of the spell's effect, rather than the letter. In particular when the spell's description is one sentence long.

If the caster sends a Magic Missile targeted at the cat, everyone will agree the turning spell would cause the Magic Missile to be targeted at the caster. I would add that people around would see the Magic Missile bouncing off the cat and returning to the caster.

Following the same line of thought, I would interpret the turning spell as the caster being frightened of the cat.

Doesn't that follow the spirit of the turning spell's effect?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Magic missile has no saving throw, so the cat's ability does not apply. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Sep 24 at 20:54

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