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Symbol (PHB, pg. 280) allows you to create a magical glyph that triggers on a condition you determine. One of the glyphs you can create is called Discord:

Each target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, a target bickers and argues with other creatures for 1 minute. During this time, it is incapable of meaningful communication and has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.

Is a creature who fails the save against this effect capable of performing verbal spell components?

Note, ambitious answers will consider the situation where there are creatures to bicker with, as well as when the effected creature is alone.

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Yes; casting is not communication

Many if not most spell text blocks follow the pattern of first description, then proscription. That is, first a narrative expression of the spell, then what effect it has on the rules. For a symbol of discord, the description is "a target bickers and argues with other creatures", while the proscription is "it is incapable of meaningful communication and has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks".

Discord penalizes attacks and ability checks, but no mention is made of its effects on spells (in contrast to, for example, the Silence spell). I am taking for granted that verbal spell-casting is not affected, specifically because the principle of "spells do what they say they do"; it does not say that verbal spellcasting is affected, so it is not. I am attempting to justify this post-hoc, rather than arguing whether verbal spellcasting should be allowed, as other answers may be.

So, if the target is prevented from meaningful communication, why is spellcasting permitted? Because spellcasting is not communication. Communication has an intelligent recipient. The spell says that the target bickers and argues with other creatures. Verbal spellcasting remains functional because it does not have an intended listener, it does not have a creature as its recipient. The caster is still fully able to use verbal components (cf.), to "produce particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance". What they are now unable to do is produce an intelligible message for a specific listener, including modulating that message - facing them, enunciating, gesturing, coding, and all the other components of communication.

For a deeper narrative description of what this is like, consider the eponymous Discord herself, the Greek goddess Eris. She causes strife by setting people at odds, to 'bicker and argue' amongst themselves. She foments interpersonal conflict, not impediments to speech.

One interesting effect of this interpretation is on spells that grant control over other creatures. A creature under the effect of Discord would still be able to cast suggestion, command, or similar spells - but their target would be unable to understand the instructions given them, due to the power of the Discord to prohibit meaningful communication.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As well as control spells which require communication to work, Discord's effect should also have direct impact on spells such as Message, Sending, Animal Messenger, Telepathy. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Oct 1 at 6:57
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Symbol of Discord does not prevent verbal components

The previous answers have given arguments for why it would prevent verbal components and are a totally reasonable way for a DM to run the spell.

It seems unlikely that this was the intended way for this spell to work, however, because DnD generally tries to be explicit about a spell's effects. If the symbol of discord was intended to prevent verbal components I would expect it to read something like this:

Each target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, a target bickers and argues with other creatures for 1 minute. During this time, it is incapable of meaningful communication, cannot perform the verbal components to cast a spell, and has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.

Instead it only explicitly prevents meaningful communication and disadvantages attack rolls and ability checks.

Bickering takes place between two or more people. If a person was affected by Discord but was alone then they clearly would be able to produce verbal components.

Furthermore Bickering does not require constant speech. During an argument there can be pauses in speech. While the other party member is complaining about how the caster didn't scrub the pot properly the caster can perform the verbal components of the spell.

There can be nonverbal forms of bickering: The caster flips of the fighter while chanting a mystic incantation.

Since the verbal components of a spell are not "meaningful communication" (you aren't passing along information to another creature) they can be performed freely so long as the character can still be said to be arguing.

Basically arguing is like a long rest in that it is not interrupted by short instances of spell casting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that your example of how the spell description would read if it were intended to prevent verbal component usage is the one thing that's missing from Kirt's answer. +1. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Oct 1 at 16:58
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Probably not

Verbal components are described like this:

Most spells require the chanting of mystic words. The words themselves aren't the source of the spell's power; rather, the particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion. Thus, a character who is gagged or in an area of silence, such as one created by the silence spell, can't cast a spell with a verbal component.

So the Symbol does not in fact create an area of silence, nor does it gag the character. The remaining question is, whether you consider the verbal spell components to be a form of "meaningfull communication". This is of course not explicitly stated in the rules and so leaves a bit of room for opinion.

In my opinion, being incapable of meaningful communication means, among other things, that the speaker is not totally free to choose what comes out of their mouth—otherwise they could just choose to say something meaningful, obviously. And without this freedom of speech (not that freedom of speech), they cannot reasonably provide the verbal component, which has to be carefully chosen and in its purpose meaningful.

To address the case of only one target affected alone, the mechanical effects of

it is incapable of meaningful communication and has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks

should still take place, thus still preventing the target from providing verbal components for their spells. Narratively, it could perhaps be presented as either talking angrily to themselves or even as a split personality.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Depending on your DM, you could have a check of some kind be required to still be able to cast a spell in this state. Constitution to keep it together at least for a moment might an appropriate choice. \$\endgroup\$ – Tobias F. Sep 30 at 13:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TobiasF. Well that would be the first CON saving throw dictated by the spell. Otherwise, you would be just adding another "retry" for free. \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Sep 30 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1, as I find your reasoning to be making huge assumptions, especially this sentence: "otherwise they could just choose to say something meaningful, obviously". I regret giving you a -1 now, this would be a fine answer if you specified near the top that this is not entirely based on RAW but also some further extrapolation. \$\endgroup\$ – Nacht Oct 1 at 5:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nacht I am not sure what you mean, the answer explicitly admits that "This is of course not explicitly stated in the rules and so leaves a bit of room for opinion." in the first paragraph (other than the verbatim description of verbal component). Where would you prefer it to be? \$\endgroup\$ – J.E Oct 1 at 7:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.E In the heading. Something like "Here's how I would rule". I disagree with your ruling but I shouldn't have downvoted. If you make any edit at all I will be able to un-downvote, and will do so. \$\endgroup\$ – Nacht Oct 1 at 13:31
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They should not be, though of course it's up to the DM

Verbal components are described as this:

Most spells require the chanting of mystic words. The words themselves aren't the source of the spell's power; rather, the particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion. Thus, a character who is gagged or in an area of silence, such as one created by the silence spell, can't cast a spell with a verbal component.

Now, when we look at discord, there are two key points that I see that seem to confirm to me that verbal components would be impossible to perform

The first thing to look at is why you are unable to perform meaningful conversation:

a target bickers and argues with other creatures for 1 minute

So, you are reduced to bickering and arguing with other creatures for a minute. Considering the time needed to cast a spell, if you needed to perform a verbal component then you couldn't be arguing and bickering with others while casting that spell, and the words and sounds needed to cast the spell probably aren't random lines in a nonsensical argument.

The second thing to look at is the words "Meaningful Conversation". While this does specify conversation, conversation consists of the words that you speak that are simply directed at another person, and the words needed for a verbal component are very specific and meaningful words, they just aren't directed at a person. As such, it only makes sense that if you can't speak those specific magical words to another person, you aren't going to be speaking them at all.

While none of this is necessarily an explanation supported by the RAW of the spell, it is not denied by it either. As such, it seems clear that with how the spell is intended to work, A creature can not reasonably cast a spell using a verbal component while under the effects of 'Discord'

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    \$\begingroup\$ What if you are alone, with no creatures around to bicker with? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Sep 30 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually considered including a line on that, but that's contesting the entire effect at that point, not just the verbal components part. Discord imposes disadvantage on attacks and ability checks because you are distracted by the bickering, so if you were to say that you can if there's nobody to bicker with, then by the same logic you wouldn't have disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks \$\endgroup\$ – Smart_TJ Sep 30 at 22:01

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