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If someone casts the dissonant whispers spell on my halfling, how does it interact with the halfling's Brave trait?

  1. I roll 2d20 for the advantage, and this "succeed or fail the save" result is directly applied to the entire spell.
    or
  2. I roll 2d20, but I roll them "in order" (we use 2 different colors to tell which is d20 #1 and d20 #2), and the result is applied to the spell's effects, checking if the advantage dice applies or not to each effect separately - meaning that both d20s are used for advantage only against the specific "vs. frightened condition" part of the spell, while only the the result of the 1st d20 (aka "I do not have advantage") is used against the damage part of the spell.

All players think it should be done the 1st way. Simple enough, right?

But the DM says that it "obviously" has to be done the 2nd way, while also insisting that this is not a house rule, but that this is the real "RAW" way to interpret how advantage on saving throws works.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Reworded. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Nov 26 '20 at 22:54
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You do not apply advantage separately to the effects of a single saving throw, but you do not get advantage in this case

Most spells require only a single saving throw. This is explicit from the way the save is described, as in dissonant whispers, which says:

The target must make a Wisdom saving throw.

This is singular - there’s only one save, even though there are multiple effects. Spells are explicit about the effects of failing the save; in the case of dissonant whispers:

On a failed save, [the target] takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you.

While many spells (mostly cantrips) leave it at that, which tells us that nothing happens on successful save, dissonant whispers is also explicit about that case:

On a successful save, the target takes half as much damage and doesn’t have to move away.

So both effects are covered by the single saving throw: you either take full damage and flee if able, or take half damage and don’t have to flee. Having advantage or disadvantage, however you get it, would apply to the saving throw as with any other d20 roll - you roll twice and choose the result you want. It does not split the saving throw into separate parts to which advantage or disadvantage may or may not apply.

There are a small number of spells with separate saving throws for separate effects, but where this is the case each saving throw is mentioned explicitly in the spell’s description.

In the specific case of a halfling getting advantage on the save for dissonant whispers, though, you’re out of luck. The halfling trait Brave says:

You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened.

Frightened here refers to the condition detailed in Appendix A of the Player’s Handbook and Basic Rules. Spells and effects will use phrasing like “on a failed save, the target is frightened” to make it clear when it is being used. Dissonant whispers does not mention being frightened, and so Brave does not apply. (Narratively, the movement is framed as a result of the “discordant melody” causing “terrible pain”, not fear.)

Of note is that no spell combines damage with inflicting the frightened condition in a single effect. Effects that cause a target to become frightened may specify additional effects that apply while the target is frightened (for example fear, which forces a character to flee each turn they remain frightened, or weird, which inflicts a separate save against damage on the frightened target at the end of each of its turns), or that happen at the moment the character becomes frightened (fear also causes a creature who fails their save to drop whatever they are holding). But if failing a save would cause the frightened condition, whether or not there are other effects, then a halfling gets advantage on the saving throw.

So: you roll a single saving throw, without advantage, and either take full damage and are forced to flee, or take half damage and aren’t. You do not save separately against the damage and the other effect, for this spell or any other, whether you have advantage or not, unless the spell specifically says so.

If your DM wishes to split saving throws so there are always separate ones for damage and additional effects, whether for the purposes of advantage applying or in general, that’s a big change to the standard rules. It will, among other things, slow down play and greatly affect the efficacy of spells. I’d recommend talking to them about the reasons for this change.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for a very complete answer. You are right we confused the Dissonant Whisper wording and it has zero to do with Frightened Condition (DM had gotten it from a weird website instead of straight from the PHB lol). And you are right this kind of "split the save" only complicates and slow down play and it ALSO tend to "nerf" the players a bit. House rule DM no problem I roll with it, but DM believes that he is doing it as per RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Nov 26 '20 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hang on. When I asked a question about Wish's damage (rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/158643/…), I was told 5e doesn't use keywords. If 5e doesn't use keywords, then how does this interaction work? \$\endgroup\$ – Nzall Nov 27 '20 at 11:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nzall I don’t know about the other answer, but conditions are common effects applied by spells etc that in addition to their regular English meaning have standard game affects, as listed in Appendix A. There are other standard terms too like “attack”, “ability check”, “melee weapon” and so on that have rule definitions, but I don’t know if they count as keywords in the sense that you mean? In the case of dissonant whispers, there’s no mention of the target being “frightened” or otherwise made afraid, so the halfling trait fails on either condition or regular language usage count. \$\endgroup\$ – Guybrush McKenzie Nov 27 '20 at 11:32
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You do not get advantage on the save at all

Dissonant Whispers does damage and causes you to use your reaction to move away from the caster. It does not create the Frightened condition so it doesn’t trigger Brave.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry we all misread Dissonant Whispers you are right it forces a move and not the Frightened condition at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Nov 26 '20 at 22:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pat no need to apologise to me - I wasn’t harmed by your misreading. Notwithstanding, there’s an interesting question in here - see if you can find an example where the conundrum might be relevant (not just with Brave halflings but other things - like poison-proof dwarfs). Offhand, I can’t think of an example where 2 damage types or other effects are tied to a single saving throw that might have advantage on one but not the other but there might be one out there. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Nov 26 '20 at 23:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Several Cantrips have 2 effects: energy dg + secondary special effect. Example Ray of Frost: cold dg + slows you down. I understand we roll save vs spell itself, not vs separate spell effects. THEN according to the save result, say it failed, effects apply separately in sequence (thus one immune to cold takes no dmg, but is still slowed down), or are the additional effects treated as "rider effects". i.e. if you negate all dmg, do you also avoid the secondary effect(s)? If there is a rule about that somewhere, I didn't find it. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Dec 2 '20 at 17:21
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You do not get advantage here

The halfling ability applies to the Frightened Condition. Dissonant whispers does not apply Frightened. It acts a lot like it should, but it does not.

There are similar spells -- like Fear -- that do. And its description also makes it seem like the motivation is fear-based. So the misunderstanding is pretty understandable.

If it did apply Frightened

If Dissonant Whispers (or a similar spell) applied both Frightened and something else (like damage), you would get advantage on the entire saving throw against both effects.

Imagine Dissonant Whispers (Houseruled)

[...] The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it becomes Frightened of the voice and takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you. It is then no longer Frightened. [...]

Under this different version, the Halfling would have advantage on the saving throw, and the successful save would apply to every part of the saving throw, not just the Frightened condition; the damage, the "must expend a reaction", etc.

If the DM wants to treat Dissonant Whispers as a Frightened effect, they are free to. But they really shouldn't split saving throws. As noted, it makes it complex, and the return on that complexity is really low.

Story-wise, the Dissonant Whispers is supposed to be painfully sounding, so much so that you reflexively move away from the source of the pain. You aren't, under the spell, afraid of the sound.

The movement is akin to someone jerking away from a source of pain.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Clear, concise, complete answer, thanks a lot! I reread the spell yeah it's only psychic damage, so if target is a Couatl (immune to psychic damage) would it be immune to the entire spell or just the damage? The part about it being a melody, that part seems like it is fluff, so it would fall into DM call territory about whether deaf creatures are affected or not? \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Dec 2 '20 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pat Immunity to damage or conditions doesn't make you immune to the rest of the effect. Having advantage on saves against something, or automatically passing saves against something, is not the same as being immune to something; a creature an be immune(poisoned) and resist (poison damage) for example. 5e spells don't have fluff, so yes. Also the spell ends with "A deafened creature automatically succeeds on the save." so they made it clear. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Dec 2 '20 at 17:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Damnation how could I even have missed that? Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Dec 2 '20 at 17:28

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