Consider the following elaborate scenario, which nevertheless actually occurred at our table.

Two PCs, Sophie Sorcerer and Roger Rogue, sneak into the hideout of hapless villain Tarley Target. While hidden, Sophie uses her Subtle Casting metamagic to silently cast sleep, rendering Tarley unconscious without ever alerting him to the intrusion. Sophie and Roger swiftly exfiltrate the sleeping Tarley from the hideout to their camp nearby, where Sophie successfully casts charm person on him. When the sleep spell ends and Tarley awakes, Sophie takes advantage of Tarley's charmed condition: she dupes him into believing that someone else actually assaulted him, and that the PCs are in fact his saviors. Tarley, overcome with gratitude and having little cause to believe the PCs are really hostile, proceeds to spill his secrets. Once satisfied that she has squeezed every bit of useful information from Tarley, Sophie signals to Roger -- who has been quietly, nonchalantly moving into striking position -- to kill him. Initiative is rolled. Tarley is ruled surprised. Roger goes first, attacks, and misses.

Does Tarley's charmed condition end?

The description of charm person says a target that fails its save "is charmed by you until the spell ends or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it." Does an unsuccessful attack count as "harmful" for purposes of charm person? Would it make a difference if Tarley remained unaware of the attack -- e.g., because (as happened here) the DM ruled him distracted by Sophie's riveting conversation?

Related questions:

  • This question asked what "harmful" means vis-à-vis charm person, but only in the context that the charmed condition restricts the charmed creature's ability to "target the charmer with harmful abilities or magical effects."
  • This question asked whether the target of charm person has to know who damaged them in order for the spell to end, but that presumes damage was actually dealt.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this answer your question: "What kind of harm ends the duration of the Incite Greed spell?" \$\endgroup\$ Jan 6, 2021 at 19:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suppose it does. Not sure how I missed that in my searches. Oh well. \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Jan 7, 2021 at 17:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Voting to reopen; I don't think these are dupes. The Incite greed asks a very open-ended, 'what is considered harmful' while this is very directed, is a missed attack considered harmful. Even if those are considered the same question, this question asks whether he charmed target needs to know about the attempt to harm it for it to end the spell. The other question does not mention that at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 8, 2021 at 6:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt It sounds like you think this is a dupe, but the answer on the other question is insufficient. That means this question should be closed and the old question should be given a better answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2021 at 12:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt The linked question fully and adequately answers this question. The term harm is never defined within the rules and any adjudication about what does and does not count as harm is left to the GM. This includes whether or not you have to be aware of something for it to be considered harmful \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2021 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


Hurt feelings count, at least for the Enchantment School

Contrast this spell with other effects like Hypnotic Pattern (Illusion School), Dragon Fear (Racial Feat), or Turning Undead (Class Ability). In all of these cases, the condition that ends the effect is 'takes any damage' (not harm). Charm Person goes outside the normal schema, and in doing so indicates that 'harm' needs a more expansive definition than just damage, for otherwise that would have been used.

So what constitutes harm? Consider how the Enchantment School works: (PHB 115)

As a member of the School of Enchantment, you have honed your ability to magically entrance and beguile other people and monsters. Some enchanters are peacemakers who bewitch the violent to lay down their arms and charm the cruel into showing mercy. Others are tyrants who magically bind the unwilling into their service.

Note that the school is about 'entrancing and beguiling'. People's feelings of trust and loyalty are central to how it operates on the conscious mind. Thus, anything that harms trust counts as harmful for the purposes of this spell. My answer would be very different for a similar question related to, for example, an Abjuration school spell, where you would likely have to demonstrate that an attack did some game-effect damage to count as harmful.

Does an unsuccessful attack count as "harmful" for purposes of charm person? Roger's attack on Tarley hurt Tarley's trust in Sophie. He thought she was his friend and ally, and she tricked and endangered him. That is certainly harm, precisely because he considers it harm.

Note that for each of the effects listed above that end when the target takes damage, damage from any source - friend, foe, or environment - counts. Charm Person, on the other hand, specifically says the target "is charmed by you until the spell ends or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it."

If a creature takes damage from a source other than the caster or their allies, the charm is not ended. If a goblin had slipped out of the bushes and fired an arrow at Tarley, even if the arrow had hit and done damage, that would not end the spell. It is reasonable to expect the spell to keep track of who the caster is, since that is the person Tarley has to be charmed by. But how does the spell 'know' who the caster's companions are? How is this first level spell keeping track of the the interpersonal relationships between Sophie and her adventuring partners, hirelings, mercenaries, and acquaintances and deciding which of them are her companions?

I think it rather more likely that it is not the spell itself somehow detecting what "Sophie's companion" means, but that that information is being supplied by Tarley's own beliefs. That is, Tarley doesn't think that the goblin ambusher is Sophie's companion, but he knows that Rodger is. Thus, when Rodger attacks him but misses, that counts as harm, whereas the actual wound from the goblin is immaterial. Again, the harm comes from Tarley's feeling of betrayal by Sophie.

Would it make a difference if Tarley remained unaware of the attack -- e.g., because (as happened here) the DM ruled him distracted by Sophie's riveting conversation? To feel that betrayal, Tarley would have had to notice the attack. Tarley won't have hurt feelings over an attack of which he is completely unaware. That being said, 'being distracted' generally does not mean you do not notice people attacking you. It might have given Roger advantage on his attack, according to PHB (177):

In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However, under certain circumstances, the Dungeon Master might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack before you are seen.

But once Roger attacked, typically he would be noticed by Tarley. Consider the Skulker Feat (PHB 170)

When you are hidden from a creature and miss it with a ranged weapon attack, making the attack doesn't reveal your position.

For this feat to have any meaning, normally when you make an attack while Hidden, the target does notice you. And if a target notices even an attack that misses from a Hidden opponent, they will usually notice an an attack that misses from a foe that is not Hidden.


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