A lot of spells in D&D 5e either work or they don't, with no visual or audio effect. If your target can't see or hear that you are casting a spell, and they make their save for that spell... do they know that they were targeted? Do they "feel" it?

I ask because it seems that the only thing that counts as an attack in 5e is something with an attack roll. If that's the case a lot of shenanigans can happen, with players claiming their spell meant to immobilize or even kill a foe, was not an attack and should not have provoked the target.
Is there an "official" way to handle it?


1 Answer 1


No, unless there is a perceivable effect

The rule on targets for spellcasting says:

Unless a spell has a perceptible effect, a creature might not know it was targeted by a spell at all. An effect like crackling lightning is obvious, but a more subtle effect, such as an attempt to read a creature's thoughts, typically goes unnoticed, unless a spell says otherwise.

What precisely has a perceivable effect is up to the DM. Something like the Mind Sliver cantrip that is intended to do damage could very well be considered to have a perceivable effect depending on how it is narrated.

There is not an official way to determine NPC reactions

But it is helpful to recognize the difference between an "attack" as the game term and an attack in regular English. The game term is restricted to things with attack rolls and a few exceptions (grappling, shoving).

The common English usage of attack, however, is not restricted to that which requires an attack roll. Anything that someone perceives as being intended to harm could be considered an attack in the mundane sense. If someone knows another person attempted to paralyze them with magic, the would-be victim might reasonably be a bit peeved.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In fact, they might be peeved if they only believe that someone wanted to paralyze them with magic - regardless of that is what actually happened. Or they might be peeved simply because they don't like people chanting and waving their hands. In other words, players have no business at all claiming that an NPC should not be provoked because something was "not an attack". NPC reactions are completely up to the DM. It helps if the reaction is based on something the NPC could reasonably perceive, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Surpriser
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I typically figure anything that deals damage is 'perceivable' unless the spell specifically says it's not obvious, such as Vicious Mockery's "subtle enchantments", and anything where the spell describes a visual or auditory effect is obvious. So that leaves basically a few enchantments and a handful of other spells that don't seem to have any sensory effects, like Bestow Curse. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 16:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym: I have a hard time believing that any spell with verbal or somatic components is "imperceptible" unless you're going to tell me that the NPC in question is blind and/or deaf. The real question is, once the NPC knows you're casting a spell of some kind, how do they react to that information? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 21:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Casting a spell can be bluffed away as casting a different spell for a different purpose in many cases. "Before we speak of anything confidential, I'll put up a ward against scrying." Where-as if the NPC can feel the spell trying to invade their mind, that's pretty indisputable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Errorsatz
    Commented Feb 10, 2021 at 0:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Anyway the question isn't whether targets can tell that you cast a spell, it's whether they know they've been targeted by magic. Perceiving that spellcasting has occurred in your vicinity isn't the same as perceiving that you were the target of a magical effect that you shrugged off through force of personality or whatever. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 15:19

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