A lot of spells in D&D 5e either work or they don't, with no visual or audio effect. If your target cant 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 shenanigan's 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?


No, unless there is a perceivable effect

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 Mind Sliver 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 Feb 9 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\$ – Darth Pseudonym Feb 9 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wonder if there's any spells with a Reflex save that isn't perceivable. I have a hard time imagining that. 9gag.com/gag/aDggKbw \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck Feb 9 at 19:22
  • \$\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 Feb 9 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 Feb 10 at 0:35

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