When casting Simulacrum, do you touch the original, or the duplicate, for the entire casting time?

The spell Simulacrum says:

You shape an illusory duplicate of one beast or humanoid that is within range for the entire casting time of the spell.

The casting time is 12 hours, the range is touch.

I read it that you must be touching the original for the entire 12 hours. Is that correct?

It would somehow make more sense to me if the original needed to be within x feet and you needed to be touching the duplicate, but that's not what it says.

• Really good question, there's a lot of ambiguity here that can be unpacked - does the original need to be within range? Does the duplicate need to be in range? Do they need to be in range for the duration? Are you shaping it for the entire duration? What's the difference between touch range and a spell saying to touch? So many nuances! Jan 11 at 5:00
• @Non-humanPerson Thanks, although not everyone agrees with you. It has 2 down votes, and we'll never know why....
– Jack
Jan 11 at 10:41

Touch is a moment in time

Even though the spell says the casting time is 12 hours, the "touch" component is just that, a quick touch. Let's look at other spells that have a non-Action casting time but require touch.

Awaken: 8 hour casting time

After spending the casting time tracing magical pathways within a precious gemstone, you touch a Huge or smaller beast or plant.

Here it is quite clear that you first spend the 8 hours in prep work, then there is a momentary touch.

Create Homunculus: 1 hour casting time

While speaking an intricate incantation, you cut yourself with a jewel-encrusted dagger, taking 2d4 piercing damage that can’t be reduced in any way. You then drip your blood on the spell’s other components and touch them, transforming them into a special construct called a homunculus.

Once again, there are a number of actions that do not require you to be in contact with all the of the spell components. Only at the end do you finally touch the completed mixture.

Glyph of Warding: 1 hour casting time

When you cast this spell, you inscribe a glyph that later unleashes a magical effect. You inscribe it either on a surface (such as a table or a section of floor or wall) or within an object that can be closed (such as a book, a scroll, or a treasure chest) to conceal the glyph.

This one is not as straightforward, but if we take it to mean that the touch much be for the entire hour, that means you cannot remove your writing utensil the entire time. You would have to create your glyph as an etch-a-sketch. So I would still go with the definition of a definitive touch last to activate.

Create Magen: 1 hour casting time

While casting the spell, you place a vial of quicksilver in the chest of a life-sized human doll stuffed with ash or dust. You then stitch up the doll and drip your blood on it. At the end of the casting, you tap the doll with a crystal rod, transforming it into a magen clothed in whatever the doll was wearing.

This one really pushes the point home, but since it's only available to people that bought the book I saved it for last. There are a LOT of motions going on with a doll, a vial, stitching, and then finally a tap (touch) to finish the spell.

From those examples (and more I didn't include), it's clear that a range of Touch only means that there needs to be physical contact at the end of the casting, not the whole casting time.

So let's look at Simulacrum again

You shape an illusory duplicate of one beast or humanoid that is within range for the entire casting time of the spell.

So the subject needs to be within touching distance the entire time. But the actual touch happens at the end. You spend the eight hours sizing up the subject and building a snowman (snowwoman, snowbeast), but you don't have to hold their hand the whole time.

• I'm pretty sure you mean cast time all the places you say duration. And when you mention the end of the spell I think you mean when the character finishes casting the spell. A better distinction between a spell's casting and the actual spell could make this answer more clear. Jan 11 at 11:47
• @JoakimM.H. I agree that this should say "casting time" in each heading where it says duration, duration is simply not the correct term. Jan 11 at 23:28
• Your argument that "you touch at the end" seems fine, but my problem with it is that it has no support in the actual rules. It absolutely makes sense, but as far as I can see it's just an assumption. Is that fair to say? Create Magen for example states you tap it with a crystal rod - which you interpret as a "touch" in support of your argument. I find this quite shaky. How about other spells such as Resurrection, Regenerate, Reincarnate, Raise Dead, etc. Are you touching at the end still? Does this mean you can begin casting Resurrection before the target enters range for example? Jan 12 at 0:10
• @JoakimM.H., You're correct, I kept typing duration when I meant casting time. I've updated everything. Let me know if I missed any Jan 12 at 7:47
• @coppereyecat, fixed. Jan 12 at 8:04

Have you ever made a sand castle?

You aren’t touching the sand castle at all times. The magical forces of the weave are not waiting to say:

Gotcha! You didn’t have at least one body part touching the target/duplicate for the entire 12 hours! The spell fails!

M (snow or ice in quantities sufficient to made a life-size copy of the duplicated creature; some hair, fingernail clippings, or other piece of that creature’s body placed inside the snow or ice; and powdered ruby worth 1,500 gp, sprinkled over the duplicate and consumed by the spell)

You shape an illusory duplicate

The spell description and material component description contain detailed instructions for making a simulacrum. You are taking the time to craft a statue of snow, ice, hair, and ruby dust. If you take your hands off for a second to measure the length of the nose with a ruler, the spell does not fail.

So how should we understand the range of touch? Within reach. You are capturing the details of your model, or yourself, with the ice and snow as you weave the magic into the sculpture, culminating with a breath of life into your creation. This is a long, magical, creative process, and you should feel free to take some liberty with how you narrate crafting your simulacrum. Any DM who would say “Ha, you took your hands off the target, spell fails” needs to spend some time in the naughty corner.

• Good answer, thank you, although, "So how should we understand the range of touch? Within reach." RAI - sure. RAW? Other spells, touch means touch.
– Jack
Jan 11 at 0:03

Summary: You need to spend 12 hours shaping the duplicate, that involves touching it. The original does not need to be nearby.

The duplicate needs to be in range

You shape an illusory duplicate of one beast or humanoid that is within range for the entire casting time of the spell.

In 5e range refers to the distance between the caster and the target. In this case the target is the duplicate which is being created. So while this text may seem to be ambiguous, in terms of mechanics there is only 1 possibility.

To confirm, I analysed the text of 50 spells containing the word "range" and found all of them used "range" as a game term to refer to the distance from caster to target.

A few interesting examples are Sleep which states: "Creatures within 20 feet of a point you choose within range" and Acid Splash which says: "If you choose two, they must be within 5 feet of each other" - this is the kind of wording that WotC uses when talking about distance between two things that are not target & caster.

You need to be in range at least for some of the casting time

In 5e the body of the spell text defines how the spell works. This can be confusing because it's common to assume that the range listed is a "requirement" to cast the spell or somehow dictates how the spell functions. That isn't true, the range is only relevant when it is mentioned - if it is at all.

Shocking Grasp is a good example of a spell that assumes you are not in range when you cast the spell:

Lightning springs from your hand to deliver a shock to a creature you try to touch. Make a melee spell attack against the target.

Planar Binding is a good example of a spell that requires you to remain in range for the entire casting:

With this spell, you attempt to bind a celestial, an elemental, a fey, or a fiend to your service. The creature must be within range for the entire casting of the spell.

Range of touch means you touch the target - but the spell defines how

The spellcasting rules say:

Most spells have ranges expressed in feet. Some spells can target only a creature (including you) that you touch.

Simulacrum's text states that you "shape" the duplicate. This is where the touching is involved.

• @PeterCordes You need to have a part of the creature you're trying to recreate, so not just 'any creature you met once', but a creature you met once and managed to snag some toenail clippings from, for example. Jan 11 at 23:31
• @PeterCordes First, yeah you need body parts of that person. This is a RAW reading of the rules, not a commentary on balance. Like I said, "range" in 5e refers solely to the distance from the caster to the target. It's a game term with an explicit meaning. If you want to rebalance the spell, that's your call and totally fine. If you want to make a RAW argument, then I suggest you find a number of other spells that use "range" colloquially and use that as a basis for making your argument. Good luck! Jan 11 at 23:47
• Oh yes, I forgot to look at the material components requirement. So narratively that's how some "essence" of that creature gets into the simulacrum, so it makes sense that the sentence is talking about the duplicate staying in range, not the original at all. BTW, I wasn't basing my argument on the word "range", just on clues to parsing the ambiguous syntax of the sentence "duplicate of one (x that is within range)" vs. "(duplicate of one x) that is (within range)". Jan 12 at 1:17

Simulacrum range is touch, so spell description becomes

You shape an illusory duplicate of one beast or humanoid that is within touching range for the entire casting time of the spell.

So that's the requirement, literally. Nothing here says you need to actually touch it for the entire casting time, just being in touching range is enough.

Range of touch does not mean you have to touch the target(s) for the the entire casting time. There are touch range spells which can have multiple targets, for example Enhance Ability can target up to 8 creatures, and a humanoid caster only has 2 hands. So it must be enough to touch each target once during the casting, not for the duration of entire casting.

Would Simulacrum be any different if instead it said "must be within 5 feet", or something like that? Probably not, though there may be some corner cases, like casting touch spells through a familiar. Still, the spell text it has to be something, and "within range" is nice and short.