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The Mizzium Apparatus magic item allows you to try and cast spells you don't know. However, there's a check and if you fail that check, you instead cast a different random spell from the table.

Does the character know they're going to be casting a different spell and do they get an opportunity to pick a new target for that spell? Or does it go off towards the target they picked for the spell they wanted to cast?

This seems significant when trying to use it to cast a buff spell, because most of the random spells are attack spells or area spells and you probably don't want to accidentally Fireball your friendly fighter.

On the other hand, if you can just redirect the spell to a new target, there is almost zero risk to using the device for every spell and just throwing any accidental explosives at nearby enemies.

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3 Answers 3

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The caster doesn't know the spell has changed

This really comes down to whether or not the caster knows if their casting was successful or not.

And, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any language in the Mizzium Apparatus that clarifies this. On top of that, there also isn't any written rule that states when a target for a spell must be chosen. There are some Sage Advice Compendium directions given, but they aren't necessarily clear or helpful in this case.

Without any guidance, the narrative seems to go as follows:

  1. Caster picks spell
  2. Caster completes spell (but which spell, they don't know.)
  3. Caster picks target before spell is released
  4. Target receives spell effects

This does seem to jibe with the feel of the Izzet League and the apparatus itself (which doesn't have any language about knowing what spell is finally being cast.)

Narratively, it feels like the caster is going to try to cast something unprepared. They believe they are casting it as normal and really don't know it's not until the spell is delivered. It doesn't matter if they pick a target before casting or at release - the caster simply believes (hopes?) that they will successfully cast.

This also coincides with the lore about the Izzet League (from Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica):

As Ravnica descends into increasing turmoil, the Izzet have further intensified their frenetic research, though now their efforts are mainly directed toward one outcome: the development of super-weapons.

and

As the Izzet see it, unpredictable action, far from being antithetical to methodical research, has experimental value. In the words of one researcher, “The only action worth taking is one with an unknown outcome.”

Using it to attempt a buff on a friendly is absolutely a big risk - and seems a bit antithetical to the aims of the inventors. The list of spells that may end up being cast are overwhelmingly offensive - which suggests that its intended purpose is offensive. This is also confirmed by the above lore which paints the League as offense-focused and willing to accept risk for outcomes.

It seems they value those non offensive spells enough to risk lighting up an ally. For magical science!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Mar 3, 2022 at 19:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: "The list of spells that may end up being cast are all offensive". Overwhelmingly offensive, yes. It does have blur and feign death, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Mar 4, 2022 at 6:35
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Normally the target is the last thing chosen - but the apparatus adds a subsequent step

I largely agree with NautArch's answer that the caster does not get to select a new target and that they are unaware of the the nature of the spell until it has been cast, both for the analysis of text and the lore cited. I do have an opposing view about the nature of selecting a target, however.

What NautArch characterizes as "There are some Sage Advice Compendium directions given, but they aren't necessarily clear or helpful in this case", are explicitly as follows:

From Sage Advice Compendium:

You choose the targets of a spell when you complete casting a spell, not when you start.

This arose from a question about slow, asking what happens when caster takes two turns to complete a spell and the intended target at the start of the spell is no longer eligible when the spell is completed; by saying that selecting the target is last thing that happens, such a caster would chose between legitimate targets at the time of spell completion on the second turn, not when the spell was begun and after everyone in the Initiative order had had a chance to move into or out of spell range, cover, and visibility.

From the Sage Advice Compendium:

Your target must be within range when you take a readied action, not when you first ready it.

While not immediately obvious from the text that this applies to casting, consider the case of a caster who has readied a magic missile spell (which is an example given in the Player's Handbook). The spell is begun before the target is visible, the spell is maintained (using Concentration) even after the caster's turn has ended, and when the desired target finally appears, the caster's Reaction is used to select the target and complete the spell.

Thus while the PHB does not make it obvious, multiple rulings in the SAC confirm that selecting a target is the last part of casting a spell. If you like, you could use an analogy of summoning a magical effect from elsewhere, building up its arcane power, and finally 'grounding' it by selecting a target to act as its bridge to enter this world.

To the specific point of the Mizzium Apparatus, however,

You expend a spell slot to cast the spell as normal, but before resolving it you must make an Intelligence (Arcana) check. The DC is 10 + twice the level of the spell slot you expend to cast the spell. On a successful check, you cast the spell as normal, using your spell save DC and spellcasting ability modifier. On a failed check, you cast a different spell from the one you intended.

Notice that after you spend your spell slot, you cast the spell "as normal." As normal implies that the last thing you do is select the target for your intended spell.

"[B]efore resolving it" means that the apparatus then introduces an additional step (specific over general), placed between target selection and spell resolution; the Arcana check. A failed Arcana check changes the identity of the spell, but it is in no sense letting you re-cast the spell or choose a different target. Because you have already chosen the target, it is too late to do anything about it when the new spell comes into being.

"[A] different spell from the one you intended" implies that you are not aware of the actual spell you are casting until it is too late. You have already chosen the range, target, etc. when you suddenly learn that you did not actually cast the spell you had meant to.

Note that given the variety of different spells on the list for the Mizzium Apparatus, there is a reasonable chance that the caster did not select a valid target for the replacement spell - they selected a point in space when the spell requires an object, they selected an object when the spell requires a creature, they selected a hostile creature when the spell requires a willing creature, etc. In this case the DM would then also need to rule on casting a spell with an invalid target, but with the caveat that the Mizzium Apparatus itself specifies that the spell slot has already been used regardless.

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You choose new targets (if any) for the new spell.

When the caster who uses the Mizzium Apparatus fails the ability check they are instead forced to cast a new spell.

When casting a spell you need to select appropriate target(s), a point, an area of effect, etc.

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