Snurgle, a 11th level Necromancer, uses the Magic Jar spell to possess the local parish priest, Father Benedict, trapping poor Benedict's soul in an ornate reliquary.

Your body falls into a catatonic state (...) your soul moves into the target's body, and the target's soul becomes trapped

Snurgle's aunt, the witch Emalia (a fifth level wizard), is unaware of these proceedings and tries to contact Snurgle with a Sending spell, to remind him to bring her some blood, bone dust, and rotting flesh when he comes to visit next time.

What happens?

Bonus questions: What happens if Emalia tries to contact Benedict? What happens if the wizard Waldemar visits the parish to obtain some holy water, meets the possessed Benedict without knowing him beforehand or realizing he is possessed, and later tries to contact him with Sending?


3 Answers 3


You reach the mind of your target, as the spell says

Most spells are written with the assumption that their targets are whole - that they have their (original) body, with mind, soul, animus, spirit, auras, and all other accouterment intact and fully integrated. When the target is partite, it becomes more difficult. Thus, when the sending spell says:

You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with which you are familiar

it could be difficult to know what is meant by "a creature", especially when the creature no longer has the body with which you are familiar (polymorph, wild shape, shape change), or its soul is not present in its body (magic jar, mundanely dead), or its mind is not present in its body (astral projection).

Fortunately for us, sending contains more information about what the message is directed at (emphases mine):

You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with which you are familiar. The creature hears the message in its mind, recognizes you as the sender if it knows you, and can answer in a like manner immediately. The spell enables creatures with Intelligence scores of at least 1 to understand the meaning of your message.

If our target creature has been broken into parts, sending helpfully tells us that the message is sent to its mind. It first says so explicitly, and then implicitly by indicating that the target's Intelligence score (an ability associated with the mind, not the body or soul) determines whether or not the message can be understood.

Thus when Snurgle's aunt reaches out to him with sending, she is contacting his mind, regardless of where it is at the moment. So what does magic jar tell us about where Snurgle's mind is? (emphases mine):

Your body falls into a catatonic state as your soul leaves it and enters the container you used for the spell's material component. While your soul inhabits the container, you are aware of your surroundings as if you were in the container's space. You can't move or use reactions. The only action you can take is to project your soul up to 100 feet out of the container, either returning to your living body (and ending the spell) or attempting to possess a humanoid's body...

Once you possess a creature's body, you control it. Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics of the creature, though you retain your alignment and your Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. You retain the benefit of your own class features. If the target has any class levels, you can't use any of its class features.

Magic jar tells us that his body remains where it is, catatonic, while his soul first inhabits the container, and later the possessed body. Unfortunately, magic jar doesn't explicitly say anything about where his mind is. However, it does say that Snurgle's awareness, as well as his Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and class features all travel first into the container and then into the possessed body. This is consistent with him projecting his mind as well as his soul. Thus we can conclude that when his body becomes catatonic, Snurgle's soul and mind travel together, first into the container, and then into the new body.

Finally, we can conclude that when Snurgle's aunt casts sending, the spell contacts his mind - which is currently in the body of the possessed priest. He will hear her there and be able to respond.

Bonus question: What happens if Emalia tries to contact Benedict?
Is Emalia already familiar with Benedict as an individual, as distinct from Snurgle? If yes, then Benedict is a valid target for the sending spell. The question is then, while Benedict is possessed, where is his mind? The spell tells us that:

Meanwhile, the possessed creature's soul can perceive from the container using its own senses, but it can't move or take actions at all.

Nothing explicit tells us where the possessed creature's mind is. However, we know that its awareness is in the container (and typically self-awareness resides in the mind, rather than the soul). Further, nothing in the spell says that the possessed creature has any memory of what happens to its body while it is possessed. Finally, if the magic jar caster's mind and soul travel together, there is a certain symmetry with that happening to the possessed creature as well. So, while the evidence is not nearly as clear here as before, it seems reasonable that Benedict's mind is in the container. Thus, if Emalia sent to Benedict, she would contact his mind and he would be able to respond. He would be able to relay that he was trapped in a container, but would not necessarily know where his body was.

Bonus question: What happens if the wizard Waldemar visits the parish to obtain some holy water, meets the possessed Benedict without knowing him beforehand or realizing he is possessed, and later tries to contact him with Sending?
Sending has, as its target, "a creature with which you are familiar". Waldemar has met Snurgle-possessing-Benedict's body. He has not met Benedict at all and he has not met the 'real' Snurgle, merely Snurgle pretending to be someone else. Thus, neither Snurgle nor Benedict are creatures with which Waldemar is familiar. With an invalid target, the spell would simply fail. Had Waldemar spent enough time with the possessed Benedict to become familiar the 'real Snurgle', had Snurgle confessed who he was and who he was possessing, or had Waldemar a high enough Passive Insight to suspect the truth, then he might be allowed (DM permitting) to cast a sending targeting Snurgle, but not Benedict, whom he has never met and with whom he is not familiar.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer! It seems so obvious when you put it that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented May 1 at 20:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jack Thank you! I have a mind to use it for some of the related and linked questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented May 1 at 21:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ At the very least, this is practical and a consistent way to handle it. Mind is as undefined as soul, so I think it's still a DM call in the end, but this is playable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 2 at 4:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although, the mind argument at least opens the door to talking to the dead with sending. You've more-or-less proved that a mind is a subset of a soul. And apparently a dead creature has suitable consciousness after death can decide not to be returned to life, based on the name, alignment, and patron deity of who is attempting to revive them, which more or less implies the dead creature has their memories, thoughts, beliefs, self-awareness, and personality, which supports that "soul" contains "mind". So sending should be able to contact a dead mind. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented May 2 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ (I mean, as a DM I'm pretty sure I'm saying no, but interesting thought.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented May 2 at 19:02

Depends on the answer to 2 questions, Likely a DM decision:

The Spell description for Sending states (emphasis mine):

You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with which you are familiar. The creature hears the message in its mind, recognizes you as the sender if it knows you, and can answer in a like manner immediately.

(I'm assuming Emalia is targetting Snurgle, it just says "him" but Snurgle is a relative while Benedict may not be. Totally read this question wrong at first.)

Question 1: Who or What is Auntie Emalia targeting?

...to a creature with which you are familiar...

and she's attempting to reach "Snurgle"

  • Is that Snurgle, a soul inside Benedicts's body?
  • Snurgle's body? (currently Catatonic somewhere)

A soul may or may not be considered a creature. (See Can a ghost or other incorporeal creature be polymorphed? on a ghost being a creature, the differences between a ghost and a soul may need to be settled)

  • If a soul is a creature, Snurgle would still get messages sent to Snurgle and likely would replace the original body's ability to be targeted by sending (their soul, trapped in the magic jar, ending up as the target) to where Auntie's messages will reach Snurgle.
  • If a soul is not a creature, Sending cannot be cast to send messages to souls directly, relying instead on the body for targeting (possibly receiving messages meant for others) in which Snurgle might be able to receive messages meant for Benedict. Snurgle's body then would receive a message meant for Snurgle, but he's not there to hear it.

Question 2: Are we familiar to Auntie Snargle? (The caster attempting to target Snurgle, not Benedict) How do we define familiarity in 5e? Can't say I've seen a definition in a rule book yet (in this context, we're not talking about wizard/warlock familiar), but a dictionary defines familiar as:

well-acquainted, closely intimate, easily recognized

Which may refer to their physical appearances, though I'd lean more toward the intimate knowledge of history and shared memories etc, which would include more than knowing what they look like. Familiar friends can become unfamiliar over time for example, both in how they act and look.

  • If only considering familiarity of body, sending will target the body regardless of the soul inhabiting it. Snurgle's catatonic body can't hear it.
  • If the shared memories, disposition, and driver of actions (some might consider "soul") is what is meant by familiar, then Snurgle's soul (if targetable) would still be familiar to Emalia and able to receive the message.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I clarified the wording to mean Snurgle, and added the case of targeting Benedict as a bonus question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2022 at 4:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think a soul by itself is not a creature, but one with an (even incorporeal) body that has stats is. But what about the identity of that creature, if the body is not the souls’ natural body? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2022 at 4:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: What foes familiar mean in the Sending spell? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2022 at 4:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed, If I intend to target the body or soul specifically, is there a mechanic I can use to specify? A dead body is an object, is a catatonic body still a creature? Does it take a non-creature body + a non-creature soul to = a full creature? What a rabbit hole Sending turned into! lol \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2022 at 12:45

Sending will fail (but ask your DM)

  1. Trying to reach Snurgle: the Nurgle Aunt Amalia knew does not exist currently, so her Sending will fail.

  2. Trying to reach Benedict: the Benedict Aunt Amalia knew likewise does not exist currently, so her Sending will fail. It seems poor Amalia will have a hard time to get the components she wants.

  3. Waldemar interacted with a creature that is Snurgle's soul in Benedict's body. Even though he does not know that this is not the real Benedict, that is the creature he knows, and his Sending to it will succeed.

That said, there is a lot of ambiguity around creatures, souls, and what it means to be familiar with a creature, so this is an area where each DM has a lot of freedom to make up their own interpretation and rule how they like.

Here is the rationale for the interpretation presented above:

What is a creature?

A creature is a soul with a body, not a soul by itself, nor a body by itself. We know so, because DMG p. 23 says:

When a creature dies, its soul departs its body

In the case of constructs, it instead often is a spirit bound into a constructed body, see for example the lore of Golem or Scarecrow. In the case of a Ghost or Specter, it is a soul or spirit manifested as an (incorporeal) body, see their lore.° In any case, a creature is the total of body and whatever soul or spirit it might have or be at the time, not any part thereof.

If the soul leaves its original body, that original creature ceases to be that creature. If a creature's body or soul are not the ones it originally started out with, the resulting new combination of body and soul make up a new creature, too.

If you try to contact a creature with Sending, and that creature in its combination of soul and body does not currently exist, the spell will fail.

Being familiar with the creature

Familiarity with a creature is not clearly defined but whatever familiarity exactly means, we can say that you are familiar with the creature you interacted with. If the combination of body and soul was different at that time than from what they are now, that creature does not currently exist any more. As a consequence, when you try to reach them with Sending, the spell will fail.

This Q&A discusses creatures not being what they appear to be, and the consensus answer is that you will contact who you think you are contacting. If the creature you are familiar with does not exist any more -- in one of the examples it has been replaced by a doppelganger -- the conclusion is that the spell fails°°.

Downsides of this reading

The approach used here has the upside that it gives an unambiguous and clean interpretation that is supported by what the game says about the nature of creatures. It also has downsides:

  • In the course of a campaign it may well happen that a player character's body gets replaced. In the Dice, Camera, Action campaign Chris Perkins ran, the Paladin's body was replaced by a construct body. If her temple superior would then try and contact her with Sending, by the logic of this answer, the Sending would fail.

  • A PC wizard may have a clone made and activated when they die. Since the body is not the original body, they would not be reachable by Sending anymore, either°°°.

These downsides are minor - once the other characters interact with their new buddy, it will be familiar and reachable by Sending.

  • It also seems to be a stretch that the spell will enable you to know that the soul changed for someone you just briefly saw. Let's say you see the king in a parade. The king then gets possessed. By this reading, even though you only saw the king but briefly at a distance, and have never talked with him and no idea who he is as a person, since he now has another soul and hence is another creature, you would be able to immediately tell something is not in order by using Sending.

  • A resulting downside is that this may make it hard to run intrigue and mystery plots. In many such plots someone gets replaced or possessed by the bad guys. As long as the caster knew the original, and avoids meeting their replacement, or suspect there is a replacement and decides to consciously contact with Sending the creature they met back then and are familiar with, the ruse would become obvious. Indeed, if Sending worked like this, what would stop court magicians to cast it first thing every morning and quickly detect if something had happened to the integrity of the king?

° For some constructs it is unclear if they have their own soul or spirit. Animated objects are described as "simple automatons", although those in the feywild seem to be more ensouled. The homunculus "acts as an extension of his creator", modrons "have no sense of self" and "exist as a unified collective".

°° Another question is what happens if you become familiar with the doppelganger, whom you think to be the other creature. By the logic used here, you then are familiar with it, and Sending will go to it instead, unless you explicitly try to reach the creature you knew from the past.

°°° In the case of clone, maybe an exception can be made due to the cloned body being a duplicate of the original body.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You can always reach Papa Nurgle and Papa Nurgle can reach you. You just need to rip open the Warp. Have some presents in the shape of... Chickenpox? Or do you prefer a couple of plaguebearers to visit your frenemies? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented May 4, 2022 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Now, THAT is the kind of comment I was hoping for! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 4, 2022 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ (the necromancer is calle Snurgle, not Nurgle, the chaos god from Warhammer) \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented May 4, 2022 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll Sfix that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 4, 2022 at 21:08

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