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The goal of verbal components is to

  1. prevent casters from rashly casting spells like Charm Person (as the NPCs would immediately notice it) and
  2. let prison guards debilitate a caster by gagging them.

However I've had the idea of a mute character. Communication can be done in a number of ways, such as telepathy, through a familiar, through a homebrew magic item, etc. However this makes spellcasting a problem.

Would it break game balance if spells with verbal components were allowed to be cast through a familiar, a magic item, etc? I don't think so, as it would still produce sound (so no casting unnoticed in public) and in the events of the jailbreak, whatever is used to allow the caster cast spells will simply be confiscated by the guards. Is there anything I missed regarding how verbal components affect game balance?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Probably relevant: What is the 5e wizard equivalent of the Still Spell and Silent Spell feats from 3.5e? \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    May 10, 2022 at 8:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you please elaborate, how exactly do you want to change the rules? The answers might depend on the details. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 10, 2022 at 8:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would say another deliberate part of verbal components is that silence effects can shut down a large slice of most spellcasters' abilities. (I don't know if that's a goal as such, but it's certainly a longstanding part of the D&D spell system). \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    May 11, 2022 at 13:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that mute doesn't inherently mean incapable of making sounds. You could well say that they can't speak intelligibly but that it's the act of trying to say the magic words that causes the spells to come into effect. This might make it harder for other spellcasters to figure out what they've cast, but otherwise wouldn't change balance. \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    May 11, 2022 at 14:50

4 Answers 4

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It's more about the theme, not the game balance

Incantations and arcane words are the common fairy trope in many cultures. This is the main reason why verbal spells exist in D&D. Possible tactical applications are the consequence, not the reason of their existence.

The game evolved around fantasy tropes (spellcasting included) and archetypes, incorporating them into lore and mechanics. If you remove them, this naturally changes the game balance — there are features like Subtle Spell Metamagic which were designed specifically for circumventing such kind of limitations.

All these things are very situational, but they still matter:

  1. Silence spell is supposed to negate most of the spells (the majority is verbal-based)
  2. The verbal component is the "perceivable circumstance" you can react with Counterspell
  3. Underwater spellcasting can be difficult (apparently, this is not the case, but worth mentioning)

However, you don't want to change the rules by removing verbal components. You just want to introduce a magic item, which allows its user to speak aloud (presumably via telepathic activation).

So I have a question for you. How is it supposed to change the story? Let's say your character has "The Collar of Speaking", a magic item that allows a mute wearer to speak. As the result, the character speaks normally by using the collar instead of his mouth. Does this really change anything?

This character can speak. The way he does it not so important, it is just a fancy fluff like Kenku curse, or a personal characteristic like "I want my voice back" bond. Both are allowed by the game without any rule-bending.

Regarding the "speak through a familiar" idea, you should elaborate it first. The Find Familiar spell itself has a verbal component. Moreover, a familiar is an independent creature. You can't just speak "through" it, unless a specific game feature allows it:

Voice of the Chain Master

while perceiving through your familiar’s senses, you can also speak through your familiar in your own voice

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  • \$\begingroup\$ By "speaking through a familiar" I meant having a companion pet (not necessarily the familiar from the find familiar spell) act as interpreter, so the free willed familiar is the one doing the talking. \$\endgroup\$ May 10, 2022 at 10:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, the point about counterspelling based on perceivable circumstances is also quite valid. As is your observation that this is really not casting silently, it is just a reskin of normal casting with verbal component \$\endgroup\$ May 10, 2022 at 10:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @comedroidrive the Find Familiar spell allows you to choose from this list: bat, cat, crab, frog (toad), hawk, lizard, octopus, owl, poisonous snake, fish (quipper), rat, raven, sea horse, spider, or weasel. The familiar has the statistics of the chosen form, including languages. However, not a single creature from this list is capable of speaking a language. The one exception is a Raven who "can mimic simple sounds it has heard", but this is still not a speech. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 10, 2022 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this idea is based on homebrew (I've been in a lot of games where the familiars can talk and interact with other characters) \$\endgroup\$ May 10, 2022 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Underwater spellcasting can be difficult (apparently, this is not the case, but worth mentioning)" I'd say the fact you're now drowning with Con mod rounds left to go would make it pretty difficult! \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    May 11, 2022 at 9:57
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Not in a major way

There are other reasons why being able to eschew verbal components is strong, the most important ones are practical combat related:

  • the caster cannot be neutralized by casting silence on the area they are in
  • if the spells have no other perceivable components they cannot be counterspelled (credit for this to Enkryptor)
  • you can sneak up to a dragon and much more easily cast buff spells on yourself or a ranged spell against them without them noticing
  • if you also are invisible, casting may not give your position away

If your workaround to enable a mute character involves other ways the spell will be audible and verbalized, this seems to address most of the possible balance issues, especially if you rule that the companion or item has to touch you, so you cannot be in another place.

Introducing this as you suggest, should they lose their magic item or familiar, they will be unable to cast any spells except for very few that need no verbal component to begin with, which is a slight downside helping to balance, too.

As shown in the related question, there are other ways to achieve silent spell casting, although they are pretty costly (taking Sorcerer levels), and limited to a small number of uses per day.

You might want to consider sacrificing some other feature in exchange for this unusual and distinguishing feature, for example if you have a variant human, you might want to burn their extra feat on this, but I am not sure it would be needed from a balance perspective. Essentially this caster is still casting normally with verbal components, it is just a re-skin for flavor purposes. As such, aside from minor fringe cases, it should be balance neutral.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Answered separately because I see a correct answer as benefitting from much more emphasis on the second paragraph. If you feel inspired to incorporate that emphasis, I'll delete mine as not adding anything. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    May 1 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fectin I think its fine to have your more detailed answer of how that could be designed as an addition, and upvoted it. \$\endgroup\$ May 2 at 5:51
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Maybe

As this answer mentions, another reason verbal components are important, is the effects of silence in combat. Another is being able to stealthily cast spells around other people. It sounds like you intend to negate those things, so it becomes a distinction without a difference.

Probably of more concern are your workarounds. Both telepathy and talking through a familiar are potentially quite powerful, depending on how implemented, and an unspecified homebrew item can't be judged at all.

But balance doesn't matter, workability does

You're trying to realize a character concept, not create a custom race. You don't need your character to be balanced against the general rules, you need your character to work in a specific campaign.

You'll need to work with the GM.

You have some idea of a mute character that can speak some other way. There are many ways this could be achieved, although only you can decide if a particular notion is what you want, and only your GM can decide if the concept works in their game.

Proceed with caution. Characters with complex interaction limitations can be appealing in concept, but become burdensome over time. Other players need to be able to understand what your character is saying, and slowing down inter-party communication can make the game less fun.

Again, work with your GM, and good luck!

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Sort of.

As @nobodythehobgoblin points out, there are some balance assumptions that get messed up if your character can cast spells silently: it's harder to notice them casting spells and it's harder to stop them from casting spells. I agree with him that this is not a huge balance issue.

However, the balance issue is not specifically from talking, it's with some spells requiring you to make noise when you cast them. If you replace talking with some other noise, I don't see any problems at all. That might be by saying that your mute character can't talk but can vocalize in some other way, by saying that loud whistles are acceptable as a vocal component, or just by replacing the vocal component with e.g. drumming on a small hand-drum. Or some combination; as long as spells with vocal components need you to make some kind of noise, you can change the specifics of that noise without much issue.

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