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If I am under Sanctuary and ready an action to cast a spell such as Shocking Grasp, what actually happens? Sanctuary says:

If the warded creature makes an attack, casts a spell that affects an enemy, or deals damage to another creature, this spell ends

Readying a spell says:

When you ready a spell, you cast it as normal but hold its energy, which you release with your reaction when the trigger occurs. To be readied, a spell must have a casting time of 1 action, and holding onto the spell's magic requires concentration. If your concentration is broken, the spell dissipates without taking effect. For example, if you are concentrating on the web spell and ready magic missile, your web spell ends, and if you take damage before you release magic missile with your reaction, your concentration might be broken.

So since I'm holding the energy of the Shocking Grasp, I believe the spell does not affect its target before its released. Would I be protected by Sanctuary until the readied action takes place? It seems that way to me, but then again the spell is cast and does affect an enemy...it just hasn't affected the enemy yet. I guess it comes down to parsing "a spell that affects an enemy"; does this mean "a spell that, at some point, affects an enemy" or "a spell that affects an enemy in this instance"?

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4 Answers 4

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You would be protected

For the second condition

casts a spell that affects an enemy

two things need to happen for your protection to lapse: (1) you cast a spell, (2) it affects an enemy. You could for example also cast Evard's Black Tentacles on an area, and the Sanctuary will not end until an enemy gets caught in the effect or someone takes damage from it.

The idea is that Sanctuary shields you as long as you take no directly aggressive actions, and that is technically expressed in the listed conditions. You can see this in the pedigree of the spell, which goes back all the way to first edition (even if it technically does not matter for fifth edition):

During the period of protection afforded by this spell, the cleric cannot take offensive action, but he or she may use non-attack spells or otherwise act in any way which does not violate the prohibition against offensive action.

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It does not say “a spell that can affect an enemy”.

For it to be said that I have “cast a spell that affects an enemy”, I have to actually affect an enemy. If I have affected no enemies, I have not cast a spell that affects an enemy. This would be different if sanctuary said “casts a spell that can affect an enemy”. But it doesn’t say that.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting take on this reading: If I cast an offensive spell but it fails (without the target rolling to make it fail) then I'm good and still protected \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 9:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok, not necessarily. It's a spell that effects, not a spell that does damage and/or causes a condition. Firing a spell that misses still has an effect. It caused the target to dodge, or bounce off of their armor/shield, use a shield spell, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ It also does not say "a spell that does affect an enemy". 'Affects', by itself, is ambiguous here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Mar 26 at 15:07
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By comparing to a similar case, sanctuary ends when the spell is cast

The following question already exists:

Comparing the wording of Overchannel and sanctuary then:

If the warded creature [...] casts a spell that affects an enemy

When you cast a wizard spell [...] that deals damage

All three positively-scoring answers there state that Overchannel is decided when the spell is cast and not when it deals damage. To quote the highest-scoring one:

If it was meant to be decided after it had dealt damage, it would have to use wording like "When you cast a wizard spell of 5th level or lower and deal damage".

I believe the exact same case can then be made for sanctuary. Whether or not sanctuary ends is determined when you cast the spell and thus we must decide whether the spell affects a creature at the moment it is cast. Just like with Overchanneling, this would be determined based on whether or not we expect the spell to affect a creature, given its description. The shocking grasp spell certainly expects a target, so I would rule that sanctuary ends the moment you ready it.


Other similar cases:

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That vs. which

Casual users of English (including myself, in everyday conversation) use "that" and "which" to introduce clauses largely interchangeably. But there is a difference in their formal grammatical meaning. If you believe that the writers of the sanctuary spell's text kept this difference in mind, that alone is enough to settle this question.

'That' opens a restrictive clause

'That' is used to introduce a clause setting apart its specific members as being distinct from a larger group.

casts a spell that affects an enemy

means "casts a spell, of the type of spells capable by design of affecting others". Whether or not the spell subsequently results in an enemy being affected is immaterial; "that" is simply identifying the class of spell to which shocking grasp belongs, and thus sanctuary would drop the moment it was cast.

'Which' opens a nonrestrictive clause

'Which' is used to introduce a clause describing what is incidentally particular to a specific member of a group without defining it as categorically distinct from a larger group.

casts a spell which affects an enemy

had it been used instead, would mean "casts a spell, as it happens to have turned out, resulting in an enemy being affected". Whether or not the spell results in an enemy being affected is crucial; "which" does not identify the class of spell to which shocking grasp belongs, but rather indicates that sanctuary would drop the moment it actually does affect an enemy.

By selecting "that" rather than "which", the writers of the sanctuary spell are indicating that sanctuary is reacting to the kind of spell cast, not what its subsequent effects are. However, that indication may not have been intentional, as the PHB does not always follow the rules of formal prescriptive grammar.

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