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For spell descriptions consensus is that all the text is rules text, that the game in fact does not distinguish between flavor and rules. How about the names of spells or of other game features? Are these rules text, or are they pure flavor and can they be disregarded when trying to understand how these features work?

For example:

  • The Cure Wounds spell does not have anything in its description talking about wounds. It just restores hit points. But the name suggests it could help to cure wounds.

  • The Tavern Brawler feat does not mention taverns in the feat description. It just provides benefits to ability scores, improvised weapons, grappling and unarmed strikes. But the name suggests it could provide advantages in a bar fight, or in bars in general.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Since conversation on this seems to just repeat itself when cleared out, it has instead been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 21:34

4 Answers 4

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"Some spells and class features have figurative, not literal, names."

This question is answered directly in the Sage Advice Compendium:

I find it confusing that the mage armor spell is named that when it doesn’t count as armor.

Some spells and class features have figurative, not literal, names. The text of the spell or class feature explains what it does. In this case, mage armor surrounds the target with “protective magical force”; the spell doesn’t provide armor.

This SAC question echoes this tweet from Jeremy Crawford in response to a similar question about Colossus Slayer:

@JeremyECrawford I was hoping you could tell me if “Colossus Slayer” has an implied size stipulation? If not, why is it called that?

The descriptions of class features and spells tell you how they work. Their names are sometimes metaphorical.

While the tweet is an unofficial ruling from Mr. Crawford, the Sage Advice Compendium is the source of official rulings, from its introduction:

Official Rulings


Official rulings on how to interpret rules are made here in the Sage Advice Compendium. The public statements of the D&D team, or anyone else at Wizards of the Coast, are not official rulings; they are advice. The tweets of Jeremy Crawford (@JeremyECrawford), the game’s principal rules designer, are sometimes a preview of rulings that will appear here.

So officially, feature names are definitively not rules text. However, this is not to say that feature names cannot be helpful in understanding the intended function of a spell or feature. For example, this question asks if the rules about invisibility and line of sight mean that the spell see invisibility does not allow you to see invisible creatures. In my answer, I wrote:

If your reading of a feature called See Invisibility is that you cannot see invisibility, your reading is incorrect.

It's quite simple, really. The intended function of these features is so abundantly clear, that any argument that concludes that they do nothing can be dismissed out of hand.

In fact, this principle applies in general. If you read a feature, and know what it is supposed to do, but you determine that the feature actually does nothing, you can know without any doubt that your conclusion is wrong.

See invisibility is an example of a spell name that is literally describing what the spell does, and it is helpful because it tells you what the spell is supposed to do. In contrast, consider the spell chill touch, which ironically is not a touch spell and it does not deal cold damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Since you go into a specific example of how name and effect relate, it might be useful to point out that the benefits of Tavern Brawler is advantages in a bar fight (assuming the PC isn't their usual armed to the teeth, or don't want to escalate to very lethal weapons in such a situation). \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ghost Touch is not a touch spell, but it does create a ghostly hand that touches the target - sometimes the name of a spell is descriptive, but for the aesthetics of the spell, not the effects. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 16:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will note that Jeremy Crawford has gone and said that "See Invisibility does not negate the benefits of invisibility", a ruling many ignore for very obvious reasons. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll accept this, even though it essentially says "It depends", that seems to be the official line here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 8:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin “It depends” is not at all what this says, I can’t see where you got that from. The answer is definitely “no, names are not rules text”, and that seems abundantly clear to me. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2022 at 11:24
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The Answer Must Be 'Flavor Text'

This answer is quite clear to me, as it quotes the PHB directly:

Each spell description in Chapter 11 begins with a block of information, including the spell's name, level, school of magic, casting time, range, components, and duration. The rest of a spell entry describes the spell's effect.

I even kept the same emphasis as the original answer. The formal description text determines the effect of the spell. The title, being before the description, is not part of the description and does not describe the effect.

This seems perfectly clear to me.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You got my upvote, but how about other features (i.e. non spells)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 8:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would consider the precedent set by spell titles to carry forward. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 8:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ This idea is echoed by Jeremy Crawford in this tweet. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 8:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Surely “the rest of the text” includes everything not listed, including the title. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 11:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dale The title is listed. "Each spell description [...] begins with a block of information, including the spell's name [...] The rest of a spell entry describes the spell's effect." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2022 at 11:40
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This is a false dichotomy

It isn't fair to call spell names "flavor text", as if they are meaningless or not valuable — but at the same time it's not like the names [Leomund's] secret chest or flamestrike are in some way rules. I feel like this is drawing a distinction that doesn't really exist.

Spell text is — in theory — rules text, but it often includes elements like specific gestures (such as touching thumbs to cast burning hands) or specific visual effects (such as a sacred flame "descending" onto the target or faerie fire being specifically green, blue, or violet) which could be easily replaced without changing the functional, mechanical effect of the spell. Tasha's Cauldron of Everything even has a whole section about customizing the visualization of your spells.

The same token, spell names are technically not "rules text", and can be easily replaced to fit a different theme, style, or concept; but they do serve a purpose in helping us understand what the spell text is getting at. In many cases, the intent of a spell is not clear if read in isolation, without the spell's name to help guide our understanding of the mechanical effects.

As an example: as long as everyone at the table understands that your chronurgist's temporal acceleration is actually the haste spell, the name doesn't matter — but at the same time, if we didn't already know what the spell was meant to be doing and it was named something like "Geryon's Enhancement", it wouldn't necessarily be obvious that "double your speed, increase your AC and dex save, and take an extra action" is all trying to represent that you're just moving faster than normal. The name of the spell helps us understand the spell effect, but is not a critical mechanical element of the spell.

I would argue that spells as whole meld rules and flavor together so that you can't pick out particular sections and say "this is but that isn't". A spell is a bundle of rules text, but has flavor elements sprinkled through it, and it's up to you as a DM or player to identify which parts can be safely changed or reskinned and which ones could affect the game if altered.

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Generally, feats spells and other abilities are given exciting or flavoursome names. This is largely seen as not intended to be proscriptive.

While exceptions do exist*, the vast majority of ttrpg players seem to read these pieces of fluff as at best suggestions and be open to reflavouring them even if they have their in-game characters shout 'Cure Wounds!' to cast the spell Cure Wounds.

This is likely because the idea that a priest of amon-hotep the city-builder who comes from not-Egypt can't help his allies by 'giving them the vitality of the city' instead of 'curing/healing their wounds' is absurd and immersion-breaking.

That said, the more a spell's fluff is pushed from the pre-written text and name in the book, the more people will begin to feel it is 'wrong' or 'not allowed'. I refluff things within an inch of their lives, thus have seen this reaction many times.

Therefore it's reasonable to conclude that most people playing ttrpgs feel that the name of spells are not proscriptive rules text that requires a houserule to change, but that it 'shouldn't' be changed too much.

To figure out why that apparent contradiction is in place you have to delve pretty deep, so i'll just say that's my general experience of how it seems to pan out in play.


*There is a small subset of players who seem to feel quite strongly that spell descriptions and names are graven in stone and can become quite upset if they are not followed explicitly - even if this creates odd contradictions or verisimilitude issues. This is often bundled with a lot of other beliefs about how ttrpgs work that reinforce each other and generally these players will self-sort into groups of only players with that same raft of beliefs.

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