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Our ally is in a pit fight to the death. We believe his opponent will cheat to win, but our ally doesn't know we are present to help him. I cast a Conviction Mass to help him against spells from his opponents' allies. Not knowing we are there to help, would he roll a saving throw to negate the effect, or would he somehow feel it was helpful and not have to make a save?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You've concealed somehow the VSM components of the spell? Because if you didn't, your ally in the pit fight 20 ft. from you—and the rest of the crowd—should notice you casting a spell. (I know that's not the question's point, but the scenario may be important nonetheless.) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 7, 2023 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whisper Gnome cleric , invisible against a wall. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nathtfm
    Jul 8, 2023 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ "To cast a spell with a verbal (V) component, your character must speak in a firm voice" (PH 139), not, for example, (ahem) whisper. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 8, 2023 at 20:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, a lesser rod of silent spell might be helpful here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shivers
    Jul 8, 2023 at 23:58

1 Answer 1

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They are (arguably) affected by a harmless spell if they do not realize it was cast.

As a preface: they definitely won't know whether the spell would be helpful, as that would require them to make the check to identify the spell. If they were able to perceive the spell being cast then you've likely blown your cover, but that makes this question a moot point. Anyway, harmless:

The spell is usually beneficial, not harmful, but a targeted creature can attempt a saving throw if it desires.

There's no further explanation as to how harmless spells work (other than to mention how it interacts with spell resistance, which isn't directly relevant here). Saving throws are inherently a bit meta, in the sense that creatures are aware that they're in a position to make a saving throw or not:

A creature can voluntarily forego a saving throw and willingly accept a spell’s result. Even a character with a special resistance to magic can suppress this quality.

Harmless spells invert the normal saving throw dynamic where you roll by default and can choose to skip the roll, making it a dynamic where you skip the roll by default and can choose to roll. This requires that creatures are aware of whether the spell that is targeting them is harmless or not: it affects the kind of decision they make in response to being targeted by the spell.

Here's where things get vague:

A creature that successfully saves against a spell that has no obvious physical effects feels a hostile force or a tingle, but cannot deduce the exact nature of the attack.

If you succeed on a save against an effect, you are aware that you were targeted. The rules do not explicitly say that you are unaware if you fail a save (or choose not to roll a save) against an effect, which is where this answer branches. The general consensus I've seen is that if you are affected by a spell for which you did not perceive the cast that does not have obvious effects, you are not aware that the spell was cast at all, and thus could not have made a decision pertaining to the spell.

The interpretation that you are fully unaware of a spell unless you make the save or see obvious effects is supported by this answer (if you fail a save against an imperceptible spell you are not aware it was cast and thus could not have made a decision) as well by this answer (if you do not perceive a spell being cast, you can at most realize the spell was cast after the fact), but it's not cut and dry from the text itself. It gets further muddled when you factor in the semi-meta nature of making a save in the first place and similar factors (can you bluff that a spell is harmless, etc.).

You can always choose whether to attempt a save.

Assume that rule does not imply that a creature/character is not aware of failing to save against an imperceptible effect, it's just clarifying that saving against an effect does not automatically tell you what the effect had been.

Creatures/characters can intrinsically/instinctively make their decision as to how to respond to an effect even if they weren't aware they were targeted. When either a harmless or harmful effect occurs, you can either attempt to save or let it affect you, even though you won't know in advance what the outcome is.

In this reading of the rules, your ally can still choose whether to save, but they won't be aware as to whether the spell is coming from their allies or coming from enemies (perhaps to frame them for cheating).

You take the default save action if you do not know a spell is cast.

Assume that rule implies that a creature/character is not aware of failing to save against an imperceptible effect.

For a harmless spell you do not save, and for a harmful spell you attempt to save. They could not have chosen to attempt/auto-fail a save in the event that the effect was harmless/harmful, as that would result in them being aware of the spell both in the event of failing and making the save.

In this reading of the rules, your ally will automatically be affected by harmless spells.

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