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It is night and a wizard cast fireball or sunburst in a well. Should the flash be visible from someone far and outside of the well or, because it is a magical effect, it should be visible only directly watching it? Those spells emit a self contained effect that don't gradually diminish its intensity going far from the point of origin. Then the effect suddenly stop at the written radius. One person can see those spells but are they observable if not directly watched?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What does directly watching the magical effect have to do with perceiving the magical effect? I mean, fireball creates fairly large spread of fire. Is this question asking if bystanders that are not within a fireball spread can still visually perceive the spread? (I can see an argument for a fireball spread leaving the area surrounding it utterly unharmed, but what's the argument in favor of the spread being imperceptible, direct observation or no? Shadows are cast whether or not you're watching the light, after all.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 1 at 16:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is the point. Shadows are indeed cast when you are not watching the light. But is the magical flash from the fireball more intense than usual light? Because, as you said, the area around a fireball is utterly unharmed and so I can think that the magical flash around a fireball doesn't happen and you can only see the usual light intensity. If it were not like this the people near a fireball would be slightly dazzled but this not happens. \$\endgroup\$
    – Laeral
    Commented Jan 1 at 19:57

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Even if you assume the light from those spells travels like normal light, no one outside the well would see it since that's how light works. They might see a circle of light on the clouds, or if it was misty or foggy they would see the column of light -- like car headlights. Garden spot-lights take advantage of that. The thing they're aimed at is just lit up and you can't see the light source at all.

Try it yourself by wrapping a flashlight with some cardboard in a room with the lights off. All you will see is the circle of light on the wall. But you'll also see a tiny sliver of light on the inside rim of your cardboard. People are taller than wells, but terrain goes up and down and wells aren't just built on low spots -- maybe someone would/could see that tiny flash of a pixel. A fireball also makes a "low roar" and unlike light, sound goes around corners, but if there are any rustling leaves or water or just wind I doubt you'd hear it from any distance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, wells are built on low spots whenever possible. Ground waters are pretty level so low spot means less digging. There are exceptions, of course, like a castle well that needs to be in a castle no matter the digging, or places where ground waters are flowing, but these are relatively rare \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jan 2 at 9:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Molot After trying the flashlight and looking up garden lights, I felt I had to look up well placement. Turns out old-time wells were dug high enough enough to avoid sewage, and even higher if the water table allows, since water is easier to carry downhill. Turns out there's isn't just a simple flat water table down there. Who knew? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OwenReynolds: Ah, that explains the classic nursery rhyme that begins "Jack and Jill went up the hill / To fetch a pail of water;" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OwenReynolds anyone involved in construction knows- water tables are weird and unintuitive. I’ve seen a 6m cliff where the water table at the top was 600mm down but at the bottom it was 18m down. Geologists and geotechnical engineers might understand them but not the rest of us, \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 3 at 9:44
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This works just like any normal light source

There are no general rules that define how light or sound created by area effect spells are perceptible outside of the area of the spell, neither under spellcasting, nor under Vision and Light. Thus, we must assume that light or sound created by a spell is perceptible as any other, normal light or sound, unless told otherwise in the spell description.

For example, a light spell only creates light in an area of 40 feet around its origin, just light a torch. The light of a torch would be perceptble from far away at night if there is nothing in the way, and so would be the light of the light spell.

It is the same sitation here. There is nothing special about the light a fireball or a sunburst gives off outside of its area of effect. Neither spell states that the light is limited to the area of effect. For example, Fireball just says:

A fireball spell is an explosion of flame that detonates with a low roar [...] The explosion creates almost no pressure.

So the light would be visible like that of any other fire or explosion at the bottom of a well. Maybe, what is confusing you is the language about pressure, that aims to make it clear that there are no indirect harmful effects outside of the area of effect. It is the special or harmful effects of the spell are limited to the area of effect. For example, Sunburst states

All creatures in the globe are blinded and take 6d6 points of damage. A creature to which sunlight is harmful or unnatural takes double damage. A successful Reflex save negates the blindness and reduces the damage by half.

These effects are limited to the area of effect ("in the globe"). A creature observing the light from a distance would not suffer damage or blindness, but it still could see the light.

If you have any light source at the bottom of a well, then the light will not be directly perceptible unless you either look into the well so you can see the source, or there are objects lit by the light that scatter it so you can perceive it from sideways.

Such objects could be outside the well itself, such as light fog, a roof above the well or similar. If you have a higher vantage point, you also will be able to see the inside of the well's wall being lit, and because the walls will scatter the light that hits it in all kinds of directions, you may be able to faintly see the light of the opening from sideways if you do not have a lower position than the opening.

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I will go for yes.

It is much the same as the question "will I be able to see a laser pointer's beam"? It comes down to intensity. The laser pointer is invisible if weak; if strong, the light that gets scattered on dust particles is enough to make the beam visible form sideways.

The well is not as reflective as a laser pointer's mirror chamber, but you could argue the power of the fireball is enough to create some light. I'm not very proficient in dnd, but I think a fireball would even not be contained fully in the well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Older Editions of D&D had rules about fireballs expanding to fill their full volume in constrained spaces. 3e and in its wake Pathfinder and later editions of D&D did away with that concept. The area of a fireball spell is always at most as large as its spell area now. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2 at 11:29

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