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Bard spellcasting is described as

In the worlds of D&D, words and music are not just vibrations of air, but vocalizations with power all their own. The bard is a master of song, speech, and the magic they contain. Bards say that the multiverse was spoken into existence, that the words of the gods gave it shape, and that echoes of these primordial Words of Creation still resound throughout the cosmos. The music of bards is an attempt to snatch and harness those echoes, subtly woven into their spells and powers. [...] Your magic comes from the heart and soul you pour into the performance of your music or oration.

My question is, if a Bard were unseen or hidden, and wanted to cast a spell with only somatic or material components, like Catnap or True Strike, would the Bard have to make sounds to cast the spell? Would it be necessary to perform music or oration?

True Strike (S) describes that you point a finger at a target. I assume that's the somatic component. Would a Bard have to also strum their lute, hum a song, or say a poem to fit with the way the Bard's spellcasting is described, potentially giving away their location?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have to say 3.5e had this requirement explicitly: "every bard spell has a verbal component (singing, reciting, or music)". However, in 5e it's no longer the case. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 7 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Peter Cordes' answer to Can Cutting Words be used while in an area of Silence? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 7 at 14:45

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“D&D 5e does not differentiate between fluff and crunch,” they always say. “You need a finger to cast fireball,” they insist. Except when it’s a flameskull.

The answers that are going to be the most upvoted are the ones that state it only matters whether the spell has a verbal component, because that’s how most people play; because nobody (except you) thought of that when reading the bard’s class description – because that’s what most people feel is right. Even if it isn’t – that has no bearing on votes.

So in spite of the votes, you might actually be right that that is what the text implies (RAW). However, I am under the impression that many people on the Internet care a lot (too much, see below) about the text (the RAW), so you might find them arguing that that is not what the text is stating, because otherwise the way they’ve been thinking about and playing the game all this time was “wrong,” which they couldn’t accept.

With all the arguing about the RAW, the following seems overdue to me:

Frame challenge: Does it matter?

Suppose the interpretation you suggested is correct, i.e., the words in the book mean what you think they mean. Does it matter that we made a “mistake” when we allowed a bard to cast counterspell in a field of silence? Does it matter that we are playing the game “wrong” if we keep allowing it? No. What matters is whether we’re having fun.

I remember Matt Colville talking about how a non-D&D-player watched a session of 3.5e and described it as something like “20 minutes of fun packed into four hours.”¹ Because the rules of 3.5e were so comprehensive, because there was a rule for virtually everything, there was a lot of time spent on looking them up. But that’s not fun. That’s why D&D 5e leaves so many things open that 3.5e had rules for: So that the DM can make a decision on the spot and people can go back to playing – to having fun.

You know what’s also not fun? Rules that read as though they were written by a lawyer. Who would wanna read those? That’s why 5e’s rules are written in simple terms that you can immediately understand. What if those wordings don’t cover all cases or have nonsensical consequences upon closer inspection? Who cares?! The DM can always just say: “That’s stupid, we’re doing it this way.”

For example, imagine you are playing a variant human wizard and you chose Lightly Armored as your starting feat. As you leveled up, you picked up Moderately Armored and Heavily Armored. Now your character dies and is resurrected as a non-human (non-dwarf) by your party’s druid with a reincarnate spell. That means you lose your human traits, including your Lightly Armored feat. Because you now no longer meet the prerequisite of the Moderately Armored feat (proficiency with light armor), you lose the benefits of that feat (PHB, p. 165), and with that, Heavily Armored is rendered useless as well. – That is what the rules require. But is any (good) DM going to insist on that? It is more likely that they will simply have you lose Heavily Armored. Or they might allow you to keep the variant human feat in exchange for some of the traits of the race you assumed. Or maybe they’d just allow you to keep the feat, at no cost. Why ruin your fun by taking two of your feats away? “Because that’s what the rules say”? – “Because that’s what my character would do”?

People on the Internet seem to care a lot about the RAW; about whether you need a finger to cast fireball, and whether flameskulls are exempt from that. The truth is (so I assert), if you believe that the rules require you to have a finger to cast fireball, then you must also accept that they consequently prohibit flameskulls from doing so, despite it being listed as one of their spells. But that does not matter. Whether or not you can cast fireball without fingers depends on whether your DM will allow it (should that ever come up), and they will probably let a flameskull cast it either way. You should think less about the letter of the rules and more about how you could have more fun at the table.


Q: But what about the RAI?
A: It is not intended, I am certain. If it were, it would be stated much more explicitly in the rules. You are also quoting a section that is clearly intended as flavor text. Even if people insist that’s not a thing, the authors wouldn’t sneak mechanically relevant information into such passages. Compare the fact that ki is described as “magical energy” in such a section (PHB, p. 76) and yet has been clarified by Jeremy Crawford to not be “defined as magical for game purposes.”

Q: Are you really saying we don’t need rules?!
A: Not in the rigorous manner other games need them, such as Magic: The Gathering. That’s a competitive game, so it needs clear rules – getting into an unending argument because the rules are ambiguous or having a game decided by an arbitrary-seeming judge ruling is not fun. D&D, however, is not a competition. We need rules to the extent that they facilitate play – that they facilitate fun – and that stops somewhere. It stops way before Fingers & Flameskulls. Don’t obsess over them.


¹ [If somebody finds it, please edit this answer and put the link here. Maybe also change the wording to “Matt Colville said in one of his videos…”]

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your tone is a little bit rude. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    May 8 at 9:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even though the boring RAW answer is from me, I really love this answer. I think its take on how to play in practice matters soo much more than any rules-lawyering can. For a good game with your group, 98% of the answers on this site are entirely unneccesary, and this is a reminder about it. Yet, since the format of the site is about right, correct answers, RAW is the smallest common denominator, and answers like this one often only get a lukewarm reception. Not from me -- you have my wholehearted +1. \$\endgroup\$ May 9 at 0:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NobodytheHobgoblin There are different and more polite ways to convey the same message, which I also may agree with. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    May 9 at 21:53
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No, they can cast the spell quietly if the components allow it

What is required to cast a spell is explained on p. 203, PH, under Components:

A spell’s components are the physical requirements you must meet in order to cast it. Each spell’s description indicates whether it requires verbal (V), somatic (S), or material (M) components. If you can’t provide one or more of a spell’s components, you are unable to cast the spell.

If the spell has no V component, there is no physical requirement of sound to cast it (although, the somatic component might make some noise when you move). You are only unable to cast the spell if you cannot provide one of the spell's components.

In addition, the passage you quote is pretty oblique. It does not actually say the bard needs sing or make music to be able to cast a spell, and the spellcasting rules (also PH, 203) tell us explicitly:

When a character casts any spell, the same basic rules are followed, regardless of the character’s class or the spell’s effects.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And we are certain that this isn't a case of a general rule being superseded by the bard's more specific description of how they cast spells? \$\endgroup\$
    – RHS
    May 7 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RHS The rules tell us explicitly that the same rules for spellcasting are used for all classes. That includes Bards. (If you believe the answer should be different, you can also supply a self-answer to make a case for that.) \$\endgroup\$ May 7 at 9:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a good point. My other concern is that I have doubt whether the basic component rules are actually in contradiction with the Bard having to make sound. The component rules don't say that verbal means audible and that non-verbal means quiet. Maybe the bard can perform somatic-only spells without having to perform verbal components (they can be gagged), but the somatic components could still be making music. I don't see that as a contradiction. \$\endgroup\$
    – RHS
    May 7 at 9:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RHS, As I said, I think you are probably better served to present this line of reasoning as an answer, instead of ephemeral comments. That way you can fully support it with the relevant citations, and it will benefit future readers, rather than comments which may go away anytime, and also are not meant for extended discussion. \$\endgroup\$ May 7 at 9:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if questioning the arguments of one answer necessarily makes arguments for a new answer. I don't think my reasoning leads to any answer - it just leads to doubt :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – RHS
    May 7 at 9:44
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The books note spells with verbal components, and there have been feats in in prior editions that allow silenced spells for stealth spell casting. However, the really interesting question is:

How loud must a verbal component for a spell be?

There is nothing that I know of that states you cannot whisper the verbal component of a spell under your breath. I suspect the intent behind notating V,S,M on spells in the original 1st edition player's handbook was to keep track of what spells would be affected by silence, or say, by being tied up and gagged.

Personally, I would let players "cast quietly", if they wanted to. Unless the specific adventure was somehow based around doing a lot of stealth movement and combat, it shouldn't have a huge effect on game balance.

You might decide that this adversely affects stealth, and you could apply a penalty to rolls to remain undetected if players are casting a lot of spells this way. Lots of games have spell success rolls, and if you are using a system like this, it would make sense that casting a spell quietly might make it more difficult to succeed.

You could also just go on a case by case basis. A silent spell might be a spell that could be cast quietly. (Look it up, it has a verbal component. I wonder if it is the caster just saying: "Shhhhhhhhh....") I would also rule that a shout spell cannot be cast 'quietly', no matter how hard you try.

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