Are spells with "expended" in the description the same as those whose effects are "discharged"?

lets take "local tremor" for instance, the spell description says [ 1 minute per level or until expended ] while a spell like "Whip of Thorns" says [ 1 round/level, or until discharged ]

both effects have a primary use and a secondary purpose, after which the spell ends. I think most "until expended" type spells have effects with multiple 'charges' let's say, in the case of "local tremor", but for something like "Heart of air" for example only has one secondary 'charge' after whose effect the spell ends. is this a remnant of 3.0 that didn't get updated into 3.5? i can imagine "expended" type spells got updated to say "until discharged", but i can't find any cohesion on the subject.

Now, for the reason I'm asking, and probably where the answer gets muddied by previous discussions on the topic: Persistent spell.[ "Spells of instantaneous duration cannot be affected by this feat, nor can spells whose effects are discharged." ] Before people answer with "talk to your DM", i am the DM and i want some clarity based on the rules. I'm always going out of my way to try to be as RAW as possible, and would love to be pointed to some obscure SRD or book I've missed! right now I've always leaned towards disallowing it, because i saw expended and discharged as the same, but now I'm doubting myself.

Let's read "Heart of water" for instance: [ "1 hour/level (D) or until expended " ] if Expended and discharged are different effect-types then persisting it (however useful persisting a 1 hour/lvl spell is) is completely legal.


1 Answer 1


These are not the same

Discharged has a defined meaning in the spellcasting rules, so it is a special term:


Occasionally a spells lasts for a set duration or until triggered or discharged.

Expended has no such section. There also is no rule that states expended means the same as discharged, and they are separate terms. Hence, if you have a feature such as Persistent Spell that works on discharged spells, it does what it says on the tin: it works on discharged spells, not on extended spells or any other kind of spell that might have special ending conditions, but is not using the word "discharged".

(To be fair, the level of consistency in editing in 3.5 is not high enough to treat terms like in a formal computer program, see below; but you asked for what the "as RAW as possible" here; this is what they wrote).

Looking at examples

Furthermore, what discharged means according to that definition is that discharging a spell is a one-time event that ends the spell. For your example in whip of thorns, the spell creates a whip that you can use for the duration, unless you take the action that discharges the spell

Any time you strike a Large or smaller opponent successfully with the whip, you can release it and entangle the creature. Doing this ends the spell

In comparison, Local Tremor does not have such a single action ending the spell: it has a number of uses, and ends if all of them have been used up

You can produce a number of these tremors equal to your caster level (maximum five).

Here, we have no single effect that is held until used, then discharged ending the spell. Now, heart of water does have a single effect that you can use and that ends the spell, and I think this would have been better described as "until discharged" in the duration, but it isn't. In any case, we can observe that expended can be used in different ways than discharged, so it cannot be the same thing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I removed the touch part. I think it is till clear that discharged or triggered refers to a one-time event. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 19 at 3:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough; downvote removed. I think you’re more-or-less right about how WotC tended to use these terms, but they weren’t really consistent about it and drawing conclusions like “Hence, if you have a feature […] that works on discharged spells, it does what it says on the tin,” doesn’t quite sit right with me—it’s not at all clear that they were being careful about using these terms in order to ensure such abilities worked correctly, or that such abilities were consciously considered at all. As the heart of water example shows, they were sloppier than that. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 19 at 3:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might want to get into footsteps of the divine, its errata, how those do or don’t square with Persistent Spell, and how that affects the Chuck E. Cheese build; it’s an interesting bit of history and sort of illustrates these issues (also, IMO, illustrates how sloppy WotC was about it). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 19 at 3:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I'll add a note about the level of consistency here, you of course are righ ton that. I have no knoweldge about the whole Chuck E. Cheese build thing. I think you could write a much better answer than this, with your generally deeper knoweldge of 3.5, which could tell that story. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 19 at 3:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great edit; +1. And maybe I will write that answer, though digging up the discussions and reconstructing the timeline will be a pain. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 19 at 5:07

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