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As this blog post suggests, there seems to be a hole in the D&D Basic rules. Maybe. The rules for readying an action state:

When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger.

This seems to imply that it is impossible to interrupt a spell in 5e. If you set your trigger to be "I attack the Wizard when he casts a spell", then you make the attack after the spell has been cast. Does this mean that spells can no longer be interrupted in combat like they could be in previous editions?

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The Basic rules call out two situations where a Concentration check is required to cast a spell: the caster takes damage and...

  • The spell is Readied but not yet cast (p.72)
  • The spell has a cast time longer than one action (p.79)

There is no specific rule that I have seen for interrupting spells which can be cast in a single Action, and this seems to be deliberate.

I would be extremely wary of adding such a rule, unless you're actively looking to nerf combat casting and it's something your players can live with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Of note: Even the mage slayer feat doesn't let you interrupt a spell about to be cast. You get an opportunity attack, but it's AFTER the cast. I would recommend adding this to the answer as it further demonstrates that even with a feat designed to counter mages, you still can't interrupt the cast. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2, 2018 at 5:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli: Minor note: Mage Slayer gives you a melee weapon attack using your reaction, but it's not an opportunity attack. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Oct 5, 2020 at 2:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli: The rules on opportunity attacks specifically tell you when you can make an opportunity attack. Some specific game elements (e.g. the feats I mentioned) modify that general rule - but the general rule is not "Any attack that uses your reaction is an opportunity attack." ...In any case, this discussion has nothing to do with the answer itself. If you want to ask about this particular issue, feel free to ask a new question. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Oct 11, 2020 at 21:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast - Thank you, that's much better. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13, 2020 at 12:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ "There is no specific rule that I have seen for interrupting spells which can be cast in a single Action," Please see my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Mar 21, 2021 at 2:38
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Actually, the post does miss something: it is possible to interrupt spell-casting.

Specifically, there is the 3rd level spell Counterspell on page 228 of the PHB. Furthermore, this spell is only included on the Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard spell lists.

Clearly this option is not intended to be generally available. It also seems that there has been a deliberate effort to reduce spell interruption options.

Nothing in the Concentration or Casting Time sections of the PHB states that concentration is required for spells with casting time of "1 action". On the contrary: concentration is specifically associated with (a) maintaining a spell and (b) casting a spell with a long casting time. So the implication is that it's deliberately not possible to interrupt 1-action spell via damage.

If we go a step further and take a look at the Mage Slayer feat, it states:

  • When a creature within 5 feet of you casts a spell, you can use you reaction to make a melee weapon attack against that creature.
  • When you damage a creature that is concentrating on a spell, ...

Again there's a (seemingly) deliberate distinction between casting and concentrating.


Note: Maintaining concentration after taking damage requires a CON save at minimum DC 10. Since CON saves don't scale with level for most casters, it's not an easy task. This would probably make the ability "to ready an attack to interrupt a caster starting to cast a spell" far too OP.

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RAW, it says that Concentration may be broken when you take damage. This will interrupt sustained Concentration spells or readied spells. Concentration is also required to cast spells with longer casting time than a single action.

While concentration may not be needed for quicker spells, "mental focus" is.

Casting in Armor
Because of the mental focus and precise gestures required for spellcasting, you must be proficient with the armor you are wearing to cast a spell. You are otherwise too distracted and physically hampered by your armor for spellcasting.

I think it's reasonable to say that getting injured would be more distracting than wearing unfamiliar armor!

While not explicitly stated by RAW, a trigger of "I attack the Wizard when he starts casting a spell" should work.
You attack "right after" the Wizard starts casting.

The example triggers are split-second things that interrupt movement.

Examples include “If the cultist steps on the trapdoor, I’ll pull the lever that opens it,” and “If the goblin steps next to me, I move away.

"If the cultist steps on the trapdoor..." - you're not waiting for him to step there & stand around for the rest of his round, if he tries to walk over the trapdoor, you're pulling that lever the moment he steps on it, interrupting his move action.

Same should apply for spellcasting, unless maybe they have a "reaction" casting time (taking a fraction of a second, too fast to interrupt).

This tweet from Jeremy Crawford supports my interpretation:

Can silence interrupt a spell caster? I.e. cleric readies silence, trigger is enemy begins spell casting.

As DM, I'd allow a readied silence spell to interrupt the casting of a spell with a verbal component.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The only problem with that tweet is that a caster trying to do the vocal part of the spell and hearing no sound would immediately discern they're in a silenced area, move out, and finish the spell anyways. It's not so much a counter as it is a temporary inconvenience. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2, 2018 at 5:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli Isn't a spell that is interrupted a spell that is lost? Meaning, once they start the spell, don't they lose the slots if they don't get to finish it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Praxiteles
    Mar 16, 2018 at 5:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli: For spells with a casting time longer than 1 action, failing a concentration check during casting does not burn the spell slot. open5e.com/spellcasting/… It seems reasonable that only being Counterspelled with the actual spell can waste your spell slot before you finish casting. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2018 at 4:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LinoFrankCiaralli: In the worst case, a DM might rule that Silence takes effect during the cast time, wasting the opposing caster's Action but not their spell slot. (But Actions are usually atomic, aka uninterruptible, in the RAW). Or if they didn't have enough movement remaining to leave the area before attempting a cast, then Silence as a reaction before their cast-a-spell Action starts would shut them down and maybe let them do something else with their Action that turn. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2018 at 1:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: it is possible for a caster to cast Counterspell as a reaction while casting another spell as action/bonus action (often to counter casting of opposing Counterspell). \$\endgroup\$ Mar 21, 2021 at 6:26
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You can get an attack off before the spell is cast, but it might not affect the spell.

Although I allow a person with a readied action to state "I wait until he starts to cast a spell" at my table (Many believe this to be within the rules, though some may rule otherwise), the spell still goes off after the readied action unless something specifically stops it. Examples could be a stunning monk strike, a grapple which prevents somatic gestures, an entangling effect, being knocked unconscious, etc.

The mere act of taking damage should not interrupt a spell—though it can interrupt concentration, which is another matter entirely—unless something in the spell description states it specifically. I am not aware of any spell which states this, however.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, some spells sort of state that, in that they have casting times longer than 1 action--those ones require concentration during the multi-round casting and therefore would require a concentration check upon taking damage. (But not many people are casting multi-round spells during combat.) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Dec 19, 2016 at 21:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ True. The question seemed more centered on a combat situation. I only gave an answer because parts of my answer were to be found in the other answers, and I felt they needed to be tied together into one place to form one idea. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 19, 2016 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The mere act of taking damage should not interrupt a spell—though it can interrupt concentration, which is another matter entirely" Yes - but if the spell itself requires concentration to cast, then interrupting concentration interrupts the spell. See my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Mar 21, 2021 at 2:41
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Yes, if the spell requires concentration

Other answers to this question cover spell interruption for concentration spells that (a) are readied but not yet cast, or (b) are in the process of a cast of longer than one action.

However, they do not mention 1-action spells requiring concentration that are in the process of being cast.

As stated in Sage Advice Compendium 2.5 (as well as presaged in XGtE (p.5) and repeated in TCoE (p. 5), but all well-after the other answers to this question)

"If you’re concentrating on a spell, your concentration on it ends immediately when you start casting another spell that requires concentration."

Since you cannot maintain concentration on two spells at once, the clear implication is that your concentration on your current spell ends when you begin a new concentration spell because concentration begins when you start casting, not when you complete casting or when your casting lasts longer than one action. As soon as you start casting a spell with a concentration component, you are concentrating.

Thus, damage you take while you are in the process of casting even a 1-action spell will provoke a save to maintain concentration on the spell.

Of course, interrupting a concentrating caster on their own turn is difficult. Ongoing damage that happens at the start of their turn can just be taken before they start the spell. A readied action that does damage, triggered "when they start casting," would be sufficient, as other answers have explained. However, if the spell the caster was casting does not require concentration, you won't interrupt it. And you don't get to know what they are casting before you attempt to interrupt it. Both attacking them at the trigger of their starting to cast, and identifying the spell they are casting, require your Reaction, and you have only one.

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