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I'm DMing for our first ever D&D campaign. I've already got some great help from this website.

My sorcerer and druid like their Prestidigitation and Druidcraft spells, but we aren't exactly clear on their limitations. The druid wants to use a shower of sparks to blind enemies. He argues that it's "a shower of god damn sparks, how are you going to see and attack accurately while you're inside that?" I'm all about realism, but I can't ignore the spells' limitation of being a "harmless sensory effect."

I found that in 4e the rules say "nothing you create with this cantrip can deal damage, serve as a weapon or a tool, or hinder another creature's actions," but this line seems to have been dropped for 5e.

So, does the "harmless sensory effect" of a shower of sparks affect monsters' rolls or conditions? OR do I interpret the shower of sparks to be more of an illusion, and maybe the monster is temporarily taken aback or something. Any other interpretations appreciated. Thanks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like a magical version of throwing sand in someone's eyes. How would you handle that? \$\endgroup\$ – aherocalledFrog Oct 6 '14 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aherocalledFrog we now have a question on just that topic \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Dec 27 '15 at 3:35
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Your players are using spells creatively, with hope that this application will translate to game benefit. That is exactly what D&D 5 encourages. The only question you should have is "how can you fairly reflect that in the rules", not "can they do that." You have three options.

  1. Treat the druid's use of their cantrip as the standard help action, granting advantage to one ally's attack.

  2. Rule that the sparks cause momentary blindness, allowing multiple allies to gain advantage on any readied attack triggered by the spell.

  3. Stretch the rules just a bit, and let the cantrip blind the target until the end of their next action. A saving throw would be appropriate in this case, as would giving the target advantage on that save.

Whatever you do, be consistent in your ruling. If the PCs can use Druidcraft to blind an opponent, then so can an NPC's minion acolyte.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In the (A)D&D novels, cantrips are used by low level mages to save themselves or others quite a bit, unfortunately my meory does not serve me any better than to be able to think up Raistlin at present using a cantrip to disrupt an enemy, (I will get back with more references). Main thing is, does it allow the players to be creative and further the story, if it does you may want to allow it:) Ohh, Raislin also used a cantrip for beard growing, and I have seen a light spell cast on an orc's nose ring to blind it... Judgement, circumstance & ingenuity can allow you to flex and bend as needed :) \$\endgroup\$ – GMasucci Oct 6 '14 at 9:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ The cantrip to grow beards was used in the adventure dragons of despair, where Raistlin showed his power by granting 5 gully dwarves 7 inch long beards if i remember rightly. \$\endgroup\$ – GMasucci Oct 6 '14 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course, Raistlin used flash powder quite a bit too... \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Mar 31 '15 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you think of this: Empowering Cantrip -> If you want the cantrip to actually have some effect you must spend a level 1 slot, so your players would not start exploiting a free cantrip to blind enemies every turn. \$\endgroup\$ – Corven Dallas Apr 1 '15 at 11:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I especially like idea #2 of treating it like a momentary blindness/disorientation. I'd personally have the caster make an attack roll to make sure he can aim the flash close enough to the eye for it to work. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Apr 7 '15 at 23:15
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Sparks aren't necessarily blinding

Remember that the effects of Prestidigitation and Druidcraft are described as instantaneous. While fighting in the midst of a whirling maelstrom of sparks would most likely hinder one's vision, normal people view momentary showers of sparks without any ill effects all the time.

You will notice often that the descriptions of effects in Fifth Edition have moved away from dense legalistic definitions of exactly what happens, and towards descriptions that leave more open to the interpretation of the members of the game group. This means that your collective judgment as to whether an effect is "harmless" comes into play here, and where any particular effect falls on the spectrum is up for debate. Just remember that as your group defines these boundaries, they should be enforced consistently for players and their adversaries alike, which means that if your players think they have found a loophole in the rules, you can be sure that someone else in the game has found it too.

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As some members have stated, the rules written in 5e reward player creativity as opposed to the way previous rulebooks were written. That being said, when you read the limitations for prestidigitation, the effect is a "harmless" sensory effect.

It all depends on how you interpret the word harmless. One possible reading of it is that it simply cannot physically harm an opponent. However, an equally valid way to interpret "harmless sensory effect", is that the sensory effect does not possess the capacity to actually interfere or "harm" an opponent's sensory faculties. In other words, the sparks don't blind the opponent.

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In this situation, I would reward the players for thinking creatively by giving them "inspiration" once and giving another player advantage on their next attack (someone earlier mentioned the "help" action). After this incident I think the creature would come to expect and no longer be surprised by the mild effect. If the player tried to get the same advantage again later I would make it more difficult, maybe requiring additional creativity in the maneuver.

TL;DR: Inspiration!

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Firstly, I don't think "I make sparks in front of him" is all that creative to start with. Rewarding creativity must have its limits, especially in combat. In this case, the spell description clearly states that the sensory effect is harmless. Being blinded is obviously harmful. I don't see how this spell could confer the blind condition without even allowing for a save, RAW.

We have to ask ourselves, does rewarding creativity only benefit spell-casters? Are you going to allow an automatic critical hit and blindness without a save when a player playing a fighter says "I stab him in the eye"? Is that really less creative than "I make sparks in front of him"? The game rules describe how attacks and critical hits work in combat. The game rules also describe that Prestidigitation creates a harmless sensory effect. If creativity triumphs the latter, why does it not triumph the former?

Lastly, I could not find where in the DMG it says creative use of spells must translate to a game benefit. Jeremy Crawford seems to have suggested that spells do only what they say they do.

I would rule that the spell creates sparks that are mildly distracting but simply not bright enough to be blinding.

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The rule is that it cannot have a direct effect on targets. There is no reason why, rules or otherwise, that the effect wouldn't cause distraction of some sort.

You couldn't throw sparks in the enemy's eyes, but those sparks bursting forth in his face are sure to cause a major and disruptive distraction.

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I would let the opponent make an intelligence save. If he fails he loses his reaction or has disadvantage on his reaction until his turn when he could move within his 5 ft square or cover up for free. This way it rewards the out-of-the-box thinking while keeping realism of a distraction that smarter opponents will likely ignore or compensate for while making the 1 action cantrip not a total waste of time.

Sure it's not as useful as a more specific cantrip. But it fills an under-served niche that with some luck could make combat more dramatic than a withdrawal action.

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