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I have a character who is using disguise self to make himself look smaller and make his battleaxe appear as a simple dagger.

The spell states that in this case an observer could feel that you are not what you appear, or could spend an action inspecting you to gain a save.

The character wants to use disguise self in combat such that the opponent won't know that the puny 4" dagger wielded by the 5' 100 pound guy in rags is really a 2' battle axe held by a hulking 6' 220 pound killer in full armor. They will notice when the 'invisible' battleaxe lands a solid blow, but it won't appear visible unless they make a save. I suspect that in this situation I should be granting the creative character advantage on at least the first attack and perhaps more than one attack if the opponent fails to save and discern the deception. The opponent will surely not be prepared for the reach and efficacy of the disguised character.

Anything in the rules on this, or opinion from the other game masters?

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I think I would compare it to another spell that offers similar benefits: Invisibility.

Invisibility grants advantage in combat once, upon the first attack. Also, Invisibility requires concentration. Neither of these are required by Disguise Self.

Given that Invisibility is considered the more powerful spell (2nd level vs. 1st), it seems problematic if Disguise Self were to grant advantage continuously with no concentration requirement.

Here is my opinion:

  • Make Disguise Self require concentration, at least in combat.
  • Give a saving throw before the first strike to see if the disguise is discovered, minus of course the subject being hidden or likewise indiscernable. (The justification for this is that in combat, you pay attention to details since your opponent is trying to kill you, thus triggering the "fail to hold up to physical inspection.")
  • After the first attack, the deception is automatically discovered and negated thereafter.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to upvote this, but strongly disagree with the first bullet point. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Nov 1 at 15:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ No problem. To each their own. You might justify it by saying the concentration isn’t for the spell itself, but for concentrating on the spatial awareness of the disguise... or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Kint Nov 2 at 17:42
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Based on your description of the circumstances, and that you (the DM) support it, the answer is an unambiguous Yes according to the D&D 5e rules.

Granting advantage happens two ways: a mechanic says so; and at the DM's discretion, to handle the thousands of things that come up during play that the rules can't predict (PBR p. 57 / DMG p. 239).

From the DMG section on Advantage and Disadvantage (ibid.):

Advantage is also a great way to reward a player who shows exceptional creativity in play. [...] In other cases, you decide whether a circumstance influences a roll in one direction or another, and you grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

The bulleted list that follows reiterates that granting advantage is within the DM's discretionary power and responsibilities. The example on the following page is relevant and worth studying too, as it describes the DM granting advantage and imposing disadvantage entirely due to circumstances, rather than because a mechanic grants or imposes them.

The emphasis at the beginning of the section that this is one of the most important tools in your DM toolbox underlines that not only is granting advantage at your discretion, but judicious use of this discretion is a vital part of DMing 5e correctly!

Do you want it to grant advantage, as the DM? Then it does. Voilà!

Your sense that this shouldn't keep on being quite so advantageous after the first attack is probably wise, though. The simplest ruling I could see making there is to re-grant the saving throw on each attack (successful or otherwise — the victim can see how the attacker is moving differently than they ought). The advantage shouldn't last too long then, unless the opponent is quite unlucky, or their chance to save is low to begin with and their confusion should last.

You might also consider on a case-by-case basis whether, at any point, the circumstances of being attacked in this manner might grant advantage to the defender for saving to disbelieve this unbelievable circumstance. That's under your discretion too, of course!

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Mechanically Disguise Self will not grant advantage.

You make yourself—including your clothing, armor, weapons, and other belongings on your person—look different until the spell ends or until you use your action to dismiss it. You can seem 1 foot shorter or taller and can appear thin, fat, or in between. You can’t change your body type, so you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement o f limbs. Otherwise, the extent of the illusion is up to you.

The changes wrought by this spell fail to hold up to physical inspection. For example, if you use this spell to add a hat to your outfit, objects pass through the hat, and anyone w ho touches it would feel nothing or would feel your head and hair. If you use this spell to appear thinner than you are, the hand of someone who reaches out to touch you would bump into you while it was seemingly still in midair.

To discern that you are disguised, a creature can use its action to inspect your appearance and must succeed on an Intelligence (Investigation) check against your spell save DC.

While the PC is creating an illusion, the rules don't treat attack rolls from different weapons as being mechanically any different. The enemy can still see the attacker and the attack they are making, regardless of what it looks like.

Disguise Self is meant for out of combat utility.

Disguise Self is great for bluffing past guards or impersonating a contact, or any other manner of spy-like activities, but really it has no other use beyond what being able to look like someone else would grant you in real life.

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I feel that it is important to ask this question: Is the character trying to play off the fact that it is a dagger somehow while wielding it like a battle-ax, or are they just readily hacking away with some invisible force?

In an earlier answer made by Joshua Aslan Smith

If you use this spell to appear thinner than you are, the hand of someone who reaches out to touch you would bump into you while it was seemingly still in midair.

it is clear that objects made to seem smaller still make regular contact, though they are not plainly visible.

The point of questioning whether or not the character is trying to pretend that it is a dagger is to acknowledge the possibility that, while being hit, the target may or may not notice the gap of space between themselves and the dagger. I think it is reasonable enough to have the character roll a stealth check against the target's passive perception after the first attack, after which the save may be made against the Disguise Self spell. A particularly crafty character might be able to pull off the disguise without the target ever knowing that they were being hacked away at with what merely looked like a dagger!

On the first attack, then, the character may have advantage, and advantage can continue to be granted until the target makes their save and finally will see the true form of what appeared to be a dagger, and the real weapon and wielder that was attacking them.

That is just my personal recommendation, with a special possibility that occurred to me as I read the other answers already present.

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The rules do not have disguise self grant combat advantage as-is. While this is useful for pretending to retain some semblance of 'game balance', no edition of D&D is really very balanced anyways. Assuming you desire simulationist play, as indicated by the reasoning in your question, it really doesn't make sense for disguise self not to grant advantage on attacks, and I would rule that it does, with one or more of the following modifications:

It grants advantage on the first attack, but the spell automatically fails if an attack is made with a weapon made 'invisible' by the spell (i.e. some part of it is concealed as 'not there' rather than just being covered by an illusion). Attacking with a dagger disguised as a great axe grants advantage without the spell ending, but attacking with a great axe disguised as a dagger ends the spell after granting advantage once. I particularly like this ruling, as is preferentially benefits smaller, 'sneaky' weapons with the spells use and these a) are more likely to be used by classes that should thematically be better at attacking from disguise, b) are generally less damaging than their larger counterparts, and c) don't benefit nearly as much from the utility aspect of disguise self.

A save is granted after the first attack to end the advantage and other effects of the spell with respect to that one target (disbelieve). The target has advantage on the save, because it's bloody obvious. This is most supported by the rules-- in fact, it's practically required.

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