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We ran into this situation where a creature was behind a large rock in a cave and had full cover. My bard knowing the creature was behind the rock wanted to use Vicious Mockery against the creature. My DM ruled that, because my character could not physically see the creature even though it could still hear me, that my Vicious Mockery could not hit it. So should my bards Vicious Mockery hit the Creature or does being behind full cover prevent that?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I wonder whether the creature being targeted needs to see you instead. Some of the insults may be gestures... \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Jan 30 '15 at 21:43
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Line of sight is needed

The spell needs line of sight to work (PHB, p. 285):

You unleash a string of insults laced with subtle enchantments at a creature you can see within range.

"But that doesn't make sense!"

You might think, the target could still hear your magical mockings, and that's what should matter, right? Well, no, actually.

The trick here is that the spell isn't actually making your mockings magical — the spell isn't on you and doesn't enhance your cutting mockery into a weapon.

What the spell actually does is the other way around: you cast a spell on them, and you power it with both your magical ability and your (mundane) mockery. When the spell reaches them it makes the cutting words you deliver with it literally cut their psyche, but you need to see your victim before the spell can touch them. Being able to hear you isn't enough, because you can't get the spell to happen until you can also see them.

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You need "A clear path to the target" for spells to work see p80 of the Players Basic manual:

To target something, you must have a clear path to it, so it can’t be behind total cover.

If you place an area of effect at a point that you can’t see and an obstruction, such as a wall, is between you and that point, the point of origin comes into being on the near side of that obstruction.

So your DM was right to not allow you to target the creature behind the large rock.

Whether or not you need to see the target is governed on a spell by spell basis, but this seems like a clear case where the "Clear Path to target" rules are in effect and you should not be able to target them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A historic note: many previous editions of D&D (and D&D spinoffs) refer to this concept as "line of effect". \$\endgroup\$ – Lord_Gareth Jan 30 '15 at 18:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is vicious mockery targeted? I mean clearly you need to be able to see them for other reasons, but it seems plausible to me that this technically isn't a an ability that uses a "target." Maybe not, though; I don't have the spell text handy. \$\endgroup\$ – Mag Roader Jan 30 '15 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mag Yes. It has a target. This applies both to attack and save spells as the origin of area effects (almost always same spells) must not be behind total cover \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jan 30 '15 at 20:31
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From the Vicious Mockery spell description:

You unleash a string of insults laced with subtle enchantments at a creature you can see within range (PHB 285).

Based on this, I would say your DM ruled correctly.

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As several people have pointed out, the spell description says not (PHB 285):

You unleash a string of insults laced with subtle enchantments at a creature you can see within range.

And usually, those limits are there for a reason!

However, if I were playing a game, I'd rule that it totally works as long as it can hear you. However, to keep things sensible, I'd say that you need to know something about the target, about as much as you'd normally see. So if someone you're fighting has retreated behind cover, it works. If they speak to you and they're clearly a typical goblin, it works. If you don't know who they are, it doesn't work.

And if you're doing that, you should probably also say, it only works if they UNDERSTAND you, though that isn't in the spell description either.

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