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The Sending spell states that:

You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with which you are familiar. The creature hears the message in its mind, recognizes you as the sender if it knows you, and can answer in a like manner immediately. (PHB, p. 274.)

So what counts as 'familiar'? I initially assumed that the intent was somebody you personally knew, perhaps by name, but the inclusion of the phrase "if it knows you" would suggest that the target of the spell need not have any idea of your existence.

Is passing somebody on the street enough? Seeing them from a distance? Being introduced once? How about having them described to you by somebody who does know them?

I'm wondering, among other things, what implications this has for magical spam mail...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As for magical spam mail? I have a Bard who has been CONSTANTLY abusing this Sending spell to it's fullest. Maybe not abusing, but putting it to good..extensive use, between party members that he wants to speak directly to without being overheard. (I think they're plotting to take over the world...) So Spam mail implications are vast \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Jul 17 '15 at 18:57
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Familiar is described a few different ways in the PHB, but the context seems generally the same down the board. I will provide a few (not all) quotes if I can find them.

Clairvoyance: "...in a location familiar to you (A place you have visited or seen before)..." -PHB pg 222

The entry for Scrying on PHB pg. 273 breaks down knowledge of a place or creature pretty well. Familiar: You know the target well

It boils down to there not being a written definition of what is or is not 'familiar' to your character. This means you may have to deliberate to your DM if you are uncertain. Are you familiar with your adventuring group? More than likely. Are you familiar with the Orc who carried you over the cliff into the ocean a few weeks ago? You might think so. Are you familiar with the necromancer you've only heard stories about and can pinpoint it's exact location? No.

If I would have to make a ruling about familiarity, I would refer to the Scrying entry.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ And the Scrying entry is precisely what I was going off before, until I noticed the inclusion of "if it knows you" in the Sending spell. Surely if you know the target well, they're going to know you just as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Peeps Jul 17 '15 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Peeps Well, that's going back to the Orc who took you off the cliff ala Lord of the Rings style. If you spent weeks hunting and tailing said Orc, learning it's habits; I would rule you were quite damn familiar with that Orc. Your sneak attack didn't go as planned, he escaped to live another day. He doesn't 'Know you' , but you 'are familiar with' the Orc. So you could send the spell to him (Maybe leave a threatening message), the orc would have no idea you were the sender of said spell, but could still answer you. Make any more sense? \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Jul 17 '15 at 19:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure, I can see it working in a scenario like that. \$\endgroup\$ – Peeps Jul 17 '15 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Peeps Someone can be familiar to you without them knowing you. For one example: a servant of a duke who overlooks his servants will be very familiar to the servants, but he won't know any of them enough to recognise them. Another example: if you tail and spy on someone for three weeks, they'll be familiar to you without them knowing you. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 17 '15 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Smithers you just be familiar with the target of the spell. Otherwise, if it knows you or not is inconsequential to if it can respond or not. If it knows you, then it recognizes you as the sender and can respond. If it doesn't know you, then it doesn't know who sent it a message, but can still respond. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Jul 18 '15 at 23:21

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