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Our group has some uncertainty regarding area-of-effect spells, specifically sleep. If a wizard were to cast sleep centered on herself - regardless of whether she gets included within the spell's HP cap - does the spell affect her?

The uncertainty comes from the word 'can' in this line in the PHB, p. 204:

If you are in the area of effect of a spell you cast, you can target yourself.

It sounds like the caster has a choice as to whether or not to target herself. Under the section on spherical areas of effect on the next page, however, it says:

A sphere's point of origin is included in the sphere's area of effect.

If sleep cast a sphere, that'd be the end of it, but it targets some sort of bastard child of a sphere (p. 276):

Creatures within 20 feet of a point you choose within range are affected

Is there a RAW answer I've missed in my scouring?

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The line about affecting yourself is in a section titled “Targets” and only applies to spells which allow you to choose targets. Spells like sleep don't let you choose targets, so that section doesn't apply at all, and everyone is affected, including you.

Now, sleep in particular has one minor saving grace in that it affects creatures with lower hit points first, so if you're the highest hit-point creature in the area of effect and the spell's hit point limit gets used up on your enemies, you won't be affected by the spell. That's a gamble though, as you have to guess the total hit points of the creatures around you correctly to pull that off, and guessing wrong can put you to sleep along with them. Unless you're an elf, in which case — go to town with it!

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Yes

In the linked Q&A, the accepted answer excludes the line in italics, which contradicts the logic used:

A typical spell requires you to pick one or more targets to be affected by the spell's magic. A spell's description tells you whether the spell targets creatures, objects, or a point of origin for an area of effect (described below).

PHB 204, below Targets heading.

This is my logic on this matter:

  1. Targets are not limited to creatures.
    • The target in the Sleep is a the Point of Origin you choose. It's not explicitly stated to be a Sphere, but likely is.
  2. Targeting Yourself states that if you are in your AoE spell, you can target yourself.
    • It does not say choose yourself, in comparison to "If a spell targets a creature of your choice, you can choose yourself."
    • Choose indicates a choice, as in you must make a choice. In the case of a target creatures spell, that choice is how many creatures. In AoE, that choice is where the PoO is and it's orientation.
    • It is impossible to target 0 creatures with a spell that targets creatures. It is possible to target 0 creatures with an AoE spell if nothing is inside the AoE.
    • If you are in the Area of Effect of your spell, you would assume you are affected by it based on the AoE mechanics, unless if it was stated otherwise somewhere.
    • This means that you can cast Sleep and not knock yourself out.
  3. Can in this case can have multiple interpretations.
    • It is possible to include yourself.
    • You have the ability to include yourself.
    • You have permission to include yourself.
    • Given that this is the Designers telling us the rules on targeting yourself, I interpreted it as permission to do so.
    • Possibility is already thoroughly covered in the AoE section.
    • I don't see anything that directly implies one way or the other however.
  4. Careful Spell and Sculpt Spells explicitly state other creatures. If you were not immune to your magic, why doesn't it simply state creatures?
    • Both those abilities imply you already have the ability to exclude yourself from your magic.
    • On the other hand, why would you be able to exclude other creatures from your magic and not yourself? That in the very least doesn't make sense.

So NO, they would not be affected by that logic.

  • Why would they need to tell you that you can target yourself in your own AoE, if from the AoE mechanics you already know that?
    • I believe that they are noting it is a option, not automatic.

    • In Targeting Yourself, the first sentence is for spells that target creatures.

    • The second sentence is for when you are inside your area of effect spell.

    • The second sentence does not directly refer to the first.

      • You can see this as it uses "a spell" rather than "the spell", which would be making an independent statement v.s. a dependent statement.
    • They don't mention spells that target objects since the caster can't be an object (as a player at least).


Counter-arguments

  1. In Targeting Yourself, Targets is being referred to in the context of spells that target Creatures only.
    • Nothing directly implies that the Targets are Creatures.
    • The section refers to an Area of Effect and the Target of an Area of Effect spell is the Point of Origin.
    • The spell Mass Cure Wounds has both an Area of Effect and a Choose creatures portion.
    • Area of Effect spells are defined as:

Spells such as burning hands and cone of cold cover an area, allowing them to affect multiple creatures at once.

  • The target at the end of the day for an AoE spell is the area, not necessarily a limited amount of creatures within.
    • Even if this is not strictly true, the first statement in Targeting Yourself already tells you that you can target yourself. Why say it again in a more ambiguous way?
  1. Including or not including the Point of Origin is equivalent to Targeting or not Targeting the caster in the Area of Effect

    • The Point of Origin is the point from which as spells energy erupts.
    • Point of Origin doesn't matter when you are determining if you can target yourself.
    • The only relevant factors are if you want to and if you are in the area of effect.
  2. The spell must state you are excluded from its effects, not the other way around

    • This is not stated anywhere.
    • I believe the Targeting Yourself section is there specifically to clear up this possible misassumption.
    • Further evidence is demonstrated in Scourge Asamir, Radiant Consumption.

During it, you shed bright light in a 10-foot radius and dim light for an additional 10 feet, and at the end of each of your turns, you and each creature within 10 feet of you take radiant damage equal to half your level (rounded up)

  • Why would this ability have to include this extra mention, where other Area of Effects do not?
    • The only reason I can think of is that the caster is inherently excluded from the effects of their spell.

TARGETS

A typical spell requires you to pick one or more targets to be affected by the spell's magic. A spell's description tells you whether the spell targets creatures, objects, or a point of origin for an area of effect (described below)

TARGETING YOURSELF

If a spell targets a creature of your choice, you can choose yourself, unless the creature must be hostile or specifically a creature other than you. If you are in the area of effect of a spell you cast, you can target yourself.

CAREFUL SPELL

When you cast a spell that forces other creatures to make a saving throw, you can protect some of those creatures from the spell's full force. To do so, you spend 1 sorcery point and choose a number of those creatures up to your Charisma modifier (minimum of one creature). A chosen creature automatically succeeds on its saving throw against the spell.

SCULPT SPELLS

Beginning at 2nd level, you can create pockets of relative safety within the effects of your evocation spells. When you cast an evocation spell that affects other creatures that you can see, you can choose a number of them equal to 1 + the spell's level. The chosen creatures automatically succeed on their saving throws against the spell, and they take no damage if they would normally take half damage on a successful save

Page: 258 Players Handbook

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm having a difficult time parsing a succinct answer and reasoning the question, "can a caster choose not to affect themselves with a AOE spell, e.g. sleep or shatter, when they are in the area of effect?" \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Jun 16 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll replace it with one of my other answers for a different, but similar question \$\endgroup\$
    – JediD
    Jun 16 at 23:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JediD just an FYI regarding your last couple of suggested edits on other's posts: if people need access to the spell description then it's assumed they have legal access to it and there's usually not need to quote to whole spell block unless it really does help provide details and context. In addition, quoting whole spell blocks may run into fair use, copyright problems and you should generally only quote what is actually necessary. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, sorry about that I just thought not having to constantly switch tabs to find the spell would help. Do you want me to remove the rules quotes? \$\endgroup\$
    – JediD
    Jun 17 at 0:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JediD That's admirable and a lot of spells are freely available via the Basic Rules, D&D Beyond and the SRD so it shouldn't be too much of an issue. It's just something to be aware of in the future. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17 at 1:04

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