Several months ago, I was in a session playing as a bard wanting to distract some bugbears while he snuck past. Understanding the goblinoid tongue, I heard one of them state he was starving. I used the phantasmal force spell on one of the bug bears, lets call him BugA. The desired effect was he would see one of the other bugbears as a pile of delicious food(BugB).

The phantasm includes sound, temperature, and other stimuli, also evident only to the creature.

BugA began to eat BugB, who of course, was not pleased about this and attempted to protect himself, mainly by attempting to hold BugA back and producing a lot of noise. Does the phantasmal force spell make BugA unable to hear BugB's shouting and requests for BugA to stop? (considering BugB is effectively obscured by the illusion)

For example. a target attempting to walk across a phantasmal bridge that spans a chasm falls once it steps onto the bridge. If the target survives the fall, it still believes that the bridge exists and comes up with some other explanation for its fall-it was pushed, it slipped, or a strong wind might have knocked it off.

Unlike the bridge example of the Player Handbook, the illusion covers a character that would be shouting and defending against the actions of the target of the spell. Would BugA continue to make excuses or ignore the noise produced by BugB?

To put it another way, if a source of noise is inside of an illusion of a box, produced by the spell phantasmal force, can it be heard by the individual who can see the illusion?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've reverted the title to say “noticed”. To acknowledge someone is to admit to that person that you notice their presence, verbally or non-verbally. Since your question isn't about a creature's ability to admit that they see someone, but is actually about whether they have the ability to notice them in the first place, it's not asking about “acknowledging.” \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 22:10

3 Answers 3


Yes, the affected target can hear the other bug bear, but it might not matter because illogical outcomes are internally rationalized by the affected creature.

Source: PHB pg. 264, Phantasmal Force

The target rationalizes any illogical outcomes from interacting with the phantasm.

So if the other bug bear was screaming at him because he was being eaten, the one who was affected by the spell might make an Investigate check to discern the illusion. But if he failed, he may rationalize screaming food as:

  1. Another bug bear trying to wrest away his food;
  2. A commotion in a different room nearby;
  3. His own internal thoughts pestering him for being so gluttonous;
  4. etc.

However, a key bit here that's been missed is that the affected bug bear is not compelled to eat by the spell just because it is hungry. So it wouldn't necessarily attack a giant plate of food that's arguing with it. It may just end up arguing with the food. At this point, it's entirely in the DM's hands to roleplay this out.

It's certainly a creative use of the spell, but understand the illusion would simply make the other bugbear look like food. It wouldn't actually make the affected bug bear try to eat him, especially if the food ran away or started fighting back.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, this. Falling off the bridge the target still feels the damage. So, BugA would def. hear BugB, however, BugA would rationalize the outcome. For instance, BugA might decide that it is perfectly reasonable for BugB to be delicious food. Models of restraint that bugbears are, BugA would no doubt cease gnawing on BugB's shin forthwith. Err, or maybe not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ The illusion was chosen because my character learned a piece of info about BugA (He was starving), so the DM caught on that the bug bear, being a brutish goblinoid, would be enamoured with the illusionary scents of delicious food and his hunger would lead his actions i.e he would try to eat the illusionary food that happened to cover BugB \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 21:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, eating talking food seems like a bad idea to me. If it's been enchanted to talk, who knows what other mojo's been laid on it? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 3:54

There are problems with this use.

First, Phantasmal Force only creates illusory objects, not replaces real objects. You could have a pile of delicious food seemingly surround BugB, but if the BugB steps out of Phantasm's area of effect, he stops being affected at all by the obscuring effect of the illusion - BugA would likely rationalise it by having BugB emerge from beneath the hams and cabbages.

Second, it is for your GM to adjudicate whether you could control the phantasm so finely as to make it follow BugB. The wording is silent on movable phantasms, such as creatures, going out of it's initial zone and refers to phantasm's position. It is arguable whether the phantasm is essentially immobile or can be moved, but make note that spells with movable areas of effect usually mention that the caster can use their bonus action to reposition the effect and make it deal damage. Phantasm is unique in a way that it deals automatic psychic damage as long as target is within or 5 feet away from the phantasm with no action required.

Judging from the fact that it's a 2nd level spell I would rule it's confined to the initial area. A mobile illusion spell, 3rd level Major Image is completely harmless, while the first damaging illusion that targets a creature instead is Phantasmal Killer at level 4. I think it would be pretty overpowered if you could move your illusion outside of the initial casting area.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "you create a phantasmal object, creature or other visible phenomenon of your choice that is no larger than a 10-foot cube and that is perceivable only to the target for the duration." The bugbear was hidden within the pile of food. specifically can BugA hear BugB who is hidden inside the illusion? I understand that moving outside of the illusion will stop BugB from being harassed by BugA. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 11:21
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ No doubt he can. Unless it's a really noisy pile of food that drowns out BugB cries. It could be rationalised in a number of ways (from "Hey, this pile speaks with the voice of my friend!" to "My friend is under that pile!") but I would lean towards the latter. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 11:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agree with you that the DM would need to rule on this, but mobile illusions begin at 1st level with Silent Image. I think the illusion should be very capable of moving from its initial spot as that is not specified as a restriction, regardless of actual usage. Note that the caster cannot use an action to affect what the movement of the illusion is -- it's totally up to the rationalization of the currently affected creature. \$\endgroup\$
    – user27327
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 11:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain I updated the answer. Somehow I missed the moving part of Silent image. It still uses an action to do the moving. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 11:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep. Note that Major Image also requires an action to move it. I would probably say this use of it is not legal either, but the illusion should be able to leave its initial area to maintain "realism" -- such as an illusion of an attacking creature, a flying arrow, etc (though none of these cases can do damage on the target). The caster has no control over the fine actions of the illusion once cast, so this kind of illusion is vulnerable to detection. \$\endgroup\$
    – user27327
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 12:07

The victim will see a pile of food . . . and another bugbear. You are attempting to use give the spell a level of independent action that is well beyond the intent and capability of the spell.

Although you are allowed to create a phantasm that moves, you are not allowed to create a phantasm that reacts intelligently and independently to thwart a second character. There must be some sort of roll to determine the condition of the second bugbear - an attack roll or opposed skill check - which is a clue that you are stretching the spell beyond its intent. In a sense, you are targeting two characters with a single action.

Such a broad definition of the spell opens it to incredible abuse. In any combat, an illusionist could cause any combatant to view any ally as an enemy or an enemy as an ally - a far more powerful effect than anything suggested in the spell description. Against a small party, it becomes almost a save-or-TPK.

By the way . . . what sort of food is the approximate size of a bugbear and appears spontaneously in a bugbear camp? How would a bugbear actually 'attack' such food? And what would he think when the food shifted position - assuming that BugB wasn't actually nailed to that spot on the floor?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ All the questions you ask in the last paragraph are answered by the rationalization aspect of phantasmal force. Doesn't matter if they don't make much sense, BugA will still believe everything is perfectly rational. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 12:54
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Rational, yes. But not necessarily appetizing. It's an illusion, not mind control. The player should specify specifically what the illusion consisted of - a table set with dishes? a hanging slab of beef? Then the DM should consider the specific way a bugbear would react to that illusion. When the second bugbear moves, the DM should consider how that would be rationalized. \$\endgroup\$
    – pokep
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 14:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pokep - the DM doesn't have to rationalize any of it. All he has to do is roll an investigate to discern why the food is moving. If the bugbear passes the roll, the illusion fails and no longer affects the target. If it doesn't, it makes a rationalization no matter how illogical the outcome, as stated in the spell. The illusion doesn't thwart the second character, it still only affects the first one. However the best a DM could do was have the bug bear say it's an illusion, and the other one investigate. If it passes, spell is over. If not, it's rationalized and the DM reacts accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 17:02

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