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Magic missile says:

You create three glowing darts of magical force. Each dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range.

Silent image says:

You create the image of an object, a creature, or some other visible phenomenon....

If one caster creates an illusory creature with silent image what happens when another caster targets that illusory creature with magic missile? Assuming of course that the mm caster is shooting first and asking questions later, ie, rather than using his or her action to investigate the illusion is simply choosing to attack it. Or I suppose the magic missile caster might have failed the investigation check. Either way, the magic missile caster believes the illusion to be real.

My own inclination would be to rule that magic missile would in fact appear to hit the illusory creature, but I can't find much to either support that conclusion, or to support another.

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No, Magic Missile does not hit the target. It sails right through it. Magic Missile targets a creature, and in your mind the illusion is a creature.

Each dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range.

The end result is that the Magic Missile is cast, the slot is expended, but it does not hit anything unless you specified more than one creature and any of those other creatures are valid targets (non-illusionary creatures). This may give the caster reason to believe his target is not quite what he expected, and may give cause to inspect the Silent Image more closely.

As for what actually happens in the narrative when this occurs?

Let's say the caster casts magic missile and decides to hit one (unknown to him) illusionary target and two other real targets, one missile each. The missiles streak towards their targets, and hit the two real ones. The third target is an illusion and can't be hit, so the missile passes right through him. This may tip the caster off that this may be an illusion. This is the most likely scenario.

The other option is for the DM to say, "that one isn't a valid target. Try again." This, of course, tips the player off, and lets the player choose a new target for his missile. This way involves metagame information, pulls the players out of the scene, and is probably a lot less fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If the illusion is successful, the caster of MM sees a creature (albeit illusory) and shoots a missile at it. As you say, it doesn't HIT the creature of choice, as it isn't a creature, and the rest becomes a complication. Illusions once again raise unique issues/problems. Are you saying that the missile doesn't even fly, or that it just doesn't hit anything and when it reaches extreme range it dissipates? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 31 '16 at 21:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LegendaryDude Consider two cases: 1) what you are describing - the spell fizzles, the missile doesn't hit anything, vs 2) the missile hits (or appears to hit) the illusion. In both cases the missile is wasted and perhaps the whole slot is. The only difference is that in 1) the magic fails at the fingertips and 2) the magic fails at the "target". I can't find anything that makes it clear that one should happen vs. the other. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Mar 31 '16 at 21:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I didn't say what exactly happens because the rules don't. I think it's best left to the DM to decide. I'll admit I was thinking in terms of 3.5/PF spell failure, where you if you target something invalid your spell simply fails but as far as I know 5e has no such rule. Illusions introduce a flaw in those rules, too, because it risks giving away an illusion by virtue of spell failure. I think in my own games, I'd rule the missile as flying towards the target and passing through it, \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Apr 1 '16 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jack Nor I, which is why I didn't say what happens in my answer. As I mentioned in my previous comment, it's probably best left as an exercise to the DM when it comes up in the game. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Apr 1 '16 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that "spell fizzles" adds value to the response for 5e, though I do understand where it's coming from. That the spell has no effect, and how that looks (see Dale M's four cases) looks to be in the narrative hands of the DM. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 1 '16 at 12:26
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I read it this way. The spell creates an image of a creature, and the caster believes it to be a creature, so that can be a valid target of the spell. The spell hits the space the illusion is in. Since the illusion has been interacted with, it is now clear the creature is an illusion.

Physical interaction with the image reveals it to be an illusion, because things can pass through it.

In regards to targeting the illusion:

Each dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range.

You are choosing a creature, that creature just happens to not really exist. You believe it is a creature, so you choose it as a target.

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    \$\begingroup\$ J.A., you say "it is now clear the creature is an illusion". That certainly seems likely, but is that an absolute certainty? It might be a trivial distinction, but I don't think it is an automatic result. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Mar 31 '16 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ He didn't say it passed through the target on contact, he said it hits the space the illusion is in. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Apr 1 '16 at 0:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Lino, I've added the text from the Silent Image spell related to interaction. \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Apr 1 '16 at 13:39
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Each dart hits a creature of your choice that you can see within range.

and

You create the image of ... a creature

An image of a creature is not a creature so it is an invalid target for a spell.

If the player had said "I target this statue with magic missile because I think its a stone golem" and it isn't, you have exactly the same circumstances.

So, what happens?

So, what happens next is up to the DM because this is one of those circumstances that the RAW do not foresee; in particular the rules on Targeting on p.204 don't help. Essentially I can see these choices (others may occur to you):

  • You can't do that, try something else with your action
  • You lose your action, no spell is cast
  • You lose your action and the spell slot with no other effect
  • You lose your action and the spell slot and magic missiles impact the image/statue with no effect

Except in the first case, you have met the criteria of using an action to interact with the image so that you now know that it is an illusion.

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