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Phantasmal Killer has the same "descriptive" part of its name as the similar spell Phantasmal Force.

The key points of Phantasmal Force are (PHB p264):

You craft an illusion that takes root in the mind of a creature that you can see within range.

and

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

This means that the significantly lower level spell Phantasmal Force is inescapable by being blind or otherwise sensorily impaired compared to the RAW description of Phantasmal Killer. The target experiences the Phantasmal Force illusion even if all their senses are somehow switched off. It is all in their mind and the effected target will rationalise even obvious inconstancies ("My totally destroyed eyes must still be able to see ghosts! Arrrrg!").

Phantasmal Killer does not have this in it's description (PHB p265):

You tap into the nightmares of a creature you can see within range and create an illusory manifestation of its deepest fears, visible only to that creature. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the target becomes frightened for the duration. At the start of each of the target’s turns before the spell ends, the target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or take 4d10 psychic damage. On a successful save, the spell ends.

However working in a similar way to Phantasmal Force is perhaps implied by it's name, the single target, the "feel" of it's the description and the way it inflicts psychic damage as time goes on. Historically (AD&D Illusionist spell) and in other branches of D&D it is clear that this spell works in this manner. In Pathfinder (Pathfinder wizard/sorcerer spell) Phantasmal Killer is a spell of type phantasm which has rules of its own, specifying it all happens inside of the target's head.

The question: Should Phantasmal Killer work the same way as Phantasmal Force (and perhaps be modified in some canonical source?)

Is the difference in detail in the spell text a deliberate part of the spell design, or an oversight in bringing the spell forward from previous versions?


I can't find any existing errata or sage advice on this.

Running Phantasmal Killer the same way as Phantasmal Force is my group's preference for the spell and the house rule for running it when I am DM

This question is related to a previous question which any answer should consider first: Does Phantasmal Killer work on a blind target

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Tritium21, LegendaryDude, Oblivious Sage, Christopher, Thomas Jacobs Nov 16 '16 at 19:59

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This question is confusing. Is it raw, or is it asking for rules intent. the body of the question is asking for rules intent, but it is tagged raw (which is the letter of the rules, rather than the spirit of the rules). \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Nov 16 '16 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have removed the [rules-as-written] tag. The question does not appear to be asking for a RAW interpretation of the spell. Aside from that, when a question begins with the word "should" it is almost always an opinion-based question. What is your intent with this question? If phantasmal killer should act like phantasmal force the rules would say so, would they not? \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Nov 16 '16 at 13:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are right - the RAW tag came from splitting up a multi part question. RAW says this isn't the case and the key word is indeed "should". Thanks for the clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Nov 16 '16 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have edited the question to try to be more specific. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Nov 17 '16 at 13:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's still a problem with the phrasing. We don't do opinion-based questions here, and asking a question such as "should x be more like y?" is definitely based in opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Nov 17 '16 at 14:10
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Phantasmal Killer says (PHB p.263):

You tap into the nightmares of a creature you can see within range and create an illusory manifestation of its deepest fears, visible only to that creature. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the target becomes frightened for the duration. At the start o f each o f the target’s turns before the spell ends, the target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or take 4d10 psychic damage. On a successful save, the spell ends.

I assume from your question that you are focusing on the phrase "visible only to that creature" and extending it to mean that if the creature can't see it then it is unaffected by the spell.

I think you are asking that phrase to carry too great a burden. Yes, it is visible only to that creature but no, if the creature is blinded the spell still affects them. Nowhere in the spell description or the description of Blindness (PHB p.290) is there anything to suggest that it would. More generally, none of the conditions would stop a Phantasmal Killer from Phantasmally Killing you.

Facing your deepest fear is probably going to be worse if you can't see it!

As to the broader question: each spell does what it says it does, no more, no less. Just because spells share elements like names does not mean that they have to be interpreted in light of one another: they each stand alone subject to the general rules of spellcasting.

Further, D&D 5e rules stand on their own, it is unwise to look at previous editions to explain the mechanics of this edition. Previous editions made distinctions between phantasms, figments, shadows and other stuff I can't remember - 5e doesn't do this. Phantasmal simply takes on its normal English meaning, that is, it is a synonym for illusionary.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have asked the question you are actually answering here: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/90422/… \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Nov 16 '16 at 11:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also I have edited the question to show the history of the spell and how it is in the main parallel branch of D&D, Pathfinder, which is one of the reasons why, while I agree with you in general, I have asked the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Nov 16 '16 at 11:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Finally RAW has a VERY limited scope, and visible means that you can see it ,not that you can imagine it or hear it or anything else. The spell does not specify whether it being visible is a requirement, but it does imply it, which is contrary to the historical spell and inconsistent with the other Phantasm spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Nov 16 '16 at 11:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for your last paragraph. Trying to interpret any game based on understandings of other games, no matter how similar, is just asking for trouble. \$\endgroup\$ – Christopher Nov 16 '16 at 15:04

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