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D&D 5E Can a spell be cast to cause non lethal damage?

I had this scenario just happen to the group I run on Saturday nights. They encountered a group of baddies with a hostage (being mind controlled and attacking as well) in tow, and the wizard wanted to cast a fireball that deals non lethal damage to protect the controlled hostage.

I know you can deal non lethal melee damage, but a spell? For the life of me I didn't find any information regarding this.

Somebody help me out here..please!!
 

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Mad_Jack

Adventurer
There's nothing in the rules about being able to deal non-lethal damage with a spell - it's entirely a DM call. Doing non-lethal damage with a melee weapon (narratively speaking rather than from a rules perspective) is about hitting with the flat of the blade, or pulling your blow so you don't kill the opponent, etc....
Although I could see some spells being able to be cast in such a way that you could do it non-lethally (force damage and such, perhaps), coming up with a way for a fireball to do it? That's gonna take some seriously creative fluffing if you decide to allow it...
 

Satyrn

First Post
I believe the rules say that when you drop a foe to 0 hit points (no matter how you do so), you can decide to render it unconscious instead of dead. That is, there is no such thing as lethal or non lethal damage in the game.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I believe the rules say that when you drop a foe to 0 hit points (no matter how you do so), you can decide to render it unconscious instead of dead. That is, there is no such thing as lethal or non lethal damage in the game.
This is only for melee attacks.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Basic rules, page 76

Knocking a Creature Out
Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable.

Some spells (e.g. Shocking Grasp) have a range of "touch" and require you to make a melee spell attack.

Since a melee spell attack is not a melee attack, I would rule that you can't knock someone out with a spell. I don't see a problem with a house rule that states that a melee spell attack is effectively the same as a melee attack.

EDIT:
I stand corrected. According to basic rules page 73 a spell can be a melee attack. So you can tazer/shocking grasp someone ...
Melee Attacks
Used in hand-to-hand combat, a melee attack allows you to attack a foe within your reach. A melee attack typically uses a handheld weapon such as a sword, a warhammer, or an axe. A typical monster makes a melee attack when it strikes with its claws, horns, teeth, tentacles, or other body part. A few spells also involve making a melee attack.
 
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Yunru

Banned
Banned
Basic rules, page 76

Knocking a Creature Out
Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable.

Some spells (e.g. Shocking Grasp) have a range of "touch" and require you to make a melee spell attack.

Since a melee spell attack is not a melee attack, I would rule that you can't knock someone out with a spell. I don't see a problem with a house rule that states that a melee spell attack is effectively the same as a melee attack.
I hate to correct you but a melee spell attack is indeed a melee attack, and I'm unsure how you could possibly say otherwise. It's literally in the name. It'd be like saying a melee spell attack isn't a spell, or isn't an attack.
 

Satyrn

First Post
Basic rules, page 76

Knocking a Creature Out
Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable.

Some spells (e.g. Shocking Grasp) have a range of "touch" and require you to make a melee spell attack.

Since a melee spell attack is not a melee attack, I would rule that you can't knock someone out with a spell. I don't see a problem with a house rule that states that a melee spell attack is effectively the same as a melee attack.

Oofta, I think the rules call out melee weapon attacks the way you're doing for melee spell attacks, which should mean melee attack includes longsword and shocking grasp. I think. I don't trust my rules knowledge anymore.
 

Anakzar

First Post
For shocking grasp I could see a creative DM allowing that to work very much like a Taser. So might be a safe way to knock someone out, unless the target has a heart condition ;)
 

Sammael

Adventurer
Officially, no.

Unofficially, I'd allow it... but require a higher level slot to be burned. A nonlethal fireball could create a blast of superheated air that's not hot enough to cause burns but has similar effects to heat stroke.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Oofta, I think the rules call out melee weapon attacks the way you're doing for melee spell attacks, which should mean melee attack includes longsword and shocking grasp. I think. I don't trust my rules knowledge anymore.

Nope. The rules specifically state melee attack. See my other response though to yunru
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I hate to correct you but a melee spell attack is indeed a melee attack, and I'm unsure how you could possibly say otherwise. It's literally in the name. It'd be like saying a melee spell attack isn't a spell, or isn't an attack.


After reading back through my handy-dandy basic rules (I don't have my book), I've changed my mind. :blush:


Page 7 of the basic rules
Melee Attacks​
Used in hand-to-hand combat, a melee attack allows you to attack a foe within your reach. A melee attack typically uses a handheld weapon such as a sword, a warhammer, or an axe. A typical monster makes a melee attack when it strikes with its claws, horns, teeth, tentacles, or other body part. A few spells also involve making a melee attack.
...
Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike...​


So ... hmmm ... I would rule that you can taze someone with a shocking grasp. Since it specifically calls out that melee attacks are considered those with weapons, claws, spells or unarmed attacks.
 

Caliban

Rules Monkey
Nope. The rules specifically state melee attack. See my other response though to yunru

Sorry, you are incorrect. A melee attack is just that - any melee attack. It could be a melee weapon attack or a melee spell attack.

By your logic, you couldn't knock someone out with a melee weapon attack, since it is obviously different than a melee attack. :hmm:

The closest you can come to a non-lethal ranged spell would be the sleep spell. You can use it to "finish them off" - but you'll still need follow up with a melee attack to take them to zero HP or they'll wake up in a minute.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Sorry, you are incorrect. A melee attack is just that - any melee attack. It could be a melee weapon attack or a melee spell attack.

By your logic, you couldn't knock someone out with a melee weapon attack, since it is obviously different than a melee attack. :hmm:

Which ... if you look at post #14 you will note that I agreed that I was incorrect.
 

Caliban

Rules Monkey
Which ... if you look at post #14 you will note that I agreed that I was incorrect.

Which....if you check the timestamps (my post is 3 minutes after yours) you'll realize I was writing my post at the same time as you and there was no way I could have known what you were writing unless I happened to be psychic. Alas, I am not.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I had this scenario just happen to the group I run on Saturday nights. They encountered a group of baddies with a hostage (being mind controlled and attacking as well) in tow, and the wizard wanted to cast a fireball that deals non lethal damage to protect the controlled hostage.
Reading your words literally, if the hostage was "in tow" and thus slightly behind his/her/its captors, all that's needed is some very careful aiming by the fireball's caster, to hit the captors and miss the hostage...this would absolutely IMO require an aiming roll, with a poor roll possibly either hitting the hostage as well or missing some (or all?) of the captors.

Lan-"it's rare when fireball isn't the best tool for the job at hand, but this might be such a time"-efan
 

evilbob

Explorer
Generally: sure, why not? The entire concept of "knocking someone out" like it doesn't cause long-term damage to them is fantasy anyway so why not do it with a spell? :)

This exact situation: I like the suggestion about using a higher slot or otherwise making it a little more difficult, just because of the drama of the situation and the completely illogical nature of using a fireball spell to knock someone out. :) But sure, I'd say anything can be reasonably explained: like the blast is more concussive instead of fiery, or whatever. For something like shocking grasp, it's a lot more straightforward.
 

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