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


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MechaPilot

Explorer
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!!

The long and the short of it is this: It's up to each individual DM to make a judgement call.

Personally, I usually allow it. You can come up with a plausible reason for most spells, yes, even fireball.

Non-lethal Fireball: The creatures deftly evade the flames, singing their clothes and losing some facial and body hair in the process (perhaps even suffering some lasting burn scars, depending on how tough you want to be), but they are overcome by the smoke and hot air in the immediate area, falling unconscious.
 

Shiroiken

Legend
By RAW, I'd say no (melee attacks only), and most likely RAI. That said, I feel that it should be done on a case by case basis for the DM. For example, I have no problem with most Ranged Weapon Attacks dealing non-lethal damage (aiming for a leg or arm). I don't have a problem with Shocking Grasp or Spiritual Weapon dealing non-lethal damage, but some damage types don't lend themselves to non-lethal (acid, fire, necrotic, and poison all leap to mind), so I'd probably disallow a non-lethal Vampiric or Chill Touch for example (despite RAW).

I also require characters to state that the attack is non-lethal before the attack. This allows the target to know that the enemy isn't trying to kill them, leading to interesting RP opportunities during combat. Also the backwards time logic (choosing after the fact) just bugs the crap out of me.
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
I also require characters to state that the attack is non-lethal before the attack. This allows the target to know that the enemy isn't trying to kill them, leading to interesting RP opportunities during combat. Also the backwards time logic (choosing after the fact) just bugs the crap out of me.

I'm fairly lenient in what I'll allow, but I entirely agree with you about declaring non-lethal intent beforehand.
 

Sure. Spend a bunch of down time researching the spell and he will eventually have a non-lethal version. ;)

But, by the book, or as Crawford or Mearls would say, if the spell does not say you can do that, then you can't. But also by the book, you as the DM get to decide when NPCs get death saving throws or simply die at 0 HP. If he is an important NPC, then he should get the saving throws. And you as the DM can simply rule that this NPC succeeds at all the saves, if that will advance your plot the way you want. Or you can rule he does not make any of the saves, if his death helps your story more.
 


seebs

Adventurer
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 would say that a melee spell attack is a subtype of melee attack, and also a subtype of spell attack, but that it's definitely a melee attack.
 

Oofta

Legend
I would say that a melee spell attack is a subtype of melee attack, and also a subtype of spell attack, but that it's definitely a melee attack.

Yep, melee spell attack is one type of melee attack, just like unarmed strike or using natural weapons such as claws ... I was mistaken in my initial response.

It does still have to be a melee spell attack.
 


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