Use Magic Missile to determine whether a statue is an Object or a Creature?(!)

aco175

Explorer
I would not want to get in the habit of having a player walk into every room and try to target everything to see if it is a creature or not. I get where the players may have thought that the statue was another creature since they just fought one. I may not have asked for initiative just yet and told the players that nothing is threatening them just yet so there is no need. I do like the fact that you did not let the player waste a spell trying to cast MM.

I would let the PC cast the spell if I thought the player was armed with all the information in the situation or if I said that there is no visible threat and the player still wanted to not take chances or such. I guess I would also have some sort of damage mechanic imposed on the fighter if he went around hitting everything with his sword.
 

Satyrn

Villager
.

Then I realized that Magic Missile can be used as a utility spell to determine whether something that looks like an Object (such as a statue, icicle, or stalactite) is really just an Object or whether it's a Creature (a Golem, Living Statue, Animated Object, Ice Mephit, Gargoyle, Piercer, or Mimic). Is that y'all's understanding as well?
Of course, if that creature wasn't hostile before, it sure is gonna be now! And if it's got friends around the players might have just made things a whole lot worse for themselves.

So, it's a risk.

Maybe they should research a new spell, like that detect life one I really liked in Oblivion or Skyrim.
 

Travis Henry

Villager
I guess I would also have some sort of damage mechanic imposed on the fighter if he went around hitting everything with his sword.
Well, as first person to hit the statue with a metal weapon, the Fighter did receive an electric shock (2hp dmg). The statue was a trap, not a creature.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
From the perspective of my playstyle preferences, the real question here is this: in the in-game fiction- to the pcs in the game- what's the difference between how this went down and "living statue loses initiative and hasn't done anything yet"? At least sometimes, the two instances are indistinguishable from the perspective of the pcs. So the issue is whether you want to give the players information that the characters don't have by telling them not to roll initiative.
If you really want to get technical (and who doesn't?!), the DM is the only one who makes the call for ability checks which is what initiative is. So if that rule had been followed, then the players will had to have acted solely on the information they had from the DM's description of the environment rather than the meta-information of the DM's call for initiative that implied the statue was a creature.
 

Gadget

Explorer
I would not allow these 'attack' spells to be used as an automatic creature detector, as that is meta-gaming the spells, imho. It is magic, and treating it like shooting an arrow and some such, while having a certain logic, does not necessarily follow.
 

Travis Henry

Villager
I make no judgment as to the outcome and believe the OP when he or she says that everyone had a good time with it. I still think the assent to roll initiative in this case is worth examining.
Haha, yeah I was aware in moment that it was a judgement call as to whether to assent to their request for Initiative. But I happily decided on "Okay, Yes", because:

1) there have been a few other times in our campaign when the players themselves have asked if they could go into, or stay in, Initiative mode outside of combat, so that everyone could take their turn (in talking or making skill checks) in an orderly fashion. And so, it was not a novel or anomalous ruling to allow (call for) Initiative in what was not necessarily a combat encounter...but which certainly *appeared* to be a combat encounter to the players.

And 2), it would be a bit of fun. Anyway, the players were satisfied. They are still proud they so roundly defeated the Bronze Statue. It's not like I made fun of them (except on this ENWorld thread! haha)

Even if it were clear to everyone that it was just an Object, such as the broad side of a barn (or a dread gazebo), if two or more PCs are kinda competing to see who hits the barn or gazebo first, then let's roll Initiative!

Following the previous fight with the Living Rock Statue, they had clearly dropped out of the previous Initiative, having regrouped themselves into marching order to walk down the hall. And their blitz approach to the second statue was not that different from their blitz approach to the previous statue. The only difference being that I told them the Living Rock Statue had started to move, at which point I'd asked for Initiative. Yet as they approached the second statue, I told them that the statue was not moving. Yet they were still set on preemptively wailing on it, just in case it turned out to be animated. So, if they're going to take turns in melee attacks on an Object, let's roll Initiative! And it really mattered who went first, because the first person to hit the Bronze Statue with a metal melee weapon would receive an electric shock. (Yes, that was all in the BD&D adventure-as-written.)

The Initiative question is a separate matter - and I know it was a fine ruling, though understand it could've been ruled in other valid ways, as other posters have voiced.

The question of targeting an Object with a magic missile would've still been there even if they'd stayed in Initiative order following the previous encounter.

The two issues are only related because they both relate to whether and when the players can know, in a meta-gaming way, whether an entity is an Object or Creature (in the case of targeting Magic Missile) or whether the entity represents a Non-Combat Encounter or Combat Encounter (in regard to whether Initiative is called for).

My question wasn't whether the "presence or absence of a call to roll Initiative" can be used by the players to determine whether an encounter is a "combat" or "non-combat" encounter. haha
 
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Travis Henry

Villager
Xanathar's Guide to Everything (p. 85-86): "If you cast a spell on someone or something that can't be affected by the spell, nothing happens to that target, but if you used a spell slot to cast the spell, the slot is still expended."

This section is presented as an expansion on the spellcasting rules in the PHB and DMG. If the DM isn't aware of it or the group doesn't use this book (or the relevant section thereof), then obviously it may not apply.
Thanks iserith. Yes, this is what I was wondering.
I feel that my ruling in the moment - since we have only the core rules - was valid in that context. Xanathar's Guide wouldn't have addressed that topic if it hadn't been an unresolved question in the core rules-as-written.
I described it to the player as (something like): "Your wizard can tell the spell formula is not able to affix the spell to that target."

I see that Xanathar's Guide provides an official ruling. Good to know. I'll probably bring that to the group as a rules update at our table.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Haha, yeah I was aware in moment that it was a judgement call as to whether to assent to their request for Initiative. But I happily decided on "Okay, Yes", because:

1) there have been a few other times in our campaign when the players themselves have asked if they could go into, or stay in, Initiative mode outside of combat, so that everyone could take their turn (in talking or making skill checks) in an orderly fashion. And so, it was not a novel or anomalous ruling to allow Initiative in what was not necessarily a combat encounter...but which certainly *appeared* to be a combat encounter to the players.
Sure, I sometimes use Initiative just as a means to control the spotlight. I'm just careful to mention that it isn't necessarily because I expect or an implying a combat may break out.

Following the previous fight with the Living Rock Statue, they had clearly dropped out of the previous Initiative, having regrouped themselves into marching order to walk down the hall. And their blitz approach to the second statue was not that different from their blitz approach to the previous statue. The only difference being that I told them the Living Rock Statue had started to move, at which point I'd asked for Initiative. Yet as they approached the second statue, I told them that the statue was not moving. Yet they were still set on preemptively wailing on it, just in case it turned out to be animated. So, if they're going to take turns in melee attacks on an Object, let's roll Initiative! And it really mattered who went first, because the first person to hit the Bronze Statue with a metal melee weapon would receive an electric shock. (Yes, that was all in the BD&D adventure-as-written.)
In this situation, I likely would have told the player who asked about rolling initiative "No, as there is no conflict right now..." or words to that effect. Then if they wanted to wail on the statue, I would have asked which character would be the first to approach the statue and do that, resolving the electric shock accordingly and revealing that the statue did not animate in response. This likely would have ended the mystery there, though again I make no judgment as to whether that's a better outcome than the one you had.

The Initiative question is a separate matter - and I know it was a fine ruling, though understand it could've been ruled in other valid ways, as other posters have voiced.

The question of targeting an Object with a magic missile would've still been there even if they'd stayed in Initiative order following the previous encounter.

The two issues are only related because they both relate to whether and when the players can know, in a meta-gaming way, whether an entity is an Object or Creature (in the case of targeting Magic Missile) or whether the entity represents a Non-Combat Encounter or Combat Encounter (in regard to whether Initiative is called for).

My question wasn't whether the "presence or absence of a call to roll Initiative" can be used by the players to determine whether an encounter is a "combat" or "non-combat" encounter. haha
Yes, I would say the issues are related, but your question is more on the utility of spells to determine whether something is a creature or object, as you say. I personally don't care about "metagaming" even a little bit. I do try to be very careful about what I say to the players though so that they can make informed decisions and that includes what mechanics I call into play.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Thanks iserith. Yes, this is what I was wondering.
I feel that my ruling in the moment - since we have only the core rules - was valid in that context. Xanathar's Guide wouldn't have addressed that topic if it hadn't been an unresolved question in the core rules-as-written.
I described it to the player as (something like): "Your wizard can tell the spell formula is not able to affix the spell to that target."

I see that Xanathar's Guide provides an official ruling. Good to know. I'll probably bring that to the group as a rules update at our table.
For what it's worth, I think that the "official ruling" of expending a spell slot is a bit harsh.
 

Satyrn

Villager
For what it's worth, I think that the "official ruling" of expending a spell slot is a bit harsh.
It may be harsh, but I think it's totally fair.

If the caster doesn't want to waste a slot, they can make a better decision than blindly throwing any old spell at the problem.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
It may be harsh, but I think it's totally fair.

If the caster doesn't want to waste a slot, they can make a better decision than blindly throwing any old spell at the problem.
I'll take "harsh but fair" over "unfair" any day of the week.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
Here’s my take. I don’t allow magic missile to identify non-creatures because I do not believe that is part of the intended utility of the spell. Same with any other targeted spell that only affects creatures. So what happens? The spell hits (or attempts to hit if an attack roll is required) the target. If the target is invalid for the spell, there is no effect. (Magic missile isn’t self-directed, it is sight directed. It hits something you can see.) I encourage anyone to consider this method of adjudication.

In the case of damaging effects that probably should do something (like ray of frost) I would house rule it that it does do a bit, just not enough to be combat relevant. Sure, you can chill your beverage with ray of frost, but no you can’t freeze something and then break it.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
You can do it with a cantrip just as easily. Most attack cantrips specify creatures as targets.
Sure, I think my concerns about the harshness of that rules clarification has to do with implementing it without the player's prior knowledge. I think any player who knows that is the ruling would reasonably choose a cantrip over "wasting" a spell slot.
 

Satyrn

Villager
Sure, I think my concerns about the harshness of that rules clarification has to do with implementing it without the player's prior knowledge. I think any player who knows that is the ruling would reasonably choose a cantrip over "wasting" a spell slot.
I think the players should already expect that's the way it works. Spell slots already get expended when the spell gets used against an invalid target, like when a caster uses charm person on a "monster" or that time I cast stone shape on an impenetrable wall of thorns (I was hoping it was just an incredibly lifelike sculpture)
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Low level force damage spells are a bit weird in what they can target, but I think it's pretty easy to justify. You can apply quite a bit of electricity to a piece of metal without harming it, more than enough to kill a person or at least cause significant burns. Enough energy though and that metal will melt.

Same with fire spells, unless the target is extremely flammable low level fire spells are just a quick blast. May leave a scorch mark but that's it. It's the difference between passing your finger through the flame of a candle and the flame of a cutting torch. The former doesn't hurt, I wouldn't try the latter unless you want a trip to the doctor.

As far as the OP, I'd probably have the spell go off but then indicate that they splash off the statue harmlessly. It is interesting that they changed their mind about spells with invalid targets costing a spell slot in Xanathar's, there was a podcast at one time that said that the intent was that they would not.

Also, I let players call for intitiative any time they want. In this case they were attacking the gazebo, I wouldn't want to disillusion them.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yeah. I would still allow PCs to attempt to attack an invalid target it just wouldn’t have any effect.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think the players should already expect that's the way it works. Spell slots already get expended when the spell gets used against an invalid target, like when a caster uses charm person on a "monster" or that time I cast stone shape on an impenetrable wall of thorns (I was hoping it was just an incredibly lifelike sculpture)
I fully expect someone to call "reversies." Or worse, "backsies." Then we'd have to review the record to see if someone had previously touched blue to make it true. And gods forbid someone double-stamped it. It's just a mess.
 

UngeheuerLich

Adventurer
Low level force damage spells are a bit weird in what they can target, but I think it's pretty easy to justify. You can apply quite a bit of electricity to a piece of metal without harming it, more than enough to kill a person or at least cause significant burns. Enough energy though and that metal will melt.

Same with fire spells, unless the target is extremely flammable low level fire spells are just a quick blast. May leave a scorch mark but that's it. It's the difference between passing your finger through the flame of a candle and the flame of a cutting torch. The former doesn't hurt, I wouldn't try the latter unless you want a trip to the doctor.

As far as the OP, I'd probably have the spell go off but then indicate that they splash off the statue harmlessly. It is interesting that they changed their mind about spells with invalid targets costing a spell slot in Xanathar's, there was a podcast at one time that said that the intent was that they would not.

Also, I let players call for intitiative any time they want. In this case they were attacking the gazebo, I wouldn't want to disillusion them.
Or a phaser on stun. I would not want players to systematically target and identify without resource cost.

I'd also not allow casting of cantrip without pause. I think it is as streneous as using a tool.
And it is not without precedent.
During a combat you might use dash every round. When combat is over and you start a chase, suddenlx you might get exhaustion.
I think cantrip rules are written for combats which are not taking longer than a minute or so. So even if they are at will, you can't keep it up without pause.
 

Azzy

Cyclone Ranger
I don't see the problem with this as it's not really something that will come up often or be abusive unless the DM is spamming gargoyles, mimics, or whatnot.
 

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