Using Sending to contact a creature who was disguised?

I have a situation: My players may want to contact a person in the game using the "Sending" spell, but they only have seen this creature in disguise (it used Disguise Self). Would the spell arrive if this person is not disguised at the moment?

The spell says: You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with you are familiar.

I am not sure that I can say that the players are familiar with this person. Am I being too harsh if I say that the spell does not work? I am afraid that the players think this NPC is dead if the spell fails when the reality is quite different.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I have a situation: My players may want to contact a person in the game using the "Sending" spell, but they only have seen this creature in disguise (it used Disguise Self). Would the spell arrive if this person is not disguised at the moment?

The spell says: You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with you are familiar.

I am not sure that I can say that the players are familiar with this person. Am I being too harsh if I say that the spell does not work? I am afraid that the players think this NPC is dead if the spell fails when the reality is quite different.
I would not rule it doesnt work. It's not a divination after all. If you fo that, it can become a disguise detector, might have issues for shifty types like druids, etc. I would simply let it do what it says - deliver the message to the creature and allow a response even if it is a different appearance.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I'm not sure of the exact situation but "familiar with" is a really generic statement so it's up to the DM to decide what that means. So I would say no, but also just let the players know your thinking. That, and just because the target doesn't respond doesn't mean they didn't receive it.
 

jgsugden

Adventurer
A few approaches I've used in similar situations:

1.) Ambiguity is fine. They use the sending spell, but there is no response. Did it go through and there was no response? Did it not go through? You may never need to decide and they may never know.

2.) Skill checks. If something might technically be outside a spell description, I'll allow a PC to make a skill check to make it work. This goes back to the old Spellcraft skill of prior editions...

3.) Partial effectiveness. In a situation like this one, you vould have part of the message get through and allow part of the response to come back. That provides the hint that something is off, but doesn't scream they were disguised.

Which option would I use? The one that tells the best story.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I have a situation: My players may want to contact a person in the game using the "Sending" spell, but they only have seen this creature in disguise (it used Disguise Self). Would the spell arrive if this person is not disguised at the moment?

The spell says: You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with you are familiar.

I am not sure that I can say that the players are familiar with this person.
You say they "only have seen this creature in disguise." That doesn't make it clear to me what kind of interaction they have had. Have they had extended conversations while the creature was in disguise, or have they merely seen the creature in the background.

I don't think the disguise is actually relevant. The spell doesn't depend on what the target is wearing for clothes. Nor does it care about whether the target is wearing cosmetics, right. It doesn't depend on knowing a "true name".
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Are you trying to sending Batman? OR the Guy in the blue and white clock and baby yoda mask who sold you those fake flame gems?
 

Al2O3

Explorer
They send it to the person they are familiar with, and that person can reply. Now, if that person is around other people who don't know about the disguise, things might get awkward for them.

Other than that, the recipient might simply "go into character" to keep up appearances.

In short, if the disguise is different enough to put "familiar" into question, then I would rule it's independent enough to be a valid target by itself. Still the same person getting the message in the end.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
This is totally a DM call, but I would have the spell work perfectly. They are familiar with the target, even if they're not familiar with the true form of the target. Animal messenger, however, wouldn't be able to find the target unless they gave it a specific name the target uses.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
...
The spell says: You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with you are familiar.
...
Nope they are not familiar. The spell is not called "locate unknown person" :)

Familiar for me is: You should know at least know their face or at an absolute minimum have a description of it, which is as good as a photograph. Also they should know the name of the person.
Or they should have talked with that person before, without seeing them that would be valid too.
So if they encountered the person earlier and the person in disguise and telling them in a low voice"Cannot talk now we meet later" that would be good enough for me.
 
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Hawk Diesel

Adventurer
I would allow the spell to work normally. My reasoning is that familiarity is an ambiguous concept. How does one develop familiarity? Is it by knowing facts about that person such as their name and trivia about their lives? If so, a person could be familiar and cast sending on individuals they've never even met. But if this is the standard, then that same caster might be unable to successfully cast sending to contact the barista they see everyday that gets them their coffee and engages in small talk.

On the other hand, does familiarity come about based on interactions and shared history? If so, the foremost scholar on Strahd von Zarovich could not use sending to contact Strahd since they have never met. But they could use sending to contact their neighborhood, who they don't know terribly well but still get together during communal holidays.

So it really depends on how you define familiarity. Is it about concrete knowledge of that individual, or the shared experiences and interactions you've had with them, or something in between?

Personally, I lean in favor of interactions over concrete knowledge. Magic is ephemeral and about energy. I see interactions and relationships as being able to create invisible links of energy or impressions between others, and I see magic being better able to follow such links more easily than concrete facts and descriptions which can be obfuscated by perception and context.
 
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MarkB

Hero
So, just to throw out some extra wrinkles:

What if the person was disguised as a specific individual? Is there a chance that the spell would go to that person instead?

What if the caster has interacted with both the actual person and someone using a disguise to pretend to be that person? Who receives his Sending in that instance?
 
For the first one, I would probably have the spell fail. As was said above, I would just have the message sent and then no response, so it is vague whether or not it was received. Since they are not actually familiar with the real person or familiar enough with the person who was disguised. But I think the real person getting the message instead would also be a valid option.

For the second part, I would have the message go to the real person. Unless they for some reasons already suspected that there were two people and some of their interactions would were with an impostor. Then I would let them target which of the two personalities they want to send the message to.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
I would allow the spell to work normally. My reasoning is that familiarity is an ambiguous concept. How does one develop familiarity? Is it by knowing facts about that person such as their name and trivia about their lives? If so, a person could be familiar and cast sending on individuals they've never even met. But if this is the standard, then that same caster might be unable to successfully cast sending to contact the barista they see everyday that gets them their coffee and engages in small talk.

On the other hand, does familiarity come about based on interactions and shared history? If so, the foremost scholar on Strahd von Zarovich could not use sending to contact Strahd since they have never met. But they could use sending to contact their neighborhood, who they don't know terribly well but still get together during communal holidays.

So it really depends on how you define familiarity. Is it about concrete knowledge of that individual, or the shared experiences and interactions you've had with them, or something in between?

Personally, I lean in favor of interactions over concrete knowledge. Magic is ephemeral and about energy. I see interactions and relationships as being able to create invisible links of energy or impressions between others, and I see magic being better able to follow such links more easily than concrete facts and descriptions which can be obfuscated by perception and context.
Yes all your arguments hold true. But in this specific case, as far as OP wrote, They only did get a glance on that person while it was disguised. That is not covered by any of your assumptions, neither personal nor scholar knowledge is available.
Eventually OP elaborates some more e.g. did the party know the name?
I would allow the sending if the individual is in line of sight although disguised, although this is not specified in the rules, but this is about the only exemption I would make specifically in this case.

Familiar for me normally is in the context that you have more than some knowledge about something.
A wizards familiar is a companion creature which can be trusted somehow.
You are familiar with a city if you do not need a map to find some places, not if you only know the name of the city.
For persons only to know their faces and eventually saying hello once is not familiar in my point of few, so this alone already is a stretch.
Also having extended knowledge like your scholar with expertise on Strahd might not need anything else to make the spell work (Inside Barovia of course, not while in FR or elsewhere!)
 
"Familiar" is vague on purpose.

Getting super-specific like having to know their face defeats the point of said vagueness and changes the spell into a different but similar spell. Which may be fine but should be carefully considered. I would avoid pinning this down, myself, because the spell does. Further, if you do get specific like "know their face" a giant can of worms opens with shapeshifters and the like. Indeed it could potentially instead become a shapeshifter detector if that road was taken. Which might lead to more house rules and when you have multiple sentences of house rules on a largely harmless low-level spell that didn't previously require any, you probably need to ask yourself some questions! I've been there! :)

If they'd spoken to the person in disguise many times, I'd definitely allow it. If they'd met someone briefly in an alley for a few sentences of angry back and forth, I probably wouldn't, disguise or no. I have some NPCs who habitually wear masks in my campaign and the PC are most certainly "familiar" with one of them.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
As others have said, familiar is a vague concept. But it's a fairly low bar.

The Eberron changeling PC who has travelled with the group since it formed, and has many heart-to-heart talks but hasn't shown his "true" form - they are rarely seen in it. Are you familiar with the character? Absolutely. It doesn't matter that they are literal shapechanges who have never shown their true form.

It has nothing to do with divination or locating - it doesn't let you find the creature. It just "delivers the mail" to a familiar mind if it's on this or another plane. Specifically a mind. It's not looking for someone who matches the description. It's all mental so it can't "out" someone as well.

Personally, I'd rule you'd know if the spell failed vs. works with no response - it's detailed a few places and seems to be the 5e way. But that's my ruling with RAW being silent.
 
Thanks everyone for the lively discussion! Lots of good input.

The scenario is one where the characters and disguised NPC actually exchanged words.

I am leaning to rule that the disguised NPC and players are familiar with each other, strengthened in that idea by those saying that the word familiar is deliberately vague, which gives me some freedom as DM. The storyline would benefit from a bit of communication. At least I feel now that such a ruling means I am within the rules and not bending them into something Homebrew. (Not that I have a fundamental problem with that, but I always like to know it when I do so).
 

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