You send a short message of twenty-five words or less to a creature with which you are familiar. The creature hears the message in its mind, recognizes you as the sender if it knows you, and can answer in a like manner immediately. The spell enables creatures with Intelligence scores of at least 1 to understand the meaning of your message.
You can send the message across any distance and even to other planes of existence, but if the target is on a different plane than you, there is a 5 percent chance that the message doesn’t arrive.
Casting Time: 1 action
Components: V, S, M (a short piece of fine copper wire)
Duration: 1 round
School: 3rd-level evocation
Player’s Handbook, pg. 274
Sending is the closest thing that Dungeons and Dragons has to cell phones (or at least long-range walkie-talkies). But while the spell comes with great power, it also comes with some tricky rules questions. Many of which don’t have definitive answers other than “ask your DM.”
I’ll provide a rundown of the common uses and questions that come up around Sending before giving my two cents on how I rule the spell as a DM.
Who Can Cast Sending in 5e?
The following classes and subclasses have Sending on their spell list:
The following subclasses get Sending for free:
- Cleric (Peace Domain) (TCoE 33)
What Does Sending Do in 5e?
Sending transmits a message of <25 words to a creature you’re familiar with. The creature hears the message in their mind, knows that you sent it (if they know you), and can answer by speaking aloud immediately. All creatures of 2+ Intelligence understand the meaning of the message, regardless of languages known or shared.
The range of Sending is unlimited, but if the target is another plane, there is a 5% chance that it the message fails to arrive.
The biggest point of contention with Sending is the definition of the word “familiar” — I’ll do my best to suss out the “rules” of familiarity and give my opinion in the DM tips section, but this one is ultimately different for every DM.
What Are the Rules for Sending in 5e?
The rules for Sending in DnD 5e are as follows:
Both the sender and recipient of Sending must speak aloud to send their message. In order to cast Sending, the target must utter a phrase for the verbal component of the spell. It is somewhat unclear if they must also speak the message aloud, but it is 100% clear that the recipient hears the message in their mind (not aloud).
However, this Sage Advice thread confirms that the receiver must speak to respond to the message and also seems to imply that the sender that the caster must speak their message aloud as well. This is somewhat fuzzy and ultimately up to your DM.
Sending targets your intended target. If you’ve been tricked into believing someone’s identity is other than it actually is, Sending should still work fine. For example, if you target Magico, the kindly wizard you met, who’s actually an evil charlatan named Evilo, the spell still goes through to Evilo. Whether he responds is another matter.
In another case, if you’ve met the real deal and someone pretending to be them, Sending should get sent to the real person (provided they’re alive). Again, ask your DM for more details.
Sending cannot target the dead. The spell can only target creatures, and corpses are considered objects, not creatures, in Dungeons and Dragons. For extra creepiness, apply Matt Mercer’s tip and allow it to work…but leave the dead permanently unable to reply or let players know that they heard.
The word “word” retains its common sense meaning. In other words, if it’s not in the dictionary, it’s not a word for the purposes of this spell. This limits the ability to send nonsense, German-type hyphenated words that string on forever.
However, this does still leave open the possibility of sending encoded messages with a single word standing in place for a more complex concept.
Even creatures without language can respond. Since the spell only makes a note of a creature’s Intelligence score as a targeting limitation, we can assume that language limitations don’t exist. This is a little tricky for determining how such creatures respond, however.
After all, we just said that only words can be sent with Sending. In practice, though, it seems that the specifics of the spell allowing for an immediate response means that something like a familiar or Beast Master Ranger companion could respond. At the very least, they could do their best to speak a broken language based on the sounds they’ve heard the humanoids around them make.
A creature has six seconds to respond to Sending. That’s how long the spell’s duration is — one round of combat is six seconds. A less generous interpretation could argue that “immediately” means that the creature must respond on the same turn as the message was sent.
However, this begs the question of why the spell’s duration is 1 round to begin with. With that question begged, I’m inclined to think that Sending’s recipient has 1 round to respnd.
The creature recognizes you if it knows you, regardless of any disguise or deception. That’s how the spell description reads, anyway. A DM might allow for somene with the Actor feat to hide their voice and make a Deception check to make it seem like the message was coming from someone else. But RAW, Sending’s recipient always know who messaged them (if they know the sender).
The word “familiar” is incredibly slippery. Sending can clearly target a creature whom you know, but who doesn’t know you. Otherwise, it wouldn’t bother with the clause “if it knows you.” What’s less clear is how “familiar” you have to be with the creature to target them.
Must you have heard a story about them? Have a picture of them? Seen them in person? Does it matter how famous the target is? How much research you’ve done and how much you know about them?
There’s really no answer to these questions, as even a dictionary definition of familiar (“well known from long or close association”) isn’t very helpful for sussing things out. I’ll save my opinion for the DM tips section below, because there is no official way of ruling this — it’s completely DM-dependent.
How Do I Use Sending in 5e?
Here are a few ways to use Sending in DnD 5e:
Use it for short-term translation. Even language-less beings can understand a message sent via Sending. So even if you’re using it to talk to the monster right next to you rather than your buddy across the dimensional planes, Sending is a handy tool.
Keep your messages short. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” as Shakespeare wrote. 25 words is quite a lot if your message is simple (meet here, go there, etc.), but it can be quite limiting for transmitting descriptive plans or directives.
Learn to keep the fluff to a minimum and sacrifice a few articles (a, an, the) to save space, even if it makes you sound dumb.
Find lost people. If anyone is lost but otherwise healthy and able to speak, Sending is basically an automatic way of locating someone you’re familiar with who’s gone missing. Of course, circumstances might mean that the target themselves don’t even know where they are — but at least you’ll know they’re alive and safe.
Speed up “send message” quests. If a royal or some merchant asks you to deliver a message, ask them if they’d prefer condensing it down to 25 words, communicating the message to you, and naming a target in the city of the message’s recipient who can deliver the message within hours. Or heck, you might even know the recipient, speeding up the process even further.
This won’t always be possible, and complications might arise in the transmission, but this trick can really cut down on back-and-forth missions.
Let the party know when to move (or other key information). This is the most common tactical use of Sending — letting allies know something important from a distance (e.g., traps lie ahead, the enemy is preparing for our advance, etc.) or giving them a specific signal and message (attack from the second floor, begin the assault now, initiate the distraction, etc.)
Ask for further direction. Sometimes, you’re in the middle of a quest when conditions suddenly change (your primary rescue target is dead, the MacGuffin is in a different location, etc.) At times like these, you can use Sending to ask your quest-giver what they’d like you to do in light of recent revelations.
Drive someone crazy. Sending does not require a willing recipient, so you can conceivably blast someone with a message or two every day of their life. This might not have any real applications, but with the right villain, this frequent mental intrusion might bait them into a fight on your terms.
Who Can I Target With Sending 5e?
You can target any creature on any plane of existence with Sending; however, there is a 5% chance it fails to send if the recipient is on a different plane of existence. Additionally, a creature with an Intelligence score of 1 will not understand the meaning of the message.
Is Sending 5e a Good Spell?
Yes, Sending is a great spell in 5e. The ability to communicate at long distances is just as valuable in a high-fantasy universe as it is in our modern world. In campaigns that involve a lot of back-and-forth traveling, message delivery, and frequent check-ins with a patron, Sending is an invaluable tool for saving time (and, as a result, resources).
That being said, if your campaign is more combat-focused and your group always stays together, you might feel like you wasted a known spell on Sending. Still, the ability to translate speech into any language (even to language-less creatures) is incredibly useful in its own right.
Sending 5e DM Tips
Players have a lot of questions about Sending that aren’t explicitly covered in the game or spell’s rules. Here are my opinions on these questions:
What does “familiar” mean? For this answer, I turn to the internal logic of the game, specifically with the spell Scrying. This spell includes modifiers based on familiarity with the target, described as:
Secondhand (have heard of the target)
Firsthand (you have met the target)
Familiar (you know the target well)
I’m lax enough to say that “firsthand” also counts as familiar, especially if the target actually remembers the encounter (e.g., not like meeting a celebrity on an elevator who will forget you in two minutes). For secondhand targets (kings they’ve seen from afar, people they’ve seen portrayed artistically, etc.), I allow Sending with varying chances of success.
I might require a 16+ (75% chance of success) on a straight d20 roll to contact such a target. Or it might just not work at all, either because it fizzles or because the target feels no compulsion to respond to someone who is (in their estimation) a stranger. This category includes many royals, deities, and other such personages that are well “known,” but not in an intimate way.
Why do messengers exist if Sending exists? Players are apt to ask this question if the campaign takes place in a big city and there’s plenty of magic around. The answer can be a number of things — expense, secrecy, distrust of the mages who can cast such spells, unknown targets, targets not responding — the list goes on and on.
Sometimes, the reason Sending won’t work is actually part of the quest hook (they can hear you, but they’re gagged and unable to answer, for example).
Isn’t it lame that nobody I know can ever become lost again? People can still be lost. Just because you can call someone, doesn’t mean they know where they are or how to get to you. And this isn’t a 100% surefire way to check if someone is dead, either.
Maybe they’re not answering for some other reason (although my players do successfully use Sending to ensure people are still alive quite often — hey, they’re still dropping a 3rd-level spell slot on it).
Don’t famous people just get spam called by Sending? The fact that Sending doesn’t require a willing target is a bit odd. I guess my answer is “if you spam call someone who’s famous enough to get lots of spam calls, that’s probably a bad enemy to make.”
But yea, if Dungeons and Dragons were real, the more famous you were and spellcasters you met, the more random mental intrusions you’d get.
On top of all that, remind players that 5th-level spellcasters are generally rare, so it’s not like everyone has the equivalent of a limited cell phone at all times.
Simple Sending 5e Spell Text
The message has a 5% chance of not arriving if the target is on a different plane of existence.