Whether you need to communicate across a thousand miles of ocean — even with someone on the other side of the Astral Sea — or let your fellow party members in the jail cell next door that your escape plan is a go, the Sending spell is a highly effective way to magically stay in touch when adventuring in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
Not to be confused with its lesser cousin, the Message cantrip, Sending is a powerful utility spell that becomes available just as your characters start to graduate from being local heroes and head off toward the tier of higher-level play (aka Levels 6-10, where D&D 5e really sings).
Anyone who’s ever been on a messy night out knows the value of having credit, a full cell phone battery, and five bars of signal.
Much like everyone I went to university with after their second bottle of wine, keeping an adventuring party in one place in D&D 5e can be like herding displacer beasts — especially at higher-level play.
As you start facing more dangerous threats and traveling farther afield, the Sending spell can be an invaluable tool in your arsenal.
Getting split up in the woods near your hometown is one thing (a typically 1st-level problem), but when a malfunctioning teleportation spell throws you hundreds of miles off course or a broken bag of holding sucks you into the astral plane like an intellect devourer slurps up gray matter, the Sending spell can save you time, effort, and maybe even your life.
In this article, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the Sending spell, what it does, whether you should take it, and how to get the most out of what is essentially magical texting.
- Casting Time: 1 Action
- Range/Area: Unlimited
- Duration: 1 round
- School: Evocation
- Class: Bard, Cleric, Wizard, Warlock (Great Old One)
- Level: 3rd
- Damage/Effect: Communication
- Attack/Save: None
- Components: V, S, M (a short piece of fine copper wire)
You send a short message of 25 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% chance that the message doesn’t arrive.
How Does Sending Work in DnD 5e?
The Sending spell lets you transmit a short message into the mind of a creature with which you are familiar. As long as the creature has an intelligence of 1 or higher, it can understand the message and respond immediately — even if it is thousands of miles away or on a different plane.
Let’s break that down.
Twenty-Five Words or Fewer
This is all actually pretty self-explanatory when you think about how it works and all the possible ramifications of this restriction when casting this spell.
Ugly as that last sentence was, it was 25 words long, meaning you can definitely convey a thought with some degree of nuance pretty easily.
You should basically adopt the mindset of someone sending a telegram in the days when they charged you by the word.
Short, simple sentences, declarative statements, and even code can help you squeeze the most possible information into a single use of this relatively powerful spell slot.
Now, there’s some debate as to what constitutes being “familiar” with a creature in D&D 5e, and ultimately it’s going to come down to what the dungeon master thinks is justifiable.
Another member of the adventuring party? Definitely.
The king of this realm whose face you see every single day on the back of a coin? Maybe? Probably not. What if you’ve seen them in person or met them briefly?
What if you meet them regularly but can’t remember anything about them?
What if you’ve known them for years but have never seen their face?
Basically, there are a bunch of different weird edge cases for how familiar you are with the target of a sending spell, and I’ve seen it cause a fair amount of friction at the table.
So, if you’re a DM and you’re wondering whether or not a player’s character is familiar enough to target a particular creature with the sending spell, try these guiding principles:
- Can the player recite three details about the creature from memory (eye color, fashion choices, job, etc.)? If the player can’t remember but their character probably can, I would allow for an Intelligence check.
- Familiarity is about the caster’s familiarity with the target, not their familiarity with each other; a character could definitely become familiar with someone from afar without the target knowing it, perhaps by memorizing their routine, behavior in public, or using the Scrying spell.
- Familiarity doesn’t necessarily mean seeing with your own eyes. I’m intimately familiar with the Mona Lisa, but I’ve never been to the Louvre. A character who has read extensively about and studied a particular creature could potentially send them a message.
If some of these criteria seem a little tenuous, it’s okay. I always tend to err on the side of letting my players try to use the Sending spell, even if the target is a little dubious, because of the built-in mechanism for failure.
When you try to use this spell to send a message to a creature on a different plane of existence, there is a 5% chance the message just gets lost out there in the ether (or the astra, I guess? If you were sending it through the astral plane rather than the ethereal plane… the astra? Ah, sounds dumb).
I like to steal this mechanic for any level of uncertainty when casting the spell.
Therefore, if I had a player who wanted to use the Sending spell to get a message so someone with whom they were only tenuously familiar, I’d meet them halfway by offering a chance (higher than 5% to be sure – maybe a 25%) of failure.
Another huge perk of Sending is the spell’s unlimited range and, as I said above, ability to transcend the barriers between different planes of reality.
Also, a 5% chance of a Sending spell failing to go through is remarkably low; heck, I think my smartphone drops local calls at a higher rate.
Also, assuming the spell’s recipient responds — at least to acknowledge that they’ve received the message – you’re always going to know if a Sending spell has failed or not.
However, this isn’t even the best thing about Sending.
It’s a Babel Fish!
Everyone talks about comprehend languages and telepathy as the ultimate communication spells, but if you want to really break down barriers between cultures and even whole new worlds (albeit only for 25 words at a time) the Sending spell is unmatched.
Firstly, you can communicate with creatures that have an Intelligence as low as 1. That’s below cogent-thought-having, language-using levels of intelligence.
That will let you magically transmit your thoughts into the mind of an oyster — anything even half a step above a plant, to be honest.
The truly wild bit is that it will (presumably in an act that involves more complex mental effort than the poor little mollusk has ever undertaken before) reply in a way that you can understand.
Forget sending cryptic messages to your transdimensional pen pals. If you ever wanted to find out what your cat actually thinks about you, this is the way.
Who Can Cast Sending?
Sending is a 3rd-level spell available to the Bard, Cleric, and Wizard Classes — as well as the Great Old Ones Patron Warlock subclass.
All of those classes, as full casters, get access to 3rd-level spells at 5th level, just as D&D transitions from low to mid(ish)-tier play.
Is Sending a Good Spell and When Should I Take It?
In short, sending is a fantastic spell. However, whether you should immediately remove fireball in order to prepare it is a decision that requires a little more context.
Sending is an amazing utility spell, but it needs the right context — aka the right campaign, the right party composition — to live up to its potential.
To figure out whether you should take Sending or not, consider the scope of your campaign.
If you’re playing out a classic dungeon-delving fantasy where your party sticks together, beats up monsters, and gets treasure room by room, then Sending is probably going to feel like a waste of a spell slot.
However, even then, if you keep coming across monsters that don’t share a language with your party (if you’re playing an Underdark campaign, for example), then this spell still has value.
Also, this is a great spell to have prepared as your character reaches higher levels.
Basically, in D&D 5e, the higher level you are, the more likely you’ll be traveling across the multiverse, facing down extraplanar threats, and generally dealing with weirder and weirder stuff.
Also, the fallout when stuff goes wrong at higher levels can also get pretty bonkers.
Getting catapulted into a random plane somewhere in the multiverse or literally dragged to hell by a demon risks becoming an everyday occurrence.
Therefore, having a (relatively low opportunity cost – high-level adventurers eat 3rd-level spell slots for breakfast) spell in your back pocket that lets you touch base with your buddies after the latest world-shattering calamity (or maybe just because the Wild Magic Sorcerer tried to cast a cantrip again) can be hugely helpful.
How To Be Evil With Sending
In many ways, the Sending spell feels analogous with a lot of long-range telecommunication in our world.
It can bridge gaps between cultures and between continents; it can open up channels of communication between different planes of existence.
And, just like in our world, I’m pretty sure it would give some very nasty people a whole new way to be a dick to strangers.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a couple of ways in which you can use the Sending spell, not as a beautiful bridge between people of all creeds, colors, and religions but as a way to remotely perform some seriously sinister, CIA-style psychological torture on the BBEG from the comfort of your home.
First, the recipient of the message does not have to be willing.
Yep, that means that as long as you’re sufficiently familiar with the target, you can just project horrible obscenities, criticisms, or just incoherent screaming into their head a few times a day.
Then — and this is the really mean bit — there’s the fact that the 25 word limit on the message doesn’t actually restrict how long those words can be.
Play a warforged, or some other creature that doesn’t need to breathe, and I’m pretty sure you could make shouting “SCREEEEEEWW YOOOUUUUUUU” last for a good couple of hours.
Obviously, there’s a danger here that the target will also get to respond. This sort of thing could become very petty very quickly, and I’m very here for it.
Basically, what I’m saying is that there is exactly zero chance that the BBEG (or anyone who gives your party a funny look) is ever getting a good night’s sleep ever again.
If you don’t want to invest your spell slots in Sending (or no one in your party can learn it), you can always try to get your hands on a couple of Sending Stones.
Each stone is part of a matching set that lets the holders of each stone cast the sending spell back and forth as an action.
The target is the bearer of the other stone. If no creature bears the other stone, you know that fact as soon as you use the stone and don’t cast the spell.
Once Sending is cast through the stones, they can’t be used again until the next dawn. If one of the stones in a pair is destroyed, the other one becomes nonmagical.
It’s not as open-ended as the Sending Spell, but it is nevertheless a really effective way to get daily check-ins from your hirelings if they’re at home looking after your keep or to receive quests from a group patron.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Block Sending?
There are a few ways you can block sending, like using counterspell on the caster as a reaction, placing either the sender or the recipient of the message inside an antimagic field.
Can You Use Sending To Send a Message to a God?
Yes, but… your level of familiarity with a divine being is going to be debatable at best, the god in question does not have to response and, if they do, the response may not be what you were hoping for. Sometimes, the answer to prayers is “No. I’m busy.”
Can You Conceal Your Identity When Casting Sending?
No, not unless you are already known to the recipient by another alias. Sending won’t out you as Peter Parker to someone who only knows you as Spiderman. However, you couldn’t pretend to be someone other than Spiderman.
The rules for the Sending spell state that “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.”