How Does Detect Magic Really Work?

Forums House Rules and Clarifications How Does Detect Magic Really Work?

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  • January 28, 2015 at 12:01 am #1057

    Detect Magic…a power we often use…and wrong!

    Seems forever I’ve been interpreting this power wrong.  The way it really works is simultaneously more and less powerful, and certainly more interesting than how we’ve been doing it.  So here’s straight from the book with my comments in blue to help clear it up.  We use this a lot, so need to get it straight.

    You detect magical auras. The amount of information revealed depends on how long you study a particular area or subject.

    -Notice it says you detect, it does not say you see, this becomes important as you read further
    1st Round: Presence or absence of magical auras.

    -So you know they are there, somewhere in the 60ft cone area you are concentrating on, but you don’t see a glow, or any indication of exactly where these auras are.  Nothing seen yet.
    2nd Round: Number of different magical auras and the power of the most potent aura.

    -Now you know how many are out there in the 60ft cone you are scanning.  And you pick up the power level, (given as faint, moderate, strong, or overwhelming) of the strongest one, but that’s it, no magical glow, no visual, just the knowledge that say, 3 magical effects are out there, or maybe none.

    3rd Round: The strength and location of each aura. If the items or creatures bearing the auras are in line of sight, you can make Spellcraft skill checks to determine the school of magic involved in each. (Make one check per aura; DC 15 + spell level, or 15 + half caster level for a nonspell effect.)

    -For 3 rounds you’ve been focusing on Detecting magic on the same area, and only now do you get the location of the auras.  You also now get a strength reading on each one.  If the items are in line of sight you can make checks to find out more about them. This is important, because as we can see, this power really is detection, it can detect through things! Line of sight is required to analyze the auras that are detected, but no line of sight is needed to know how many are there, how powerful they are, and where they are relative to you(think, there’s one behind that tree, and another behind that low wall 3oft ahead.

    Magical areas, multiple types of magic, or strong local magical emanations may
    distort or conceal weaker auras.

    -Important to remember, if an area is saturated by a powerful spell, weaker ones might not show up
    Aura Strength: An aura’s power depends on a spell’s functioning spell level or an
    item’s caster level. If an aura falls into more than one category, detect magic indicates
    the stronger of the two.
    Lingering Aura: A magical aura lingers after its original source dissipates (in the
    case of a spell) or is destroyed (in the case of a magic item). If detect magic is cast and
    directed at such a location, the spell indicates an aura strength of dim (even weaker
    than a faint aura). How long the aura lingers at this dim level depends on its
    original power:

    Original Strength          Lingering Aura
    Faint                                 1d6 rounds
    Moderate                         1d6 minutes
    Strong                             1d6×10 minutes
    Overwhelming               1d6 days

    -Spell could provide some interesting short term CSI like functions.

    Outsiders and elementals are not magical in themselves, but if they are summoned, the conjuration spell registers. Each round, you can turn to detect magic in a new area. The spell can penetrate barriers, but 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt blocks it.

    -Again, this spell has very little to do with line of sight and there are some interesting implications I will put forth:

    1: you could use this spell to scan for invisible creatures, though not very well in a battle situation.  If there’s one in the cone area you are scanning, the invisibility spell he had up will show up as magic.  Now, if this hypothetical invisible person sees you looking in his direction, obviously concentrating on scanning the area where he is standing, he is free to move out of that area before round 3 when you get a lock on him, but the mere fact you detected a magical presence in round 1, and then nothing in round 2, is a dead giveaway something, or someone magical was right in your area and moved out of it.

    2: The spell can penetrate barriers. Y0u could potentially scan a crowd and detect magical items within their pockets and backpacks!  Now you would not have line of sight to these things, so you could not make spellcraft checks to see what kind of auras they have, but you would be detecting them, and if you were able to focus on them for the full 3 rounds, as in no one moved out of the area you were scanning, you would sense them, knowing how many there were, what backpacks/pouches/pockets they were in, and you’d get an indication of how powerful they were!  Interesting no?

    3: In most cases you could use this spell to scan for things on the other side of a wooden door.  Without opening the door, without line of sight, you could detect the presence, power level, and exact location of a magical item that lay on the otherside.  As in, “there’s a very strong aura directly to the left of the door, and a faint one directly beyond it, 5o ft. back from the other side”  Creatures with spells up, invisibility, protection from evil, stoneskin, whatever, would show up to the spell.  If they were moving, you could safely assume they re living beings with spells on them, if they are very still, they are items, or maybe they’re just being very still…

    4: You could scan an area for buried magical stuff, as long as it was not deeper than 3 feet.

    5: There’s nothing to suggest you are making anything glow in any outward way.  You are the only who “sees” these auras.  

    6: You could scan into the room next door to yours in a tavern…imagine thieves using detect magic to decide which room they want to rob!  You could scan through a common door, but not an iron one, through a typical cottage or garden stone wall, but not through most castle or dungeon walls (too thick).

    January 28, 2015 at 12:25 am #1064

    Just replying to my own post to see how this thing works now that I’ve made one. Wow, how insightful Jeff, my character pretty much spends the rest of his days just walking around with Detect magic constantly on! Not sure why the text of the post is overflowing into the post menu like that? Now post you dogs! Reply I Say, lest I bite my thumb at thee!

    January 28, 2015 at 12:44 am #1065

    I told you fools it was more powerful and could see through shit! Jeff just made it more ninja though by expanding thoughts

    February 1, 2015 at 12:48 pm #1066

    Very cool!

    February 3, 2015 at 11:03 am #1073

    I’m mostly replying to A) See exactly how to do so, and B) Let the DM know that I have been here. In essence, I am merely lifting my leg on this thread to mark it with my presence.

    Thank you for the info, DM! Good stuff to know!

    February 4, 2015 at 10:19 am #1074

    Very cool. I looked into this as well after last game. Identify is basically the buffer version of Detect Magic. If you want to really know what your detecting, use Identify.

    Thanks DM!

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