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Detect magic

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Detect magic was a divination spell[3][4][5][10][11] that was sometimes categorized as a universal spell.[12] It allowed the caster to become aware of magical emanations in the direction the caster was facing, within range of the spell.[3][4][5][10] After the Spellplague, it became a trained skill for those with affinity for magic.[13]


Over the years, this spell has evolved, growing in capability while becoming easier to learn. Early illusionists didn't learn this spell until they reached second level[14] while divine and other arcane casters could learn it at first level.[4][5][15] Eventually this spell became a cantrip for wizards and an orison for priests.[16] After the Art recovered from the Spellplague, a spellcaster could be trained to identify rituals, magical effects, and even sense the presence of magic through most any barrier.[13]

At first, each practitioner of magic had their own version of detect magic. Magic-users including illusionists could sense magic in a 10 ft (3 m) wide corridor 60 ft (18.3 m) long and for a duration based on their experience level. Clerics and druids could only "see" magical auras out to 30 ft (9.1 m) and 40 ft (12.2 m) respectively for a duration of 10 or 12 minutes respectively. The caster could turn in an arc to sweep out an area, making a full circle in six minutes. These versions of the spell could penetrate anything less than 1 ft (30 cm) of stone, 1 in (2.5 cm) of solid metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 ft (0.9 m) of wood or dirt. No information other than the presence or absence of magic was acquired.[10]

Later, wizards and priests were able to determine the intensity of magical auras, classifying them as dim, faint, moderate, strong, and overwhelming. In addition, wizards had a chance to identify the school of magic to which an aura belonged. Priests were likewise able to identify the sphere of magic. The more experienced the caster, the better were the chances to correctly identify each aura. Once again, the divine spellcasters had a fixed duration of 10 minutes but could "see" out to 90 ft (27.4 m). Arcane spellcasters could only detect out to 60 ft (18.3 m) but the duration was based on their level and eventually exceeded the divine version's 10 minutes for more experienced wizards.[4][5]

The orison/cantrip version of detect magic was effective in a cone-shaped area out to 60 ft (18.3 m) and revealed information depending on how long the caster studied a particular area or subject, but even so it was much faster than earlier versions.[3] The spell supplied indications in three stages:

First, the caster could feel the presence or absence of magical auras. As the caster concentrated further, the number of different magical auras and the strength of the strongest was evident. And finally, knowledge of the strength and location of each aura was revealed, with a chance to determine the school of magic if the aura was in line-of-sight. If an aura could be placed in more than one category, detect magic indicated the stronger of the two. Likewise, strong emanations could mask or distort weaker ones.[3]

Magical effects left a residual aura that faded with time. How long this residual aura could be detected depended on its original strength. The caster was able to get a dim reading on a faint effects for only a few seconds after the effect ended. Moderate to strong effects left a lingering aura for a few minutes to an hour. Overwhelming magical effects were still detectable for a few days afterward.[3]

The orison/cantrip version was also blocked by the same materials as previous versions.[3] After the Spellplague, arcane practitioners could be trained to analyze and identify magic rituals and effects as long as they had line of sight to the area of interest. In addition, they could sense the presence of magic regardless of barriers.[13]

The post Second Sundering version of the spell lasted 10 minutes and only reached 30 feet (9 meters). In this zone the caster could feel the magic's presence and determine the spells school see it as a vague aura. the spell could not penetrate 3 feet of wood or dirt, 1 foot of stone or 1 inch of steel or a slim sheet of lead.[11]


All versions of detect magic required verbal and somatic components. The divine versions also required the use of the caster's holy symbol or divine focus.[3][4][5][10][11]


  1. Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 207–211,231. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
  2. Kim Mohan ed. (2015). Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 125. ISBN 978-0786965809.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams (July 2003). Player's Handbook 3.5 edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 219. ISBN 0-7869-2886-7.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 David "Zeb" Cook (August 1989). Player's Handbook (2nd edition). (TSR, Inc.), pp. 133, 199. ISBN 0-88038-716-5.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 David "Zeb" Cook (April 1995). Player's Handbook 2nd edition (revised). (TSR, Inc.), pp. 172, 253. ISBN 0-7869-0329-5.
  6. Cook, Findley, Herring, Kubasik, Sargent, Swan (1991). Tome of Magic 2nd edition. (TSR, Inc), pp. 151, 152. ISBN 1-56076-107-5.
  7. Richard Baker (1996). Player's Option: Spells & Magic. (TSR, Inc), pp. 180, 186. ISBN 0-7869-0394-5.
  8. Jeff Grubb and Andria Hayday (April 1992). Arabian Adventures. (TSR, Inc), p. 152. ISBN 978-1560763581.
  9. slade, James Butler (November 1996). Netheril: Empire of Magic (The Winds of Netheril). (TSR, Inc.), pp. 121–122. ISBN 0-7869-0437-2.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Gary Gygax (1978). Players Handbook 1st edition. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 44, 54, 65, 95. ISBN 0-9356-9601-6.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford (2014). Player's Handbook 5th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 231. ISBN 978-0-7869-6560-1.
  12. Richard Baker (1996). Player's Option: Spells & Magic. (TSR, Inc), p. 180. ISBN 0-7869-0394-5.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Rob Heinsoo, Andy Collins, James Wyatt (June 2008). Player's Handbook 4th edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 181. ISBN 0-7869-4867-1.
  14. Gary Gygax (1978). Players Handbook 1st edition. (TSR, Inc.), p. 95. ISBN 0-9356-9601-6.
  15. Gary Gygax (1978). Players Handbook 1st edition. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 44, 54, 65. ISBN 0-9356-9601-6.
  16. Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams (July 2003). Player's Handbook 3.5 edition. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 183, 189, 192. ISBN 0-7869-2886-7.

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