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Ask the Kobold: I Spy with My Little Eye

Ask the Kobold: I Spy with My Little Eye

Ask the KoboldQ: My group has been discussing the nondetection spell and its usefulness against various divination spells. We’re divided into two camps, whose positions can be summed up as follows:

Camp One: Nondetection works against all divinations spells, period. If you’re protected by nondetection no divination spell reveals anything about you unless the divination user makes a successful caster level check.

Camp Two: Nondetection only protects against scrying spells (clairaudience/clairvoyance, arcane eye, scrying, and others), locate spells (locate object and locate creature), detect spells (detect undead, detect magic, detect evil, and others), and magical items that duplicate these effects, such as a crystal ball. Other divination spells, such as see invisibility, true seeing, tongues, moment of prescience fall outside the protected spell groups, and nondetection does not thwart them.

So, which camp is right?

The nondection spell description could say that it defeats all divination spells (regardless of their descriptors or modes of operation), but it does not. Instead, it specifies a broad subset of divination spells against which it is effective. Camp 2 has it right…

So, what divination spells are subject to interference from nondetection? The spell description gives a few clues: nondetection gives some protection against divination spells that are directed against the warded subject or the area the subject is in. In particular:

• Divination spells with the scrying descriptor. Clairaudience/clairvoyance is the best example here. If you see the scrying descriptor in the second line of the spell description (right after the spell’s name and school), the divination caster must make a caster level check for the spell to work.

• Divination spells with any range entry other than personal or touch. When a divination spell has a range of personal or touch, it grants the spell recipient some extra ability to perceive things and nondetection cannot ward its subject against the spell. When a divination spell has a range other than personal or touch, the spell must be directed at an area or at a specific subject and nondetection is effective against it. It’s worth noting here that scrying spells generally have ranges other than personal or touch.

Nondetection can affect some divination spells with a range of touch. If the touched subject is granted some ability to perceive things, nondetection does not apply. If the spell reveals something about the touched subject, nondetection applies. Identify is an example of the latter kind of spell.

Here’s a quick (and incomplete) list of divination spells that nondetection does not affect:

arcane sight, greater arcane sight, augury, commune, commune with nature, comprehend languages, contact other plane, divination, find the path, find traps, foresight, guidance, know direction, legend lore, moment of prescience, read magic, see invisibility, speak with animals, speak with plants, stone tell, telepathic bond, tongues, true seeing, true strike, vision

In some cases, you may want to allow a nondetection recipient to waive the effects of the ward against a specific spell. Waiving protection in this way should apply only to a specific casting of nondetection and a specific casting of a divination spell.

Tweaking Nondetection

One might look at this installment’s discussion of the nondetection spell and ask: “If the key factors in the nondetection spell are the scrying descriptor and the spell’s range, why doesn’t the spell description just say that?” And you’d be asking a good question. The answer is pretty simple: when my colleagues and I rewrote the spell, we just plain didn’t realize we could do that. The full potential built into the game’s terminology simply hadn’t sunk in yet.

Long-time students of the game might find my answer to the nondetection spell unsatisfactory. After all, the classic illusionist’s gambit is nondetection combined with greater invisibility (the AD&D Open tournament made use of this trick one year, much to many players’ dismay). It’s simple enough to restore that combination to your campaign (if you think it’s worthwhile). Just change the see invisibility spell from “Range Personal” to “Area emanation with a radius 100 ft. plus 10 ft./level centered the caster.” You would still need a clear line of sight to whatever the spell reveals to actually see it. That is, despite the distance the emanation reaches, anything that obscures your vision also defeats the spell. The rewritten see invisibility spell now falls into the group of divination spells nondetection can affect. You could make the altered see invisibility spell’s area larger or smaller, but the value I’ve suggested here should leave the spell working pretty much as it always did for most campaigns.


Originally published in Kobold Quarterly #16.

6 thoughts on “Ask the Kobold: I Spy with My Little Eye”

  1. I was under the impression, and always was, that nondetection foils ALL types of detection magic…maybe I’m going by an older spell description. It does not help against natural forms of detection however, so a dragon, a dog or a shark could see you just fine.

  2. Awesome article as usual, very useful!

    Thanks for the extra tip about illusionists and non-detection. I’ll have to keep my eye on that one in my AD&D game and puzzle out how to counter it it that trick ever comes up.

  3. Unfortunately, divination spells such as true strike, true seeing, see invisibility, moment of prescience, and tongues cannot be “attempted against” (quoting nondetection) the subject of nondetection, which means those divinations spells cannot possibly be thwarted by nondetection. If the divination spell cannot be attempted against the subject of nondetection, there’s no possible way for nondetection to thwart it.

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