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I'm considering experimenting with the Bard: College of Satire from Unearthed Arcana: Kits of Old, but whether or not I can be discreet with Detect Thoughts is keeping me on the fence.

In the spell description on page 233 of the PHB 2nd paragraph it talks about what you can read from focusing on a target. It explains what you get by default, then explains how you can do a deep probe, what you get on success and what you get on failure. After that comes the text (part of the same paragraph but a separate sentence):

Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind, ...

Does that refer to the deep probe (either outcome) or does it apply to the spell in either use case?

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Welcome to rpg.stackexchange.com! – Joshua Aslan Smith Feb 17 at 14:46
    
I've tweeted Jeremy Crawford for clarification and will post an answer when I hear back. – Joshua Aslan Smith Feb 17 at 15:33

The creature is only aware when you probe deeper, not when you learn surface thoughts

Detect Thoughts says:

You initially learn the surface thoughts of the creature—what is most on its mind in that moment. As an action, you can either shift your attention to another creature’s thoughts or attempt to probe deeper into the same creature’s mind. If you probe deeper, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. If it fails, you gain insight into its reasoning (if any), its emotional state, and something that looms large in its mind (such as something it worries over, loves, or hates). If it succeeds, the spell ends. Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind ...

The "either way" is specifically about the "probe" and its position in the paragraph means that the either/or alternative is the passing or failing of the saving throw not the shallow or deep probe.

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The sentence says "probe deeper", this implies that the target's mind is already being probed in advance by learning surface thoughts. Ergo, the next bolded section does not illustrate your point. – D. Webber Feb 17 at 8:26
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isntead bolding "attempt to probe" you should bold " If you probe deeper" actually its just supporting the uncertainity. At least FMPOV. – Zaibis Feb 17 at 10:15
    
@D.Webber There are two If - Then statements before either way. If probe deeper, wisdom save. If wis save, spell ends. Either way looks to deal with save or no save as the eithers, and since it uses the term "probing" that strengthens the point that Dale M's reading is the clearest. Then there is another "spell ends" Int contest that makes for a second way for the spell to end in the case of probing ... only, as I read it. No Int contest if you don't probe, so spell won't end. As written, Probe is a serial action after initial thought reading. – KorvinStarmast Feb 17 at 14:40
    
It's clear I can't explain what I'm referring to in an understandable fashion. Maybe one of the D&D Next folks will answer this on twitter at some point. – D. Webber Feb 18 at 4:07
    
It's extremely clear that the either way is referencing the probing action. On a failed save, you gain the information you want, and the target knows you are probing. On a successful save, the spell ends, and the target knows you tried to probe. Either way, it knows you are probing into it's mind. Either is a toggle statement between one or the other. If this included the surface thoughts or the switching of targets, it would have to be phrased differently, such as, "In any case," or "No matter what happens," etc. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Feb 19 at 4:52
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The creature is only aware when you probe deeper

Found a section of the PHB that seems to specifically addresses this. On page 204 in the spellcasting section 2nd paragraph of the targets subsection

Unless a spell has a perceptible effect, a creature might not know it was targeted by a spell at all. An effect like crackling lightning is obvious, but a more subtle effect, such as an attempt to read a creature's thoughts, typically goes unnoticed, unless a spell says otherwise.

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Accept your own answer as best answer after a few days since you seem to have found the most authoritative source. – Joshua Aslan Smith Feb 19 at 4:19

The creature is always aware.

Let's get the whole paragraph of that part of the Detect Thoughts spell up to analyze.

"You initially learn the surface thoughts of the creature—what is most on its mind in that moment. As an action, you can either shift your attention to another creature’s thoughts or attempt to probe deeper into the same creature’s mind. If you probe deeper, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. If it fails, you gain insight into its reasoning (if any), its emotional state, and something that looms large in its mind (such as something it worries over, loves, or hates). If it succeeds, the spell ends. Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind, and unless you shift your attention to another creature’s thoughts, the creature can use its action on its turn to make an Intelligence check contested by your Intelligence check; if it succeeds, the spell ends."

Due to the nature of the final sentence in which the "Either way" is, the creature will be aware it is being probed regardless. The "either way" is in reference to the option to learn surface thoughts, or deeper probing.

There would not be a second chance to end the spell "either way" the creature rolled. If the creature succeeded the Wisdom save, the spell would be over. This sentence would not have any use after that point. The spell either ends or does not. So the last sentence can't refer to the previous one in that regard. The only logical conclusion therein can be that it is referring to either surface reading and deep thought probing.

This means the creature is always aware that it is having its mind probed somehow. No matter how shallow.

Let's break this down further. There are several outcomes for this spell to have on a single target by the reasoning I've described:

  • You view the target's surface feelings. It is aware of your actions. It may make a contested Intelligence roll to end the spell.

  • You probe deeper into its thoughts. It makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, you gain more knowledge of the target as described. The target is aware of your actions, and can make a contested Intelligence ability check to end the spell.

  • You probe deeper into its thoughts. It makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a success, the spell ends. The target is aware of your actions.

Now, in the other interpretation of this spell, the possibilities are as listed:

  • You view the target's surface thoughts.

  • You probe deeper. It makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, you gain more knowledge of the target as described. The target is aware of your actions, and can make a contested Intelligence ability check to end the spell.

  • You probe deeper. It makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a success, the spell ends. The target is aware of your actions, and can make a contested Intelligence ability check to end the spell. (What?)

Yeah that last one didn't make sense to me either. This is my reasoning for my answer. Break it down and see what you come up with. Now, if the sentence was this instead, the latter would make far more sense:

Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind. If you do not switch your attention to a new target's thoughts, the target may contest Intelligence ability checks with you to end the spell as an action on each of its turns.

If they were separate ideas they would not be in the same sentence.

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I think you are parsing this incorrectly. The "either way" is in reference to the success or otherwise saving throw for the deep probe; not for the difference between the shallow and deep thoughts that is the subj ft of the first sentence of the paragraph not the immediately preceding one. – Dale M Feb 17 at 4:52
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Possibly. But if the Wisdom save is a success, then there is no need for the creature to make the intelligence saving throw because the spell is over. So the sentence cannot refer to it coming into effect either way. – D. Webber Feb 17 at 4:55
    
My thought was that the final sentence was providing the target a way to break the ongoing deep intrusion, though I suppose saying 'either' in that case would be a weird way to parse that. – KMallory Feb 17 at 4:59
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Either way certainly refers to the success of the wisdom saving throw. No matter whether it suceeds or fails, the creature is aware of the probing; it would make little sense for it to end the spell with a successful saving throw and then not be aware of the probing. If it failed the throw, then the awareness allows it to do an intelligence check to break the spell. – Dulkan Feb 17 at 8:13
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I disagree. It would read differently if that was the intent of that sentence. For example: "The creature is aware of the attempt at deeper probing into its thoughts, whether successful or not. If the creature is still affected by the spell, it can use its action to make a contested Intelligence ability check to end its effects." A sentence describing the target's ability to end the spell would not be expresed "either way" about a previous roll that determines the spell's resolution or not. Many other spells in 5e make the target aware of being manipulated. This likely isn't any different. – D. Webber Feb 17 at 8:22

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