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I love illusions, including Silent Image, but unfortunately I don't think it's always handled correctly. I'd like to clarify the RAW interpretation of this spell for this purpose.

Here is the text of the spell:

Silent Image, 1st-level illusion

Casting Time: 1 action, Range: 60 feet

Duration: Concentration, 10 minutes

... The image appears at a spot within range and lasts for the duration. ...

You can use your action to cause the image to move to any spot within range. ...

When Silent Image is cast, does it move normally on the round you cast it, and continue to move if you use your action to move it on the next round? Or is it a still image on the first round, and you can only make it move normally on the next round?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

The image appears and moves naturally, otherwise it wouldn't be an illusion at all.

Pertinent text:

You can use your action to cause the image to move to any spot within range. As the image changes location, you can alter its appearance so that its movements appear natural for the image. For example, if you create an image of a creature and move it, you can alter the image so that it appears to be walking.

Another example of this would be creating the image of a spectral, headless horseman charging your target in eerie silence.

When you use your action to move it, the image moves as it would do so if it were natural, maintaining the illusion. After all, it would be incredibly easy to discern something was an illusion if it just disappeared and then reappeared every 5 feet. Since this spell requires an investigation check to discern if this is an illusion, the image by default has to appear real.

A static, non-moving fire does not appear real, and thereby would not be an illusion. So any interpretation that this is still image doesn't make any sense, and doesn't address the spell at all. At no point does the spell state that the image is static.

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Nothing in the spell text indicates it's still either. Which means that if you make it still, you're adding text to the spell wording, in effect house ruling the spell. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 10 at 22:30
Incidentally, the default state of an illusion is that it appears real. Otherwise a check wouldn't be needed to discern it's an illusion. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 11 at 15:54
Real has a different meaning in this context. You could create an image of a four-headed gazelle with razor sharp claws and a tree growing out of its back. For purposes of the spell, affected creatures believe that it is "real" until they inspect it. – LegendaryDude Mar 11 at 15:57
So what's your disagreement then? You've acknowledged that it appears real. A frozen image does not, and the spell does not say the image is still. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 11 at 16:32
A frozen image is not the same as a non-real image. Real simply means that it appears as if it is "real" -- that is, it appears to exist. In the context of an illusion, this means "actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed," until it is realized as an illusion, at which point the affected sees through it. Does an image of a painting appear not real because it is, by default, static? I'll note that nowhere in the text of the spell does it say the image is "real" and the bit about it appearing naturally is in regards to moving it with an action. – LegendaryDude Mar 11 at 16:50

The casting time is one action.
It won't move from where you cast it unless you expend an action to make it do so. (You already spent your action casting the spell).

The next time you have an action to spend, you can move it to another location. You usually have one action in a turn ... but ...

If you have two actions in one turn then you could use that additional action (not a bonus action) in the same turn to move it to another location.

  • Example 1: Multiclass with Fighter, have an unexpended Action Surge, move the silent image with that additional action.

  • Example 2: Move it in the same turn by using the Sorcerer's Quickened Spell. Order of operations would be:

    1. Use Bonus Action to cast spell
    2. Use Action to move silent image.
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"Move" is a technical term in D&D though. As J.A. Streich suggests, it involves moving from one square to another square. – markovchain Mar 10 at 20:03
@markovchain Did I misunderstand your question? Is your question about changing location or "moving about naturally" regardless of position, change of position, or otherwise? (The idea being that it is not standing there like a statue?) – KorvinStarmast Mar 10 at 20:53
@daze413 I have added your example. Thank you. – KorvinStarmast Mar 10 at 22:58
No, you did understand it correctly. I was asking if the thing moves naturally (as in an illusion of a creature that is not a statue, for example). But that the use of "move" here from the PHB is ambiguous, and doesn't specify if it's moving from one square to another, or simply moving in a general, life-like way. – markovchain Mar 11 at 4:26

The image poofs into existence sometime inside the first round it cast (first 6 seconds). It looks natural and moves about on the space it is cast, but can’t MOVE it stays in the initial 15 foot cube it is cast in. So, in the first 6 seconds, you say some words, wave your hands, and poof it appears naturally looking. It isn't a still image, but it also can't leave the initial 15 foot cube.

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Clearly there are going to be different interpretations. The way I read it, the initial image is static. You can use an action to make it change location. Think Buckingham Palace guard. Initially, standing like a statue, when you use an action, it marches (silently) to its new location and then stops.

That's a pretty strict reading, and I can easily see room for counter-argument. But for contrast, look at the wording for phantasmal force.

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If you downvoted my answer, please provide an explanation in the comments. Downvotes are for answers that are "not useful," not for answers that you do not agree with. – Jack Mar 10 at 21:57
(I haven't voted.) Remember that votes being anonymous is a deliberate feature. An answer that a voter thinks is wrong qualifies as “not useful” if the voter is correct—and when that's the reason for the vote, explaining it (“-1 I disagree”) tends to start arguments, not constructive feedback, so it's actually preferable for those to remain unexplained. It's OK to ask, but there's a hint of expecting an explanation in that request's wording that is concerning, which I wanted to head off before it turned into frustration at being ignored, or worse, a comments argument. – SevenSidedDie Mar 10 at 22:34

They key here is this paragraph in the spell text, and especially the emphasized phrase:

You can use your action to cause the image to move to any spot within range. As the image changes location, you can alter its appearance so that its movements appear natural for the image. For example, if you create an image of a creature and move it, you can alter the image so that it appears to be walking.

What this says to me is that the image is completely stationary until you decide to move it. It is not an animated image, but rather a completely still image that only moves when you use an action to move it.

If you created an image of a creature and move the creature, you can move it so that it appears to be walking. The conditional statement for the spell makes it very clear: as the image changes location, you can alter its appearance. This also means that if the image does not change its location, you cannot alter its appearance.

Sure, its not that powerful, but then again its only a level 1 spell. You want something animated you're going to need to use a little more magic to make it happen. Then again, I can think of plenty of uses where even a stationary, non-animated silent image could make for a very useful diversion.

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