I'm running a homebrew dark fantasy play-by-post game, which is highly narrative-driven.

As such, the players were given plenty of freedom designing their characters and abilities. One of the players asked to have magic-detecting abilities. It seemed a little overpowered to me, but I felt we could all manage with it, so I allowed it.

The problem is that this ability is beginning to pose difficulties on the plot. The magical McGuffin can't really be hidden from the character. The evil wizard can't sneak up on the team. Magical traps are standing in plain sight. The list goes on.

I should have foreseen these issues, but didn't. I don't see a way to just take back his powers, not without upsetting the player and breaking the immersion.

Any way to back out of the situation gracefully, or should I just eat my own stew, throw out my old grand schemes, and make new ones?

Magic is cast via magical artifacts and the ability in question senses the presence of any magical item within a very wide radius, and - unless the magic is too complicated - determine what the magic is.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/67284/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Luris
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 9:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ This question is pretty vaguely focused and so it's pulling frankly terrible answers that do not adhere to our site's Good Subjective standards. What specifically is the problem, how to handle a magic detector? How to nerf a player? How to mod your plots? "All of that" is too broad. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the [play-by-post] tag necessary? \$\endgroup\$
    – Javelin
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 14:29
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Javelin, I think so. Being play-by-post, the GM has less control over the results of players' actions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 28, 2017 at 14:30
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Please note that "able to detect" doesn't mean "can flawlessly detect everything". I myself have a natural ability to detect light and sound, and still regularly lose my keys. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 29, 2017 at 4:46

6 Answers 6


In my experience, this type of problem arises from approaching something as if it was black and white and can be solved by instead treating it as a spectrum or more complex topic.

In this case, perhaps the magic-detecting ability this character has learned or was born with is unable to detect some magic. The character may have been able to easily detect all magic up to this point, but that could just be because they've only been exposed to relatively simple or traditional magic. You could have them encounter a new magic, perhaps ancient or foreign, that the character doesn't detect or can only detect vaguely.

Instead of "detected magic" vs "undetected magic," it could be a range from "clearly visible magic" to "blurry magical auras around things" to "I can sense magic from over there" to "I get goosebumps when I touch this doorknob" to "something is not right" to "I got a headache" to "magic isn't real." You may need to gradually introduce something like this, if you feel you've dug yourself into a hole.

Finally, I would suggest that you consider the source of the detect-magic ability (it must come from somewhere). It can give you a great narrative way of solving the problem. If it was granted by a god or a demon or a hermit sage, perhaps the character has fallen out of favor or misused their gift. Perhaps the character encounters something that stands in direct opposition to the source of the ability and this leads to deeper consequences.

Bottom line, in my opinion, is that the best way to deal with something like this is to turn it into a narrative opportunity. Character development, revealing forgotten secrets, introducing new and exciting things. In the end, perhaps the character won't have an always-on magic RADAR but is still far better at detecting magic than anyone else. Perhaps detecting magic becomes so commonplace in the story that it's rather boring and uninteresting, perhaps detecting the type of magic becomes the desirable ability.

I hope this helped in some way.


If you can, talk to the player outside of the game and try to work out a compromise I guess? If you can't come to an agreement then you might need to drastically change your plans.


Two notions pop into my head:

1) If this ability exists for one, then it exists across the board. Throw in a bad guy or two with the exact same ability to detect magic. You certainly wouldn't want to overdo this, but that first plot where the players are flabbergasted that their super-de-dooper stealth approach utterly failed to surprise the enemy will be wonderful. "How??" "You think Sparky here is the only one who can detect magic?"

2) If this ability exists, even if rare among the populace, then the wizards who create these magic artifacts will, in the spirit of an arms race, be seeking a way to hide their wondrous creations. Adding this protection to an magic artifact will be only possible with skilled practitioners and therefore make the item all the more valuable.

-The premium effect will make the artifact absolutely invisible to this detection ability. Rare indeed, and likely reserved for items already involved with stealth (assassin blades, cloak of darkness and the like)

-Then a spoof effect with the artifact multiplying its signal. The player doesn't detect the magic armour, he detects a dozen suits of magic armour, presumably with a dozen warriors wearing them. The main hall doesn't have one cap of invisibility. Apparently the hall has ten people lurking unseen. The players swallow their gum at this information and try to react accordingly.

-Feedback loop. This one depends greatly on whether the detect power is "always on" or if the player has to invoke/activate it. But the essence is that there is a retaliatory element. "You want to detect my magic sword, eh? Well, it's going to give you a nasty headache." The degree of discomfort and disability will have to be carefully assessed.

Best of luck!


This reminds me of the old times, playing The Dark Eye as elves. They don't have magic detecting abilities, but they had the part of ultra good senses, that made it absurdly difficult to hide things from them. On the other hand, they had to make checks of throwing up from disgusting stuff, especially some monsters.

What I want to say is, use his abilities against him: Make so powerful magic, that basically blinds him, maybe dampening is other senses to. Free flowing magic that irritates him, like a Flash bang artefact.

And maybe establish that he can't sense magic users unless they use magic, like an active effect. Why would you sense an inert artefact if it isn't in use.

But if you really don't like any of our solutions, you should really talk to him in private about it. Maybe he has some good idea, maybe a plot line of him losing his ability for a short time, or modifying it.


Any detection spell is easily thwarted with false positives. If magic is literally everywhere, the ability to detect it is utterly useless.

How about the entire campaign take place in a magical land, where the air itself causes his detection ability to go off?


Ability: Sense the presence of any magical item within a very wide radius, and - unless the magic is too complicated - determine what the magic is.

Just remove magic from the campaign, that screwed up everything.

You may overload his ability by having an area full of magic, so to render him "blind" for a bit of time, but you have to do this in a proper way, in way that make sense from narrative point of view: you can't just have all the locations painted with magic infused paint. Unless magic sensing is so widespread in the local population to the point that yes, every location is painted in magic.

Apart from that, forget about using magic.


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