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I am playing a level 6 Divination Wizard in a D&D 5e game. My character has been entrusted with an envelope by a person who's untrustworthy but not necessarily malevolent, and asked to deliver it, unopened, to another character she also has no reason to trust. She wants to know its contents in order to decide whether to obey or disobey.

Detect Magic revealed that the envelope had an aura of evocation magic, so I'm looking for some way for her to learn its contents without opening it. She can get access to any wizard spell of 3rd level or below, but spells or abilities of other classes are not an option.

  • My DM has ruled that 'Gaseous Form' won't work, since although you could get into the envelope, you can't manipulate or interact with objects in gaseous form. Fair enough.
  • 'Arcane Eye' is too big to get inside the envelope, although otherwise promising.

Are there any suitable wizard spells I'm missing? How else could this be done?

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Identify will reveal the nature of the magic

The Identify spell will "Whether any spells are affecting the item and what they are". This will at least identify the Evocation spell affecting the envelope.

Clairvoyance will let you see in the envelope.

Clairvoyance will let you put a sensor inside of the envelope. You will likely have to manipulate the envelope from the outside to make room for the sensor, however (which might pose some risk or difficulty); the GM will have to make a call on how much room is needed

Since the inside of the envelope is dark, you will need a way to overcome that; Darkvision is a possible option (although a bright enough light will probably work well enough.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I got as far as the 'Identify' part; it's not a major concern and I mentioned it mostly for the sake of completeness. I did look at 'Clairvoyance' as well. My main problem is that the inside of the envelope is clearly not 'a location familiar to me' and I'm not sure it counts as an obvious location either. But I guess it's worth asking the DM. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Perahn Oct 23 '17 at 7:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ One example of "obvious location" is "behind a door"; this is equivalent to "on the other side of this paper". \$\endgroup\$ – Danny Cuppen Oct 23 '17 at 7:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Identify also tell you "its properties and how to use them" which may include the exact text included, but might just be limited to the language it's written in and how one generally reads such writing. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Oct 23 '17 at 8:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer, I considered that, but that only applies if it's "a magic item or some other magic-imbued item", which likely doesn't include regular items that just happen to have a spell cast on them (although the wording is vague). If it ís that (a scroll, perhaps), then yes, identify might reveal more. \$\endgroup\$ – Danny Cuppen Oct 23 '17 at 9:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Beware the 2nd-level Nystul's magic aura when using detect magic on things like this. It can be used to alter how an object appears to detect magic and other abilities, including making something nonmagical appear magical, or vice versa, or making one spell/aura look like another. \$\endgroup\$ – anaximander Oct 23 '17 at 13:02
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A reasonably high risk option would be to follow the following process:

  1. Identify the magic, if you can. It may be that you cannot target it because it is inside the envelope
  2. Dispel the evocation magic if you can/want to (based on Identify results)
  3. Carefully open the envelope, at a distance with mage hand if you have not been able to dispel the effect. Identify the magic, if you have not yet been able to. You should be able to target it now if you could not before
  4. Read the letter
  5. Use a Mending cantrip to restore the letter to it's pre-opened physical state
  6. If you Dispelled the evocation, cast Nystul's Magic Aura to give it the same aura it had before you opened it

Possible pitfalls:

  • Attempting to Dispel the magic triggers whatever evocation effect is upon it. I don't know a spell that would work like this under the conditions but you never know what non-standard magic can be woven by potential enemies.
  • The letter is a trap for the reader and this process will mean it will not have the "expected" outcome, making the sender suspicious. Further, say it is an explosive rune as you suspect, then dispelling it will make it disappear from the paper so it will just be blank, making even the recipient suspicious.
  • The recipient might check for magic, may even be expecting the evocation effect for some reason, and if nothing occurs when they open it while it still has the aura then they will become suspicious.

On a positive note, if you trigger it, or find it to be harmful then you may (depending on your view on life):

  • Avoid being party to a possible murder attempt, get paid anyway and plead ignorance - i.e. get away with it

and/or

  • Stop a murder attempt - i.e. save someone's life

or, if you found it to be harmful but did not trigger or dispel it

  • deliver it anyway - i.e. be party to a possible murder attempt!
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A thought: your post as well as the existing answers seem to take for granted that you must read the letter before handing it over. I don't see where you explicitly said that. Assuming your concern is that the possibly-untrustworthy people might be involved in something dangerous and/or illegal, you could instead deliver the letter as promised and then retrieve it afterward. To make sure you'll be able to pick it out of a pile of other papers, you might "accidentally" drop it in some unusually colored ink so that a corner gets thoroughly soaked. Then you or an ally can break into the home/office/doomsday bunker of the recipient and seek out and read the note with the big spot on it. Suggested spells for this approach: knock, invisibility, dark vision, and any other thiefy spell you can get your hands on.

If your your concern is for the recipient--that, trustworthy or not, your service may be used as a vehicle to do them harm--you could always just tell the recipient you sensed magic, you're worried the sender might be malicious, and ask them if this magic is expected. If this freaks them out you could ask permission to magically open the envelope at a safe distance. Even if they don't go for this, their reaction is likely to tell you something. Suggested spells: mage hand, a look of sincere concern.

You can also try to get the recipient to let you check the letter out, then break in if that fails.

Semi-serious fallback plan: if the letter turns out to have information you want to go away, burn the place down and hope the recipient doesn't remember the finer details. Suggested spells: grease, firebolt

This answer doesn't give you an opportunity to withhold or delay the message, but that's covered by the other answers, and I feel like it has an unacceptable risk of backfiring. Would you send a message important enough to involve magic via Random Schlub Courier Service without some plan to verify delivery?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, you're right. I didn't explicitly say that I wanted to read it in order to decide whether to deliver it. I've corrected that. Thanks for the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Perahn Oct 23 '17 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ grease(from the spell) is it flammable? Apparently not unless a given DM rules otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 24 '17 at 15:12
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Have you tried holding it up to a bright light? It's low tech, but depending on the thickness of the letter and/or envelope (ie how generous your DM is feeling) you might be able to make out some of the words.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This was my immediate thought. I know we're in a world of magic, but sometimes the mundane answer is best. If sunlight isn't bright enough, holding it up to an object imbued with the Light spell could also work... \$\endgroup\$ – Doc Oct 24 '17 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did try that one first up. :) Very thick vellum, apparently. Thanks for the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Perahn Oct 27 '17 at 9:23
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Assuming light in the game universe works not unlike in ours, it should be possible to soak the envelope in a liquid with a refractive index close to that of the paper, for example isopropyl alcohol.
This will make it rather transparent and allow you to read the contents. Afterwards, wait for the liquid to evaporate. No traces of your snooping should remain.

Details about this technique can be found in this video.

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Frame challenge

What you want to do is read the message before the recipient does and possibly stop them from reading it, depending on the contents. Insist that you must personally deliver it to the recipient. Then use suggestion to convince them that reading it could be dangerous as deadly runes could be inscribed on the letter. They should let you, the wizard examine it first. Then cast dispel magic to remove the trap (it could be an assassination attempt, you cannot let them open it). If you do not wish to let them read it, set it on fire with prestidigitation and claim that you were right, and it had to be disposed of.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, but that's not what I want to do. I want to know what it says and then frame a course of action, not possibly alienate an NPC who may be hostile anyway, and then hope a) the DM responds according to your plan and b) they fail their saving throws instead of killing me and the party. \$\endgroup\$ – Perahn Oct 23 '17 at 8:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ The set fire to it ices an already enjoyable answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 23 '17 at 11:11

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