In D&D 5E, is there a way to detect if someone has had their memories tampered with via the spell Modify Memory?

In 3.5E, you could pick up on this with Detect Magic. According to the 3.5 SRD, Modify Memory has...

Duration: Permanent

Because it is a Permanent spell,

The energy remains as long as the effect does. This means the spell is vulnerable to dispel magic.

The above also means that Detect Magic would pick up on the aura of Enchantment Magic that is surrounding the victim of such a spell. So, if you tampered with someone's memories, they would light up on Detect Magic as being Enchanted. Then you roll a Spellcraft check, identify the spell, and tear it down.

However, in 5E, Modify Memory has...

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

and the text specifies

the modified memories take hold when the spell ends

Meaning the spell is over, and so the target is no longer under the influence of magic. Thus, they shouldn't show up as enchanted under Detect Magic.

Given that Detect Magic doesn't work, and that...

A remove curse or greater restoration spell cast on the target restores the creature's true memory

Is there any actual way to tell that you need to cast one of those spells on someone, apart from accidentally stumbling upon the 10 minute span(s) that have been altered and, knowing what actually happened, you realize that their memories don't match up with reality?

So, in short...apart from knowing the victim of the spell, and the events that were tampered with so well that you can personally verify that a memory is incorrect...is there any way to actually detect a victim of Modify Memory?


3 Answers 3



1st-level divination (ritual)

You choose one object that you must touch throughout the casting of the spell...

If you instead touch a creature throughout the casting, you learn what spells, if any, are currently affecting it.

Although it does not mention curses specifically, looking at a cursed item, say Armor of Vulnerability:

Curse. This armor is cursed, a fact that is revealed only when an identify spell is cast on the armor or you attune to it.

Since it was brought up as a comment; the duration listed in the spell is how long the caster has to implant the memory.

On a failed save, the target becomes charmed by you for the duration.

While this charm lasts, you can affect the target’s memory ...

If the spell ends before you have finished describing the modified memories, the creature’s memory isn’t altered. Otherwise, the modified memories take hold when the spell ends

Once done, the receiver is affected by the spell until it is dispelled. Fireball has an instantaneous duration, but the long lasting affect of burnt flesh and lost hit points.

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    \$\begingroup\$ See, I thought about that one...but the spell is no longer 'currently affecting' the target, as far as the description goes. The spell has ended. It ran for 60 seconds, rewriting a person's memory, and then stopped. This definitely has more ground to stand on that Detect Magic would...but I still find it pretty questionable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 21:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty, since the memory can be fixed by "Remove Curse" it would follow that this is a curse. Also, per the spell description, affecting; as in having an effect on. Just because the spell is done, it still has an affect. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with cursed items is that the identify spell doesn't innately detect curses. The default rule on DMG pg 139 is "Most methods of identifying items, including the identify spell, fail to reveal such a curse, although lore might hint at it." If we go the route that "this is a curse" then we have to accept that the general rule that Identify cannot detect curses stands because there is no specific exception like the ones granted by items whose curses say they can be revealed by an identify spell \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RobRose, the spell description specifically calls out touching a creature instead of an object. So even if typical on magic items, it does work on creatures too \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 22:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty, I added more details to the answer. Does this help explain the difference between the duration listed in the PHB and how long the creature is affected? And that long after the spell is complete, the effect is still there and therefore detectable. NOT the nature of the modification, but just that a modification has happened. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 21:35

According to the spell description for Modify Memory, it can be undone by Remove Curse or Greater Restoration, so I would expect similar spells to be able to detect modified memories.

A Remove Curse or Greater Restoration spell cast on the target restores the creature's true memory.

However, both of those spells can only affect one effect at a time, so I would think that a caster would have to first know that the creature's memory was modified in order to remove the effect. Since Modify Memory is a 5th level spell that requires a 3rd or 5th level spell to remove, I would presume that the designers intended spells of similar strength to be required to counter it. Hence why I don't think Identify would work here.

Instead, I would think that the 2nd level spell Detect Thoughts would reveal that a creature's memory has been modified. According to the description, you can gain a creature's surface level thoughts without needing it to fail a saving throw.

You initially learn the surface thoughts of the creature - what is most on its mind in that moment.

Since this isn't tagged RAW, if I was the DM I would also include some hint that the creature's mind has been altered. Since Detect Thoughts is a spell that can be shifted among multiple creatures, this could be a way for the heroes to "accidentally" discover that someone has had their memory modified. Presumably they could then either delve deeper to discover the nature of the modified memory (such as how long ago it was, how skilled the caster doing the modifying was, etc) or could take the hint and cast Remove Curse or Greater Restoration to restore its memory.


Detect thoughts detects surface thoughts not deep into the mind. Try Telepathy something that let's you probe a mind deeply it would be like a wall in some part of their mind. Even so if they modify your memory when it's fresh you might not even remember the incident afterwards especially because often times modify memory is coupled with charm person so that you can make someone forget you. You can use modify memory to make a charm into a long night of drinking.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello, it would improve your answer if you give insight into how you reach your conclusion by citing the relevant text for example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Commented Feb 28, 2020 at 21:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is incorrect. The spell's description 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." You can go beyond surface-level thoughts with the spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – Graybark
    Commented Jun 6 at 13:20

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