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So, one of my characters got basically a wand of detect magic at low levels. Now they seem to use it wherever they can. I don't blame them - in a dangerous dungeon? Yeah, sure, detect magic to see if there are any lasers and whatnot. But as a GM, this is starting to be a little frustrating. For example, I put up a little puzzle where there were two identical women - one was a harmless npc, the other was a shapeshifted hag. I was thinking that they could use questions or other methods to figure out the real one - but they used the wand, and I had to tell them that one was imbued with heavy illusion magic (hag disguise). In other words, they bypassed an entire puzzle almost without even trying. They don't even need to use components or slots because it's a wand. Not to mention, it lasts for ten minutes, so even one charge can last for a good chunk of a dungeon.

This is admittedly pretty much my fault for giving them the wand in the first place, but I don't want to be a jerk GM by taking it away or nerfing it. Please - what's a good way to prevent them from just seeing all my well-laid traps, without completely defeating the purpose of the wand?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In my experience your PC's will rarely, if ever solve things the way you expect them to. I had an entire session where my PC's solved puzzles by using furniture found elsewhere in the dungeon. \$\endgroup\$ – Ethan The Brave Dec 18 '17 at 15:18
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The wand has limited charges, and the spell is concentration

I'm assuming that you're using the Wand of Magic Detection in the DMG. If so, that wand only regains 1d3 expended charges per day. That means that at most, they will be able to use it 3 times a day, putting a hard cap on the number of times they can use the spell.

You point out that the duration is 10 minutes, but it's also a concentration spell. If the party gets into a fight, the wizard has to drop the spell in order to cast any other concentration spell, and they might lose concentration as a result of taking damage anyway.

Detect Magic is nonspecific and can be tricked

Detect magic only tells you that magic exists, and the school it has. It doesn't tell you anything more specific than that.

You can take advantage of those limitations to build interesting encounters centered around false positives, where detect magic will mislead the PCs.

For example, you could have two paths in a room. On one path, there is a 10'x10' patch of illusion magic, and on the other, there is nothing. If the PCs are relying only on their wand, they might think that there is a trap under the illusion magic, but the illusion magic is just an illusory cover of dust, and the non-magic path contains a mundane trapdoor.

As for your hag scenario, the hag could have cast an illusion on both the NPC and herself, which would make them equal in Detect Magic's eyes.

Indeed, this kind of trickery is supported by the rules: Nystul's Magic Aura is a spell that lets you change how magic is detected:

You change the way the target appears to spells and magical effects, such as detect magic, that detect magical auras. You can make a nonmagical object appear magical, a magical object appear nonmagical, or change the object’s magical aura so that it appears to belong to a specific school of magic that you choose.

As with any trick, you probably don't want to overuse this spell, but a few good applications of Nystul's Magic Aura will teach your party not to rely too heavily on Detect Magic.

Is it really "abuse"?

If I were the DM, I'd think that the PC's use of their wand to pierce the illusion was an acceptable and clever solution to the puzzle. Remember that the PCs are (generally) intended to solve the problems they face, and they are expending limited resources to do so. Speaking from experience both as a DM and a player, it might feel anticlimatic as a DM to have your encounter cheesed like that, but your players might feel quite good about solving the problem so definitively.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is very good. It's always important when giving out items, magic or otherwise, that the players are meant to be expending resources, whether magical, mundane, or just the resource of time to be solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles. What that means is that you can work around those kinds of things, giving them ways to use those resources to their advantage, but also screwing them over (in a nice way) if they happen to become too dependent on it. For instance, I think there are some magics that can hide other magics, making them immune to detect magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Kay Dec 17 '17 at 14:31
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Use it as it’s written:

This wand has 3 Charges. While holding it, you can expend 1 charge as an action to cast the Detect Magic spell from it. The wand regains 1d3 expended Charges daily at dawn.

Once they have used its charges for the day (max. 3) it’s just a stick. Since a typical adventuring day should have 6 to 8 encounters, they can only use it in less than half of them.

With particular reference to the hag encounter: while I agree that arbitrarily nerfing the wand is poor form, hags are quite clever and a clever hag would make sure both creatures would have illusions on them just to deal with Detect Magic which is a very common spell after all.

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The easiest way is to use it against them. Use an easily found magic trap hiding a more dangerous mechanical trap. The glowing runes on the floor need to be stepped on to disarm the trap.

Another trick is to make everything glow. If the hag had cast an illusion of the NPC as well as herself, they'd both glow the same. The whole room could be illusionary so everything glows

Just because they can see magic, it doesn't mean they know why it's there or what it really does.

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