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There is often confusion when the anti magic field spell is used, armor of invulnerability is worn, or the Beholder's anti-magic ray is employed, whether a given character's ability will still function. The spell does give you some guidelines on how to adjudicate the effects of the loss of magic, but says very little about how to determine what is affected. In short, how do I tell if an ability is magical?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I thought that this was a question answered in pieces in many other posts, but nowhere answered in an over-arching sense. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jan 13 '18 at 23:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not exactly duplicate, but the same answers work for both: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/99335/9552 \$\endgroup\$ – András Jan 14 '18 at 8:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is very close. I didn't find that one while searching before posting. Still, I think this one is needed, since it is stated in the broadest, catch-all terms. It also doesn't limit itself to attacks/damage, which magic resistance does. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jan 14 '18 at 9:25
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Until recently, the answer has been very much the province of the DM's judgement. Some things are very obvious, like a fireball or a magic missile. Some things are not, like ki-powered effects or a dragon's flight.

Wizards of the Coast has released a very easy checklist to determine the difference, included in the Sage Advice Compendium of official rulings.

Within the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, there are two types of magic:

  • the background magic that is part of the D&D multiverse’s physics and the physiology of many D&D creatures

  • the concentrated magical energy that is contained in a magic item or channeled to create a spell or other focused magical effect

Effects that cancel, dispel or nullify magic are concerned only with the second kind of magic. The first is just assumed to be part of the natural physical laws that allow a fantasy world to exist. But again, how to tell the difference? The document gives us a test:

  • Is it a magic item?

  • Is it a spell? Or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description?

  • Is it a spell attack?

  • Is it fueled by the use of spell slots?

  • Does its description say it’s magical?

If any one of these questions can be answer "yes", then the effect, ability or item is magical for the purposes of being affected by magic cancelling effects.


To use the examples given above:

  • Fireball: Yes, it is explicitly a spell.

  • Magic Missile: Yes, it is explicitly a spell.

  • Dragon flight: No. It is not a magic item, a spell, or duplicate the action of a spell. It is not a spell attack, or fueled by spell slots. And finally, nowhere in its description is the word "magic" or "magical" used.

  • Ki powers: Sometimes. Although ki itself is not described as magical, some ki powered abilities use the word magical in their description. So although you could use ki to empower flurry of blows within an antimagic field, you could not use Ki Empowered Strikes to any effect since the description says "your unarmed strikes count as magical" (this is confirmed by Dragon Talk Sage Advice podcast of 10/19/17 at the 29:00 mark)

A few more commonly encountered problem abilities:

  • Paladin's Divine Smites: Yes, they are fueled by the expenditure of spell slots. Improved Divine Smite appears to be non-magical however, since it fails to meet any of the criteria. Perhaps the paladin is now so pure and devoted to his oath, the he or she is tapping into that other kind of magic. (Devoted question)

  • The Portent and Third Eye abilities of the Divination wizard: No, they do not meet any of the criteria. It must be assumed that they are natural abilities based on a heightened level of awareness possible within a fantasy universe.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would Monk magical attacks work in an anti-magic field? The attacks /count/ as magic but /are/ they magic? I also +1'd for several examples, and the Sage advice. \$\endgroup\$ – Jihelu Jan 13 '18 at 23:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, according to Jeremy Crawford, the attacks are magical. This was born out in a recent D&D podcast. I have added the link. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jan 13 '18 at 23:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Man. I really felt like it would be interpreted as "They just count as magic when they hit not a passive effect" as this seems to imply, but I abide by my Lord and savior Crawford. Thanks for the link! \$\endgroup\$ – Jihelu Jan 13 '18 at 23:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Now that JC's tweets/statements are no longer official, does this move Divine Strike back to mundane? Looking purely at wording, they're not magical. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch 13 hours ago
  • \$\begingroup\$ Typo in my answer, which I have fixed. Should be Divine Smite. As for the 8th level clerical ability, a strict reading would say non-magical. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis 5 hours ago

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