The Guardian Portrait from the Curse of Strahd is described as:

False Appearance. While the figure in the portrait remains motionless, the portrait is indistinguishable from a normal painting.

Assuming the Portrait casts a spell with somatic and/or verbal components - is the detection of the Guardian Portrait automatic by PCs or is this something for which they need a Perception check? How did the Curse of Strahd adventure define how these Guardian Portraits are discovered?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can we add if the allowing the creature a stealth or sleight of hand check to avoid being instantly revealed is within reason? Though i guess thats the same as making PCs roll Perception... \$\endgroup\$ – FenrirG Apr 4 '18 at 11:02

For starters, you might want to check out this question about noticing spellcasting, and/or this Sage Advice mentioned by @DavidCoffron in a comment.

Beyond that, and in case you desire a way to telegraph the fact that the portrait is animate, I will tell you what I did for my game, since my players actually encountered that creature.

About the portrait itself:

Chapter 4: Castle Ravenloft, Room K47, P. 69-70 "The portrait on the wall depicts Strahd von Zarovich before he became a vampire. Even in life, he was pale. The eyes of the portrait seem to watch and follow the characters as they explore the area. The picture frame is bolted to the wall and can't be removed without destroying it."

So from that, when combat was initiated, and the portrait began casting spells, I had simply made the picture portion animated, like a Harry Potter picture. The image of Strahd was actually gesturing and speaking.

The adventure book, however, does not present a way. It's completely up to the DM, and I found that being straightforward and to-the-point was effective for me and my group: "The thing is casting at you, dangit."

Ultimately, as a DM, it's up to you to decide if and how the players discover it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Detect magic don't work per here \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Apr 4 '18 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron Thank you for that, updated my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Javelin Apr 5 '18 at 0:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Javelin David Croffon is incorrect, the Portrait has a "current or ongoing magical effect" present on it, inferred from the presence of Antimagic Susceptibility. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 5 '18 at 0:11

Detect Magic Is your Friend

Detect Magic reveals magic around the user as follows:

For the duration, you sense the presence of magic within 30 feet of you. If you sense magic in this way, you can use your action to see a faint aura around any visible creature or object in the area that bears magic, and you learn its school of magic, if any.

So, any Character that uses Detect Magic would sense that the Portrait (an object) bore Magic, and might reasonably assume that the Portrait was a Construct or, at the very least, a trap of some sorts.

Since the Portrait has Antimagic Susceptibility, it has an ongoing Magical Effect which could also be Detected through Detect Magic, as, otherwise, the Portrait would not be able to be neutralized through Antimagic Field, which also only affects objects when they have current or ongoing Magical Effects.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think assuming a painting with a magic aura is a construct is a stretch... I'd first think it was warded (perhaps with an alarm or divination type spell) or magically trapped. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Apr 4 '18 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso Thank you for that, I've edited my answer to include that possiblity. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 4 '18 at 15:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso Pretty sure that constructs don't radiate magic anyway, by default. If the construct were part of the effects of a spell like Animate Object sure, but not a golem or homonculus or the like. I can't access the link from work so if it is a creature with type construct it is not an object and this would not work unless there was something cast on the creature that could be detected. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 4 '18 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth The only "Constructs" I am aware of which are not inanimate objects animated in some way and powered by magic are Inevitables, and those aren't even in 5e. Even Golems are powered by Magic (Elemental Spirits are magically imprisoned in the Golem), and their attacks count as Magical Weapons. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 4 '18 at 19:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth The Portrait has Antimagic Susceptibility, meaning that there is some form of ongoing magical effect that allows the Portrait to speak or cast spells. Otherwise, casting Antimagic Field would not cause the Portrait to be "knocked Unconscious" for an hour. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 5 '18 at 3:09

Assuming the party can see (somatic) or hear (verbal) then casting the spell reveals the portrait for what it is.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps add this sage advice for additional clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Apr 4 '18 at 12:26

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