The Guardian Portrait from the Curse of Strahd adventure (p. 227) has the trait:

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, 2018 at 11:02

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Detect magic don't work per here \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2018 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron Thank you for that, updated my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Javelin
    Apr 5, 2018 at 0:02
  • 1
    \$\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\$ Apr 5, 2018 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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 25, 2019 at 1:37

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\$ Apr 4, 2018 at 12:26

Innate Spellcasting

Notice that the guardian portrait specifically has the Innate Spellcasting feature for the spells it can cast. The feature specifically calls out the removal of material components, but the book Xanathar's Guide to Everything provides a potential interpretation for a Dungeon Master. On p. 85 under the subheading "Perceiving a Caster at Work":

If the need for a spell’s components has been removed by a special ability, such as the sorcerer’s Subtle Spell feature or the Innate Spellcasting trait possessed by many creatures, the casting of the spell is imperceptible. If an imperceptible casting produces a perceptible effect, it’s normally impossible to determine who cast the spell in the absence of other evidence.

A DM could reasonably interpret this as to affect verbal and somatic components if they so wished, since as written this only affects the portrait's casting of telekinesis. This would certainly be a case of RAI, however.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That could be entertaining. That seems to suggest that the spells the portrait casting of Telekinesis would be imperceptible - and it would be impossible for PCs to determine from where the spells are being cast until the Portrait started casting other spells. Thus, players would start being thrown about the room from no discernible cause until it began casting other spells - or the source was deduced. \$\endgroup\$
    – Praxiteles
    Jun 24, 2019 at 23:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Relevant meta: Please avoid using the RAI acronym, or use it carefully & be clear in context - you should clarify what your last sentence means. You may also want to clarify how its Innate Spellcasting allows PCs to discover it (presumably you're saying that the trait only removes material components in this case, so Verbal or Somatic Components would be noticed). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 25, 2019 at 1:38

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