Based on the answer to What are the implications of being able to see into the Ethereal Plane in Curse of Strahd? it sounds like while on the Ethereal Plane you can see people and ghosts on the material plane.

Therefore my question is this: A person and ghost are standing next to each other on the Material Plane. Person B is also on the Material Plane and is looking at the two of them. Person B is unable to determine which one is a ghost. Then by some means, Person B transports himself to the Ethereal Plane. Can Person B now tell which of the two is a ghost?


2 Answers 2


Not by visual difference - but perhaps by the ghost's reaction

If the ghost looks visually completely alive to Person B on the Material Plane, there isn't anything added by Person B now looking from the Ethereal Plane.

From the Etherealness spell (there are other ways to get there, but the rules are broadly the same):

You can see and hear the plane you originated from, but everything there looks gray, and you can't see anything more than 60 feet away.

So in fact there's even less visual evidence now that Person B is on the Ethereal Plane.

However, one thing might distinguish the ghost from the person. From the ghost's statblock:

Ethereal Sight. The ghost can see 60 feet into the Ethereal Plane when it is on the Material Plane, and vice versa.

The ghost will be able to see Person B in the Ethereal Plane, so they might react to Person B's presence - while Person A can't see Person B and so won't react.

If the ghost is trying very hard to pretend to be a person, they may try to hide their reaction to Person B's presence. (If I were running it I would make them do a Performance check against Person B's passive Perception)

Poking them is usually easier

Planar travel is a fairly complex/expensive way to figure out if someone is a ghost, and needs you to be within 60 feet of them anyway. I would suggest that usually it's easier to just poke them to see if they are incorporeal.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ In the particular module that sparked this question, the ghost quickly dodges out of the way of any attempt to touch it. So poking it is out of the question. I think that's actually what got the players to wonder if the NPC they're interacting with is a ghost. \$\endgroup\$ May 23, 2018 at 15:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheLostKitten Trying to poke something that's trying not to be poked? That's what attack rolls and AC are for. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Mar 31 at 21:45

Yes, only a ghost will be visible from 35 feet away

Appendix C of the Player's Handbook only describes the Border Ethereal as 'mostly featureless' but chapter 2 of the Dungeon Master's Guide says:

Visibility in the Border Ethereal is limited to 60 feet.

From the Border Ethereal, a traveler can see into whatever plane it overlaps, but that plane appears muted and indistinct, its colors blurring into each other and its edges turning fuzzy. Ethereal denizens watch the plane as though peering through distorted and frosted glass, and can't see anything beyond 30 feet into the other plane. Conversely, the Ethereal Plane is usually invisible to those on the overlapped planes, except with the aid of magic.

But a ghost on the Material Plane is visible, in the range of 35 to 60 feet away, in a way other creatures are not (emphasis mine):

Etherealness. The ghost enters the Ethereal Plane from the Material Plane, or vice versa. It is visible on the Material Plane while it is in the Border Ethereal, and vice versa, yet it can't affect or be affected by anything on the other plane.

Odds are good that 'It is visible' also means that it's visible perfectly clearly, and doesn't appear 'muted and indistinct' like everything else on the Material Plane does, either.


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