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Suppose the party is in a dungeon and is confronted with a door with two locks. They've already found one key, and want to find the other. If they were to just cast Locate Object to find "a key", it would just find the one were already holding and so wouldn't be particularly useful. (And they can't use the "specific object" mode of the spell as they haven't seen the key they're looking for before, so they can just use it to find the "nearest object of a particular kind".) So, they put the key they already have into a lead box, as the spell "can't locate an object if any thickness of lead, even a thin sheet, blocks a direct path between you and the object." Then they cast Locate Object to find "a key".

I see two possibilities:

  1. As "Locate Object" can't locate the key in the lead box, it skips over that one and points the direction to the second-closest key.
  2. The spell attempts to "locate the nearest object" of that kind, and as the nearest object is behind lead, the spell "can't locate" it. It has no provision to find the "second-closest object" of a kind.

But I'm not sure which is the case. While there's certainly some intuition that the first possibility would make sense, this is magic we're talking about, and I see it making as much sense that the way the spell is worded it would just not be able to find what it's looking for.

I'd prefer official sources or references if available. If there aren't any, then I would accept any semi-official or well-informed well-reasoned arguments, preferably backed up by whatever evidence is available. Obviously as with any rules interpretation the DM has the final say, but I'm usually the DM of our group, and the party may likely try something like this in our next session.

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The Second Key Is Found

I'm afraid my answer falls into "well-reasoned" (or at least I hope it does), but I would have a hard time being sold on the idea that the spell fails because a key is closer but concealed by lead. If the spell fails, that means the spell identified a key within a lead box and knew it needed to fail... which kind of means it succeeded, because the spell broke through the lead to identify the key, which is the only object that could have been in there that caused it to fail.

The game we play is filled with magic, yes, but I think we all like it to be "logical magic" insofar as that phrase makes any sense. Option #1 is much more believable than Option #2.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess it's just a matter of how much one wants to "personify" the spell. Is the spell doing a search, or does it just present results of some universe-done magic search? \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cooper Jr. Jul 23 '18 at 20:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ How about a balance reason? If the spell behaves differently depending on what's in the box, then it necessarily provides the party with information about the contents of said box (i.e. "there is/is not an object of type X in the box"). That almost completely negates the lead shielding rule unless there are two lead boxes nearby (in which case you at least can't tell which one contains the object). So you might as well nix that rule entirely, which is obviously contrary to RAI. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Jul 23 '18 at 22:34

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