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The contingency spell description states:

Instead, it takes effect when a certain circumstance occurs. You describe that circumstance when you cast the two spells.

There is nothing written that requires the circumstance is perceivable, in contrast with how you can Ready an action. It also does not limit the distance. It also does not limit the details you could come up with (since 10 minutes is pretty long time). Possible scenario on my mind:

When the King Leo XIII died. I wouldn't have known since I'm so far away, but when the Message cantrip takes effect, whispering my previous Message, now I know he is dead.

I've just realized that this spell is insanely powerful and can be abused if not properly limited. What are the limitations, anyway?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ With the message example, would you be whispering to yourself since the contingent spell takes effect on you? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 3 '18 at 17:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast yes. Message tells you to point on one creature, and you can point on yourself. Usually, this is pointless, because you would hear the whisper as you speak it, but in this case it will be delayed until the circumstance is met. \$\endgroup\$ – Vylix Sep 3 '18 at 17:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Vigil Is there a way that mattdm's current answer is incomplete? "There are no qualifiers on the "circumstance" in the spell [...] The "circumstance" is any condition, fact, or event that you by the magic of this spell link to the activation of that other spell [...] This leaves the DM to determine exactly what is a reasonable trigger" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 11 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Heh, I guess StackExchange never implemented this feature request by doppelgreener from years ago: Leave newlines intact in bounty messages \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 12 at 1:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Contingency, "When a proof for P != NP exists send me the message 'yes'" \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jan 13 at 14:20
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There are no qualifiers on the "circumstance" in the spell, and "circumstance" is an awfully broad term in plain English. It can mean literally the things around you, or metaphorically so, or it can be anything which is connected to and influences another thing.

From Merriam-Webster:

1a: a condition, fact, or event accompanying, conditioning, or determining another

In the case of the spell, the "another" is the contingent spell. So, the "circumstance" is any condition, fact, or event that you by the magic of this spell link to the activation of that other spell. (That is, you describe a condition, fact, or event which — in this case — determines the activation of other.)

This leaves the DM to determine exactly what is a reasonable trigger; it is a 6th-level spell, which is fairly powerful, but not invincible. I'd look to true seeing (also 6th level) and scrying (5th) for some bounds to reasonableness.

Of course, it's also worth consider the example given — water breathing "when you are engulfed in water or a similar liquid" — which is clearly both local and immediate. There's no clear requirement of that, though, and as a DM I'd allow it to work based on things that happen far away. Having something happen when a wizard's lab is invaded, or sure, notifies the suspicious grand vizier when the king dies seems fun for story to me. And, it's still got an expensive component (even if not consumed), along with the opportunity cost of not allowing another more immediate contingency to be active.

On the other hand, I wouldn't allow probing broad truths of the metaverse by testing if facts are, indeed, facts — not by any particular rule but just because that seems out of scope. However, there's definitely room in the spell for another DM to rule more broadly.

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The circumstances are those that directly affect self.

While a strict literal interpretation of the text would let the caster specify anything describable, including the unknowable, that is beyond what's reasonable for the game. E.g. when Ergo the secretive dragon casts animal messenger to the king of wherever.

The circumstances directly affecting self

The spell's range is self, and that's what it should be operating on. The circumstances are things that are directly touching or operating on the caster.

  • Is it touching the caster? e.g. submerged in water or grappled.
  • Is it directly operating on the caster? e.g. falling or spell effect.
  • Is it affecting one of the caster's senses? e.g. hearing music or smelling a gas.
  • etc...

The example in the text

The example in the spell text is something affecting the caster:

For example, a contingency cast with water breathing might stipulate that water breathing comes into effect when you are engulfed in water or a similar liquid.

Material component

The peculiar material component requirement re-iterates the self:

Also, contingency ends on you if its material component is ever not on your person.

The spell's material component is:

(a statuette of yourself carved from ivory and decorated with gems worth at least 1,500 gp)

Which is a peculiar use of material component even among enduring spells. The statue of ones self having to be on the person doubles down on the self centered nature of the spell.

If edge cases are fun for your group

Some groups enjoy pushing game systems to their edge cases or breaking points. If this is fun for the people you play the game with, then the strict wording of this spell is an entertainment treasure trove.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that Scrying has range Self as well. And it also requires a focus that you need to have. Does that imply that you can Scry only things directly affecting you anyway? If not, why would it imply that for Contingency? \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jan 13 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot The self nature of scrying states that it can only directly affect you. "You can see and hear a particular creature you choose that is on the same plane of existence as you." It's clear that you can't cast scrying and let someone else see the creature (or location) of choice. It's not the same situation as scrying doesn't specify anything about circumstances nor does not say the spell ends if the focus leaves the caster's possession before the duration runs out. \$\endgroup\$ – GcL Jan 13 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ so in Contingency you is about who cast the spells and who describes circumstances. You can't let anyone else describe them circumstances or cast the spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jan 13 at 16:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot The caster has to cast both spells on themselves and the circumstances have to be about them, yes. \$\endgroup\$ – GcL Jan 13 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The spell's range is self, and that's what it should be operating on." Contingency is a magical effect that waits until something happens then casts a spell on yourself. That is why it has a range of self. Scry has the same situation, it lets you "see and hear a particular creature", it doesn't make sense to say that since Scry has a range of "self" you can only see and hear "yourself". While Scry and Contingency only affect yourself, they have effects that go beyond yourself. \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Jan 14 at 5:25
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By the way the effect is described, it’s limited to the situation immediately around you. That’s what “circumstance” means.

a condition, detail, part, or attribute, with respect to time, place, manner, agent, etc., that accompanies, determines, or modifies a fact or event; a modifying or influencing factor: Do not judge his behavior without considering every circumstance.

The circumstances of the spell are the details, parts, etc. affecting where the ongoing contingency spell exists. It doesn’t include other places, events, or times. (No sensing events in the future, across a continent, or on another Earth!)

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There are no limitations

There are no limits written into the spell, so we can deduce there are no limits.

  • Is there a distance limit? There are no limits.
  • Is it affected by Nondetection? Contingency is neither divination nor a scrying sensor
  • Is it affected by Antimagic Field? Contingency is a spell and thus "can't protrude into [the field]"
  • Is it affected by anti-divination wards? Contingency is not divination.
  • Can the caster set a trigger that they can produce? There are no limits, so yes.
  • Can you have a multi-clause circumstance? There are no limits, so yes. You could have a 10 page circumstance if you want.
  • Can it trigger on Mental circumstances? There are no limits, so yes. You could have the spell message you "Bob is a liar!" when Bob lies to you.

Remember there are some limitations to contingency. You can only have 1 contingency active, the spell it casts has to target yourself, it takes 10 minutes to cast, lasts only 10 days, requires a 1500gp specially made statue which you need to keep on you at all times, and the spell activates immediately without any choice.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So what would happen (using your description) if the trigger is "King Leo XIII Dies" and 5 days later King Leo XIII dies while inside of an Antimagic Field (just for fun, let's say the Field is dispelled 2 days after that)? \$\endgroup\$ – Gramor Fale Jan 17 at 21:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GramorFale Contingency would not penetrate the field and thus would not trigger. 2 days later when the field is dispelled it would trigger. \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Jan 18 at 1:00

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