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?

  • \$\begingroup\$ With the message example, would you be whispering to yourself since the contingent spell takes effect on you? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 3, 2018 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, 2018 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\$ Jan 11, 2020 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Contingency, "When a proof for P != NP exists send me the message 'yes'" \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Jan 13, 2020 at 14:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cubic Why not "When P != NP send me a message" and save us the trouble. Or at least require a correct proof... \$\endgroup\$ Jan 14, 2020 at 4:47

5 Answers 5


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.


The limitations are determined by your GM

The entire text referring to the circumstance in the Contingency spell is

it takes Effect when a certain circumstance occurs. You describe that circumstance when you cast the two Spells. 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.

The contingent spell takes Effect immediately after the circumstance is met for the first time

There are few limitations placed by the text itself, leaving the interpretation to the GM.

When a player wants to learn Contingency, it is helpful to define how the circumstances will be limited in advance so they can make a conscious choice to take the spell or not, as the power of the spell can vary very widely based on these limitations.

user-024673's answer supports a very permissive perspective. I want to make the case for a more restrictive perspective to help the GM consider both views and arguments for both. In Summary

  • Can you chain multiple conditions? Likely no.
  • Does it have to be about the caster? Likely yes.
  • Does it have to be close-by? Possibly no.
  • Do you need to be conscious about it? Consensus no.
  • Can it be about the near future? Likely no.
  • Can it detect like divination spells? Likely no.
  • Can it detect beyond divination spells' capabilities? Very likely no.
  • Can it reference game mechanics? Likely no.

Here are the sub-questions of the very general overall question that are worth to break down in more detail:

Can the caster chain multiple conditions?

For example, "When someone targets me with an attack in melee OR when I rapidly blink my eyes three times.".

These are two common uses of contingency,

  1. as an emergency response to something that happened
  2. as a way to store an extra spell that can then be triggerd at will by the caster (maybe using a reaction if not on the casters turn)

The wording of "a certain circumstance" seems to express clear intention of a single circumstance. The example however provides the use of alternatives

engulfed in water or a similar liquid

(emphasis added). I think the alternatives here are still closely related, and would argue against chaining unrelated conditions by OR. But there is room for GM interpretation.

Does the circumstance have to relate to the caster?

The example

comes into Effect when you are engulfed

(emphasis added), the need of a material component in the form of the caster, the requirement that the component must be on the caster at all times all seem to suggest this.

If you make this a requirement, then you also need to clarify what is counts as relating to the caster.

The mere fact that a circumstance is made trigger condition and thus is of interest to the caster would not be sufficiently strong connection in my view. It would need to be something done by the caster, experienced by the caster, happening in the caster's close vicinity, directly affecting the caster, or at least affecting the caster's immediate family, close friends or property. The use of Contingency as a long-distance alarm for your tower could qualify.

I would rule the conditions have to relate closely to the caster, but again, this is up to the GM.

Does the circumstance have to be nearby?

The circumstance in the example cited is nearby, the water directly engulfing the caster.

Contingency has been discussed as a way to set up a long-distance alarm for your tower by sending yourself a message (if you allow cantrips to be stored), or some other perceivable, benefical spell like mirror image (if you don't).

If you restrict it to nearby effects, you will have to come up with a defintion of what is nearby. Is it a certain distance from the caster? The same room, if indoors? Line of sight? As the caster may not even have to be conscious for the circumstance to take effect, these seem arbitrary calls.

I personally would not restrict the circumstance by distance. Our GM does limiting it vaguely to the "immediate area". Again, this is entirely the GM's call.

Does the caster need to be conscious of the circumstance?

Using Revivify in a Contingency, to save you from death appears to be a widely accepted use of Contingency, and when you are dead you clearly are not concious of anything any more.

I would say the caster does not need to be conscious of the circumstance.

Can the circumstance refer to something in the near future?

For example, can you state "When I am about to be hit by an attack", or "When a dragon is going to breathe on me", or even "when I am about to take damage"?


The contingent spell takes effect immediately after the circumstance is met for the first time

(emphasis added), you cannot by RAW use Contingency to cast Resilient Sphere to block an attack, or to cast Dimension Door to evade a Meteor Swarm, as it only takes effect after those happened. RAW there is no time between the casting of the spell or the making of an attack, and its effect. You can circumvent this for attacks by setting a Shield spell being cast by the caster as a trigger, as the rules for reactions allow Shield to interrupt the trigger. This seems to me quite technical and convoluted.

If the circumstance can be described as something that is about to happen in the near future, then the thing itself will not have happened yet, and this would provide a general way to avoid the restiction.

In the example the water has already engulfed the caster. The absence of any language talking about pre-empting circumstances and the text talking explicitly about the effect occuring after the circumstance occured both signal that the intent is not preemption.

In my view, it should not be possible to refer to near-future circumstances. Again, this is the DMs call.

What can the circumstance detect?

Glyph of Warding can detect alignment. Mordenkainens Faithful Hound can detect invisible and ethereal creatures, Detect Magic can detect magic, Zone of Truth can detect lies (with a saving throw), True Seeing can see a shapechanged doppleganger for what it is.

Circumstances like

  • "when I meet someone of chaotic evil alignment",
  • "when I am touching a magic item with my left hand's little finger", - "when someone etheral is within 30 feet of me",
  • "when someone invisible is within 60 feet of me",
  • "when a doppelganger talks to me",
  • "when someone is scrying on me",
  • "when someone is lying to me after I say 'Tell the truth now!'",
  • "when a trap or secret door is in the room",
  • "when a legendary treasure or magic item is within 30 feet of me",

and so on, would allow you to mimic the detection properties of a host of other spells, without having to know those spells.

Granted, many of those are much lower level, and using the single Contingency on them seems like an expensive way to duplicate them. But you can formulate circumstances affording things like lie detection without saving throw or alignment detection that are difficult to achieve otherwise.

The example seems to indicate that divination is not the intent of the spell.

In my view, allowing such uses would turn Contingency into an overtly powerful divination spell, that, in not being an actual divination spell, would also circumvent anti-divination measures. I would possibly allow it to mimic low level divination spells, but not spells of level 6 or higher or other kinds of detection.

Can I use an unknowable circumstance?

For example "when I meet someone planning to assassinate me".

Or, if you allow the circumstance to be about people other than the caster, a court wizard could have "when I meet someone planning to assassinate or betray the king" (like in the question). The creature in question could be protected by mind blank and other anti-divination magics, as Contingency is not even a diviniation spell.

Or, if you allow circumstances not about the caster, you even could formulate circumstances that ascertain fundametal truths about the game world, like "if the lich Vecna really ascended to godhood", or, "if the Aboleths are the oldest species in existence".

Like in the previous case, allowing this would turn Contingency into an uber-powerful divination spell that could determine things that even higher level, specialized divination spells cannot, and that would penetrate any anti-divination measures.

Based on the logic of comparing to other spells, and the guidance in the DMG on spell design (p. 283):

If a spell is so good that a caster would want to use it all the time, it might be too powerful for its level.

I believe, that is surely not the intended use of the spell, and would not allow this. But the individual DM may decide otherwise.

Can the circumstance refer to game mechanics?

For example, can you trigger a cure wounds upcast to level 5 "when I am down to under 5 hit points"?

The player characters do not know anything about game mechanics. They experience a situation where they only have a few hp left as being badly hurt, and could not word conditions in that way. But for play purposes, having a clear number or condition is less ambiguous.

I'd limit reference to terms that the characters could use, like "bloodied" or "dying", or "badly hurt" and that and leave the DM to set the actual cutoff. Again this is up to each DM.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm +1ing this because it seems pretty thoughtful, but it is a loooong answer to an old question with already a couple of good answers. You might consider improving it by including a summary or tl:dr (perhaps at the top) that summarizes your main points. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Jan 30, 2022 at 11:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi @Jack, thanks a lot. I wrote it because while I think the top voted answer is excellent (and all of them are good), all of them still do not provide concrete guidance for the likely questions player and GM will likely run into. I will add short summary at the top (makeing it even longer, overall...) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 30, 2022 at 14:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I like the summary. Definitely helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Jan 30, 2022 at 15:46

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.

  • 4
    \$\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, 2020 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, 2020 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, 2020 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, 2020 at 16:38
  • 3
    \$\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\$ Jan 14, 2020 at 5:25

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!)


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.

  • 1
    \$\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\$ Jan 17, 2020 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\$ Jan 18, 2020 at 1:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ This would allow contingency to be the most powerful form of scying possible. Think about this scenario: cast contingency with detect magic, while in a room of magic items, activating on the contingency of creature X being on plane Y. Repeat for each plane until you find them. Then repeat for regions on the plane (using a binary search pattern). What's more, there is no save, no way (outside of anti magic field) to stop it and no way to detect someone doing it. There is no reason an even moderately wealthy kingdom wouldn't use this to find their most wanted criminals instantly. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Jan 30, 2022 at 11:40

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