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When you cast a dispel magic on a creature with multiple spell effects on them, you first automatically dispel any spells that are of low enough level, then make an ability check against any that are higher level than your dispel to attempt to destroy them.

When this happens, who decides which effect ends first? Does the caster, the target, or the DM decide in what order to end the spells?

For example: Suppose I am a wizard. In a desperate fight, I've cast stoneskin on myself, and but then my enemy manages to land a hit with contagion and inflict Mindfire. I'm in trouble, so I cast dispel magic on myself.

The DM wants me to roll against contagion first. If I succeed, the disease will go away, and I won't have disadvantage when I subsequently roll to dispel my own stoneskin. Of course, I'd rather try my roll against stoneskin first, while I have disadvantage on Intelligence checks, and then roll against contagion second.

Who gets to pick the order?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can't you just target the contagion effect specifically and avoid the problem entirely? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Oct 27 '18 at 0:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Eh! handwave Maybe there were other negative spell effects in play, or there's a different set of spells at work. The original question was about a simulacrum carrying a death ward but I didn't want to get bogged down in questions about whether Dispel counts as an instant death effect in that case. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Oct 27 '18 at 3:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree, Darth Pseudonym. Regardless of whether or not this specific example is an optimal tactic, it's worth knowing how the rules handle this sticky situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Oct 29 '18 at 18:29
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If it's your turn, you decide the order

Xanathar's Guide to Everything includes an (optional) rule for exactly this situation. On page 77, it contains a section titled "Simultaneous Effects":

In rare cases, effects can happen at the same time, especially at the start or end of a creature's turn. If two or more things happen at the same time on a character or monster's turn, the person at the game table — whether player or DM — who controls that creature decides the order in which those things happen.

So if you cast the dispel magic spell on your own turn, you will decide the order in which the spells are removed.


NOTE:According to Jeremy Crawford, you are also able to target a single "magical effect" that you're aware of with dispel magic. Any spell on that effect (e.g. causing it) will be dispelled. So in your example, your character could target the Mindfire effect (which they are aware of, since it is afflicting them), and only remove the contagion spell. Since this came up in the comments, I thought it would be worth mentioning here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought Dispel Magic only targeted one effect, anyway... \$\endgroup\$ – Stackstuck Oct 27 '18 at 2:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Really unfortunate wording in the rule (as usual). What happens if it is not your turn? \$\endgroup\$ – András Oct 27 '18 at 7:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @András I would guess then whoever's turn it is gets to decide. \$\endgroup\$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Oct 27 '18 at 9:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @András I didn't mention what would happen if it wasn't your turn in this case because Stoneskin is a concentration spell, so there's no way that the player could have cast dispel magic as a readied spell as the scenario was described. But Paulo is correct. If it was cast on someone else's turn, then whoever's turn it was would decide (or more accurately, the person at the table who controlled that creature would decide). \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Oct 27 '18 at 19:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym Also, note Jeremy Crawford's tweet, which in context is implying that the magical effect that allows a creature to walk on water via water walk is targetable with dispel magic. Could you quote precedent indicating that "magical effect" requires it to have physical substance? \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Oct 29 '18 at 3:57
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As an alternative to the already given answer (the player decides), I'd like to offer an alternative. It's not based on any rules, but rather on what I consider common sense and “realistic“.

Suppose you cast dispel magic and it dispels mindfire. Then what? Your concentration rises, the spell gets more powerful and then you dispel your own spell? That doesn't seem sensible to me.

I'd role against both spells whatever order “at the same time“. The effect of dispel magic would then only apply after the rolls.

That isn't against the rules as written. The rule cited doesn't forbid that. It says if two effects happen at the same time, you can choose the order.

But the order can be

  • cast dispel magic

  • determine which spells it hits

  • remove the spells (choose in which order, it doesn't make any difference though, because you already rolled).

I just don't see any reason why dispel magic shouldn't remove all magic at the same time instead of one by one.

I don't have any rule to cite, but from a role-playing point of view, it doesn't seem to make sense that a mage would dispel the negative effect, increase their concentration and then keep the spell going to dispel the positive effect. But as only dispelling parts of the magic isn't possible, it has to be simultaneous. Dispel magic hits all spells at the same time, it is decided which are removed based on the stats while casting and after that they are removed.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "The effect of dispel magic would then only ever after the rolls." - I think there was some typo here, some missing word or something else. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Oct 27 '18 at 20:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Either way, this ruling indeed makes more sense than making simultaneous effect become sequential. Noting that the XGtE "rule" is actually just a suggestion would improve the answer as it doesn't actually go against the rules - ultimately, it's up to the DM how to rule it, and this ruling is more sensible for me as a DM. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Oct 27 '18 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint swipe .. makes for funny “typos“' \$\endgroup\$ – DonQuiKong Oct 28 '18 at 7:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ The XGtE rule allows this if you look at it as first determining which effects will apply and then choosing the order and not determining and applying for every spell one by one. So you do get to choose which spell is dispelled first, but only after it was determined which spells get dispelled at all. \$\endgroup\$ – DonQuiKong Oct 28 '18 at 7:04

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