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Context

An evil wizard has used True Polymorph to make one of their minions resemble the king. As a precaution against diviners, the wizard also casts Nystul's Magic Aura, "Mask", for 30 days, which will have the following effect until dispelled:

You change the way the target appears to spells and magical effects that detect creature types, such as a paladin’s Divine Sense or the trigger of a symbol spell. You choose a creature type and other spells and magical effects treat the target as if it were a creature of that type or of that alignment.

The evil wizard then kills the true king and installs their polymorphed pawn on the thrown.

Later, a group of adventurers are trying to find the king at a masquerade party. They know the king is in attendance, but cannot find him due to the festive masks, so they cast Locate Creature, naming the king as the spell's target. The description for this spell states the following:

If the creature you described or named is in a different form, such as being under the effects of a polymorph spell, this spell doesn't locate the creature.

Question

Does the Locate Creature spell fail, potentially revealing to the adventurers that the imposter attending the party is not truly the king? Or does Nystal's Magic Aura cause Locate Creature to function normally?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the links in your post point to an unofficial wiki that rewords stuff in a futile attempt to avoid getting taken down by WotC. I'd suggest linking to D&D Beyond instead, which accurately lists the official spell descriptions. Let me know if seeing the correct wording clears up your confusion; if it doesn't, you should replace the links in your post and fix the quotes. (If it does, of course, you should probably self-answer the question and explain how the correct wording makes the answer clear.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 5 at 7:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, the [rules-as-written] tag is for questions/situations involving a purely literal reading of the rules, even when it leads to absurd interpretations. If this is just a rules-interaction question, you should remove the tag. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 5 at 7:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Links to the infringing site have been removed. Please don't link to it here since we do not link to sites that pirate content. I would also advise against using it since it gives reworded rules that are often incorrect and change the meaning, but you are free to make that choice personally. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 5 at 14:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Thanks! I actually started with the rules on dndbeyond but choose to link to that other source instead - didn't know about the alt wording, but that makes sense. I assumed it was Basic Rules content if it was on another site - sorry for not checking. \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener Feb 5 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PinkSweetener no worries! It can be tricky to figure out. We see it (and similar sites) pop up often here (unfortunately) so we have gotten fairly good at sussing it out. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Feb 5 at 16:19
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The wording of the spell matters

If the characters are aware that there might be an impostor and they word the spell carefully, then the spell will fail. For example "Show me Sir Galahad the Great, rightful King of Brittax, Friend of Elves." The polymorphed minion is not this specific person and the spell will fail.

However if they simply state, "Show me the king of Brittax," you have more leeway in adjudicating the results. In this case the rightful king is dead and the polymorphed minion is the king of Brittax and so the spell will very likely indicate the polymorphed minion. Of course the Locate Creature spell does indicate (PHB 256):

If the creature you described or named is in a different form, such as being under the effects of a polymorph spell, this spell doesn’t locate the creature.

Is this relevant in this case? I would say no, because the creature is the king because of the polymorph spell. They are not in a different form (than what was asked for) because of the polymorph spell, they are in the desired form because of the polymorph spell. They are only the king because of the polymorph spell.

Lastly, if they say something like, "Show me the rightful king of Brittax," they may be guided towards a third NPC who would be the heir to the throne if it was known that the rightful king was dead.

Is the target familiar and known to the caster?

It's important to consider the limitations the spell places on who you can specifically locate. The spell description states:

Describe or name a creature that is familiar to you.

and

The spell can locate a specific creature known to you, or the nearest creature of a specific kind (such as a human or a unicorn), so long as you have seen such a creature up close — within 30 feet — at least once.

This text is not overly clear, but it does suggest that if you've seen a specific creature within 30 feet they are known to you and the spell will work (barring other limitations). Familiar to you can mean a lot of things: It could mean you know of the person, or it could mean you are personally acquainted with them, or as the text suggests it could mean you have seen them once. As a GM, be sure to consider and interpret these statements when you resolve the effects of the spell. In the context of the party you describe it is very likely the PC has seen the potential targets of the spell. Also they may have met at other times in the campaign, or may just be known to the PC.

If I were the GM I would casually ask the spellcaster who they are targeting with the spell and apply the wording they use in-game to rule how the spell functions. As long as they are familiar with the target then the spell can locate that character.

In short

Yes the spell could fail, and you can play with the results depending on how the spellcaster PC words the spell and their familiarity with the target

In regards to Nystal's Magic Aura, this spell would not affect Locate Creature in this case because the PC is attempting to locate a specific person, not a type of creature. NMA description states (PH 263):

You choose a creature type and other spells and magical effects treat the target as if it were a creature of that type or of that alignment.

When Locate Creature is used to locate a single creature it is out of the scope of Nystal's Magic Aura because you are not looking for a type of creature.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting, thanks! So it seems Locate Creature can be used to double check divination magic, to make sure Nystal's Magic Aura is not in use. \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener Feb 5 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not clear on why "Sir Galahad the Great, rightful King of Brittax, Friend of Elves" would not identify the imposter when just "the King of Brittax" would. Can you elaborate? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Feb 5 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ So the magic knows the law of succession in Brittax? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Feb 5 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lightcat Mark makes a fair point - "Rightful King" is a political, subjective concept. What I meant in my earlier comment is this: as I understand it, Nystal's Magic Aura (Mask) is meant to foil attempts at discovering a magically disguised creature's true identity. For example, it should counter Truesight (or Trueseeking), or clerical//paladin abilities to suss out demons, undead, and fey. So after using one of these abilities to see if an NPC is actually a demon in disguise, they could use Locate Creature to double check if they are hiding behind Nystal's Magic Aura. \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener Feb 5 at 18:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PinkSweetener That is not how Nystal's Mask works. It is only foiling attempts to discover a creature type or alignment. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 18:18
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Yes, but the spell fails for another reason

Nystal's Magic Aura (MASK) states:

You choose a creature type and other spells and magical effects treat the target as if it were a creature of that type or of that alignment.

The Mask is only changing the detected type or alignment of a creature. However, this isn't what Locate Creature is looking for:

The spell can locate a specific creature known to you, or the nearest creature of a specific kind (such as a human or a unicorn), so long as you have seen such a creature up close--within 30 feet--at least once. If the creature you described or named is in a different form, such as being under the effects of a polymorph spell, this spell doesn't locate the creature.

As long as you know the True King, you can try and locate him. However, if you have not seen the True King, then he would not be a valid target for this as you don't actually know that there is a True King vs the False King.

For the sake of this question, let's say that the party did see the True King up close at one point and they attempt to Locate him at this party. If so, then Nystal's Magic Aura will do nothing to prevent the spell from working because it's only affecting knowing the False King's Type (humanoid?) or alignment via the Mask feature. In this case, the Locate Creature would not provide a direction unless the True King is within 1000' of the party.

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Does the Locate Creature spell fail, potentially revealing to the adventurers that the imposter attending the party is not truly the king?

Yes

Or does Nystal's Magic Aura cause Locate Creature to function normally?

No

There is no conflict here - each spell does exactly what it says it does. The target of the Locate Object is the (dead) king. The imposter is not being targeted so Nystul's Magic Aura has no work to do.

Oh well - "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley"

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to clarify what the last line of your answer means or is a reference to, as some people (particularly non-native English speakers, or people who haven't studied literature) may not understand what it's supposed to mean. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 5 at 7:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Or just let them google it and learn something :) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 14:13

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