I was running what was supposed to be a one-shot recently, where the party was tracking some unicorns. The party's ranger used Hunter's Mark on one of the unicorns, who then used pass without trace. The party then decided to check on some nearby NPCs, except that they also wanted to call it a night, which is probably convenient for me.

The Pass without Trace spell description says:

A veil of shadows and silence radiates from you, masking you and your companions from detection. For the duration, each creature you choose within 30 feet of you (including you) has a +10 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) checks and can’t be tracked except by magical means. A creature that receives this bonus leaves behind no tracks or other traces of its passage.

The Hunter's Mark spell description says:

You choose a creature you can see within range and mystically mark it as your quarry. Until the spell ends, you deal an extra 1d6 damage to the target whenever you hit it with a weapon attack, and you have advantage on any Wisdom (Perception) or Wisdom (Survival) check you make to find it. If the target drops to 0 hit points before this spell ends, you can use a bonus action on a subsequent turn of yours to mark a new creature.

The unicorns are probably going to be far enough away that the detection effects aren't really going to be involved. But the tracking part... Well, Hunter's Mark is definitely magical, but does a Survival check with Hunter's Mark count as magical? And how would that even work if Pass without Trace leaves no traces behind?


3 Answers 3


No, you can't track creatures via your Hunter's Mark if Pass Without Trace is active on it.

Pass Without Trace says:

can’t be tracked except by magical means

I believe this is meant to encompass things like Mind Spike, which simply says

you also always know the target's location until the spell ends

Hunter's Mark simply gives you advantage on specific Perception or Survival checks, but that doesn't count as magical means. It's simply a nonmagical activity enhanced by magic, not a magical means by itself. Furthermore, there has to be something for you to track, which isn't possible since the target "leaves behind no traces".
Note that the PHB states on page 7:

In cases where the outcome of an action is uncertain, the Dungeons & Dragons game relies on rolls of a 20-sided die, a d20, to determine success or failure.

If the target leaves no tracks, then the DM won't (or at least shouldn't) call for any kind of check to "track" it in the first place. Hence, getting advantage on an imaginary check doesn't really help here, similarly to how expertise with a skill is useless if you're not also proficient.

If there are no tracks, it doesn't matter how hard you look, you won't find any.

Similarly, spells like Enhance Ability or Skill Empowerment wouldn't allow you to track a creature that is under the effects of Pass Without Trace.

That being said, going by RAF, the better choice is probably to rule that tracking is possible.

In the situation you described, your party tried to track a unicorn. If you don't allow them to track the unicorn, it will feel to your players like a scripted "F*** you, don't touch my plot". Obviously, that's not how you want your players to feel.

Therefore, in the end, I think it's probably better to allow them to track the unicorn, even though according to my interpretation of the rules, it wouldn't work. This way, your players may fail or may succeed on the roll, but either way, it will feel fair to them, because they were allowed to do something that feels like a creative use of spells.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Hunter's Mark is a spell. Spells are magic. In addition the spell placed a mystical marking on the target magically identifying it. That constitutes and satisfies the condition can’t be tracked except by magical means... \$\endgroup\$
    – Odin1806
    Apr 5, 2019 at 20:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Odin1806 I suppose the answer to this question ultimately depends on how you interpret Hunter's Mark. Is it a magical tracking sensor that helps you "pinpoint" the target, which seems to be your interpretation? Or is it a magical connection between you and the target, that gives you insight (not the game term) into the target's defenses and actions, allowing you to strike harder and track it more easily. I interpret it as the latter. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2019 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ (1) - Personally I don't think so. It is a mystical marking, not a mystical connection. The reason you make a marking on something is so that you can find it easier. Otherwise marking something is pointless. The spell True Strike more fits the interpretation you are making, minus the tracking. I read the rules of everything for D&D as strictly as possible. Hunter's Mark makes a magical mark and makes it easier to find the target again if you lose it. Losing it counts as looking for tracks (negated by Pass Without Trace) but also simply not seeing it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Odin1806
    Apr 6, 2019 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ (2) - While Pass Without Trace makes stealth more successful and a target harder to see the magical mark of Hunter's Mark counteracts that, just as Pass Without Trace counteracts the ability to find tracks. You don't need to find tracks for something that is right in front of you. Just succeed your roll to see the mark you made. As you say D&D relies on rolls to determine success or failure. You can always fail, even if you are just trying to walk down the street. It all depends on how much rolling your DM desires that day! \$\endgroup\$
    – Odin1806
    Apr 6, 2019 at 13:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer makes the most sense to me. But I wanted to point out something that may add to your answer. Hunter's mark makes no mention of tracking anywhere in the spell, like we seem to be assuming it does. It simply states it helps you "find it". How do you find something that leaves no tracks? You can still have advantage on an impossible or near impossible task, and you can still roll for those tasks as well. The spells don't really overlap at all \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6, 2019 at 18:44

Hunter's Mark is a spell - spells are magic

So this negates the "... can’t be tracked except by magical means" part. So, the ranger can attempt to track the marked and only the marked unicorn and will have advantage on the check.

However, this still leaves the "... leaves behind no tracks or other traces of its passage" part. Which flatly contradicts the previous sentence: it can be tracked magically but it leaves no tracks. So what is the ranger following? Well, there's magic involved so how about we say the ranger can follow the disturbance in the weave or some other equally arbitrary BS to resolve the paradox WotC made for itself.

If it were me, I would have the unicorn make a Dexterity (Stealth) check (at +10 for the Pass without Trace) to set the DC of the check. Or maybe I would use a passive Dexterity (Stealth) check (at +10 for the Pass without Trace) because it gives the players slightly better odds.



  • I do not fully agree with either Dale M's answer or PixelMaster's answer.
  • Both of those spells are magical; i.e. the spell classification.
  • Pass without trace simply adds the condition that no trace is left behind from the caster's party.
  • Hunter's Mark mystically marking the target makes the target still traceable.

I will not wholly restate the spell descriptions, but lets take the situation in hand as you initially state it.

First, the hunter uses the spell Hunter's Mark. This has placed a mystical mark on the desired target. The target is now magically marked. The additional bonuses the hunter receives regard attacking the target for bonus damage and finding the target if they lose track of it.

Then, the target uses the spell Pass Without Trace. Now the target, and its party within 30ft, no longer leave any tracks or traces behind as well as gaining a boost to stealth checks. Unfortunately for the target it can still be tracked by magical means, such as Hunter's Mark.

From this point, so long as the hunter (not their party) can see the target (not the target's party) Pass Without Trace has no effect in shielding the target from detection. The remaining members of the target's party are fully shielded from detection since Hunter's Mark only mystically marked the one target.

Since the spell Pass Without Trace allows the target to leave no trace or markings behind if the hunter loses track/sight of the target it is possible the target will safely disappear. There would be no tracks or markings for the hunter to follow to find his marked target. Seeing the mystical mark placed on the target is the only way to find the target again.

So long as the spell Hunter's Mark is active (max duration has not been reached) the target can be seen by the hunter; even if the hunter loses sight of the target for a moment since the mark would be visible once again as it came back into view.

Obviously, should either spell end the other active spell gain all the previously negated effects the expired spell was countering.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hunter's Mark doesn't mean you automatically see the target, it gives you advantage on Perception checks to see the target. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Apr 5, 2019 at 22:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman - (1) You don't really see the target, IMO. You see your marking of the target. Like seeing through a pair of heat vision goggles. Having advantage on finding it means you have lost it. If I were to use Hunter's Mark on someone right in front of me and they used Pass without trace while still standing in front of me I would still see my mystical mark. I never lost it, so I don't need to find it. If my quarry runs into a cave or behind a wall and I no longer see them then sure I have lost the mark, but once I turn the corner I roll for perception to find my mystical mark again. \$\endgroup\$
    – Odin1806
    Apr 5, 2019 at 22:36
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ That sounds really cool and all, but the Hunter's Mark spell doesn't say anything about it or anything like it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Apr 5, 2019 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman - (2) This is why you get advantage. Because it should be easier for you to see the mark you made on the target in question. There is still a chance to fail the roll, but it should be a rare and unlikely event. Magic makes things easier. \$\endgroup\$
    – Odin1806
    Apr 5, 2019 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can always fail a perception roll to see something. No matter how obvious. That is why perception rolls exist. You are never guaranteed to see or do anything in D&D... and Pass without trace doesn't say you automatically fail rolls, it says a target can not be tracked unless by magical means... \$\endgroup\$
    – Odin1806
    Apr 5, 2019 at 22:40

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