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The Zone of Truth spell contains the following clause:

You know whether each creature succeeds or fails on its saving throw.

In a scenario of checking someone's loyalty, any countermeasure that allows you to always succeed your save against this spell will alert the caster that you have succeeded the save. They will keep you in the area of the spell until you fail, or until it's clear something is stopping you from failing - at which point the caster will tell you to remove whatever that effect is doing this, or have it assumed you are disloyal.

What are all the countermeasures to this spell which:

  1. don't allow the spell to affect you, and
  2. don't alert the caster you're unaffected?

Note that to fulfil (1), answers should avoid "you can lie by telling the truth in a ZoT". A competent interrogator will simply ask direct yes/no questions and assume disloyalty if they are not answered directly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is help from allies allowed? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Apr 27 '19 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Szega sure, if that help fulfils the two conditions specified. \$\endgroup\$ – Vigil Apr 29 '19 at 10:30
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Mechanically, Zone of Truth can be defeated only by high-level features

As you say, any attempt to resist or evade the effects of Zone of Truth alerts the caster. And in the context of a loyalty test, avoiding the effect is synonymous with admitting disloyalty. The only exceptions to this are a handful of high-level features: the Mastermind Rogue's Soul of Deceit feature (as mentioned in Louis Wasserman's answer) defeats truth-detection magic, and the 8th level spell Glibness provides a similar ability:

[...] no matter what you say, magic that would determine if you are telling the truth indicates that you are being truthful.

Note that while Glibness causes Zone of Truth to read whatever you say as truthful, it doesn't necessarily protect you from being forced to tell the truth. If you intend to use it, you should ask your DM ahead of time how it will work with Zone of Truth to avoid arguments when it actually happens. (In contrast, Soul of Deceit explicitly says you can't be forced to tell the truth by magic, so there is no ambiguity there.)

In any case, unless you have access to features or spells available around 15th-17th level, you'll have to make it through your loyalty test by telling what your character believes to be the truth.

Believe your lies

However, there is at least one small and difficult-to-exploit loophole that doesn't require any powerful abilities: Zone of Truth only prevents a creature from speaking a deliberate lie. If you can manage to believe your lies, you will be able to speak those lies while under the effect of Zone of Truth. For example, if the loyalty question is something like "Are you loyal to the Empire?", then you would be able to answer with a simple "yes" even if you were plotting to assassinate the emperor, as long as you truly and honestly believed that doing so would help the Empire. Obviously, this is a very situational workaround, but I want to emphasize that this is materially different from being evasive or "lying with the truth". This is a case where you give exactly the truthful answer that is expected of you, but for a completely different reason (while praying that you are never asked to elaborate on that reason).

In practice, when you as a player attempt to use this, you should probably expect some push-back from your DM, asking if your character really believes this. This "loophole" has a heavy character focus rather than a mechanical focus, so if you are planning to do this, be prepared with a solidly fleshed-out backstory to justify your honesty. And of course, be willing to accept that a slightly different question might reveal that your interpretation of loyalty differs from that of your interrogators. In the above example, you would not fare well if you were instead asked "Are you loyal to the emperor?"

Unfortunately, I don't have any experience to share of using this "loophole" in an actual game. I'm just pointing out that it's the only loophole I can think of.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Glibness does have a major flaw if the questioner suspects it might be in use. If they ask the suspect to make a statement that they know to be false then the spell will make it show up as being true to the zone of truth spell. For example, ask the suspect to tell you the red roses in a nearby vase are actually green. If the zone of truth spell flags their statement as being true you know they have glibness in effect. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Apr 28 '19 at 1:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AllanMills If ZoT is active, being unable to lie is not suspicious, it's expected. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Apr 28 '19 at 3:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sevenbrokenbricks If the liar is using Glibness, then they must know that ZoT is in play, and they will avoid telling obvious lies even when ordered to, instead pretending that they are unable to lie because of ZoT. The interrogator could detect this ploy by only pretending to cast ZoT, but they would only do that if they already suspected an effect like Glibness was being used. You can keep on layering countermeasures upon countermeasures, but I think that's going quite far beyond the scope of the original question. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Apr 28 '19 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view." \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Apr 29 '19 at 7:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson - ZoT doesn't indicate to the caster whether a statement is true or false, it prevents the subject from being capable of speaking a lie. In your example, the subject would be completely incapable of saying "the roses are green" while under a ZoT. Thus, your proposed method of detecting Glibness doesn't work, because a genuinely ZoTted subject would be incapable of speaking the requested lie, while a Glib subject could simply claim that they're not able to. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Apr 29 '19 at 7:54
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Modify Memory

Depending on the circumstances and the precise information you need to keep secret, you may able to effectively defeat a Zone of Truth by having your memory modified in advance by an ally using the Modify Memory spell. Affected creatures in a Zone of Truth cannot deliberately lie, but that doesn't mean that whatever they believe to be true actually is. After interrogation, someone surreptitiously casts Remove Curse or Greater Restoration on you and your original memory returns, at which point you presumably mutter "keikaku1 doori".

Given the restrictions of Modify Memory this works best for concealing knowledge of specific events; the longer ago the events are or the more material you have to cover, the technique swiftly becomes impractical.

This doesn't strictly meet your constraints since it requires you to actually be affected by Zone of Truth and does not conceal that from the caster, but I am not sure there actually is a reliable way to render oneself immune to the spell without tipping off or having to compromise the caster. Either they know you're passing your saves, or by lack of information they know you're not even making saves and therefore aren't affected.

1. keikaku means plan

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that Modify Memory is a potential solution in general. However, in the specific context of a loyalty test, I think that Modify Memory is particularly unsuitable, since "A modified memory doesn't necessarily affect how a creature behaves, particularly if the memory contradicts the creature's natural inclinations, alignment, or beliefs. An illogical modified memory [...] is dismissed, perhaps as a bad dream." There's also the problem that if someone successfully uses Modify Memory to genuinely flip your loyalties, they will also need to restore your memory later. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Apr 27 '19 at 14:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Now that I think about it, if there's only one interrogator, a better way to use Modify Memory might be to cast it on the interrogator during the interrogation (make sure they use their spell slot on ZoT first, though, or they might spot the inconsistency). \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Apr 27 '19 at 16:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson: Unless you're a sorcerer with Subtle Spell multiclassed into one of the spells that can cast modify memory, you casting the spell will probably be noticed pretty easily... Plus I imagine most interrogations aren't one-on-one anyway. (Nice Death Note reference, Carcer :P ) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 27 '19 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Yeah, that's why I said it would only work for a one-on-one interrogation. You can make the target forget you cast the spell, but others will notice it. This is arguably true even with Subtle Spell, since you have to speak to the target to tell them what to remember instead, and that's going to be a challenge to pull off without someone else catching on. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Apr 27 '19 at 20:55
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The Mastermind archetype for the Rogue class from Xanathar's Guide to Everything has a class feature, Soul of Deceit, which is explicitly about defeating truth magic: it says that you can't be compelled to tell the truth by magic and that magic that determines if you're telling the truth says you are.

This isn't succeeding on the save; it doesn't say anything about a saving throw. I would read the effects as that you make the saving throw as normal, but can ignore the results and lie as you like.

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Get Dominated

So you cannot speak a deliberate lie?

deliberate, adj. done consciously and intentionally

If you are not in control of your own actions, you cannot lie deliberately. You are forced to say what you say. Get an ally (standing outside the spell radius if possible to make sure) to cast dominate person on you and

take total and precise control of the target. [..] the creature takes only the actions you choose, and doesn't do anything that you don't allow it to do. (PHB 235)

You will still roll the saves against the zone of truth and the results will be known by the caster. It is just that this makes no difference regarding what you actually say.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would being forced to lie not still count as a deliberate lie? Even if it's against your will, it's still intentional. \$\endgroup\$ – Carson Jan 19 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think so, because it wouldn't be your intention. \$\endgroup\$ – Diego Queiroz Jan 19 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Looking at spell levels, I'd say the dominate spell wins out in a contest. \$\endgroup\$ – raithyn Jan 19 at 19:19
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Minor Illusion

You say yes (or even don't speak at all), they hear no. You told the truth (or at least spoke no lie), but defeated the Zone of Truth with a cantrip.

If you need more certainty of success, whether to make a more complete illusion or to fool more observers, just go with a higher level illusion spell.

Of course, you will need a way to cast it without detection, but once you have the general principle, this is a much easier task to tailor to the specific situation, restrictions, and resources available, ranging from metamagic, to items, to allies casting it for you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The question asks specifically for ways to defeat while avoiding detection, so this doesn't actually answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jan 19 at 15:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, the illusion itself doesn't matter that much because Zone of Truth will inform the caster of the truth about your statement, even if you change the sounds your mouth will still move like you were saying something else. Casting without detection wouldn't be that simple here and to complicate matters, if there were multiple characters you'd either have to fool all of them with your Illusion or be automatically branded a traitor. \$\endgroup\$ – Diego Queiroz Jan 19 at 15:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov: It turns the problem of how to beat one of Truth into the much easier problem of how to cast a cantrip undetected. If that doesn't answer the question, it's simply because you lack imagination. \$\endgroup\$ – Trevortni Jan 19 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trevortni Please remember to be respectful and constructive when disagreeing with others. You might want to add the relevant details from the spell (and its description) to the answer, rather than resorting to insulting other users. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 19 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DiegoQueiroz - An illusion of speaking the truth about the question asked, while actually spouting nonsense like, "Banana, Banana, Banana, Banana", is effectively no different from speaking the truth if the illusion is good enough. They're compelled to tell the truth, not compelled to answer the question? \$\endgroup\$ – Malady Jan 20 at 1:28
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The Avoid Approach

Besides other people's answers which mostly confront the spell directly (and are very interesting), the target can avoid answering the questions directly just like most politicians do.

From Zone of truth's spell entry:

An affected creature is aware of the spell and can thus avoid answering questions to which it would normally respond with a lie

A competent Interrogator can assume whatever he wants, however that says nothing about the actual truth. Not answering directly is not enough evidence to conclude treachery and by assuming anything they may be doing the wronging someone (as a GM I'd consider this possibility as it's a nice conflict for good characters).

Consider these scenarios:

  1. If the target doesn't know about their own disloyalty, then he can answer with conviction and the spell will confirm the truth of his statements. So, a mastermind can manipulate others into doing things without their knowledge, another option is that the target may have revealed some information while drunk and doesn't remember being disloyal, therefore in the target's own eyes he still is loyal and since the spell is not a divination, it can't detect what actually happened.
  2. The target has enough status to not submit to this interrogation. Could be a prideful noble, only answering with: "I will not submit to your magic interrogation", specially if the target knows about magic.

Do note that it doesn't matter if the target actually has been disloyal, people in a position of power like nobles will use their power to protect themselves from a threat, torturing or killing a noble could have serious consequences regardless of his status as a traitor, so even if your interrogato assumes the target is a traitor, unless it can be proven, it's meaningless because the target has enough power to avoid the consequences.

  1. The target has been disloyal, but not the specific disloyalty that the players want, like allowing enemy to retreat when he was ordered to kill them, or he doesn't pay taxes (or even steals from the treasury) or did a bunch of other disloyal actions, but none of these are related to what the players actually facing. (These can works as hooks for more conflicts)

The Interrogation Interference Approach

Because I do love come conspiracies in my games here it goes:

Let's suppose the target is in fact a traitor. He could have kidnapped or otherwise displaced the caster before the interrogation and whoever is casting Zone of Truth is actually an ally of the target in disguise.

So he can say whatever he wants, since the caster is an ally of the target, nobody else will know what the zone of truth revealed.

Some ways to do this:

  1. Before the Interrogation someone could have used Suggestion on the would be caster of Zone of Truth and made him ride a horse for hours away from the place where the interrogation would happen and then, an ally of the target that nobody knows will either substitute or impersonate the caster using alter self or some other way.

  2. If the caster of Zone of Truth is an NPC he may be an ally of the target and this a plot to gain the truth of the PCs anyway, so the whole interrogation could be staged without the players knowing.

  3. The target is actually an expendable impersonator whose sole purpose is to be killed so the PCs think they have killed the real traitor, but didn't. In this case, the target may just say whatever as he is supposed to die anyway.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The first part is a variant of "lying by telling the truth", which the question specifically discards, although the way it's presented here does seem to render the argument against that moot. Besides, there's no indication the players are the interrogating side. Chances are the asker is a player in a campaign where they're infiltrating an evil empire and this technique has been foreshadowed as a possible challenge. OTOH, if that was the case, I'd just ask them to be creative on their own :-P \$\endgroup\$ – Egor Hans May 3 at 11:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, some of the statements seem to build on the common fallacy that ZoT indicates whether the target is speaking the truth. It doesn't. It indicates at the target's turn whether the target is capable of lying this turn. \$\endgroup\$ – Egor Hans May 3 at 12:17

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