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A Ghost (MM, p. 147) can possess a humanoid as per their Possession action:

Possession (Recharge 6). One humanoid that the ghost can see within 5 feet of it must succeed on a DC 13 Charisma saving throw or be possessed by the ghost; the ghost then disappears, and the target is incapacitated and loses control of its body. The ghost now controls the body but doesn't deprive the target of awareness. The ghost can't be targeted by any attack, spell, or other effect, except ones that turn undead, and it retains its alignment, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and immunity to being charmed and frightened. It otherwise uses the possessed target's statistics, but doesn't gain access to the target's knowledge, class features, or proficiencies. [...]

A paladin's Divine Sense (PHB, p. 84) says:

The presence of strong evil registers on your senses like a noxious odor, and powerful good rings like heavenly music in your ears. As an action, you can open your awareness to detect such forces. Until the end of your next turn, you know the location of any celestial, fiend, or undead within 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover. You know the type (celestial, fiend, or undead) of any being whose presence you sense, but not its identity (the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich, for instance). [...]

If a humanoid was possessed by a ghost, then a paladin were to enter the room and use their Divine Sense, would the humanoid register as undead (or the undead nature of the ghost still otherwise show up on the paladin's "radar", such as detecting undead within the humanoid or something like that) or would the possession effectively render the ghost immune to being detected by Divine Sense?

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RAW indicates No.

The phrase

the ghost then disappears

in the description of Possession, together with the following listing of untargetability indicated that the ghost for the duration of the effect does not exist as an independent, locatable entity distinguishable from its host. Therefore, because the host is not undead, and the ghost does not have a location (as written, it disappeared), the Divine Sense can't locate the creature.

In a different interpretation, the ghost could be said to be inside the human in question. However, in this case, RAW still would prohibit it, because Divine Sense allows you to

know the location of any celestial, fiend, or undead within 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover.

(Emphasis mine) Being inside an opaque object, the human body, certainly would count as total cover, and therefore stop the detection.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In line with this answer, one could think that "The ghost then disappears.." as a game command: Remove the ghost's game piece from the board for the duration of the possession. Also in line with this answer is the ruling for swallowed creatures: While swallowed, the target is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the <swallower> - Due to showing consistency with other game rules, this answer can also be considered RAI. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Aug 5 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point on the presence of the ghost itself. But if the ghost is evil, and since it retains its alignment, would the Paladin smell its noxiousness? \$\endgroup\$ – Blueriver Aug 5 at 17:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Blueriver: A related answer - by me - to "Can a Paladin's Divine Sense ability detect good and evil through a portal?": "First of all, Divine Sense does not mechanically detect 'good or evil' creatures. It specifically allows you to locate any celestial, fiend, or undead within 60 feet of you. The first line of the description simply explains how the detection ability described in the following sentences is perceived in-universe by the paladin." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 6 at 6:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think the rules of total cover apply here, but the first part of the answer is correct. The ghost becomes an alien soul in the body instead of a separate creature. \$\endgroup\$ – Rekesoft Aug 6 at 11:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ How does "except ones that turn undead" mean anything practical if "the ghost does not have a location"? \$\endgroup\$ – aschepler Aug 6 at 21:29
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RAW states no.

From the description given for the ghost entry in the MM (Emphasis mine):

The ghost can't be targeted by any attack, spell, or other effect, except ones that turn undead, and it retains its alignment, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and immunity to being charmed and frightened.

Since the Divine Sense is not a turning effect, merely a sensing one, it can't detect a ghost in possession of someone else.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Divine Sense doesn't seem affected by that clause, however, since it isn't targeting anything - merely giving information to the paladin. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Aug 6 at 13:35
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I would say: sure

Essentially, the spirit within the body is being overpowered by a second spirit, the second spirit being undead.

The ghost description states...

Possession (Recharge 6). One humanoid that the ghost can see within 5 feet of it must succeed on a DC 13 Charisma saving throw or be possessed by the ghost; the ghost then disappears, and the target is incapacitated and loses control of its body.

Personally, I take that to mean it doesn't exist as a singular entity that can be seen or interacted with on the map. It is now a spirit within a possessed body as opposed to a "ghost".

The possession states...

The ghost can't be targeted by any attack, spell, or other effect, except ones that turn undead, and it retains its alignment, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and immunity to being charmed and frightened.

However, divine sense states...

Until the end of your next turn, you know the location of any celestial, fiend, or undead within 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover.

Divine sense is basically enhanced perception as opposed to a targeted attack, spell, or effect. The paladin is now aware of more than they were, but they aren't attacking or targeting anything per say. I'm the Player's Handbook, it shows up under Class Features and is treated differently than a spell or targeted effect.

As for total cover... (Taken from the Cover subsection under Combat chapter 9 of the Player's Handbook via D&D Beyond phone app)

Total Cover A target with total cover can't be targeted directly by an attack or a spell, although some spells can reach such a target by including it in an area of effect. A target has total cover if it is completely concealed by an obstacle

A ghost could take total cover behind a body which is different from possessing a body. In a possession, body and soul are one. The soul isn't hiding in the body, it is inhabiting and controlling the body, hence it can still be hit with Turn Undead.

As a DM, if this happened in my game, I would say the paladin senses an undead presence, but it is diluted in some way. Not a pure undead since it is "hiding" in the possessed body, but still undead by its own nature. I would play it that the possession denies any targeted effect since it is "hiding" in a body, but it is still in fact undead and could still be perceived as such. Kinda up to the DM though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to Stack Exchange! This answer could be improved by detailing how this particular interpretation of the interaction between Divine Sense and possession is either A) backed up by the rules as written, or B) how it worked at your table. \$\endgroup\$ – sevenbrokenbricks Aug 6 at 3:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. As sevenbrokenbricks said, your answer would be improved by citing relevant evidence or experience. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 6 at 6:32
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Divine Sense will detect the ghost

If the ghost can be affected by a cleric's Turn Undead, then it must be hiding inside the body of the target.

The rule that says the ghost can't be targeted by any attack, spell or other effect doesn't come into play since divine senses doesn't target anything, it detects.

Divine Sense doesn't tell you that a creature is undead (or a celestial or a fiend). It tells you the location of such creatures. The paladin would know that there is an undead at the same location as the humanoid they are currently possessing.

The ghost does not have total cover while hiding inside their target, as the rules do not state that it does. Even if you consider that the ghost is "inside" of the humanoid target, that isn't the same kind of inside as a creature hiding inside of a locked room. The ghost is infusing itself into the target. They overlap rather than the ghost using the body as a literal hiding place. On top of that, the rules for cover clearly state:

Walls, trees, creatures, and other obstacles can provide cover during combat, making a target more difficult to harm. A target can benefit from cover only when an attack or other effect originates on the opposite side of the cover.

The Divine Sense ability isn't originating from the opposite side of their "cover". For that the be true the ghost would need to be hiding directly behind their possessed humanoid.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How are you handling the issue that the ghost is inside the body? That seems like total cover. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 5 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Per the description of Divine Sense, as shown in the question, the paladin senses the type as well as location. Did OP get that incorrect? \$\endgroup\$ – Verdan Aug 5 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I don't see how they can have total cover. They aren't physically hidden inside of the body like, for example, a creature swallowed by a purple worm. For the purple worm it states specifically that the swallowed creature has total cover against outside effects. The possession rule states nothing of the sort. Instead the ghost has effectively merged with the target humanoid. They overlap, rather than the ghost being physically hidden inside. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Aug 5 at 22:39
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I would say RAW says that you can detect it, but I might be misinterpreting the word “disappears.”

People are stating that the ghost exists inside the human being, as if eaten by it, but I do not think that RAW supports that that’s what has happened. Given that the ghost disappears within 5 feet of the creature and reappears within 5 feet of the creature, my best guess is that it is in some sense existing in a location outside of that creature, controlling it like a puppeteer controlling a marionette, it just happens to be an invisible and intangible puppeteer. Invisibility is well-defined in RAW but does not quite get into that “everything passes through it” intangibility a la Project Image. Whether the ghost must keep line-of-sight with the target is less clear to me, but I don't think it does (it is not mentioned that it must reappear in a location within line-of-sight).

If that interpretation is correct then you can sense it normally with Divine Sense unless the ghost happened to see that sort of thing coming and hid 5 feet away from the possessed character, behind total cover. A very clever ghost might be able to pass through a wall within 5 feet right before Divine Sense, to evade it, but they would probably need advance warning to do so.

I will also argue against myself here: in another circumstance, Find Familiar says that a familiar dropped to 0hp “disappears” similarly, but we would not in normal interpretations of RAW say that maybe you can still communicate with it because “it’s still within 100 feet of you, it’s just intangible” the way that this answer is treating “disappears.”

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I would say it would not show up as undead with a paladin Divine Sense, but would if the spell Detect Evil and Good was cast.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How does this fit with the statement "...ghost can't be targeted by any attack, spell, or other effect..."? \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Aug 5 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Wayne, and welcome to the RPG Stack exchange! Can you provide more detail on why Divine Sense would not work but why Detect Evil and Good would work? \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Aug 5 at 18:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohnP Just because you can't be targeted doesn't give you a free pass on AoE effects: I can't target someone I can't see, but I can fireball their general area and if they are in it, they are still affected. \$\endgroup\$ – TemporalWolf Aug 5 at 20:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TemporalWolf - Possibly, but I believe that AoE would be covered by "or other effect" \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Aug 5 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Temp That is the kind of info I am hoping could be incorporated into the answer, along with supporting quotes from the rules. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Aug 5 at 20:51

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