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How can a character investigate whether a lifelike statue is a statue or a petrified creature?

Do permanent spells like Flesh to Stone, or anything causing the Petrified status (in particular a Basilisk's Petrifying Gaze) leave any way for any character to discern whether or not the statue was at some point a living creature?

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Cast a long-duration spell on it, then identify

First, is a petrified creature a creature? The petrified condition says:

  • A petrified creature is transformed, along with any nonmagical object it is wearing or carrying, into a solid inanimate substance (usually stone). Its weight increases by a factor of ten, and it ceases aging.
  • The creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can't move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

You could argue that bullets one and two refer to the creature as it is being transformed, but bullet three clearly refers to its ongoing state. Therefore, a petrified creature is still a creature.

Now all you need to do is cast a long-duration spell on it that only targets creatures (and works on unwilling targets). A 1st-level bard, wizard, or artificer can accomplish this by casting longstrider on the creature/statue, then casting identify on it (to detect longstrider). Longstrider doesn't require concentration, lasts for 1 hour, only works on creatures, and doesn't require a willing target.

If it's a statue, longstrider wouldn't work, so it wouldn't show up on identify. Otherwise, identify will detect the presence of the spell. Longstrider has the added benefit of not damaging the creature/statue, regardless of which it is. If you're concerned about weird DM rulings, you could start by trying this on something you know isn't a creature, like a random piton. (Beware of piton mimics!)

Options for all casters

  • Bard can cast longstrider and identify.
  • Cleric can cast shield of faith, which states: "A shimmering field appears and surrounds a creature of your choice". That should be easily visible.
  • Druid can cast earthbind, which states: "Choose one creature you can see within range. Yellow strips of magical energy loop around the creature." Again, easily visible. There's a Strength saving throw (which should not affect the yellow energy), but petrified creatures automatically fail them.
  • Paladin can also cast shield of faith. A neat alternative is zone of truth, because it states: "You know whether each creature succeeds or fails on its saving throw."
  • Ranger can use hunter's mark, but it's a bit complicated. They need to (1) mark a real creature, (2) reduce it to 0 hit points, (3) try to transfer the mark to the statue/creature, (4) try to transfer the mark to another real creature, (5) shoot that real creature to see if it takes 1d6 extra damage. Step 5 only works if Step 3 targeted a statue. Otherwise, they can use locate object.
  • Sorcerer can cast earthbind, just like druid.
  • Warlock can use hex like ranger uses hunter's mark.
  • Wizard can cast longstrider and identify.
  • Artificer can cast longstrider and identify. (Thanks to David Coffron in the comments.)
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is your DM really that combative, or are you just that guy sometimes? In either case, this is wonderfully rules lawyered. \$\endgroup\$ – raithyn Apr 8 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Exploiting the fact that a petrified creature is still a creature would have been my answer too. You even manage to side-step the possible wrinkle of the Invalid Spell Targets rule from XGtE by using a secondary means to test whether the spell was actually successful. \$\endgroup\$ – BBeast Apr 8 at 0:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @raithyn Thanks! No combative DMing here, just a fun puzzle to solve. I've been known to be that guy from time to time; I love it when a plan comes together! \$\endgroup\$ – Red Orca Apr 8 at 0:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, this obviously suggests a way to tell: "weight increases by a factor of ten" Stone is only about 3 times heavier than water. Simply immerse the object in water to determine its volume and compare to nonmagical stone (apparently, about 3x less dense). Be sure to shout "Eureka!" and run naked through the town for full roleplaying XP. \$\endgroup\$ – Xerxes Apr 8 at 16:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TinMan Unfortunately, advantage is something a DM is expressly allowed to modify as they see fit. The DM is well within their rights to say that you have advantage to hit a mundane statue, as well. (Of course, the DM could also say "you can't figure out if the statue is a person, because I said so", but then there's no guaranteed way to do anything.) \$\endgroup\$ – Red Orca Apr 8 at 20:54
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Outside of context, you can't tell the difference between stone statue and a petrified creature by visual inspection.

The spell ends after 1 minute. RAW, there is no "lingering aura" in the case of flesh to stone as you originally asked. In many cases, finding a perfectly lifelike statue should prompt adventurers to ask questions: Why is this in the middle of a forest/underground cavern? Why does it appear to be terrified/running away from something? These aren't necessarily givens though. A medusa who throws fancy dinner parties would create completely different victims than a basilisk in an underdark prison complex. Also, art is just weird sometimes.

RAF, I don't think there is anything wrong with the DM ruling that the party can recognize that there is something magical about the statue, but I recently ran an adventure where statues of political dissidents were all over a city under martial law. The dawning horror of the party as they realized that these were all actually people over the course of several sessions was worth them not initially knowing that fact.

In the situation you described where a party needs to find a petrified prince in a room full of look-alike statues, the "perfectly lifelike" can be used to help the party. If they can discover errors in workmanship, differences in the material (perhaps the official statues are inlaid with metals or only carved from onyx), or have to solve some other logic puzzle, you can turn the guessing game into a memorable part of the rescue instead of a frustrating waste of spellslots.

As richarb points out, players can rely on non-visual characteristics though. A petrified creature is, by definition, a creature with the petrified condition. There are a number of divination spells that can locate creatures/objects, piece together the past, or otherwise provide insight into the situation, depending on your level of familiarity with the relevant cast of characters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've been gaming for 10 years and this is the first I'm seeing of RAF. What does that mean? \$\endgroup\$ – Powerdork Apr 7 at 23:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Rules as Fun. It's choosing to step outside of Rules as Written or Rules as Intended because it makes for a better experience at your specific table. Not to be confused with Rule of Cool, which usually means you ignore rules. \$\endgroup\$ – raithyn Apr 7 at 23:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ As an example, it's RAF to decide (preferably as a group, not unilaterally as the DM) that critical successes and fails apply to saving throws. That's neither RAW or RAI, but many of us choose to play that way. \$\endgroup\$ – raithyn Apr 7 at 23:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great, answer, but you may want to mention the pose. Most decorative statues will be in a clear, deliberate, artistic pose. Most magically transformed people will be in the middle of something such as running away that is likely not going to look anything like a common artistic pose. It probably won't be definitive, but it makes a solid clue. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Apr 8 at 0:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Powerdork RAF is addressed here \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 8 at 1:36
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Close observation

Statues almost always have pupils carved; petrified creatures do not.

A pertified creature might have every individual eyelash and hair stoned. It would take a highly skilled carver to do the same.

A pertrified creature doesn't have chisel marks.

Statues were often painted, so traces of paint in crevices suggests a statue rather than a petrified creature.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Pupils are more of a style thing. The Greeks and Romans tended not to, and a painted statue certainly would have that done via paint rather than carving. If the statue could have been painted but now is not, or looks new and not-yet-painted, those could be confounding features. And chisel marks would be a clue to a bad sculptor; a good one should generally not leave those behind. \$\endgroup\$ – Graham Apr 8 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Right, most greek statues were originally painted, including the eyes. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Apr 9 at 5:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ The history of carving statues IRL is totally irrelevant. However, it is a good argument that the history of how statues are carved in-game could be a tell. Same for chisel marks (even IRL, high-quality statues don't really have chisel marks where the surface is supposed to be smooth). Master sculptors would definitely use an abrasive material to smoothen a rough surface before delivering their work. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Apr 10 at 15:50
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Detect magic might not work but there are several other divination spells that could be of use.

Scrying or locate creature would work if a petrified creature counts as a creature.

Augury: 'should I try to depetrify this statue?'

Identify seems a great spell for it, unless your DM is harsh and decides that no spells are "currently affecting it".

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another option may be legend lore or the various Divining spells \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Apr 7 at 22:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 I left out some of the higher level spells but yes they would work too. True seeing also, unless your DM is really unkind. \$\endgroup\$ – richardb Apr 7 at 23:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I knew as soon as I walked away from the computer that I should have gone beyond the original question about whether a magical aura would exist. But I'm not trying to figure out what I think about Identify. I'd 100% give it to my party, but the nuances of the rules on that will bug me for a while. The spell has ended, but the petrification lasts until dispelled... hmm. \$\endgroup\$ – raithyn Apr 7 at 23:30
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I noticed your question mentioned specifically a basilisk's gaze. On page 24 in the monster manual it states:

Travelers sometimes find objects that look like pieces of remarkably lifelike stone carvings of wildlife. Missing parts appear to have been bitten off. Seasoned explorers regard such relics as warnings, knowing that the basilisk that created them is likely to be nearby.

I don't know of any way of using magic, that hasn't been said already, but you could always have your players roll for insight or nature to determine that it was a basilisk.

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