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The situation is quite simple: You cast detect thoughts, and you have two targets within your cone that both fail their will saves. Does the caster immediately know which thought belongs to which target? I haven't been able to figure it out from the spell description, is there even a RAW interpretation for this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not adding this to my question because I believe it will detract from the notion I want a RAW answer, but I do think that not specifying the owner of each thought is an interesting 'nerf' to Detect Thoughts that's been woefully unexplored, and could be a homebrew for DMs that struggle to deal with this spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Joninean Oct 22 '20 at 22:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're assuming that you can detect the surface thoughts of multiple creatures during the 3rd round of concentration on the spell. "Surface thoughts of any mind in the area" could be argued to be just from 1 target that you pick from between the minds you detected during the 2nd round of concentration. Also, the ability "Multiple Surface Thoughts" of the Mindspy prestige class supports this idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Yopi Lapi Oct 23 '20 at 5:40
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It doesn't say

It could clearly spell it out, and it doesn't.

But there are clues

First, the spell says the amount of information revealed depends on how long you study a particular area or subject. This spell requires concentration.

Second, the rules for the second round say you learn information about each creature in the area. They then elaborate if you attempt to read the mind of a creature of INT 26 or higher whose score also beats yours by 10 or more, the spell immediately ends and you are stunned.

What's reasonable

Combined these imply you can focus on an individual or individuals within the area of effect, or probe the area generically. It doesn't say this, but it is the most reasonable interpretation.

You learn specific information about each affected creature - that it is conscious, has an INT >= 1, and is thinking at the moment.

Finally, the spell says the results depend on how long you study "a subject" and say you can detect the surface thoughts of "any" mind in the area, not "all".

This implies the ability to pick and choose which minds you want to detect surface thoughts from. It doesn't make much sense to then say 'but if you target more than one, you can't tell which is which'.

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