For standard usage of the Detect Thoughts spell,

"If the creature you choose has an Intelligence of 3 or lower or doesn't speak any language, the creature is unaffected" (PHB, pg 231).

Additionally one may use the Detect Thoughts spell to detect the presence of creatures they can't see, however

"You can't detect a creature with an Intelligence of 3 or lower or one that doesn't speak any language" (231).

The description for Wild Shape states,

"your ability to speak or take any action that requires hands is limited to the capabilities of your beast form" (67).

Apart from the crow, no non-awakened beast has the ability to speak (the crow specifically has the Mimicry abilty and notably has no languages listed on its stat block).

So it begs the question, can a Wild Shaped druid be affected by the Detect Thoughts spell?

Going one step further, would a druid with the ability to speak telepathically while Wild Shaped be affected any differently by the spell?

Related questions:

This question was inspired by the Telepathic feat from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.


3 Answers 3


RAW, if a form's Languages section is blank, that form is immune to detect thoughts.

This is the rules as written ruling. A druid wildshaped into a wolf cannot speak any languages, so detect thoughts does not apply, as detect thoughts says:

You can't detect a creature with an Intelligence of 3 or lower or one that doesn't speak any language.

As for telepathy, it probably depends on the wording of the particular feature granting telepathy. If I'm DMing, it doesn't matter because...

I would rule that the druid is not immune to detect thoughts.

This is a situation where I would rule against the RAW ruling. Wildshape has this feature:

you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.

Despite taking the form of a Beast, you retain all of your mental ability scores - you are still just as wise and intelligent as you were in your normal form. To me, this means that a druid wildshaped into a bear does not think like a bear, rather thinks just as they did in their normal form. I would rule that you still think in whatever language you usually think in, so are still vulnerable to detect thoughts (unless you think in a language the caster does not know).

Some beasts have a language, which may still protect them from detect thoughts.

For example, the Giant Elk:

Languages Giant Elk , understands Common, Elvish, and Sylvan but can't speak them

So our druid uses Wildshape to become a Giant Elk. Now they can speak the Giant Elk language.

This means they can think in Giant Elk.

If the caster of detect thoughts does not themselves speak Giant Elk, then they wouldn't be able to understand the thoughts of the druid.

Of note, the answer in this Q&A argues to the contrary, so it would not be unreasonable for a DM to rule that thinking in Giant Elk doesn't help.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Furthermore, I believe RAW that a wildshaped druid still understands their normal languages, just is incapable of speaking them. This lends weight to them having a language (ie if someone is gagged, does that make them suddenly immune to detect thoughts?) \$\endgroup\$
    – StephenTG
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StephenTG I dont think that is explicitly written, but is certainly implied when it says you retain your mental ability scores (and is how myself and every other DM I've had have ruled on wildshape). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is another case of poor word choice by Wizards when writing an ability. I'm pretty sure what they meant was "doesn't know a language" rather than "doesn't speak", because in most circumstances, the two are one and the same. The druid class, or certain types of undead, are some of the things that lies outside that norm. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ This thing about languages has been addressed in the Sage Advice Compendium. "A literal interpretation (RAW) of Wild Shape could reasonably lead you to think that transformed druids can speak only languages that appear in an elemental’s stat block, but the intent (RAI) is that druids retain their knowledge, including of languages, when they transform and can speak the languages they know if an adopted form can speak." So a druid who has wild shaped into a giant eagle can even actually speak. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Yes, but elementals are not the only eligible wild shape forms that can speak a language. Giant versions of eagles and owls (for any druid) and elks (for moon druids) can speak a language (Giant Eagle/Elk/Owl), but the same logic applies to these forms: these beasts can speak, hence the druid can (RAI) speak their languages while wild shaped into these forms. Cranium rats, on the other hand, have a 30 feet telepathy. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 18:48

Does not speak is different from cannot speak

A wild-shaped druid often cannot speak any language, simply because they cannot speak, due to a temporary restriction of their physical form. This is a common condition that also affects someone who has been gagged (as StephenTG suggests), someone who is under the effects of a Silence spell, or who is paralyzed, petrified, or unconscious.

It is clearly unreasonable to expect that gagging someone makes them immune to the Detect Thoughts spell.

Fortunately the Detect Thoughts spell doesn't say it can't be used on creatures that cannot speak. Rather, it says Detect Thoughts will not work on a creature "that doesn't speak any language."

A wild-shaped druid, and all of the other examples, are creatures that do speak a language, in the sense that they are used to or accustomed to speaking one. They retain knowledge of that language1 even while they are incapable of speaking it at the moment. They do speak it (in general), although they can't speak it (at the present time).

When you ask the orc bandit, "Does your leader speak Common?" which reply makes more sense: "No, he doesn't speak it (because he is currently asleep)," or "Yes, he does speak it (even though he cannot speak with you at the moment since he is asleep)."

The distinction between not being accustomed to something (doesn't speak) and being temporarily physically unable to do something (cannot speak) is essential to adjudicating the detect thoughts spell in a way that makes any sense.

1See the Sage Advice entry for "Can a Circle of the Moon druid speak the languages it knows while in the form of an elemental?"


While you are transformed, the following rules from the Wild Shape feature apply:

Your game statistics are replaced by the statistics⁠ of the beast, but you retain your alignment, personality, and Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.

You retain the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so.

So detect thoughts should work fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack Brango, take the tour when you have a moment. The question centers around some lack of clarity about a beast not speaking any language and the druid retaining mental ability scores, so I think your answer could be improved with some discussion about how those two things relate. Right now, it isn't clear to me how just referencing the rules for Wild Shape resolves the confusion. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 20:37

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