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In our campaign, the party is preparing for the inevitable epic battle with a super strong BBEG in a couple of sessions.

They were inspired by an awesome scene from the Vox Machina animated series where the bard somehow casts an illusion of the whole party mocking the dragon, while the "real" party is hiding in the opposite corner of the dragon's cave and preparing their combo to finish the distracted dragon.

Like this:
enter image description here

The party wanted to do something similar to the BBEG, so they've shown me the most viewed and the most liked "Vox Machina spell breakdown video" which states that this illusion trick is simply the "level 3 Major Image spell".

But when I read the description of the Major Image spell, it seems that it's not possible to create 6 "alive" party members at once with this spell (especially so that the fake party members will speak and overall will look natural even to the smart Dragon). Or maybe the whole party is simply treated here as a single object? Like, "image of a party mocking the dragon"?

If Major Image is not an option here, then what possibly could be done to actually replicate such a cool trick in our D&D game? Some other spell? Or it's basically impossible and this scene in the series is just an "artistic liberty" or "rule of cool"? Based on your DM-ing experience, should I just come up with a house rule and say to the party "I'll allow such a trick, but you'd have to upcast the Major Image spell using a much higher level slot and the bard will have to succeed a DC20 performance check" or something like that?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even if Major Image allows a copy of the party to appear 120 feet away, how is the party turned invisible at their actual location? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 17:24

3 Answers 3

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In my games, I've always allowed the Major Image spell (and Programmed Image, which has the same effect in terms of what it can show) to give the caster pretty much full control over creating images and sounds in the area of effect, so they can create a tableau if that's what they want. There's no real benefit to quibbling over the details of what can and can't be shown. I've never had any problems arise from that ruling.

In fact, if we limit the caster to only one creature or one object, that leads to some weird places. Can I make a table with a banquet on it? Can I make an image of an open chest full of jewels and gold coins? Or do those count as dozens or hundreds of individual objects? And if I can create an illusory table full of illusory food, why can't I create illusory guests as well?

Furthermore, there seems to be no higher level spell that specifically gives the caster an ability to create multiple object or creature images in an area at the same time. If we don't allow Major Image to do tricks like this, what spell can? It seems absurd to suggest that it's impossible for a character to create the kind of dramatic room-sized illusions we see from time to time in fantasy movies and literature.

At most, I would ask for some kind of skill check if the caster wanted to have lots of complex activity going on in the scene, and one of the things a successful Investigate check might reveal is that images that aren't in a "speaking role" at any given time may be doing only simple "idle animations" in the background, like repeatedly bringing a cup to their mouth and lowering it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The wording You create the image of an object, a creature, or some other visible phenomenon implies that you can only add objects to the scene, not remove them. You can't use Major Image as an invisibility spell, but you could create an illusion of a moving curtain. Not suspicious at all, do not look behind the curtain! \$\endgroup\$
    – Turksarama
    Nov 7, 2022 at 9:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ The interesting question is whether "flat image of whatever would be visible if there was nothing in this cube, projected onto its surface" is a sufficiently well-specified visual phenomenon (which I would argue it is). In that case, the party becomes de facto invisible to any entity outside of the spell area, but any creature wandering into it would see them still. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 10:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ A good way I found to balance the spell was to make the spell more or less believable depending on the details the caster gives. The more detailed their image is, the more 'real' it seems, the more vague it is, the more flagrant it is. It has the benefit of making it naturally more difficult for the caster to create extremely complex scenes, while also adding a bit of roleplay to the spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – user3399
    Nov 7, 2022 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ If your really worried that the spell is too powerful you could require the caster to upcast it at a slightly higher spell level and claim that gives them more control. But I think the real answer here is DM should figure it out. Let them have fun regardless of the rules so long as it doesn't break the game, and give them a flat "lol no" when they try to break the game because you let them stretch the rules before. \$\endgroup\$
    – dsollen
    Nov 7, 2022 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarcVaisband You could try to do that, but it would only be convincing from a single specific viewing angle because the parallax and scaling wouldn't work right if the viewer moved. They have this sort of thing set up in some historical ruins, where if you put your head in a specific spot, it lines up a matte painting to make the building appear complete. If you can contrive to force the enemy to view from a single angle, like an arrow slit or security camera or the Leap of Faith from Indiana Jones, this could work, but not if you're just like in a room or something. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2022 at 15:58
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At your table, you get to decide what's the most fun

The other answers provide some very reasonable points regarding the interpretation of the rules (and I am in agreement with Darth Pseudonym). However, what I feel is even more important is that D&D is meant to be fun, including potentially at the expense of being 100% consistent. It's long transitioned from "well-defined tactics simulator" to "collaborative storytelling experience", and I would firmly say that that's for the better.

Your party has a cool inspiration for a scene they want to play out together, the plan is hatched, the stage is set, and they have identified a spell which probably does exactly what they need. Why spoil the fun with a semantics argument about a possible alternative interpretation of the rules which would disallow their idea?

They get to have their epic moment, and if worst comes to worst and this leads to cheese with this spell in the future (even though I believe that this is unlikely, as Darth Pseudonym has pointed out), you can still sit down with your players out-of-game and say "Hey guys, I allowed it in that moment because it was cool, but now it's getting out of hand, so from now on I would handle it as follows...".

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That kind of effect does feel too strong for a 3rd level spell, and a 20-ft cube may not be enough. Some spells that feel about right are:

  • Mislead (5th) - allows the caster to turn invisible, does not affect a group. RAW, no rules for upcasting, but you could allow it in order to work on a group
  • Seeming (5th) - I know Scanlan has used this spell, but disguises the party
  • Programmed Illusion (6th) - 30ft cube. 6th is a little high, but depending on your BBEG's intelligence, something of this power may be needed to deceive them
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