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In a previous question, I asked how the drow clergy of the Fane would be able to gather information on a cautious party that had infiltrated the city of Erelhei-Cinlu.

One of the answers suggested liberal use of the commune spell. I initially thought this a great suggestion, but then realized that when not out in the city, the party is hiding in a magnificent mansion which is covered with a private sanctum. One of the effects of private sanctum is that

Creatures in the area can't be targeted by divination spells.

Now, a drow noble house has been attempting to scry on the party, and has been frustrated because it is clear to me that the targets of the scrying spell are creatures within the sanctum.

But of commune, I am not so sure. Commune is divination, but upon casting it I have a connection with my "deity or a divine proxy" and I can subsequently ask three questions of them. Are they the target of my divination spell, such that the sanctum would not protect the party from having questions asked about them, even if they were in it at the time the commune was cast?

Or upon speaking my question and asking about them, do I make a creature the target of the spell, and thus sanctum would protect them if they were in one at the time the question was asked?

Or would the sanctum only protect them from questions asked about their location and activities while under the sanctum, but I could still ask my deity about things that had previously happened when they were out and about in the city and not under the protection of the sanctum, even if they were inside one at the time of casting?

Caveat: I am fully aware that what counts as the target of a spell is often not well defined in the rules. I am wondering if there is anything specifically we can tell about the interaction of commune and sanctum here.

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Commune works

Commune says:

You contact your deity or a divine proxy and ask up to three questions that can be answered with a yes or no. You must ask your questions before the spell ends. You receive a correct answer for each question.

Just because I ask about someone in a question does not mean I am targeting them with the spell. I am not selecting them in any way when I cast the spell. Neither does the deity. Commune further says:

Divine beings aren't necessarily omniscient, so you might receive "unclear" as an answer if a question pertains to information that lies beyond the deity's knowledge.

It is pretty clear that the deity doesn't target the PCs with anything either. It either happens to know where they are, or not. It answers from its knowledge, however it acquired that.

These are gods. There are no rules about what they can and cannot know, or how they know it. They know it (or don't). Maybe they are all-seeing and observed the PCs setting up. Maybe feeble mortal protection spells do not affect them. All of that is up to the DM. Nothing in the spell indicates they would need to go and acquire that knowledge themselves actively in response to being asked, as a PC would. Nothing indicates they would need to try and target the PCs.

As some added guidance, this answer assumes that legend lore traditionally can circumvent divination protection, since it is not directly targeting the legendary thing but accessing knowledge about it. A similar reasoning applies here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, only the phrase "pre-existing knowledge" doesn't seem quite right. The spell doesn't say anything about "pre-existing", it just says the "deity's knowledge". And "either happens to know where they are or not" is also putting limitations on the spell that aren't in the text. What the deity's knowledge is, and when and how it gathers it, is not specified in the spell at all, except to note divine beings don't automatically know everything. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 9 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agree with Jack here - it seems like you are assuming the deity only answers with information on hand, and answers could include "I don't know" - but that is more properly the realm of contact other plane. As opposed to the commune spell being more like "ask the deity to find this out for me using whatever godly means it possesses. Otherwise it would be useless to ask about, say, things that happened in the last five minutes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 9 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the link to the legend lore answer, but I think it is helpful precisely because I don't think that is how commune works. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 9 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt So what if it happened in the last 5 minutes? These are gods. There are no rules what they can or cannot know, it is up to the DM. They operate outside of the limits set for PCs and NPCs. The do not need to cast commune or divination. They just know (or don't). No need for them to go and find out. \$\endgroup\$ May 9 at 17:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ "There are no rules about what they can and cannot know" might be an explicit part of your answer, since the question is asking whether sanctum makes it so that they cannot know certain things. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 9 at 17:50
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This isn't about what the spell can do, but what the DM should do

In this case your players have taken steps to avoid divination magic. Raw or not if you hit them with 'but the rules lawyers said xyz' that is either in the spirit of your game, or it isn't.

I would hazard a guess that most games don't make players understand the minutiae of spell language and so the DM really should go down the path of "players did something to protect themselves so I will consider them protected", but I can see an enjoyable play style where players would have to care.

Going with RAW, you are asking a divine being, so it is their knowledge that matters, not the spell school.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In this game, one of the characters is a wizard with a +10 Arcana. She is welcome to ask about the steps they took to protect themselves, and what they will actually do and won't do. My understanding of RAW forms the basis of her understanding of the rules of magic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 9 at 14:59
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Commune isn't a 'targeted' spell

There is no saving throw granted to the subject of the inquiry, and spell resistance doesn't apply. You are really just going to a divine / infernal / whatever type being and asking for some gossip. This is, as other responses note, subjective information that could be incorrect or even biased. No spell is going to protect you from a magical grapevine of rumors.

The really interesting question is, can you selectively pick the being you are asking the questions of? If they don't want to answer you, do they get a saving throw or magic resistance check to avoid having to respond?

I know that would much rather try communing with Honestia, the goddess of truth eternal, than Sheeda, the goddess of poisonous lies and half-truths if I have any say in the matter.

TLDR - The communing Drow will only learn cursory info about the part in any event, since the spell isn't very precise.

Drow: Were the attackers our rivals from the other side of the river?

Demon: No.

Drow: Were they scouts from the mind-flayer incursion to the south?

Demon: No.

Drow: Were they the accursed surface elves, trying to strike back in revenge for our burning their sacred gove down last month?

Demon: (Knows a surface elf was in party, doesn't know their motivation) Answer hazy, ask again later...

Drow: Dammit. Fetch me another victim to sacrifice, let's try this again...

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    \$\begingroup\$ The spell says, "You receive a correct answer for each question." How does this reconcile with your answer: "This is...subjective information that could be incorrect or even biased. No spell is going to protect you from a magical grapevine of rumors." \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 9 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ The answer might be correct, at least as far as the being being questioned knows. Consider my example: What does a demon know about a random mortal elf's inner motivations or goals? The being will certainaly answer to the best of their ability, but they aren't omniscient, and they certainally aren't going to spend hours explaining all the minutia of their reasoning process to the caster. \$\endgroup\$
    – Roger Hill
    May 9 at 21:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ If the demon simply doesn't know, the spell says "you might receive "unclear" as an answer if a question pertains to information that lies beyond the deity's knowledge." That is different from confidently giving believed but incorrect information, which I think goes against the spells description. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 9 at 21:59

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