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Can an observer see that a creature is under the effect of the Mage Armor spell?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this a different way for a warlock to ask the DM "does this mage armor make me look fat?" \$\endgroup\$ Oct 21 '20 at 0:20
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Undefined

The closest we get to a description is:

You touch a willing creature who isn’t wearing armor, and a protective magical force surrounds it until the spell ends.

which tells us nothing about the appearance of this protective magical force.

Ask your DM for a ruling. Feel free to argue that it would be cooler if it were/were not visible, or that it would make more sense if it were/were not visible, or that the caster should be able to decide when casting, or whatever. There is no universal ruling.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Or you could rule that it's "almost" invisible but you can make an arcana or perception check to notice it. For example, dust could behave differently when touching the mage armor then when touching normal clothing - but you'd only notice the difference if you know that there is a difference. OR you could rule that you can make an arcana or perception check after you attacked the creature, because then you felt/observed the effect when your attack hit and made damage or not. \$\endgroup\$ May 10 '15 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sumyrda Not sure about DnD5e, but in Pathfinder players can also be under the effects of a 'Detect Magic' spell, which could bypass the need for a check as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Robotnik
    May 11 '15 at 4:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's perhaps worth noting that 3.5 mage armor, the last version of the spell to say anything about its visuals AFAICT, was explicitly invisible. Additionally, the shield spell which kinda duplicates the 3.5 effect (both give +AC instead of bumping unarmored base AC) is also invisible. Whether that means that 5e mage armor is invisible by proxy or visible because it "removes" that flavor is still undefined. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 20 '20 at 19:25
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Spells only do what they say — the spell's effect doesn't indicate that it creates any visuals, so it has none.

DMs can rule that this spell works otherwise in their own settings, but as-written it's invisible.

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nothing wrong with adding flavor to it. For example you could make you armor appear to encase your character like a guyver suit, witchblade armor or a Venom Symbiote activation. Another person might make it look like shimmering translucent armor almost like a celestial prortection. And still another might make it appear as a dome of protection barely visible unless it is "struck". Describing your spells is part of the fun I believe. After all since the Dr. Strange movie I see a lot of the Round arcane writing type of thing for shield spell now, that is obviously a very flavorful description of the spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There are reasons it matters. Say the party wants to sneak in someplace with tight security. They rent a cart, load it with food staples & assorted sundries worth ~ 20 gold, and try to bluff their way past the guards with this prop. If the cart driver's decked out in armor that will be very suspicious. They're dressed like a peddler & would rather not be completely defenseless. Here Mage Armor not ruining the disguise would be useful. And the flip side: Sometimes you WANT Mage Armor to be flashy and showy or intimidating. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ton Day
    Oct 20 '20 at 8:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. This doesn't really seem to address how the spell works as written - you might want to explicitly state "The spell doesn't describe how its effect looks" at the beginning of your answer, before suggesting different ways in which it might be flavored. And as Ton Day says, having the effect be visible may cause it to have a mechanical impact, with regard to how it appears to other characters; you should address that in the answer as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Oct 21 '20 at 2:09
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Magical force is usually visible; mage armor remains ambiguous

Other spells/effects than mage armor deal with magical force:

  • Armor of Agathys involves a protective magical force, but looking at the spell it is probably related to the cold counter-damage.
  • Given that imprisonment's other effects all have visible manifestations, we could reasonably conclude that the sphere of magical force created by its "Burial" effect is also visible.
  • Leomund's tiny hut "is opaque from the outside... but it is transparent from the inside."
  • Otiluke's resilient sphere shimmers.
  • Mage armor and Tenser's floating disk doesn't say what it looks like. (A disk might be a shape that would have to be visible to be discerned, or it might be simple enough that it need not be visible to be reasonably described as a disk.)
  • Forcecage, shield, unseen servant, and wall of force are all invisible.

Additionally, PHB defines force damage type as "pure magical energy focused into a damaging form." The following spells/effects, then, also are related to/composed of magical energy:

  • Banishing smite states that the imbued weapon "crackles with force" as it deals its extra force damage. This sounds like a subtle but noticeable effect (moreso to observers than the smitten).
  • Bigby's hand is composed of "shimmering, translucent force," which is capable of dealing force damage as a possible effect.
  • Disintegrate manifests as "a thin, green ray."
  • Eldritch blast is "a beam of crackling energy."
  • Magic missile creates "glowing darts."
  • Given that Mordenkainen's sword is "sword-shaped," it is probably visible. (How could anyone tell it were sword-shaped otherwise?)
  • Spiritual weapon is spectral.
  • Most DMG magic items follow this trend of force damage being visibly inflicted.
  • Beholders and beholder zombies deal force damage with their disintegration rays.
  • Ghosts and other spectral beings are dealt force damage if they end their turn in a solid object, a visible effect.
  • Poltergeists are invisible; it stands to reason their "Forceful Slam" is as well.
  • Dimension door, etherealness, and teleport don't say what it looks like if they cause force damage.

Given that most effects dealing with magical force are visible, I would rule (and acknowledge that it is a ruling more than an answer) that mage armor is visible, probably as a shimmer or glow.

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