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When bound to the brow chakra, the soulmeld unicorn horn grants the meldshaper the following special ability:

You gain the ability to detect evil once per round as a standard action. (Magic of Incarnum 91)

Does this detect evil effect automatically cease after 1 round? That is, must the meldshaper again activate the effect each round, making a detailed scan of the area's evil impossible? Or after activating the effect, can the meldshaper concentrate on the effect for more information as if using the spell detect evil? Or is there yet another way to read this ability?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What makes a reading that deviates from the spell's effect need consideration in the first place? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 31 '15 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Unlike many special abilities, soulmelds aren't classified as natural, extraordinary, spell-like, or supernatural by the text, so determining duration is challenging, especially with an effect that's phrased weirdly (i.e. of course it's once per round—it takes a standard action... but why say that?!). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 31 '15 at 19:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ None of those should alter the referenced spell's effect though? And say it because not saying how often it can be used would be even odder? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 31 '15 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie If you want to make a case for You gain the ability to detect evil being the same as You gain the ability to detect evil once per round as a standard action, that's cool. Some questions can be answered more easily than others. I thought there might be more to it than that given the phrasing, but I, on occasion, overanalyze. (Collective gasp!) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 31 '15 at 19:49
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The 1/round defines a frequency, not a duration

Unicorn horn does not grant detect evil at will: it grants it at most 1/round. Considering that there are ways to get extra standard actions, that’s potentially-meaningful. In theory, if it were at will and you had two standard actions somehow, you could use detect evil twice, to determine the presence or absence of evil in two separate 60-ft. cones. But unicorn horn’s 1/round limitation prevents this.

But when you use unicorn horn’s detect evil, it works just like the spell, including the “Concentration, up to 10 min./level (D)” duration. And continuing to concetrate on detect evil is not the same as using it (elsewise spellcasters would have to burn spell slots each round to continue concentrating on it), which means if you did have multiple standard actions, you could activate detect evil in one round, concentrate on it in the next round to determine the number of evil auras and most powerful evil aura in one area, and then stop that to activate the second round’s detect evil, learning about the presence or absence of evil in a separate area.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "A totemist can use the unicorn horn to detect evil in a round twice if he uses the extra standard action from the threefold mask of the chimera," thinks the developer. "I better nerf that." Who is this guy and how much money does he charge to let people kick him in the shins? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 31 '15 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan While this is a particularly insipid time to think of it, there are, I think, numerous abilities that could use limitations like this. If nothing else, it’d be a sign that a WotC employee was actually thinking about possible interactions and taking care to make the RAW specific; I actually find that thought quite refreshing. (Of course, if we’re honest, I tend to doubt that whoever wrote this actually realized these ramifications; most likely it was written out of habit more than anything else.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 31 '15 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, Jeez, if you're gonna get all reasonable about it... :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 31 '15 at 21:02

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