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On an adventure we're playing most major cities are covered in a sort of mythal that allows law enforcement to know when spells are cast (you need to be registered to use magic inside the mythals).

My PC is a druid and often relies on Wild Shape even for very simple stuff (such as transporting himself). However, we're not sure if Wild Shape should be detected by the mythal.

At this point the question would be: Can supernatural abilities (like the druid's wild shape) be detected by a detect magic spell?

So our first stop is what SRD says on Supernatural Abilities:

Supernatural abilities are magical and go away in an antimagic field but are not subject to spell resistance, counterspells, or to being dispelled by dispel magic.

But apparently, there's not a consensus on whether Detect Magic should be able to detect Wild Shape (or any other Su ability for that matter). Some say it duplicates a polymorph spell, some say it's probably not detectable, and others say it's just not clear.

If we dig further we have the fact that detect magic:

  • Is personal.
  • Has a 60ft range (cone-shaped emanation).
  • Requires concentration.
  • Shows presence or absence of magical auras.
  • May be blocked by 1 foot of stone.

And even if we detect Wild Shape, what kind of aura would be perceived?

But then again, a mythal is supposed to be epic so it probably wouldn't be restricted by the limitations of a 0-level spell.

What is a reasonable way a mythal would work with detecting Su abilities?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like the mythal thing is less of a problem than the detect magic thing, and house rules might be muddying the question. Would this be better asked as Can supernatural abilities (like the druid's wild shape) be detected by a detect magic spell? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 9 '15 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan But wouldn't the answer to that question be there's not a consensus? \$\endgroup\$ – Roflo Dec 9 '15 at 19:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Roflo Lack of consensus doesn’t mean there’s an answer. The rules are really quite clear at least on the basic question of whether or not detect magic can at least something in the case of supernatural abilities (it can). What you see, whether you can recognize it, what DCs are involved, those are unclear, but not really relevant to the mythal anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 9 '15 at 19:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan ok, but then a followup: If there's no consensus, shouldn't we close such a question as primarily opinion-based? \$\endgroup\$ – Roflo Dec 9 '15 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Roflo One, the question suggested by HeyICanChan is not opinion anything; it has a clear and objective answer in the rules (it’s “yes”). People who disagree with that (as in one of your links) are simply wrong. Two, even if we expanded the question to ask about schools and DCs, that is still answerable: with “the rules do not say, the DM will have to make something up.” And by the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective tenet of Stack Exchange, it is also valid to answer with personal experience, “I always used X; it works.” \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 9 '15 at 19:17
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This is from the epic spell seed "mythal" from "Lost Empires of Faerun", p.44:

"You create a persistent magical field centered on the point you choose. You (or other casters cooperating with you) can then cast a number of other spells into this field, thereby either granting or denying access to them to creatures within the field. Effects you can include in your mythal fall into four categories: prevalent spells (always active), arointed spells (always denied to those within the field), vanguard spells (available on demand to those within the field), and prevalent powers (persistent effects that do not map to any particular spell)."

A "detect magic" prevalent spell would detect wild shape, but the question is who would be considered the caster of such a prevalent spell receiving the information and how far such an information would be transmitted. Imagine the poor city guard in a standard D&D setting receiving information about each and every magic in town.

Technically it works better as a vanguard spell available to the authorities. But in this case the authorities do not longer have 100% surveillance. So you could wild shape unnoticed as long as there is no direct observation.

As a catch-all your DM can decide that alarming nearby or all law enforcers of persons wild shaping is a "prevalent power" of the mythal. The only thing you can check out in this case are the rules he set for this power. It is just not possible for everyone to know everything. So who gets which informations? Are there loopholes or blind spots? Or do the law enforcers see so much they might simply miss you wild shaped?

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Mythals can do nearly anything

The first stop at detect magic is a red herring. Each individual mythal is a sui generis magical entity that is not bound by any rules of lesser magics, except insofar as those who laid the mythal cut corners and just invested it with off-the-shelf spell effects.

Mythals are beyond-epic-level magic that live in the realm of plot magic and DM fiat — or in in-world terms, are the result of magical techniques that are effectively unlimited in scope (assuming sufficient magical knowledge, and commensurately-stupendous efforts and inputs when the mythal was laid) and/or which have been lost to history.

Mythals can be laid to do pretty much anything, and detecting shapechanging or specific varieties of shapechanging, even when not the result of an explicitly magical spell, is certainly within the realm of things they can be created to do — regardless of whether it's a SU or even a natural ability. (For example, a mythal could exist that can detect species, size, a striking motion, falling, angry words, etc.)

So the question of what would be reasonable for a mythal to do is moot — it can do it, if the worldbuilder in charge of it (often the DM, sometimes the group) decides that it can. How it works is, equally, up to the worldbuilder in charge — it could be showing an aura, or it could be sparkles and bells, or it could be activating a specially-enchanted alarm object that is carried by law enforcement (or discovered by looters in a long-ruined mythal city), or it could be casting a spell at the triggering creature, or it could be instantly paralysing the offender… the reaction of a mythal to a stimulus is just as freeform as its other abilities.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I wanted to answer this way, but wanted to try and find some in book descriptions of Mythals to back it up, and cant get to any at work :) Good answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Mayshar Dec 9 '15 at 21:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Mythals not being 0-level spells. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 9 '15 at 23:12
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Supernatural Abilities

Supernatural abilities are magical

Detect magic

You detect magical auras.

If it’s magical, detect magic sees it. What school of magic you would or would not see is unclear (though in the case of wild shape, Transmutation seems almost guaranteed), nor is it clear what the Spellcraft DC to recognize it is, but you definitely see something.

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It honestly depends on the mythal. If the mythal was set up to catch supernatural abilities, it probably would. However, for it to also detect spells, it would be more powerful than one that did not, indicating a greater sacrifice was made to create it and more maintenance is required to keep it active.

More likely is detecting certain classes of supernatural abilities, rather than all of them. Supernatural abilities that polymorph the user, for instance, would be a useful thing to detect, in case someone is attempting to disguise themselves. However, it's also true that good dragons often change shape into humanoids, and a wise circle of elven magi might have chosen to give them their privacy while inside the city.

Do consider what information someone gets from this detection, and who is able to access it. If the mythal detects supernatural abilities and identifies them by casting a dancing lights into the air over the user, with the color and pattern signifying what kind of power it is, maybe by the time the guards arrive, the PCs are already gone. On the other hand, if it announces to everyone in the entire city "Polymorphic non-spell magical ability activated by (age category) (race) at (street intersection), user became a bear, description: (hair color, eye color, skin color, height, weight, clothing, displayed holy symbols if any)" it might be easier for people to figure out who cast what.

I say, if it makes the story more interesting and/or fun to have it pick up wild shape, let it pick up wild shape. If it's just going to be annoying, have it only detect actual spellcasting. (And for the edge case in-between, decide whether or not it detects spell-like abilities!)

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