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I am looking for an effect that you can cast on a creature or character to reveal its true alignment. As long as it reveals true alignment, I don't care if it's a single target effect, a zone effect, or anything else. Also, I don't mind if it has any limitations; I'll take what I can get.

Is there anything that does this? What are my options?

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6 Answers 6

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There's one effect/ability that does this, but you've got to be a sprite... or get one!

(All thanks to @DrunkCynic, who put two and two together.)

In all of the core set and the Encounters supplements I can only find one thing that gets you a sort of divination of alignment: the sprite's Heart Sight ability:

The sprite touches a creature and knows the creature's current emotional state. If the target fails a DC 10 Charisma saving throw, the sprite also knows the creature's alignment. (MM, p.283)

As a third-level Warlock you can gain the Pact of the Chain boon and take a sprite as your familiar: "when you cast [Find Familiar] you can choose... [a] sprite. (PHB p.107)" And now you're just a touch and a telepathic back-and-forth away from knowing one's alignment.

Spells

There's nothing like the old Know Alignment of my youth. But you can Commune and pester your deity for the information.

Alternatively, you've got Glyph of Warding which can trigger on the alignment. (But process of elimination is slow.) Or you might be able to make a case to a GM that Detect Thoughts plus some skill at interpreting those thoughts might get you to alignment, but we're venturing past RAW, here. (Other spells in the ballpark are even more-problematic to try to apply with any surety.)

Magical Items

There are a few magical items that could be used in a process of elimination, as they will harm one of the wrong alignment. These items are: the Talismans of Pure Good/Ultimate Evil and the Books of Exalted Deeds/Vile Darkness. (The Obsidian Steed has a small probability of also achieving this.)

Many items can only be attuned by one of the proper alignment, but I can't think of a way to force another's attempt to attune. If you could, though, we've got a clear winner: the Eye or Hand of Vecna, either of which will change the user's alignment to NE.

[Over]Kill

A coworker reminded me at lunch of the one I'd missed: kill the target, and follow its soul to its eventual destination. Not very practical, but neither are any of the magical items....


For your reference, an Angry GM article on how vestigal alignment has become in 5e. However, he does have some constructive ideas on how to make alignment more relevant, too. (Be warned: Angry GM's materials are liberally... flavored with rude and vulgar language.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interestingly, that article inspired the question. He talks about a force that "takes your soul's temperature," and I was just really hoping there was at least a spell that did the same thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Robert
    Jan 4, 2016 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ If the target is a caster and you want to get a bit creative, then you could potentially trick or compel them into casting Spirit Guardians (perhaps off a scroll if they don't know it). The spirits are angelic or fey in appearance (caster's choice) if the caster is good or neutral and fiendish if the caster is evil. \$\endgroup\$
    – Magnetude
    Nov 2, 2017 at 14:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Page 115 of the Monster Manual specifies one of the regional effects of a Gold Dragon's lair: "Banks of beautiful, opalescent mist manifest within 6 miles of the dragon’s lair. The mist doesn’t obscure anything. It assumes haunting forms when evil creatures are near the dragon or other non-evil creatures in the mist, warning such creatures of the danger." This only detects the binary evil/not-evil, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – A. Wilson
    Jan 19, 2018 at 6:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Magnetude: Notably, spell scrolls can only be read and used by those who have the spell on their spell list - so only clerics and Oath of the Crown paladins (or characters with the Orzhov Representative background from Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica) would be able to read such a scroll anyway, even if they hadn't prepared/learned the spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Dec 13, 2020 at 6:34
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Finessing the Commune spell

Finessing the Commune spell can you let you do this in one casting, if you have just the slightest flexibility of the DM. As noted by Alexis Wilke, when strictly interpreted, you'd normally need two castings. However, the description of Commune says the DM may allow a "short phrase" answer, implying you can go beyond simple yes/no.

So if you can get the DM to let your first question be "How far is their alignment neutral?" such that you get an answer of "Purely" or "Partly" or "Not at all" -- then you can finish with just two more questions that are yes/no. To wit:

  • If the answer is "Purely", then you're done (they're True Neutral).
  • If the answer is "Not at all", then your next questions are "Are they good?" and "Are they lawful?" and you're done. (If they're not good, they must be evil; if they're not lawful, they must be chaotic.)
  • If the answer to the first question is "Partly", then your next question is "Are they morally neutral?"
    • If yes, then your final question is "Are they lawful?", and you're done (they're Lawful Neutral).
    • Otherwise, your final question is "Are they good?", and you're done (if yes, they're Neutral Good; if no, they're Neutral Evil).
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  • \$\begingroup\$ A short phrase answer is only allowed in commune if a yes/no answer would be misleading or contrary to the deity's interests. \$\endgroup\$
    – pyrocrasty
    May 14, 2023 at 20:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that it's highly likely you'd find the answer in a single casting anyway. Even if you have no idea of the creature's alignment, you still have an 8/9 chance of finding it in a single casting. And of course, if you don't care about distinguishing between every single pair of alignments, you can do it for certain in one casting (for instance, if you're willing to lump LG and NG together). \$\endgroup\$
    – pyrocrasty
    May 14, 2023 at 20:34
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Beyond Rules as Written

Apart from the approaches defined by the other answers, consider making a spell, or magical item, that can be used to see alignment or determine alignment.

Spells

The general guidance, page 283 of the Dungeon Masters Guide, wants a gentle approach, with caution against creating something to powerful. Considering the flavor, the spell would be of the Divination School, and available to Clerics and Wizards at the basic thematic level.

The first consideration is how you want this feature to be used in the campaign. The weaker you make it, the lower the level of the spell can be. You could reach back into previous editions for the effect you want, such as Detect Alignment.

Detect Alignment 3.5
Divination, level 1, (V,S,M)
Duration: Concentration, 10 minutes Range: 60 ft Cone
When you cast this spell, choose chaos, evil, good, law or neutrality. While this spell lasts, you gain the ability to detect the chosen alignment. This functions identically to detect evil, except for the chosen alignment, and using CR rather than HD for monsters.

Note, it only provides coverage of a third-ish of the available result. Choosing Chaos, Lawful, Good, or Evil leaves out the other two for that axis, while selecting Neutral covers 5 of 9 possibilities.

That is relatively fair for a first level spell, but the Question wants a more precise identification of the alignment. To meet that requirement, the area of effect can be narrowed, the level raised, or balance of the two. Looking at Detect Thoughts, a level 2 Divination spell, even in the earlier stages you only get the barest hint of the character. To get deeper, and know more about the character, takes an action and getting past a Wisdom Saving Throw. Probing further, you start competing in Intelligence contests. For all of this, the caster has a span of a minute; just 10 rounds.

A comparative Detect Alignment spell, could be mechanically built the same way at this level. However, instead of turning to an Intelligence v Intelligence contest, working to learn more about what their thinking, it would use a Charisma v Wisdom contest. Their ability, or mental confidence, to out bluff your ability to perceive what their alignment is.

This is only an example. The spell level could be increased to support lessening their ability to resist.

Magic Items

If a spell doesn't meet the thematic approach that you're looking for, making a magic item (DMG, 284) is also an option. A few examples follow, but don't let yourself be limited to these.

Styled after Keoghtom's Ointment, consider a similar substance that will react with the targets alignment when exposed to their skin. Starts as a plan white with a granular texture, and then: Glows for Good, seems to Absorb light for Evil, becomes rough and jagged for Chaotic, and Flat for Lawful. Given the precision of the substance, it should be at least a rare item, and have a limited number of doses available. Thematically, beyond a specific mcguffin, it's construction should be beyond the reach of the player characters; rather, it's provided or available in support of their quest.

If your something with a bit more permanence, observe the effects if a misaligned character handles Book of Exalted Deeds. There is a visceral, damaging reaction; too extreme for your aim, but a fair guide post.

Tyr's Scales Wonderous Item, Rare A metal statue of a warhammer rising from the dirt, with a scale resting upon the head. Each side of the scale features a bas relief; one an ordered image of Tyr, the other a corrupt version of the same. When a supplicant grasps the haft of the warhammer, the scales will shift as the nature of the soul weighs down one side in accordance with their alignment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you suspect, as I do, that the 2e Know Alignment may be a better fit for 5e, you can find it on p.143 of the PHB2e. Major differences: range=10 yards, 2nd-level divination, targeted creature can save vs. spell, duration is 1 round per caster level. 1 round focusing on a target reveals the law-chaos axis, a second round on-target gets you the good-evil axis; you can target as many beings/objects as you have time to in the duration. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    May 24, 2016 at 21:50
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As mentioned by nitsua60, it is possible to know the alignment of a creature since a sprite can know. It is not clear, however, how the sprite learns about the alignment. Yet, whether the sprite somehow communicates with a God to get the answer or just has such an innate skill in and of itself should not matter much. I think that Gods are likely to know that information.

So... You may use the Commune spell for the feat (PHB 223). That's a 5th level Cleric spell. You can ask 3 questions at a time, so you will not know the exact alignment that way, you would have to cast the spell twice (if you have two clerics... otherwise chances to get the right answer drop.) The questions would have to be "Is this creature Good (1), Evil (2), Chaotic (3)?" and thus you are missing Lawful... (or any other combo.) If not Good nor Evil, then you know that it is Neutral. The same with Chaotic and Lawful.

Obviously, assuming you accept that Commune works, Wish will work too. But you may not yet have level 9 Wizard spells, and it's probably a big waste. Although that said, it's probably easier to find and cast the Wish spell than find the Hand/Eye of Vecna as proposed by nitsua60...

Now, if you are the Dungeon Master and really need such a feat to be available in your campaign and at a lower level, it is always possible to add new spells. There are such in the Rage of Demons where players may find conjuration spells to conjure Hezrou, for example.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Before getting to Commune, consider a short stop with Zone of Truth. Level 2 Cleric spell. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2016 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good call with Commune. With Zone of Truth, @DrunkCynic, I think the fact that the target could just choose not to answer your questions eviscerates it. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jan 5, 2016 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Depends on how those involved play through the scenario; the mere reluctance to answer questions during Zone of Truth could be used as evidence of nefarious intent. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2016 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also Zone of Truth has a saving throw. You know whether the person you are questioning succeeds, but on success (which is not unlikely) you won't get an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2016 at 23:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't ZoT be unreliably based on target's own point-of-view as well, though? Unless you're playing a campaign that heavy leans on that fourth wall, most characters wouldn't really think of themselves in alignment terms- that LG Paladin would likely think of herself as honorable and altruistic, but might easily assume she's not special because she's only been exposed to other equally-LG paladins from her order. Similarly, that Evil General Ripper expy warlord who murders kittens and villagers by the basketful could easily have deluded himself into think he's acting for the common good. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eladri
    Jan 6, 2016 at 20:23
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There is only 1 way to determine alignment in 5e that I know of and that is the spell Glyph of Warding. The spell gives you a great deal of flexibility on what to make the trigger. There is nothing to stop you from making the trigger something like "it activates when an Evil creature enters the area".

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Note that nitsua60's answer already mentions glyph of warding as one way to accomplish this goal, though as noted there, "process of elimination is slow." \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Dec 13, 2020 at 6:46
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5e uses skill checks, and ability checks even more. Why not just make it a check a caster can use to get a very good educated guess about the alignment of a creature? I guess I'd make it an arcana check, but if that's not applicable it seems intelligence or wisdom would suffice.

My first thought was that it would be a tacit check by the DM, without the player knowing the result - but on further thought, maybe the DC should be the secret part. That way, the player rolls and has an idea whether they were 'on their game today' or not, but they still wouldn't know if they were 100% right or not.

I think something like that would make alignment something players can sort of guess at - really good casters being able to make better guesses.

Something like that reminds me of the "Malazan Book of the Fallen." In that, yes, there are good and evil characters, but it's pretty complex matter to really ATTACH such labels to someone. We're all complex, and alignment is constantly shifting. Determining the absolute alignment of a creature would require an examination of the creature's entiree life - the good, bad, law, and chaos it has actually created in its whole lifetime. But one can say, "This creature means only sheer chaos and evil to us right now . . . almost certainly."

This way, alignment exists, can be known, etc., but the detection process is a bit tricky.

I also think that keeps with the spirit of 5e's approach to alignment - don't put 100% stock in it, detecting it is not a given.

It's an art, not a science.

Just an idea that popped into my head. I was thinking about picking locks and how that has changed in 5e - i.e. anyone can do it, but ability, skill, and in the case of locks, tools, make all the difference. Still, the bottom line on locks remains natural ability. So much depends on the difficulty of the lock, which is not always known to the players. So in the case of alignment, I just sort of reverse that and say, yes, the alignment is there, it can be assessed, but do YOU have the relevant skills to detect THIS creature's alignment, right here and now?

This way, you could sort of make a setting in which, yes, if I had hours and hours to review the star charts for the creature, test it's blood, etc., I could most certainly tell you its alignment. Here and now . . . that's a different and trick matter involving a lot of guessing, and including the fact the creature may well be acting outside its strict alignment at present.

For example, a monster that is merely lost, confused and needs directions. He's not intending any evil RIGHT NOW, and would thus be pretty difficult for a caster to figure out its alignment. The caster may well come up wrong, thinking this creature is neutral good or something. That could change 30 seconds from now, when the monster sees some piece of treasure it covets, or decides the PCs look tasty . . .

The opposite end of the spectrum of course is a creature that's fairly SATURATED in its alignment characteristics. A devil sitting calmy on his throne, deciding the fate of the characters, for example. In cases like that, since the DC is the DM's secret, you could give the characters a "take 10" or even "take 20" to determine the devil is indeed quite Lawful Evil.

I just think you can work it out with skills, abilities, proficiency, possibly even tools - and the ever flexible DC.

I think alignment is intentionally nebulous like that in 5e. A case can be made for using alignment as a very strict magically, spiritually bound thing, and I've run campaigns like that. In those, the evil priest freak out the second the good guys enter the temple - with no wards or anything, just a simple Know Alignment, cast with the wave of a hand. It creates a world where evil and good, law and chaos 'bounce off of' each other more. They don't get taken in by the opposing side, because they always see them coming a mile away.

I'm sort of gathering that's NOT what 5e is about. It feels more to me like alignment is a deeply personal, abstract, fleeting quality, in day to day practice. It's the balance of the Planes, and where any individual soul really falls on that spectrum, well, it's not decided until that creature's life story is complete.

So yeah, bit repetitive, but I think I'll just use abilities, skills, etc.

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