The Detect Magic spell states that you can sense magic within 30 feet of you.

  • Does this let you know the location of the magic your are detecting? Or are you just supposed to get a yes/no that there is magic within 30 feet of you?
  • If there are multiple things to detect, do you know about each different source of magic?

For example, let's say the party enters a room and the warlock uses Detect Magic. If there is a magic item in the closed chest across the room, one hidden under the floor and the fighter is carrying a magic sword, what kind of understanding does the warlock have? Does he know the location of all these magical sources, or does he just get a "yes, there is magic within 30 feet of you"?


2 Answers 2


Detect magic has a passive mode and an active mode.

Passive mode: Yes/no there is magic within 30 feet

Once you cast the spell (and keep concentrating on it) you passively become a magic detector. While in passive mode if there is magic within 30 feet of you (not blocked by 1 foot of stone, yada yada) then you begin to beep and so know it is. Note that since it lasts awhile you don't have to ask every round, "Do I sense magic?", instead the DM should just tell you you're beeping.

Active mode: You know which object/creature has magic, and you know the school the magic is from

Once you know some magic is nearby you may use you action in a given round to gain short-range magic finding vision. In exchange for spending an action you'll be able to see magic on any visible creature or object in 30 feet and even see what school the magic is from.


Passive mode can be pretty hard to use if you personally have magic items (like healing potions) or commonly have spells cast on you (like mage armor) you will constantly be beeping, "Magic, Magic, Magic". Also remember that your allies may have magic which will also set off the magic detector. Your wizard is a very sensitive instrument and for best results you should thoroughly clean them of excess magic and remove any interfering signals from the area before use.


Detect magic has two effects, an active one and a passive one. The passive effect allows you to sense magic forces. If you sense them, you can then use the active effect: "use your action to see a faint aura around any visible creature or object in the area that bears magic." The active effect would give you the location of the item, if there were multiple items, you'd get auras around each that you could see. Only the passive effect is penetrative (the spell includes what it can't penetrate), but the active effect requires the item to be visible.

So for the example, you know there is magic, if you use your action, and don't see the aura, you'd know it's behind or inside of something. However, the spell does not seem to allow you to know the direction if the item is hidden, just that it's present.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As this is a concentration spell, you can move around to see when you pick up and lose the passive signal, thereby tringulating where it must come from. At the point where it gets lost/picked up, you are exactly 30 feet distant from it because that is the detection range. Find two such points where it changes, and the object must be on the intersection of the two 30-foot circles in the direction in which you move when you pick it up. All of course assuming there are not multiple magic effects complicating this in range. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 24, 2023 at 11:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .