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I'm considering experimenting with the Bard: College of Satire from Unearthed Arcana: Kits of Old, but whether or not I can be discreet with the Detect Thoughts spell is keeping me on the fence.

In the spell description on page 233 of the PHB, the 2nd paragraph talks about what you can read from focusing on a target. It explains what you get by default, then explains how you can do a deep probe, what you get on success and what you get on failure. After that comes the text (part of the same paragraph but a separate sentence):

Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind, [...]

Does that refer to the deep probe (either outcome), or does it apply to the spell in either use case?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.stackexchange.com! \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Feb 17 '16 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've tweeted Jeremy Crawford for clarification and will post an answer when I hear back. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Feb 17 '16 at 15:33
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The creature is only aware when you probe deeper, not when you learn surface thoughts

Detect Thoughts says:

You initially learn the surface thoughts of the creature—what is most on its mind in that moment. As an action, you can either shift your attention to another creature’s thoughts or attempt to probe deeper into the same creature’s mind. If you probe deeper, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. If it fails, you gain insight into its reasoning (if any), its emotional state, and something that looms large in its mind (such as something it worries over, loves, or hates). If it succeeds, the spell ends. Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind ...

The "either way" is specifically about the "probe" and its position in the paragraph means that the either/or alternative is the passing or failing of the saving throw not the shallow or deep probe.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The sentence says "probe deeper", this implies that the target's mind is already being probed in advance by learning surface thoughts. Ergo, the next bolded section does not illustrate your point. \$\endgroup\$ – D. Sorrim Feb 17 '16 at 8:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ isntead bolding "attempt to probe" you should bold " If you probe deeper" actually its just supporting the uncertainity. At least FMPOV. \$\endgroup\$ – Zaibis Feb 17 '16 at 10:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @D.Webber There are two If - Then statements before either way. If probe deeper, wisdom save. If wis save, spell ends. Either way looks to deal with save or no save as the eithers, and since it uses the term "probing" that strengthens the point that Dale M's reading is the clearest. Then there is another "spell ends" Int contest that makes for a second way for the spell to end in the case of probing ... only, as I read it. No Int contest if you don't probe, so spell won't end. As written, Probe is a serial action after initial thought reading. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 17 '16 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's clear I can't explain what I'm referring to in an understandable fashion. Maybe one of the D&D Next folks will answer this on twitter at some point. \$\endgroup\$ – D. Sorrim Feb 18 '16 at 4:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's extremely clear that the either way is referencing the probing action. On a failed save, you gain the information you want, and the target knows you are probing. On a successful save, the spell ends, and the target knows you tried to probe. Either way, it knows you are probing into it's mind. Either is a toggle statement between one or the other. If this included the surface thoughts or the switching of targets, it would have to be phrased differently, such as, "In any case," or "No matter what happens," etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Feb 19 '16 at 4:52
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The creature is only aware when you probe deeper

Found a section of the PHB that seems to specifically addresses this. On page 204 in the spellcasting section 2nd paragraph of the targets subsection

Unless a spell has a perceptible effect, a creature might not know it was targeted by a spell at all. An effect like crackling lightning is obvious, but a more subtle effect, such as an attempt to read a creature's thoughts, typically goes unnoticed, unless a spell says otherwise.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Accept your own answer as best answer after a few days since you seem to have found the most authoritative source. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Aslan Smith Feb 19 '16 at 4:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Unless a spell says otherwise". The spell explicitly says otherwise in this case: "Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind" \$\endgroup\$ – Dewi Morgan Mar 4 at 22:49
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The creature is always aware.

Let's get the whole paragraph of that part of the Detect Thoughts spell up to analyze.

"You initially learn the surface thoughts of the creature—what is most on its mind in that moment. As an action, you can either shift your attention to another creature’s thoughts or attempt to probe deeper into the same creature’s mind. If you probe deeper, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. If it fails, you gain insight into its reasoning (if any), its emotional state, and something that looms large in its mind (such as something it worries over, loves, or hates). If it succeeds, the spell ends. Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind, and unless you shift your attention to another creature’s thoughts, the creature can use its action on its turn to make an Intelligence check contested by your Intelligence check; if it succeeds, the spell ends."

Due to the nature of the final sentence in which the "Either way" is, the creature will be aware it is being probed regardless. The "either way" is in reference to the option to learn surface thoughts, or deeper probing.

There would not be a second chance to end the spell "either way" the creature rolled. If the creature succeeded the Wisdom save, the spell would be over. This sentence would not have any use after that point. The spell either ends or does not. So the last sentence can't refer to the previous one in that regard. The only logical conclusion therein can be that it is referring to either surface reading and deep thought probing.

This means the creature is always aware that it is having its mind probed somehow. No matter how shallow.

Let's break this down further. There are several outcomes for this spell to have on a single target by the reasoning I've described:

  • You view the target's surface feelings. It is aware of your actions. It may make a contested Intelligence roll to end the spell.

  • You probe deeper into its thoughts. It makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, you gain more knowledge of the target as described. The target is aware of your actions, and can make a contested Intelligence ability check to end the spell.

  • You probe deeper into its thoughts. It makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a success, the spell ends. The target is aware of your actions.

Now, in the other interpretation of this spell, the possibilities are as listed:

  • You view the target's surface thoughts.

  • You probe deeper. It makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, you gain more knowledge of the target as described. The target is aware of your actions, and can make a contested Intelligence ability check to end the spell.

  • You probe deeper. It makes a Wisdom saving throw. On a success, the spell ends. The target is aware of your actions, and can make a contested Intelligence ability check to end the spell. (What?)

Yeah that last one didn't make sense to me either. This is my reasoning for my answer. Break it down and see what you come up with. Now, if the sentence was this instead, the latter would make far more sense:

Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind. If you do not switch your attention to a new target's thoughts, the target may contest Intelligence ability checks with you to end the spell as an action on each of its turns.

If they were separate ideas they would not be in the same sentence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you are parsing this incorrectly. The "either way" is in reference to the success or otherwise saving throw for the deep probe; not for the difference between the shallow and deep thoughts that is the subj ft of the first sentence of the paragraph not the immediately preceding one. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Feb 17 '16 at 4:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly. But if the Wisdom save is a success, then there is no need for the creature to make the intelligence saving throw because the spell is over. So the sentence cannot refer to it coming into effect either way. \$\endgroup\$ – D. Sorrim Feb 17 '16 at 4:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Either way certainly refers to the success of the wisdom saving throw. No matter whether it suceeds or fails, the creature is aware of the probing; it would make little sense for it to end the spell with a successful saving throw and then not be aware of the probing. If it failed the throw, then the awareness allows it to do an intelligence check to break the spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Dulkan Feb 17 '16 at 8:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree. It would read differently if that was the intent of that sentence. For example: "The creature is aware of the attempt at deeper probing into its thoughts, whether successful or not. If the creature is still affected by the spell, it can use its action to make a contested Intelligence ability check to end its effects." A sentence describing the target's ability to end the spell would not be expresed "either way" about a previous roll that determines the spell's resolution or not. Many other spells in 5e make the target aware of being manipulated. This likely isn't any different. \$\endgroup\$ – D. Sorrim Feb 17 '16 at 8:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ D. Webber - the portion in your answer with respect to contested Intelligence check is an action the creature needs to take on it's turn, not as a save (it already got a WIS save), to force you out of it's mind. Consider it a mental grapple check. So if a player deep probes a target successfully, the spell doesn't end, and the target can use it's action on it's turn to try force you out. It doesn't get two saves like you seem to think it says here. Contested checks are actions that are initiated on a players/npcs turn. Saves are automatic, such as the Wisdom save for this spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Feb 19 '16 at 5:00
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Jeremy Crawford gives an "official" ruling in this September 2016 Sage Advice rules answers column, and it is reproduced in the Sage Advice Compendium.

It reads:

You’re aware that a spell is affecting you if it has a perceptible effect or if its text says you’re aware of it (see PH, 204, under “Targets”). [...] Certain spells are more subtle, yet you become aware of the spell at a time specified in the spell’s description. Charm person and detect thoughts are examples of such spells."

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.se! I think that link/quote might be good support for an answer, but it doesn't go all the way there. Can you edit this to explain exactly how it answers the question? Good answers connect all the dots to answer a question completely. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 31 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please take our tour when you get the chance to learn more about how we work. Feel free to ping me by typing "@rubiksmoose [message]" in a comment in this comment thread if you have any other questions about how this site works. Hope to see you around! \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 31 at 16:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ And are you saying this applies both to the standard cast AND the deep probe? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 31 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I just realized that what I was remembering was the answer Dale gave ages ago. I came across this in the review queue, and as I looked for what I was recalling, I ended up back here. DOH! \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 31 at 17:23
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I'm reading it as "you probe surface thoughts" (unnoticed) "You can try to probe deeper" (provokes a save, at this point the target becomes aware of the spell affecting it) If target makes the save: spell continues to function, you do not glean more information about them. They can make an Int contest to end your spell. If target fails the save: you glean more information about them and the spell ends. Either way (pass or fail) the target is aware of the attempt.

In this reading, the caster can try again, or switch targets if the subject makes the save.

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The creature is always aware

Separating each relevant sentence of the spell description into a separate line:

you can either shift your attention to another creature’s thoughts or attempt to probe deeper into the same creature’s mind.

If you probe deeper, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. If it fails, [stuff happens]. If it succeeds, the spell ends.

Either way, the target knows that you are probing into its mind, and unless you shift your attention to another creature’s thoughts, the creature can use its action on its turn to make an Intelligence check contested by your Intelligence check; if it succeeds, the spell ends.

While @D.Sorrim's answer calling out the "spell ends" at the end of the two logic branches is sound logic, I base my supporting answer on the and unless part.

If something is saying "unless you shift" it must be referring to the choice to shift or not.

The preceding "and" links the preceding clause of the sentence to the same discussion. Which means the "Either way" must also be referring to the choice to shift.

Which means it can only be read as:

  • "You can either
    • shift to another creature,
  • or
    • attempt to probe deeper.
  • If you probe deeper, target makes a Wis save.
    • If it fails, you get info.
    • If it succeeds, the spell ends.
  • Either way,
    • the target knows you're probing, and
  • unless you shift the creature can use its action for an Int check;
    • if it succeeds, the spell ends."

As code:

  if (player.shiftOrProbe == PROBE) {
    if (target.save(target.Wis)) {
       target.thoughts.print();
    } else {
       player.spell.end();
    }
  }
  target.addKnowledge("PLAYER IS SKEEVY BRAINSUCKER");
  if (!player.shiftOrProbe == SHIFT) {
    if (target.save(target.Int)) {
       player.spell.end();
    }
  }

On revisiting this, I do see one possible other way of reading it, though: it might be saying "if the player has an extra action, they can spend the action to probe deeply, then spend the extra action to shift to another target, before their target gets the chance on their own action to perform the contested int check. Either way, their first target will know they were probed." To me, this seems an unlikely alternate reading, but it is feasible given the ruling cited by Mujodoka.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's still unclear (to me) as to whether that ruling is referencing the entire spell or deeper probe. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 31 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: I've just updated my answer with the only one I could think of, involving extra actions: is that why you're uncertain, or do you have another possible reading? \$\endgroup\$ – Dewi Morgan May 31 at 18:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think your answer stands along without the sage advice, but I do think Dale M's answer covers my interpretation. I just don't think the SA is clear in what part/how Detect Thoughts is an example. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 31 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DewiMorgan: The reasoning is very clearly explained in the answers to the linked meta. It's not about etiquette, but rather about making the information easily understandable and clearly organized: "People come here with questions (often from Google) to find answers. They shouldn't have to sort through a pile of "Edit", "Edit 2" amendments to work out what the answer is. There should be a straightforward question, and a straightforward answer. [...] Remember, we're supposed to be accessible Wikipedia style, so that people can just get these straightforward answers." \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 31 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DewiMorgan: Glad to help! If you wish to discuss it further you're welcome to do so in Role-playing Games Chat :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 31 at 20:00

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