I'm a relatively new DM, and in coming up with a few scenarios for a wider Campaign I have thought of a situation but I am a little unsure if I can pull it off and keep in the reasonable bounds of what a NPC antagonist is capable of...

Is there a way that my "evil" Wizard could make the player characters believe that a group of humans that are guarding an artefact are instead just goblins, through some kind of illusion or mental magic? The NPCs aren't cooperating with the wizard and the PCs are the only ones I want tricked, so I'm imagining some kind of magic affecting the PCs' perceptions, not the NPCs' actual appearance.

To me this seems like it would be a stupidly powerful spell/wizard, but this is one major plot point for the whole campaign.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 I attempted to clarify it. It's definitely (1) — “make them believe that the NPCs … are actually goblins” is the way to read it. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2016 at 3:15

6 Answers 6


There is actually a single (5th-level) spell that does this - Seeming. It changes the appearances of as many creatures as you can pack into a 30ft radius around you. There are some limitations on the extent of the disguise, but as long as all the NPCs in question are humanoids of some variety, making them look like goblins shouldn't be a problem.

The downsides are:

  • The duration is 8 hours, so your wizard will have to renew the spell reasonably often.
  • The NPCs will look like goblins to each other, as well.
  • If the NPCs are unwilling to look like goblins, they'll get a saving throw to resist the spell.

I'm not aware of any spell (except Wish, which can do anything with the right wording) that will make the NPCs look like goblins to the PCs but not to each other.

One suggestion (ha!) from the comments was Mass Suggestion, a 6th-level spell. This lets you magically suggest "a course of activity" to up to 12 creatures. As the DM, it's up to you what this covers - personally, I wouldn't have said "those people look like goblins" is a course of activity. If you decide that it is, or just decide to stretch a point for the sake of making this work, the PCs will still get a saving throw to resist the suggestion. Also, you have to make the suggested course of activity sound reasonable, which seems difficult here.


The first rule of role playing games is that the rules are only guidelines. I point this out mainly because you mentioned you were a new DM.

Even if no such spell exists, you are well within your rights as DM to make up such a spell. The evil wizard spent many years researching and experimenting to build himself a custom disguise spell that does exactly what he needs it to do for plot purposes.

Based on other answers, it sounds like there are already a few "real" spells that can accomplish something similar to what you want, if not exactly what you want. If none of these spells are a perfect match, then use one of them as the basis for a new spell that does what you need it to.

Protip: If your players catch wind of the fact that the evil wizard is using a custom spell, odds are they will want it for themselves. If/when they defeat the evil wizard, allowing them to find his spellbook — with this spell in particular — would be a fitting and suitably exciting reward. The point being that you should draft this custom spell, based on existing spells, to be fairly balanced for its level and abilities, so that if/when the players finally get their hands on it, they aren't breaking the game by using it themselves.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ welcome to RPG.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help to get a feel for how this Q&A site works a bit differently than discussion forums. It is best to support an answer with supporting guidance from a rules book or other source, and as appropriate support it with play test/table play experience in the case of homebrew variants. Your opening "first rule" comment fits with some RPGs (and indeed some editions of D&D) better than others. That point in particular I'd recommend backing up with a citation from the Dungeon Masters Guide. Welcome, and thanks for your answer. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2016 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ A great answer! I didn't even consider the spellbook. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2016 at 19:22

Here's the requirements as I understand them:

  • The NPCs do not wish to be enchanted themselves
  • The NPCs would actively oppose such, and warn each other about any visible illusions
  • The PCs should perceive the NPCs as goblins

I've taken a look at every spell in the Illusion and Enchantment schools, as well as a few others. Here's the list of official spells in the PHB that meet all the above requirements:

  • Wish

I was unable to find rules allowing for the creation of new spells, but as DM you could reasonably do that.


TL;DR: The actual revelation that the players did something horrible is very hard to pull off well. It's easy to piss off your players if you do it wrong, and I wouldn't advise to focus exclusively on that plot twist with the idea that the players will think it's brilliant. However, stories about people doing horrible things because of misinformation are great, and there are many ways to make them work. I've presented four below; check the subheaders.

Why focussing on the plot-twist itself is risky

As the DM, you are the eyes and ears of the players. If you just tell them "These are Goblins" and then after the players kill them say "Oh, they were really innocent Humans" then it's very likely that to your players (as in, the people around your table) it won't come off as "Oh wow, what a plot-twist" but more like "Oh damn, we cannot trust what the DM says". You are supposed to be the voice of Truth. Whatever the DM says is True. When you remove this assumption, players will be unable to trust anything that is said to them, because they have no way to interpret the world beyond what you tell them.

Unless you approach this very carefully, by giving lots of hints that are just subtle enough that at the end the players realize they should have definitely known, then it's likely going to be a very big letdown instead of a big revelation. It takes an experienced DM who knows his group well to walk on the balance between "just subtle enough" and "not giving the clue away too soon", so I would not advise it to a new DM.

While these kinds of twists are awesome in books and can be awesome in RPGs if you do it just right, they can also easily be the ruin of a campaign. It's easy to end up at the end of the book, read the part where "it was all a dream" and think to yourself "what a terrible ending".

Instead, I see four other ways to do approach stories with a plot twist like this. Either get your players in on the plot from the start and see where the story goes, force the character's hands while everybody knows they don't want to, skip over the part leading up to the revelation and just start after that or really mind-game the characters instead of using magic.

Getting your players in on the plot

This one is simple. It assumes that the players would like playing in a story where there characters are going to kill a bunch of innocent humans while under the effects of a mind-affecting spell, even though they themselves already know.

In this case, you just tell them that "The Wizard cast a mind-affecting spell on you. You know think that the Artifact is guarded by evil Goblins, even though they are not."

You don't have to tell them what is guarding the thing, but this lets them roleplay blissful ignorance, doesn't require you to leave clues for the players (since they know) and at the end the characters can go "Oh no, what have we done!" since they didn't know.

It prevents any sour feelings at the end with the players realizing they have been fed false information by the DM and everything they have done since who knows when being a lie. And you still get the interesting reveal "just what did we kill/steal?"

Forcing your character's hands

This one is, I think, a bit more traditional D&D mind-set. The players and the characters both don't want to kill innocent Humans, but you're going to make them do it anyway. There's a great 5e spell for this called Geas

You'll need to find a way to cast it on the players (since it's single target and has a 1 minute cast time) but after they are under the effect, your Wizard can give them the suggestion "The guardians of the Artifact are evil and must be slain", and now the players will take 5d10 damage if they refuse to work towards that goal. At a low enough level, that's potentially fatal or at least a massive resource drain, so not something they can risk.

The players and the characters will know that they are being messed with, but outside of "suicide" and "work towards the goal... slowly... while trying to find a way to lift the spell" they don't really have any options.

Skip over the revelation

This is a great way to start a new adventure. You just start with "You are all standing near the entrance to . Around you are the corpses of the Goblins you've just cut down. Content with a job well done, you all suddenly feel as if a powerful magic lifts from your minds... as if you can see clearly for the first time in a long time. Suddenly, the corpses are no longer Goblins. They are Paladins, and you killed them. A vague image of being enchanted by forms in your mind.. it was.. yesterday? Last week? Last month? You're not sure, but you haven't been yourselves and you don't know what other horrible things you've done since then. Now... what do you do?"

It gives you the exact story you want, you can make the players do whatever you want, and they won't feel bad for having been lied to by you. (They may feel bad about having been mind-controlled though. Ask your players if they mind having their characters controlled like this before doing it; some players really dislike this idea and domination magic in general.)

Have your NPCs misinform the players

This one is a harder, but probably the most rewarding and the closest to the revelation you wanted. However, it also has the highest chance of the players subverting your storyline. So only do it if you're not attached to a specific outcome.

Rather than saying "magic makes you think it's Goblins", have the NPC Wizard or an accomplice pretend to be an ally to the players. Have them try to convince the characters and the players that the guardians of the artifact are corrupt and in need of killing. Give them whatever checks they've earned to see through the ruse, but also rely a little bit on D&D player's desire to bite down on plot hooks and go out and slay things. Make it sound like an ordinary adventure, but give them enough options to find out they are being conned if they care enough to double-check their new "employer".

Because this time you are talking as an NPC when you say "These people are evil" instead of as the DM when you say "These are Goblins", the players will blame the NPC for their wrongdoings, or themselves for believing an NPC. The DMs voice is truth, but the NPC lies through his teeth.

(Bonuspoints: you can make the group of noble guardians of the cave actual Goblins to show the PCs how easily they are manipulated into doing horrible stuff just by thinking a race of creatures is evil.)


Or you can go an entirely easier route. Why be near the fight. The wizard could make a Disguise Self spell scroll for the minions and have them use it. Then you are nowhere near the battle and the PCs get a nice surprise.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer could be improved by expanding on how it qualifies under the question's constraint "The NPCs aren't cooperating with the wizard and the PCs are the only ones I want tricked". I currently don't understand how the guards actively using scrolls works with them also not directly cooperating, and not tricking anyone other than the PCs (including other guards!). \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9, 2016 at 13:52

If the group of Guardian is not cooperating with the Evil Wizard, why not force them with a Mass suggestion spell (or with a very good bluff check)?

With this spell, the wizard can convince them to disguise themselves as goblins:

"You know, I desperately need some tests subject for an innocuous experimentation. Do you mind if I cast those disguise spells on you and your friends? I want to be sure the duration is at least 8 hours so I can come by and check on you then?"


You must log in to answer this question.

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