Detect Thoughts 5e Guide

Detect Thoughts 5e Guide: When, Why and How to Use It

One of the coolest powers that your spellcasters in 5e can have is the ability to use psychic abilities to read minds. It’s not throwing fireballs around and not summoning elementals from the depths of the earth, but rather getting inside your enemy’s head and seeing what you can do to mess them up from the inside out. Whether you are getting information, causing psychic damage, or just making them see things that aren’t there, you can do a lot with mind powers.

One of the coolest spells to use is the spell ‘Detect Thoughts’ which as the name suggests, allows you to detect the thoughts of whoever you cast it on. It’s a pretty complicated spell, so you might want to make sure that you understand it fully before you start casting away with it. Here’s ourDetect Thoughts 5e Guide to this Spell.

What is Detect Thoughts?

Here are the stats for Detect Thoughts, out of the Player’s Handbook. The spell’s description is rather long so that will be tackled through the article.

  • 2nd level divination
  • Casting Time: 1 action
  • Range: Self
  • Components: V S M (A copper piece)
  • Duration: Concentration, Up to 1 minute
  • Classes: Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard

It’s a second-level divination spell that has a range of yourself and costs one action to cast. It can last for up to 1 minute (or ten combat rounds) with concentration. It can be cast by a bard, sorcerer, or wizard, and requires a verbal, somatic, and material component to cast, with the material being a copper piece.

How Does Detect Thoughts Work?


Much like the name says, you are able to detect the thoughts of certain creatures and read their brains like a book. You can focus your mind on a creature you can see within a 30-foot range, and the creature must be able to speak a language and have an intelligence higher than three. If it does not meet these conditions, the spell ends. You learn the surface thoughts of the creature or the random things it happens to be thinking about in the moment.

As an action on your next turn, you can either move focus to another creature or try to move deeper into the 1st creature’s mind. Moving deeper requires the target to make a wisdom saving throw, and if it fails you learn the insight into its reasoning, how it is feeling emotionally, and anything large that is taking up its mind. However, if the check passes the spell ends.

Finally, the creature knows you are probing around in its mind, so in its turn, it can use an action to make an intelligence check against your intelligence check. If the creature succeeds, you are thrown from its mind.

Interesting Ways To Use Detect Thoughts

First, this spell can be used to see what your character’s surface thoughts are. You see what is most on the mind of any character that you are getting into. Most of the time the surface thoughts are very common, think about the surface thoughts that you have on a day-to-day basis. Mostly what you are going to eat today, where you need to go, or the emotions you are feeling. In most cases, you feel the same thing with the creatures you are looking at.

If you want even more information, you will need to overcome the target’s wisdom saving throw, and then you can probe deeper with their reasoning and emotional state, as well as what they are worried about.

Of course, perhaps one of the best ways to use this spell is during interrogation. The questions that you ask your victim will naturally cause it to think along the lines of the interrogation. If you combine the spell with Zone of Truth, you can gain more insight into the truthful version of the character’s thoughts.

You aren’t reading minds, but if you keep an eye on their thoughts, you can get some good information during the interrogation. For example, if you use detect thoughts on a bandit to see where the hideout of their clan is, the bandit might choose not to tell you, but their mind might flash with landmarks or possibly even what the front entrance to the hideout looks like even though they are consciously trying not to tell you.

It might not be a hand-drawn map, but it is something. Interrogation using detect magic can be thought of like telling someone not to think of a pink elephant… what are you thinking about now? Probably a pink elephant. So asking harder questions can potential cause helpful thoughts to move to the surface. Using Zone Of Truth can also help make sure that you are not being lied to during the interrogation.

What Creatures Can’t Have Their Thoughts Detected?

Dragon 1

The rules for creatures that can be affected by the spell are as follows: They need to have an intelligence level of 3, and they must be able to speak a language. This automatically deletes constructs and undead, as they cannot speak. Additionally, animals are immune to having their thoughts detected, but they probably don’t have any deeper thoughts than food and survival anyway. Additionally, animated items such as animated armor and animated trees are immune.

Otherwise, every enemy can have their mind read and you can get into their head by using detect thoughts. However, most of the enemies will know that you are probing deeper into their minds, and might order their minions to stop you. After all, the spell does require concentration on a target, so if you take damage the spell will break off.

Finally, some creatures have high enough wisdom and intelligence to overpower your mind-reading abilities. Vampire lords, demons, fiends, and some very powerful or magically inclined Big Bad Evil Guys/Girls are able to either overcome detect thoughts, or they have enough experience with the mind and mind control to keep their thoughts hidden. They might sing a song to themselves, repeat a mantra, or otherwise do something that keeps their thoughts unable to be truly read.

Plus, they often have high enough intelligence scores or wisdom scores to shield their minds from deeper probing, and some might even be able to turn the tables. They can get into your mind instead and perhaps do some mindreading and or some psychic damage of their own.

Other abilities the bad guys can use are spells such as Mind Blank, Modify Memory, and Nondetection. Of course, only the very bad evil guys will have these spells and not the rest of the lower-level foes. This should help keep Detect Thoughts viable during the campaign, but your party shouldn’t be able to detect the thoughts of anyone they see.

Where To Get A Copper Piece?

Copper is pretty common in the world of Faerun, with the most common of the coins you can get being copper pieces. Most of the time you can get copper pieces from trading gold pieces, or as loot. If you don’t have a copper coin, then copper pieces are pretty common to have around mining guilds and blacksmithing shops. You’d also have one in your component pouch if you have a component pouch.

Don’t sweat too much about getting a copper piece. Since it is fairly common, small, and also not consumed whenever you use the spell, most DM’s will allow you to have one without needing a complex reason for having it or needing to go out of your way to get it.

The Consequences of Detect Thoughts


Of course, the biggest consequence of detect thoughts is that the target knows you are using detect thoughts on them. So if you are trying to use detect thoughts while being undetected, you aren’t going to be able to do so. This can especially be a problem if you are trying to detect the thoughts of a king or a powerful enemy because they know what you are doing and can connect it all to you.

So keep that in mind as you are trying to figure out who to use Detect Thoughts on because it can come back to bite you if you intrude in the mind of the wrong person. Detecting the thoughts of a farmer to get some information can be done without worry, detecting the thoughts of a king can be not only harder to do, but also carries much more consequence if you don’t get the explicit consent of the king himself to read his thoughts!

Detect Thoughts FAQs

Question: How To Make Detect Thoughts Fun?

Answer: Your character can either focus on one target at a time or jump around to skim the surface-level thoughts of the various targets within 30 feet. Of course, not every enemy or bad guy or guard is going to have the information the party needs. Some might be thinking about dinner, others might be thinking about their sweetheart back home, and some might be just thinking thoughts about the clouds.

This can be a fun way to give the random NPCs and mooks that your party is slaughtering some real personality, and can also show that not every person is in the know about the plans of the Big Bad Evil Guy or Girl. Instead, they might just be living a simple life and loving it.

Even if the enemy knows things, you might have them simply think “Hah, I’m not telling them where the boss is, because he’d kill me!” This can create a bigger challenge and then require your spellcaster to go deeper into the enemy’s mind.

Question: What Are Some Ways To Protect Yourself From Detect Thoughts?

Answer: Rather than having a high intelligence or wisdom modifier, you can use various spells and abilities to shield your mind from the detection of your thoughts. A Ring Of Mind Shielding is a great item to have, even if it is hard to find because as stated in the name the ring hides your thoughts from everyone seeking to read your mind.

Of course, you don’t have to have the answers bubble up to the surface of your mind. You can think of other things in response to the question, and might even be able to add some humor to the situation. For example, if you are under the detect thoughts spell and asked ‘Where is your home base?’ by an enemy, you might not think of the exact address of your home base, and you might even be able to fool the enemy.

Most DM’s can have NPC’s and PC’s alike take intelligence to save to control their thoughts while being under detect magic since you know about it. You might be able to control the direction of the thoughts, so if you pass the intelligence check you could think about some other location that you might be able to pass off as the real hideout.

Question: What Happens When You Go Deeper Into An Enemy’s Mind?

Answer: If you need to go deeper into the enemy’s mind, then you will see some more information about the character you are looking at. You will be able to see things that are looming in their mind, such as what their boss will do to them whenever they talk! Additionally, you might be able to see what emotions they feel and might be able to see why they are feeling that way.

Getting insight into the reasoning of an NPC might be able to help you persuade them to see things your way whenever it comes to getting what you want. As long as you don’t damage the relationship with said NPC by detecting their thoughts, you might be able to gather some useful information.

You can also see the target’s emotional state with a successful deeper probe, which can be another way to understand them. You can see if they are angry, sad, happy, lovestruck, or a million other emotions that can help you understand the character.

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