Content of the article: "How far do you let a player take Silent Image? What should/shouldn’t they get away with? Let’s discuss!"
Ah, Silent Image, that old chestnut. Minor Illusion's stronger, handsomer older brother.
You create the image of an object, a creature, or some other visible phenomenon that is no larger than a 15-foot cube. The image appears at a spot within range and lasts for the Duration. The image is purely visual, it isn't accompanied by sound, smell, or other sensory Effects.
You can use your action to cause the image to move to any spot within range. As the image changes location, you can alter its appearance so that its movements appear natural for the image. For example, if you create an image of a creature and move it, you can alter the image so that it appears to be walking.
Physical interaction with the image reveals it to be an Illusion, because things can pass through it. A creature that uses its action to examine the image can determine that it is an Illusion with a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check against your spell save DC. If a creature discerns the Illusion for what it is, the creature can see through the image.
Recently I've been thinking about this spell and its nearly infinite uses, both as a player and as a DM. I wanted to hear others' opinions about how an illusion spell like this should work. For sake of a discussion, let me posit some potential circumstances and let me know how you would arbitrate them.
1- The Player casts Silent image in the shape of a wall with arrow slits. They fire out of the hole and stay there, in view of goblin archers. A Goblin Archer fires at them, believing the wall with arrow slits to be real and conjured by them tricksy magics.
- First, should the player receive 3/4 cover if the Goblin believes the cover to be real?
- How about the results of the roll? If the arrow hits them, it would follow that the goblin was aiming through the slit, and therefore the arrow wouldn't pass through any of the 'wall' part of the illusion, keeping its deceptive properties intact, right?
- If the arrow misses, does it sail straight through the slit as the player nimbly dodges out of the way, or would you have it carve through the illusion itself, revealing it for what it was?
2- The Player casts SI, making a swarm of heavily obscuring insects moving rapidly back and forth. The Goblin archer fires where it thinks the player last was, through the bug swarm.
- The way I see this, the goblins could definitely make an intelligence check if they wished to investigate the weird bugs ("Oi! Them bugs ain't makin' no noise! That's weird!"), but how about the results of the arrow? I would think an arrow disappearing into a swarm of bugs to be totally fitting, and the expected outcome of the action. yes, it's "Physical Interaction" in the raw sense, but the likelihood that they see the arrow shaft, in its microsecond of flight, graphically clip-through one errant bug seems a bit silly for them to immediately recognize the entire thing as an illusion.
- Secondary point, if the player doesn't use their action to "cause the image to move to any spot within range," thereby allowing them to make its movements seem natural (i.e. bugs flying about all crazy-like), would you rule that the bugs are all frozen in place?? That seems to immediately dispel the idea of creating a 'visible phenomenon.' After all, if the illusion was of a torch, would you make your player burn their action every turn just to make the flames dance and flicker?
3- The Player casts SI, making a cube of swirling Fog this time. An arrow flies out of the fog at the goblin archers. They fire back into the fog.
- Now here's another interesting one. One could argue that arrows coming in and out of the fog could betray the nature of the illusion, as the fog would normally swirl and distort around the current of the arrow. What would you rule here? If you'd rule that the illusion would fail, what about if it wasn't fog at all, but simply a box of magical darkness? The wording seems to indicate that the illusion fails through physical interaction "because things can pass through it." Sure, this makes total sense on an illusory tree or stone boulder; Things can't normally pass through those, so something passing through it "reveals it to be an illusion." But stuff passes in and out of magical darkness all the time when you have a devil sight Warlock in your party, right? Do I think that having a small movable magical darkness spell at level 1 that acts identical to lvl 2 Darkness is overpowered? Maybe? Kind of? Arguably, it's almost a quarter of the area the darkness spell encompasses, but where do you draw the line? Perhaps ranged attacks don't reveal it as an illusion, but an enemy entering into it would? After all, one can't be more "Physically interacting" with it than being eyeballs-deep in it.
- Last thoughts on this scenario: If ranged attacks reveal a spell like this, what about that interaction do you think triggers the realization that it's an illusion? Do you think the illusion itself would waver and falter when something forcibly interacts with it, thus giving it away? It isn't really stated in the spell description, but it would certainly fit the rules as written!
4- The Player rounds a corner, pursued by enemies. They cast SI out of line of sight, making 5 barrels appear, scattered around the alley and pushed up against the walls. They hide in one just before the enemies round the corner too. The enemies pause. "Oi! Where dey go?" Says one. "Maybe in one uh deez barrels!" Says another, striking at an illusory barrel with their hammer (Thankfully not the one our hero was in.)
- Here's my final quandary to discuss. Does the thug interacting with the barrel by trying to smash it reveal all 5 barrels as fakes, though the others weren't interacted with in any way and are all separate? RAW, the spell suggests that the whole illusion fails, but how do you justify that in-universe? Perhaps the spell-caster can't hold the threads of the illusion just right as it's interacted with, and the whole thing shimmers?
- Now, as a last idea, let's push this idea to its absolute limit: If you had two small rooms connected by a door, and SI is cast to make a clock in one room, and a Book lying on a (real) table in the other. If a character were to touch the clock, discover it as an illusion, then open the door, move into the other room and see the book, RAW they should immediately recognize it too as an illusion, should they not? Seems strange to me.
Of course, at the end of the day what the DM says, goes! I think thought experiments like these are useful for determining your own stance beforehand, so that players don't throw you a curve ball you weren't expecting during sessions. Plus, it helps you stay consistent in your rulings and fair to the players!
I'm interested to see what your takes on these different illusion quandaries are. How would you rule them at your own table?
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