Invisibility and Spell Identification


Rules Questions


Does being invisible make it impossible for someone to identify a spell you are casting? My guess is that it does but I can't find anything that says it specifically.


"Identifying a spell as it is being cast requires no action, but you must be able to clearly see the spell as it is being cast, and this incurs the same penalties as a Perception skill check due to distance, poor conditions, and other factors."

As written you have to be able to see the spell as it is being cast. Not the effects of the spell, but *as it is being cast.* Given that the person casting it is invisible, that's a definite no RAW (unless you can see invisibility...)

However, if it were my call I would let someone try to identify a spell based on solely its verbal component (if it has one), since the caster still has to speak at an audible volume to cast any spell with a verbal component. This check would be made a large penalty though. If you're using Perception rules, noticing someone invisible incurs a +20 to the DC of the check. So if you translate that standard over to Spellcraft like it says to do for sight-based spellcraft checks, the new DC to identify the spell based on verbal components alone would be 15 + spell level + 20, or 35 + spell level (which means the total DC would be between 35 and 44). For high-level magic users that's certainly attainable, and to me it makes sense that only people incredibly well trained in magic would be able to identify a spell with very limited knowledge as it's being cast.


Well, that's not quite how spell identification works. When you identify a spell you aren't looking at the person casting the spell but the "manifestations" of the spell which create an "obviously visual effect". Invisibility makes the person invisible, but since you aren't actually looking at the person to identify their spell, I don't know if you would still be able to identify it or not.


In other words, you don't actually need to be able to hear or see the person casting the spell, just the spells visual manifestations, in order to identify it.


This is an openly debated subject with no official answer, and it has potentially far-reaching implications. If an invisibility spell on the caster does make spell manifestation invisible, then any form of total concealment would as well, and that opens up a huge number of options for concealing spellcasting actions, most notably a successful stealth check (full disclosure, this is how I rule it at my table). If it doesn't, then the exact space of the invisible spellcaster is revealed when they start casting the spell, which invalidates many conventional combat tactics with invisibility. Paizo never officially took a stance on the matter, and there's never really been a consensus from the community on the topic.

RAWmonger gives a good ruling on how to handle identifying a spell based solely on its verbal components if you want to run it that way, but it doesn't solve the visibility issue.


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I had always assumed it required seeing the hand motions for the spell, but thinking about it, that makes no sense... given that there are a multitude of spells that don’t require somatic components, and thus would be impossible to identify with the way I assumed... huh. Never given it much thought cuz it hasn’t been a problem yet in my experience.

Now that I’m thinking about it like that I’d say that your spell manifestations are almost definitely visible... if invisibility can’t even snuff out light sources you’re carrying, which aren’t even magical in nature, then I can’t imagine it’s capable of snuffing our magical spell manifestations, which I assume are the stereotypical altering of “energies” like doctor strange stuff.

A sentence taken from the spell:

“Light, however, never becomes invisible, although a source of light can become so (thus, the effect is that of a light with no visible source).”

EDIT: although, are the spell manifestations a *source* of light? Are they the light itself? If I wave a torch around while invisible, is the fire of the torch invisible, or just the wood/metal/fuel? Is fire the source of the light? Or is it light? Is the chemical reaction taking place the “source” or is it the fire that’s the source

What have you guys done to me


RAWmonger wrote:

EDIT: although, are the spell manifestations a *source* of light? Are they the light itself? If I wave a torch around while invisible, is the fire of the torch invisible, or just the wood/metal/fuel? Is fire the source of the light? Or is it light? Is the chemical reaction taking place the “source” or is it the fire that’s the source

What have you guys done to me

Welcome to the rabbit hole. I assure you everything you just considered and then some has been thoroughly discussed in previous threads. There's a reason there is no community consensus on this matter.


By the rules, No. You have to be able to observe the caster (using sight as the rubric, since the question involves invisibility, which is visual). The 'manifestations' being mentioned by some are based from a FAQ that talks specifically about knowing a spell is being cast in instances of an observer not being able to specifically identify it (having no ranks in Spellcraft for instance) or the caster trying to avoid making gestures (not have verbal, somatic, or material components visible, possibly with Silent Spell or other abilities). It in no way is meant to imply that you can see invisible casting, identify the casting, or that manifestations reveal the locations of invisible casters.

In fact, the FAQs are very specifically stated to not be extrapolated into any areas other than what they specifically answer, though you can use them for reference in very similar cases (such as a FAQ about a spell's ability to affect 'smoke and mist' meaning it can also effect 'clouds and fog' as being included, then a different spell or effect with identical wording can too).

In this case, the FAQ is very specifically about being able to know that a spell is being cast whether the caster is making gestures or using components that are visible (or audible) or whether the observer can identify the spell being cast (rather than knowing a spell of some kind is being cast). It in no way applies or gives any power to identifying spells when the caster is out of sight.

Keep it simple, use the rules of Spellcraft which are as RAWmonger quoted, 'You must be able to clearly see the spell as it's being cast.'

If you actually read the FAQ, you will also see that the answer given is very specifically 'we don't really know, but [something]' rather than them specifically saying there are glowing lights or sounds or anything definable. The whole manifestations from every spell bonanza stemmed from people interpreting that initial FAQ and running it down a slippery slope.


Pizza Lord wrote:
The 'manifestations' being mentioned by some are based from a FAQ that talks specifically about knowing a spell is being cast in instances of an observer not being able to specifically identify it (having no ranks in Spellcraft for instance) or the caster trying to avoid making gestures (not have verbal, somatic, or material components visible, possibly with Silent Spell or other abilities).

Aside from being completely wrong about this part, good answer. It's too bad this point is the basis of your stand.

FAQ wrote:
What exactly do I identify when I’m using Spellcraft to identify a spell?

The faq implies that the manifestations are what is used to identify a spell, not that manifestations are only used to indicate that a spell is being cast for those unable to identify it or trying to hide it.


willuwontu wrote:

The faq implies that the manifestations are what is used to identify a spell, not that manifestations are only used to indicate that a spell is being cast for those unable to identify it or trying to hide it.

The FAQ does imply that. It implies that they have no idea what allows a spell to be identified (the basis of that FAQ question). It then very clearly states that the reason he is offering the 'manifestations' theory, is because they want to prevent 'stealth casting' (without an ability that specifically grants it) and to prevent non-casters and mundanes from not knowing that a caster is 'doing something magical' even if they have no chance to identify the spell.

FAQ wrote:
Whatever the case, these manifestations are obviously magic of some kind, even to the uninitiated; this prevents spellcasters that use spell-like abilities, psychic magic, and the like from running completely amok against non-spellcasters in a non-combat situation.

Despite the fact of how the writer of the question posed their question, note that the author of the FAQ does not say something like 'these manifestations allow people to identify spells they can't observe as they're being cast' or anything similarly related. He clearly couches and phrases it in a way that explains why they are doing this. He also makes it clear that it is NOT a rule or in the Core rules or in any way a rule, or in any way even mentioned or hinted at anywhere else; only that he's expounding on an explanation for a possible reason that its to prevent casters from running amok among non-casters. Not as a way to get around the requirement of Spellcraft.

He goes on to claim there are artistic examples, without citing any, which would lead us to believe that because there is an artistic interpretation by an illustrator in one book somewhere of an invisibility spell being used that shows the caster as a dotted outline or very dilute/faded image while orcs look about unware that this means that an invisibility spell just makes you a dotted outline. This is clearly not true or intended.

Nor does he try and imply that being able to note manifestations which indicate the casting of a spell (whether the spell has a verbal, somatic, or material component present) that this overrides the specific, written rule that the spell must be able to be observed (in some manner) while its being cast, to utilize the Identify a Spell as It's Being Cast rule in Spellcraft. The Spellcraft skill is very specific and pertains to the question at hand in this forum. You must be able to observe the spell being cast.

So even in a situation where there's an 'uninitiated' person present, but they have a blindfold on and can't see the caster or the caster is not visible to them, they cannot visually observe a spell and know that it is being cast by the caster (again, this question is specifically about vision, not the smell of a flounder that might be a material component or the sound of a verbal component which must be spoken of in a strong voice).

The Exchange

Short answer is ask your GM. In my game I allow it. Sometimes I wish I hadn't though. This allows my players to spot the invisible SLA casters, cause invisible summoner's can be frustrating.

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