Zone of Truth is a pesky little 2nd level spell that has the potential to ruin the mystery of a campaign. However, there are some ways you can avoid Zone of Truth and keep your campaign’s mystery alive!
How can you avoid spilling your guts to your group while under the spell “Zone of Truth?” To avoid the effects of Zone of Truth you either need to succeed on your Charisma Saving Throw, have an ally who possesses the spell Modify Memory, or craft your responses in a way that omits the truth without being deceptive.
If your party captures an NPC that knows something you don’t want your party to know, how can these things stop them from finding out by using Zone of Truth? Zone of Truth isn’t bulletproof, by using these tips you might be able to keep the mystery of your campaign alive!
Understanding Zone of Truth
Zone of Truth is a 2nd level spell available to Bards, Clerics, and Paladins. When cast, the spell creates a 15-foot-radius sphere. Inside this area, no creature can “speak a deliberate lie.”
Zone of Truth lasts for 10 minutes and does not require any components to cast. Making it a potential mystery wrecker with little to no cost to cast.
Zone of Truth Requires a Charisma Saving Throw
Before the spell can take effect, the target of the spell can make a Charisma Saving Throw. On a successful save, the spell is not effective while on a failed save the target cannot speak a deliberate lie. However, the spellcaster knows whether or not the spell takes hold.
Depending on your party and the number of spellcasters and level 2 spell slots available, succeeding on your saving throw could buy you some time. However, this is left up to fate. There are ways you can get advantage to bonuses on your saving throws, however. The spell Bless allows you to add 1d4 to saving throws for one minute. If possible, casting this spell before rolling the saving throw could give you enough of an edge to save.
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If you can manage to succeed enough saves to drain the party’s spell slots, you might be able to escape or come up with a plan.
Avoiding Zone of Truth with Modify Memory
Eventually, you will fail your Charisma Saving Throw and need to go to plan B. This option requires some pre-planning, but if you know your party has Zone of Truth and you want to be on the safe side, make sure your NPC has a companion who can take the 5th level spell, “Modify Memory” and cast it at 9th level (p 260 of the Player’s Handbook) Alternatively, set up an ally, minion, or superior who can follow and hide 30 feet away and cast this spell in case the NPC is captured.
Modify Memory is a 5th level spell that allows the caster to modify one memory that has occurred within the last 24 hours that lasted no longer than 10 mins. The modified memory lasts for 1 minute, just long enough to get through the interrogation. This is great if the party will be asking your NPC about an event they just completed, but not as great if they ask about the organization or plans.
However, this spell gets more powerful if it is cast at higher levels. The time frame of the memory that can be altered expands as follows:
6th Level – 7 days
7th Level – 30 days
8th Level – 1 year
9th Level – Any point in the creature’s past
If you have an NPC that knows too much, you could have the boss or Villain hide in the shadows and cast Modify Memory to prevent the party from learning his/her secret identity or plan. The creature being questioned would believe it was telling the truth, thereby subverting Zone of Truth.
However, both of these options assume the party hasn’t done something to prevent the casting of spells, such as tie the NPC’s hands or take all of his/her items, or secured the area making it impossible for another character to get within 30 feet. If the NPC being questioned or another NPC in the area cannot cast a spell to give advantage on saving throws, change his/her memory or escape (such as Dimension Door or Teleport), then you have no choice but to evade the truth.
Avoiding Zone of Truth by Evading the Truth
This is where the issue gets dicey. Although Zone of Truth does specifically say creatures may “evade” telling the truth, it also says it guards against “deception.” If you want to try to talk your way out of Zone of Truth, you should follow these guidelines to prevent your players from feeling cheated.
Do Not Use Semantics
Zone of Truth specifically says it guards against deception. This means you can avoid the question, but you cannot actively try to deceive your players. This is a fine line. If asked, “Did you break the window?” You cannot answer, “No,” because the crowbar actually broke the window, this is an attempt at deception. You have to avoid the question entirely, such as saying, “Why would I break a window?” This does not give an answer to the question but could throw your players off enough to avoid the question entirely. If you try to use semantic it will do nothing but frustrate your players.
Evade Answer While Remaining Truthful
The spell states that a creature, “can be evasive in its answers as long as it remains within the boundaries of the truth.”
This means that you can make evasive statements as long a the statements themselves are true. This does not fall into the realm of semantics because you are not twisting the question to help yourself, you are merely making a truthful statement. An example of this could be an NPC saying, “My master intends only to do good!”
If the NPC knows his/her master believes himself to be on the side of the greater good, then this is a true statement that is not an attempt at deceit. If you can do this well, then your players might (hopefully) misconstrue what you are saying.
Remember, You Don’t Have to Answer Questions
While Zone of Truth makes it impossible to lie, it does not compel you to answer the question. The players can threaten or bribe your NPC, in which case you should play the NPC true to his/her character, but at no point are you required to give an answer. If your players ask a question you cannot evade, simply do not answer.
Zone of Truth can be tricky to navigate. You certainly don’t want player to feel cheated in anyway, but you also don’t want to give up all your secrets right away. These tips and guidelines should help you keep the mystery alive while also keeping everything fair.
Until next time,
May your game have advantage, my friends!
Is the caster affected by Zone of Truth?
Zone of Truth is a area of affect spell, meaning that anyone who is within the area is affected by the spell, including the caster. However, the caster can choose to make a saving throw against the spell, and the spell can be cast anywhere within 60 feet, so the caster could choose to be just outside of the spell’s range.
Does a “Ring of Mind Shielding” prevent Zone of Truth?
A Ring of Mind Shielding does not prevent the Zone of Truth’s affect if the creature failed the Charisma Saving Throw; however, it does prevent the caster from knowing if the creature saved or failed the spell’s saving throw.
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