What happens when you cast disguise self while currently under its effects?

convoke 05/11/2018. 4 answers, 521 views
dnd-5e spells illusion

Let's say you are a human warlock with the mask of many faces invocation. You cast disguise self and alter your form to that of an elf. While under the effect of this first illusion (before it expires), you cast it again to change your form to a dragonborn. What happens?

Do you go from elf > dragonborn? Do you temporarily revert to your base human form?

4 Answers

illustro 05/11/2018.

You don’t revert to your original form, but beyond that it’s up to the DM

The rules for Combining Magical Effects (PHB pg 205) come into play here:

The effects of different spells add together while the durations of those spells overlap. The effects of the same spell cast multiple times don't combine, however. Instead, the most potent effect—such as the highest bonus—from those castings applies while their durations overlap.

For example, if two clerics cast bless on the same target, that character gains the spell's benefit only once; he or she doesn't get to roll two bonus dice.

So what is important here is to determine which effect is the most “potent”.

There is no clear guidance in the rules on how to determine potency when two spells have the same effect. There are some reasonable options in this case:

  1. If the spells have the same effect, the one with the longest remaining duration is most potent (think a sorcerer who has used their extended spell meta magic to double the duration of the first casting)
  2. The spell cast last is the most potent
  3. The first spell effect remains the most potent until it ends, at which point the second effect takes over.

My ruling from the games I DM is that the players can choose when they cast the second spell if they want to use either #1 or #2, but only if they are casting it on an ally. If they are casting the spell on an enemy I apply #2.

In your case these two options are functionally equivalent, so you would look like an Elf that turned into a Dragonborn.

Gandalfmeansme 05/11/2018.

You'd look like a Dragonborn

As has been stated elsewhere, there would be no "overlapping" effects from the two castings of this spell.

'The effects of the same spell cast multiple times don't combine, however. Instead, the most potent effect—such as the highest bonus—from those castings applies[...].' (PHB p. 205)

This has been further clarified by Jeremy Crawford on Twitter (emphasis added):

The effects of the same spell don't stack; use the most potent effect (PH, 205). If equal, use the most recent.

Both castings of this spell were definitely equally potent (they required no spell slots, and were cast by the same magic user). So only the most recent one would apply. Now let's consider whether there was ever a period when you appeared human.

Spells (or their effects) end only when conditions are met which end them. The only thing which made the effect of the first spell (Elf disguise) end was the effect of the more recent casting of the same spell (Dragonborn disguise). So there was no time when neither spell was in effect, so you never looked like your base human form.

Of course, if someone saw you casting the spell (which has verbal and somatic components) and changing into a Dragonborn, they would likely come to the conclusion that your appearance was a the result of a spell. But they would never have seen your true form.

Tiggerous 05/22/2018.

You'll probably turn into a Dragonborn immediately, but it depends which spell your DM considers 'more potent'.

  1. As long as the spells duration's overlap, you won't revert to your original form.

If you dismiss your first casting before casting the spell a second time, then your normal form would be visible. Both dismissing and casting Disguise Self requires an Action and you cannot use two Actions simultaneously. Even when a feature allows you to take two Actions in a combat round, the actions are still understood to occur consecutively, not concurrently.

If you dismiss the first Disguise before Casting a second Disguise Self spell then they aren't concurrent spells.

  1. Even if the two spell's durations overlap they still wouldn't overlap visually. Disguise Self doesn't simply produce a magical hologram.

While it might be amusing to think about the intangible hat you can create with disguise self, it isn't simply a magical hologram. If Disguise Self worked like a hologram then it would be impossible to disguise yourself as someone shorter or thinner than your original form - your head or your stomach would end up poking through the disguise.

'The effects of the same spell cast multiple times don't combine, however. Instead, the most potent effect—such as the highest bonus—from those castings applies[...].' (PHB p. 205)

So, while it might be funny to imagine two overlapping holograms, a shorter stockier dragonborn, with an elf's head sitting on top, delicate fingers semmingly extending from the dragonborn's finger tips, magic disguises don't work like holograms. While both spells are active, one would simply take precedence over the other.

  1. But which disguise would be the dominant one? Which spell would be the 'most potent'? In this case it's up to the DM

Let's refer back to that rule again...:

'the most potent effect—such as the highest bonus—from those castings applies while their durations overlap.' (PHB p. 205)

Diguise Self requires an Intelligence (Investigation) Check against spell save save DC, from a creature that wishes to work out whether or not you are disguised.

If two different casters had cast Disguise Self on the same target, it seems logical that the spell cast by the one with the higher spell save DC would be considered more potent and take precedence, until it was dismissed or its duration expired.

However, when the spell save DC is the same, either between two different casters, or because the same caster has cast Disguise Self twice, there is no guidance as to how 'the most potent' spell should be adjudicated.

A DM should choose a method, make sure the players understand it, and then ensure they apply it consistently.

I personally would rule that the most recent spell cast takes precedence, effectively overlaying the previous casting.

  1. Is there anywhere else I could look for guidance on this?

For evidence of a similar (but not definitive) ruling, that some might choose to consider authoratative, you might be interested in this tweet from Mike Mearls:

Q: Could you use multiple castings of Disguise Self to layer a disguise and force multiple checks against DC?

A: No, I'd only apply most recent casting.

See also, this tweet from Jeremy Crawford, which agrees with this general principle but isn't specific to Disguise Self.

  1. So, when does the Elf turn into a Dragonborn?

If the second spell is ruled by the DM as more potent, then the PC will change into a dragonborn as soon as the second spell is cast. This is what I would rule happens.

If the DM rules that the first spell is 'more potent', the PC would only appear to change from an Elf into a Dragonborn when the first spell's duration expires.

Perrin Tealeaf 05/11/2018.

You would just change from an elf to a dragonborn

It states on page 234 of the Player's Handbook,

You make yourself-including your clothing, armor, weapons, and other belongings on your person-look different until the spell ends or until you use your action to dismiss it. You can seem 1 foot shorter or taller and can appear thin, fat, or in between. You can't change your body type, so you must adopt a form that has the same basic arrangement of limbs. Otherwise, the extent of the illusion is up to you.

But then on page 205 it says that spells don't overlap and that the player keeps the most potent of the two spells that is cast on it.

So that means the first disguise self spell that was in affect on you would end if you recast disguise self to make yourself like a dragonborn.

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