Cut the deck, roll the bones, step right up, and see your future… Spells and abilities that grant foreknowledge are a fascinating, potentially powerful aspect of Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
They also attract controversy like flies to old meat, they and can be one of the hardest things to get right as a dungeon master.
Weaving the threads of past, present, and possible futures together is an especially fiddly process if you want to preserve little things like “player agency” and “free will.”
Thankfully, there are ways to glimpse the road ahead without feeling like everything’s suddenly and irrevocably been put on rails.
The one we’re going to be talking about today is Augury, a 2nd-level divination spell that lets you basically shake a magic, pseudo-omniscient 8 ball and ask “Has the DM designed a nice, easy dungeon where every other piece of furniture isn’t a bloody mimic?”
Most of the spell guides we do are for players with the occasional piece of advice aimed at dungeon masters.
This one’s more of a 50:50 split as it turns out that the rules for Augury (ironically) seem to create more problems than they answer, so we’re going to have to pick this one apart a bit.
Despite that fact, I maintain that Augury is an excellent spell which, if used correctly, is virtually guaranteed to save your bacon on multiple occasions.
- Casting Time: 1 Minute (ritual)
- Range: Self
- Duration: Instantaneous
- School: Divination
- Class: Cleric
- Level: 2nd Level
- Damage/Effect: Foreknowledge
- Attack/Save: —
- Components: V, S, M (specially marked sticks, bones, or similar tokens worth at least 25 gp)
By casting gem-inlaid sticks, rolling dragon bones, laying out ornate cards, or employing some other divining tool, you receive an omen from an otherworldly entity about the results of a specific course of action that you plan to take within the next 30 minutes.
The DM chooses from the following possible omens:
- Weal, for good results
- Woe, for bad results
- Weal and woe, for both good and bad results
- Nothing, for results that aren’t especially good or bad
The spell doesn’t take into account any possible circumstances that might change the outcome, such as the casting of additional spells or the loss or gain of a companion.
If you cast the spell two or more times before completing your next long rest, there is a cumulative 25% chance for each casting after the first that you get a random reading. The DM makes this roll in secret.
What Is the Augury Spell in D&D 5e?
Augury is a limited form of divination or fortune telling that lets you ask an otherworldly entity about something you plan to do in the next 30 minutes. The entity can then respond with one of four answers regarding the results of that course of action: effectively Good, Bad, Good and Bad, and “Eh.”
The spell takes a minute to cast using a 2nd-level spell slot or can be cast as a ritual in order to not use a spell slot.
Augury is available to clerics and physically requires them to roll bones, turn over tarot cards, or perform some other form of ritualistic fortune telling in order to channel the otherworldly entity’s answer, which cannot be elaborated upon.
It’s important to note that the spell doesn’t take into account radical changes of circumstance that occur between the casting of the spell and the caster embarking on the course of action they were asking about.
Augury doesn’t lock events into place; the future is always being written.
Lastly, if this spell is cast more than once per day, the chance of a random (note: not automatically wrong) reading starts to verge on certainty, which means once or maybe twice is the maximum number of times you probably want to cast this spell per day.
How and When Should Players Use Augury?
Augury is basically a perfect utility spell for just about any cleric.
Because of the way that divine spellcasting works, clerics get to select and prepare new spell slots every single time they take a long rest as they pray to their deity for a new loadout.
As such, there’s basically no reason not to grab Augury, unless you’re certain you’re going to need every other spell in your arsenal.
The fact that it’s more or less exclusively a non-combat spell means that you’re almost always going to be able to cast it as a ritual, meaning you’ll never have to burn a spell slot.
That being said, it’s probably not even worth casting Augury twice per long rest.
The fact you have a 25% chance (which then becomes a 50%, 75%, and finally a 100% chance) of a random result (so, 75% likely to be wrong, to keep the percentage train rolling) makes it very hard to treat anything but the first casting of the day without suspicion.
That then begs the question: When do I cast Augury?
The answer is, whenever you feel like you don’t have enough information and worry that the party would struggle to cope with the consequences of making the wrong choice.
Some examples include:
- When a dungeon door might be lethally trapped.
- When you’re about to go to a handoff or meeting with someone you don’t trust.
- When you’re about to execute a plan for a heist.
It’s pretty easy to determine when to cast Augury, but figuring out what to ask is probably worth thinking about.
Now, I’ll get into this more in the DM advice section below, but I think that the way you approach Augury and pose a question to the otherworldly entity is going to depend a lot on the relationship you have with your dungeon master and the style of game they run.
Some DMs will delight in finding verbal loopholes to give a misleading answer or fall back on the imperfect knowledge of the otherworldly entity.
If your table is all about that slightly adversarial relationship (I’ve played in those games and had fun, which is the important bit), then you’re probably going to have to think about how you cast Augury very differently to a player whose DM is more inclined to recognize the spirit of the question rather than the letter.
That being said, it doesn’t matter how willing your dungeon master is to answer your question in good faith, if the question sucks, the answer is probably going to suck as well.
Of course, you’re not exactly asking a question; you’re asking about the outcome of a particular course of action.
However, choosing the exact scope of that action can make the difference between a good answer and a bad one.
For example, casting Augury to examine what will happen when the party investigates a dungeon is probably too broad a scope of event and would almost certainly result in Weal and Woe.
There’s treasure in the dungeon, but there are also traps and monsters.
However, using Augury to figure out what will happen if you walk into the next room — or take one of two branching passageways — gives you actionable intel.
DM’s Corner: Weal or Woe?
Dungeon mastering divination magic can be a really sticky wicket.
These kinds of spells, like Commune, Divination, and other effects that effectively let the players ask you “now what” can be a nightmare when you realize how much players will cling to a lifeline of supposed certainty when they have it.
I see this all the time with NPCs, for example. As soon as the players realize that one of their hirelings is in any way competent or knowledgeable, they immediately want to turn to them for everything.
Obviously, they don’t actually want to follow that character’s advice; they want to ask me, the DM, what to do, and they’ve figured out that this NPC is about as close as their characters are going to get to the DM and therefore obviously want to run all their plans past them or even put them in charge.
Obviously, this doesn’t lead to great D&D. This is why pretty much any NPC who tags along with my players is either woefully incompetent or incurably bloodthirty to the point of suicidal.
(What do you mean, “What should we do now?” We should do what I’ve been saying we should do since day one and go beat that dragon to death with our bare hands. Oh, what a glorious day to die! And so on…)
The players get the hint pretty fast and start telling the NPCs what to do.
So… What happens when there’s a spell that lets the PCs dispense with the nonplayer characters and just ask you what’s up?
While I think this is a bigger risk with spells like Divination, Commune, and Contact Other Plane (which let your players actually carry on something close to a full conversation with the DM – I mean, God), Augury still very much feels like a way for the players to run their plans past you for some final, cosmic stamp of approval.
Now, I talked earlier about handling this sort of thing in good or bad faith.
Personally, if I get the impression that my players are either having a roleplaying moment or genuinely need a little nod of approval (or widened eyes blinking “Don’t do it, you idiots!” in Morse code, whichever the case may be), I think an honest answer that’s effectively me, the DM, saying “yes” or “no” (weal or woe) is perfectly fine.
But what if your players aren’t treating in good faith or have come to over-rely on Augury? Or maybe you just want to stress the fact that you don’t come to D&D every week to tell the players what to do.
In that case, I invite you to focus on the fact that, in reality, the players aren’t actually talking to you.
They’re talking to an otherworldly entity and, while it’s assumed said entity has an awful lot of knowledge about what’s happening and what will happen, they’re not omniscient, and more importantly, they have their own personality and opinions.
For example, a cleric in service to a war god keeps casting Augury and getting Weal (the good one) right before the party gets ambushed by orcs because obviously a god of battle is going to see any possible outbreak of violence as a good thing.
Likewise, a cleric who worships a goddess of death, like the Raven Queen, might get Woe every time a course of action doesn’t lead to someone’s grisly demise.
A deity of wealth might consider it better to die in a collapsing treasure chamber (rich at last!) than escape to safety.
Just like those NPCs, the entities your players will contact with Augury are also fallible or at least see the multiverse in a certain way.
Now, I wouldn’t recommend using this to screw players over (we’re acting in good faith and not being dicks, remember?), but using this approach is a great way to ensure that your players remember that they’re not talking to the DM when they cast this spell.
Hopefully this piece has helped you think about Augury, how to use it, and how to handle this spell as a DM.
Until next time, happy adventuring folks and remember: Woe betide those who ignore the warnings of the fates. Shall ye survive the next room? I guess Weal see! … I’m so sorry.