Whether you’re sniffing out invisible assassins or tracking a solitary unicorn through the deep forest, Locate Creature is one of the most versatile, interesting spells in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
This 4th-level divination spell has a ton of applications, not to mention it appears on just about every class’s spell list, but it’s still a pretty rare selection for just about every class other than rangers.
In this guide, we’re going to go over how Locate Creature works, what you can use it for, and why everyone from wizards to druids should consider taking this impactful, highly thematic spell.
- Casting Time: 1 action
- Range: Self
- Duration: 1 hour
- School: Divination
- Class: Bard, Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Wizard
- Level: 4th level
- Damage/Effect: Detection
- Attack/Save: None
- Components: V, S, M (a bit of fur from a bloodhound)
As an action, you describe or name a creature that you are familiar with. For the spell’s duration, you can sense the direction of the creature’s location as long as it is within 1,000 feet of you.
If the creature moves, you learn which direction it’s moving in.
You can use this spell to either locate a specific creature that is known to you or the nearest creature of a specific type, like a human, a goblin, or a unicorn.
This second method only works if you have seen the type of creature you’re looking for up close (within 30 feet) at least once before.
Also, if the creature you’re trying to locate is in a different form – as the result of being under the effects of a polymorph spell, for example – the spell cannot locate it.
Lastly, the spell cannot locate a creature if an area of running water at least 10 feet wide blocks a direct path between you and it.
What Is Locate Creature in DnD 5e?
Locate creature is an information-gathering divination spell accessible to full casters (like bards, druids, and wizards) at 7th level and to semi-martial casters (the paladin and the ranger) at 13th level.
Locate Creature is a great way to pinpoint the whereabouts of either a single creature you want to find or track or to basically ping the nearest of a certain creature type.
This latter move is great if you’re in hostile territory where visibility is low, like a jungle you know is inhabited by dangerous displacer beasts or a smoke-filled lava cave crawling with salamanders.
It’s worth noting that you have to name the specific type of creature; you can’t just detect the nearest creature within a specific type, like aberrations, but rather have to name its species, like a Beholder or a Chuul.
Technically, you’d have to use Locate Creature to find the nearest goblin, hobgoblin or bugbear and couldn’t look for goblinoids.
Still, I’d feel like a pretty crappy DM if a player cast this spell and I gave the all clear, only to be ambushed a few seconds later. “Oh, but you said goblins. These are HOB-goblins. Totally different.”
The most common reason I see this spell used, however, is to aid players in tracking a single, specific enemy.
As long as you’re familiar with your quarry – and it doesn’t have too big of a head start – this spell can effectively render even the stealthiest enemies ineffective.
This is the perfect spell for “accidentally” letting the last bad guy live so you can track them straight back to their evil lair.
Or for finding where in the BBEG’s dungeons your ally is hidden.
Or for essentially eliminating chase mechanics from the game.
Is Locate Creature Worth Taking?
While Locate Creature is no doubt situationally useful, classes that have limits on the number of spells they can remember, like wizards, might not want to make this their first pick up when they finally unlock 4th-level spell slots.
The transition from 2nd- to 3rd-level spells is still probably the single biggest power spike for casters, but that doesn’t mean that unlocking a 4th-level spell slot is in any way inconsequential.
There are some insanely powerful 4th-level spells out there, including massive battlefield control effects, like Evard’s Black Tentacles, and some super powerful utility spells, like Greater Invisibility and (the antidote to Locate Creature) Polymorph.
The cleric class, which can switch out spells from their entire list each day by praying to their god, would probably be my candidate for picking up this spell – likely in preparation for a hunt or when heading into hostile territory.
Then there are the spell’s limitations.
First, the range – while massive for a spell – still requires you to be roughly in the same area as your target. A thousand feet is roughly equal to 0.18 miles, taking just three minutes to walk at a steady pace.
It’s ever so slightly less than the height of the Eiffel Tower, and on the low end of average for an ocean-going cruise ship.
If your quarry is traveling at a fast pace (on horseback or affected by the Expeditious Retreat spell, for example), you’d have less than two minutes to cast this spell and then start moving to keep up with them before they slip away.
This probably makes Locate Creature a more useful spell in densely packed environments like cities than in vast tracts of open wilderness or against creatures that don’t know you’re coming for them.
Still, in a cramped and confusing environment, this could still give you the edge in an all-out chase.
Then, we have the problem of polymorph and other shapeshifting abilities. While this spell can see through invisibility, disguises, and spells that alter a creature’s appearance, it’s not able to detect polymorphed creatures as anything other than the shape they currently embody.
For example, trying to locate the nearest dragon (or even a specific, named dragon you’re familiar with) wouldn’t trigger this spell, even if there was an ancient gold dragon polymorphed into a budgie perched on your shoulder.
But what if you know that the ancient gold dragon you’re hunting likes to turn into budgies? This is where it gets interesting and, predictably, falls much more under the umbrella of your DM’s own rulings.
Obviously, just recalibrating the spell to search for budgies is going to point you toward the nearest one, whether it’s the polymorphed dragon or not.
If you’ve seen the specific budgie the dragon likes to polymorph into, however, maybe there’s a case to be made that you could use Locate Creature on it.
Essentially, anything that changes the physical form of a creature (shapeshifting, a druid’s wild shape, polymorph – taking doppelgangers, mimics, and vampires in bat form off the table, etc.) is going to throw off Locate Creature.
This means that, while the spell is an absolute must-have against enemies that liberally employ physical disguises, illusion magic, and invisibility, it’s rendered virtually useless by shapeshifters.
Lastly, there’s the issue of running water. Now, from a thematic standpoint, I absolutely love this.
Actually, I love everything about how this spell works. It feels like actual magic; it’s a bit weird, there are arbitrary conditions, and things are up to clever interpretation.
However, the fact that your quarry can completely thwart your use of a 4th-level spell slot by doing something as simple as walking over a bridge is a huge problem, especially if you don’t know the terrain you’re tracking your target through.
All in all, I think there are better options out there for a 4th-level spell slot when you consider Locate Creature in context.
However, for a class like the cleric, which can grab this spell when necessary and discard it when it’s not, this can be a fantastic tool to have in your back pocket.
Commonly Asked Questions About Locate Creature
Does Locate Creature Work on People?
Yes. “Creature” is a catch-all term in D&D 5e that includes constructs, the undead, and humanoids. You can absolutely use Locate Creature to detect a human or any other humanoid race.
Can You Use Locate Creature on a Corpse?
No. While the UN-dead count as creatures, the truly dead are no longer considered such in D&D 5e, so you cannot use Locate Creature to find a body, even if it’s recently died.
Does Locate Creature Work on a Creature in Another Plane?
No. Even though planes like the Astral and Ethereal Planes exist effectively “on top of” the Prime Material Plane, concepts of distance don’t translate between them, and spells can only track, observe, or affect targets outside the plane of existence in which they were cast when explicitly stated.
Locate Creature does not state it can target creatures in a different plane. However, if the caster entered a new plane while the spell was still active, then the spell could detect a target in that plane.