[RPG] How to tell a statue from a petrified creature in 5e


How can a character investigate whether a lifelike statue is a statue or a petrified creature?

Do permanent spells like Flesh to Stone, or anything causing the Petrified status (in particular a Basilisk's Petrifying Gaze) leave any way for any character to discern whether or not the statue was at some point a living creature?

Best Answer

Cast a long-duration spell on it, then identify

First, is a petrified creature a creature? The petrified condition says:

  • A petrified creature is transformed, along with any nonmagical object it is wearing or carrying, into a solid inanimate substance (usually stone). Its weight increases by a factor of ten, and it ceases aging.
  • The creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can't move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.
  • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

You could argue that bullets one and two refer to the creature as it is being transformed, but bullet three clearly refers to its ongoing state. Therefore, a petrified creature is still a creature.

Now all you need to do is cast a long-duration spell on it that only targets creatures (and works on unwilling targets). A 1st-level bard, wizard, or artificer can accomplish this by casting longstrider on the creature/statue, then casting identify on it (to detect longstrider). Longstrider doesn't require concentration, lasts for 1 hour, only works on creatures, and doesn't require a willing target.

If it's a statue, longstrider wouldn't work, so it wouldn't show up on identify. Otherwise, identify will detect the presence of the spell. Longstrider has the added benefit of not damaging the creature/statue, regardless of which it is. If you're concerned about weird DM rulings, you could start by trying this on something you know isn't a creature, like a random piton. (Beware of piton mimics!)

Options for all casters

  • Bard can cast longstrider and identify.
  • Cleric can cast shield of faith, which states: "A shimmering field appears and surrounds a creature of your choice". That should be easily visible.
  • Druid can cast earthbind, which states: "Choose one creature you can see within range. Yellow strips of magical energy loop around the creature." Again, easily visible. There's a Strength saving throw (which should not affect the yellow energy), but petrified creatures automatically fail them.
  • Paladin can also cast shield of faith. A neat alternative is zone of truth, because it states: "You know whether each creature succeeds or fails on its saving throw."
  • Ranger can use hunter's mark, but it's a bit complicated. They need to (1) mark a real creature, (2) reduce it to 0 hit points, (3) try to transfer the mark to the statue/creature, (4) try to transfer the mark to another real creature, (5) shoot that real creature to see if it takes 1d6 extra damage. Step 5 only works if Step 3 targeted a statue. Otherwise, they can use locate object.
  • Sorcerer can cast earthbind, just like druid.
  • Warlock can use hex like ranger uses hunter's mark.
  • Wizard can cast longstrider and identify.
  • Artificer can cast longstrider and identify. (Thanks to David Coffron in the comments.)