[RPG] If I set multiple Alarms, can I tell them apart


The Alarm spell states that the caster can choose to make it sound off in one of two ways: a mental ping or a localized bell sound.

Let’s say a dungeon room has two entrances. I want to Alarm them both, to tell if an intruder is coming or going. If I need to set both alarms for mental notification (since I’ll be gone deeper), can I still tell them apart?

Best Answer

Strict RAW - No

In D&D 5e spells do only what they say in their description nothing more or less.

Nothing in the spell description for alarm says or implies that a magic user would understand the difference between the alarms they set. This means that a strict RAW reading would mean that a caster cannot do what OP wants.

Personally, and this is solely my opinion, I do not think this is the best way to adjudicate this as it seems needlessly legalistic and goes contrary to the ethos of enabling players to do fun things in general.

Rules as Interpreted - Assumed player choice

An arguably more lenient interpretation of RAW brought up by @TimGrant in their answer says that it is implicit that when the spell says "an alarm" and "a hand bell" that the spell is allowing room there for player choice in the matter. Examples of other spells might be using misty step to teleport to “an unoccupied space” and polymorph transforming a creature into "a new form". It may not be provable or definitive, but it makes sense and allows for creative and clever uses of the spell.

Rules as Fun - Yes

I don't see anything game-breaking or even close to it by allowing the spellcaster to know the difference or even to tweak the sound of the audible alarm. In fact, it makes a lot of sense intuitively that the spell would work this way in-universe even if the RAW doesn't support that.

This is a perfect example of a case where the DM plays an important part in adjudicating the rules in the game. In this case, they get to determine whether or not to allow a player to go slightly out of bound of the precise wording of the spell description. And this is perfectly good and encouraged by the designers.

In this case, I would rule this a clever use of a spell without any game-breaking potential and would not hesitate to allow it at my table. I can't think of a single reason that allowing it would be detrimental to any game.

Bonus: Using multiple alarms to get the same effect using only RAW

If the DM is insistent upon following the strict RAW and disallowing the caster knowledge of which mental alarm goes to where, there may still be a clever way to get the desired effect. @BaconHero in their answer said that if you place several alarm spells close to each other in very clever ways you can use that to let the caster know which way they are coming from. For example, you could place one alarm spell on the door to passage A, another on the door to passage B, and another just inside of the door to passage B. Thus, the caster will hear 1 ping if a creature is coming from A and two if one is coming from B. If the caster is very careful and precise about placing the spells, they can get useful directional information.