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Tracking Spell

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A spell used to locate or find an individual

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
triton on Oct 4th 2017 at 8:08:34 PM
Last Edited By:
triton on Oct 8th 2017 at 9:11:12 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Your heroes need to track down a villain, or a villain needs a way to locate the heroes, or a character has gone missing and needs be tracked down but the trail is colder than an ice queen in a blizzard. High tech solutions either don't exists in this setting, or would be useless, as would normal tracking techniques. What are they to do?

That's where the Tracking Spell comes in. In fantasy fiction tracking spells are used to locate individuals, either by pin pointing their location like a tracking device or mapping their steps, or pointing their direction like a compass. Often they require either an object that belongs to the person being tracked, or placing an enchanted item on them and following after them. Can be seen as a form of scrying.

Of course, Tracking Device is the nonmagical equivalent. Often depends on Sympathetic Magic, using a piece of the target or something connected with them to make an attachment. Related tropes might be Crystal Ball and Surveillance as the Plot Demands.

Anime and Manga

  • Nanoha in Lyrical Nanoha has the spell "Area Search", originally created to find a Jewel Seed in a massive tree. It's shown to have to have to search manually in the form of a ball of magic. Becomes a Chekhov's Skill in StrikerS when she combines it with her Divine Buster to perform a Dungeon Bypass. Yuuno also demonstrates skill with tracking spells that end up landing him a job as the Chief Librarian at the Infinite Library.
Film
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean, the compass that points to your true heart's desire can have this effect if a specific person represents your heart's desire.
Literature
  • Blood Red: Rosamund uses a tracking spell that combines Sympathetic Magic and a good-quality map to pinpoint Markos' location when he's captured. (She also teaches the spell to the local village's mayor, as he has just enough magical ability to make it work.)
  • Harry Potter:
    • The Marauders' Map has the ability to track anyone as long as they are within Hogwarts.
    • A variation of this happened in the final book: the Death Eaters knew that Harry had no problem saying "Voldemort", so they cast a spell that would immediately allow them to locate anyone who spoke that name aloud.
  • The Wheel of Time has a "Finder", a weave of the One Power that can be laid on an object or person and broadcasts its location to the caster thereafter. Elayne scares a paroled ex-con into going straight by telling him that she can always find him, neglecting to mention that she's actually tracking his metal belt buckles, since the weave wears off a living subject in a matter of days.
  • In The Emperor's Soul, a Bloodsealer can unerringly pinpoint someone's location from a sample of fresh blood; more importantly, so can the Bloodsealer's deadly, Perpetual-Motion Monster skeleton minions. The latter is of much greater concern to Wan ShaiLu when she is recruited for her illegal talents and given a Bloodsealer as a warden.
  • In The Kingkiller Chronicle, the Functional Magic art of Sympathy can do this through a sample of someone's body. Kvothe stymies one such spell by stashing hair clippings in various vehicles leaving a city, since his trackers can't tell which part of his body has the rest of him attached to it.
  • Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files, as a wizard private detective, uses a lot of these, in both mundane and supernatural cases. He can follow any target provided he has something connected with them or enough personal information about them. The most reliable method is to use a piece of the target's body, feeding a trickle of magic into its sympathetic link with the target and following where the magic goes.
    • Harry is able to track Molly Carpenter via a sample of her mother's blood, since the strength of a Mama Bear's maternal bond is almost as symbolically powerful.
    • In an impressive feat of thaumaturgy, Harry creates a sympathetic model of most of Chicago, allowing him to follow the movements of a target that he can't track directly.
  • Such an ability exists in The Wheel of Time, known as a Finder. The trace must be placed on an object, and as long as the intended target keeps the object on their person, the creator of the trace will be able to sense their direction unless they get very far away.
  • Blood Red: Rosamund uses a tracking spell that combines Sympathetic Magic and a good-quality map to pinpoint Markos' location when he's captured. (She also teaches the spell to the local village's mayor, as he has just enough magical ability to make it work.)

Live Action Tv

  • Supernatural has had multiple types of tracking spells used through out the series. One notable one set a map on fire leaving only a piece that had the name of the town the target was staying in.
  • Charmed: All witches are capable of a magical tracking technique called Scrying, which can be performed with a crystal pendant and a map of the area in which the person or object a witch wants to find is presumably located. The witch has to hold the crystal pendant over the map and move it around untill the pendant eventually pinpoints the exact location of the object or person by pulling down on to a spot on the map.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons has several tracking options, from the lowly short-range "Locate Object" up to the top-tier "Discern Location", the latter of which can track its target precisely and unerringly from anywhere in The Multiverse, barring top-tier protective spells or divine intervention.
  • Mage: The Awakening lets a mage use the Space arcanum to cast a tracking spell that exploits their sympathetic connection to the target. With some care, they can also use the Fate arcanum to track someone through anything and anyone that is significant to them.

Video Games

  • 'Warcraft III: The Faerie Fire spell reduces the target's armor and makes it visible to the casting player (even through the Fog Of War) until the effect wears off.

Webcomics

  • In Unsounded's backstory, the Background Magic Field in Alderode is uniquely distorted, such that the government can use it to track any of its native-born citizens from magical hubs — except, for reasons unknown, people of the Gold caste.

Western Animation

Feedback: 17 replies

Oct 4th 2017 at 8:20:06 PM

  • Warcraft III: The Faerie Fire spell reduces the target's armor and makes it visible to the casting player (even through the Fog Of War) until the effect wears off.
  • Dungeons And Dragons: the infamous Locate City spell, a spell with a radius of several miles which normally, well, detects cities, but is better known for being used to create a Fantastic Nuke through creative application of the rules (involving meta-spells that add damage to any spell, then one that adds knockback, then one that deals damage based on knockback... and a permissive GM).

Oct 4th 2017 at 8:38:52 PM

Of course, Tracking Device is the nonmagical equivalent. Often depends on Sympathetic Magic, using a piece of the target or something connected with them to make an attachment.

  • Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files, as a wizard private detective, uses a lot of these, in both mundane and supernatural cases. He can follow any target provided he has something connected with them or enough personal information about them. Eventually he creates an intricate model of Chicago to allow him to follow objects within the area more easily.
  • Such an ability exists in The Wheel Of Time. The trace must be placed on an object, and as long as the intended target keeps the object on their person, the creator of the trace will be able to sense their direction unless they get very far away.

Oct 5th 2017 at 3:10:03 PM

  • Nanoha in Lyrical Nanoha has the spell "Area Search", originally created to find a Jewel Seed in a massive tree. It's shown to have to have to search manually in the form of a ball of magic. Becomes a Chekhovs Skill in StrikerS when she combines it with her Divine Buster to perform a Dungeon Bypass. Yuuno also demonstrates skill with tracking spells that end up landing him a job as the Chief Librarian at the Infinite Library.

Oct 4th 2017 at 9:04:58 PM

  • In Nowhere Boys, Felix uses a spell literally called "Tracking Spell" to find Andy who had gone missing.

Oct 4th 2017 at 9:09:56 PM

The magical equivalent of the Tracking Device. This often uses Sympathetic Magic. Related tropes might be Crystal Ball and Surveillance As The Plot Demands.
Literature

  • The Wheel Of Time has a "Finder", a weave of the One Power that can be laid on an object or person and broadcasts its location to the caster thereafter. Elayne scares a paroled ex-con into going straight by telling him that she can always find him, neglecting to mention that she's actually tracking his metal belt buckles, since the weave wears off a living subject in a matter of days.
  • In The Emperors Soul, a Bloodsealer can unerringly pinpoint someone's location from a sample of fresh blood; more importantly, so can the Bloodsealer's deadly, Perpetual Motion Monster skeleton minions. The latter is of much greater concern to Wan ShaiLu when she is recruited for her illegal talents and given a Bloodsealer as a warden.
  • In The Kingkiller Chronicle, the Functional Magic art of Sympathy can do this through a sample of someone's body. Kvothe stymies one such spell by stashing hair clippings in various vehicles leaving a city, since his trackers can't tell which part of his body has the rest of him attached to it.
  • In The Dresden Files, this can be accomplished through Sympathetic Magic and thaumaturgy:
    • The most reliable method is to use a piece of the target's body, feeding a trickle of magic into its sympathetic link with the target and following where the magic goes.
    • Harry is able to track Molly Carpenter via a sample of her mother's blood, since the strength of a Mama Bear's maternal bond is almost as symbolically powerful.
    • In an impressive feat of thaumaturgy, Harry creates a sympathetic model of most of Chicago, allowing him to follow the movements of a target that he can't track directly.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons And Dragons has several tracking options, from the lowly short-range "Locate Object" up to the top-tier "Discern Location", the latter of which can track its target precisely and unerringly from anywhere in The Multiverse, barring top-tier protective spells or divine intervention.
  • Mage The Awakening lets a mage use the Space arcanum to cast a tracking spell that exploits their sympathetic connection to the target. With some care, they can also use the Fate arcanum to track someone through anything and anyone that is significant to them.

Webcomics

  • In ''Unsounded's backstory, the Background Magic Field in Alderode is uniquely distorted, such that the government can use it to track any of its native-born citizens from magical hubs — except, for reasons unknown, people of the Gold caste.

Oct 4th 2017 at 9:26:55 PM

  • Discworld golems can apparently track people via their "karmic signature". This makes them very effective at catching people, as they don't need to sleep and can cross whatever terrain the target uses to distance them (walking across seafloor or lava, for instance).
    • Witches Abroad: Granny's sister Lilith uses mirror magic to look for her. "Mirror" in this case meaning any reflective surface, including ice and water, finding them using the equivalent of brute-force hacking by looking out of every wavecrest available.
  • Skyward Sword lets Fi use the Master Sword as a dowsing rod to look for hearts, rupees, or even treasure chests.

Oct 4th 2017 at 9:23:57 PM

Fanfiction

  • In The Life And Times Of A Winning Pony, Star Kicker is rather infamous for this — her special talent focuses on the ability to create small gems enchanted with tracking spells. She also has the rather impolite habit of planting these gems on the clothing and persons of everybody she meets or talks to, for the purposes of being able to track them should the need arise.

Oct 4th 2017 at 9:34:13 PM

Oct 5th 2017 at 5:11:53 AM

  • Harry Potter:
    • The Marauders' Map has the ability to track anyone as long as they are within Hogwarts.
    • A variation of this happened in the final book: the Death Eaters knew that Harry had no problem saying "Voldemort", so they cast a spell that would immediately allow them to locate anyone who spoke that name aloud.

Oct 5th 2017 at 5:53:05 AM

In Charmed, this particular kind of spell is called Scrying, and can be performed with a crystal and a map of the area the person or object is presumably located. A witch has to hold the crystal pendant over the map and move it around untill the pendant eventually pinpoints the exact location of the object or person by pulling down on to a spot on the map.

Oct 5th 2017 at 1:01:43 PM

The indented examples from the Dresden Files were under The Wheel of Time, I moved them to the proper location.

Oct 5th 2017 at 4:57:59 PM

Blood Red: Rosamund uses a tracking spell that combines Sympathetic Magic and a good-quality map to pinpoint Markos' location when he's captured. (She also teaches the spell to the local village's mayor, as he has just enough magical ability to make it work.)

Oct 6th 2017 at 7:11:25 AM

  • Ironclaw: The Journeyman Thaumaturge spell "Locate" allows one to track a target using an item that's somehow linked to the target. While a Necromancer can place a "Mark of Nine" on a victim they have line-of-sight to and then track it from then on.

Oct 6th 2017 at 10:13:03 AM

@gamermaster what category should I file your example under?

Oct 7th 2017 at 5:30:48 PM

In Pirates Of The Caribbean, the compass that points to your true heart's desire can have this effect if a specific person represents your heart's desire.

Oct 7th 2017 at 11:05:50 PM

From Anime A certain Magical Index Tsuchimikado Motoharu can track anyone with feng sui

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