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, the Tracking Device is the non-magical 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 Dowsing Device, Crystal Ball and Surveillance as the Plot Demands.
Sensor Character is a character who is specialized in using tracking spells.
- 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.
- In The Life and Times of a Winning Pony, Star Kicker's special talent is tracking and location magic. She specializes in creating 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. This does come in handy on some occasions, such as when a character goes missing and Star is able to use one of her gems as a focus for casting a tracking spell.
- In the crossover of the Sword Art Online universe with Fate/stay night, Fate Revelation Online, one of the magics taught is tracking through the use of runes or dowsing.
- 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.
- 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:
- Underage witches and wizards have the "Trace" on them so that the Ministry can detect when they illegally use magic outside of school. Unfortunately, it's not at all foolproof, as demonstrated when Dobby uses magic at the Dursley house and the Ministry wrongfully believes that Harry broke the law.
- 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.
- In The Dresden Files:
- As a wizard private detective, Harry Dresden 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 builds a Sympathetic Magic model of most of Chicago, allowing him to follow the movements of a target that he can't track directly. In one book Harry realizes that he's the one being tracked, so he puts the tracking device in a bag of catnip, suspends it over the model, and has his cat Mister swat it around to send his pursuers on a wild goose chase around the city.
- In The Laundry Files, one early joke about the titular Monster Hunter Organization is that it tries so hard to follow the ISO-9000 code that agents can be expected to be audited for the paperclips they use. And then it turns out that the joke was a Chekhov's Gun, because the agency can cast a spell that can give the exact position of every paperclip of any specific batch that they own... which is pretty good when they need to find a spy that has run away with top-secret documents.
- Guardians of the Flame: A locate spell is mentioned and used sometimes, though not often as it's fairly inaccurate.
- 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: The page image shows Prue using a magical tracking technique called Scrying, which all Witches in this shows' universe can use. To use this, a witch has to hold a crystal pendant over a map of the area in which the person or object she wants to find is presumably located, and move it around until the pendant eventually pinpoints the exact location of the person/object by pulling down on to a spot on the map.
- Game of Thrones: The Night King leaves a handprint on Bran Stark that allows him to track Bran's location.
- Legend of the Seeker: In "Bounty" Sebastian the mapmaker creates a map which serves as one by getting Richard's pendant from a bounty hunter after him when it's lost. He grinds it up and mixes this with the ink used for making the map. When it's made in a magical machine afterward, Richard's shown on the map as a glowing gold dot, since an item the target had is connected to them somehow.
- The Order: In "Undeclared Part 2" Alyssa casts one that uses a stick as a kind of lodestone or dowsing rod that uses a personal item from the target being tracked, pointing toward them as it floats while on water.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- There several tracking options for spellcasters, 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. Locate city achieved infamy due to a... creative interpretation of the rules that allows it to serve as a literal Fantastic Nuke if the DM is permissive enough.
- A jabberwock can unerringly track any creature it has wounded within twenty-four hours as long as they're on the same plane.
- In Nomine:
- The Song of Affinity allows the performer to track a target throughout the Symphony, as long as one of their body parts or something they created can be used as a focus.
- The Celestial Song of Attraction allows the singer to attune themselves to someone through touch, and afterwards be able to always divine the other person's location.
- 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.
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The spell "Finding Divination" reveals the direction to the target — either a specific item or the closest example of a generic item. It does not, however, reveal the distance to the the target or any barriers in between.
- 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.
- World of Warcraft: Hunters have a variety of tracking spells, which will place all nearby creatures of a specified type on the minimap. They can track Beasts, Demons, Dragonkin, Elementals, Giants, Humanoids, or Undead, but only one at a time. Feral Druids also have access to Track Beasts and Track Humanoids, while Paladins can Sense Undead and Warlocks used to be able to Sense Demons.
- DICE: The Cube That Changes Everything: One cash shop skill Stalking gives the user a minimap showing other A-rankers.
- In Castoff, tracking spells work better if you have more information on whoever you're looking for - but they don't work on the dead at all. This is because they track the target's aura, their "themselfness", what makes them unique. Since Zera can't track Arianna, he presumes she's dead and the woman we know as Arianna is an impostor. Then again, when Arianna can't track Vector and Frankie, she simply tracks someone else she thinks would be with them, and it works, despite Arianna barely knowing the guy. Afterwards she theorises that Frankie may have no aura because he's a robot, but has no idea why Vector would be untrackable, and decides the spell must be faulty.
- 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.
- In Yokoka's Quest, Vivi is revealed to be using magic to track Yokoka, Yfa, and Mao's locations and emotional states via their ribbon weapons.
- Jackie Chan Adventures' resident chi-wizard Uncle often casts these kind of spells that help the heroes locate the artifact of the week.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- From Season 5 onward, the "Cutie Map" — the magical table at the center of the throne room of Princess Twilight Sparkle's new castle — is a powerful artifact that can project a map of the whole of Equestria. It then detect "friendship problems" anywhere by summoning members of the Mane Six (and later, Starlight Glimmer and Spike) through their cutie marks, projecting a floating image of said mark over a location. The specific ponies summoned are the best suited to solve whatever friendship problem is afoot.
- In "Shadow Play – Part 1", another function of the map is revealed. When Twilight Sparkles concludes that they'll need artifacts belonging to the Pillars of Equestria to bring them back from Limbo and reads again Star Swirl's journal for clue, a glow appears above the Cutie Map — not from any input on the part of any of the Mane Six. Then, images of the five missing artifacts (the six one being said journal, already in their possession) are seen floating, and settle on their respective locations above the map of Equestria. Quite handy at this point in the story, but since the map is directly linked to the Tree of Harmony, which (as confirmed by the next episode) has very strong ties to said Pillars, it is justified.