The D&D 5e spell Dispel Magic is extremely ambiguous and is the subject of many questions on this site. In my view, these questions and answers do not result in a clear interpretation of Dispel Magic, but a number of high-rank people on the site have suggested that it would be hard to ask a good clarifying question in this space due to a lack of focus. I feel that I have a clear and answerable question that would be useful to others on this site. @ThomasMarkov suggested I workshop it here; the proposed question follows.
I'm also wondering if, before posting the question below, it would be a better idea to post a separate question: "At a table where fun consists of advanced planning around the rules, what spell-interactions with Dispel Magic might a DM want to clarify in advance?" I think this would also be useful to a lot of people on this site, and I could answer it myself with the review of posts below (which feels like a better answer than question). Later, I could reference the question/answer in order to ask the question below.
Everything below is part of the proposed question.
How can I expand or rewrite Dispel Magic to be fun at a table where "fun" consists of advanced planning around the game's rules and mechanics?
The spell description for Dispel Magic is the subject of many questions on this site (see below for a summary). This question makes a fundamental query about the spell, "How do I know if I can target an effect with dispel magic?" The only answer advises that DMs should rule based on their intuition and keep track of a list of rulings in order to be consistent.
While this is good--probably ideal--advice at tables where "fun" is about the story or the role-play, there are also many tables that primarily enjoy D&D 5e as a venue to strategically plan around the mechanics and rules. At such a table, rulings about which players cannot easily reason ahead of time are an inherent negative that result in drawn-out arguments and reduced fun.
This question asks the same question as the linked question above but in the context of such a table: For a table motivated by strategizing and planning around D&D 5e's mechanics and rules, how can Dispel Magic be extended or rewritten in order to cater to these interests and to avoid table arguments about how it works?
The goal of this question is to (1) make the rules of applying Dispel Magic clear in as many cases as possible while (2) remaining as short and simple as possible, and (3) not violating other rules as written or substantially unbalancing the game.
As background research and motivation, I have listed below a set of unclear cases with summaries of existing questions already about those cases from this site. This section is not a list of individual questions that need answers. I'm looking for a synthesis of site-knowledge with play-experience into a simple set of rules or strategies that can be used at the kind of table described above.
The relevant text of the Dispel Magic description is,
Choose one creature, object, or magical effect within range. Any spell of 3rd level or lower on the target ends.
The remaining text deals with higher spell-levels, and isn't part of this question.
A review of spells for which the interaction with Dispel Magic is not clear and of the discourse about them on this site.
(The spells labeling each category are not exhaustive--they are just examples of spells in that category.)
- Aid, Bane, Bless, Charm Person, Faerie Fire, Longstrider, Sleep.
Spells that have (or can have) multiple targets for a single casting. If I am affected by a spell like Bless or Bane, which has multiple targets, and Dispel Magic is cast on me, does the spell end for me alone or for everyone affected by the spell?
This question clarifies that, per Sage Advice, the effect ends only on the target of the Dispel Magic spell, not on every target.
- Animate Dead, Ceremony, Create and Destroy Water, Find Familiar, Goodberry, Feeblemind, Leomund's Secret Chest.
These spells all have instantaneous durations, which is generally taken to mean that there is no ongoing magical effect. However, they all also either conjure something or have spell-effects that last beyond the casting. It is unclear if there is something that Dispel Magic can act on with these spells.
This question about Find Familiar, this question about Feeblemind, and this question about Animate Dead all claim that spells with an instantaneous duration cannot be targeted or affected by Dispel Magic. This is also backed up by the 2015 Sage Advice compendium.
- Ensnaring Strike.
This spell magically animates an object (a vine) that entangles the spell's target; however, the creature is the target, not the vine. To end the Ensnaring Strike spell, it is unclear whether one targets the vine or the ensnared creature.
- Entangle, Grease, Silence, Zone of Truth.
These spells create an area-of-effect that persists, but they also create spell-effects on individual creatures/objects (for example, Entangle creates an area of difficult terrain and can also restrain someone caught in the area during casting). It is unclear whether creatures who are affected by the spell-effect are freed of the spell-effect when Dispel Magic is cast on them, and whether casting Dispel Magic on them has an effect on the rest of the spell.
This question and its answer suggest that the area-of-effect must be targeted and that targeting a creature caught in the effect would have no effect.
- Aura of Life, Circle of Power, Pass Without a Trace.
These spells are similar to category 4 (e.g., Entangle, Grease, Silence) in that they create an ongoing area-of-effect which in turn create spell-effects on targets in range. They are different from category 4 spells in that they have a target of self.
Because these differ only in targeting self rather than an area, the question linked in category 4 likely applies.
- Detect Thoughts, Locate Creature, Dream.
These spells target self, but they create ongoing spell-effects on others targets. It is unclear whether the Dispel Magic spell can be cast on a victim of these spells despite not being a proper target of the spell. (Notably, the Dream spell can be used as a powerful attack, making it a more interesting case with respect to game balance.)
- Flame Blade.
This spell has a target of self, but it creates a magical object that can be held only by the caster. It is unclear if dispelling Flame Blade requires that the caster or the blade be the target of the Dispel Magic spell.
I didn't find any questions specifically about this, but it seems intuitively related to category 8, below.
- Heat Metal, Holy Weapon, Magic Weapon.
Similar to Flame Blade: these spells target an object that is typically "on" another creature for all intents and purposes. Can that creature be targeted to end the effect, or must the object on them be targeted?
This question and its answer indicate that the object that has been heated must be targeted by Dispel Magic, not the creature who is wearing/holding the object.
- Snare, Glyph of Warding.
These spells create a magical trap, but interestingly, the duration of both spells ends when the trap is triggered, at which point the victim is hoisted up into the air (for Snare) or the glyph is set off. It seems intuitive that the snare or glyph on the ground can be dispelled, but if the spell ends when the spell is triggered, can Dispel Magic be cast on the victim to release them from the snare? If the Glyph of Warding is charged with a spell like Banishment (meaning that, essentially, the Glyph concentrates on the spell for you), can anything be targeted by Dispel Magic (aside from the Banished creature, wherever they are)? Note that the spells' durations are not instantaneous.
This question addresses the case of casting Dispel Magic on Banishment but does not directly address the Snare or Glyph of Warding spells. This question clarifies that in general a spell whose duration is ended cannot be dispelled.
- Bestow Curse, Contagion, Geas.
These spells appear to be confusing mostly because their spell descriptions explicitly state that they can be removed with specific spells other than Dispel Magic. It is unclear if these explicit rules about certain spells dispelling them are exclusive (i.e., is Dispel Magic excluded because it is not explicitly mentioned?) One additional note is that Contagion states in its spell description that "Since this spell induces a natural disease in its target, any effect that removes a disease or otherwise ameliorates a disease’s effects apply to it," which might be taken to mean that the spell's duration is for the natural disease and not the spell.
This question and this question both indicate that Dispel Magic works on these spells because it is not explicitly excluded.
- Warding Bond.
This spell has a range of touch, but given that it is a magical bond between two people (caster and target), it is unclear if it can be dispelled by targeting the spell's caster.
This question asserts that one cannot use Dispel Magic on a spell's caster (assuming the caster is not also the target, one presumes). This question does not directly address this point, but the answer notes that Jeremy Crawford has tweeted that a caster may maintain multiple castings of Warding Bond at once, and since Warding Bond states that it ends if either its target or its caster is targeted by another Warding Bond spell, it seems reasonable to infer that the caster is not in any sense a target of the spell. By this logic, targeting the caster would not dispel the Warding Bond spell.
This spell targets self, a bit like category 6 (Detect Thoughts, Dream), but it creates a luminous orb that follows the spell's victim. It is unclear if this orb can be dispelled or if the caster (target) must be dispelled or if both are allowed. It is also conceivable that the victim of a Scrying spell could be dispelled despite not being the official target of the spell, because the spell is, in a sense, "on" them.
This question asserts that the orb from a Scrying spell can be dispelled.
Intuitively, this is like category 12 (Scrying), but Clairvoyance targets a location instead of self, and the Clairvoyance spell description states that orb it creates at that location cannot be interacted with. It is not clear if the "interacted with" clause applies to Dispel Magic or whether the location that is the target of the Clairvoyance spell is a valid target for Dispel Magic.
This question is relevant in that it compares Scrying and Clairvoyance and some conclusions can be drawn from that, but it does not directly clarify the question of Dispel Magic.
- Animate Objects, Conjure Animals.
Many spells both have non-instantaneous cast times and summon or animate multiple creatures. It is unclear if targeting one creature ends the spell on all summoned creatures.
This question asserts that Dispel Magic ends the summoning spell for only the targeted creature.
This spell has a target of self, but it creates a magical illusory duplicate that can be moved independently and that acts as a scrying sensor for the caster. It is unclear if the duplicate may be targeted by Dispel Magic, given that the spell's target is self.
I didn't find any posts about this spell and Dispel Magic, but it is fundamentally similar to the case of Scrying (if the orb from Scrying can be dispelled, it is hard to see how the illusory duplicate could be immune from being dispelled).
- Eyebite, Telekinesis.
These spells have a target of self, and they give the caster the ability to put spell-effects on other people. It is unclear if the effects of these spells can be removed from a creature by casting Dispel Magic on that creature.
- Magic Jar.
This spell has a target of self, but it puts the caster's soul inside of a magic jar then allows them to possess another host body. It is unclear if the spell can be dispelled by casting Dispel Magic on the magic jar or on the soul or on the body left behind, or if it can be cast on the caster while they are possessing another body.
This question concludes that one can cast Dispel Magic on the caster's soul while they are inside the magic jar (but not on the jar itself, which is not the target) or on the possessed host while the caster is possessing them in order to end the spell.
- Astral Projection.
It is unclear if Dispel Magic can be cast on the soul in the Astral Plane or on the body left behind, or both, in order to end the spell.
- Twinned Spells.
Spells that are twin-cast using meta-magic are ostensibly the same spell; they are thus similar to the spells in category 1 (Bless, Bane, etc.).
This question uses similar logic as the question noted in category 1 to conclude that casting Dispel Magic on the target of a twinned spell ends the spell only on that target.
- Readied/Held Spells.
If someone readies a spell on their turn, can it or they be targeted by Dispel Magic in order to dispel the readied spell?
This question discusses this scenario; however, the currently-accepted answer says "yes" and the currently-most-upvoted answer says "no" with a relatively small difference in votes.