Every DM has one of those players. . .I often get more than one. Sigh.
Today’s special player wants to play a rogue, specifically an arcane trickster (AT). Let’s hear it for sneak-thieves. Hooray. Nothing like another excuse to split the party, I say! Who else is going to cause shenanigans if the rogue doesn’t?
The way Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (5e) is intentionally balanced, the combat shenanigans an arcane trickster will want to get up to can’t really be accomplished with mage hand (MH) using rules as written (RAW), even with the special exceptions an AT gets with mage hand legerdemain (MHL) that other spell casters don’t.
That said, RAW is unclear on some specific points, which is the subject of this post (mostly for my Tuesday night vic-, er, players).
Research, If You’re Into That
Before I dive into the finer points of my house rules, here’re some obligatory links to webernetz forums where you can got spend lots of time reading other folks’ opinions and maybe even waste a few hours telling them how wrong they are (or saying me-too):
Mandatory Caveats & Addendums
These house rules (HR) are not intended to subvert RAW, but loosen/clarify/expand slightly upon them, or remove ambiguity in what I believe was the intent of RAW. I don’t believe MHL is quite equivalent RAW to its assassin counterpart, which is why I’m expanding upon it. These HR are not intended to create a power feature that will overshadow similar class features or steal thunder from other classes. These HR are subject to revision at any time to rebalance, or to mess with the players. Rule Zero. DM prerogative. Get over it.
At least as long as we’re using 5e rules, there isn’t a Create Advantage mechanism (a la Fate, which I love) that would be what an AT is often trying to accomplish with MHL. The 5e balance point of gaining advantage on a roll requires the sacrifice of a full action or equivalent under most circumstances. Hence, these HR still requires an AT to use one action to buff a subsequent turn. At least until he’s 13th level. An AT gets to give himself advantage as a bonus action against a target with a 13th level class feature called Versatile Trickster. Be patient. Live long. Prosper.
Unique Characteristics of Mage Hand
The spell MH has some specific characteristics and balance points:
- It is fundamentally a spell with verbal and somatic components and is cast as such, taking a full action, with a 1-minute duration after which it must be recast using a full action.
- It is a cantrip, a 0th level spell that should be equivalent to light or sacred flame in power and utility.
- It is still only ONE HAND, not a pair of hands, nor is it mage arm with the strength, leverage, and capabilities that an arm might have.
- It may not be used to attack—any action that turns into an attack (grapple, pull, shove, whatever) automatically fails.
- It takes a full action to make it do anything UNLESS you have MHL as a class feature, when specific actions become bonus actions for you as an AT.
- MH is always going to lose a Strength contest every time, even to a child.
- Hence the skill contest for MHL is Sleight of Hand (SOH) versus Perception—if the victim notices, you lose. Period.
- MH is NOT a concentration spell, which is a huge benefit for all casters and especially for ATs, but it still gets cancelled when you’re knocked unconscious.
- The more I think about it, the more I think mage hand should be a concentration spell, but. . .it’s not, and that is why it requires the sacrifice of actions to function.
Unique Characteristics of Mage Hand Legerdemain
MHL has its own unique set of characteristics which modify and extend MH:
- MHL is a specific specialization for arcane tricksters with one cantrip to expand their utility with that cantrip and only that cantrip.
- It is primarily intended to provide an extension of the SOH skill for the AT. Hence, it allows you to choose to make your spectral hand invisible AT CASTING TIME and it remains that way for the duration. I can’t imagine why any AT would ever cast it with a visible hand, but, hey, it’s an option.
- It does NOT turn MH into a full frontal swashbuckler utility spell. Sorry.
- It allows for specific, highly trained actions to be accomplished in a fraction of the time (i.e. bonus action, pick locks, move the hand 30’, etc.).
- If you couldn’t do the action that you want in a split second with one hand, without specific provision in the rules to the contrary, it will take a full action, not a bonus action to complete.
- MHL does not make MH an always-on hand-shaped familiar. You still must cast it, put a token on the board for it, and keep track of all 10 rounds of its duration.
- The special features of MHL occur because of the AT’s skill at SOH, no other reason.
- Nothing in my HR or RAW prevents you from using mage hand legerdemain in combat.
- Apropos of nothing, there are no provisions for stealthy casting of spells in 5e. If you’re casting any spell, including MH, somebody’s going to notice you doing it.
House Rules for Mage Hand
So, here we are. In the spirit of making sure than MHL is a big, fun part of playing an AT, here are Dave’s HR for MH in general for all casters:
- Every MH will be a token on the board to keep track of its 30’ range.
- Forced movement that moves you too far from your hand cancels the hand. You have been warned.
- It is unclear in the text of MH (to me), but my HR clarification will be that the hand may move 30’ for free as part of its other action, not require two separate actions to move and execute.
- You may use MH to perform any non-attack action that can be done with one hand and the sensory input available to you from 30 feet away, including the Help action as a standard action (normally requires being adjacent to accomplish).
House Rules for Mage Hand Legerdemain
These are Dave’s HR for ATs and MHL:
- MHL requires no verbal component to cast. Its somatic components are unobtrusive enough that if you succeed on the opposed sleight of hand check against everyone’s passive Perception, no one notices you casting it. The character succeeding at with passive Perception becomes aware that you’re casting a spell on a fail.
- If the item carried by your MH is small enough to be fully covered by an average human hand AND if you cast your MH as invisible with MHL then the item becomes invisible when you pick it up, if you choose.
- With MHL, you may use your action to force a concentration check by another caster (normally only caused by actual damage) as an opposed SOH vs. Constitution. (Think of it as a magical wedgie.)
- With MHL, you may disarm a foe at range (opposed SOH check versus Perception) which is normally an attack, but specifically allowed by MHL RAW read very strictly. This may only be applied to weapons that can logically be disarmed.
- If you already have MH active and you cast a spell (as an action), you may deliver it using MHL as a bonus action; if it is an attack spell, you may include your sneak attack damage if you’re eligible to sneak attack. Normal sneak attack requirements apply, you must be able to see the victim, have advantage, etc.
Assuming that all sounds reasonable, here are some specific examples for MHL that I’m sure will come up in play for ATs (i.e. “that player” has already asked about them):
- You may attempt to steal a ring in combat, even a magic one. If the victim notices, she closes her fist, you lose. It’s a split second attempt, not enough to break concentration or steal her action from her turn or her reaction on yours.
- You may attempt to steal a wand from a sash, pocket, any open container, whatever. See previous bullet example above.
- You may attempt to steal a spell focus worn as a necklace, assuming you know what it is, just as if it were a pick pocket attempt. See first example above.
- If you can convince me that you could use SOH to pull a quiver full of arrows off of a combatant’s back, maybe. Most of those are strapped to the archer’s body, and not easily removed. Go for the bow instead.
- You may attempt to steal arrows from a quiver. If you succeed, your MH will be holding 1d6 arrows. You’d be better off disarming and taking the bow as noted above.
- Mages generally do not wear loosely knotted silk kimonos (they’re not your typical Asian whore—sorry), and mage robes generally don’t open from the front anyway (they’re pullovers). However, you may use the Help action and describe your attempts to aid your ally (or yourself on your next turn, if you’re the first attack on the victim) as a distracting attempt disrobe the victim, if you wish. Whatever.
- If you use your action to fluster said mage (or any opponent) using the Help rules, if you are the next attack on that target/victim, you will have advantage and thereby be eligible for sneak attack for the first attack roll.
- You may use MHL to piss off other casters as a free action, unless the rules state otherwise.
Arcane tricksters, go forth, touch others inappropriately with your magical, mutant invisible hand, and enjoy!