Hands Off! When Mage Hand Thwarts All the D&D Puzzles

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As a cantrip in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, the mage hand spell is easily one of the most used and useful spells in the game. Combined with the Arcane Trickster rogue’s increased control over it and a dash of player cleverness, your dungeon may very well end up stripped of its loot — and its tension. But wait! Before you start slapping antimagic fields all over the dungeon like a buzzkill Banksy, let’s think of a couple ways we can challenge the mage hand caster and make things a little more interesting for the whole party, like D&D puzzles. And we’ll consider some creative uses for cantrips along the way.

creative uses for cantrips D&D puzzles mage hand

Creative uses for cantrips in D&D — mage hand

Classes: Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard

Races: Gith, high elf

A spectral, floating hand appears at a point you choose within range. The hand lasts for the duration or until you dismiss it as an action. The hand vanishes if it is ever more than 30 feet away from you or if you cast this spell again.

You can use your action to control the hand. You can use the hand to manipulate an object, open an unlocked door or container, stow or retrieve an item from an open container, or pour the contents out of a vial. You can move the hand up to 30 feet each time you use it.

The hand can’t attack, activate magic items, or carry more than 10 pounds.

Obviously, it has limited combat and social uses, so we’ll focus on mage hand in the exploration aspect of play. So bust out your biggest dining room table, brew up some tea, and call your grandma because we’re talking about D&D puzzles!

D&D puzzles for your party to mage hand(le)

The party is confronted with a lethal trap blocking their path. Blazing axes of spectral fire swing back and forth, and the source of this magic is a lit candle at the far end of the chamber. An archer might have a shot, made with disadvantage, through the blades to hit the candle…or mage hand can be cast past the trap, appearing at a point you choose, where it can then make its way over to the candle and snuff it out — extinguishing the trap. This might be the simplest application of the spell, allowing you to bypass a physical threat or obstacle and still interact with something beyond it.

The party stands before a long steaming hallway. Through the cloudy tunnel they can see an icy blue door at the far end. Before them on an altar rests a single delicate key made of pure ice. If the barbarian grabs the key and rushes through the steam she’ll get to the door with a puddle of water in her hand, taking steam blasts all along the way. Mage hand could ferry the key across to the door in a container weighing no more than 10 pounds, or maybe float it up and through a small opening in the rock that connects the two areas.

Getting a little more advanced here, the mage hand could move an item from place to place through a super tiny channel. There are no specifics about manipulating mage hand while you cannot see it, so you might want to figure out how you want to run the scenario before presenting this kind of an obstacle to a mage hand caster.

The party enters a charred chapel with high vaulted ceiling. The floor is littered with charred wooden pews and an inch of strong-smelling clear liquid. Motionless gargoyles sit atop columns above you, each holding a torch, and all except one are lit. A large double door at the end of the building is locked firmly and warm to the touch. Your archer may be able to shoot a fire arrow up at the torch to light it and open the door, or mage hand might carry a small flame up to it. If that happens they may realize the unlit torch is a little higher than the 30 ft. range of their spell, causing the mage hand to vanish and the fire to drop down to the alcohol-soaked floor, starting a blazing inferno, The stone splinters off the gargoyles revealing their bodies of living magma as they hurl themselves into the air throwing hellfire down upon the party!

It never hurts to have a trick in your back pocket like this, requiring the player to know the range of the spell and to know the results if they go past it.

Hopefully these ideas will help get your gears turning and keep your spellcasters from sticking their mage hands into every nook and cranny all willy-nilly. Mage hand has a ton of utility, but just remember the limits — it can only lift 10 oounds, can only go 30 feet, and can’t attack — and don’t hesitate to give your players a chance to be awesome with the flick of their arcane wrists!

What are your best (or worst) stories of mage hand use in your games? What other cantrips do spellcasters find creative uses for? Does your druid use druidcraft to open ancient portals to faerie realms? How much loose earth has your elemental sorcerer excavated with mold earth? Check out Nerdarchists Dave and Ted and Nate the Nerdarch’s best and worst cantrips and share your stories in the comments below.

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Follow Bryan Smith:
Fantasy Nerd in the Mitten State. Grew up on the weird stuff, Heroquest and Karl Edward Wagner.  

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