Last Updated: May 16, 2022
If you’ve read several of my subclass handbooks or listened to the RPGBOT.oneshot where Tyler and I saved Yuletide, you know that I am an enormous fan of the Telekinetic feat. This is due in large part to my extreme focus on optimizing bonus action economy, but, if you did actually read that armorer handbook, you know that I also think the modifications it makes to Mage Hand are super neat. With that in mind, I thought it would be great to take a moment and talk about all of the great things this cantrip can do.
Table of Contents
- So what can I do with Mage Hand?
- But Random, what if my Mage Hand is invisible?
Because I can, and thanks to the magic of the SRD, I will reproduce the text of Mage Hand here.
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.
There are some important things to think about here. It’s not concentration, so you can run other things at the same time. Prior to the existence of the Telekinetic feat, if you hadn’t read Arcane Trickster, an easy assumption to make was that “spectral” meant invisible, even though it doesn’t.
Also, since it is a spell, by definition it requires that you have both line of sight and line of effect if you assume that your “target” is the location where the hand appears (not that 5e uses the term “line of effect” but we talked about it in the spell components episode). This means you’re not going to be able to use it on the other side of a window, you can’t use it if you can’t see the location where you’re trying to get it to appear (for any reason including you being blind or your target location being in an area of magical darkness, etc).
As written, though, since the spell technically doesn’t have a target and isn’t an Area of Effect, you could simply make it appear anywhere within 30 feet of you including inside objects. Or people. Squeezing something’s esophagus shut with 10 pounds of pressure is probably lethal for anything that needs to breathe. Probably have that discussion with your DM before trying this.
Moving on. Because it’s a spell, you can modify it with Sorcerer metamagic. Subtle spell is especially good if you aren’t yet Telekinetic but want to pretend you are for a moment, but Distant spell is good too. One important note is that, as mentioned above, it doesn’t have a target. This means you can’t use the Twinned spell metamagic on it. I’m not sure why you would, but I saw someone brag about doing so on Reddit.
Strangely, while you can use the hand to open an unlocked container or door, RAW you can’t use it to close the same container or door unless that falls under “manipulate an object,” but if that were the case then why bother calling out that it can open things? Also, a weird piece of flavor comes from this Crawford tweet where we learn that the hand the spell creates is intended to mirror the caster’s, so it can fit into places the caster’s hand could.
So what can I do with Mage Hand?
Mostly the answer is “pretend your arms are 30 feet long.” There are a few ways to make it invisible such as Telekinetic, of course, but you might also be an Arcane Trickster or even a Gith. If you aren’t any of those, though, this really is the best way to think about it. “Manipulating an object” has a decent number of uses. Grabbing something small on the other side of a jail cell wall without having to try to bribe a dog. Tying ropes to things that are either out of reach because of gravity or out of reach because the end point is threatening to you and you’re at a safe distance. Floating potions to people. Picking up Tiny familiars and making them levitate as long as they stay relatively close to you. Using Enlarge/Reduce on your Small party member (or your Small self) to make them Tiny, then using the hand to make them levitate. Maybe using a healer’s kit. Pantsing anything that wears pants.
This really is intended to be a purely utility cantrip and, unlike Shape Water, they largely did a good job of closing all the edge cases. You could cheese things a little by doing something like dropping an alchemist’s fire on someone from above instead of throwing an alchemist’s fire which would clearly be an attack, but that would very much be open to DM interpretation.
But to get into some more niche uses, we need to really consider what all it can and can’t do. Since it can’t lift more than 10 pounds, we can assume it can exert up to 10 pounds of pressure. You could use this to do less concretely described actions, for instance:
- Make your DM angrily write down how sensitive every pressure plate in the dungeon is by having it walk on the floor like Thing.
- Grab things that are either obviously or potentially harmful. It probably can’t pick up a snake since it can’t attack and Grapple has to replace an attack but it could do things like hold a piece of superheated tungsten you needed to transport (don’t ask me, I’m sure some wizard has done this at some point). It might even be able to drop that on people for damage.
- Check to make sure those runes aren’t Braille for “I prepared Glyph of Warding today.”
- Prepare an action to put the 10lb wrench in the xenomorph’s jaws when it goes to bite someone.
- Check every treasure chest from a safe distance to make sure it’s not a Mimic.
But Random, what if my Mage Hand is invisible?
So here’s where you can have some extra fun. Technically speaking we can’t assume that the line about people not noticing the activities of your spell from Mage Hand Legerdemain applies to the Telekinetic feat too, but it very intuitively feels like it should and I can’t imagine how else your DM would try to adjudicate it when there’s an answer right there.
So, even if you’re not an Arcane Trickster, Sleight of Hand makes sense as a way to do Mage Hand things without being noticed so you should probably look into ways to make sure you can pass those checks. You can do things like:
- Bestow Curse on the target, choosing Wisdom
- Even better since it doesn’t allow a save, Hex the target choosing Wisdom
- Enhance ability on yourself choosing Dexterity
- Get Guidance from yourself or a friend
- Get Help, perhaps from your familiar making noise on the other side of the target.
Now, as prepared as we can be, let’s circle back to some things in the description. Pouring out the contents of a vial with an invisible hand is a great way to poison someone’s drink without them noticing. Whether that’s “[fast-food] level food poisoning” (thanks Winglady) or something stronger, there’s a big reason Arcane Tricksters are forced to take this cantrip.
Storing or retrieving an item with an invisible hand is a great way to steal stuff from someone’s desk or even a bag. If you get real crafty you can even remove things from their pockets. Or add things to their pockets. Technically speaking this is part of the Arcane Trickster class feature but we already talked about how vague “manipulating an object” is so the higher you roll on persuasion against your DM, the better this is likely to go for you. Anything from incriminating evidence to a live grenade can be stealthily placed on someone’s person, and if you’re fast enough about those live grenades you don’t really care about the stealthy part so much as the running away quickly part.
It also allows you to do any of the previous things we talked about and lie about what’s causing them. Try convincing your target that they’re being haunted so they don’t suspect you’re the source. That will almost certainly be opposed by Insight which makes your earlier Hex or Curse on Wisdom all the more potent. Either an arcane trickster or something with Telekinetic (charisma) is likely to be able to do those rolls pretty well.
While this is certainly one of the least broken cantrips, you can absolutely have a lot of fun with it. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the possibilities, and I look forward to comments about what wonderful things your campaign has done with it. Special shoutout here to some deleted account on reddit 6 years ago talking about tying a piece of rope to yourself and having your mage hand hold the other end and circle you acting as an invisible enemy finder. Hilariously action-inefficient, but that’s the kind of trick I want to see.