Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Prestidigitation

Think of that spell that lets you do anything you want.

Most magic has an effect that you have to make do with and apply to the situation at hand. You know the one, though: that spell that lets you perform any feat of your choice, without that choice being made when you prepared spells at the start of the day. All you need do is word what you want exactly and you can make it real.

Which spell were you thinking of? Wish? Miracle, perhaps? Forget those; too costly. I'm talking about the Level Zero Wish here - prestidigitation, baby!


Prestidigitation is an unusual spell. Considering it's a cantrip, you probably can't expect much, and the way it's somewhat carefully worded in what you can do with it, rather than just the classic list of things you can't do, it probably performs about as well as the designers intended. Upon casting, you can perform any number of small magical feats for the next hour, as detailed here:

Universal
Level:
Brd 0, Sor/Wiz 0
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: 10 ft.
Target, Effect, or Area: See text
Duration: 1 hour
Saving Throw: See text
Spell Resistance: No

Prestidigitations are minor tricks that novice spellcasters use for practice. Once cast, a prestidigitation spell enables you to perform simple magical effects for 1 hour. The effects are minor and have severe limitations. A prestidigitation can slowly lift 1 pound of material. It can color, clean, or soil items in a 1-foot cube each round. It can chill, warm, or flavor 1 pound of nonliving material. It cannot deal damage or affect the concentration of spellcasters. Prestidigitation can create small objects, but they look crude and artificial. The materials created by a prestidigitation spell are extremely fragile, and they cannot be used as tools, weapons, or spell components. Finally, a prestidigitation lacks the power to duplicate any other spell effects. Any actual change to an object (beyond just moving, cleaning, or soiling it) persists only 1 hour.

Yeah, not exactly the most exciting stuff on offer. Level 0 spell slots are pretty much a nonentity even for level 1 characters, though, so you have nothing to complain about. Note that the spell's wording doesn't mean you pick one of the effects and use that for the next hour, it means for a full hour you can use any or all of them as needed, at will. So that versatility is at least appreciated.

Another unusual feature about prestidigitation is that unlike casting classes and even most other spells, it in fact gets weaker the more books are printed/permitted in your campaign. The clause that a prestidigitation is unable to do anything that another spell can do means that every time a new spell is printed, that's one more effect that you're guaranteed to be unable to perform.

A classic example is the level 1 druid spell horrible taste - after they canned the playtest version that made the subject develop a deep appreciation for Duran Duran, the current wording basically makes the subject taste awful, so that anything making a bite attack against them must make a Fortitude save or be nauseated. Specific and underwhelming enough that I wouldn't be too jazzed on casting this out of a level zero slot, much less a level one, but since it's been printed, that's one use of prestidigitation's ability to flavour material that you can't make use of. (That said, if your group are real rules lawyers, prestidigitation can only flavour nonliving material, and making your clothing or armour taste horrible is not exactly the same as making your person taste horrible.)

So, as always, we come down to that vital question: what can it do? I'm going to try and think of a few uses for every effect mentioned by the spell description, though some are easier to work with than others.

Move:
-Lift, move or drop a vial of acid on someone. Or something like a pound of lava, if that just happens to be on hand.
-Retrieve something small dropped down a grate.
-Draw the key closer if you end up in a classic Wild West holding cell.
-Suspend (lift) a rug or carpet over a pitfall.
-Hold a torch up, hands-free.
-Lift a sheet. Add ghost sound as appropriate.
-Suspend a stone over your head, claiming it's a high-powered ioun stone.

Colour:
-Recolour your clothes for a possible hide bonus (all-black clothes at night) or to fit in with a sect that dresses a certain way (enemy militia, mage's guild that all have red robes.)
-Would someone recognize a gold-coloured copper piece for what it is at a glance? Doubtful.
-Colour something that will be mixed in with many others like it to keep track of it.
-Turning yourself or a party member blue, especially if combined with alter self or enlarge person, say, might let you convince townsfolk of a rampaging monster the likes of which they've never seen.

Clean:
-Remove bloodstains from your clothes to avoid suspicion.
-Remove bloodstains from the area of an actual crime you committed, still avoiding suspicion.
-Clean up a bit to blend in at a posh event, and likely hide the fact that you were evading the law through a swamp.
-This is a bit of a stretch, but possibly 'clean' a patch of ground repeatedly to dig a hole?
-Remove your footprints from the ground behind you as you walk.
-Remove a section of a summoning circle.
-Make an item that was in a gelatinous cube or a monster's stomach safe/palatable to handle.

Dirty:
-Leave dust to cover your tracks in a room, or to make a room look like it's not in use.
-Put bloodstains on someone's clothes and call the guards.
-Leave a distinguishing mark on a thief trying to get away.
-Dirty your clothes to make it look like you don't belong in/didn't come from the banquet where someone was murdered.
-Have a guard get in trouble for having inappropriate uniform (filthy and perhaps even hot pink.)
-Make something seem old and worthless so it will be overlooked.

Heat/Cool: 
-Keep a bedroll warm in the arctic or a tent cool in the desert.
-Melt ice... slowly.
-Note that not everything has the same freezing point listed for water. So while you cannot lower an object's temperature below 32° F, for some substances that will be below freezing.
-Cool a container in a very humid area to slowly accumulate water via condensation.

Flavor: 
-Make your clothes unpalatable for swarms, bite attacks or swallow whole attempts.
-Make poison taste (and smell?) like anything you want, ideally like nothing at all.
-Add a fake "poison" taste to make someone think they have minutes to live.
-Make a spice taste like a different rare, valuable spice and sell it (particularly if you colour it appropriately as well.)

Create:
-Capitalize on the worthlessness of created items: make a fake dagger to stab a party member with while undercover. Fake blood could be soon to follow.
-Stab yourself with a fake dagger and claim you're immune to harm when it crumbles.
-Leave a field of fake caltrops that you can knowingly wade through but might give pursuers pause.
-Drop a noisy item (a bell or glass sphere) or create a puff of smoke as a distraction.
-Put a pebble in someone's shoe.
-Replaces screws or bolts, such as in a bridge or wagon, with false ones that are likely to crumble under any additional stress.


Is That It?

So the possibilities do end up looking pretty sparse when you lay them out like that, admittedly. Even if you aren't exactly clamouring for those cantrip slots, the uses here are highly situational. As it happens, though, the 3.0 book Tome & Blood includes a list of alternate uses for prestidigitation, all of them... well, about in line with what we've explored so far, but having more options certainly doesn't hurt. Some DMs (read: lame ones) might chafe at 3.0 material on principle, but gaining the campaign-warping power to magically wet your pants shouldn't raise too many eyebrows.

Change (You transform one object of Fine size or smaller into another object of roughly the same size. The object can weigh no more than 8 ounces. The change must be within the same kingdom (animal, vegetable, or mineral). For example, you could change a piece of paper into scrap of linen, and then change that into a rose. Likewise, you could change a coin into a ring. You could not, however, turn a strip of leather into a piece of paper.):
-Turn copper pieces or even pebbles into gold pieces? Both are within the same kingdom, but chances are the DM's not going to like this one.
-Turn a coin into a key for a nonmagical lock.
-Put a hole in a bucket or other container - such as the bottom of a quiver, or in a vial of acid currently in someone's hand.
-Change the buckle on a strap or belt into another, useless shape. Can potentially cause a foe's armor or other gear to drop right off of them.
-Turn locks of hair into severed fingers (if you were tasked with providing proof of a corpse and wanted to pull a fast one on your employer.)
-Change a cloth into a sack, knowing that in one hour it will revert to a regular cloth and spill its contents. Has potential for sabotage.
-Change a vial of acid into one of whiskey. Generously offer to share your 'hip flask.'
-Pour a bit of poison into a goblet. Shape the base of the goblet to cover the poison in a sealed compartment, creating a false bottom. When the spell expires, the poison will be released undetectably.
-Turn coal into diamond, speeding up the natural process just a little.

Dampen (You leave an object damp to the touch for 1 hour. Damp objects have fire resistance 2 while the effect lasts.):
-Dampen your clothes to hopefully get yourself a smidgen of fire resistance.
-Put out a torch or possibly a small campfire.
-Render books mildewed and illegible.
-Leave a staircase or wall slippery and harder to climb.
-Remember that wet things are easier to smell, in case that might have any application.

Dry (You remove dampness and excess moisture from an object. Moisture you remove does not return after the effect ends, but the object can become wet again just like anything else.):
-Dry wood in a swamp so it can burn, or dry a patch so you can sleep there.
-Make a forged document seem aged and brittle.
-Evaporate the water from a solution, leaving only the solute behind. Salt from salt water, for instance: salt is a trade good, and salt water is in no short supply if you're near an ocean.
-Make beef jerky or trail rations before a long trek.
-If a scroll or spellbook gets wet, magically drying it out might minimize the damage.

Firefinger (You cause a jet of flame up to 1/2 foot long to shoot forth from your finger. The flame is hot and ignites combustible materials. Lighting a torch with this effect is a standard action (rather than a full-round action), but lighting any other fire with it takes at least a full-round action (DM's discretion.):
-Light a tindertwig, torch or candle.
-Ignite an oil slick or thrown lantern.
-Start a brush fire in a dry area or burn down a tavern or distillery.
-Keep a dangerous animal at bay.

Gather (You neatly collect numerous objects. The objects you gather can be no larger than Fine size, no two items can be more than 10 feet apart, and their total weight cannot exceed 1 pound. You can place the gathered objects into a container you touch, or you can form a stack or pile that you touch.
You can gather selectively; for instance, you can pick up just the coins from an area.):
-Magically scour the ground for dropped coins at a fair, market or other public venue.
-Panning's for chumps; if you ever comes across gold dust, this is the way to gather it up.

Polish (You bring luster to a wood, metal, stone, leather, glass, or ceramic object. The object must be clean to start with. It remains shiny after the effect ends but can become dull again like anything else.):
-Polish a mithril shield/armor to a mirror-like sheen to combat vampires or medusas.
-Polish steel to make your own mirror. Useful for seeing around corners. You also should be able to sell mirrors for 5 gp - considering they take only half a pound of steel to make, you can turn a tidy profit by magically polishing steel plates for resale.
-Maintain the condition of your equipment to prevent rust in deserts, seasides or other areas with high salt exposure.
-Polish up items before selling them to possibly help haggle for a better price.

Sketch (You create a two-dimensional visual figment of whatever you desire. You can leave the image hanging in the air, in which case it is immobile, or place it on a mobile object, such as a shield. The image can be no more than 1-foot square, and it lasts a maximum of 1 hour.):
-Create a purposefully short-term marker - like for marking the correct path to go for the person 20 minutes behind you, but not for the pursuing mercenary troop a few hours distant
-Create a forged painting for subsequent sale.
-Forge signatures or stamps on letters of passage.
-Fake insignia on armor, weapons other items.
-Create a map to review a strategic maneuver or plan of attack.
-Measure any distance, one foot-long line at a time. In dungeons, you can map out the dimensions of rooms exactly and even determine where hidden rooms or passages are this way.
-Soundlessly communicate with nearby allies.
-Temporary tattoos rule.

Stitch (You magically sew seams in textiles or leather. You can create new stitching or repair old work. Unlike the mending cantrip, you cannot fix rips, holes, or tears (though you can patch or sew them together). If you have thread on hand, the stitches you make remain after the effect ends, but they are no stronger or weaker than normal stitching. You also can sew without thread, but then the seams last only an hour.):
-Purposefully make an outfit that will fall apart in an hour. How's that for a distraction?
-Rig a sling that will fall apart in an hour, dropping one suspended alchemic ingredient into another. Think of it as a bomb with a one-hour fuse.
-Sew a sleeping or distracted person's clothes together.

Tie (You magically tie a firm knot (as though taking 10 with the Use Rope skill) in a thread, string, cord, rope, or cable up to 10 feet long. You can knot together two such objects if they're within 1 foot of each other.):
-Surreptitiously tie the peace knot on someone's sword while it's in its scabbard.
-Help the fighter don his or her armor.
-Do shoelaces exist? Tie someone's together without them noticing.
-Tie the rigging on a boat without having to move.


Is there anything else? Possibly. As a sort of summary for the spell description, the entry notes "Characters typically use prestidigitation spells to impress common folk, amuse children, and brighten dreary lives. Common tricks with prestidigitations include producing tinklings of ethereal music, brightening faded flowers, creating glowing balls that float over your hand, generating puffs of wind to flicker candles, spicing up aromas and flavors of bland food, and making little whirlwinds to sweep dust under rugs." Since some of these effects - particularly the music, the glowing balls and the whirlwinds - don't fall under any of the effects distinctly listed, it certainly implies that a caster of prestidigitation can create their own effects so long as they're about in line with the suggestions listed, at the DM's discretion. Can you replicate someone's voice? Create an odour or mask the party's scent? It's at least worth asking.


Port and Starboard Attachments

For all its bluster and creative liberty, being a cantrip, prestidigitation probably won't accomplish a lot day to day. That said, if you want to stretch out its usefulness that extra bit, you could use good old-fashioned metamagic to expand on its parameters. For instance, a sculpted metamagic would let you clean, dirty or sketch in a larger area: clean your entire house in one round, or sketch a 40-foot-wide billboard in the air. An earthbound prestidigitation could let you leave a sketched message that can only be triggered by someone who knows where it is, or you could make what very convincingly appears to be a magical trap. I don't actually recommend doing any of these, since the only thing that makes prestidigitation halfway worth casting is that it's out of a level zero slot, and using Extend Spell to make it even just level 1 is kind of a waste when you could instead just cast it twice. If you really want to worry the rest of your party, a persistent prestidigitation as a level 6 spell is sure to underwhelm. If you really want infinite parlour tricks, a slotless item of at-will prestidigitation is only 2000 gp - not a bad price, though a wand is 375 gp for 50 hours of the stuff.

Originally printed for Eberron and then again for the Monster Manual III, the Living Spell template is a weird one. Basically, it's a template that's added to a spell, creating an ooze which casts the spell on anyone it slams or engulfs - its other statistics are likewise determined by range, caster level and so on. While not exactly a bruiser in a fight, a Living Prestidigitation might be an interesting device to have on hand - for instance, a major city could keep one in its sewers to continually clean them, or to heat a central water source for luxurious home use. While the ooze is mindless, as oozes are wont to be, and thus hard to get to perform as you wish, a cleric with the Slime domain can command one and then order it to use its abilities as he or she sees fit. Oozepuppet, a level 6 wizard spell, gives complete control over an ooze and lasts for 24 hours per level. Most intriguing of all might be the Amulet of Ooze Riding from the Mounts section of the Arms & Equipment Guide. Though pricey, it surrounds you with a protective field of force whenever you're in contact with an ooze, letting you pilot one and goad it around like an unorthodox mount. While a living prestidigitation would be quite slow, there's no cleaner way to get around.


Prestidigitation is the ultimate in easy spell versatility. Although extremely weak, it lets you effortlessly and nigh-costlessly perform all of the subtle effects that every mysterious spellcaster should be able to achieve. While the effects of prestidigitation will never be more than distractions or entertainment, it is an effective and straightforward way to inject some personality and mystique into a character or encounter. Anyways, it wasn't like you were using those level zero spell slots for much - might as well have some fun with them.

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