RYDKE #11: Dispelling Magic on items in 5th Edition D&D

In D&D, Roleplay by PaulLeave a Comment

So I was sat preparing for the final battle of the D&D 5e campaign I’ve been running. The Big Bad is a very powerful evil dude, with lifetimes of experience dealing with the pitiful mortals that had the misfortune to cross his path.

As a powerful spellcaster, he would be positioned at one end of a room; the heroes would stumble down the stairs opposite and encounter some of the undead minions which they would heroically sweep aside. Betwixt them and him is a substantial lava pool; partly for theme reasons, partly to give the party a challenge but mostly so I could ensure that the Big Bad had a bit of setup and uninterrupted me time. And by “me time” I mean buffing himself and attacking the party. It’s what keeps this particular individual centred on the path of world domination.

The party had shown, time and again, that they could hack-and-slash quite effectively through enemies I thought would’ve held them up for a little while longer. Unfortunately those monsters had gone down in a handful of rounds and whilst the moments had been tense, it wasn’t as satisfying as I wanted it to be.

Now I am definitely no killer GM, but I do want to be getting PCs’ health down, their resources depleted and possibly some death saves rolled in an end-of-campaign showdown… I want the players to feel genuinely threatened and I am very fortunate that my players are heavily invested in their characters. When the characters are threatened the players’ hearts thump and their palms sweat! They talk about the encounters for months and years and there’s nothing so sweet as that to a DM’s ears.

A large pool of lava for the burning of Player Characters. What’s not to like?

However (ahh come on, you knew it was going to be “but” or “however” after an intro like that!), I was possibly going to be hanged by my own pitard as the characters had been rewarded with a Carpet of Flying earlier in the campaign. Originally conceived to get rid of some of the overland travel we’d enjoyed in the exploration part of the game that didn’t suit the latter phases, the carpet just let them zip around to wherever the fun was to be had.

It also served to trivialise the terrain features I was putting in to give my big bad a few rounds before the Alpha Lizard (a 10th-level Dragonborn fighter, determined to reach the apex of every predator-tree he could possibly find!) hewed him into bits, the Paladin high-level Smote his undead ass and the two swashbucklers sneak attacked him into further oblivion. The Ranger would stay at the back, shouting every one attack, welcome to a blaze of arrows blitz!

So… I thought to myself, what’s a DM supposed to do? Well, Dispel Magic is 3rd level and that means this particular caster could use it at will… Let them get part way over and ker-blammo! Dispel Magic on the Carpet of Flying, rip it from the weave and all of a sudden they’re on a lovely bit of cloth, with a fantastic pattern but no actual aeronautical ability. Gravity would get its claws into them and they’d tumble into the 10d10 Fire damage per round hell-hole they thought they were so cleverly avoiding.

If they chose to not take that risk it would mean that they’d have to think of a way to get across (and they certainly would do) but my big bad would have a few rounds to Curse, Dominate, and blast like his evil heart was born-into-darkness to do!

Excepting… Excepting Dispel Magic just doesn’t work that way in 5th. I mean it used to but alas no more.

What made you think it worked like that?

Glad you asked, I am glad you asked.

Well, the same spell in 2nd Edition has this little bit of text as part of it:

“A dispel magic spell does not affect a specially enchanted item… …unless it is cast directly upon the item. This renders the item nonoperational for 1d4 rounds.”

2nd Edition AD&D – d4 rounds of not flying would lead to dooooom!

Clearly in 2nd edition you could target a magical object and render it non-magical for a period of time. *poof* and the group are less than graceful in their plunge into fiery doom.

Third edition (well 3.5 strictly, but you get my drift) is similar:

“You can use dispel magic to end ongoing spells that have been cast on a creature or object, to temporarily suppress the magical abilities of a magic item…”

So what can you do to disrupt a magical item in 5e?

There’s Antimagic Field: 8th level spell (so 15th level caster!), with a range of self and requiring Concentration. And there’s no way for it not affect you as well.

Which is, well, a bit of a bloody pain. Not only it is a hammer to crack a nut, it’s the kind of hammer that smashes your own fingers at the same time.

And then there’s… Well that’s about it.

Mordenkainen’s Disjunction? Doesn’t even exist in this edition! (It used to be that you could cast this, “…and permanent and enchanted items must save… or be turned into normal items.” Got to love 9th Level Wizard spells!)

Shatter? Magical items are not affected.

Disintegrate? Magical items are not affected.

Animate Object? Magical items are not affected. (And that sound you hear is the bottom of the barrel being scraped)

Telekinesis? Is a used Carpet of Flying being worn or carried? Interesting question and possibly a way to wrench a magical item out of the hands of an enemy, but not really what I was thinking of.

Basically, there’s no way in D&D 5th Edition to disrupt a magical item unless you’re able to physically attack it.

Let’s do this the old fashioned way: first one to zero hit points loses!

If you can’t just disrupt it, surely you can just destroy it then?

Let’s take a look at what that involves.

Can I hit it? Or, does this have an AC and hit points?

The DMG says that, “…a magic item is at least as durable as a regular item of its kind. Most magic items, other than potions and scrolls, have resistance to all damage.” (Emphasis mine, p.141 of the DMG).

Resistance to ALL damage, meaning that they take half-damage from the usual physical, but also the energy based attacks (Fire, Cold, Necrotic etc) and of course Force damage. Okay, well that’s not insurmountable as a big bad caster can churn out some serious damage if necessary. The next question then becomes what are the stats of the Carpet of Flying? The stat block for the item in the DMG doesn’t state this, so let’s go take a look at Object rules in Chapter 8 of the DMG.

This table on p.246 is actually quite useful for what we’re trying to achieve. You need to know the material that the object is made out of (to identify its AC), the size of the object and whether it is Fragile or Resilient (I’d say all magic items would be the latter excepting Potions and Scrolls) for its hit points and then whether you think it would have a damage threshold, which is the minimum amount of damage in one blow to do any damage to it at all.

The table there says Cloth has an AC of 11, the size of the Flying Carpet makes it somewhere around the Medium or Large size category. I am going with Large because the example is “cart” and that seems to fit for the transport. Objects are naturally immune to poison and psychic damage (oh really?), and other immunities or vulnerabilities are up to the DM Mark I Eyeball to establish. An example it uses is cloth being vulnerable to fire and lightning.

AC11 – Check, 5d10 hit points – Check, Nice Pattern – It looks a bit busy… but Check!

I considered how this would interact with the magical items being resistant to all damage; would the resistance prevail or would resistance and vulnerability cancel each other out such that it took normal damage? I can see this going either way and it is really DM call, but for me I decided to keep the resistance on the basis that we’re playing in a high magic world so I don’t need to stick too close to reality and whenever I have an edge case I go in favour of what benefits the party.

I like the idea that the highly scorched carpet pulls through a fireball but starts to lose its magic as patches appear and the PCs have to find a way to repair it or have to ditch it later…

How can I hit it?

Pretty much like I’d hit any other object!

In my case, all I need to do now is take a look at spells or items that could damage an object (either directly targeting them, or indirectly affecting them through an AoE). The list of spells is substantial as it happens: Fireball (other AoE spells are also available), Firebolt (flammable objects [not worn or carried] also catch fire!), Chain Lightning

What about saving throws? Well, I’m ruling that where a spell allows a saving throw the item uses the save of whomever is commanding, wielding etc it at the moment of attack. However, an item doesn’t benefit from anything that eliminates any “save for half” shenanigans such as a Rogue’s Evasion ability, unless it wouldn’t normally be considered as a separate recipient of the attack.

Okay, let me unpack that a little bit. Carpet of Flying uses the Dex save of the Rogue flying it, but doesn’t get the Evasion ability. The magical sword wielded by the same Rogue doesn’t even get affected by the fireball cos I’ve never ever made wielded objects have to make save like that and it just doesn’t make sense in the concept of the story.

Conclusion

So, 5th Edition grants magical items protection from having their magic robbed from them, but they’re not completely immune as the normal ways of destroying objects of their particular type albeit its a bit harder cos, well, magical!

When constructing an encounter and considering the magical items that are available, be aware that you can threaten them in the same way that you can any other object, you just can’t easily remove them of their magical powers like you could in previous editions.

I hope that you found this article useful and drop any questions in the comments below!

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