When Arcane Tricksters Throw Hands
If you’ve ever played any older Final Fantasy game, you’re likely familiar with the “steal” mechanic. By having a thief on your team, you are presented the option to spend their turn in battle trying to steal from your enemies. Sometimes you came away with nothing, but you also had the chance to get your hands on money or other belongings.
It was always a gamble -- try to do damage, or take the risk of the battle running longer in exchange for possible material gain? Thanks to an upgraded mage hand ability, players with an Arcane Trickster rogue as their character no longer have to choose between the two in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (5e).
Mage hand is a common spell that can be used by bards, sorcerers, warlocks, and wizards -- basically, anyone with a hint of arcana can conjure this spectral hand to do their bidding. It’s a pretty versatile spell, and a cantrip at that, so it’s rare to find a party that doesn’t have at least one character who can cast it.
As a standard spell, mage hand allows you to do just about anything you can with a real hand from up to 30 feet away, except for attacking, activating magical items, and carrying anything that weighs more than ten pounds. That’s all pretty cool, but when you’re an arcane trickster rogue, it gets even better.
Rogues are all about being sneaky (with the possible exception of those dashing, yet flashy swashbuckler rogues), so it will likely come as no surprise that the arcane trickster’s version of mage hand is designed to capitalize on this. The specific ability we are discussing is called mage hand legerdemain, which arcane trickster rogues gain at level three.
Mage hand legerdemain makes two main changes to the mage hand spell. First, the hand is invisible. Sure, the standard mage hand is “spectral,” meaning less-than-attentive NPCs might overlook it, but the trickster’s mage hand is entirely invisible, meaning it can move about wholly unseen.
The second difference is that it can be moved and manipulated as a bonus action. That’s a big deal when it comes to utilizing this ability during combat.
So your party has gotten itself in a bit of a scrape, and the magic words have been said: “roll for initiative!”
As the rogue, once you’re in combat, the typical course is to stab things or shoot them; typically you’ll want to try your best to gain sneak attack damage whenever you can because not much beats getting to roll a handful of d6s.
Not much -- except maybe getting some loot before the fight is even over.
An arcane trickster can use their action to cast and manipulate mage hand -- and then use their bonus action to manipulate it again. That means on the turn that you cast it, you get two chances to try to steal something, or even plant something on an adversary.
For example, maybe your party is trying to frame someone for a crime, but things have gone south, and you’ve ended up engaged with them. Pinning crime on another is no problem if your group has you as an arcane trickster at their disposal. As your target is distracted while fighting your other teammates, cast mage hand and plant the evidence on them, ensuring they will no longer be a threat for your party once authorities arrive. This could be of massive benefit to your party if you’re involved in some sort of espionage, or even just trying to wiggle your way out of a prison sentence yourself!
Now, this isn’t an automatic success -- it will be a contested sleight of hand check versus their perception, but it’s a pretty neat trick to try. And after that initial casting, you can have incredibly productive turns. While doing damage for your main action, you can now use your bonus action to manipulate the mage hand to take the cowering noble’s coin purse for yourself or even remove magic items or weapons that the NPC might otherwise use against you or your party.
Another feature of the mage hand legerdemain is that it can use thieves’ tools to pick locks and disarm traps at range. You are far more likely to use this spell outside of combat, as you come across doors and chests as your party is exploring. However, it is not unheard of for combat to occur near or around traps your DM (we call them Quest Masters) has set up.
If your party finds itself engaged in combat while in a villain’s lair, it is entirely possible some nasty surprises are waiting for you there, especially if this particular NPC knew you were coming. However, with a good perception check and your handy mage hand, you can disarm the trap from across the battlefield, even as you’re wielding your daggers in melee with the Big Bad.
Mage hand, at its core, is an incredibly useful, versatile cantrip to know, but for arcane tricksters, it is beyond that. With a little help from the invisible hand, you can turn a battle around, save an ally from a hidden trap, or just plump up your coin purse a little. It’s a valuable weapon to have in your arsenal, especially once you know how to use it to its fullest capability.
What are some of the most creative ways you’ve ever used mage hand? Tell us about them in the comments below!