Powergaming: Use Magic Device

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Powergaming

081409_1253_Powergaming2.pngIn this first proper article on Powergaming (read the intro here), we will look at a 3.5 Skill, Use Magic Device. This Skill is oft neglected by many players, both new and old alike, who do not understand the potential it has.

What?

Use Magic Device allows you to use any sort of magical item that you would be unable to use. For example, a Rogue can use Use Magic Device to use a Wand, Scroll, or some such. Considering how powerful magic is in 3.5 D&D, being able to use any magical item is really cool.

Why?

Especially as I go into Wand details later, you may ask why one would go to such an effort, when you can just hand the item, Wand, or whatever to the Cleric, Wizard, or whichever character can naturally use the item. Well, there are a few reasons:

  • Your party doesn’t have the right character
  • The other character is dead/unconscious/whatever
  • The other character is busy
  • You’re nowhere near the other character
  • The spell can only target one’s self, so you have to do it yourself

Note that, in some cases, you don’t actually need Use Magic Device. Wands are the notable example: if you have the spell on your spell list you can use the Wand. For example, a Bard can use a Wand of Cure Light Wounds, because Cure Light Wounds is actually on the Bard spell list. Also, if you multiclass, a single level in a class allows you to use all the Wands for spells on that class’s spell list.

Details

Use Magic Device is a Charisma-linked Skill, and is mostly a Class Skill for Rogue-ish classes. In Core 3.5, the Rogue and Bard have it (plus the Assassin and Loremaster Prestige Classes). Outside Core, there are a variety of other classes which have it; of particular interest is the Beguiler (because the PHBII rocks).

From the SRD (used under OGL):

Task Use Magic Device DC
Activate blindly 25
Decipher a written spell 25 + spell level
Use a scroll 20 + caster level
Use a wand 20
Emulate a class feature 20
Emulate an ability score See text
Emulate a race 25
Emulate an alignment 30

Making the Rolls

You may have noticed that the DCs are… pretty darn high. Well, okay, what have we got:

  • Ranks: Maxing it out, we’ve got 4 + 1 per level above 1st.
  • Charisma Bonus: Unless you’re a Bard, you should have +2 or +3; any self-respecting Rogue should have a decent Charisma for Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, and the like.

Well, that’s not much so far. There are no decent Synergy bonuses, so we’ve got to look elsewhere. How about items? Well, a Cloak of Charisma +2 costs 4000 gp: a bit expensive, especially at low levels; not too bad, but you don’t want to go any higher unless you’re a Bard. But what else?

Well, the DMG has rules for creating a magic item which boosts Use Magic Device directly. Look at the table Estimating Magic Item Gold Piece Values in the DMG. Here you’ll find the lovely row: Skill bonus (competence): Bonus squared × 100 gp.

This is pretty amazing. Firstly, competence bonuses are nice because almost nothing else grants them, so no stacking issues (except with Bard’s Inspire Competence song). More interesting is the dirt-cheap price. In table form:

Skill Bonus

Item Cost (gp)

+1

100

+2

400

+3

900

+4

1600

+5

2500

If you’re overly wealthy, don’t stop there, but I think the point is clear. Even an item of Use Magic Device +5 is only barely more expensive than a +1 Weapon, which around 2300 gp. This is pretty affordable.

Also, if you can’t afford a good version at the time, as it turns out, the rules for upgrading magic items are official DMG material, something I only just discovered. So, you can blow a whopping 400 gold on a +2 version, and then upgrade it later… although this probably requires you (or a party member) to actually be doing crafting.

Convincing a stingy DM may be tricky… the rules are there, in the book, but this may not be good enough for some. Instead of just waltzing up to a store, you may have to convince the DM to let you commission an item, or you may have to get your Wizard buddy to craft you an item.

A final note on this item: an item incurs a +50% price increase if its power is in the wrong “body slot”. Frankly, from the table, I can’t decide what form a Use Magic Device item should take. The DM will probably decide for you, but if you’re given the option, choose a slot which won’t clash with other items you want (eg: a Rogue needs Gloves of Dexterity).

What this boils down to, is a pretty reasonable bonus. Example time:

Source

Level 5 Rogue, 14 Cha, +5 item of Use Magic Device

Ranks

9

Charisma

+2

Item

+5

Total

+16

Right. With that, we can activate a Wand on anything but a 1, 2, or 3: not bad. Other item types will have to wait a few levels, and higher Charisma will help.

What Magic Device to Use?

I’m normally against using charged items, but honestly, Wands are the best things to use with Use Magic Device. Scrolls are costly, and temperamental because of the higher DC, and you may need additional rolls to emulate higher ability scores. Other items are on a case-by-case basis.

The economy of Wands, at least low-level ones, is really good. A particularly popular choice is a Wand of Cure Light Wounds. You get 50 charges for a mere 750 gp: that’s only 15 gp per charge, pittance by comparison to the cost of healing potions. Unfortunately, the price escalates rapidly, and you can’t get a Wand with a spell above 4th level.

Nevertheless, you can put any spell in the game into a Wand, not just those in the DMG list. The best spells are those whose effects are good even with minimum Caster Level, and don’t need a Save. A Wand of Fireball is expensive and pointless, but a Wand of Invisibility could be quite handy.

If your DM permits it, purchasing partially charged Wands is handy. The price is generally considered to be linearly related to the charges remaining, so a 10 charge Wand will cost 1/5 of the full Wand. This can be very handy if the spell is a niche utility spell which you don’t need much, or if the full price of the 50 charge Wand is currently too much for you.

There are a lot of good spells, and the more you move into splat books, the more options there are. Consider the following PHB options:

Spell

Level

Notes

Cure Light Wounds

1

Cost-effective healing
Faerie Fire

1*

Cancel Invisibility
Bless Weapon

1†

Aligns weapon, and auto-confirms crits
Align Weapon

2

For when you have to fight Demons without warning
Lesser Restoration

1†, 2

Ability damage can be crippling
Invisibility

2

Because being Invisible rocks
Spider Climb

2

Climb on the ceiling
Alter Form

2

Cross between Disguise Self and Polymorph. Cheese.
Divine Power

4

Gain full BAB and other bonuses. Cheese.

*Druid spell: technically fair game, DM may argue.
†Paladin spell: technically fair game, but very arguable by DM. Also, it’ll cost more, because the caster level has to be higher.

Other than Wands, there are a lot of use-activated magic devices which you may come across during your adventure, and being able to activate them is handy. Also, you can laugh when the DM gives you some awesomely powerful item with an annoying restriction (say, only usable by Lawful Evil Paladins… Neverwinter Nights has a sword like that), because you can just use Use Magic Device to emulate the abilities.

Conclusion

Use Magic Device is a very powerful skill, if used correctly. The DCs may be daunting, but that is a problem easily circumvented. Overall, the versatility you gain by being able to use basically anything is huge, bridging the gap between you, and powerful spellcasters.

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About Duncan

Ellisthion's all about 5E D&D at the moment, but has at times has played every edition from 1E AD&D through to 5E, plus Star Wars: Saga Edition, Paranoia, and more. He DMs a lot, and tends to make overly-complicated campaigns and characters.
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