Tactics and Tips05/22/2007

The Forgotten Grimoire (Part 3)

A New Look at Infrequently Used Spells -- Transmutation Spells

Did you ever notice just how many spells are in the Player's Handbook? Roughly a third of the book is dedicated to describing the hundreds of spells available for clerics, sorcerers, wizards, and other spellcasters. A couple of dozen spells, often blatantly offensive or defensive in nature, tend to fall into the "no-brainer" list for all but the most specialized of spellcasters, such as magic missile, fireball, mage armor, cure spells,and protection from energy (and for you power players out there, miracle and wish). Beyond this immediate list, however, are spells that may not always get the recognition that they deserve -- for both the player and the DM.

This series focuses on several spells that do not get frequent use in play, but are nonetheless interesting and effective when used in the proper manner. What's more, we'll be giving a nod to the DMs out there, hopefully inspiring them to use these spells as a way to keep the characters on their toes, or perhaps even start an entire campaign simply by the casting of one . . . little . . . spell.

Next we look at the transmutation school of the sorcerer and wizard spell list. A little change goes a long way, so perhaps adding these overlooked spells to your spellbook could make a positive impact on your game.

Animate Rope

Because of the rather unusual circumstances that adventurers find themselves in, everyone in a party should carry rope. Animate rope is a great spell that makes that rope all the more useful. Despite the name, remember that animate rope works on almost all ropelike objects -- including cable and string. Here are some tips and tricks to get the most of this spell.

  • Sorcerers and wizards are always hurting at early levels when they get stuck in melee. Carry a coil of rope at the ready and prepare this spell. Although not as immediately effective as web (at 2nd level), it does allow an arcane spellcaster a chance to entangle an enemy with a relatively easy ranged touch attack. If you really don't want a target to move, use animate rope to tie him up and then hit him with web . . .

  • When crossing a rope bridge (or when bolstering another suspension style bridge to make it safe for you to use), use animate rope to help you get across, and then undo or loosen the knots after you cross to make it appear to be safe . . . until your opponent tries to walk across it.

  • Alternatively, use the spell to cause the ropes on the bridge to shake, forcing any creatures on it to make a Reflex save or fall off (DM's discretion here).

Animate Rope -- For the DM

Although it doesn't say it in the Player's Handbook, there's little reason why animate rope couldn't be combined with permanency. Perhaps an eccentric wizard does this on a fine piece of silk rope, carrying it around as some form of a "pet" that twists and curls on its own like a strange snake.


Fabricate is a remarkably useful 5th-level spell that lets you take raw material and transform it into something useful. Here are a few ideas to spur you into taking this spell and placing it in your spellbook:

  • Get creative with your materials when using this spell. Need a door to block your path but don't have any wood around? Target some of the stone flagging on the ground to create a stone door.

  • Remember that in order to create a new item, something else needs to get used up. Have a locked door in the way and don't have the strength to knock it down or a rogue around to pick it? Use fabricate to take the door's material and turn it into a chair, table, or anything else just to get it out of the way.

Fabricate -- For the DM

Again, fabricate is a great spell to give some flavor to an NPC -- a sorcerer that specializes in making magic items, but crafts mundane items on the fly. Or, perhaps you create an evil wizard that casts fabricate using whatever material is available to make an enormous and unique "calling card" at the scene of each slaughter, such as his personal sigil or even a statue of his likeness!

Shrink Item

When adventuring, some items are extremely handy to have, but unwieldy and impractical to lug about. Think about the number of times where having even a simple ladder could make a difficult situation child's play. Shrink item is the perfect solution.

  • In addition to the ladder, here are some other items that are sure to come into play at one point or another during an adventure: small tent, pre-lit lantern, portable ram, large bowl of water, crowbar, and manacles.

  • The spell gives the example of a burning fire as one possible target. Keep this item handy and, while fleeing through a corridor, toss it behind you to surprise the opponent.

  • Use shrink item on a light weapon, such as a dagger, so you'll never be unarmed -- especially if you find yourself on the receiving end of a monster's swallow whole ability!

  • Here's one for you wizard/rogues out there. After a successful heist, use shrink item on the snatched object and swallow it just in case you get caught and searched. Make sure you use the "clothlike composition" option and that you "take care of business" before the spell's duration expires!

Shrink Item -- For the DM

Here are some ways that you can use shrink item in your own campaign, either as adventure hooks or something for an NPC to use against the PCs:

  • A smuggler uses shrink item to haul large amounts of artwork and stolen goods past the city's gate.

  • The PCs return to their room in an inn to find an unusual "toy" on the end table. In reality, it's a stolen item reduced in size via shrink item and placed there to implicate the PCs once the effect wears off -- which the caster carefully times along with a tip to the city watch.

About the Author

Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Monster Manual IV, and the Tome of Corruption from Green Ronin Publishing. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.

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