Tactics and Tips07/17/2007

The Forgotten Grimoire (Part 4)

A New Look at Infrequently Used Spells -- Cantrips

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.

In this installment, we'll look at the simplest, though often the most overlooked spells of all -- cantrips.

Arcane Mark

In addition to its use as a prerequisite for certain spells (notably Drawmij's instant summons), arcane mark can be employed in all sorts of ways. Although the text says that the spell produces "your personal rune or mark," a generous DM could allow this mark to be anything that fits within the six character limit -- enough to leave a brief message, title, or anything else.

  • While nowhere near as effective as mark of justice, arcane mark can be used to "brand" a criminal or enemy, perhaps with the word "thief" or "killer" on his forehead for all to see.

  • If you find yourself in darkness and lack darkvision or some other way to see, place arcane mark on a companion and cast detect magic to cause it to glow. It's not much, but it will at least allow you to follow the glow through the darkness.

Arcane Mark -- For the DM

Here are some ways to use arcane mark to spur adventure ideas:

  • A charlatan (an obviously desperate one) uses a combination of arcane mark and arcane sight in the classic "pick the cup that has the ball" street con. Rogues notice that the charlatan doesn't appear to use any classic sleight of hand tricks. Instead, he simply sees his own invisible mark on the back of the cup that contains the ball.

  • A dragon uses arcane mark on every single piece of loot and treasure in his hoard. After the adventurers loot the beast of its belongings, the dragon (if it survives the encounter), polymorphs into the guise of an irate nobleman and reveals to the authorities "his" personal mark on the stolen goods and demands that the adventurers are arrested and thrown into prison till they rot.

Ghost Sound

Ghost sound is a fantastic spell for when you need a quick diversion. Here are a couple of suggestions for this spell:

  • When intimidating a prisoner, use ghost sound to fill the air with spectral voices that barely can be heard between pauses.

  • If you are traveling alone, use this spell to make it sound as if a dozen or so people are walking with you. That should help confuse and scare off any potential ambushers.

Ghost Sound -- For the DM

Ghost sound can be made permanent through the use of the permanency spell. It would not be difficult to imagine that a wizard's school, nobleman's castle, or monastery could have certain rooms enhanced with this spell to provide a constant "background music." For a creepier effect, an antechamber outside of a torture chamber or abattoir could have ghost sound repeatedly playing a soothing sound or singing that masks the horrible screams and moans from the room beyond.


Prestidigitation is the ultimate in spell versatility. Although extremely weak, it lets you perform the gamut of "tawdry tricks" that every sorcerer or wizard on television, in movies, and books should be able to perform. The effects produced by prestidigitation are great for distraction (or, for the optimist: entertainment) and annoyance. Here are a few ideas for using prestidigitation:

  • Turn a guard's tunic bright pink (or perhaps a color that is usually associated with some other group that is at odds with the guards) while his superior officer is walking by, then slip past the gate during the inevitable yelling session that should follow.

  • Want to get a free second meal? Use prestidigitation to cool down your food just as it arrives. Make a horrible scene about the quality of service and demand a second meal from the confused server. Of course, an equally over-the-top show should be made about keeping the first meal at your table out of spite.

  • Use prestidigitation to heat up your target's wine glass, forcing them to drop it out of surprise when they take a sip.

  • Remember that this spell allows you to slowly lift an object of a pound or less -- perfect if you're trying to reach a dropped key, ring, or other item.

Prestidigitation -- For the DM

Prestidigitation is a great and simple spell for injecting some personality into an NPC. Beyond its obvious use as a "performer's" spell, where it can produce flowers from behind an onlooker's ear or make a spoon stand up and dance, it allows sorcerers and wizards to "act" in a truly magical way. Have your NPC arcane spellcaster heat her mug of mulled wine with the use of this spell or make a grand show of her using prestidigitation to whisk away the dirt and grime from the surface she plans on sitting on.

Remember that once cast, a character can perform these tricks for up to an hour, so an entire scene could be enhanced in this manner. Alternatively, you could make a house rule: As long as a character uses prestidigitation for purely cosmetic effects (such as those described above), an arcane spellcaster has this spell in effect at all times, which can add a bit of magic and mystery to his everyday actions.

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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