Sunday, November 6, 2016

Unseen Servant

D&D is a fantasy game, and like in any fantasy game, it's best to take advantage of whatever niceties you might not have access to in real life. Spellcasting, a stronghold, a girlfriend (come on, you're not fooling anyone)... oh, and of course, boot-licking toadies. Problem is, hirelings aren't reliable for much more than taking up space, and golems will break the bank before they can break anyone's face. So how's a player to make do? Thankfully, there's an effective and low-level way to score yourself a helper that's so loyal and thoughtful that it doesn't even give you an ugly mug to have to wince at whilst giving orders. That's right, we're discussing the spell unseen servant, for all those of you who wanted to experience the thrill of friendly poltergeists for hours every day.

Conjuration (Creation)
Level: Brd 1, Sor/Wiz 1
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Effect: One invisible, mindless, shapeless servant
Duration: 1 hour/level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No
An unseen servant is an invisible, mindless, shapeless force that performs simple tasks at your command. It can run and fetch things, open unstuck doors, and hold chairs, as well as clean and mend. The servant can perform only one activity at a time, but it repeats the same activity over and over again if told to do so as long as you remain within range. It can open only normal doors, drawers, lids, and the like. It has an effective Strength score of 2 (so it can lift 20 pounds or drag 100 pounds). It can trigger traps and such, but it can exert only 20 pounds of force, which is not enough to activate certain pressure plates and other devices. It can’t perform any task that requires a skill check with a DC higher than 10 or that requires a check using a skill that can’t be used untrained. Its speed is 15 feet.
The servant cannot attack in any way; it is never allowed an attack roll. It cannot be killed, but it dissipates if it takes 6 points of damage from area attacks. (It gets no saves against attacks.) If you attempt to send it beyond the spell’s range (measured from your current position), the servant ceases to exist.
Material Component
A piece of string and a bit of wood.

So being a level 1 spell, there are some pretty stringent limitations in place for exactly what your unseen servant can do. No attack rolls of any sort, no going more than 75 feet away even at level 20, and a Strength score even lower than a venerable dragonwrought kobold's. That aside, it's completely invisible and invulnerable to anything that isn't an area attack, which definitely leaves the door open for all kinds of mischief. Thankfully, we aren't given an end-all be-all list of what it can do, which is always the surest avenue for runaway creativity on our part. So then, what exactly can our invisible butler do?

Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

An unseen servant can perform any skill that doesn't require training and has a DC of 10. Conveniently, "Aid Another" has a DC of 10, so it can give you a +2 on most untrained skills. These include: Balance, Bluff (including feint), Climb, Concentration, Craft, Diplomacy, Disguise, Forgery, Gather Info, Heal, Hide, Intimidate, Jump, Listen, Move Silently, Perform, Ride, Search, Sense Motive, Spot, Survival, Swim, Use Rope, and maybe a few of the other non-PHB skills out there. Even for the most uncreative wizards, getting +2 to most of the skill checks made by the whole party is decent for a level 1 spell.

Asides from skills checks, having a servant along while you're adventuring can be a boon. The spell's description notes that it can only exert 20 pounds of force, but it can also drag a hundred-pound sack of rocks well ahead of the party, which should be plenty for triggering traps. If you put a hooded robe on it, it will act as a decoy and likely spring potential ambushes for you, as well. Similarly, the servant can open potentially trapped doors, press buttons, pull levers, or retrieve guarded/trapped items. Many non-combat dangers evaporate with judicious use of an unseen servant.

On less dangerous excursions, it can always carry a torch, lantern, parasol, map, or other handy item to keep your hands free. The fact that a lantern-carrying unseen servant might look startlingly like a will-o'-wisp surely has the potential for some mischief! The spell's close range might be limiting in its ability to create a decoy, but an enlarged unseen servant, in addition to having a misleading name, has a range of 50 feet + 5 per level. Upping the spell level by 1 (or investing in a Metamagic Rod of Enlarge) isn't too harsh of a cost if you really want to make the most of this spell. If you're truly hoping to ruin some days, give your servant a jar of Sovereign Glue. It can apply the stuff to scabbards, clothing, the peacefully slumbering - have fun with it.

They Can't Hit What They Can't See

Since the servant can't make attack rolls of any kind, you might assume that it's of no use in combat. The trick, however, is to equip it with one of the many offensive items that require no attack roll to use: caltrops can put a hurt on someone, but you don't need to roll just to drop them on the ground. Keep an eye out for items that can be spread, dropped, shaken, broken or placed - nothing that needs an attack roll. Any sort of action to assist you or hinder your foes can be of use in a fight, and proper use of the unseen servant can actually score you an action advantage. Despite being mindless and shapeless, it gets just as many actions as any other creature does in a turn - namely, a standard and a move, or one full-round action. It takes at most a move action to direct the spell, so even on rounds where you're ordering it, you're trading your move action in for a standard action or more.

Actions to consider for an unseen servant:

  • Fetch thrown javelins, assuming they're within the spell's range. Do note that it's a free action to hand an item to someone.
  • Draw your weapon for you (move action) then hand it to you. Who needs Quick Draw?
  • Retrieve an item from your pack (move action.) Good for pulling out potions.
  • Pick up a dropped item (move action.) Has potential as a follow-up to a disarm attempt.
  • Block a charge. If you purposefully stand it in the way of a charger, they'll have to treat it as an unintentional bullrush or overrun attempt.
  • Perform a bullrush. Yeah, with Str 2, don't get your hopes up, but bullrushing doesn't involve any attack rolls, and with some lucky rolls your unseen servant could push a kobold off a cliff.
  • Retrieve or fold a net. It takes four full-round actions for an unseen servant to fold one, but it's still an option.
  • Reload a crossbow or sling. Heavy crossbows take a full-round action, a light crossbow or sling takes a move action (and thus one could reload two of them in a single turn.) Even in close quarters, you don't have to worry about the reloading provoking an attack of opportunity, since the unseen servant can't be killed.
  • Reload a ballista. This takes two full-round actions for a creature smaller than large, and unlike catapults, thankfully doesn't require any Strength checks.
  • Drop or pick up caltrops. Assuming the unseen servant can ready an action, you can tell it to drop caltrops in front of anyone who charges you. That should cover nine potential squares.
  • Lock or unlock an item in a locked gauntlet (full-round action.)
  • Light or carry a torch. Lighting one is a standard action with a tindertwig, and a full-round action with flint & steel.
  • Light or carry a smokestick for mobile concealment. The noxious smokestick (Ebberon Campaign Setting) is similar, but anyone within the smoke must save vs. nausea (DC 15.)
  • Ignite an oil slick or web.
  • Administer a potion or oil to an unconscious or willing character (full-round action.) Generally this is for giving a cure potion to a dying party member. A healing salve (Magic Item Compendium) can be applied as a standard action. Forcefeeding someone a goodberry might also be an option.
  • Apply a blessed bandage (Magic Item Compenium) to a dying character (standard action.)
  • Activate any other magic item that isn't spell-triggered, command word, a potion or an oil (standard action.)
  • Hold a feycraft darkwood tower shield. Said shield squeaks by at 20 pounds and a quarter, but can be used to provide total cover for you if you keep behind the servant.
  • Carry and open a fire trapped item. The damage from fire trap isn't very impressive, but things get better if said item is containing one of more sheets of parchment inscribed with explosive runes (burning the parchment is very much an "attempt to erase" the runes.)
  • Drop a flask of acid or alchemist's fire - the servant cannot throw it, as that requires an attack roll, but there's no rule against simply dropping it and letting falling damage do the rest. At one pound each, a servant could carry and drop a sack containing as many as nineteen flasks, for 19 splash damage with no save in a 5' burst. Acidic fire (Eberron Campaign setting) deals 2 points of splash damage instead, or 38 points if you empty out nineteen from a sack.
  • Drop a firestone (Dragon Compendium), if they're permitted. Unlike a splash weapon, a firestone simply deals 1d6 damage in a 5' square, with no reflex save. No weight is given, but even if they're one pound each, emptying out a sackful would deal 19d6 damage with no save.
  • Drop or strike a thunderstone (free action or standard action, respectively.) Just make sure you're out of the 10' radius, since the deafness lasts for an entire hour.
  • Prepare a flask of oil as a throwing weapon by adding a fuse (full-round action.)
  • Drop torch bug paste (Complete Scoundrel) or a sack of flour, as a nonmagical makeshift glitterdust.
  • Drop or pick up crystal caltrops (Races of Faerun.) The same as regular caltrops, except on a successful hit they release sleep gas. Fort save DC 12, initial damage sleep for 1 minute, secondary damage sleep for 1d4 minutes.
  • Drop or pick up emerald caltrops (Arms & Equipment Guide.) These caltrops function the same as regular ones, but they get a +1 bonus to their attack roll and instead deal 2 damage + 1d6 acid damage.
  • Drop or pick up marbles (Arms & Equipment Guide.) Functionally, they're like a single-square nonmagical grease, forcing balance checks to remain standing. Once again, the servant could potentially ready an action to dump them in front of a charger.
  • Drop blasting pellets (Races of Stone), which deal 1d6 sonic damage to anyone who steps on them and fails a Reflex save. Harder-hitting than caltrops, but they don't come with a debuff.
  • Carry, activate (move action) or drop a ditherbomb (Races of the Dragon.) The highly variable damage of these items, and the 1d3 round delay before they go off, can make them difficult to use, but it does let your unseen servant deal damage in a burst.
  • Carry, activate (full-round action) or drop an explosive pack (Secrets of Sarlona.) Each has a predetermined detonation time of 1 to 10 rounds and deals damage depending on their size. The heaviest ones, at 20 pounds, deal 10d6 bludgeoning and slashing damage in a 20 foot radius. More reliable than the ditherbomb.
  • Set or trigger a blast disk (Magic Item Compendium.) An explosive that can be set to detonate by proximity or timer (up to 10 rounds.) Deals 5d6 fire damage to everyone within 10 feet, DC 14 Reflex save to halve the damage.
  • Set or trigger an exploding/sleeping/stunning spike (Magic Item Compendium.) Another sort of magical landmine, these spikes come in three varieties and can be planted to go off when any creature comes within 10 feet of one. Exploding spikes deal 10d6 fire damage to everything within 20 feet (Reflex DC 14 half.) Sleeping spikes emit a sleep effect in a 20-foot radius, affecting everything with 10 HD or fewer (Will DC 17 negates.) Stunning spikes stun everything within 20 feet for 1 round (Will DC 20 negates.)
  • Light and carry a stinkpot (Stormwrack.) Similar to a noxious smokestick, it can be lit as a standard action and creates a fog cloud for three rounds that forces a DC 15 Fortitude save against being sickened.
  • Carry and drop dust of dryness. More specifically, the resulting pellet from absorbing water beforehand. Having your servant able to spontaneously make 100 gallons of water appear at will should make for some interesting battlefield control.
  • Carry and drop dust of sneezing and choking. If your DM allows your party to use it for some ungodly reason, the unseen servant can freely cast it into the air without itself being susceptible to the effects of it. Try not to abuse the power of it, though.
  • Activate a Qaal's feather token. Having a 60-foot tree spring out of nowhere is sure to divide the battlefield up. Something interesting to consider: the swan boat, though not specifically sized, can accommodate eight horses, meaning it's probably 20' x 40'. A Boat On Demand that big can block a corridor, provide cover... or squash someone flat. In the core rules, a Reflex save isn't permitted versus falling objects, meaning your unseen servant can pulverize someone for 20d6 falling object damage, no save, as needed.
  • Blow a horn of fog... I think. Since an unseen servant is capable of making Perform (singing) checks, we can probably assume it has some sort of vocal apparatus or an approximation thereof. Thus, it should be able to make fog clouds for you in a fight.
  • Play drums of panic. Not even requiring a perform check, your servant can keep close to the party and sound the drums early on in a fight to cut down enemy numbers with a minimum of hassle.
  • Spin a babbling wheel (Savage Species.) Everyone within 30 feet of the wheel must succeed on a DC 11 Will save or be hypnotised for 2d4 rounds. DC 11 is completely awful, but everyone rolls a 1 eventually. Make sure your whole party saves against the wheel at the beginning of the day, before you go out adventuring, since it will make them immune for the rest of the day.
  • Carry and open a screaming flask (Complete Mage.) The flask emits a 15' cone which deals 1d8 points of sonic damage and deafens everyone within it for one round.
  • Spread powder of the black veil (Magic Item Compendium.) A pinch of the powder makes a 10 foot-radius cloud for 2d4 rounds, and anyone in it has to make a DC 13 Will save or be blinded for as long as they're in the cloud and for 1d4 rounds after.
  • Spread slashing sand (Magic Item Compendium.) Can cover up to four contiguous squares with a nonmagical spike stones effect.
  • Empty out a vial of icy sheets (Frostburn.) Taking a standard action, it covers a 10-foot radius area with slippery ice, halving move speed across it and requiring a DC 11 Reflex save to avoid falling. Can be further combined with razor ice powder (Frostburn,) which turns a 5-foot square of ice into razor ice. Creatures stepping on razor ice take 1d4 slashing damage and 1d6 cold damage.
  • Blow a sand pipe (Secrets of Xendrik.) While it is an exotic weapon, the pipe never actually requires an attack roll. Can fire one of three types of prepared sand in a 15' cone. Blinding sand blinds for 1d6 rounds unless the opponent makes a DC 14 Reflex save. Burning sand deals 1d6 fire damage and applies a -2 penalty to Dexterity checks - a Reflex save halves the damage and negates the penalty. Sunscald sand confers a -4 penalty to resist extreme heat. The only one probably worth using is burning sand, especially considering each packet is 50 gp a pop; since it deals fire damage, don't forget that it can be used to light objects on fire.  Either using or refilling the pipe is a standard action.
  • Operate a sprayer (Arms & Equipment Guide.) Essentially Ye Olde Pesticide Sprayer, these can be used as a standard action to emit a 10-foot cloud of a liquid substance. It's an area effect, essentially a 5' x 10' line, but it doesn't require an attack roll (hitting automatically) and doesn't permit a save. Acid can't be used in one, but oil, holy water, inhaled poisons and alchemist's fire are all useful options. Other possibilities might include quickflame, quickfrost and quickspark (Complete Adventurer,) aboleth mucus (Savage Species,) alchemist's frost (Eberron Campaign Setting,) atramen oil (Planar Handbook,) liquid smoke (Oriental Adventures,) defoliator (Arms & Equipment Guide) and stonebreaker acid (A&EG.)
  • Carry or activate a glyph seal (Magic Item Compenium.) A glyph seal can store a targeted spell (up to 2nd level for a regular seal, or up to 5th for the greater version) and then be placed like a glyph of warding. They make good "land mine"-style traps, but the servant makes it less wasteful to place one even in the middle of combat. Since the seal can be set to trigger based on height/weight, alignment, creature type and so on, there's little risk of friendly fire, either.
  • Crush a skull talisman (Frostburn.) Another spell-storing item, a skull talisman is similar to a potion but doesn't have any target or spell level restrictions. Have the unseen servant get into the thick of enemies before unleashing a nasty area spell - cloudkill, evard's black tentacles, glitterdust, you name it.
  • Carry, break (standard action) or drop a shalantha's delicate disk (Lost Empires of Faerun.) Store a spell of up to 5th level in a 200 gp ceramic disk and your unseen servant can release the spell when needed by dropping it. For particularly nasty spells, you could have the servant place it, then activate it from a safe distance with a glyph seal storing shatter. You can also make delicate disks, sans material component, with greater shadow conjuration.
  • Carry, break or drop a chardalyn (Lords of Darkness; web.) Another spell-storing item, this can hold up to 9th level spells. That said, the greater glyph seal is half the cost and can be reused.
  • Carry some amount of sickstone (Underdark.) In its natural form, this stone glows to a radius of 40 feet, and anyone in this range must make a DC 15 Fortitude save each round or take 1d6 points of Con damage - a successful save means only 1 point of Con damage. Physically touching the stone confers a -4 penalty to the save and deals Con drain instead of damage. Considering how brutal the effects of stickstone are, it's important to keep the unseen servant at a safe distance in front of the party at all times. While it may sound tricky to get your hands on some sickstone, the spell stone metamorphosis from the same book allows you to turn any type of rock into any other type, meaning any old pebble on the ground is a Constitution-damage-nightmare just waiting to happen.
  • Carry an echo skull (Magic of Faerun.) This 5th level druid spell allows the caster to see, hear, speak and cast spells through an animal skull. Think of it as druidic project image, but easier to be incognito with. By having the servant carry the skull around for spells to originate from... well, it could make for a fairly convincing Demilich.

Cheaper By The Dozen

So having an unseen servant around is pretty nifty, but you know what's even better? Having a whole squad of them. I'm not recommending blowing all of your level 1 spell slots on it, since we have a more efficient option: the spell servant horde, from the Spell Compendium. This level 3 spell is identical to unseen servant except for the fact that it creates 2d6 servants +1 per level (a maximum of +15.) As many as 27 servants with a single casting is pretty staggering in what you can accomplish, though the Close range of the spell starts to really become a drag with that many entities jostling about.

While each of them can probably do their own thing, the real strength of this spell is going to come from getting them to collaborate. Twenty servants working together, for instance, could drag 2000 pounds. You might be able to get enough of them together to carry a small wall of iron, more likely a lighter material, for movable battlefield control. A wall fitted with arrow slits could shield the casters and archers by blocking line of effect. If you're impatient, the lot of them could just tip the wall over onto someone, as well. Even if you don't have any spare walls on hand (and there isn't a Wall-Mart in your town,) four servants could hold up the corners of a sheet or blanket, providing you with concealment. Anything else that needs carrying - heavy loot, dying party members, sedan chair - is fair game. Otherwise, you might be able to get them to cut down trees, topple statues onto attackers, and just generally make use of the terrain.

Please May I Have One?

Okay, so maybe you're sold on the usefulness of having an unseen servant around. Now how exactly do you go about getting one? Surely you don't want to eat up one or more spell slots every day, and last I checked, not all of us can cast spells, thank you very much. Do the non-wizards have to feel left out as usual? Miraculously, not this time around. There are a couple items out there that let you summon up an unseen servant asides from wands.

Collar of Perpetual Attendance (web)
Okay, so web content always has to contend with something of an uphill battle against scrutiny. Then you notice it's from the 2003 April Fool's article. And for God's sake, yes, it uses the word "hairballs" right in the item description. But please just hear me out on what it does: unseen servant at will. That's it. Nothing jokey or even especially powerful, just the convenience of making use of this versatile and charming little spell as often as you like. In terms of effect, I can't imagine any DM having legitimate qualms with it. 2000 gp

Drow House Insignia (Races of Faerun)
These necklaces are generally used to identify with noble house a drow belongs to, but more interestingly, they also contain a single spell that can be cast from it once per day. The spells on offer are blur, cat's grace, cloak of dark power, comprehend languages, feather fall, jump, levitate, read magic, scatterspray, shield, spider climb, unseen servant and water breathing. The price of the insignia is determined by the level of the spell it contains, so unseen servant is fortunately one of the cheapest ones. If your DM can't see past the regrettable origins of the Collar of Perpetual Attendance and it isn't permitted, this is an okay compromise. Otherwise, this can be an earlier way to access the spell, affordable by level 2. I'd still upgrade to the Collar as soon as finances permit. 360 gp

Eternal Wand (Magic Item Compendium)
A cousin of the wand that can store an arcane spell of up to 3rd level and cast it twice a day, every day. A solid midground between the Collar and the Insignia. An eternal wand of unseen servant costs a bit more than twice as much as the Insignia, but it has twice as many uses per day and doesn't take up your necklace item slot. Plus, I bet it would be a lot less likely to get you killed in the Underdark. 820 gp

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