Picture by Lamont Cranston
It’s sort of hard to pronounce, and it sounds like something you wouldn’t want to get caught doing in public.
But prestidigitation is really a highly useful and underrated cantrip.
According to the 3.5 Player’s Handbook, you can use prestidigitation to perform simple magical effects.
These effects are:
Slowly lift one pound of material.
Color, clean, or soil items in a 1-foot cube each round.
Chill, warm, or flavor one pound of non-living material.
Create small objects.
Of course, the cantrip also has its share of limitations. Otherwise, it would be way too awesome. The limitations are:
Effects last one hour.
Effects cannot deal damage or break a spellcaster’s concentration.
The items you create are crappy, and can’t be used as tools, reagents, or weapons.
Prestidigitation can’t duplicate another spell’s effects.
The restrictions are kinda harsh, but that doesn’t mean the spell is useless. In fact, there are plenty of fun, crazy, and useful ways to use prestidigitation. Here are some of my favorites:
Create a Diversion
You’re sneaking up to an enemy camp, but a guard is blocking your way. Use prestidigitation to drop a small object and make a ruckus; soil the guard’s once-spotless tunic; or lift the skirt of a comely maiden as she passes by. Any of these actions could draw the guard’s attention away from you for a moment, giving you the opening you need.
Prestidigitation could also be used to start a barroom brawl (which isn’t that hard to do anyway, but magic makes everything cooler), giving your party a chance to escape under the cover of chaos. And while you can’t break a wizard’s concentration with prestidigitation, you could probably distract his familiar from its guard duties.
There’s some debate about whether you can use prestidigitation to change the color of your character’s face, eyes, or hair. We’ll leave that judgment call to your DM. But you can definitely use the cantrip to change the color of your clothes (or those of a nearby target). This isn’t just stylish; it’s useful, too! Imagine changing the colors on a diplomat’s heraldry to resemble those of a warring nation. Imagine a priest’s shock when he finds his robes colored with the symbol of an evil god. You could also change your party’s colors to blend in with an enemy’s militia.
If your PC is really crafty, they could perform a “spell” which causes a held stone to turn red when a subject is lying. Simply use prestidigitation to change the color of the “truth stone” whenever the target answers a question. (It helps to have a great Bluff score.)
You’ve upset someone, and now they’re chasing you! You could use prestidigitation to drop dust, snow, dirt, or sand over your tracks; drop marbles or caltrops in the pursuer’s path (and quickly pick them up afterward); or lift the curtains and let some sun shine in (if your pursuer is a vampire and lives in a house with curtains – in which case they’re too dumb to live anyway).
Give Stuff Flavor
The flavor feature has all sorts of practical joke applications. You could make someone’s food spicy-hot, make a gourmet chef’s work go sour, or make the dwarf’s ale taste fruity. There are practical uses as well; you could improve the flavor of medicinal potions and cheap inn food. You could take a common spice and give it the flavor of a rare and valuable one (and maybe sell it for a tidy profit). And, of course, you could mask the flavor of the poison you slipped into someone’s food or drink – or add a poisonous flavor to make them think they have only minutes to live.
Clean Up (Or Make a Mess)
You can use prestidigitation to clean yourself up after a long trek through the wilderness, thus avoiding diplomacy penalties due to body odor. If you’ve committed a messy crime, you could clean up the evidence for a little while – at least long enough to smile and say, “Nothing wrong here, Officer!” Or you could make a snotty noble appear to soil himself in the middle of an important social function. (That’s just mean.)
If someone has really raised your ire, use prestidigitation to put blood stains on their garments. Then be a good citizen and call the guards.
Your PC will be popular on cold and lonely nights when they have the only warm bedroll for miles around. Warm up some wine, or chill it on a hot day. Then offer it to the object of your desire. It might sound hokey, but it’s a proven strategy.
You can find hundreds of uses for prestidigitation in the Wizards of the Coast archives. Fair warning: while the uses are fun to read, many of them don’t follow the cantrip’s rules. Experiment at your own risk!
Do you have a favorite use for prestidigitation? Let’s hear it in the comments section!