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In my new campaign I am allowed to choose one uncommon magic item, and was considering the Immovable Rod:

This flat iron rod has a button on one end. You can use an action to press the button, which causes the rod to become magically fixed in place. Until you or another creature uses an action to push the button again, the rod doesn't move, even if it is defying gravity. The rod can hold up to 8,000 pounds of weight. More weight causes the rod to deactivate and fall. A creature can use an action to make a DC 30 Strength check, moving the fixed rod up to 10 feet on a success.

I was also reading this answer to a What happens when an Immovable Rod is activated while in a vehicle?, which got me thinking:

Can an immovable rod be used to pin an enemy?

My idea is to use the immovable rod as a staff of sorts, with the added ability of being able to pin enemies. Here, when I say pinned, I mean being stuck under the rod in a restrained, prone position (thanks, nitsua60). Let's simplify the situation too and just assume that the pinned enemy won't or can't just push the button to release the Rod, so we can focus on whether it can be done at all in the first place.

Based on the description I don't see why the immovable rod could not be used to pin enemies, though I'm not sure what the mechanics would be (i.e., my and my enemy's relevant checks) to using the rod to pin (and immobilize) an enemy.

I'm willing to accept answers that can cite RAW one way or the other, or alternatively, any errata or other sources (e.g., Sage Advice) which would help clarify whether or not the immovable rod can be used to pin. A comment asked whether real martial arts knowledge is okay as evidence: I suppose martial arts knowledge would be appreciated as additional support/justification for an answer about why using a rod to pin would/wouldn't be possible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ An Aside: During the d20 System boom, Second World Simulations published Steven Palmer Peterson's Masters of Arms (2002) that includes a variety of weapon-specific prestige classes, the one relevant to this question being the immovable rod master (47-50)… yes, seriously. I can't, in good conscience, really recommend the book (and especially not for a 5e campaign), but the rod master—despite the name—remains the only serious treatment I've seen of using an immovable rod in combat. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 3 '17 at 14:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ [Related] What magic items can be used to trap/ensnare/capture enemies? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 4 '17 at 18:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not an 'answer' so I'll comment. Get a bit creative and modify the rod itself by adding things to it. (Most GMs will probably not accept alternate shapes) Take the rod and attach manacles to the ends, lock it behind their back. Use a catchpole head with an immovable rod handle.Use a net to enwrap them, then hook the edges of the net over the immovable rod, hung high enough to prevent escape. Use a trident or pitchfork head with an immovable rod handle, pin them with the tines, and activate the rod. To be a real bastard about it, use a spearhead, impale them to the ground and activate it. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Mar 12 at 17:13
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Mechanically...

In order to attempt to pin an opponent, they must first be on the ground, or perhaps pressed flat up against a solid surface like a wall. In order to put them there, you'll need to Shove them, requiring an Athletics Check on your part, opposed by an Athletics or Acrobatics check on their part (allows for Forced Movement to press them into the wall, or to knock them prone).

At that point, you need to place the immovable rod in an appropriate location to actually pin them to the ground. As I'll get to below, this is more complicated than it sounds. What this takes is going to be up to your DM, to place the rod in the 'right place' while your opponent is probably trying to prevent you from doing so. Personally, I'd call it a grapple check, either at Disadvantage for how precise you have to be in placing the rod, or requiring you to 'Pin' them (with the Grappler Feat). That's another Action.

Now you have to activate the Immovable Rod...that's a third Action.

And you have to do all of this without your opponent being able to break free.

(Realistically, it would probably require Grapple > Shove > Grapple again [to get the rod settled right] > Activate Rod...as this would allow you to sequentially keep them contained in a way so they couldn't just stand up after you knocked them down) So, a total of up to 3 to 4 Actions, depending on if your opponent is going to get a turn between you knocking them down and you working to pin them with the rod.

You can trim these down with class features...

A Fighter is probably your best choice here. Their multi-attack allows you to Shove and Grapple sequentially (PHB 195), then either take another grapple at Disadvantage (if you have Multiattack 2) and pop your Action Surge to activate the rod...or use your Action Surge to Pin, and wait til next round to activate the rod.

Why is this so hard?

Just for a reference on this: I have several years training with the short staff (3-foot). So this difficulty is rooted in my knowledge of how to use a staff to pin someone down.

In order to pin someone with an Immovable Rod, you have to place it in such a way that they cannot simply wiggle out from under it. So if your rod is poorly placed, if it is placed at an angle to their body (and not secured by another part of their body), or if you don't press it down hard enough against them--they'll just wiggle out from underneath it and be free. You describe it as being a 'very heavy weight.' But the rod on them will only press them down as hard as you, personally, can press it into them and still have a hand ready to press the button. And trying to do this while they are trying to resist you.

Most staff locks depend on the human holding the staff being able to tighten the lock to inflict increasing pain if the pinned opponent tries to get free. And they depend on being able to adjust the position of the staff to secure the lock if the opponent begins to attempt to wiggle free. Alternately, you can use a hand to grip the 'loose' part of the lock (often the wrist) to assist the staff-pin. This becomes necessary because a thin straight rod pressing down on the wrist is easier to get loose from than a hand that is wrapped entirely around that wrist.

While an Immovable Rod takes a DC 30 Strength check to move, it's not actually pressing down on you. It's simply stuck in place. So if you can shift any part of yourself so that the rod is against a thinner profile of your body, it's no longer pressing as hard. If it it placed against your chest, and you manage to wiggle to where it would now be placed over your stomach...it's possibly not even touching you any more. Once you set it, you can't adjust it to maintain the lock.

Even a 'pin' such as pressing the staff into an opponent's throat is more about the threat of 'if you move, I'll press harder' than it is about actually restraining them.

Furthermore, In accordance with this question, we can estimate that an immovable rod is only 2 to 3 feet long and about an inch thick. So given its length, you have to position your opponent in such a way that they can't reach the button. This either means standing the rod on end (which is very easy to wiggle out of), or making sure their arms are positioned in a way where they can't reach the ends of the rod effectively, either because their hands are restrained as well, or they simply can't reach it).

They may not know how it works...but the button on an immovable rod isn't exactly hidden. Someone grabbing at the rod might simply find it by accident.

What wouldn't work

If you try to simply lay it across their chest and activate it, their arms are free (your chest is thicker than your arms, and the rod is a straight object). And the chest compresses fairly well...you can wiggle out from something pressed against your chest unless it is set extremely tight. And if the rod is tilted at all...it'll be even easier.

If you place the tip into their throat and activate it, they may still be able to reach the button and either you have it pressed hard enough into their throat that they can't breathe, or they could just slip out from under it. And, well...placing it precisely there while they are trying to get away from you is not easy.

Similarly, pinning individual hands, feet, etc. simply won't work for these same reasons

What you need to do

For an ideal pin with an immovable rod, you want your opponent to be face-down, and you want to get them into a joint lock that can be maintained by the rod itself, and prevents the arm nearest the button from being able to move.

The simplest lock to use for this would be a hammerlock, modified for a staff.

So, start with something like this:

Hammerlock

With the arm twisted up behind the back, then shove the rod through the bend in their elbow, pull their wrist as far up their spine as possible, and press the top of the rod into their wrist as hard as you can....then press the button. They might still be able to wiggle out of that...getting their hand out from under the rod, but it would be hard.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting, and I very much appreciate you drawing on your martial arts knowledge! The fact that the rod is not pushing down with the 8000lbs of weight is something I had not considered, and definitely makes this strategy more problematic than I thought \$\endgroup\$ – B. S. Morganstein Aug 3 '17 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ If it did press downward with 8000 lbs of force, with an inch thick in diameter for a cross sectional area of 0.79 square inches (assuming perfect flatness), that would exert a pressure of 10,127 pounds per square inch. That's disfiguring, maiming, dismembering or lethal force, depending solely upon where you apply it. \$\endgroup\$ – Dacio Aug 3 '17 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ If we really want to get into minutia, what it is actually doing in this context is resisting the elastic force of the body, that has been compressed by the rod, up to 8000 lbs of force. Which is significantly higher than what the body would actually output in its attempt to return to its normal shape. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Gorman Aug 4 '17 at 20:14
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Yes but...

You could easily jab someone with the rod but you will need to use an action to press the button as well. Not to mention you would need to pin their arms to prevent them from pressing the button, which could be possible depending on how big the rod is.

Until you or another creature uses an action to push the button again, the rod doesn't move, even if it is defying gravity.

You can use an action to press the button,

In conclusion it's unlikely this could work, as the pinned enemy could easily push the button, and it would take multiple actions as well.

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Yes, under certain circumstances

By the rod's description, an enemy would be pinned if you place the rod directly on them while they are on the ground if:

  • They are unable to reach the button
  • They fail a DC 30 Strength check

For the first point, if you immobilize their arms and hands, they should not be able to reach the button unless they are very squirmy. You can argue, however, that they can then attempt to use their legs and feet to reach the button.

To be completely safe, arms and legs would need to be restrained. Rope or something of that nature would help, unless you can think of a way to contour his or her body so that the rod restrains all limbs.

One potential scenario is having them lay on their back, body completely straight, then taking their arms and pulling them towards their feet as far as they can go. When they cannot go any further, take their hands and stack them together, palms facing up, and tuck them under their legs. Push the rod into their palms. They should not have movement of their hands, and the legs are restrained from how the body is positioned. Make sure their back is close to their knees to prevent leg movement.

For the second point, they simply would need to fail a quite high Strength check. If they pass, they are free. If they fail, they are pinned. Although I would imagine that it would be terribly difficult to do anything, Strength check aside, if you are properly restrained.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you think a pinned creature would be able to reach the rod's button, given that they'd be pinned underneath it? \$\endgroup\$ – B. S. Morganstein Aug 3 '17 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @B.S.Morganstein Yes, pinned doesn't mean can't take an action. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Aug 3 '17 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @B.S.Morganstein you would be using the rod as a very heavy weight. If they are properly restrained by its weight, they should not be able to reach the button. If they are not restrained, they are free to take the action to reach the button \$\endgroup\$ – A.B. Aug 3 '17 at 15:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes exactly. The idea is to somehow get them prone (maybe shield master) and then place the rod on top of them, keeping them restrained! \$\endgroup\$ – B. S. Morganstein Aug 3 '17 at 15:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @A.B. Where does it say (the description) that the rod weighs 8000 lbs (or as you put it, a very heavy weight) ? \$\endgroup\$ – CGCampbell Aug 4 '17 at 19:21
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As other answers have mentioned, placing the rod in a position where they won't be able to wriggle away from it would be difficult (but not impossible).

So, adapt your tactics to suit your weapon.

Take advantage of the fact that the rod doesn't really have to pin them to anything.

Slide the rod under the back of their armor through the arm holes, hike them off the ground so their feet don't touch, and press the button. Doffing armor takes several minutes, assuming they can do it with that much tension on the fastenings. Bonus points: nothing to push against means no strength check.

As an alternative, hand them the rod, tell them about the button, and throw them off a cliff. Now their options are push the button and hang there waiting for rescue, or fall to their death. Either way they won't be in your face for a while.

Finally, if you have the time, use one of the pins they could get out of by pushing the button, but then make pushing the button an unattractive option (for example: by setting a 7000 pound rock on top of it.)

I would expect that only the first two methods could be used in combat. The third option would make a decent prisoner retention strategy though.

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Yes, but

To be successful you will probably need help.

Since activating the rod would be an action you would have to have the target pinned/restrained already. The way that I could see this working requires coordination.

  1. A Grapple Character (with Grappler Feat)
  2. Another character with the Immovable Rod

The Pinning might go down as follows

  1. The grappler grapples target.
  2. The grappler knocks the target prone.
  3. The grappler restrains the target.
  4. Then the Immovable Rod is placed on the target in such a way as to pin the targets hands. (target on his stomach, hands crossed over the small of his back, rod along his spine over his hands)
  5. Then the Immovable rod activated so that the grappler can get up and attack the next mook, and the fight continues.

But ultimately if the conditions are right, and the rod is activated while pressed into a target on the ground, it would be equivalent to placing an 8,000 pound weight on the target that (magically) doesn't crush the target.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The description does NOT state that the rod exerts 8000 lbs of force, nor that it weighs 8000 lbs. \$\endgroup\$ – CGCampbell Aug 4 '17 at 19:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ It does exert up to 8000 lbs of force if that much force is being applied against it. however, I didn't say that it did weigh that much, but that while active it is as difficult to move as an 8000 pound weight, hence the dc 30 check. If it actually was an 8000 pound weight, it would simply crush most characters that it was placed on. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Gorman Aug 4 '17 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ My point was " it would be equivalent to placing an 8,000 pound weight on the target that (magically) doesn't crush the target" ... I don't believe so. It's weightless (" the rod doesn't move, even if it is defying gravity")... don't get caught up with 'real world physics' in a magical place; after all, if what you say is true, then a PC passing the check would be required to exert 8000.1 lbs of force, at which point the rod should deactivate and fall, right, not be moved 10 feet. \$\endgroup\$ – CGCampbell Aug 4 '17 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess the analogy isn't exactly correct, but the point is it would be really hard (DC 30) to push the rod off of yourself in this context, a better option would be to attempt to squeeze out from under it \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Gorman Aug 4 '17 at 19:57

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