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In the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure module, our party (consisting of three second-level PCs, a fighter, wizard, and cleric, with me DMing) was fighting a singular ogre. We had already taken some damage, due to other monsters, but we were on reasonable amounts of health.

The wizard cast mage hand. Before doing this, he asked me if it would confuse and/or distract the ogre, and I said yes, ruling that even without the wizard moving it (the hand created by mage hand) every turn, it would apply disadvantage to the ogre's attacks. This allowed the party to take out the ogre, taking only 10 damage (or something like that) in the process.

What I want to know is, was my ruling correct by RAW, RAI, and if not (or if nothing is stated) is it reasonable by RAF, and could it be a reasonable house-rule?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You say spell slot, but Mage Hand is a cantrip and doesn't require any spell slots? Did your wizard player misread the level of Mage Hand, or are you using a houseruled version or something? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 20 '17 at 7:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik You are correct. Thanks for notifying me; we must have misread the level of Mage Hand. I'll edit it, although it makes little difference. Thanks, again! \$\endgroup\$ – Fivesideddice Oct 20 '17 at 7:11
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When it comes to DM rulings, they are ultimately always correct by the rules as intended: the intention is that, as the DM, you have the final say in these matters. So that one's easy.

It's not correct by RAW, as the Mage Hand spell does not state anywhere that it causes Disadvantage, nor do Ogres list anything about having Disadvantage because they get distracted by magic.

That leaves us with "Is this reasonable?", which is the most interesting one of the three, I think.

If we check the spells section in the PHB, there is actually one cantrip that applies Disadvantage to attack rolls. It's Vicious Mockery, which is a Bard spell. However, using it requires an Action (as it's a single target spell), only applies Disadvantage to a single attack roll, and allows the target a saving throw to avoid the effect entirely. The only thing Vicious Mockery does, that your ruling does not, is 1d4 Psychic damage. Which, ultimately, is pretty inconsequential. So granting Disadvantage to all attacks for the entire 1 minute duration is very powerful for a Cantrip.

If we look further, the only 1st level Wizard spell (I found, anyway) that can grant Disadvantage on attack rolls is Fog Cloud. But that affects everyone, including your allies. So if your idea for Mage Hand was that it would distract all enemies, that makes this Cantrip more powerful than a 1st level spell.

So I'd say you made Mage Hand into quite a powerful spell by allowing it to apply Disadvantage to all attacks by enemies for a minute, without a save. (Not that it's a big problem; but I'd be careful allowing it to do this all the time)

Fortunately, it's easily explained in the fiction. Ogres are commonly known for being about as clever as a sack of bricks, so saying that the Ogre got confused by the mage hand makes total sense in the situation. But I wouldn't turn it into a regular house rule.

(If you want a more balanced version of "distract enemies with mage hand" then I'd say using your Action to target one opponent, who gets a saving throw, and has Disadvantage on their next attack if they fail. It would be balanced; that nets you a weaker version of Vicious Mockery, which is fair considering the rest of the utility of Mage Hand.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think if the Mage Hand were used to carry a small object and harrass an opponent with it (using the caster's Action each turn to do so), that would also fit well into the fiction, and could apply against other creatures. At that point it is not so different to using Mage Hand for the Help action at range - although by RAW that should add Advantage to one of your ally's attacks, not Disadvantage to the opponent. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Oct 20 '17 at 9:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ To the second last paragraph - even other ogres in this story might be resistant to it now. One the trick is known it no longer works, even ogres are not dumb enough to fall for it twice. And possibly other tribes know a tiny bit about magic? This tribe was especially ignorant, it seems. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Oct 20 '17 at 10:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, but the disobedient tiger's answer has the most impactful piece regarding specific cases where ranged help DOES work - and it's not a standard mage hand. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 20 '17 at 13:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot How will other ogres know about this? The one who had it happen to him was slain. Dead men (ogres) tell no tales. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 5 '18 at 22:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I don't know, there is no general one size fits all way. But if it would happen at my table and unbalance my game, I would find a way that works good with the story. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jan 5 '18 at 22:46
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It is neither RAW nor RAI. Only 2 classes have abilities that allow a PC to use the help action at range.

The effect you are describing is the Arcane Trickster's 13th level ability

Versatile Trickster

At 13th level, you gain the ability to distract targets with your mage hand. As a bonus action on your turn, you can designate a creature within 5 feet of the spectral hand created by the spell. Doing so gives you advantage on attack rolls against that creature until the end of the turn.

Or it is the Mastermind's 3rd level ability

Master of Tactics

Starting at 3rd level, you can use the Help action as a bonus action. Additionally, when you use the Help action to aid an ally in attacking a creature, the target of that attack can be within 30 feet of you, rather than 5 feet of you, if the target can see or hear you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A case could be made that Versatile Trickster changes distracting with Mage hand from an Action to a Bonus Action. It does not seem outside of the RAI to allow the Help action through the Mage Hand spell, as long as it was an Action to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – user39671 Oct 20 '17 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is no different than throwing something at/near the ogre would allow the Help action as long as it was an Action to do so. But Help specifies distance in the general case "alternatively, you can aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you. " \$\endgroup\$ – disobedient tiger Oct 20 '17 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ That said, I realize that my answer is off-tangent. The OP provided disadvantage; I started talking about Help action instead. \$\endgroup\$ – disobedient tiger Oct 20 '17 at 18:22
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A creative player might use Mage Hand to duplicate the effects of True Strike if he is into it. For instance, you can use this cantrip to untie the enemy's belt or lower his pants.
Beside morale effects that might well enough give you advantage on your next turn, but you cannot count on those agains undeads, for instance, have you ever tried to move with your pants down?
You will most likely fall prone, so, you can argue that the enemy speed is now zero. Also, have you tried to resist being pulled while your pants are down? Yeah, you would most likely fall prone, so not a long shot to give disavantage in resisting that kind of maneuver (I would even consider auto-success)
Besides, in order to pull your pants up, you will need at least a free hand (if they need a belt to remain in place, two hands and one full turn worth of actions).
So, if the enemy is using a shield, he will have to drop his weapon in order to dress up.
Pulling this off will call for a Sleight of Hand check.
And, if you also have Vicious Mockery, you can crack dick jokes that will actually hurt the enemy for a few d4 and keep him disadvantaged. A Valor Bard or an Eldritch Knight can pull this off without failing to pummel said enemy.
Expect all foes to be wearing togas or plate armor afterwards.

EDIT: If the DM goes for togas, you can instead pull the toga over the enemy's head for a free blinded effect. That is better then Darknes/Devil's Sight trick because it do not hinder your allies and uses only a cantrip slot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't seem to answer the actual question. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jan 5 '18 at 22:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ He asked if he can use Mage Hand to distract an Ogre. I told how to do it. \$\endgroup\$ – Luiz Menezes Jan 8 '18 at 0:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question wasn't "can I do it?", but "is it by the rules, or a reasonable houserule if not?". \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jan 8 '18 at 5:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are splitting hairs here. \$\endgroup\$ – Luiz Menezes Jan 9 '18 at 0:42

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