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A glyph seal (Magic Item Compendium 161) allows you to cast a spell into it, creating an effect like a glyph of warding as a spell glyph.

Can you put a spell like invisibility in it, put the glyph seal on a your spell component pouch, and then trigger invisibility for free by opening that pouch?

This line in the glyph of warding spell gives me pause:

You can store any harmful spell of 3rd level or lower that you know.

(Emphasis mine.) Yet the glyph seal is different:

[The seal] allows you to convert any arcane or divine spell into a symbol similar to a glyph of warding.

(Emphasis mine.) I don't imagine free-action invisibility is the intended use of the item, but does it work?

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According to the text? Probably…

The glyph seal (Magic Item Compendium 161) (1,000 gp; 0 lbs.) shares many similarities with the 3rd-level cleric spell glyph of warding [abjur] (PH 236-7), but there are two important differences between them.

  • The glyph seal's description does not explicitly specify harmful spells like the glyph of warding spell's description does. (That is, "A glyph seal allows you to convert any arcane or divine spell of up to 2nd level into a symbol similar to a glyph of warding," compared to, "You can store any harmful spell of 3rd level or lower that you know" in a glyph of warding using the spell glyph function that's emulated by the glyph seal.)

  • A particular opening—like (sigh) a spell component pouch's flap—is not explicitly limited to being warded by a lone glyph seal like a particular opening is normally limited to a lone glyph of warding effect. (That is, no stated limit in the glyph seal description compared to, "Multiple glyphs [of warding] cannot be cast on the same area.")

So, yes, this technically means you totally could at level 6 devote 12,000 gp of your wealth to a dozen glyph seals; cast spells into the seals for a few days; stick—let's be really conservative—, say, four of 'em on each of your three spell component pouches; then—tally ho!—off you go to adventure! When it's time for battle, you take a free action to retrieve from your spell component pouch a tiny ball of bat guano and sulfur or a live spider and—alakazam!—all your buffs are up in an instant, and you're a combat beast! Lord Ao, this is awesome! Why doesn't everybody do this?

…But then the DM must change the campaign to account for it…

This DM and player wouldn't recommend this tactic and, instead, urges using a glyph seal just to keep stuff safe from prying eyes and sticky fingers even though it could be used for so much more. Why? Because ruthless exploitation of this tactic sees the PCs just win against all but the most overpowered foes that don't use the tactic and sees the PCs just die to competent foes that do use it. That is, foes that are unprepared for the tactic won't know what hit them (okay, they will—it was you, but you were, like, double super ensorcelled, alright?), and foes that are prepared for the tactic will spam dispel magic effects and use the identical tactic but with better spells than yours.

The DM must equip all NPCs with different gear because if he doesn't the NPCs'll look foolish and present no challenge. The DM must change most encounters because if he doesn't the PCs'll just win. The DM must restructure how the game is played because the rules aren't designed to deal with each PC being the subject of a dozen buff spells on the first round of combat! So, yeah, taking this to an extreme means rewriting the game, and I suspect the DM would rather be playing the game.

…Or design a new campaign around it

You might be the DM, though. You might even think this sounds kind of cool. If so, I urge making several sample NPCs of different tiers—including commoners with PC wealth!—and running them through the Same Game Test to reestablish the Challenge Ratings of normal monsters so that the PCs can engage appropriate foes. (This will be a lot of work.) Also, keep in mind that every defeated NPC adds directly to the PCs' power: NPCs will never have on them more than 1,000 gp unless they're saving for a greater glyph seal (MIC 161) (4,000 gp; 0 lbs.). (Those hold up to 5th-level spells!) Put simply, this is a different game from traditional 3.5e, but rest assured that I'll be first in line for your awesome setting Pouch Wars: Seals of Sorrow.


Note: Discussion of glyph seals also occurs in, for example, these Giant in the Playground threads from 2009, 2014, and 2015. Consensus seems to be that, as written, glyph seals are pretty darn game-breaking and that a DM will soon place limits on them once they're the subject of abuse.

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While I agree with the general sentiment that the glyph seal is OP as written, may I propose another, more entertaining (IMHO) way of nerfing it; rather than conjecture the missing word "harmful" into the description, suppose that what has been omitted from RAW is the limitation that only one can be placed on an opening. You could still have the invisibility, but not a whole assortment of instant buffs.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Can you support your answer by citing evidence or experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 22 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Like the "harmful" restriction, this is explicitly specified in the glyph of warding, similar to the glyph seal. RAW does not apply either restriction to the glyph seal, but other answers suggest that a restriction may have been RAI. \$\endgroup\$ – Ralf B Jul 23 at 5:46
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It would not work. While you might cast a spell into it with no restrictions, the glyph seal has the following language:

An activated glyph seal functions as the spell glyph function of a glyph of warding and can be detected and disabled as a magic trap (DC 30).

So the glyph seal cannot activate unless the spell cast into it is harmful.

From glyph of warding:

Spell Glyph You can store any harmful spell of 3rd level or lower that you know. All level-dependent features of the spell are based on your caster level at the time of casting the glyph. If the spell has a target, it targets the intruder. If the spell has an area or an amorphous effect the area or effect is centered on the intruder. If the spell summons creatures, they appear as close as possible to the intruder and attack. Saving throws and spell resistance operate as normal, except that the DC is based on the level of the spell stored in the glyph.

Additionally, glyph seal contains this language:

You can safely transport a keyed glyph seal until you activate it by pressing the seal to the desired surface.

So at the very least, RAI is that the effect is harmful. I can understand an "anything goes" interpretation, but this looks more like the item is a reusable, versatile glyph of warding than a super-contingency for free.

"Safely" is a powerful word in this item's description. If the word "harmful" is added to the items description: "any [harmful] arcane or divine spell ..." then there are no contradictions or questions about this item's intended function. The reason for that is because the entire rest of the description very strongly implies that the intent is for this to function as a reusable glyph of warding item that can be used with both arcane and divine spells. Since "harmful" has been left out of the description, the item implies its intent but does leave the loophole open. At my table, we would simply look at the cost and limitations (i.e. Dispel-vulnerable) for crafted contingent spells and know that this item was never intended to be used as such.

Full analysis:

A glyph seal allows you to convert any arcane or divine spell of up to 2nd level ...

The crux of the issue. This statement taken alone definitely allows the use of a glyph seal as general contingency spell item ...

... into a symbol similar to a glyph of warding.

... but as the question points out, this is the first clue that the item is supposed to harm an unsuspecting victim.

To do so, you must cast the spell while holding the seal; doing this is called keying the seal.

(How to set the glyph seal's spell.)

You can safely transport a keyed glyph seal until you activate it by pressing the seal to the desired surface.

Second clue that this is not intended to be helpful, as it specifically claims that the glyph seal can be safely transported which implies it is dangerous.

The seal can adhere to any nonmagical, nonliving object.

(How to activate the glyph seal.)

An activated glyph seal functions as the spell glyph function of a glyph of warding and can be detected and disabled as a magic trap (DC 30).

This section very clearly refers to the glyph seal as a trap with the same function as the spell glyph function on glyph of warding -- this is not something intended to be used as a buffing mechanism on a knowing creature.

A glyph seal is unaffected by the spell within it.

This refers to the upcoming destructive -- and possibly AOE -- nature of what the glyph seal is intended to hold.

Once activated, the now-empty glyph seal can be retrieved (though it requires a successful DC 30 Search check to find) and used.

(How to recover a glyph seal)

You can always remove any glyph seal you keyed and activated to redeploy it elsewhere.

Note that this section might make it actually impossible for the person who keyed a glyph seal to set it off. Why? Because if the seal is triggered by opening a bag inside which the seal is affixed, then the person who keyed it is incapable of triggering it because one is always capable of removing any glyph seal one activated.

The evidence here is overwhelming that this item is not intended to be used as a buffing mechanism. It is intended to be a trap item.

Additionally, let's look at the next closest item to doing what this thing can do:

Craft contingent spell (Complete Arcane p.77/p.139):

  1. You can only have a number of crafted contingent spells up to your hit dice, but there is no restriction for glyph seal
  2. Crafted contingent spells are destroyed by dispel magic, glyph seals are not
  3. A level 3 crafted contingent spell costs 1500 gold (lvl 5)/6000 gold (lvl 20), glyph seal costs 1000 in either case.
  4. A level 5 crafted contingent spell costs 4500 gold (lvl 9)/10000 gold (lvl 20), a greater glyph seal costs 4000 in either case.
  5. A crafted contingent spell is single-use, whereas a glyph seal can be used repeatedly.

If someone argues that the glyph seal items are intended to completely usurp the already-too-powerful contingent spell items, they are simply ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. Their intended use is quite clear if someone accepts that an author simply forget to add "harmful" when they were reducing the spell levels from 3:2 and from 6:5 so that the item wasn't quite as powerful as a cast glyph of warding. My table has ruled as such, and we firmly believe that the RAI for these items is to be traps that are slightly less powerful than a cast glyph o warding but usable by anyone, not hyper-abusable buff items.

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    \$\begingroup\$ When the seal's description says, "A glyph seal allows you to convert any arcane or divine spell of up to 2nd level into a symbol similar to a glyph of warding…" (emphasis mine), I took that to mean the differences include that the glyph seal spell really can be any arcane or divine spell (instead of only harmful ones) and can only be up to a 2nd-level spell (instead of up to 3rd-level ones). Is that just me reading too much into it? (It's happened before!) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 27 '18 at 7:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan No, I agree with your reading; whatever would normally activate a glyph seal would activate the invisibility. The only difference here is that the 'caster' of the spell is the glyph, rather than a person. And you can certainly cast Invisibility on another person as a spellcaster. There's no reason to expect a glyph seal to fail at casting Invisibility on the first person who activates the seal. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Mar 27 '18 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @heyicanchan everyone is ignoring that it activates as a spell glyph from glyph of warding. A spell glyph only activates for harmful spells. I get that people want a busted, cheap item, but there is nothing "similar" about this -- it's simply not going to turn on. If spell glyph did not specify harmful, then it would work. \$\endgroup\$ – Wannabe Warlock Mar 27 '18 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @heyicanchan I added additional RAI info. \$\endgroup\$ – Wannabe Warlock Mar 27 '18 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ (RAI is serious. You may want to rephrase.) Certainly, the seal activates as a spell glyph, but the glyph seal really says any spell and similar. And, honestly, I don't think anyone wants busted stuff; I think folks really want some clarity. For all of late-era 3.5's space-wasting, I believe some space should've been spent detailing authors' own understanding of their items, classes, or spells so readers could make judge stuff fairly instead of guessing (i.e. ivory tower game design) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 27 '18 at 16:38

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