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Most spells/abilities only allow the targeting of creatures rather than objects.

Of the few that do allow object targeting, most explicitly except "worn or carried" objects.

It ignites flammable objects in the area that aren’t being worn or carried. (Fireball)

or

A nonmagical object that isn't being worn or carried also takes the damage if it's in the spell's area. (Shatter)

What methods do exist to damage or destroy objects that are worn or carried?

I'm looking for spells, abilities, items, or monsters that could achieve this.

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There are a few

We can start with the most available one: Just attack it. There are no rules against attacking objects that are worn or carried, but you would likely be subject to some DM rulings. Therefore any ability that just lets you make an attack (such as the Attack action) without a target stipulation qualifies. This also includes the attack(s) of virtually every monster. I won't bother to list all of these.

Monsters: Corrosive oozes and rust monsters

Black Pudding (MM 241) and Gray Ooze (MM 243) each have an ability which corrodes nonmagical worn/carried armour and weapons. These abilities give a -1 penalty to the item upon hit (either by the ooze or the wearer depending) and destroys them upon sufficient penalty. The abilities vary; Black Puddings can corrode weapons of wood or metal as well as any nonmagical armour, while Gray Oozes only corrode metal weapons and armour.

Rust monsters (MM 262) - while not oozes, but rather cute, insect-like monstrosities - have a similar feature which corrodes nonmagical weapon that hit it, and using their Antennae attack can corrode a "nonmagical ferrous metal object" worn or carried by a creature (that creature can make a Dex save to avoid the effect) which includes both armour, weapons, as well as any (metal) object on that person/creature.

Monsters: Beholders

The Disintegration ray of Beholders and Death Tyrants (and some other of their kin) can target objects (no mention of being carried or worn) and will destroy nonmagical ones (Large or smaller or 10 ft cube of Huge or larger). This is maybe one of the least scary things a beholder can do to you.

Spells: Damage to objects

As established by this answer a spell which can deal damage to objects and does not stipulate the target to not be carried, can damage them. They may be subject to the same DM rulings as attack, though. This includes the following:

  • Bigby's Hand: 4d8 force damage on melee spell attack, one target per round.
  • Chain lightning: 10d8 lightning damage with a Dexterity save. Up to 10 targets.
  • Control Water: Doesn't mention that the objects can't be worn or carried, it probably should.
  • Fire Bolt: 1d10 fire damage (more at higher levels) on a ranged spell attack.
  • Melf's Acid Arrow: 6d4 acid damage on ranged spell attack.
  • Mordekainen's Sword: 3d10 force damage on melee spell attack each turn.
  • Scorching Ray: Total of 6d6 fire damage on ranged spell attacks.
  • Storm of Vengeance: 1d6 acid, 10d6 lightning, there's a lot to this spell, it's a 9th level spell.

Spell: Disintegrate

Disintegrate similarly can target an object and will destroy nonmagical objects that are Large or smaller. Alternatively, you could target the creature that wears the object(s) and destroy it and all the things it carries:

[...] If [the spells] damage reduces the target to 0 hit points, it is disintegrated.

A disintegrated creature and everything it is wearing and carrying, except magic items, are reduced to a pile of fine gray dust.

--- Player's Handbook, p. 233

Spell: Fabricate

This may require favourable ruling from your DM, but this 4th level spell lets you transform objects into other objects with no requirements for them not being carried or worn. However, the targeted object(s) must be considered a "raw material,” and the spell has a casting time of 10 minutes so your use cases might be limited.

Spell: Wish

Wish can do anything you can convince and phrase so your DM lets it happen. That will include interacting with carried/worn objects. I hope that interaction is worth it for a 9th level spell and enduring the stress of the free form wish. I mention wish not because it is interesting, but for completeness.


Honourable mention: Telekinesis

This spell doesn't damage or destroy objects in and of itself, but it can be used to that end. The relevant section of the spell description:

You can try to move an object that weighs up to 1,000 pounds. If the object isn't being worn or carried, you automatically move it up to 30 feet in any direction, but not beyond the range of this spell.

If the object is worn or carried by a creature, you must make an ability check with your spellcasting ability contested by that creature's Strength check. If you succeed, you pull the object away from that creature and can move it up to 30 feet in any direction but not beyond the range of this spell.

--- Player's Handbook, p. 280-281

The mage hand cantrip may also be able to accomplish this, but does not have explicit rules allowing it to.

You can use the hand to manipulate an object [...]

--- Player's Handbook, p. 256

While they don’t damage or destroy the object itself, you might be able to use mage hand or telekinesis to ensure the targeted object is no longer carried or worn, and thus can be damaged by other spells like shatter or fireball.

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Almost anything that works in real life

D&D rules assume that the fantastic world works mostly in the same way everyday life works. There are specific rules which abstract certain real life phenomena in a convenient way, and there are specific rules that handle for example magic, and there are some rules which flat out contradict reality, but most of the time, if something is possible in real life, it is also roughly equally possible in D&D.

Rules-wise, this is handled by the basic rules: the players say what their characters do and the game master adjudicates what happens.

Most of the options below do not use specific abilities and can also be done by many monsters.

How can you destroy things, then?

  • A plate mail is held in place by various straps. You could cut those. This is very difficult in combat, so you might as well not bother. Of course, sufficiently strong strike or pressure might also accomplish this. Try dropping a sufficiently heavy stone on top of the plate mail; as a side effect, the one inside the mail is unlikely to survive for long, either.

  • Paper and inks might not survive water, so to destroy scrolls and books, throw the person carrying them into water and keep there for a while.

  • Many things break when burned. Consider throwing someone into fire; that will destroy much of their equipment if they can not get out quickly.

Most of the time, the main difficulty is that you might want to destroy something without having the person in a specific circumstance or in your power. This is typically difficult, as most things a person is wearing move with the person and are smaller than them, and might move even more quickly than the person themselves. There are some exceptions:

  • Backpacks, sacks and such are typically not very resilient to penetration. Use a sharp weapon to hit them and then slash to enlarge the hole. People often have a poor sense of where their backpack is, so a generous game master might even give an advantage on your attacks against such.

  • People are very good at moving their hands quickly, so trying to attack something someone is holding in their hands is a bad idea. However, if it is a scroll they are trying to read, they might need to hold it reasonably still. Hence it might be worth asking the game master how feasible it is to hit the thing, or at least disturb them reading it. The weapon should be edged.

  • Potions of glass break easily from impacts. Maybe you cause the impact by hitting them or by having the enemy fall down in an uncontrolled manner. Be sure to ask the game master how feasible they consider this.

  • A maneuver attested in medieval manuscripts is forcing someone's sword to stick to the ground (as a part of blocking their attack) and then stepping on it with full force. This might bend the blade or even cause it to snap. Again, consult the game master for how feasible they see this to be.

Game master's side

If you are running the game as a sequence of balanced combat encounters, and if characters have a subjective right to make use of their equipment, then you might want to discourage these kinds of maneuvers. Do not start a discussion about realism, but rather say that such maneuvres would retract from the game balance you are trying to maintain, or would take away the righ to use items that characters have, and you would see these as undesirable features of the game.

Otherwise, you should let the player describe their intent and how they are going to accomplish it, consider how realistic you see it as, and assign the difficulty based on that; just like normal. You may want to ask a player's opinion if they have relevant experience in melee combat. If some player tells that your suggestion is wildly off the mark, consider their argument carefully; but lengthy discussions should be had between sessions, as keeping the game going is usually more important.

Relevant ways of handling these situations is asking for attack rolls (maybe with advantage or disadvantage, maybe against an armour class coming from the situation or maybe against the normal armour class), asking for opposed checks, asking for strength rolls and applying the disarm rules. Assigning pure probabilities is also a good tool; maybe the option in the character's belt pouch has 1/6 chance of breaking when they are pushed against a hard wall, for example.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Scrolls and books aren't necessarily made out of paper; And even if they are, many forms of paper are water resistant anyway. Unless the materials you were targeting were of poor quality I wouldn't expect them to be very destroyed just from being tossed into some water along with the person carrying them, not if they weren't submerged for very long at any rate. Damaged certainly, but probably not to the extent of being unusable. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jun 8 at 12:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cubic Ok, added some qualifying words to that effect. \$\endgroup\$ – Tommi Jun 8 at 14:32

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