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I have been watching/listening to Chance's D&D Spellbook, which highlights a potential 'loophole' in that the spell doesn't list how much the hand can drag, say if attached via a rope that weighs less than 10 lbs.

Normally a spell only does what it says, but carrying and dragging seem closely enough related that there might be some room for interpretation.

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3 Answers 3

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TL;DR

Neither does the spell description provide any rules that would increase the weight that can be dragged above the weight that can be carried; nor do the rules apply which let characters drag double their carrying capacity. Therefore, the weight detailed in the spell description limits dragging as it does carrying.

The spell description does not talk about dragging

The spell description of mage hand gives multiple examples of what the hand can or cannot do. None of those are related to dragging, except the capability to

manipulate an object

which can be interpreted as including dragging. In the end, there is no specific information about dragging, suggesting that no extra rules (such as increased dragging capacity) apply.

Rules for carrying and dragging apply to monsters and characters with a strength score.

The rules on carrying capacity are found under Using each Ability (PHB p. 175):

Every task that a character or monster might attempt in the game is covered by one of the six abilities.

Neither is the mage hand a monster or character, nor does it have abilities or ability scores. Carrying, specifically, is explained under Strength (PHB p. 176):

Carrying Capacity. Your carrying capacity is your Strength score multiplied by 15. This is the weight (in pounds) that you can carry, which is high enough that most characters don't usually have to worry about it.

Push, Drag, or Lift. You can push, drag, or lift a weight in pounds up to twice your carrying capacity (or 30 times your Strength score). While pushing or dragging weight in excess of your carrying capacity, your speed drops to 5 feet.

All these explanations consider creatures with a strength score. The mage hand does not have these properties. Specifically, these rules state that a strength score entitles a creature to have a carrying capacity and a dragging capacity. These rules do clearly not entitle the mage hand to anything a priori.

A case could be made, that a carrying capacity implies a dragging capacity. However, RAW, this does, a priori only apply to monsters / characters with a strength score, especially so, since the dragging capacity restates the reliance on a strength score.

In the end, it seems like the mage hand's carrying capacity (which is not even specifically declared using that term) is gained another way, i.e. the spell's description which the rules from PHB p. 176 do not apply to. Therefore, the mage hand does not gain increases dragging capacity and cannot drag more weight than it can carry.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Therefore, the weight detailed in the spell description limits dragging as it does carrying." How is that? Your argument is that the rules about pushing/dragging don't apply to the hand, so why is there any specific limit? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 20:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see why you say that these rules explicitly consider only something with a strength score. The rules say that something can drag 2x its carrying capacity or 30x its strength score. Although mage hand does not have a strength score, it does have a carrying capacity. What is the argument for denying it the "2x its carrying capacity" to push drag or lift? If only things with a strength score can push drag or lift, then mage hand can't do anything other than carry, according to your interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did not say that. The PHB gives rules in the strength section under "using each ability" that provide a carrying capacity and an extra increased dragging capacity. The increased dragging capacity is something which the spell description does not provide and my reasoning is that the stated rules do not provide it as an extra to the hand either since it is clearly connected to ability scores, specifically strength. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anagkai
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 9:30
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RAW says No, but I believe the rules as intended or at least the rules as practical are that it cannot exert more than 10lbs of force.

This is such a poorly worded spell (and has always been). In previous editions, mage hand was just the telekinetic ability to move small objects, but in 5th ed they made it actually take the form of a spectral hand, which adds to the confusion. Whether it is a spectral hand or not, the spell only mentions lifting and moving objects, nothing else, which means technically you can't open a door with it unless the entire door weighs less than 5-10lbs depending on the edition. It also means it has strange physics interactions. For example I can't move a door but what if I move a rock and push it against the door? Physics says if you push hard enough, the rock should move the door, but the spell doesn't allow for that. Every DM I have ever played with has ruled it this way: Mage hand cannot exert more than its carrying capacity in force. In the case of 5th ed this means it can't apply more than 10lbs of pressure. This allows you to open doors directly, given it is a well oiled wooden door that is not stuck. A very heavy door such as a stone door or a door with a badly rusted hinge might not open because it might require more than 10 lbs of force to do so. This would answer your question in that it could only push or drag something if it could be pushed or dragged with 10 lbs of force. Which means yes, if you are moving something a bit heavier but it is smooth and being dragged on a smooth surface it would work. Ruling mage hand as pressure also means it can press buttons, set off pressure plates, and pull levers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ that's how I'd interpret it as well. Telekinesis is a force. And the explicit mention of opening unlocked doors seems to indicate the same. carry as in The hand can’t attack, activate magical items, or carry more than 10 pounds. I always interpreted it as 'lift' So for dragging it depends on the smoothness of the object and the surface it is placed on and the GM can decide depending on the context. \$\endgroup\$
    – gelonida
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 14:32
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Yes, because that makes sense in this case

Can it drag?

The description of mage hand does not say it can drag things. Rather, it says:

You can use the hand to manipulate an object, open an unlocked door or container, stow or retrieve an item from an open container, or pour the contents out of a vial.

Here we have a clear list of the things the spell can do. The question is, is this an exhaustive list, such that the spell cannot do anything not on the list, or is it an exemplary list, such that the spell can do other things that are like those on the list, but not enumerated?

In evaluating how to interpret the spell, we have two competing principles. The first is Spells do (only) what they say they do.

Spells do only what they say they do

Mage hand says it can 'open an unlocked door'. If I apply the 'Spells do' principle, mage hand can open any door, of any size or weight, even if the door is barred and latched, so long as it is not locked. Mage hand says it can 'manipulate an object'. If I apply the 'Spells do' principle, mage hand can drop a grain of salt into a beaker, but it cannot drop a pinch of salt (because each grain would be a discrete object, and it does not say it can manipulate multiple objects). Mage hand says it can pour the contents out of a vial. If I apply the 'Spells do' principle, mage hand can empty a vial, but it cannot push, drag, or roll an empty vial across a table, nor lift one into the air - only manipulate it once aloft.

Later in the spell description, we are told:

The hand can't attack, activate magic items, or carry more than 10 pounds.

While the first list is a list of things the spell can do, the second is a list of things that it cannot do. If spells do only what they say they do, the second list is almost completely redundant. If the first list is an exhaustive delineation of what is possible with the spell, we do not need a second list, because the spell cannot do anything that is not on the first list. Notice that neither list says that the spell can carry objects of ten pounds are less. Rather, this is implied by saying it can't carry things of more than ten pounds, but this implication only works by assuming that the first list is exemplary, not exhaustive. A strict application of 'spells do only what they say they do' means that mage hand cannot push, drag, or roll objects - but neither can it lift or carry them, because the spell does not say it can.

In contrast to the principle of 'spells do (only) what they say they do', we have the principle of 'things work the way we expect them to, except as noted in the rules.'

Things work the way we expect them to

"In D&D, everyday things—walls, gravity, bread, laughter—work the way we expect them to, except for when the rules say otherwise." (JC tweet). Looked at this way, the first list, what mage hand can do, is giving us a list of possibilities, but it is suggesting that mage hand can do many other unspecified things, so long as they are of equivalent nature. The second list, the list of things the spell cannot do, are limitations on the first list - things the spell cannot do even if they are physically equivalent, because they interact in other important ways with the game rules. You might consider the first list to be physical limits on the narrative power of the spell, while the second list is balance limits on the game power of the spell. Under the principle of 'things work the way we expect them to', mage hand can be used to unlock a door with a key even though it is not delineated in the spell description, because the exemplary first list says mage hand can be used to manipulate an object. On the other hand, mage hand cannot be used to unlock a door with a chime of opening, because the second, restrictive list says it cannot be used to activate magic items. Mage hand specifically can be used to pour out a vial, so it can also be used to pour out a beaker of acid into a cauldron - but it cannot be used to pour out a beaker of acid onto a creature, because it specifically cannot be used to make an attack.

It should be obvious by now that I think the 'things work the way we expect them to' is more useful for interpreting mage hand than 'spells do (only) what they say they do'. Neither of these two principles is specifically described in the rules. Both are considered guidance, and both are supported by multiple rulings in different instances. I don't think every spell should be interpreted 'as we expect'. I suspect that I would be generally more inclined to interpret utility spells 'as we expect' and attack spells as 'spells do (only)'.

If it can carry, it can drag

Mage hand can carry up to ten pounds (but remember, if 'spells do only' is applied strictly, mage hand can't carry objects, just manipulate them). The principle of 'things work the way we expect them to (except as otherwise noted)' says that if the spell can carry up to ten pounds, it should be able to exert a force of about ten pounds on objects in the world - in fact, a bit more, since the spell needs to be able to lift the weight of the ten pound object against gravity.

My real world expectations are that any force capable of lifting and carrying ten pounds should also be able to drag, push, or roll ten pounds across most surfaces. Of course, surfaces and weights with high coefficients of friction will reduce the amount of weight that can be moved - at least based on my real world expectations. 'Unless otherwise noted' in this case means that I have to use whatever rules do exist for this interaction. The PHB rules on lifting and carrying say that a creature can push, drag, or lift twice its carrying capacity. If mage hand can carry 10 pounds, then it can push, drag, or lift 20 pounds, but in doing so to have its speed reduced to 5 feet per turn (compared to mage hand's spell description speed of 30 feet per turn). If the spell behaves the way I would expect a force to behave, mage hand could drag a weight of 10 pounds at 30 feet per turn, or drag a weight of 15 pounds at 5 feet per turn. Treating it as such a force allows me to adjudicate many more interactions with the world then simply those listed in the spell description.

In this particular case, I find it much more useful to rule based on the 'things behave as we expect' principle rather than 'spells do only what they say' principle. In this particular case, I think the 'things behave as we expect' principle produces more useful results.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “My real world expectations are that any force capable of carrying ten pounds should also be able to drag ten pounds across most surfaces.” Why? This depends entirely on the coefficient of friction between the object and the surface. Sometimes less than ten pounds of force will be required to drag the object, sometimes more. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Hence 'most', not 'all'. Note that most of these coefficients are less than one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ For a more general criticism, “Things work the way we expect them to” - except when they don’t. This thinking, that things work the way we expect, is the reason for the rebuttal “D&D is not a physics simulator”. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ See my answer about the phrase for more details. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also note that the stricter interpretation would prevent rolling objects whose weight is >10lbs, e.g. a bowling ball on a flat surface, while still allowing it to push somewhat heavy non-rolling objects, say a 5lbs iron ingot, on such a surface. Maybe this is desirable, magic is magical after all, but maybe it degrades player agency in that the game world becomes harder to understand and predict. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 20:31

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