Symbol of Death (and the dozen or so spells based on it) have very flexible triggering conditions, saying,

You can also set special triggering limitations of your own. These can be as simple or elaborate as you desire. Special conditions for triggering a symbol of death can be based on a creature’s name, identity, or alignment, but otherwise must be based on observable actions or qualities. Intangibles such as level, class, HD, and hit points don’t qualify.

All of the example triggering limitations seem to be based on characteristics of the triggerer, but can it be set for characteristics of the affected area? Stuff like 'no good creatures within line of effect' or 'every living being within the area of effect must be hostile or unfriendly towards the PC upon whom the glyph is written', or even, 'more than half of the area of effect must be snowy or difficult terrain'.

While I don't see anything expressly disallowing this, I also don't see anything expressly allowing it, and can't find any rules that support either position.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a specific scenario that you want addressed, or is this idle curiosity? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 26, 2022 at 14:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Just realizing that if I can't use these symbols offensively and want them written on my person, I have to account for the fallout of a 60 foot radius spell going off in public. So by making sure it won't trigger if there are innocent bystanders who would be hurt is an important caveat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carduus
    Jul 26, 2022 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Has the GM already defined a surface (i.e. "This spell allows you to scribe a potent rune of power upon a surface") as literally any surface, up to and including the caster's clothes and skin, the surface of a pond, and clouds? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 26, 2022 at 14:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I completely understand a lot of this is under DM fiat. I guess I'm asking if the rules address triggered items having conditions based on surroundings rather than just the triggerer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carduus
    Jul 26, 2022 at 14:47

1 Answer 1



You can easily read it as:

Special conditions for triggering a symbol of death can be based on

  • creature’s name, identity, or alignment

but otherwise must be based on

  • observable actions or qualities

In which case, for example speaking a passphrase satisfies this, as would "being illuminated by sunlight".

However, do keep in mind that closest creatures are affected first; however, some other Symbol spells have different targeting (like upper limits for creature HD, or affecting only the creatures that trigger it). You might need to attune your party to the symbol to help them survive.

When triggered, a symbol of death kills one or more creatures within 60 feet of the symbol (treat as a burst) whose combined total current hit points do not exceed 150. The symbol of death affects the closest creatures first, skipping creatures with too many hit points to affect.

Painting this on your armor might not be the best idea, unless your entire party already has over 150 hit points, or attuned to the Symbol. The average Hit Points for a level 20, 10 CON wizard is 73-ish, so that's not exactly close. You'd need 18 CON to beat the 150 HP with average HP rolls. Which isn't impossible if you have some luck with early rolls and a Craft Wondrous Item feat, but definitely not trivial either.

One (universal?) quality is that their targeting is indiscriminate in many circumstances. Normally, that's what you'd use the triggering for - an evil villain guarding his lair might set a condition of "good person within 15 feet", and simply not be there himself when it goes off.

However, the general openness of the spell makes it a very good idea to check with your GM first.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You can attune your party members to a symbol of death. "Any creature attuned to a symbol of death cannot trigger it and is immune to its effects, even if within its radius when it is triggered." \$\endgroup\$
    – Peregrin
    Jul 27, 2022 at 6:40
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I was considering the answer long enough already, but you're right, it should be in there. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Jul 27, 2022 at 11:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .