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I am playing in a homebrewed setting, not Waterdeep. My DM had my character find the Blackstaff on the body of the leader of a slave owning city where we helped the rebelling slaves. It is modified at least to the point where it does not have the Animate Walking Statues ability, but it isn't clear to me if there are more changes.

It is a super awesome staff, but my character (currently level 17 wizard) and I are both either unaware or unclear about the situation with the Spirit Trap feature:

Spirit Trap. When the Blackstaff dies, the spirit of that individual becomes trapped in the staff along with the spirits of the previous Blackstaffs. (A Blackstaff whose spirit is trapped in the staff can’t be raised from the dead.)

Destroying the staff would release the spirits trapped inside it, but in that event, Khelben’s spirit can lodge itself inside any one piece of the staff that remains. The piece containing Khelben’s spirit has the staff’s Sentience property but none of its other properties. As long as this piece of the staff exists, Khelben’s spirit can make the staff whole again whenever he wishes. When the staff is remade, the spirits of the previous Blackstaffs become trapped inside it again.

Khelben is not a part of our game so I'm not sure if/how this is even a factor. From what I understand, my character can still be revivified because the language does not say "free and willing" for the soul to return to the body, but all other spells seem to have that.

What other things can I do to help my character survive? If she were to do Clone, I think the soul would still go into the staff. If my party were to break the staff, then resurrect her, would that work? Can a character Soulcage themselves? What about a Wish to do Magic Jar if she is super close to death? What other solutions are out there for this? My character has 24 INT but I do not.

Update: Thanks for all the replies and advice. I sent this to my DM: Hey, i posted this question on stack exchange and based on the replies, i think i need to ask you this: can you please make a homebrew item of the Blackstaff that has whatever Minerva understands it to have based on studying it and casting identify? I know it may still have secret stuff and I am just a bit confused about what she knows, so its been hard to determine what would be fair for her to do with the information she has. Everyone was like, talk to your dm, silly goose. XD

He replied: kinda fun a whole forum started with folks trying at it. You know enough that it is a sentient in its nature, but in terms of the original lore of blackstaff, none of it applies in terms of the personalities and individuals interacted with in original lore.

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    – V2Blast
    Aug 29, 2022 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ "If she were to do Clone, I think the soul would still go into the staff." Is there any specific reason to assume this? Seems like a 50/50 shot here; Clone says if you die, your soul immediately transfers to the clone, Blackstaff says it traps the soul if they die, preventing raising from the dead. Both the spell and the item claim to do the same thing, and while the item does explicitly block raising from the dead, Clone is not exactly raising (you die only in the purely physical sense; your soul immediately transfers to the clone body). It's basically DM fiat which one "wins". \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30, 2022 at 15:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was bothered enough by the unclear interaction between clone and Spirit Trap to ask a lore question on why the staff traps your spirit (which might inform whether Spirit Trap should interfere with clone): Is any reason given for the Blackstaff trapping the souls of its owners on death? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30, 2022 at 17:47

5 Answers 5

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It is difficult to adjudicate how a homebrewed item will work.

You noticed the item has been modified to some unknown extent by your DM. Because of this, it seems difficult to determine whether its Spirit Trap ability is identical to the original, changed or even still there at all.

For now, let's assume this part of the staff's description is unchanged.

RAW : you cannot be revived.

As mentioned in a comment to your question, the topic of bringing back someone from the dead seems to imply that bringing back the soul is mandatory in the process of revival :

Bringing someone back from the dead means retrieving the soul from that plane and returning it to its body.

According to this, if the soul is trapped inside an item, it seems unlikely that any usual revival method would bring it back, seeing as the item's purpose is precisely to keep it trapped.

However, this doesn't matter in this situation, since the staff precisely has this text :

A Blackstaff whose spirit is trapped in the staff can’t be raised from the dead.

(Quick mention of the context, because it might be a bit confusing reading those citations alone : "Blackstaff" is both the magic item's name and the title given to its user, as far as I understand. Here the rules clearly mention the user, since they talk about the staff afterwards.)

The rules are fairly strict about this : if your spirit is stuck in the staff, you cannot revive until your spirit is released.

What about preventing the trapping?

The description of the Blackstaff states the following, emphasis mine :

When the Blackstaff dies, the spirit of that individual becomes trapped in the staff along with the spirits of the previous Blackstaffs.

Notice the trigger of this trapping effect is the user's death. This means that if, for some reason, the trapping effect was prevented at the moment of the user's death, the user's spirit wouldn't be stuck inside the staff, and it could be revived freely afterwards.

One such way of doing so, which is highlighted in the comments to this answer, is using an Antimagic Field.

The spell Antimagic Field states the following, emphasis mine :

This area is divorced from the magical energy that suffuses the multiverse. Within the Sphere, Spells can't be cast, summoned Creatures disappear, and even magic items become mundane.

Magic Items. The properties and powers of magic items are suppressed in the sphere. For example, a +1 longsword in the sphere functions as a nonmagical longsword.

If the staff is caught in an Antimagic Field when the user dies, it will not be able to use its Spirit Trap ability. This means that the user of the staff does not have its spirit trapped inside the staff, and is able to be revived.

Do note this is only one possible reading of the trigger for the staff's ability. Since there isn't a clear cut answer on what exactly "When someone dies" means, it could just as well be read as "If the person is dead at some point in time" (I would probably disagree with this reading, to be honest, but I cannot find anything wrong with that either, from a pure reading standpoint).

Which is why, in any case, you should...

Ask your DM about this topic.

Even if your DM does not want to reveal too much about the staff's abilities and how they've been changed, they should be able to answer whether you could or couldn't be revived by regular means if your soul is trapped in the staff, or any other similar item. Same thing for the Antimagic Field debate mentioned just above.

This might come up as a plot point later on, so they might decide one way or another depending on where they intend to lead the story. Because of that, it might also be worth asking more "exotic" revival methods, such as stressful Wish or other homebrewed solutions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmmm. Wizard casts anti-magic field while standing next to blackstaff. Cleric then casts true resurrection from 11 feet away. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joshua
    Aug 30, 2022 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joshua wouldn't the anti-magic field prevent the resurection spell from taking effect? Since the target of the spell is inside the anti-magic field. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Aug 30, 2022 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ An interesting hypothesis; however with the blackstaff's own properties suppressed, I don't see why the target would remain there. Also, I thought true res could target the corpse if any part of it remained. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joshua
    Aug 30, 2022 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joshua If you split the corpse into multiple pieces, which piece does the antimagic field remain centred on? And am I morbid for thinking about this? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Aug 30, 2022 at 22:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joshua I've added a part treating about this in my answer, thanks for the insightful comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Aug 31, 2022 at 6:20
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Cast Identify and talk with your DM

By the normal rules, you can just cast identify on the staff to find out exactly what it can and cannot do. The normal Blackstaff magic item is not even an artifact, it is just a legendary item, and even if it was, it's not clear if you could not learn all its secrets that way in 5e. Identify is a lowly first level spell that you should be able to pick up as a level 17 wizard, if you do not have it already.

You cannot be revived in any way as long as your soul is trapped or unwilling. (I'm not sure if that is also the case with revivify). So as long as it is trapped within the staff, you can not be revived. You can be restored to life while it is broken and your soul thus is not trapped at the time.

Knowing the item's text is not be enough to know what happens in the end

If the staff has the feature of re-creating itself and re-trapping your soul therein, as the original has, it would be up to your DM if your soul gets ripped out of your body and you die when it does reform, or not.

If you set up a race condition with another spell effect that triggers and tries to capture your soul when you die (like clone), the core rules do not indicate how to resolve this, and it will be up to your DM what happens.

If your DM is using the optional rule in Xanathars Guide to Everything (p. 77), and there are multiple simultaneous effects that stack at the same time during a player's turn, the player gets to decide the order in which they happen:

In rare cases, effects can happen at the same time, especially at the start or end of a creature's turn. If two or more things happen at the same time on a character or monster's turn, the person at the game table - whether player or DM - who controls that creature decides the order in which those things happen.

In such a case and on your turn, you could have your soul enter your clone (or whatever other method you came up with). Then you are back to the same question of if the staff is able to rip it out from there, which is up to your DM.

In my opinion, it may be worth it to talk with your DM, to see if they are willing to share their view of what would happen, or give you some option or hint of how to research it. Otherwise, the only way to find out is to die.

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This is a question best asked to your DM, ideally, after it comes up in game.

We don't know what the homebrew magic item does. Your DM does. You don't know what this homebrew magic item does. Your DM does.

Your wizard found a cool magic staff. She likely wants to know how it works. She probably experiments with it. Maybe she discovers an anti-revivification ability at that point. Maybe it only comes up after she dies.

Either way, assuming the ability is the same as forgotten realms' Blackstaff and attempting to mitigate it before the characters knows about it (and before you even know about it) is metagaming. Specifically, you're cutting out a potentially interesting plot point and story element that would be fun to play through by reading the text of an ability your character has no knowledge of. This is likely to make the game less fun for you and everyone at the table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ When it comes up in game might be too late. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Aug 29, 2022 at 12:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Awesomefrog In 5e, unless that thing is an artifact (and even then), by the normal rules you can just cast identify to find out exactly what it does. Is your DM not handling it like that? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 29, 2022 at 17:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin, as I pointed out in a comment to my answer, and later added to my post, the identify spell is under no obligation to reveal a curse, unless the item specifically says it will. It's up to the DM to decide what the characters find out and when. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott: The staff is not cursed - apparently its not a bug, its a feature. DMG p. 138 "A magic item's description specifies whether the item is cursed". (Look for example at the Armor of Vulnerability). The staff has no language that says it is cursed. So you are right, but as the staff is not cursed, you can identify it. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31, 2022 at 4:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin identify not working or only partially working on powerful, cursed, or difficult-to-figure-out magic items is something I have seen almost universally houseruled. Most people seem to assume that is the default/RAW case. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Aug 31, 2022 at 9:12
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The only way to find out is to die

Okay, or the DM might leave clues somewhere for you to discover.

Here is the problem with your question: You are reading the description from the book (or some website with the content). That's not how a character learns about the features, unless the DM says to look it up.

Since this is homebrew, looking it up is not a reliable option. And since the DM didn't tell you about this feature, it is either:

  1. Not part of the homebrew item
  2. Part of the item, but the DM doesn't want you to know about it
  3. Part of the item, but the DM doesn't understand what it means for your character

Generally, when I DM, if it's a really common item, I'll just say, "You got a Bag of Holding," and the character can add it to their sheet. If it's not common, I'll say, "You found an object and have discovered these properties."

In person, that would be handing them a 3x5 card with the stats they have discovered. As they learn more, I either swap out the card, or just write the new features on the existing card. Digitally, I create multiple of the same item, but with different levels of features known. I can then swap out the item as needed.

But if you say, "Hey DM, according to the Waterdeep adventure, it says my staff does this but that doesn't make sense," and the DM didn't tell you to look up the item, that's metagaming (which may be bad or ignored depending on the table).

Maybe the DM doesn't want you to find out about this problem. Or they want you to discover it through lore and journals of past owners. So your character slowly learns about their fate of forever being trapped in a staff. Or they took it out because it doesn't fit their narrative.

It may also be that they didn't read that paragraph correctly/fully, in which case the two of you will need to come up with a solution on the spot.

In a game I was playing not long ago, my character discovered a magical item. The DM said, "It's this, and you can read the description from this book." So I read the description and it turns out that this item is linked to another and cannot work singly. So I asked, "Did you know that this needs a second part?"

Turns out, they didn't realize that aspect so after the session, he and I brainstormed a new description on how the item would work without being part of a matching set.

Point being, unless the DM told you to research the item out of game, both you and your character shouldn't know about this curse.

And Identify does not always give you all the answers

The spell does not always tell the whole story. The description does not call out that it "reveals all curses."

Consider this cursed armor. It specifically says you know about the curse when you cast identify.

But other cursed items don't mention learning about the curse through identify.

And all four of these examples came from the same source/publication (DMG), so it's not a case of different writing styles. If identify was meant to reveal the curse, it would say so.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "I've got a cool new item, I research it" (using identify, for example, as other posters suggested) is a reasonable thing for a character to do. (If the curse doesn't show up in your character's research, then I agree you shouldn't use your out of character knowledge of the Waterdeep item until your character learns something.) \$\endgroup\$
    – armb
    Aug 30, 2022 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @armb, correct. But the spell does not always tell the whole story. The identify spell description does not call out that it reveals all curses. Consider this cursed armor. It specifically says you know about the curse when you cast identify. But other cursed items don't mention learning about the curse through identify. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ This isn't necessarily a "cursed item" in the sense that, say, "Remove Curse" breaks its attunement, so identify might or might not reveal it, as the DM decides. Or it might hint that there is more information to find out, but more research would be needed to find out what: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/68313/… \$\endgroup\$
    – armb
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ For an item to count as cursed, the description needs to say it is cursed, DMG p. 138: "A magic item's description specifies whether the item is cursed.". You can see that in the example of the cursed armor. The staffs description doesn't say it is cursed, so it does not count as a cursed item. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 31, 2022 at 4:05
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Your party can revive you if they break the staff

It's in the text you quoted:

Spirit Trap. When the Blackstaff dies, the spirit of that individual becomes trapped in the staff along with the spirits of the previous Blackstaffs. (A Blackstaff whose spirit is trapped in the staff can’t be raised from the dead.)

Destroying the staff would release the spirits trapped inside it, but in that event, Khelben’s spirit can lodge itself inside any one piece of the staff that remains. The piece containing Khelben’s spirit has the staff’s Sentience property but none of its other properties. As long as this piece of the staff exists, Khelben’s spirit can make the staff whole again whenever he wishes. When the staff is remade, the spirits of the previous Blackstaffs become trapped inside it again.

So, if you die, then your party breaks the staff and then casts raise dead, which works as normal.

There's some chance that Khelben says "nope, I make the staff whole again before you finish casting raise dead, your spirit is trapped after all". If that happens then your adventuring party just breaks the staff again, and repeat until Khelben gives up.

In theory, your party could break the staff and then also destroy all the pieces of the staff, which would end the standoff by eliminating Khelben permanently. Hopefully he would see reason before you had to do that.

Breaking the staff is moderately difficult because it's a staff of power, which means it unleashes a retributive strike when it breaks. Best to make sure everything you care about is thirty feet away when you break it.

Your DM's homebrew rules might override this

You've told us that this staff is modified, so it's best to cast identify and check with your DM before being certain that anything will work.

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