The Magic Items section of the PFSRD says this about command words (emphasis mine):

Command Word: If the activation is on command or if no activation method is suggested either in the magic item description or by the nature of the item, assume that a command word is needed to activate it. Command word activation means that a character speaks the word and the item activates. No other special knowledge is needed.

A command word can be a real word, but when this is the case, the holder of the item runs the risk of activating the item accidentally by speaking the word in normal conversation. More often, the command word is some nonsensical word, or a word or phrase from an ancient language. Activating a command word magic item is a standard action and does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

Sometimes the command word to activate an item is written right on the item. Occasionally, it might be hidden within a pattern or design engraved, carved, or built into the item, or the item might bear a clue to the command word.

The Knowledge (arcana) and Knowledge (history) skills might be useful in helping to identify command words or deciphering clues regarding them. A successful check against DC 30 is needed to come up with the word itself. If that check is failed, succeeding on a second check (DC 25) might provide some insight into a clue. The spells detect magic, identify, and analyze dweomer all reveal command words if the properties of the item are successfully identified.

As far as I can see, there is no language preventing other people from saying command words for your items, and there's even specific rules for learning command words you don't know, which seems custom-tailored for doing precisely this.

In a campaign I played in, I purchased the (rather expensive) Mirror of Opposition in hopes of dealing with an implacable-man-style villain by having him fight himself.

This item resembles a normal mirror about 4 feet long and 3 feet wide. It can be hung or placed on a surface and then activated by speaking a command word. The same command word deactivates the mirror. If a creature sees its reflection in the mirror’s surface, an exact duplicate of that creature comes into being. This opposite immediately attacks the original. The duplicate has all the possessions and powers of its original (including magic). Upon the defeat or destruction of either the duplicate or the original, the duplicate and its items disappear completely. The mirror functions up to four times per day. Destroying the mirror (Hardness 1, 5 hit points) causes all of the duplicates to immediately vanish.

However, when the moment came and I spoke the command word while the villain was facing the mirror, to my surprise, the DM decided that the villain just spoke the command word again and turned it off. After all, he'd heard me say it in the first place, since I had to say it to activate the mirror.

To me, this is an infuriating waste of 92,000 gp, as it seems to make the item pretty much useless, doesn't it? However, the DM pointed out there are no rules saying they can't do that, and the rules which do exist seem to actually encourage this.

Besides this specific case, there are tons and tons of magic items which rely on command words. A very good relatively inexpensive example is the Flaming weapon quality.

Upon command, a flaming weapon is sheathed in fire that deals an extra 1d6 points of fire damage on a successful hit. The fire does not harm the wielder. The effect remains until another command is given.

I feel like I must be missing something, because just thinking about it reasonably, isn't this a ridiculously huge weakness to using any command-word-activated magic item? By this ruling, if I shout "Flame on!" and run into a horde of goblins with my +1 flaming longsword, any one of them can just spend a standard action to shout "Flame on!" back and turn off my magic sword.

What prevents enemies from speaking command words to turn off your magic items?

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    \$\begingroup\$ related rpg.stackexchange.com/q/62596/23058 \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Nov 24, 2022 at 16:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ also related rpg.stackexchange.com/q/62601/23058 \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Nov 24, 2022 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd think that specific case wouldn't work, since the mirror is instant when turned on, and it takes a standard action to turn off. Readied actions might do it, but the enemy doesn't know the word until you've said it. Also... there's no appreciable difference between the villain saying the command word, and the villain shooting it with a crossbow, unless you put serious defenses on it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phoenices
    Nov 24, 2022 at 20:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ This item in particular is supposed to be a lair trap type thing. You set it up, say the command word, and maybe cover it with a curtain. Your problem was activating it in combat! \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Nov 25, 2022 at 4:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note: the description doesn't imply that a clone is destroyed upon deactivating the mirror. \$\endgroup\$
    – zovits
    Nov 25, 2022 at 10:18

1 Answer 1


You need to hold, wear or possess most items to be able to activate or deactivate them

There is no general, separate rule about this. However there is text in the "command word" magic item section that suggests you need to hold the item:

A command word can be a real word, but when this is the case, the holder of the item runs the risk of activating the item accidentally by speaking the word in normal conversation.

Now, this section has been seen as problematic, but moreso because the accidental activation idea is problematic, when activating an item normally requires a standard action. It has not been seen as problematic for stating that only the holder of the item runs this risk of activating the item, which implies that only the holder of the item can activate the item.

Furthermore, for practically any type of item, with the exception of unslotted wondrous items like your Mirror of Opposition, the rules explicitly state that you must hold, wear or possess the item to be able to activate it.

Wondrous items

For slotted wondrous items we have an explicit rules statement:

There are two main categories of wondrous items: slotted and slotless. Slotted items take up a magic item slot, and must be worn by the character who wants to employ the item or benefit from its abilities

In the case of slotless item like a Mirror of Opposition, which you are not typically carrying around, the rules state:

Typically the possession of such an item is enough to gain its benefit, but sometimes one must manipulate and activate the item.

This means that manipulation or activation are additional requirements, on top of possession that normally would be enough to generate the items benefit.

However, it is not entirely clear what "possession" means for a mirror you put up on the wall somewhere. The mirror rather explicitly explains it is hung or placed on a surface and then activated, creating a specific exception to the assumption you hold the item while it is doing its magic. In that case, your GM seems to be right -- you could have been more careful to conceal the command word from your opponent, for example by activating the mirror in advance, or by whispering it, or by having someone cast silence on their area.

There also are slotless items like magical vehicles, for example an Apparatus of the Crab, that you need to be inside of to control or use them. These typically tell you so, for example the apparatus says "These levers allow those inside to activate and control the apparatus’s movements and actions."

Other item types

Other types of magic items all have their own requirements, typically that you hold or wield them (I am skipping consumables like potions or scrolls, which have no command word activation).

Here is weapons:

Usually a character benefits from a magic weapon in the same way a character benefits from a mundane weapon — by wielding (attacking with) it. If a weapon has a special ability that the user needs to activate, then the user usually needs to utter a command word (a standard action).

So for weapons, the user that is wielding the weapon is the one that needs to utter the command word. Sorry, Goblins.

Here is rods:

Details relating to rod use vary from item to item. Unless noted otherwise, you must be holding a rod to use its abilities.

Here is wands:

To activate a wand, a character must hold it in hand (or whatever passes for a hand, for non-humanoid creatures)

Here is staves:

To activate a staff, a character must hold it forth in at least one hand (or whatever passes for a hand, for non-humanoid creatures).

Here is rings:

Rings bestow magical powers upon their wearers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possession is 9/10ths of the law! :-D \$\endgroup\$ Nov 25, 2022 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you don't have to "hold" (i.e. probably touch) the mirror and say the command word to activate it, I'd be interested to know from how far away precisely someone could utter the command word to activate the mirror. What's kind of Listen skill modifier does a mirror of opposition have? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 25, 2022 at 6:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I have no idea, there is nothing in the description about it. Probably up to the GM. I also agree with the comments under the questio: if I had been the GM, I at least would have had the bad guy make some kind of save to avoid seeing his reflection before getting to inactivate the mirror. And if they manage to, also try to hit and destroy it for good measure, at least giving the PC an (expensive) respite for one attack. But since that is not the question, I wasn't too sure it belongs in the answer, and that answer is long enough as is already. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 25, 2022 at 6:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I also do not know what the class of the bad guy here was, but is it automatically to be assumed that they even know what an mirror of opposition is and does, and that repeating the command deactivates it? Or, that said mirror is such a mirror? Or, that the command was to activate the mirror? (OK, putting up a mirror in mid-combat is pretty suspicious). There seems a lot of GM know how being used in the decisions the bad guy takes here, that the bad guy does ot necessarily have. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 25, 2022 at 6:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Considering this from a DM's viewpoint, since the mirror is a campaign-destroying nightmare and actually allowed in the campaign, any intelligent creature should be aware of how to overcome it in the way the DM in the question describes. The real issue is the DM not telling the player that was how the mirror works in that DM's campaign prior to the PC's purchase of it. (To be clear, the DM must define with absolute precision the word defeat to prevent the mirror leading to gear-duping.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 25, 2022 at 6:44

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