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This is kind of a mish-mash with a common theme, so sorry for the broad question.

First, let's set the Rules Compendium as the base here.

Equipment worn or carried by an incorporeal creature is also incorporeal as long as that equipment remains in the creature’s possession. An object the creature relinquishes loses its incorporeal quality, and the creature loses the ability to manipulate that object.


Let's also assume that my character will gain the Ghostly Grasp feat at some point during their adventuring career, but did not start off having it.


An incorporeal creature’s attacks ignore natural armor, armor, and shields

My character will certainly want to take advantage of this aspect.


Finally, let's assume that my character will use a ghost touch weapon and/or the Ghostly Grasp feat (depending on circumstances) both on the ethereal plane, and while manifested on the Prime Material plane.


How then do these various rules interact and affect my character's available actions and attacks while ethereal and manifested?

I need to know so that I can plan how to equip my character, and what tactics to use.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suggest picking one question from among these and asking it alone; incorporeality is complicated. Also, you may be interested in other questions about the feat Ghostly Grasp here and other questions about the weapon special ability ghost touch here. I'm pretty sure at least some of this question is addressed by answers to those questions. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2023 at 10:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just ask all of them separately? Besides, Ghostly grasp is probably the easiest to rule here - if we want the feat to not be too useless, allow the interaction. Was just wondering if some RAW bit might prohibit it. (I mean there's a question that addresses that but their conclusion is a non-sequitur or doesn't matter.) \$\endgroup\$
    – martixy
    Jun 27, 2023 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ One question per question is the standard. If you've more than one question—and you have a couple—ask the most important one here, and see where it leads. A good, detailed answer may (inadvertently) also answer your other (unasked) questions or inform your phrasing of your other questions. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2023 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right. Maybe I chose the wrong forum of discussion. I kinda wanted to clear up some confusion so I can play a ghost character. Guess I'll talk to the DM and see if they can shed some light on at least some of these. \$\endgroup\$
    – martixy
    Jun 27, 2023 at 14:16

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Only incorporeal attacks bypass armor.

A ghost fundamentally exists in one of two states: ethereal, and manifested. While ethereal, you can see into the Material Plane, but they cannot see you. You cannot touch them, and they cannot touch you (although you can still be affected by force effects, gaze attacks, and abjurations). If you meet a fellow inhabitant of the Ethereal Plane, the two of you fight normally.

If you manifest, you appear incorporeally on the Material Plane. You're still unable to touch or be touched by solid matter, but there are several exceptions.

  • The ghost has an incorporeal touch attack (corrupting touch and draining touch). It can hit corporeal creatures normally. Because it's incorporeal, it bypasses armor (but then, it's a touch attack, which ignores armor anyway).
  • You still carry incorporeal versions of weapons you had when you died. If they are +1 or better, they can hit corporeal creatures with a 50% miss chance, but since they're incorporeal, they bypass armor.
    • The feat Incorporeal Target Fighting (Ghostwalk) lets you reroll when you miss due to an incorporeal creature's miss chance. (Doesn't say it can't be your own miss chance!)
  • The feat Ghostly Grasp (Libris Mortis) allows you to wield corporeal weapons "as though you were not incorporeal". Unfortunately, this wording suggests that you don't gain the benefit of incorporeality. The weapons themselves are corporeal, so there's no reason why they would bypass armor but still hit the enemy inside the armor.
  • Sources conflict on whether a Ghost Touch weapon in the hands of a ghost bypasses armor:
    • According to Savage Species p.43, "Essentially, ghost touch weapons, armor, and shields count as either corporeal or incorporeal at any given time, whichever is more beneficial to the wielder."
    • According to the D&D 3.5 FAQ p.102, "A manifested ghost using a ghost touch weapon against a foe makes a normal attack against the target's normal Armor Class (not an incorporeal touch attack)."

Note that manifesting and un-manifesting takes a standard action, but the Quicken Manifestation feat (Libris Mortis) will reduce the manifestation time to a free action.

For further reading, I recommend Libris Mortis p.140-143, "Incorporealness"; and the D&D 3.5 FAQ p.109-111. For playing a ghost PC in general, particularly if the +5 level adjustment is too high, you might like the Ghostwalk sourcebook, or the ghost template class.

Handling items as a ghost

To answer your specific issues on item handling:

The rule on items losing incorporeality when you drop them was added in Monster Manual III and commentated in Libris Mortis. We get into the noodly question of source precedence, but assuming that you use this rule, an object in the ghost's possession is only incorporeal as long as they are physically touching it. The specific quote:

An incorporeal creatures only shares its incorporeal nature with objects that it actually holds, carries, or wears. Once the object leaves its possession, the object becomes corporeal.

The equipment you had when you manifested is incorporeal with you. As soon as you aren't physically holding, carrying, or wearing it, the item becomes corporeal. That includes items you dropped, threw, or doffed (which would certainly include calling armor).

Can you make the item re-incorporeal by picking it up? Usually, no, there is no specific rule. Incorporeal creatures can't interact with corporeal items.

Ghostly Grasp lets you carry incorporeal things as if you were corporeal. It doesn't say that it makes the things incorporeal again. They're in your possession, but there's no rule which says new items entering your possession become incorporeal. The DM may allow it, but it's a tricky ruling either way: either you can't carry your corporeal gear through solid objects, or your melee weapons are incorporeal and can't hit corporeal targets.

The D&D 3.5 FAQ states that ghost touch weapons wielded by ghosts do not bypass corporeal targets' armor class:

The descriptions of ghost touch weapons on pages 224 and 225 of the DMG says that a ghost touch weapon functions as either a corporeal or an incorporeal object, whichever is more beneficial to the wielder at the time. Does that mean that ghost touch weapons also ignore armor and natural armor bonuses to their target’s AC in the hands of corporeal creatures?

No, it does not. Ghost touch weapons allow corporeal wielders to strike incorporeal targets (and manifested ghosts) with no miss chance. They also allow manifested ghosts to make normal attacks (not incorporeal touch attacks) against targets on the Material Plane. An incorporeal creature or manifested ghost can also pick up and move a ghost touch weapon and can carry it along when the creature moves through a solid object. It is the latter property that’s being described in the text you’re quoting.

If you have a ghost touch weapon on the ethereal plane and manifest as incorporeal, your equipment manifests as incorporeal, including your ghost touch weapon. If you drop it while on the material plane, it becomes a corporeal ghost touch weapon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah. My question was edited quite heavily, removing most of the specific points I sought clarification on. So while your answer works as an encyclopedic entry, it addresses few of my problems before the edit. I do appreciate both sources on ghost touch. I did speak to my DM and we generally tried to arrive at "what makes the most sense" answers. But perhaps it can still be useful to someone else as is. \$\endgroup\$
    – martixy
    Jun 29, 2023 at 9:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @martixy I've updated my answer to address your issues. There are still some issues where the DM may have to rule one way or the other. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2023 at 11:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ "They're in your possession, but there's no rule which says new items entering your possession become incorporeal." There is such a rule. Equipment worn or carried by an incorporeal creature is also incorporeal as long as that equipment remains in the creature’s possession. I don't see how you could reasonably twist this to imply otherwise. In any case my DM and I arrived at the much same conclusions, if only because they would be the least dysfunctional and absurd. \$\endgroup\$
    – martixy
    Jun 30, 2023 at 6:35

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