Problem: Chaotic good bard wants to use an armor made literally of beggar's skin and blood of a lawful good dragon. Item description says "only the most evil of humans could wear such a vile item" but in the Baldur's Gate video game (which is loosely based on 2nd edition AD&D and some 3.5 additions) there's a High Level Ability (HLA) for Bards and Thieves called "Use Any Item" (UAI). It allows use of items regardless of class, alignment or racial restrictions, etc. Mechanically the bard can wear it, though it's unclear to me if that's an oversight or if the ability is supposed to work like that.

Ingame description of the ability makes no mention of alignment one way or another

"Rogues take pride in their ability to adapt and make clever use of whatever is at hand. This ability is an extension of that basic skill. Once learned, the effect is permanent. The ability allows the rogue to use any item, even items that are typically restricted to one class. This allows the rogue to use everything from wands and scrolls to mighty weapons that none but a fighter could otherwise use."

I assume the game designers came up with it themselves, but as they're unlikely to be available for questioning I figure if I can find something equivalent in any pen-and-paper game system that is better described that would help me make a decision here.

Over here Kaigen speculated that

"It might be extrapolated from the "Use Magic Device" skill from 3.X, which thieves and bards were the main classes with access to. UMD allowed you, with a high enough skill check, to do things like activate items without the proper command word and to fake various prerequisites, such as race, class, alignment, etc. By epic levels, it was easy to have a skill modifier high enough to reliably use just about any item you fancied."

But no one in the thread seemed to know for sure. Even if that is the origin it doesn't really help as the alignment restriction on the object wasn't the object rejecting the user unless of a particular alignment (where it could perhapps be tricked by UMD skills into thinking you had a different alignment) - but instead from a presumption that anyone else couldn't "handle" the evilness of it all.

Because of the way it worked in-game I always interpreted that ability as basically a rogue learning to cope with the weird magical energies regarding the nature of the artifact and using it for his own purposes what ever those may be. An evil bard can wield a paladin sword while hunting angels, and a good bard using an evil artifact that would corrupt normal people can go hunt evil creatures.

What is the D&D ability that Baldur's Gate's "Use Any Item" feature is based on, and how would that feature interact with an item like this armor?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Reopened because of BESW's edit. We work best with specific solvable questions. Given that your question requires inference of a video game's intent of an adaptation of an ancient system simplified to work in said video game, I'll simply respond with Leinster's quote from Pirates of Ersatz: "A practical man can always make what he wants to do look like a noble sacrifice of personal inclinations to the welfare of the community. I've decided that I've got to be practical myself, and that's one of the rules. How about breakfast?" \$\endgroup\$ Dec 31, 2013 at 12:57

3 Answers 3


The item description you bring is unclear. Is "only the most evil of humans could wear such a vile item" a part of the item's mechanical aspects? Or just a description of the item?

If the former, D&D's Use Magical Device skill can bypass it, since it explicitly allows a character to activate an item's power regardless of alignment:

Emulate an Alignment

Some magic items have positive or negative effects based on the user’s alignment. Use Magic Device lets you use these items as if you were of an alignment of your choice.

Other systems that don't have alignments as part of their mechanics will probably not have any such feature.

However, if this is only a part of the item's description, then I would say that any character can wear it - it's not a question of activation - but it's a morally reprehensible thing to do. So your Chaotic Good Bard, if he uses it, is perhaps not as Good as he thinks he is. Is he wearing it because he feels the end justifies the means? Wearing it can further Good, by doing evil? This could lead to a great story around character development and fall from grace. But don't mix game mechanics questions (which should be stated explicitly in the item description) with moral choices.

Without knowing the specific details of the item in question, in the context of the system it's in, it's hard to give an answer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answer, much appreciated. The game doesn't allow anyone who doesn't have UAI (and isn't evil) to use that item (which if done intentionally would suggest emulation should work) but come to think of it it's more likely that it just wasn't given that much thought. In a video game it's hard to ask for justification rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/30500/… - so instead there's restrictions that make general sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – Julix
    Dec 31, 2013 at 13:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Then again the UAI applies for big swords and heavy armor and mundane things, which makes me think it's more about doing what ever is necessary to succeed, rather than emulating (unless that is what's necessary, then that too :-D ) \$\endgroup\$
    – Julix
    Dec 31, 2013 at 13:30

Are there any mechanics that actually prevent the item from being used by a nonevil character? Even if there is, nothing prevents the bard from using it except failing a Use Magic Device check (or the equivalent in whatever D&D edition you're using).

But even a successful UMD check -or the lack of any mechanics to prevent the character from using the item- doesn't shield a character from other consequences of the item's use. The bard's use of such a vile item as this is likely to eventually cause alignment drift. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that your player might use the item in a way that prevents his alignment from drifting -players can come up with some very interesting things, given the opportunity- but it's going to have to be very impressive.

This also assumes that the item doesn't have any corrupting properties of its own. Many artifacts do, and that could make things even more complicated for the bard.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's human skin covered in dragon blood and somehow magically affected. Even if there's nothing magically corrupting in it, I could see how wearing something like that would be hugely desensitizing... \$\endgroup\$
    – Julix
    Jan 1, 2014 at 4:11

Unless there is a specific task that requires the item to complete, I would imagine your character wouldn't want to use it, even with lisardggY's answer in effect. If the character is just choosing to wear the suit for no other reason than it's the most mechanically effective, then the DM might deem that as an evil act and thus your character's good alignment is corrupted.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess it depends partially on how well the character ingame knows how effective the armor is. +20% magic resistance and +4 to saving throws is huge because of the many resist/save or die spells. The bard is about to fight a really powerful (extremely evil) mage, and his thinking is that the innocent lives that went into it ought not to have died for nothing. In their life time these people were oppressed and powerless, including up to their death. The bard solved the murder case, hunted down the killers and avenged their death. But those things happened to them. Now they're happening...;-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Julix
    Jan 1, 2014 at 4:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ But I like the corruption idea! :-) After that mage battle the bard either finds a sacred way to destroy the armor so that the avenged beggar's souls can finally be put to rest; or has to come up with some new rationalizations really fast or else :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Julix
    Jan 1, 2014 at 4:08

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