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For example, could characters build a simple self-propelled, steerable wagon using either magic spells or magic items to rotate and guide the wheels, with rules as written from Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 core rulebooks + rules supplements (PHB I and II, DMG I and II, MM, Complete Adventurer, Arms & Equipment Guide, Unearthed Arcana)?

I'm thinking along the lines of transport for the player characters and their stuff (a mini-van or station wagon!), although it certainly wouldn't be a stretch to add ranged weapons to the vehicle to make a tank.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan - I'll limit the question to D&D 3.5 rules. \$\endgroup\$ – RobertF Nov 25 '14 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's likely to still be closed as too broad, though, and might even earn some downvotes for ignoring existing magic items (e.g. apparatus of Kwalish... ur... the crab). Just a heads-up. You might want to make it more specific, especially if you've something in mind (e.g. "How can I build a helicopter in D&D 3.5?"). \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 25 '14 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Specifics are better, even if they're how questions: "How can I build a magic-powered tank in D&D 3.5?" is a perfectly valid question, narrowing it by purpose (e.g. war, transportation) and locomotion (e.g. tracked, wheeled, on rails, lighter-than-air). What do you really want to build? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 25 '14 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the direction @HeyICanChan is steering you here (I swear, no pun intended). Give us a specific vehicle you want to build - amphibious armored horseless wagon, perhaps - and this question will be so fun to answer. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Nov 25 '14 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ What resources are at the characters disposal? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 25 '14 at 15:47
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In Arms And Equipment Guide.

Self-Propelled Vehicle: By animating the wheels, steering mechanism, and other moving parts on a vehicle, it’s possible to build a vehicle that doesn’t require dray creatures. Any land vehicle of Large size or smaller can become self-propelled, gaining a speed of 60 feet. It still moves under the direction of the driver and retains its usual maneuverability. Unlike with a normal casting of the animate objects spell, the vehicle does not become a construct and does not gain the ability to fight on its own. Caster Level: 11th; Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, animate objects; Market Price: 132,000 gp; Weigh --

If you want it faster.

Speedy Wheels: This pair of wooden wheels fits most wheeled vehicles, increasing the speed of one so equipped by 10 feet. The wheels must be placed on the same axle to be effective. Regardless of how many speedy wheelsa vehicle bears, its speed increases by only 10 feet. Caster Level: 3rd; Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, expeditious retreat; Market Price: 100 gp; Weight: 20 lb. each.

When limited to Player Handbook only.

Your best bet is finding a spell that propels the vehicle such as a level one halfling sorcerer who sits in a small cart and spams Unseen Servant to push him around. When you get level 6 spells you get animate object, which would be your preferred method. Then you could use craft wondrous item to create the above self-propelled vehicle.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Michael, this is what I was looking for. My take on the rules for crafting a self-propelled vehicle in the A&EG is that it's a labor-intensive & expensive process. It looks like a wizard can't simply cast a bunch of Animate Objects spells on a fleet of carts and carriages and create a motorized army in a few weeks. \$\endgroup\$ – RobertF Nov 25 '14 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your welcome. It definitely a labor-intensive & expensive process. Then barring a high level wizard using wish & willing to burn through mountains of XP it would be virtually impossible for a single wizard to create a fleet in a few weeks. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Downey Nov 25 '14 at 18:40
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A carriage is either Large or Huge, provides cover while having (or having easily carved) arrow slits and viewports and such, and has good attack stats, hardness 5, and a 60ft move. Animate objects is a core spell (Clr/Bard 6) and can be made permanent. Also, it shouldn't be too hard extrapolate a carriage variant of the Apparatus of the Crab, which uses animate objects as the base spell to give it movement. (Crab-tank link courtesy of Hey I Can Chan.)

Depending on your DM's interpretation of phantom steed, a pair of them (cast "for" the heaviest party member) might be able to pull a carriage until you're high enough level to animate them. Two castings of mount can acquire you two light horses for 2 hours per caster level and can be accomplished by a first level character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer too: with a few building block spells like Animate Objects and Permanency a wizard should be able to create a self-propelled vehicle, although some handwaving from the DM is required to allow all the moving parts to work together. Alas, the Arms & Equipment Guide suggests a self-propelled vehicle is a wondrous item and hence very expensive to build. I get the feeling the authors arbitrarily decided to make them expensive to build to avoid players building magic propelled tanks and helicopters. Which stinks but I understand why they made the ruling. \$\endgroup\$ – RobertF Nov 25 '14 at 20:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RobertF the above does indeed create a self-propelled carriage. However, the only thing you can do is give it an order to attack something. You could have something that can outrun them, and have your carts chase that. They may, however, not be all that good at carrying stuff (it is a chaos spell, after all). But, it does give you a self-propelled carriage! \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Nov 26 '14 at 3:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk At a crafting table, combine a carriage, a fishing pole, and a goblin. Enchant with animate objects. (The goblin may be substituted with a kobold for taste.) :D \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Nov 26 '14 at 13:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 Madness! That may animate the fishing pole! Attach the fishing pole and goblin after animation. \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Nov 26 '14 at 14:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk "Attack the Eastern Horizon". Targets for attacking with Animate Objects are limited only to nouns. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 8 '14 at 4:14
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Of Course There is a Way

...and that way is Necromancy, where all magical perpetual motion machines unlive. If you just want a magic-powered transport, hitch skeleton horses to your wagon. That's not what you asked though, and necromancy (of course) has an answer to the exact thing you wanted. Specifically, for "how do I propel something," you will be very hard pressed to do better than the spell haunt shift from Libris Mortis.

Haunt shift permanently converts whatever undead you have lying around into a "haunting presence." You convert a caster-level-dependent amount of hit dice, but nothing with more than 9HD (which is a limitation that matters, because 10HD would give you jet fighters. Which is also possible, but out of scope here).

"Haunting presences" are described in exactly one place: a sidebar on page 6 of Libris Mortis. Haunting presences are where an undead takes up residence in some item or location. We care about items. They can manifest near the item, which is somewhat underwhelming as they are almost impossible to destroy otherwise, but does mean that your car may come with a mandatory zombie butler. More importantly, the haunting presence gets an ability called "Poltergeist," which lets it animate its object's moving parts. What exactly the limits of this are are not well defined, but "a wagon can roll out of the stable" and "a crossbow can cock and fire." The object's movement is limited to how fast the original undead could move in its normal form, and the max object size is huge.

So, what do you do with all that? Here's a six-step recipe for your very own self-propelled wagon!

  1. Buy a wagon.
  2. Get ready to cast haunt shift, animate dead, and lesser planar binding.
  3. Bind yourself up a canoloth (MoP). Or get whatever else; you're looking for fast move speeds and lesser planar binding only goes up to 6 HD. Go crazy. Don't worry about whether you'll be able to bind it though, because next you're going to...
  4. Kill it quickly. You don't even need to feel bad; canoloths are waaay more evil than all the goblins you waded through to get to this level.
  5. Animate dead the canoloth corpse into a skeleton.
  6. Haunt shift the skele-cano-loth into the wagon.

You now have a wagon with a move speed of 50 ft. You have exactly the same control over it as you do over a skeleton created with animate dead, permanently unless you release it.

Obviously you can optimize that a lot more, but the basic version is pretty basic.

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