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In the documentation for Intelligent Items, the Lesser Powers and Greater Powers that grant a spell use all have a frequency label (either 'at will' or 'N/day'), but for the Dedicated Powers, only two have a frequency listed. For the ones that don't have a frequency, how often can they be used?

For example, an intelligent sword with the Dedicated Power of lightning bolt and a Purpose to slay Giants, can it cast a lightning bolt at will (every round of combat if the enemies are Giants)?

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Typically, an intelligent item's dedicated power has no use limit

Obviously, some dedicated powers have use limits—the greater shout 3/day and true resurrection 1/month, for example—but most don't. That means, when an intelligent item has a dedicated power, if the intelligent item believes using the power will further its special purpose, the intelligent item can take a standard action to use the dedicated power. Really, as often as it wants to. The Dungeon Master's Guide on Dedicated Powers says

A dedicated power operates only when an intelligent item is in pursuit of its special purpose. This determination is always made by the item. It should always be easy and straightforward to see how the ends justify the means. That is to say, if the player’s reasoning for how a particular action serves the item’s purpose is not completely believable, the item won’t allow it. Unlike its other powers, an intelligent item can refuse to use its dedicated power even if the owner is dominant.... (270)

Just so we're clear, though, when an intelligent item is introduced to the campaign, the DM has added an NPC to the party with its own personality and agenda, and it's usually a sharply limited personality and agenda. An item with a special purpose—mandatory if the item has a dedicated power—is even more single-minded than most intelligent items yet, for example, has the Intelligence to put forth a well-reasoned argument that all gnomes should die, the Wisdom to know when it's time to go kill some gnomes, and the Charisma to convince its wielder that the whole gnome-killing thing is awesome—pick two! These are semi-creatures with two mental stats of at least 17 and the third at 10 that will explain these things to the wielder all the time telepathically. So if the wielder wants Gnomoregnomes to shut up and use its awesome dedicated power, the wielder better get with the gnome-killing.

And if the intelligent item doesn't think that using the dedicated power will further the special purpose, the item just won't employ its dedicated power. In most cases, an intelligent item with a special purpose and dedicated power can afford to play the long game.

  • The intelligent item is functionally immortal. If the wielder dies or loses possession of the item because the wielder wasn't pursuing the item's purpose, maybe the next poor sap who wields it will be more open to, for example, killing all the gnomes, y'know?

  • The intelligent item is extremely valuable. If the wielder dies or loses possession of the item because he's halfheartedly going along with the item's goals—like, the wielder killing the occasional gnome of opportunity but really offing kobolds by the tribe—, the item is either smart enough or wise enough or both to know that being captured by its hated foes means it'll probably be sold by those foes to a buyer far away from that group of foes but near enough to a different group of identical foes because that'll be where the item's most valuable. (Remember that any intelligent magic item with a special purpose is worth at least 63,300 gp without adding the cost of the actual magic item! That's a lot of cash to pass up just because a sword hates you.) For example, extremely practical surface elves would probably be totally comfortable selling a magic item with the special purpose slay elves to svirfneblin who will then use the weapon against the drow.

"We're surrounded by giants! My sword hates giants! Cool!"

Probably. Remember those mental ability scores? If a creature that's wielding a magic item that has a special purpose to slay giants is beset by the giants in the middle of Giantville, although the item might be happy to slay peon giants for a while—especially if it's been some time since the last giant-slaying—, eventually the magic item will no longer be content slaying just any giant. No, sooner or later, the item'll probably want the wielder to go after the giant tribal leader (or, in the case of storm giants, the head of the family). And if the wielder insists on instead murdering the giants' minions or slaughtering noncombatant giants, the item's likely to lecture the wielder (telepathically) about how it's supposed to be employed then teach the wielder a lesson by not using its dedicated power unless worthier foes are at least promised if not delivered.

For consideration only—not an excuse to be a jerk

It sounds like there might be some concern about the intelligent item's dedicated power being abused. If the PC's making a good faith effort to satiate the intelligent item's bloodlust (or whatever its special purpose), then the item should routinely and reliably make use of its dedicated power on the PC's behalf when the PC's furthering that special purpose. Unless the item was randomly rolled, the DM's introduced to the campaign a powerful magic item with a big neon sign on it that says You should go have adventures doing this and if the PC is doing that, the reward is the intelligent item using its dedicated power for the PC's benefit.

So the above perspective is for when things are getting out of hand. I can't know what out of hand is in other groups, but in mine it would include lying to the intelligent item to get it to use its dedicated power at inappropriate times or threatening the item in an effort to get it to use its dedicated power. Both should have repercussions, just like lying to or threatening any NPC does. Velma doesn't lie to Scooby-Doo about rewarding him with Scooby Snacks, and Fred never says to Scooby-Doo, "Listen, dog, help us catch the amusement park phantom or I'll sock you!" Treat the smart, wise, personable magic item with the same respect.

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Dedicated Powers are at-will - but not the player's will. The description in the DMG reads:

A dedicated power operates only when an intelligent item is in pursuit of its special purpose. This determination is always made by the item.

Dedicated Powers only apply for intelligent items that have a special purpose, and these special purposes are normally pretty clear-cut. The DMG specifically points out that the justification for using a Dedicated Power should be "easy and straightforward" - which means "ah, but if I slay this elf, it will incite the elven nation to destroy the giants, which is your special purpose!" and suchlike probably won't work.

Furthermore, the same paragraph clarifies that the item - which in this case means the DM - decides when and how to use the Dedicated Power, even if the wielder (rather than the item) is dominant.

So, then, in your example - yes, the item might choose to cast lightning bolt in every round of combat against giants - but, equally, it might not. Especially if it's not the ideal thing to do - allies in the line of fire, giants with electricity resistance, that sort of thing - or if the item doesn't want to. Perhaps this intelligent sword would rather slay the giants in melee combat, reserving its electrical vengeance only for the chief of this giant tribe?

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As I'm the GM, my own opinion on this matter is that yes, if an intelligent item has a Dedicated Power of a spell effect, it's 'at will' if not listed (meaning the item can use it as frequently as it wants, though it's the item's will that determines frequency, not the character).

The reasoning for that is the cost of that ability; taking the rules for magic item creation, acting as a 'use-activated' magic item, that would be spell level × caster level × 1,800gp. lightning bolt and fireball are both 3rd-level spells, and the damage suggests a 10th level caster. 3 × 10 × 2,000 = 60,000gp. And that's the cost associated with the intelligent item having that power.

Testing on the waves of exhaustion ability too: that's a 7th level spell. A wizard would have to be at least 13th level to cast that. 7 × 13 × 2,000 = 182,000gp. The listed cost for that Dedicated Power is 164,000gp, so pretty close.

So the cost is pretty similar, and prohibitively high for low-level characters to get their hands on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you, as the DM, want the character wielding this weapon to be able to cast lightning bolt more often in a day than a spell caster with that spell? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 13 '16 at 2:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ If characters are high-level enough to have 60,000gp laying around, and access to a 10th level wizard who can craft for them, they can get a lightning bolt firing necklace crafted if they wanted to. If they bought an intelligent item for 60,000gp, I think it should have the same benefit, no? Now, usually intelligent items are found, not bought, so the intrinsic value of it may not be that important to the players, and I could make it a custom dedicated power that's only 3/day for a lesser cost. But for the SRD examples, I think use-activated matches the cost required better. \$\endgroup\$ – MidnightLightning Jan 13 '16 at 7:36

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