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The Immovable Rod's definition (DMG) says, in part:

This flat iron rod has a button on one end. You can use an action to press the button, which causes the rod to become magically fixed in place. Until you or another creature uses an action to push the button again, the rod doesn't move, even if it is defying gravity.

How might one activate an Immovable Rod at a height? Any spell, class or racial feature, or other effect based in the 5e canon is worth discussing.

The specific height is immaterial. Assume the Rod is on a stick.

Also, is there any RAW reason that attaching a pull string to some sort of hinged push thingee wouldn't work? You know, to push the button when you pull the string?

As a counterexample, what won't work is mage hand, since the spell says it can't activate a magic item. As a GM, I'd disallow it, but I'd be open to arguments for why it would work anyway, although cool as moving and activating a Rod with mage hand would be, the Rule of Cool is insufficient.

And for you law-and-order types, this has nothing to do with breaking into castles. No sir. It's for hanging a pulley to load and unload wagons and ships and such. That's it. Loading and unloading only.

Bonus for a way to activate the rod at a distance using a bonus action or multiple rods on a turn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Verify your premise about the possible actuation of Immovable Rod with Mage Hand. Mage hand can't activate a magical item, the latter defined on DMG 141. Immovable Rod's actuation is through the press of a physical button on the device. \$\endgroup\$ – Drunk Cynic Mar 5 '16 at 3:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Part of our fine cheese collection. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 15 '18 at 18:31
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Telekinesis, a level 5 spell, says you can manipulate an object. I would think that the example of opening a door is at least as complex as pushing a button on a rod.

You can exert fine control on objects with your telekinetic grip, such as manipulating a simple tool, opening a door or a container, stowing or retrieving an item from an open container, or pouring the contents from a vial.

Also it does not say that you cannot manipulate a magical object. So I think this one is valid.

Unseen Servant, a level 1 spell, should also be able to do it.

The servant can perform simple tasks that a human servant could do, such as fetching things, cleaning, mending, folding clothes, lighting fires, serving food, and pouring wine.

Again, there is nothing saying that it cannot activate a magical item. (However, it would not be able to read a scroll or drink a potion)

However, you say at a distance and the Unseen Servant needs to be able to reach that location. Some people say the Unseen Servant can hover, others say it cannot.

Ten Foot Poles could also be used to push on a button. You do not specify the distance, but there are no reasons why that would not work. Only it may take a few tries (i.e. Dexterity check on a fairly high DC such as DC 16.)

Missiles could also be thrown at it (rocks, arrows, bolts, etc.) However, that may be quite a feat to hit that tiny little button (although a giant can throw big rocks, he! he!)

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You need a selfie stick.

Any competent artificer should be able to mount a linkage (operated by push rod, light chain, etc.) on the end of the stick that will be raising the Immovable Rod. This would be as simple as "position the Rod where you want it, and pull this lever. Pull again to release." By real world mechanics, this should work for poles at least twenty feet long (electrical linemen use "hot sticks" that long with manipulators on the ends to switch live power lines), and is well within the capability of any competent village blacksmith to fabricate.

Of course, ships routinely mounted what amounted to jib cranes as far back as classical Greek times, so the only sensible reason to need an Immovable Rod for this is so your ship won't display the jib boom (which only a smuggler would be concerned about)...

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Also, is there any RAW reason that attaching a pull string to some sort of hinged push thingee wouldn't work? You know, to push the button when you pull the string?

I found no RAW reasons for that.

Being a bit out of scope of this question - but somehow related ^_^ - I'd suggest that any reason why it can't work while being pressed by contraption (not by PC or NPC) would be one of two cases:

  1. setting-specific and meaningful reasons for workings of magic laws that were implemented in design of current item (some nonsence example: magic in a setting A always requires fuel - a bit of aura sapping from a user of magic item, transmitted in a moment of touch. so as contraption has no aura - contraption can't activate immovable rod, until it would be pressing a button with a bondagedMouse/bondagedMinifiedDwarf(AngryAndSpittingAndCursing))

  2. Second case: theGod/monster/theGreatOldOnes/magicUser who created that rod placed extra measures to ensure it's use in a special way. So it is probable that there is analogue of AI or a guardian, or some uncaring natural force of nature, that is ensuring that it is activated only when used properly.

So, in my opinion, that means that if you are looking for a Complete RAW answer - then your next stop is to inspect your setting book and working of magic specifically; and examine if default artifacts were redefined for your setting - and is there immovable rod in that list of redefined artifacts. If there is no reason for immovable rod be immune to contraption hack - then why not allow it?

If setting is your own - then perhaps you know how magic works in your setting, and perhaps you know a history of creation of this peculiar artifact. If you don't know those things - you can back off to 'default behavior'. Or you can throw dice for them to decide (because magic is illogical and unpredictable)

As a counterexample, what won't work is mage hand, since the spell says it can't activate a magic item.

Well yes. If we assume that there are no RAW reasons for contraption being unable to activate immobile rod, then you could stick something to a button - a bit of wood - and try to affect a wood by Mage Hand. ^_^ Ohh.. that's offtopic, sorry

Bonus part:

Bonus for a way to activate the rod at a distance using a bonus action or multiple rods on a turn.

  1. Use eagles. Gandalf-style. I mean - any PC (in DnD-generic world, at least) can train a pet to do tricks. So train birds to click button on command.

  2. If you are a magic-user with familiar or ranger with his pet - you can 'use eagles' using you special beasts but you have a more precise control over your 'pressers' interaction.

  3. Any summoning spell that allows you to command a flying critter is a good start too.

  4. Another way to do it when you have no magic users - find a way to hire/enslave some tiny creatures - if setting permits - something like imps/pixies. Then make them hang on the rod and activate/deactivate it on command (talking is free action). They can be unreliable but having them in a party can give some interesting interactions and perhaps revolts/betrayals. It's fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ha, some interesting ideas there. I like the miniaturized dwarf. "Look dwarf, I'm going to throw this rod, with you stuck to it, as hard as I can straight up. Press the button at the top of the arc. We're doing it til you get it right." I don't think the mage hand bit of wood trick would work though. It would still be using the hand to activate a magic device, and it says that doesn't work. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Mar 8 '16 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd be damn... a pixie to take care of the button, they'll push that darn button once you use the rod and are over a moat full of crocodiles! \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Mar 9 '16 at 3:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm a bit confused why you don't have the familiar or animal companion option front-and-center in bold at the top of this answer. It's by far the most practical solution and it's 100% RAW. Getting access to Find Familiar is far easier than Telekinesis. \$\endgroup\$ – Doval Apr 15 '17 at 16:13
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These are great ideas! Unfortunately, I can only add cheesy ideas where if I were DM, I'd have a hard time allowing.

  1. Yes, Mage Hand cannot activate a magic item. As others pointed out, can it activate it without truly activating it? What if it brought it up a cliff, then went 10' more and dropped it on to a flat surface, button side down? Or stood it button side up (say between 2 rocks) and then dropped another rock on the button? Or attach some kind of manacle to the rod, have the hand bring it 10' above the desired area and cast knock on the manacle?

  2. What if you put pine tar or honey on the button, then stuck a worm on it and cast a spell like Magic Missile, Magic Stone, Ice Knife, etc. on the worm from a distance?

  3. In a room with 30' or lower ceilings, firmly affix it in or between 2 objects so it is standing up (button up or down). Cast Bones of the Earth underneath it. When it hits the ceiling, it should activate. Though I don't know if the force of the stone pillars count as more than 8000lbs of weight.

  4. Throw or somehow get the rod to a desired position within 120' of you. Cast Bigby's Hand to activate it. Or throw another object near it or if another object like a large rock is already near it - cast Animate Objects on the other object to activate the button?

  5. Catapult spell?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Please take a look at the tour, it's a useful introduction to the site. Stack Exchange isn't a forum, it's a Q&A site. The "answer" form is for answers to the question being asked, and new questions should be asked independently (I think that's why you've been down voted by other users). \$\endgroup\$ – Luris Apr 13 '17 at 6:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer provides various if not terribly well founded ideas on activating a rod at a distance; it's not its fault that the question is a bit of a list question. So I'm declining the "not an answer" flags on it. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Apr 13 '17 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's funny, I always imagine Magic Missiles as magical force that stop in the target, so whatever is behind would not be affected in any way. I would not allow #2 in my game! \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Jun 23 '17 at 6:44

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