The description of Mage Hand says:

You can use your action to control the hand. You can use the hand to manipulate an object, open an unlocked door or container, stow or retrieve an item from an open container, or pour the contents out of a vial (PHB p.246)

while the description of Acid (vial) says:

As an action, you can splash the contents of this vial onto a creature within 5 feet of you or throw the vial up to 20 feet, shattering it on impact. In either case, make a ranged attack against a creature or object, treating the acid as an improvised weapon. (PHB p. 148, "Adventuring Gear")

However Mage Hand also states:

The hand can’t attack, activate magic items, or carry more than 10 pounds.

So the question is can Mage Hand pour out Acid (vial) onto an enemy? And if it can be poured, would the damage require an attack roll from the caster or a dex saving throw from the target? If it is an attack roll, then what does it scale off of and how would proficiency be determined? If it is a saving throw, then how is the DC calculated (either a specific DC to the vial/Mage Hand or the caster's spell save DC)?

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Mage hand can pour out a vial of acid.

Pouring a vial of acid in this way will (generally) not damage an enemy.

It's exactly as the rules you quoted say. You can pour out the contents of a vial. Per the description of Acid, simply pouring isn't enough to do someone--who likely doesn't want acid poured on them--damage.

If you start pouring acid on one who doesn't want to be acidified, they can move, interpose an object, or otherwise evade the damage. In order to damage someone with acid you've got to splash it onto them, an activity that's defined as a ranged attack. And Mage Hand, per its description, can't effect damage on someone trying to not be damaged: it can't attack.

Could one pour the vial over an unsuspecting enemy, or one incapacitated or restrained, thereby causing them damage? I contend it follows the same rules: if you would need to make an attack roll, Mage Hand can't do it. Whether those situations require an attack roll--and therefore are attacks which Mage Hand cannot effect--is a ruling to be made by the GM.

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I would say no. Based on what else you can do, they seem pretty serious about the fact that the Mage Hand can't attack. If you look at the Arcane Trickster subtype, where part of their schtick is about using the Mage Hand creatively, it gives additional actions limited to Tricksters (PHB98):

  • You can stow one object the hand is holding in a container worn or carried by another creature.
  • You can retrieve an object in a container worn or carried by another creature.
  • You can use thieves' tools to pick locks and disarm traps at range.

Those are still pretty far away from attacking. You don't even get the ability to tap someone on the shoulder with it in a distracting way until level 13.

So I would interpret the two rules you cited to mean you could pour the contents of a vial out on the floor with a Mage Hand, but the strength required to attack someone with it is out of your reach, so to speak. If you can't lift 11 pounds, you probably can't accelerate a vial of acid through the air onto someone fast enough to reasonably get them. This applies even if they're tied down - per PHB, attacks against a restrained creature have advantage, but that doesn't make them not attacks.

If I were DM, I would probably let you pour acid onto an inanimate object (like a rope holding up a chandelier...) or, in a noncombat situation where turns aren't a concern and you can take your time, onto someone who was tied down. But RAW doesn't necessarily support even that - I'm not aware of any rule saying you don't have to roll to attack someone outside of combat, and per PHB194:

If there's ever any question whether something you're doing counts as an attack, the rule is simple: if you're making an attack roll, you're making an attack.

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Yes a Mage Hand could pour a vial out, in a deliberate sort of way, above a creature. But since the mage hand cannot make "violent" moves (attacks) it would be easy to avoid (in or out of combat).

Assume an automatic success to avoid the dribbling acid, unless the target is incapacitated or perhaps otherwise unable to duck out of the way, for example, in a cramped vertical shaft. (Even then, a had or a helmet might offer protection.)

But common sense dictates if acid can be poured on the target's skin, that will cause damage. And the 5E SRD states that liquids harmful to a creature will damage it if poured on it.

Holy water damages undead creatures and evil outsiders almost as if it were acid....to use it against an incorporeal creature, you must open the flask and pour the holy water out onto the target. (http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/SRD:Holy_Water)

Avoid Absurdity

Interpreting the Mage Hand attack exclusion to preclude it performing any harmful action leads to absurdity. Mage Hand can "open an unlocked container" (PH 256), but what if the container is trapped, and would damage an enemy if opened?

A more reasonable reading is that Mage Hand cannot make sudden moves that would be required to hit a creature. It can interact with objects that in turn can harm creatures.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your quote from dandwiki does not match the actual SRD and this drastically changes your answer. You may want to revisit. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 9 '19 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @NautArch. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Sep 9 '19 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ dandwiki strikes again :( \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 9 '19 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that any article with the prefix "SRD:" on dandwiki is referring to the 3.5e SRD anyway, as noted on the linked page itself. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 10 '19 at 5:46

By RAW, no: Mage Hand can't attack. But if this came up in one of my games, I'd house-rule Mage Hand to act like a creature with a STR of 1, a BAB of 0, and a base damage of 1d2 nonlethal (or whatever that translates to in 5e): it can lift about 5 lbs; it has a -5 to hit, so it's unlikely to hit anything that's able to resist; and it has a -5 to damage, so it can't do anything worse than a light slap. I'd model the poured acid stream as a thrown weapon with a range increment of 5'. If the character wants to use Mage Hand to pour acid on something, I'd let it try, but the attack penalties make it unlikely to accomplish much other than damaging the floor.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a surprisingly elegant solution. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Jan 14 '17 at 17:25

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