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Old Screeds

Pint-size Prankage [17 June 06] More fun with Shrink Item.

Welcome to Part 3 of my Four Part Series on Shrink Item, perhaps the most versatile third level spell in Dungeons and Dragons. Here are still more ideas on how to get the most mileage out of the spell.

Bottle that boat. It is hard to plan ahead and give in-game examples of how this might work, but if you've ever moved a sofa or a fridge through a narrow door or up a flight of stairs, then you can see the value. If you ever need to get a big thing through a narrow bottleneck (like building a ship in a bottle), then Shrink Item may be just the ticket.

Use while shrunk. When a person is enlarged or reduced (via Enlarge Person and Reduce Person), their hit points do not change. There are size adjustments to Strength and Dexterity, though. So the question is, how much do an object's physical properties change while an item is shrunk? Does an item have the same hardness and hit points when shrunk? That's a question for your DM, I suppose, but in my opinion, shrunk items should retain their hardness and hit points. If you reduced hardness and hit points to 1/16th normal, then items would become too fragile. The spell does not say that shrunk items are especially delicate. I think the spell description would have to say so if the spell made things fragile. And besides, no other Reduce spell alters hit points (unless polymorphed to a form with a higher or lower Con).

So think of the implications. Say that a shrunk item retains its hardness and hit points. If you make a long sword that is 16 times longer than usual and shrink it down to 1/16th of its size, can you use it as a normal long sword? But would it then have the hit points of the really big long sword? The advantage of such a weapon would be in its resistance to sundering ... if you are going up against a foe known to sunder, this is a great counter.

Or what if you made a suit of plate armor that was 16 times your size. Shrink it down to 1/16th size, and put it in the cloth-like form ... can you wear such a suit of reduced cloth-steel armor? If so, what are the stats on such a suit? It's made of thin cloth, but is as tough as a big suit of armor. If your DM lets you wear this, you two can work out the armor check penalty, arcane spell failure, and so on.

Hey! Could a druid wear clothlike armor shrunk down from a suit of giant stone or wood or steel armor, and thus get around the prohibition against metal armor?

Can you shrink down a big jug to use as a potion vial that's really hard to break? Or make windows that are shatter-resistant? Rope that's as thin as a thread but as strong as a chain?

Fuel for animation. Pity the poor necromancer. He has to rely on found corpses to create his foul undead army. If there are no bodies lying around, he is out of luck. But with Shrink Item, he can carry his army in his pocket, then, as needed, unshrink and animate corpses to his heart's delight.

The same is true for any caster of the Animate Objects spell. You have to hope you find an object worth animating when you prep the spell. But if you could create an inert war machine -- picture wheels and barbed chains and blades -- and carry it around shrunk, then you can unshrink it and animate it anywhere. No more reliance on DM flavor text to mention a tapestry or handy statue!

Tension is your friend. What happens when a shrunk item expands in a confined place? Say you put a shrunk glass mirror in an iron box. When the spell ends, what happens? If the spell ends, then the mirror is forced into a space too small for it, and either it breaks, the iron box breaks, or both do. OR, if you are reluctant to say the spell can break an object by squeezing or pushing, then maybe the spell does not end until there is room for the item.

It seems to me that of these two options -- the spell ends, or it doesn't -- one is clearly the better choice. I can understand not wanting to allow breakage by squeezing, and therefore ruling that the item remains shrunk -- but that resolution will not work. What if you dispel the magic? What if you bring it into an anti-magic zone? No, the spell must end.

So when the spell ends, if a shrunk object finds itself constrained, then there is a tension to resolve. I suggest that the object with the lesser hardness is deformed or broken, as needed. The mirror in a metal box shatters and spills out.

But this opens up all kinds of possibilities. Faced with a locked wooden door, drive iron spikes into the stone floor, brace your shrunk metal ladder between the spikes and the door, and expand it! What gives way, the door or the ladder? If your DM likes you (and if your ladder is made of admantine), the door opens, or is broken through.

What about shrunk water in a sealed steel flask? When the spell ends, if the flask does not burst, then the water remains inside under great pressure. Maybe you need an admantine flask to contain it. But what happens when you open the flask (maybe with a Knock spell so that your hand is not ripped off when you uncork this toy)? How far will that water spray? What's the effect of it? What if it were acid in there, or alchemical fire? Fun!

How's this -- take a pipe made of admantine, sealed at one end. Shrink down some clay, so that maybe half the pipe is filled with shrunken clay. Seal it off with, say, a plug of diamond, using a major creation spell. Maybe there's a ridge or lip or groove inside the pipe to brace the diamond plug against. Put a steel ball in the pipe on the other side of the plug. Unshrink the clay. It can't go anywhere, so you've got a huge mass of clay compressed into a relatively tiny space. The pressure is incredible. Then dispel the diamond plug, or let it expire. BOOM! Instant cannon! How far will that steel cannonball fly? And with what force? Have fun finding out!

Well, that exhausts my ideas on what to do with your Shrink Item spell. But I have some warnings and caveats on the topic, which I'll share with you next time!

Feedback! [24 June 06] I got a comment from Bill Trost:

I think you've overly constrained the possible outcomes of a Shrink Item ending when the item is in a confined space. A couple other interpretations come to mind. The simple one is to treat the item as though it was temporarily on another plane; the end of the spell in a confining space would either cause the item to appear in the nearest open space, or make it trapped on another plane.

Another approach is to use the description of Enlarge Person, which states that the target "is constrained without harm by the materials enclosing it -- the spell cannot be used to crush" if it fails its strength check (and items have no strength check). Thus, the shrunken item would stay at least partially shrunk. As a perversion, the item could reach its maximum allowable size in each axis -- a sword in a small box might grow wider and thicker, but not longer.

The second approach begs the question of what happens to a rolled-up cloth item (like your shrunken ladder in an earlier screed) that's stuffed in a hole in a rock. Does the item remain rolled up after expansion?
I read Bill's comment after I wrote the last part of the series, in which I came to the same conclusion. I agree that your interpretation is a very valid one, Bill, and were I running a campaign, I would follow your idea. Treat the situation like Dim Door, that is, inflict 1d6 damage to the expanding object and shunt it off to the closest available space. I'm not so keen on letting things stay partly shrunk -- how could that be, for example, in an anti-magic zone? Displacing things is probably the more balanced answer (although I am still in love with the admantine cannon idea!) Thanks, Bill!

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