On Skill Deconstruction: Use Magic Device

Use Magic Device is a skill reflecting activating magical items. It uses the Charisma stat as a modifier

There is a long precedent for this skill both in literature (re: Cudgel) and in the game. A D20 resolution works fine, but it could be improved by having some tables or ability to produce partial successes.

Thank everyone for staying with me and commenting. Up next, a quick glance at some other skill systems and how they handle various things.


  1. These skill posts have really helped me out when looking at my own Pathfinder game - what's worth keeping, what's not, what pisses me off and why. I'm struggling a lot with the system because of things like this, and a lot of it I end up handwaving just out of fatigue with the rolling. It's been great to see some clear explanations of what's necessary to keep the game going and what isn't.

  2. For skill stuff, take a look at the bit of the ACKS rulebook talking about why some rolls are d20, some are d6 and some are 2d6. It ties in pretty tightly with what you talked about at the start of your skill series about randomness.

  3. Wow. I actually strongly disagree with you here. I think this is possibly the dumbest skill on the list.

    First, you can fool the magic item into thinking you're something you're not? Does it get a Sense Motive check? How does this even make sense?

    Second, how is this a skill? How do you get better at it?

    Third, why is this something some characters are better at than others? I strongly believe that magic items should either be typed (only wizards can use wands) or un-typed (anyone can use a bag of holding). Muddling that messes with all sorts of things for me.

    Fourth, in d20 and Pathfinder, this is fairly binary. In Pathfinder, you at least have the mishap results to ease that a bit. But, I really don't understand why this isn't just a class ability of rogues. "You can use magic items as though a wizard of 4 levels less."

    1. This is a core component of why third edition is mechanical, while earlier editions are fantastic.

      The reason you don't understand this skill is because you're attempting to use scientific realism to model a fantasy realm.

      If the entire world is on the back of a literal turtle shell crawling through the center of a giant worm, you don't worry about how the turtle gets its calorie content met.

      The reason this skill exists is because of the numerous references contained in the source material for the game. Cudgel, a thief, regularly reads scrolls. Same with Fafhrd and the Mouser, and others too numerous to name.

    2. Okay, I don't even know who Cudgel is. But I can tell you that Bilbo wasn't going to be using Gandalf's staff. And, the Mouser was a wizard/thief, so I'm not sure the example applies.

      Personally, I find that letting any schmoe figure out how to use a wand lessens the fantasy for me. It's not about scientific realism. It's specifically about magic not being scientific. Magic is magical, and you have to be a magical person to use it. You can wave that stick around all day shouting the same words the wizard does. But, without the spark, it is just a stick.

    3. Cudgel is the main character in two of Jack Vance's novels of the Dying Earth.

      You know, that little series of books which is where Dungeons and Dragons gets its entire magic system.

      So, yeah, there's a precedent.

      It's not any schmoe - it's thieves in OSR games (which fits with the source) and class skills in 3e, which are limited also.

    4. Ah. That makes some sense, then.

      Of course, I hate the D&D/Vancian magic system with the passion of 1,000 suns, so maybe that explains my problem.

      If it's a thief thing, maybe it should just go back to being a class ability. "Thieves can use wands and scrolls as a wizard of 4 levels less." Makes a hell of a lot more sense to me.

    5. So you hate something you've never read? I've played 4e for a year weekly, I know what it is I don't like.

    6. Oh, I don't hate Dying Earth. I've just never gotten around to reading it. I want to someday, but nothing I've heard about it has ever made it a priority for me.

      No, what I hate is the D&D magic system. Memorization, auto-success, spell levels, spell slots, the whole shebang. My point was simply that if the "thieves are good at reading scrolls" concept comes from the same source as "mages forget spells when they cast them", it probably explains why both rub me the wrong way. It's not the magic I want.

    7. I felt that way until I read The Dying Earth. The source material is a wonderful path to enlightenment.

    8. Okay, fair enough. I will move it up my reading list.

      Incidentally, is there a reason you skipped Spellcraft? Or did I just miss it?


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