Ball bearings are one of those completely overlooked yet incredibly useful items from the gear and equipment chart. As common items, they are very inexpensive but inherently nonmagical.
Quite frankly, D&D is one of those games that makes you overlook the “lower-level” items and characters. D&D rewards success with power and rewards power with greater difficulty.
Therefore, players get into the habit of thinking the more inherently powerful something is, the better it is. That same line of thinking then dictates that something that is not powerful is not good at all.
Do not fall into this trap, my friends. The most powerful things are knowledge, wits, and will. With a little thought and effort, the greatest of foes can be defeated with something as small, simple, and unassuming as the ball bearing.
This post is about ball bearings: how can you get them, how can you use them, and how can we homebrew some cool variations?
What Are Ball Bearings in DnD 5e?
Ball bearings are small metal spheres that come in a Burglar’s Pack. They have about a million different uses. The Stat block for the humble ball bearing assumes you have bought a bag of 1,000. These are very small little spheres, slightly larger than a BB gun pellet but smaller than a standard sling bullet or toy marble.
That stablock provides a single use for them: to spill out on the ground in a 5-foot square in order to trip anyone walking through the area. While this is funny and useful, it falls short of the truly Home Alone-styled chaos you can create with these wonderful little toys.
As an action, you can spill these tiny metal balls from their pouch to cover a level, square area that is 10 feet on a side. A creature moving across the covered area must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or fall prone. A creature moving through the area at half speed doesn’t need to make the save.
You can get ball bearings in the usual way. They can be purchased through the standard equipment guide for 1 gp. While this may seem like a hefty price for a common item, they are a bit of a specialty tool made from a valuable material.
At 2 pounds, they do carry a bit of weight, so you won’t want to grab 100 bags out of the gate. (Unless you have a bag of holding, at which point you should absolutely buy 100 bags of ball bearings.)
Ball bearings also come standard in a Burglar’s Pack, which should give you a clue as to what you can use ball bearings for.
How To Use Ball Bearings in DnD 5e
The only limit to what you can use ball bearings for is your imagination and ability to argue with your DM. While not an exhaustive list, we made a hefty one here for you:
- Throw the ball bearings on the ground as listed in the item description.
- Use the ball bearings as the target for individual light spells. If you want to cast light on an unwilling target, they have to fail a saving throw. If you want to spend a half-hour casting light up to six times per minute, you can enchant 180 ball bearings and then throw them in a scatter so the villain can’t hide. You can also keep the ball bearings in their bag in order to hide the light until you are ready.
- Leave the ball bearings behind you like breadcrumbs. If you can position them in small piles or somehow detect them, you can trace your way back through a maze.
- Put a few in your sling, and shoot a 15-foot-cone blast of ball bearings instead of a single shot. Your targets would need to make a Dexterity save of 8 + your Dexterity modifier + your proficiency bonus to avoid damage.
- If you are fighting a construct, you can make a sleight-of-hand check to dump the ball bearings into the gears of the automaton and grind its movement to a halt.
- Throw the ball bearings one at a time to distract a sentry.
- Replace a money pouch with ball bearings — they will weigh about the same.
- As the focus of a Command spell. Command works by yelling a single word, so Just yell “Gather!” as you dump the bag on the ground and watch the city guard pause to pick them all up.
- Use ball bearings as the object of a Catapult spell.
- Stuff a glass jar with blasting powder and ball bearings to make the kind of thing that will get Black Citadel on a watch list if I type it out. After you throw it, all you will need to do is ignite it. This can be done with a handy cantrip, such as Prestidigitation, Produce Flame, Create Bonfire, Thaumaturgy, or the like. Everyone, structures included, in the radius of the blast will take damage in accordance with the blasting powder plus an additional 1d6 piercing damage per bag of ball bearings you stuffed inside.
- Use ball bearings as the object of a Locate Object spell after slipping one inside the villain’s pocket.
Magical Ball Bearings
The following is something that some of the dark artificers here at Black Citadel came up with for your merry mayhem-making machinations.
Tracking Ball Bearings
These ball bearings each come with a faint aura of transmutation that can only be seen with Detect Magic. You can use these magical ball bearings to chart your path or guide you in the dark. You use them to… get your bearings, so to speak.
Osburn the Generous’s Bag of Ball Bearings
This bag of ball bearings was made by a wild magic sorcerer who devised a means to channel their wild magic surge into an object. Once freed from this chaos, the sorcerer went on a merry magical spree for the rest of their days, quietly allowing all of their wild magic to be trapped within a ball bearing.
The result is a bag of ball bearings that carry within them the stored wild magic surges of a wild magic sorcerer after 20 years of wild magic with no consequences.
Roll a 1d100 when acquiring this item. That is how many ball bearings remain. A player may spend an action to throw a single ball bearing to the ground at their feet. When they do, roll for the Wild Magic surge effect in the wild magic origin for the sorcerer class. If the character holding Osburn’s bag on their person casts a spell of 1st level or higher, there is a 10% chance one of the ball bearings will release its wild magic surge.
Diviner’s Bag of Ball Bearings
(Rare, requires attunement by a spellcaster)
As an action, the character attuned to this bag can grab a handful of these ball bearings and cast them on the ground. By studying the pattern of their fall, the bearer is able to benefit as if they have cast the Augury spell.
While the bearings are on the ground in this pattern, they will also tremble if a lie is spoken within 30 feet of them.
We hope we were able to give you something you can use in your game tonight whether you are a player or a DM.
Roll well, my friends!
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.