Communicating with other characters is more than essential for D&D. It’s how the game works; it’s what we do. Not every interaction is face to face though; sometimes we need a way to reach out to someone across a vast distance.
Well, while you can’t pull out your Nokia in the midst of battle, you can reach for your trusty sending stone.
Today we’re going to be talking about the closest thing D&D has to cell phones. We’re going to be discussing how special these items really are, how they work, and of course, how you can make them even more exciting at your table.
What Is a Sending Stone in 5e?
A sending stone is actually part of a matching set. Both of these smooth enchanted rocks give their wielder the ability to cast sending, with the wielder of the other rock as its target. They will often have carved runes or symbols to make them easily identifiable as a pair.
Wondrous item, uncommon
Sending stones come in pairs, with each smooth stone carved to match the other so the pairing is easily recognized. While you touch one stone, you can use an action to cast the Sending spell from it.
The target is the bearer of the other stone. If no creature bears the other stone, you know that fact as soon as you use the stone and don’t cast the spell.
Once Sending is cast through the stones, they can’t be used again until the next dawn. If one of the stones in a pair is destroyed, the other one becomes nonmagical.
That’s nice and all, but what does the sending spell actually do?
Well, sending allows you to send a message of 25 words or less to a target that can be any distance from you. The target can even be on a different plane of existence, which is insane.
There is a 5% chance that the message won’t send to a different plane, but as long as you don’t roll a 1 on a d20, you’re fine.
Sending stones are basically just phones that can only send one text message a day. You know, like when I was growing up.
What they’re not is actual cell phones. You can’t just put your sending stone up to your ear and have a lengthy chat with anyone else who’s holding onto their rock.
Another thing to remember is that the receiver of a message can immediately reply for free. In total, that’s four messages each day. Must be some sort of prepaid sim card.
Why Bother With a Sending Stone?
If you can only send a handful of messages in a day, why would you even bother with a sending stone? Why not just cast sending a couple times in a day and make life a whole lot easier?
Sending is a 3rd-level spell available to bards, clerics, and wizards. This means it’s competing against such spells as Fireball, Counterspell, Animate Dead, Mass Healing Word, and Spirit Guardians, and those are just a few.
Full casters get access to their 3rd-level spells at 5th level, which is the beginning of tier-2 play. Because of that, there is a huge spike in power level when going from 2nd- to 3rd-level spells.
Unfortunately, sending just doesn’t cut it as a spell you’ll want to cast frequently. It will either be a spell you know but don’t prepare or a spell that you just straight up don’t learn.
It might have its uses, but compared to the other options it’s very forgettable.
We see this a lot; players want their characters optimized for combat or exploration, so roleplaying optimization just doesn’t come into play with the spells chosen that often.
Sure, there might be the rare player who is ready to go with sending, but they are the exception to the rule.
So, we need a way to get this spell to players.
A sending stone provides that, and it also means that anyone can be in charge of your little communication rocks. With a pair of these stones, there’s actually a lot you can do.
When To Give Sending Stones to Players
Doling out magic items is equal parts excitement and frustration. Often, DMs have to worry about breaking their games when they introduce a new magical weapon or some exciting staff.
You don’t have to worry when it comes to sending stones, since they’re almost never going to give your players an unbalanced advantage.
Rather than powerful artifacts that become an extension of a player character’s abilities, these items work as story elements. In most D&D worlds, there aren’t any expedited methods of communication.
When the world wide web is nothing more than the name of a Drider faction, you have to resort to carrier pigeons, mail carriages, and magic.
Of course, magic is going to be the rarer of the options. So when should we introduce our characters to an easier way of keeping in touch?
Well as I said, we can use sending stones to drive the story. A lot of the time, we create NPCs that function as contacts for our party of adventurers. These contacts serve a lot of different functions.
Some are quest givers, some act as patrons, and some are representatives for large factions, like a church or an adventurer’s guild.
These are the kind of characters that might just freely give a sending stone to our players. Inside of the game, this is a way for that character to keep tabs on the adventurers and make sure whatever mission they’re on is going well.
In a meta sense, we can use these characters as a self-insert, as a way to guide the characters from the sidelines.
This way, we don’t have to send an NPC along for whatever horrible encounters are set to ensue, but we can still have that meaningful discourse.
Giving our players a way to ask questions about the world to someone who isn’t just us does leagues for our immersion factor.
Discovering Sending Stones
There’s also the option of letting them find some stones out in their travels. This method paints them less as uncommon but oft-used magic items and more as these mysterious artifacts.
Doing it this way, you have the option of giving the players both stones or letting them come across one and figure out who is on the other side.
If they get both stones, then they get to be in charge of whom they give the matching stone to. This is a great tool to find out which NPCs they care about, if you don’t already know.
Just one stone paints an exciting mystery. You have this stone, and you don’t know what it does.
Then, all of a sudden, the player holding the stone hears a message inside of their mind as the runes engraved on the stone light up in a faint blue hue.
There are so many possibilities with where you take the story from there, but no matter what you do, it’s an exciting way to introduce a new character.
Both of these situations require the players actually coming across the stones in some manner, and you can do that in any way that you might provide them with treasure.
They can hear tales of riches at the bottom of a dungeon filled with hordes of undead, only to find a rock with a few symbols scribbled onto it.
Or, maybe while they’re out searching for a kidnapped individual, someone trips on a rock that turns out to be the individual’s sending stone left behind as a clue.
Let your imagination really run wild with this one, and you’ll come up with some great sending stone plot hooks.
Creating a Sending Stone
Giving players the ability to create their own items is such a fun process.
It gives them something to do in their downtime, and when it’s all done, their character has something that they’ve actually put work into.
As a DM, one of the most reliable ways to make a memorable item is not to make it yourself.
Creating a sending stone in my worlds works a lot like Teleportation Circle or Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum.
Since this is a bit less powerful, instead of casting Sending every day for a year, you just have to cast it every day for a month.
During this casting, your two rocks must be tied together by a copper wire (the material component for sending).
If you want to make this a bit more challenging, set a requirement on what the rocks have to be. They might need to be a certain substance, or they might need to be rocks from a different plane.
I’m a big fan of missions, so I like creating a substance that sending stones need to be made out of and placing it inside of a specific mountain or mine somewhere.
This sets up a nice dwarf or gnome adjacent mini-adventure and adds to the worldbuilding. Then, when all is said and done, I have a player who puts in the work for their very own sending stone.
Revamping the Sending Stone
One of the first things the DMG talks about is a decision all DMs must make when designing their worlds. How common is magic?
This can range from extremely rare, with wizards and sorcerers ostracized for their blasphemous powers to extremely common and the backbone of society, powering technological marvels like those of Eberron and Ravnica.
I am a firm believer that this magic scale should impact not just the characters of the world but the items as well.
To me, this means high magic worlds shouldn’t just have more magic but more advanced magic.
Think about it, since we first harnessed electricity, it’s only taken a couple hundred years to get where we are, and electricity can only do so much.
If magic is commonplace, we should see a lot more effects throughout the world.
That’s an entirely separate TEDtalk. What I’m getting at is the idea that we should see sending stones all over the place.
Communication is important for trading, rulership, learning about new dangers, and so much more.
I’m not saying D&D needs to have cellphones, but I am saying that maybe it’s not insane to imagine sending stones working a little more like witch’s glasses.
In games I run, on most planes at least, sending stones function much more like teleportation circles. You can contact any other sending stone so long as you know the specific runes for that.
So in my worlds, sending stones come with charcoal chalk to draw those runes on. I also give sending stones four charges, with them regaining 1d4 at dawn.
You can obviously modify this in any way you want. It works for me because otherwise I’d just dish out sending stones like crazy and the player’s bags would just be full of rocks.
This way, it’s controlled and moderated, but it still lets players communicate with the people they want to.
Also, you might be thinking that this makes the sending spell useless. It doesn’t.
The spell still has the ability to choose any target you are familiar with, making it a really useful tool to get in touch with people who might not have sending stones or even adversaries that you might want to negotiate with.
As always, the whole point of this method I’ve fine tuned is to allow my players (and myself) to have fun.
It might change the dynamic of the game a bit, and it isn’t perfect for every setting, especially low-magic settings.
What I do know is that this adds some livelihood and connectedness to the world that is perfect for how I run D&D.
I hope this has given you some insight on the wondrous items that are sending stones. If I could have done this in 25 words or less I would’ve, but sometimes there’s just a lot to say.
As always, happy adventuring!
Bonus: Concealed Identities
A lot of people want to know if you can conceal your identity when you use a sending stone. Unfortunately, the answer is going to typically be no (as far as RAW goes).
The spell sending states that the recipient recognizes you as the sender if they know you, so that bit is pretty cut and dry.
There is also the question of whether or not a recipient can hide their identity. Now, while I’m totally down for skirting around the rules, I’d have to say that this is another no-go in the eyes of RAW.
The specific line of the spell is “The creature hears the message in its mind, recognizes you as the sender if it knows you, and can answer in a like manner immediately.”
Since “..can answer in a like manner..” comes in after everything else, that tells me it’s modifying everything in the sentence before it.
In D&D, just like a MTG card’s rule text, the last thing to be written modifies everything that comes prior.
That being said, if you want this to not be the case for your sending stones, have at it. Concealed identities and mysteries make the world go round.