Unseen Servant is an iconic spell that’s been around forever. It’s versatile, low level, and open ended, which makes it ideal for creative uses as well as simply being very convenient.
However, Unseen Servant is also a somewhat frustrating spell. Its language is unclear, and the spell’s limits are a little fuzzy. Of course, in most cases, these uncertainties aren’t important; the core of the spell is clear.
However, creative uses mean lots and lots of rules adjudication, and so the rules carry more weight than they might in other more straightforward spells.
Unseen Servant is a spell with a decent amount of potential, and it can create some really fun moments when used right. We’ll go over some of the classic Unseen Servant strategies, but we’ll also take a closer look at the rules and some possible ways to interpret them.
Unseen Servant Rules
To begin, let’s make sure we have a shared understanding of what the rules actually are.
- Casting Time: 1 action/10 minutes as a ritual
- Range: 60 feet
- Duration: 1 hour
- School: Conjuration
- Class: Bard, Warlock, Wizard
- Level: 1st Level
- Components: V, S, M (a piece of string and a bit of wood)
The spell creates an invisible, mindless, and shapeless force that can perform simple tasks on your command until the spell ends. Despite being shapeless, the force is Medium size.
The servant is conjured in an unoccupied space within range, has an AC of 10, has 1 hit point and a Strength of 2, and can’t attack. Dropping the servant to 0 hit points ends the spell.
Once on your turn as a bonus action, you can mentally command the servant to move up to 15 feet and interact with an object.
The tasks that the servant can perform must be simple and within the capacity of a human servant. Examples given are cleaning, mending, folding clothes, lighting fires, etc. A servant given tasks performs those tasks as best as it can until it completes the task or the spell ends. The spell ends if the servant ends up more than 60 feet away, which can happen by command or if the task takes the servant that far away.
Strategies and Tactics
There are a few general ways Unseen Servant tends to be used.
Many players try to find uses for it in combat, though this can get tricky. Without getting into the rule clarifications just yet, the most effective strategies are using the servant to trigger simple traps by cutting ropes or pulling a lever. One method is to have the servant hold up a false floor over a pit; when someone steps on it the servant, will fail to keep up the weight triggering the trap.
You can also use Unseen Servant as a delivery mechanism for flasks of alchemist’s fire or if you’re playing in a more modern environment, grenades.
However, these servants are even more useful outside of combat. For example, during stealth scenes, these servants provide an excellent and entirely undetectable method of opening doors, grabbing small objects, creating distractions, and other useful tasks.
Lastly, Unseen Servant can provide a lot of utility outside of intense combat and potential combat scenarios. A servant can build simple traps for you, handle dangerous items like cursed objects, open suspicious traps, and most importantly, hold the light in dark dungeons.
If you’re in a campaign with crafting rules, homebrew or otherwise, you can even use the servant to handle dangerous items like explosives or chemicals.
Unseen Servant is a spell best used for handling objects and tasks that are either too dangerous for you to do personally or are simply out of reach. Use Unseen Servant to poison a drink when you have to be seen elsewhere or to steal keys from inside a prison.
There are lots of weird stuff about the wording of Unseen Servant. Some of this stuff might appear nitpicky, but each of these issues lies at the heart of specific theoretical use of Unseen Servant.
You won’t always need to resolve these kinds of questions, but if you do, this overview of the most significant issues at play in the spell should help you handle any questions (or objections) with ease.
Two Schools of Thought
When it comes to the clarification a spell like Unseen Servant sometimes demands, there are two main schools of thought. These are the beliefs that the rules as written (RAW) should be the only guide to judgments and that the rules as intended (RAI) are how we should run the game.
People’s actual beliefs tend to exist on the spectrum between these camps, of course, but people’s approach to the rules tends to fall between these extremes.
A lot of the below discussion is oriented around RAW, and many might object that the lack of clarity of language means we should always default to RAI, and analyzing the rules isn’t necessary. However, RAI is not always clear, and in these cases, falling back to RAW before venturing out into the uncharted lands of homebrew is usually worth doing.
Creature or Object?
The servant conjured by Unseen Servant is not defined as a creature or an object; instead, it’s a “force,” which is just wildly confusing.
With RAW, this causes issues when trying to determine what can and can’t target the servant. A lot of spells target creatures or have specific effects on objects. Being neither, is Unseen Servant immune to everything?
In general, I’d say the servant really isn’t a creature or an object, which might cause some problems, but they will take damage from attacks. One of these problems would be that spells like See Invisibility can’t actually detect the invisible servant as it only reveals invisible creatures and objects, which the servant isn’t.
Whether you decide this also means that the servant takes damage from area attacks is less clear. Certainly, it seems more RAI if the servant takes damage from “touching” lava or being hit by a fireball.
However, it doesn’t really make sense for a force to be damaged by the same effects that damage flesh when they clearly don’t have flesh. Personally, I fall more on the “doesn’t take damage from anything other than force (physical or otherwise),” but be aware that this makes Unseen Servant noticeably more powerful than it otherwise would be.
Shapes and Shapelessness
The exact wording of Unseen Servant says that it is a “shapeless force.” There are a few ways to understand that, but in the most direct and literal sense, it seems meaningless for anything to be entirely without shape.
An alternate interpretation is that the servant has no fixed shape but changes between shapes. This is a little more reasonable, though it is a stretch.
What this means is that the servant is likely fully capable of moving through tiny holes to avoid obstacles. Despite being Medium sized, a force without a specific shape should be fully capable of squeezing through small spaces.
With a Strength score of 2, an Unseen Servant has a carrying capacity of 30 pounds. However, it can also lift, pull, or drag up to 60 pounds.
It’s unclear how this affects movement. Normally, carrying double your carrying capacity reduces your movement speed to 5 feet, but the servant doesn’t actually have a movement speed.
For this, I would say simply to reduce the maximum distance you can move the servant per round to 5 feet. A bigger problem is what it means to move 60 pounds.
The problem is that dragging or pulling 60 pounds across concrete is much harder than dragging 60 pounds across water or grease.
Now, you could analyze the amount of work necessary to lift 60 pounds, and then find out how much weight a servant could therefore pull across a surface with a given friction coefficient k. Frankly, that’s unreasonably complicated for an RPG game.
DMs will have to judge how to adjudicate this for themselves, but the fact that pulleys, levers, and a variety of other factors change drastically how much weight a servant could theoretically move means that players will likely want to use such tools to magnify the abilities of their servant.
This is mostly reasonable, but you may decide that determining the limits is too much work. Just remember that the 30-60 pound official weight limit has some significant holes, and you may want to limit what a servant can do by means other than just weight.
Types of Instructions
One of the most common uses of Unseen Servants players try to do is give the servant programmatic instructions. That is, tell the servant to do something on a loop or do something if one thing is true, but do another if another is true. This is a method of creating a computer if you can get enough castings of Unseen Servant.
Is this allowed?
While it might seem like bending the rules, conditionals and loops are basic parts of every task, and the servants are already capable of doing them. Therefore, explicitly embedding them in the instructions is not that far off from RAW and, in fact, seems to be implied by RAI.
The limit here, however, is judgment. A servant might be told to separate a pile of sand and salt into the individual grains, but it would be unreasonable to ask the servant to separate a pile of diamonds from cubic zirconia.
When giving instructions, servants should not be capable of performing tasks (or performing them adequately, at least) that require judgment calls that, in a person, would involve training or technical skill. That line itself is fairly blurry (the example of mending in the literal text of the spell involves some fairly technical tasks), but in this case, the judgment of the average human servant will probably be a sufficient rule.
What Is a “Task”?
Finally, let’s take a brief look at what exactly constitutes a task.
The spell limits the function of the servant to carrying out a single command at a time, which appears like a reasonable limitation, but there is no clarity on what a single command constitutes. For example, you might be forced by one DM to create a series of tasks like “walk to the tree,” “pick up the axe,” “swing the axe at the tree,” etc., while another DM might allow you to simply say “cut down that tree with an axe.”
All tasks are made of other tasks, and no command is a single instruction. Obviously, there should be a line, but there is nowhere obvious to draw it.
In this case, I recommend avoiding the issue entirely by simply limiting the command a player can give to a certain word count, like 20 or 30 words per round. That ensures a flexible level of complexity while still ensuring that there is a cap on the command’s detail and encourages creativity of wording that is admirable.
Even if this solution doesn’t work for you, you should be aware that this ambiguity exists and that there isn’t a clear and obvious solution.
Common Questions About Unseen Servant
What Is Unseen Servant Good For?
Unseen Servant is best for handling objects and using them when you can’t because it’s too dangerous or inconvenient or it’s simply not possible. It’s also useful for performing repetitive tasks that are inconvenient for you to perform yourself.
Can You Cast Spells Through Unseen Servant?
No, these servants are not capable of transmitting magic like a familiar in any way; they can’t use scrolls, and you can’t cast spells through them.
Can Unseen Servant Use Magic Items?
Since the spell limits an Unseen Servant to tasks a human servant can accomplish, I’d say that for magic items with purely mechanical activation mechanisms (like tossing the item on the ground), the servant could activate magic items. However, magic items with more magical activation methods or command words can’t be used by these servants.
How Many Unseen Servants Can You Have at Once?
600. While in practice the maximum number of Unseen Servants you can have is limited by your spell slots, a level 18 Wizard or higher could choose this spell to be able to cast without using a spell slot through the Spell Mastery ability. With a duration of 1 hour and a casting time of 6 seconds, that’s enough time to cast 600 iterations of Unseen Servant.
Incidentally, these servants would have a combined lifting capacity of 36 thousand pounds.
Although the vast majority of DMs ban the combination, RAW a sorcerer/warlock multiclass can have infinite spell slots. If, and it’s a big if, your DM allowed this, you could take advantage of infinite metamagic to vastly increase the number of servants.
Extend Spell doubles the duration, and Quicken Spell lets you cast two spells per round. Together these take three sorcery points, which means every other round you’d need to spend your bonus action refilling your sorcery points. Altogether, you could have 1,800 active servants with a combined lift capacity of 108 thousand pounds. You know, in theory (since you wouldn’t have time to command any of these servants).