Mage Hand is the often most reliable cantrip as nearly anyone can understand the effect and works cleanly with the laws of physics (...mostly). It can be especially useful in combat as even wizards get a fair number of minor actions to spare, while others (especially martial characters) could expect to use it every round if they want.
Roleplaying-wise, this is a power that apprentices should be using constantly for concentration training as it can last as long as you want and wouldn't disrupt other actions. Wizards must be able to use every action they get.
- Easy to understand – hard to misinterpret
- Minor action to conjure, with built-in ability to move something 5 squares.
- Can be sustained with a minor action indefinitely (more than 5 minutes, the limit of most powers)
- Conjurations are immune to environmental effects (water/acid, lightning storms)
- The hand can never be grappled or held, so if your hands are occupied you can still do things that require a hand to accomplish.
- There is no written limitation that it cannot hinder creatures or cannot affect ‘attended’ items like Prestigitation.
- Move action to move the hand after you conjure it
- Limited to one hand at a time (but see tricks)
- The hand is visible and obviously magical, though you may be able to tweak the appearance
- Limit of 20 lbs lifting capacity (4 strength)
- Cannot activate magical items at a distance
- Cannot feel through the hand
It actually takes less actions to make a new mage hand and ‘transfer’ an item from another hand in order to move it (minor action) than to move the hand from round to round (minor to maintain, move to move it). To keep it simple, your DM can just rule that maintaining the hand allows you to move it 5 squares, though.
If you use two minor actions, you can move a hand 10 squares by creating a second hand (see above). This could be handy when you get an extra minor action for somehow but your move action is already taken.
If you can carry 20 lbs, you should be able to drag more than that. This gets into tricky territory as the hand doesn't have a 'light' and 'heavy' capacity. This results in a range of 40-200 lbs per hand.
The Staff of Spectral Hands (AV) allows a wizard with decent wisdom to create multiple hands. This opens more options as each hand can carry 20 lbs. 5 hands x 20 lb = a normal sized Halfling or a small anvil. This can be equivalent to having an unseen servant but with no daily ritual cost.
Note: If a skill check is required to use the cantrip this way, it is noted with ‘*’.
Switching hand-held items is twice as fast with the hand- it can stow and ready an item with a minor action instead of one or the other.
If you are a Bonded Summoner, the hand counts as a conjuration and therefore allows you to teleport with a minor action at will.
Get an item from/to an ally in combat. Particularly useful with healing potions or thrown weapons that get lost when used at heroic levels.
Keep an item away from others by lifting it 5 squares up. The Artifact of Super Bad Evilness is useless if theycan’t reach it. Also removes most aura effects coming from it.
Sabotage the enemy before combat from a distance (glue in scabbards, hide items behind tables, tie their laces together) *
Hold up a light wicker or paper screen so someone can get concealment or even superior concealment (most screens can be 3-4’ wide and less than 10 lbs total). Carry several of them around as they tend to get destroyed easily but this won't work in med-high winds.
General distractions (splash water, slide objects to make noise, punch a wall) to allow others to hide or get surprise
If a doorway can’t be closed, holding a staff, post, or other obstacle in the doorway can hamper movement (probably one square of difficult terrain, or minor action to remove)
If your familiar is in danger but it moves slowly (toad, unable to fly), move them faster
Silently point out the location of someone hiding
Swipe around for invisible creatures. If a creature is in any of the 5 squares it covers, the hand will stop because it cannot occupy enemy squares. It's visible to everybody too. Use your move action and you can sweep 10 squares per turn. If you have the Staff of Spectral Hands, the area you can cover is simply ridiculous.
If there is a large flat object (plywood, body shield), you can prop it up and use it to hide or get superior cover. This might push the weight limit with any pressure, though.
Holding up a large shield can make a battlefield obstacle for the enemy. It could prevent charges from dazed creatures (takes a move action to go around).
Pickpocket the enemy’s stowed weapon or ammunition. Pickpocketing is a standard action, but there are few defenses against it. Note you may need a minor action to get the item away from the target, or it just stays in that square.
Counteract any enemy use of Mage Hand
Buy a wicker or sedan chair and use it for an obstacle. Using mage hand to distribute debris is sub-optimal since diagonal movement usually avoids one square easily. An actual obstacle prevents diagonal movement entirely, and can also be used for cover in a pinch. Sure, they can knock over the chair or attack it, but that costs actions and you can set it back up with a minior action.
Pull the mysterious lever or push the red button… and plan on surviving it
Doing general work without lifting a finger
Plug a hole… temporarily. But the hole could be spewing acid and the hand is unaffected.
Open or close doors or containers
Hold a reading book up
Hold a door shut- this won’t stop most creatures, but it will stop them from opening it stealthily. Release at the right time to make it socially awkward
Give a massage to yourself. You deserve it (better with multiple hands –see tricks)
Instant rack or item holder. You can even raise it to the ceiling for protection.
Getting the above item(s) back down, or off of a tall shelf
Grope the barmaid/patron/etc. While you won’t be able to feel the touch, the side-effects are usually hilarious when done right. *
Constantly move a wheel for various uses (arcane perpetual motion machine)
Unlocking doors, setting off known traps, pickpocketing, and general thievery from a safe distance*
For traps you don’t see, roll a bowling ball or a heavy log around on the floor from a distance. Usually faster than searching for the trap in the end.
Some tripwires are only set off by a fair amount of force. Your hand can quickly sweep for them in a round or two but will stop if it hits one.
Assuming you have any control of the hand’s appearance, you can effectively mimic the ‘Hand of Fate’ ritual. This nets both the ritual cost and the ability to control the party/others through your answers *
Hold a large mirror in front of you to see around corners.
Hold a straw man or small dead creature far ahead of the party to trigger ambushes too early.
Carry your torch or light 25’ ahead. Unless a creature has low-light vision, this will put you in the ‘shadowy concealment’ range for defense, and illuminates things up to 25’ further away from you.
With enough hands (other party members or the Staff of Spectral Hands), you can effectively levitate very light party members at will. A party of Halflings or Gnomes can really get some use out of this.
Hold up an object and treat it like a familiar (skull in particular)
Poke someone from behind and threaten them with your ‘stealthy rogue’. Better when using a dagger, then using ghost sound or other effect to make it more believable. *
Draw a message in the dirt from a distance to communicate
Threaten someone or their allies with a dangerous item or material the hand holds. For instance, an item that damages with an aura, or green slime/glob of poison above a prisoner- if they kill you they or the prisoner ‘gets it’ instantly. Also handy as a getaway trick since you can be 25’ away.
Communicate through hand signals at a distance or around corners
Create a hump-back as part of your disguise. You can dispel it instantly as a cover.
Slap mud on a monster. Combine that with the ‘light’ cantrip as now they ‘have’ an object to target (see light cantrip post).
Wake someone up if sleeping. You can even have fun with it and drop something heavy since they are helpless
It may look weird, but it can function like glue or nails to hold something against a wall while you concentrate. Posters, plywood, even a staff. If used to block a doorway (ex. shield held across frame), it can be very annoying to remove.
A summoned hand is sterile. Might be handy for field surgery.
Counteract the bouyancy of many common objects (rope, chunks of wood, hollow pottery). With multiple hands, you could hold something big down. Like a bound person.
Palm an item. Sounds strange, but if you have all these spectral hands hangina around all the time there is no reason for people to think you have something small hidden in it at any moment. Plus, you don't lie when you say 'it isn't on you'
Distract in combat – Though you cannot attack and Str 4 is not enough to move most creatures, it should be annoying to have a hand keep grabbing your cloak, untying your shoes, have a dagger clumsily be shoved to your face, etc. Arguably, this would be like a bluff check to feint once per combat and would therefore take both a skill check and a standard action.
3rd hand when bound – By rules, there are no somatic components so using a mage hand to untie your ropes or when you literally can’t move is legal. Previous editions required somatic components, though so people don’t think this is possible. From a story perspective, your DM may rely on your group being bound up and it is always dangerous to damage the plot. Then again, you can't feel through the hand, so if they are bound behind you don't expect some quick escape.
Catch a returning weapon – With a readied action, theoretically a returning weapon can be grabbed before it returns to the owner because it is no longer ‘attended’. This happens less in 4th edition, but that also means they won’t have multiple magical weapons to lose.
Arcane healer – by using a hand to move items to others, it stands to reason you should be able to pour a potion down a dying creature’s throat. Technically, this works but some DMs may argue that this may not be possible (ex. laying face down, mouth could be closed)
Drop a rock on ‘em– Dropping a 20-lb rock/poison glob/alchemic item/fresh sheep’s bladder into someone’s square has effects. Usually, this gets limited to large creatures or splash weapons only but sometimes this can be very effective (quick distraction, flour to find the invisible enemy through his tracks, etc.)
Flight at will - I'm only adding this because it can be argued - most DMs will just throw dice at you. If each hand can carry 20 lbs, and you are a very light creature (ex. a gnome), technically you can use several hands from a staff of spectral hands to levitate yourself as a minor action. This would require the staff, being a small creature (probably a gnome), a bag of holding for your things, and a very serious diet for lower levels, but theoretically possible. The best argument against it was that this requires grapping yourself (yeah- read the posts), taking an extra standard action and leaving you with CA- but you will never have to climb again.