It seems I created a meme

Back in July 2005 I became intrigued with crafting weird and improbable magical items for the amusement of my Dungeons and Dragons gaming group. At the time, I had also been employed in the defense industry for about half my life, working around various weapons systems. Naturally, these things came together in creating a couple of D&D weapons, one of which became a meme in both D&D and in engineering circles. It started like this.

Gary, one of the other players in our group, sent out an email to the other players warning about a possible dirty trick that Ian (our Dungeon Master) might play on those of us playing characters who rely on magic and magical items:

Conventional D&D wisdom states that placing a rod of cancellation into a bag of holding, handy haversack, or portable hole will destroy both items in a massive explosion. I dunno if Ian is going to spring this to annoy folks who are carrying too much equipment, but you may want to store unidentified wands outside of your magic bags.

During the following short discussion about such effects, he added:

You also don't want to put one magical bag into another magical bag. That can cause similar explosions or rifts in time/space or destruction of the items.

At that point, because we were all mulling over ways to defeat the evil Vladaam in our Tomb of Horrors campaign, I designed the "Bag of Holding bomb" in PowerPoint and sent it to the group (click to see full size):

What would this cost? I observed in the email discussion that both the Bag of Holding and Handy Haversack use Leomund's Secret Chest as the embodied spell (this is from D&D 3.5e). The cheapest way to build this bomb would be with a Handy Haversack (2,000 gp) enveloping a Quiver of Ehlonna (1,800 gp, DMG p265). That's 3,800 gp total for a single-use item. Expensive, but possibly a good deal depending on how much devastation it creates.

In the same email I noted that if Plane Shift is needed instead for a bomb, then the bomb becomes too expensive: two Portable Holes (DMG p264) for 40,000 gp.

Nothing came of this in our game. Then a couple months later, in September 2005, I decided to look up Gary's second claim quoted above, and couldn't confirm it. The Dungeon Master's Guide did say that if you put a Bag of Holding into a Portable Hole, both disappear; and if you put a Portable Hole into a Bag of Holding, the rift that opens in the Astral plane destroys both items and sucks out of existence anything within a 10 foot radius. At least that's what I recall.

I could find nothing to confirm that an explosion results when putting a Bag of Holding into another Bag of Holding.

Clearly, this bomb needed a redesign. At 20,000 gp, a portable hole is a costly component for a bomb, although it does guarantee removal of everything and everyone in a 20-foot diameter sphere. So I designed the "arrowhead of total destruction", also in PowerPoint:

It's simple to build and it's well contained, safe to keep with you, requiring an impact to set it off. It doesn't even need to be aimed well.

This is what happens to your mind after working half your life around weapon systems.

This one is prohibitively expensive at 22,000 gp for a single-use item. Gary observed "You can get a stack of death arrows for a lot less than that."

Putting things in perspective outside a D&D context, such a weapon that guarantees instant destruction with no saves or resistance, in a 20-foot sphere, and no cleanup afterward, is reasonably priced in terms of the weapon systems we build today. I'm sure our government would have loved some of those arrowheads in past wars. Clean and effective. I imagine $2 million each would be about right.

As a more-or-less beginner D&D player, I did misinterpret the effect as described in the Dungeon Master's Guide. I don't have access to a 3.5e version. However, people have pointed out over the years that destruction doesn't really result from this arrowhead. The 5th edition Dungeon Master's Guide says that things within 10 feet are deposited in a random location in the Astral plane. Not destruction, but it gets affected enemies out of the way and it's mighty inconvenient for them.

We never did use this one in our game. I shared it with our Dungeon Master Ian in May 2006, after our game had ended. He replied "I can tell you are a weapons designer" and wondered if I could figure out something with a Sphere of Annihilation and a homing missile.

Around the same time, I posted the "arrow of total destruction" on the Wizards of the Coast forum, which was deleted in its entirety about 10 years later (not even archived). However, something about it caught on and it started spreading around. I still get occasional emails about it, and I've shared the original PowerPoint files with anyone who asks. It never occurred to me to share it on this blog until a correspondent gave me the idea. So here it is: destructive_magic.ppt (right-click to download).


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