Deathlink, Extinction, and The Great Withering

   First up for today, it’s another question from Alzrius.

   In Paths of Power II, the Deathlink spell (pg. 51) is a 9th-level spell that allows you to try and kill a specific person at range by killing someone else (possibly a friend or family member for heightened damage) as a proxy, sending the damage to them that way.

   In contrast, the Extinction spell from Eclipse (pg. 150) is a 23rd-level spell that allows you to wipe out a particular (sub-)species.

   My question, then, is to ask about a spell that has some sort of middle-ground between these two. That is, what sort of spell would it be to cast a spell that wipes out every member of a particular bloodline (which may cross species boundaries)?

   Also, how do you defend against spells such as these? I know Extinction can be blocked relatively easily, but Deathlink has no such protection, which seems to make it easy for an enemy to eventually kill you from afar with it (though they’d have to keep casting it over and over, given its low damage).

   Destroying a particular bloodline is actually a bit tricky; a breakdown on Extinction looks like this: Level 6 (Death Effect) -2 (Ritual Casting) + 20 (Grandiose Area) +4 (Sculpting – automatic selective targeting on a massive scale. Fortunately, species are usually fairly easy to tell apart) -5 (20% off the metamagic cost, as a credit for building it into the spell formula, which is considerably more efficient than tacking it on later) = Level 23. To bring that down effectively we’re going to want to reduce the amount of metamagic a great deal.

   Asking the spell to analyze the genetics of every creature in the world and kill the ones that carry a particular set of genes would probably be even more complicated. I’d rate the analysis effect at about level six, coupling it with the death effect would make the entire spell level twenty-four – and rather prone to error since some genes are quite common (presuming that d20 creatures even have genes). Asking it to use a divination effect to determine if each potential target is a member of a given bloodline is probably simpler, and would probably leave the net spell level unchanged.

   Well, we could just drop the “Sculpting” effect, and bring it down to level twenty. At that point our spell – call it “Invoking the Kali Yuga” – simply tries to kill everything on the planet. That’s not really what we had in mind either. Only the most crazed or nihilistic villains will see any value in that variant.

   That approach won’t help. What we need to do is to reduce the scale of the effect and to provide a simpler method of targeting it.

   Scale is up first. What do we mean by “bloodline”? After all, in current evolutionary theory, every living organism on earth carries on the bloodline of the first living organism. and various branches after that – such as “the mammals” – have far more recent common ancestors. For a current example, the bloodline of Charlemagne the Great may well now include virtually everyone of European descent – better than a quarter of the human race. And that’s a mere 1200 years or so. They may not carry a single one of his actual genes of course, but all that’s needed for a place in his bloodline is to have him as an ancestor – somewhere.

   Of course, in d20, many creatures may be special independent creations – and thus unrelated. On the other hand, in d20, all kinds of creatures are allowed to crossbreed. Some, indeed, are quite prolific. For one of the most popular examples, given the tendency of dragons to spawn half-dragons, I’d expect that virtually every creature on any given d20 planet of reasonable age has a selection of draconic bloodlines. For that matter, they’ll also be related to outsiders from pretty much every plane. That’s one big unhappy family there.

   Ok. We want a relatively modest selection of targets who are reasonably closely related to our focus target, not a global holocaust. So:

  • Take a sixth level Death effect – or perhaps something like “Disintegrate“; that allows easier resurrection than most Death effects, but seems more appropriate somehow. I shall go with Disintegrate.
  • Call it up to fifty targets per level – that’s the “Legionary” level (from The Practical Enchanter) or not-quite battlefield scale for the Area metamagic theorem. Both come out to be +6 levels; the Legionary effect because that’s how it’s defined and (+7 levels, x.8 for being built into the formula = 5.6) for the area metamagic. Given that you’re going to need epic level spellcasting to cast this thing anyway, that will cover a minimum of a thousand victims, and probably more like fifteen hundred. That should be enough.
  • Our Death spell would normally have medium range or so, so upgrading to Trans-dimensional range with the Extension metamagical theorem is +6 levels.
  • To let it pick it’s own targets we’ll want something like the Chain effect from the Multiple metamagic theorem; since we’ve already paid for extra targets, we don’t have to worry about reducing the caster level – and so +2 levels should do nicely.
  • That’s +15 levels of metamagic in total, or only +12 after being built into the formula.

   Now, the thing may have trans-dimensional range, and automatically target itself on the nearest appropriate set of targets – but how do we sort out what is the “nearest appropriate target?”

   For that, we’ll invoke the good old magical principle of Contagion; the chain follows the links of family ties. Ergo, it needs to be cast on the first, or central, victim directly – by touch – and will instantly jump to other members of his or her family in order of the closeness of the relationship. Given that you need to touch the initial victim, and will REALLY need to watch out for things like hidden relationships, bastard children, and mutual ancestors, this drastically reduces the point of trans-dimensional range, and can cause some pretty serious problems for the caster. That’s a couple of instances of the Compact metamagical theorem, for a total of about -4 levels.

   Ergo, “The Withering of the Blood” is a fourteenth level spell, does 40d6 (allowing a fortitude save for half damage) to all it’s targets, and can – due to the mercy of the game master – be blocked in individual cases by effects that would block a sixth level spell. Of course, high-level targets could fairly easily survive.

   If you want to avoid that, upgrade the formula with +4 (effectively five due to being built into the spell formula) levels of the Multiple/Spamming Metamagic; over the next four rounds the spell will take effect another four times. That does take “The Grand Withering of the Blood” up to level eighteen, but up to 200d6 of damage with a minimum of 100d6 should do in quite a lot of things. It’s still blockable though; if you want to make that harder, use something like the Amplify metamagical theorem instead; it will be less damage, but it will be far harder to ward off.

   As for defenses against Deathlink:

   Deathlink is, indeed moderately difficult to defend against. In fact, for a child or even first or second level character with only a few hit points, it’s very likely to kill with one shot. Of course, it is a ninth level spell – and Summon Monster IX is even more reliable against such targets “I summon 1d3 Vrock… two is it?… teleport to this location and kill this guy”.

   That kind of thing can be a significant menace to characters of considerably higher level than first or second level. Hopefully, if the player characters are of relatively low level, they won’t have too many enemies who can throw around ninth level spells.

   A coordinated surprise strike by a dozen or so casters using Deathlink may well do enough damage to take out a high-level character – but a coordinated surprise strike by a dozen or so evil casters capable of throwing ninth level spells would probably do that anyway. It won’t take as many casters if they have access to the targets close friends, lovers, parents, and children – but a high level character with enemies really should be keeping an eye on such associates anyway.

   For a high level target up against a couple of individual casters? If someone is under attack in this fashion, then…

  • It does take ten minutes to cast – and will often give it’s target notice of where the caster is. Take the couple of the lousy 5d6 hits and go after the caster.
  • Have Spell Resistance at a good level – such as by having someone throw the spell on you if you don’t have it naturally.
  • Reach for the wands of Cure Light Wounds and Lesser Restoration. At roughly five first level spells (four Cure Lights and one Lesser Restoration) to neutralize the effects of one ninth level spell, a defender can usually outlast such attacks pretty easily.
  • Throw up an Antimagic Sphere.
  • Polymorph or Wild Shape. Since those will change your type and subtype, the sacrifices will no longer be of the appropriate race – and as long as you keep that quiet, the attackers will be wasting their time.
  • Of course, if you’re playing with Eclipse: The Codex Persona, you might also have magic absorption, special immunities, or other defenses – but you don’t really need them.

   Where Deathlink shines is in…

  • Eliminating low-level targets without leaving obvious traces. “We face a crisis; with the death of the young prince, our land is without an heir to the throne – and the king is dying. It will be civil war!”
  • Harassing mid-level targets. “We cannot risk allowing Lord Onadin to travel outside the demon-wards around the city while the dark ones remain undefeated – but the high priest and his best bodyguards must remain here to heal him and fend off these attacks. That leaves only your group to assault the cult’s island!”
  • Taking out individual high-level targets via mass assault. Of course, that will only be the opening shot in a major conflict – but it does offer a decent initial advantage. Is it equal to whatever advantage the attackers might get deploying those dozen ninth-level spells in other ways? That depends on the situation – but it’s certainly dramatic to have the massed evil spells, and sacrifices, of the malevolent group of mages strike down the great leader in the center of his citadel.

6 Responses

  1. Two follow-up questions to this:

    1) How would it affect the spell level of The Withering of the Blood to build in an effect that let you exclude certain individuals from the spell’s effect? E.g., if you thought you might be related to the target creature, and/or wanted to exclude his daughter who joined with you to fight her evil family, etc. (And for that matter, would this effect only let you exclude a limited number of creatures, or something more blanket, like “any allies”?)

    2) How do I calculate The Withering of the Blood’s spell level (and, for that matter, the spell level for Extinction, and other spells where the effect is treated as a lower-level spell) in terms of it being defeated by an antimagic field?

    What I mean is, if an antimagic field (normally a 6th-level spell) can be externally defeated by spell more than twice its spell level (normally a 13th-level spell), would The Withering of the Blood (spell level 14) get through, or would it not get through since its effect is that of a 6th-level spell?

    • 1) For that you’d want to build in the Sculpting metamagic – although this is on a larger scale than usual. Ergo, +1 for Personal Immunity. +2 to exempt a limited list of individuals specified at the time of casting. +3 for a longer list, or for a short list and a simple rule, or for two simple rules, specified at the time of casting (perhaps “no small children and no one within the city of Koris”), and +4 for a more general rule (“no allies”). Those would be subject to the x.8 for built-in metamagic though, so that would increase the spell level by +1, +2, +2, and +3 respectively. The second +2 version and the +3 version both seem pretty reasonable – and could simply be viewed as buying off some of the limitations of the original version.

      While “Sculpting” does list a mere +3 modifier for exempting anyone you please within an area effect, that is a condensed list – and leaving six people out of a Fireball is a lot simpler than evaluating and either accepting or dismissing several thousand potential targets in a few seconds. Thus the initial note in the metamagic section on the flexibility of applying metamagical theorems.

      2) I generally treat spells like these as if they spammed the area affected with secondary spells. After all, very little of the original spells vast power is actually focused on any particular target. That way far lesser defenses can protect individuals and small areas – allowing the parties (vastly overwhelmed) mage to (for example) successfully shield a small area when the demon overlord pours out his wrath across the land – and for lucky or reasonably well-protected creatures to escape. I could probably come up with an argument for the opposite approach, and for higher damage caps, and so on – but it wouldn’t really improve the game as far as I can see.

      Going on that principle, I just use the base effect when I’m comparing such spells against defenses. If a spellcaster wants to break an antimagic sphere, they’ll need to use a powerful spell that’s actually focused on it – and if they’re throwing around spells like this, they probably have some anyway.

  2. Okay, so to recap, killing off an entire family is a level 14 spell (with some flexibility for modifiers), killing everyone on a world is a level 20 spell, and killing a particular species is level 23.

    It might be largely a semantic difference, but what if instead of wanting to kill everything on a planet, you wanted to shatter the planet instead? That is, what’s the level of a spell designed to reduce an entire world to so much cosmic dust? Would it just be a disintegrate spell (level 6) + 20 (grandiose area) – 4 (20% off the metamagic cost for building it into the spell effect) = level 22 spell?

    At a glance, that’d make it affect the necessary area, but is it going to do enough damage to actually destroy a planet? Similarly, if you want to destroy a world other than the one you’re presumably occupying, what would it cost to add in a range component? Would the size of the planet – or other heavenly body – affect the spell level (e.g. targeting an asteroid as opposed to the moon, the Earth, Jupiter, or the sun)?

    What other considerations would be involved in this sort of spell? In other words, what does it take to literally destroy a world?

    • That would indeed work; given that Disintegrate can simply destroy a 10′ cube of nonliving matter, scaling it up sufficiently would destroy a “normal” planet fairly readily – presuming that it is not considered alive, protected by a god, or some such. The precise size of the planet really doesn’t matter at this point: the Grandiose scale will cover an entire pocket dimension if necessary – which might mean a good-sized star cluster. Now, presuming that you don’t want to zap the planet you’re on, Disintegrate has Medium range – so getting it up to Line of Sight calls for at least +3 levels of Extension.

      Personally, I’d say that the whole thing calls for a ritual casting (Compact, with Expensive Components of Foci and taking days or weeks to cast, for a total of -3 spell levels). That leaves it at level twenty-two again – and attempting a ritual of destruction on that scale will doubtless draw unwanted attention.

      Of course, since the examples under the Metamagical Theorems are simply examples, it might be quite reasonable to say that most asteroids are only +12 spell levels, the Earth is only +16, Jupiter is +18, and a Star or small group thereof is +20 – but given the expense of researching such a spell, and the insane malevolence of it, I’d expect our apocalyptic spellcaster to go for the +20 spell level overkill anyway. Besides, it makes it more generally “useful” (if such a spell can be considered “useful).

      You can accomplish much the same thing with a minor variant on Rejuvenate Star (also level twenty-two), Destabilize Star (level twenty-three), or Orbital Adjustment (also level twenty-three).

      As usual, spells like that function better as plot devices and rumors than as actualities, but they’re quite possible.

  3. And if there are any gods protecting it, they’ll likely do things to you which you would not like. About the best you can expect is that they’ll turn your spell back on you, personally.

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