Eclipse d20 – Nullfields, Antimagic, Dismissal, and Arcane Overloads

   Here we have some compiled answers for Alzrius, since – once again – things were getting rather lengthy for the comment threads.

   The Nullfield spell in The Practical Enchanter notes that, when used for creating a golem’s magic immunity, spellcasters can design spells that beat said magic immunity for the cost of the spell being +3 levels. Would that also be the formula to create a spell that can affect a creature through a nullfield or standard antimagic field? – Alzrius

   Not precisely; Golems – being animated by magical energies – have to leave ways open for some types of magic to operate on themselves. Thus they have “chinks in their armor” (or gaps in their defenses, or however you want to express it), and are at least partially vulnerable to specific spell effects that target those flaws. Just as importantly, golems of the same type follow the same design – and so have the same chinks. Thus, for a mere +1 spell level, you can design a spell which targets a specific set of “chinks” and so will bypass the magical defenses of a particular type of golem. For +3 spell levels you can design a “smart” spell – one capable of seeking out the flaws in a golems defenses and adjusting itself to target them.

   Or at least that’s the logic underlying the rules given for the Nullfield spell – and the explanation for why each type of Golem is at least partially affected by a few, fairly specific, spells.

   That approach won’t work in a straight-up Nullfield spell, which has no chinks at all. Antimagic spheres, however, do have one chink; the caster can dismiss them. We know that’s an active effect because spells with fixed durations will run out their durations normally if the caster dies – ergo, he or she can’t be sustaining them in any way. Turning them off must be a magical action simply because it’s directly affecting a spell – and only magic does that (and the default SRD position is that there is no real distinction psionics and magic).

   Can that chink be exploited? The SRD doesn’t actually have much to say about dismissing spells. What we’ve got is:

   (D) Dismissible: If the Duration line ends with “(D),” you can dismiss the spell at will. You must be within range of the spell’s effect and must speak words of dismissal, which are usually a modified form of the spell’s verbal component. If the spell has no verbal component, you can dismiss the effect with a gesture. Dismissing a spell is a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity. -The d20 SRD.

   Like so many short and simple rules which offer no explanation of how they work, that leaves a lot of doors open. I’d tend to assume that only the original caster – not just someone else who happens to know a particular spell – can dismiss a spell. Of course, I also suppose that someone could use the Use Magic Device skill to try and impersonate the original caster – perhaps at a DC of (15 + the true spell casters caster level) if they know the spell, and something like (25 + the true spell casters caster level) if they don’t since they’d have to fake both being the caster and the dismissal effect.

   There doesn’t seem to be any reason why you couldn’t design a spell that sought out that trigger, faked being the spellcaster, and dismissed a targeted spell. Of course, that would only work on spells that were dismissable in the first place and is a lot more complicated than the “hit it with a big hammer (or disruption or however you want to describe it) and break it!” approach used by Dispel Magic.

   That would leave the caster with a spell that’s far more complicated (and thus higher level) than Dispel Magic, which can only target a single spell at a time rather than many spells (again like Dispel Magic), which really requires knowing what spells are active on a target to be used, and which only works on dismissable spells – although, it would, admittedly, almost always work on those. It’s no surprise that it’s rarely researched; almost every spellcaster would rather have Dispel Magic to begin with.

   Now, Alzrius would like to know what that spell would look like – and that’s an easy one. Here we are:

  • Dismissal: Illusion (Shadow), Level: Bard 4, Sor/Wiz 5, Components: V, S, Casting Time: One Standard Action, Range: Medium, Effect: See Text, Duration: Instantaneous, Saving Throw: None, Spell Resistance: No.
  • Dismissal adapts itself to the structure of a target spell, effectively impersonates the caster, and – in a momentary flash of darkness – Dismisses the spell. Unfortunately, Dismissal can only target one spell at a time and only works on Dismissable spells. Equally unfortunately, spells of anti-magic, anti-divination, and protection from other spells are more difficult to analyze effectively – and so require an opposed caster level check similar to that required with Dispel Magic, although Dismissal has no upper limit on the check.
    • Improved versions of the spell are possible: Enhanced (+2 spell levels) versions gain a +10 bonus on the opposed caster level check if one is called for. Mass (+4 spell levels, or only +3 spell levels if all the spells to be affected have to have the same caster) versions will attempt to dismiss up to one spell per level of the caster.
    • While perhaps the most popular – and perhaps the only really practical – use of this effect is to try to get rid of Antimagic, the spell generally can’t be cast while actually within such an effect; it can’t magically summon the shadow-energies on which it relies in the first place.

   Now, according to the general notes on Antimagic under the Greater Antimagic Field spell (Eclipse, page 130):

   Antimagic can be broken by sheer overload – by an external spell that exceeds twice the level of antimagical spell used or by an internal spell of at least three times the level of the antimagical effect used (usually something that only gods and powerful epic characters can pull off). -Eclipse, The Codex Persona.

   And that brings us to:

   Regarding that rule about overloading an antimagic field/nullfield, does that take metamagic into account? I ask only because conventional wisdom is that metamagic doesn’t increase the spell’s actual level (Heighten Spell notwithstanding), hence why an empowered maximized magic missile wouldn’t get past a globe of invulnerability. So a spell that’s supercharged on metamagic would still fail no matter how heavily it was strengthened, right? – Alzrius

   That’s generally correct. Metamagic apparently represents advanced techniques for manipulating magical energy – making a spells structure more complex without actually increasing the amount of raw power it involves. Unfortunately, a spells “level” is based both on it’s inherent complexity AND on it’s raw power – so even without the power, a spell enhanced by metamagic normally occupies a higher-level-than-usual spell slot. Of course, it is possible to learn to apply most metamagics without increasing the level of the spell slot needed – but those are advanced techniques.

   If you want to take advantage of the extra power inherent in a higher-level spell slot, you’ll need to build the equivalent of the “metamagics” you want to use into the formula. That’s a good deal more effective since the extra power can make up for a drop in efficiency (and the complexity that would be needed to obtain that super-efficiency). Thus the rule that spells with “built-in” metamagic are of somewhat lower level than spells upgraded to equivalent effects with metamagic.

   Now, when you’re opposing antimagical effects, such as an Antimagic Sphere or a Globe of Invulnerability, the complexity of the effect makes very little difference; it doesn’t matter if you throw an elegant sculpture or a simple lump of rock at a concrete wall; all that matters is how hard you hit it. Ergo, what’s important there is the base spell level.

   Classically the base spell level can be augmented by the “Heighten Spell” metamagic, but in Eclipse you don’t need a feat to simply beef up a spell a bit. Of course, those are spell levels you can’t use to add more interesting effects – and since it’s not a metamagic, you can’t use the techniques that reduce the spell level cost of adding metamagics to boost the effective level of all your spells.

   For a technological analogy, a Golem could be considered something like a well-insulated electrical machine or piece of electronics. If you hit an uninsulated point with a serious electrical discharge you can probably fry the insides. If you hit the insulation, nothing much is going to happen unless you’re applying enough voltage (“spell levels”) to overload and destroy that insulation directly. An antimagic field, however, is essentially just a big mass of insulation, with no vulnerable gaps OR insides. If you want to get rid of it by blasting it, you’ll have to overload it’s resistance and destroy it.

   Using your analogy that a golem is like a well-insulated machine, at what point can you simply overcome its “insulation” with brute force the same way you could a Nullfield or an Antimagic Sphere? Surely, if a power word kill can punch through a Nullfield (since it’s ninth level, and thus one level about twice the spell’s level), a spell of similar or greater power could hit through a golem’s magic immunity. Would that permanently collapse its immunity the way it would the spell, or would only spells that powerful get through, with the immunity still remaining intact? – Alzrius

   Under those rules you can, indeed, break through a Golem’s Nullfield. Throwing a ninth-level spell (that allows Spell Resistance, can actually target a Construct, and isn’t already one that would affect the target Golem due to those “chinks”) at a Golem will indeed overload it’s magical defenses – although it wouldn’t otherwise affect the Golem, since the spells power would be expended on overloading the Nullfield as per d20’s usual rules about barriers.

   The Golems unlimited-use use-activated Nullfield enchantment would immediately start to rebuild the spell – and so the Nullfield would be restored on the Golem’s next action. Until then, it could be affected by common spells. Unfortunately, since the Elemental Infusion effect changes a Golems enchantments into Extraordinary Abilities, they can’t be dispelled.

   Of course, if the Golem was constructed using the suggested Ambient Magic limitation (as the standard models are, since it saves the creator 14,560 GP and 582 XP) and you throw another appropriate spell of level nine or higher to break down it’s Nullfield again the next round, it won’t be able to erect another Nullfield for a full minute – which will probably be plenty of time to blow the thing into little pieces. Whether that’s worth two spells of level nine-plus and some lesser ones (as opposed to healing up the fighters afterwards or doing something really clever) is a decision for the party.

   Epic-level Golems are – presumably – constructed using higher-level variants on the Nullfield spell, and so their defenses would require even higher level spells to break. I’d guess that most epic-level golem-builders would use at least a seventh level version, requiring a spell with a base level of at least fifteen to break through.

2 Responses

  1. Last question on this topic: If a spellcaster has the Personal Immunity metamagic feat (which, rather oddly, adds +1 spell level in Eclipse, and +0 spell level in The Practical Enchanter), can he cast Antimagic Field with Personal Immunity, and be able to spellcast freely in the antimagic field, while it affects everyone else normally?

    • Sorry this is late: I’ve been ill for a bit, and replies sort of went on the back burner.

      First up, the Practical Enchanter version of Personal Immunity is a feat (6 CP) by itself; in Eclipse terms, it’s equivalent to buying the Sculpting metamagical theorem and one level of Streamline, both Specialized/only for adding Personal Immunity – for a net cost of (6 CP).

      As far as spellcasting in an antimagic field goes… unfortunately, for the most part, no; you’re immune, your spells are not; so you certainly couldn’t affect any external target. Now there is a possible loophole there; you’re out of luck if your game master feels that ALL spells draw on external sources of power when cast since that would make spellcasting entirely impossible within an antimagic field; those power sources would be blocked off by it. On the other hand, if he or she feels that all the necessary power to cast a spell is already inside the spellcaster – whether accumulated over time or bound up in prepared spells – then personal immunity would allow you to cast spells that only had personal, internal, effects and which didn’t (like Conjuration spells and most Evocations) call on external energies. After all, with personal immunity, you’d essentially be occuping a personally-shaped hole in the antimagical effect, a bit like a fragile bit of glassware packed in a solid chunk of styrofoam. Thus a spell that didn’t call on external forces or links and which only affected the caster would work nicely. I’d be careful with things like “polymorph self” though. The game master might just start wondering just where it is your gear and excess/required mass goes to – and how you get it back. That kind of thing could be quite unpleasant.

      Even all that wouldn’t make your personal immunity useless of course; personal immunity would still allow ongoing spell effects – like a fast healing spell, or strength enhancement, or a lot of other things – to keep going until they ran down. It just woun’t let you engage in a duel of magic with someone.

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