Bonus Replies: Editorial0 and Alzrius

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Editorial0 has had a bit of free time recently, and decided to provide his own set of answers to some of Alzrius’s recent questions. Since his prospective tends to be quite different from mine, he has some alternative solutions and explanations.

In regards to spell research, what modifiers are there for trying to invent an arcane version of a divine spell or psionic power? Notwithstanding GM fiat, is such a thing possible (e.g. an arcane cure light wounds, or an arcane hypercognition)?

Well, barring GM fiat? You can indeed.

However, getting around that isn’t going to be easy. I generally presume that unless the writer had a massive stroke of idiocy*, any simple, cheap, and easy way of accomplishing things has been discovered, polished, and become routine. So you aren’t going to come up with a spell that’s an absolute improvement on Magic Missile. That spell is just as good as it can be.

*That does happen. Writers all-too-often put in huge problems or challenges and then forget that they themselves put in an quick solution one page back. Or claim that something is impossible and then put in easy ways to do just that later on. But barring this, I assume people in the game worlds aren’t idiots. So we know that the Cure Light Wounds spell is about as good as it can get.

Also, note that what The Practical Enchanter says about spell design: it’s a combination of complexity AND power. People all too often ignore the Complexity because Power is obvious and flashy.

Now let’s look at the Cure Wounds series. Power-wise, those spells fit in at their given levels pretty closely. A given healing spell is usually weaker than a same-level attack spell, but they do scale with the spell level and somewhat with the caster level.

So now we know a more powerful caster does affect the spell. This may be important later.

Complexity-wise, healing is way overboard. That 1st-level spell can knit bones, restore organs, push leaked blood and fluid back where it does no harm, erase any chance of infection. If the individual is dying, it will erase all the ongoing damage to the nerves, brain and spine instantly.

This does presume relatively normal biophysics of course – but an awful lot of d20 games do indeed presume that, even though the rules do a pretty poor job of actually representing it. -Thoth

Cure Light Wounds is at LEAST at fifth-level complexity. I’d say sixth for practical purposes. With a few hundred years of development and polishing it might be possible to get the spell down to fifth level.

So why is it so cheap? Well, remember that divine spellcasters get a hidden bonus. They have a deity, and probably an entire divine staff, processing, preparing, and weaving the spells. Druids get that same edge from nature gods or local spirits or some such. Those spellcasters may be storing and casting their healing spells, but they don’t have to do all the work.

I can’t explain Bards. Bards are just weird, and they do their own thing. They’re something of a problem because it’s not clear how, exactly, they learn their own spells. Furthermore, they originally got their spells from a semi-religious force, so… Bards are just Bards.

Bards presumably get it from their attunement to the harmony of the universe or from the muses or something. I have to agree with Editorial0; Bards arcane healing spells have been a headache since third edition came out. -Thoth

Not every spell needs this level of complexity – but divine spells are notorious for having a lot of control, being especially targetable, or (at least in the old days) being frequently reversible. They traditionally offer such options a lot more often than arcane spells.

So we know the deity is handling the complex pre-arrangement of spells. They won’t do this for every spell, but healing magic is definitely a worthwhile investment. What else offers so large and obvious an aid to the faithful? And as the priest’s ability to handle power improves, he or she can channel additional healing with each Cure Wounds. The spell is already quite complex, so there’s no reason not to pour on more power once the cleric can handle the flow.

You  may ask why, if the God does this for Cure Spells, they don’t for all other spells. First, the deity isn’t devoting all his (her/its/other/etc.) attention to the problems of every priest. There’s only so much power available even to d20 god, and there’s only so many things which can really benefit from it. Some other spells do benefit, just not as much. And of course, all the extra work takes out some of the brute force.

Not to mention that Healing spells are about the most generically useful spells in existence, and are pretty vital for maintaining your congregation in a d20 universe. -Thoth.

In any case, Arcane spellcasters get none of this benefit – or its costs. They get all the raw power they can handle, but nobody’s helping them cast complex spells. And if you somehow manage to gather a large group  of people channeling energy to you, servant spirits taking care of trivial spell effects you’re not interested in, and remove yourself to the Astral or Outer Planes, then you’ve already become a deity in DnD terms.

Mere mortal beings must live with their limitations. A single Cure Light Wounds spell might be worth spending a single fifth level slot on for a wizard on rare occasions, but usually they’re far better off with a potion or a magic item and using the spell slot to stop your enemies, evade traps, or avoid damage. Arcane spellcasters who get to that level aren’t likely to waste a lot of time studying really weak magical effects, or bothering to make scrolls and hand them down. They have better things to do.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do healing effects. You can. It’s just a lot more trouble than its worth. Do you really want to give up 5th-level spell slot for a Cure Light?

And if we look at existing spells, we do see that arcane spellcasters have a lot of ways to manipulate life energy. They can steal it, donate it, and exchange it. With some work, it wouldn’t that hard to create a battery of life energy you could then draw from with spells, or hand out to your friends. But it’s never going to be as easy as the divine spellcaster’s tricks.

I should also mention Lerandor’s Rule, also from the Practical Enchanter. It says that it takes  2^”N” level 1 spells to mimic a spell of “N’th” level. That’s exponents for anyone who may not recall algebra. Imagine the number 2 being multiplied by itself “N” times.

So, a level 4 spell would require 2*2*2*2 level 1 effects to develop. That’s 16 separate, specially-designed level 1 spells, cast in sequence. A level 5 spell is 32. A level 6 spell takes 64. If anyone was insane enough to cast Wish using level 1 spells, they’d have to create from scratch a whopping five hundred and twelve new first level spells.

Using Lerandor’s rule, you can indeed resurrect someone with arcane magic. The advantage of breaking everything down to its tiniest component is that all the components look an awful lot alike, whether they’re divine, arcane, or psychic. And yes, I’ve actually used this in game before: I had a character who could indeed design spells on the spot. I even managed to accomplish level four spell effects with first level spells – when I had a few hours to think about it.

All in all, for that, just use a ritual magic system. It’s a lot less of a headache.

Mixing Psychic Powers and other effects is even easier. If you take the time to design them, they (usually) don’t cost anything extra as Arcane effects OR as Clerical effects. Clerics would have to beg their deity, who may not find it worth the trouble, and Druids probably can’t get them at all.

However, the MAJOR benefit to being a Psychic is in the flexible power points and spellcasting, not the effects. But on that note, remember that you’d have to make the effects for your OWN kind of spellcasting. As a wizard, you can indeed create a Summon Mental Construct spell – but you have to develop it for one specific spell level and memorize it in advance. As a sorcerer, you know it for a given level and can use any appropriate slot – but you don’t get to vary the level of the spell effect.

Eclipse does offer ways of easing those limitations. You can use the Theurgy feat to merge  Divine and Arcane magic, so you can indeed learn the relevant powers directly. While this makes them more costly it’s a lot cheaper than trying to develop your own new Arcane Cure spells.

What’s a good way for an arcane spellcaster to try and deal with enemies that use the old “grapple the mage!” routine to prevent him from casting spells successfully?

  • The most obvious way is the good old Easy metamagic + Streamline. That removes the nasty gestures modifier. Alternatively, the variant Quicken Spell rules do the trick. Of course, that’s not the only way.

And still requires a concentration check. That’s why I focused on ways to get around having to “cast” normally at all. Editorial0, however, is focusing more on ways to avoid being successfully grappled in the first place… -Thoth.

  • Reflex actions and evasive effects – the old “not being there” routine – work really well. Whether as spells or personal abilities, intangibility, erecting barriers, altering space to increase the distance between you and the enemy, and short range teleports work really well.
  • So, of course, does avoiding being seen. Invisibility is classic, but shrinking down to hide under the under the fighter’s helmet works really well. I suggest running a cooling spell though, since it may get hot and you don’t want him getting too sweaty, either.
  • Or you can just crank your AC high enough to not get hit. Magic items, Innate Enchantment, or Siddisyoga all work fine.
  • So does piling on the Celerity and using move actions to stay well out of their reach.
  • You could buy an Immunity to being grappled. This gets pretty expensive, because it may fall under the “immunity to natural law” rules. If you had a decent Base Attack Bonus and maybe some martial arts, I’d certainly consider letting you buy it as your incredible skill allowing you to slip through any foe’s grasp.

There doesn’t seem to be any sort of spell or effect that will selectively let you remove a limb from another creature. It’s not hard to see why this is, since a few such castings could quickly descend into the realm of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s Black Knight; or even just one-off decapitations all over. Nevertheless, what would a spell with the ability to sever limbs look like (and what would be the game effects of losing an arm or leg)?

You actually can do this with a variant Polymorph effect. If you want such a disguise, it’s not a problem. Just use Alter Self. But being able to hit others is a +2-3 spell level modifier, so a Polymorph variant seems appropriate. I’d peg it as a level 3 effect: easier than anything but a specialty polymorph, and granting your choice of limb. Use a standard Fortitude save to resist.

This one departs pretty radically from my notions; I went with Curse effects and a suggested rules tweak to make people happy with crippling effects (as an alternative to death) – but going with Polymorph is certainly a reasonable approach too. I’d drop the spell a level or so though; it’s certainly less drastic than turning someone into a mouse. -Thoth

The real reason not to bother is that it’s not all that effective. It’s no easier than turning someone into a penguin or making them fall asleep and it’s merely a hindrance, if a grotesque one.

Anyway, losing an arm with a spell is painful, but so are a lot of other things d20 characters shrug off. Losing am arm would simply lose you an arm – no off-hand attacks, off-hand shield, or two-weapon wielding without some major penalties. Depending on circumstances, a character could lash an item to his stump if you left one, but that would take a few minutes and isn’t something to try to do in combat.

Losing a leg would be more problematic. Lose a leg, and all you can do is crawl along. This won’t stop d20 characters (who seem to be made of broken hobnails and leftover bricks) from spellcasting or attacking though. It would erase all base movement, and by extension a normal run wouldn’t help since it’s a multiplier. But characters with bonus movement might still be able to use it, along with any movement-related feats if they have move to spare.

If you think that’s weird, just go watch the old move, “Crippled Masters.” Do not mess with legless monks.

Another interesting possibility is removing the head. There’s no reason this must kill the target, either. Yeah, supposedly the Vorpal weapon kills that way, but d20 characters can often take battle-axes to the neck and laugh (and this is a polymorph effect, not a killing effect. -Thoth). This would blind and deafen the character, and I wouldn’t ask that they do a lot of long division, but is otherwise none too hindering. The player would have to try and use his character’s memory to swing a weapon or target spells, and I as GM would make them do some fun saves or attribute checks while I laugh hysterically. You’d want to get your poor target a regeneration spell or use a Dispel* before they dehydrate. And hopefully they won’t panick and stab anyone who comes near.

*Yes: it’s an ongoing magical effect like Polymorph and can be Dispelled. Making it permanent and immune to that costs +2 spell levels.

Given that alignment is determined by planar forces (as laid out in The Practical Enchanter for the rational discussion and change alignment spells, could there be a spell to stop you from changing alignments when you normally would?

I like to call such a spell morality shield, since it would presumably not only protect you from having your alignment changed by using spells/magic items with an alignment descriptor different from your alignment (e.g. you can be a good spellcaster using spells and magic items with the [Evil] descriptor and not become evil over time), but also from actions that would change your alignment, whether immediately or gradually (e.g. betraying your friends, burning down an orphanage, etc.). Is such a spell possible? What effect would it have on spells that relied on alignment to determine their effects (e.g. blasphemy)?

Yes and no. If you can do block a force or object with magic you can usually allow things in and out selectively – but this takes a higher level effect. That’s pushing level 9 spells already, and you’d have to keep it up over the long haul.

The real problem here is that you’re still stacking up “teh 3b1L”, or the good as the case may be, and you’re likely to attract a lot of notice from certain beings. Obviously, you’re a powerful spellcaster. Demons and devils and such may want to hire you in some universes, or kidnap you as a potential new evil being. And good beings will still reject you if they hear about your vile actions or whatnot. Your acts may not affect your official alignment, but that doesn’t mean that people ignore them.

And if your shield drops for any reason, it’s entirely possible (if not certain) that your true alignment will form an outer-planar link. Will this happen instaneously? Not in most universes. But we’re talking weeks at most, not years. And it may not actually help you if and when you die: no ongoing spell effects then, and whatever powers or forces are in charge of the local afterlife may take a very dim view of you.

Of course, this can work in reverse. You might be evil, but decide to switch sides, and use this technique to fool your bosses into thinking you’re still a loyal minion of evil. Obviously, you’d have to be a powerful spellcaster, but you could let your plans fall handily into the heroes’ hands, secretly free them when they get caught, and then turn on your boss at the last minute. Even if you get killed, the local good powers can probably find it in their hearts to forgive you your previous acts of villainy. After all, that was one heaven of a show!

All of this takes a somewhat generic view of the d20 cosmos, without adding any new elements. That doesn’t have to be that way. I created a couple templates for the kinds of characters you may be thinking of. You can play a character with an omni-alignment and no alignment at all. I’ll have Thoth post them.

Now, I don’t care about the Evil descriptor. That’s irrelevant. In normal d20, divine casters simply can’t cast those spells if they’re good, no good god hands them out, it doesn’t change your alignment if you use them as magic items, and you can make arcane equivalents which are morally neutral in and of themselves anyway. You may be thinking of a side note from the Book of Vile Darkness, which is a different matter. BoVD was an erratic supplement at best. Certainly neutral divine spellcasters can use evil effects and it presumably doesn’t make them evil – and the arcane equivalents are morally neutral.

I have to disagree somewhat here; the base assumption in d20 does seem to be that casting spells with an alignment descriptor is indeed a good/chaotic/lawful/evil act as appropriate, even for an arcane or neutral divine caster. Basic d20 just doesn’t have any detailed rules about changing alignment – save that it’s normally gradual. Thus, if you keep running around throwing “evil” spells, you’ll gradually drift towards being evil. Fortunately, d20 also doesn’t imply that there’s any form of “slippery slope” associated with any alignment; it’s just as easy for an evil character to drift towards good as it is for a good one to drift towards evil. -Thoth

The Corrupt spells from the Book of Vile Darkness are a different matter. Neutral characters can indeed cast them on a whim, they just have to pay the price.

Of course, most of those spells are just plain stupid. They’re not effective compared to other, similar spells. They’re just gross for no meaningful reason. Like most games, they have the ancient magic of evil powers and forgot to make it worth bothering with. Would you go out and damn your soul forever to learn the Dark Secrets of Blasphemous Accounting from the Dread Lords of Infernity so you could do exactly the same estate planning, tax payments, and SEC filing you could with normal accounting? It’s a pointless, insulting sourcebook that doesn’t even have much to offer in designing villains. They confused “ugly” with “evil,” and even in high fantasy games the two are not always the same. No one is going to use them, except possible an already-evil spellcaster who was trying to see if he could get a benefit – and who would probably forget about it when it became obvious that you didn’t.

Mechanically, spells which detect your alignment still work unless you’ve completely warded yourself from alignment forces. You’re blocking the weak, pan-universal effects of infinite planes of existence infinitely distant, not the specific magic focusing on you now. If you ward yourself such that your alignment no longer exists, then the spell has nothing to detect. It will default to the “neutral” alignment effect.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too. Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

6 Responses

  1. Thoth was evidently confused by something I wrote. I was using Alter Self as a base, but referred to a generic “polymorph effect.” I simply mean the generic ability to change shape, of which all kinds of Polymorph-type spells are examples. Changing the spell so you can target a hostile creature would add about a +1 on it. Now that spell would also grant the ability to choose which body part to change.

    So for some specifics:

    Remove [Limb]
    Sor/Wiz 2
    Range: Touch
    Target: Creature
    Save: Fort Neg.

    You remove a specific limb, varying by the spell effect. Each Remove [Limb] spell is its own separate magic spell, and must specify which limb is affected (right leg, right arm, and so on). Any equipment the target held in that limb is dropped, though a creature can make a Reflex save versus the spell to catch items in the other hand if desired.

    Vanishing Limb
    Sor/Wiz 3
    Range: Touch
    Target: Creature
    Save: Fort Neg.

    You remove any limb of your choice from the target. Otherwise treat as per Remove [Limb].

    These would be pretty basic spells. With a little work, you could probably expand the Vanishing Limb spell into a complete “Alter Other” spell should you really wish.

    One thing I realized after I wrote it was that you might suffocate. Then I realized it’s not actually that clear if suffocation in d20 happens, or if it is remotely like any normal suffocation, or if you should use the drowning rules.

    If it does work like that, this is also about as lethal as a 3rd-level spell can get. With a melee touch attack, you can remove someone’s head and make them suffocate or something. of course, even a normal human will get about six rounds before they die, which is plenty of time to kill whomever cast the spell.

    The other thing to remember is that your campaign may have implicit rules on what magic is allowed by society. That is, if you run around removing limbs and erasing heads, you might attract unwanted attention. That is, after all, at least an uncommon magic effect and either unpleasant or pointlessly malicious. A kick-in-the-door game might not, but you’re going to favor a fireball in that case anyway. None of this means you can’t use the spell, but you might not want to advertise what you’re doing lest the local authorities start turning their baleful gaze at you.

    Would I use a spell like this? Well… no. When you consider all the disadvantages, your much better off just rendering the target unconscious with a more powerful sleep spell, or whatever. A party member can always Coup de Grace the helpless enemy.

    • That does turn out consistently though; I was using base of Baleful Polymorph, at -2 levels (and thus level three) for the greatly reduced flexibility; only allowing the caster to remove a limb.

  2. Reading back over this, I wanted to add that I really enjoyed your answer my question on the possibility of arcane healing spells. One interesting aspect of the “your god handles the complicated part” comes to the forefront if you consider how healing spells are universally-applicable among living creatures.

    If the complexity of healing spells is that they’re able to flawlessly repair the complex biological machine that is a living creature (assuming that the campaign keeps to ideas of biology, as Thoth noted), then surely a good deal of that goes into making those spells work so well on any organism, no matter how alien or unusual it is.

    Put into a practical context, that leads me to these questions: How much would it lower the spell’s level if you designed healing spells that only worked on a given creature type (e.g. humanoid, fey, outsider, etc.)? That only worked on a particular species (e.g. human, elf, etc.)? On a specific individual (e.g. the spell’s designer, etc.)? Would there be any room for the spell to work on subjects that are biologically “near” the target creature (e.g. a healing spell meant to work on elves-only being used on a half-elf, or a spell meant to be used on a specific individual used on their offspring)? This last question seems like it’s already been answered by Thoth in this article, but it’s still worth asking. Would such spells still be viable as attack spells against the undead?

    If adding the above limits lowers the spell level enough, it seems like it may add some viability to arcane healing spells (especially if combined with other modest limitations like a slightly longer casting time, draining ambient magic, etc.).

    • Well, I’d say that at the level that healing spells are working, there really isn’t much difference between most conventional life forms; the spell has to be able to analyze the mangled tissue, patch together cells, and put it back where it belongs anyway. On that scale the difference between a flatworm and a human is pretty small.

      On the other hand, healing spells work on any living creature – including elementals and such. Perhaps they don’t repair flesh at all; they simply add to the inner store of positive energy that makes a d20 creature “alive”.

      Presuming that such spells do actually repair “tissue”, we have a few precedents – most notably Heal Mount (SRD, Paladin 3) and Faith Healing (L1), which only works on fellow believers, but works much better on them.

      Likely factors on Cure Mount include the existing mystic link with the caster and his or her god (-1 spell level) and it being limited to a more or less specific creature. That’s -1 spell level for limiting it to a particular general type of creature (fey, etc) and another -1 spell level for limiting it to a specific type of creature within that general group (“brownies” perhaps).

      Faith Healing simply has the -1 spell level for a common link (to the sponsoring god), but maximizing a single d8 wouldn’t seem to call for more than +1 spell level, if that.

      Trying to limit things to specific individual within a fairly narrow group probably takes things down to the point where they start becoming more complicated again; how is the spell checking?

      Whether such spells will take partial effect on targets which are somehow related to the official target is up to the GM. I’d probably go with on the grounds that it certainly seems reasonable – but your mileage may vary.

      That does add some viability to arcane healing spells, but you’re still far better off bringing along a cleric.

      I hope that helps!

  3. […] casting healing spells goes, there’s a section from my favorite blog that has some interesting ideas on the […]

  4. […] casting healing spells goes, there’s a section from my favorite blog that has some interesting ideas on the […]

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