Editorial0 has contributed a set of article-replies to some of Sean K. Reynolds rants about third edition design decisions. Those decisions have heavily influenced a lot of game designs since, so I’ll be putting those up – along with some additional comments or (in this case) some notable editing to cover the fact that I ran first edition games for many years, while Editorial0 has a good deal less experience with the older editions.
To avoid excessive reprinting, you can find the general introduction to this series in the first article, HERE.
This particular rant is entitled “Undead Can See Through All Illusions!” – and explains why Mr Reynolds feels that this is pretty obviously wrong.
Indeed the rules as written pretty much directly state that he’s right – but calling on the rules to justify his reasoning is purely circular logic: after all, he was one of the people who wrote the rules, so the fact that they agree with him isn’t exactly surprising. Still, the design decisions here do make pretty good sense.
This idea mostly got started because of sloppy thinking. Back in the first edition days of yore, when they were still gamely ignoring how the rules actually worked in favor of pretending that hit points were a matter of skill and not superhuman toughness (wait, some people still are), the idea also arose that illusions could only be perceived by a living mind, and only worked on the mind. That came from the psychosomatic damage rule, wherein if you failed to disbelieve an illusion it could go ahead and beat you into unconsciousness – even if the damage turned out to be illusory when you woke up later on. The failure to disbelieve took priority over the fact that the illusion had no actual substance to hurt you with.
Thus, if it didn’t have a mind, illusions couldn’t hurt it.
That WASN’T the same thing as immunity to the illusion though. A robot that didn’t have a mind couldn’t be hurt by those illusory spikes – but it still saw the illusion, and would still fall into the pit that the illusion of spikes had been cast over if it tried to just make its way through them. Still, such borderline cases rarely came up; things that made decisions – and so could be fooled by illusions – usually had minds. As far as creatures with minds went, if they disbelieved an illusion it couldn’t do psychosomatic damage to them. Thus it soon became a common-knowledge “fact” that illusions were mental effects “because they only worked on creatures with minds”*.
*There were in fact some spells in that category in first edition, but they ran more to enchantments like “charm” spells than to illusions. Illusions were physical, and could be seen perfectly well even if you were scrying from a hundred years and a thousand miles away and had perfect mental defenses.
This ignored the rules stating that creatures who disbelieved an illusion were still affected by the sensory effects that it produced (for an easy example, an illusory wall still made it hard to target someone hiding behind it whether you believed in it or not) – but that was easy to overlook, since it wasn’t like the PLAYERS could actually see what was going on in the first place, so when the spell “didn’t work”, it tended to be ignored thereafter.
Third edition gave undead immunity to mind-affecting spells – and some people put that together with the idea that illusions were all entirely mental effects (which had been incorrect even in first edition) and concluded that undead were therefore immune to all illusions.
That, of course, started a huge argument because it was based on a misreading of the rules to start with and ignored the fact that third edition had explicitly split up the list and drastically nerfed illusions by eliminating psychosomatic damage. Some illusions were mental and others were explicitly physical and – unless backed by “shadow” – couldn’t directly hurt you.
A mental illusion wouldn’t work on undead, who got immunity to all of that. Of course, this actually confused things even more in other areas. Why didn’t they work on undead with minds? Why didn’t they work on Constructs with minds? Sadly, this was mostly a case of the game writers not really having a good reason for the immunities they handed out. They could easily have had a Mindless template or attribute of monsters, but they wanted undead to have certain combat characteristics and they gave those characteristics to them.
A bit of further confusion arose from the fact that it was pretty obvious that undead weren’t using their long-decayed eyes to “see” with – which led to discussions about what they did see, and how, and to the notion of “lifesense” (which also justified that non-existent immunity to physical illusions).
Thus we know where this particular error came from. Of course, if you WANT undead to have “lifesense” in your campaign, you can find a discussion of that in the next article in this series, over HERE.
- The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – “Armor should give damage reduction instead of armor class!” (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- Ancient History II – More Demi-Human Level Limits Responses (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – “We need rules for called shots!” (ruscumag.wordpress.com)
- The Immortal Rants of Sean K. Reynolds – Demi-Human Level Limits (ruscumag.wordpress.com)