The Burning Wrath of the Terrible Eye

Melting metal in a ladle for casting

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A Practical Enchanter question: I have an idea for a wand of fire that can only harm orcs, nothing else. Would that be a decrease in cost as the target is extremely limited or an increase as the wand won’t cause collateral damage (eg forest fires)?


That’s an upgrade. After all, an explosion isn’t very complicated, and it’s the nature of fire to burn whatever it hits – but now you not only need to produce fire, but you have to carefully control it so as to hit only specific targets.

Since that is a fixed effect it’s not as bad as the full Targeting (+3 spell levels) option on the Sculpting Metamagic (from Eclipse), but it’s definitely pretty handy.

  • Surrounded by orcs? Ground-zero fireball.
  • Six orcs piled up on a friend? Fireball those too.
  • Orcs holding hostages? Fireball them all and let the wand sort it out.

Not so useful if you can’t find any orcs of course – but if that’s the case, no one would come up with such a thing.

Perhaps a Phantasm might work better. After all, that’s a very underused type of spell – the SRD only lists Dream, Illusory Script, Nightmare, Phantasmal Killer, and Weird in the basic spells category – and a phantasm spell that only affects creatures who already have a particular set of experiences or cultural beliefs (since it relies on those to work) could reasonably be less complex and require less power. Ergo “Recall the Dark Waters” – a version of Phantasmal Killer which only works on targets who have memories of nearly drowning – might well be a mere second level spell. It’s much less versatile and useful than the generic Phantasmal Killer spell of course.

So… “Burning Wrath of the Terrible Eye” – a phantasm spell which only affects worshipers of the local God of Orcs – might look something like this:

Burning Wrath of the Terrible Eye

  • Illusion (Phantasm) [Fear, Mind-Affecting]
  • Level: Sor/Wiz 3
  • Components: V, S
  • Casting Time: 1 standard action
  • Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
  • Target: All creatures in a 20′ radius who are vulnerable to Phantasms AND who worship the local Orc God or Pantheon.
  • Duration: Instantaneous
  • Saving Throw: Will disbelief if affected, then Fortitude partial; see text
  • Spell Resistance: Yes

Burning Wrath of the Terrible Eye draws on the victims own worship and fear of the terrible powers and anger of the local Orcish Gods, focusing the uncontrolled psychic energies present in every mind through that minds own belief. Only those who worship the Orcish Gods can percieve the terrible manifestation of “their” vengeance, and so only they can be affected. Those who make a successful Will save will resist the spell in the first place, and will see nothing but vague images. Those believers who fail will suffer 8d6 points of damage, although they may make a Fortitude save to halve that damage.

A first level version – “The Lesser Wrath of the Terrible Eye” – only targets a single creature and only does 6d6 (or 3d6 on a successful Fortitude save) damage, but is otherwise be pretty much identical.

Now that will let you make an interesting wand of orc blasting – although you will fail if you’re up against an orc atheist, or one who’s been raised to worship some other set of gods, or something like that – and you may blast the occasional non-orc who’s been raised to worship the orc gods.

Spells like that are never going to become too common – they’re too specialized for that – but they’ll certainly be unusual and interesting when they do pop up.

For a bonus answer, we have Editorial0

It’s an upgrade.

The Practical Enchanter notes that spell levels are controlled by Power AND Complexity. Spells which hunt orcs are more complex, not less. Hitting only orcs is probably a +1 or +2. (I have to double-check some sources on that).

Granted, sometimes you can get away with a cheaper effect based on the “natural” forces of a certain game universe. If fire elementals and similar creatures are actively harmed by water, then a spell which creates some water also functions as an effective combat spell against them and only them. And you can cut the magic which ties an outsider to the world. But generally, focused and discriminate magic is more complex, and more expensive, than otherwise.

There might be some variations, too. You possibly could work on a sickness spell which only creates illnesses which hurt orcs. That’s be uncommon, but at least theoretically possible. And that might be eligible for a cost break. On the other hand, it’s a lot less practical than a Fireball, 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.

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.

5 Responses

  1. The underlying presumptions of the answer here are that making a spell effect be discriminating about whom it affects is an upgrade; it makes the spell more complex, to the point where it will boost the spell level.

    This seems to run counter to the “User Restrictions” cost modifier on page 106 of The Practical Enchanter. While that’s for magic items rather than spells – and for activation rather than targeting – it still seems to be operating based on the same principle of actively discriminating about the people that interact with the magic. And yet the User Restrictions reduce the cost of the magic item in question.

    • Basically there’s a difference in approach.

      An enchanted item is (contains? hosts?) a magical mechanism that produces a particular effect. If it has a “usage requirement” that means that the user has to supply some quality that’s important to the effect. It’s not that the item is refusing to work if (say) the user is not a virgin; it’s because the item requires some special quality of pureness (or whatever magical property it is that is unique to virgins) in order to work at all. In mechanical terms, such an item requires special skills, or fuel, or supplementary work, to operate.

      Thus the full-cost version might be comparable to a self-driving car with a nuclear power cell – but it’s a lot cheaper to build a car that requires a driver and fuel. You can leave out a lot of expensive and difficult bits by making use of what the driver is bringing to the table.

      From the other end… a spell that actively discriminates between targets will be higher level than it’s effect would otherwise suggest if it has to do the distinguishing. On the other hand, a spell that targerts a particular quality is often lower level because it’s targets must contribute something to it’s effects. Thus Pathfinder’s Spontaneous Immolation” is level two – but if you really wanted to research a spell that caused the Gasoline People of Altair VI (and only them) to burst into flames, you’d probably only need a Cantrip.

      And hopefully that dose of headcanon will work for you!

      • Reading this over, I can’t help but think that this leads to some interesting conclusions when writ large over the campaign world. Specifically, it would seem to me that most people or groups that make magic items would introduce some form of usage restriction – whether personal, sect-based, alignment-based, etc. – simply because there are going to be some groups that they’ll want to exclude while simultaneously saving money.

        Obviously, this will lead to such a thing being the new normal, but that just means that it will become standardized for groups that find/steal/loot magic items to then enchant them and pay up the difference to buy off the usage restriction altogether.

        Although…could they simply alter the specific nature of the restriction without changing its type? That is, if an item has gotten a price break because it’s alignment-limited to only Chaotic Evil character (x0.7), what sort of process would need to be undergone to change it to Lawful Good-restricted? That’s not changing the actual modifier, so presumably it wouldn’t cost anything? Though without a GP value as a control mechanism, it’s hard to say how long it would take or what it would require.

        Taking that thought a little further, is it possible to introduce a usage restriction – or other limitation – into an item after it’s creation? That seems counterintuitive at first, but seems to fit with the idea that magic items can be modified after they’ve been made. In this case, however, you’d have the awkward result of the item now being worth less than its previous cost. Presumably that money wouldn’t manifest as actual, spendable currency, but rather be reallocated into new enchantments.

        Hm, this seems to be a slippery slope to having Fourth Edition-style “residuum” in the game.

      • Well, according to the SRD under “adding new abilities”…

        “A creator can add new magical abilities to a magic item with no restrictions. The cost to do this is the same as if the item was not magical. Thus, a +1 longsword can be made into a +2 vorpal longsword, with the cost to create it being equal to that of a +2 vorpal sword minus the cost of a +1 sword.

        If the item is one that occupies a specific place on a character’s body the cost of adding any additional ability to that item increases by 50%. For example, if a character adds the power to confer invisibility to her ring of protection +2, the cost of adding this ability is the same as for creating a ring of invisibility multiplied by 1.5. “

        This, of course, is a source of confusion. Just in the first sentence… Perhaps only the original item creator can add powers to an item? Or do they mean a creator god? What does “with no restrictions” mean? Perhaps that – as long as I can create an item of some kind – I can add things to existing items as I please?

        For the second sentence… doesn’t this contradict the section on adding secondary functions to an item? That tells us there’s a price increase, while this says that there isn’t.

        And doesn’t the third sentence directly contradict the second one?

        Going with the “Rules-As-Written!” school of thought this COULD be taken to mean that you can take a wand of “Cure Critical Wounds” with 48 charges left (worth 20,160 GP) and have it “upgraded” to an Intelligent (+500 GP) +1 Dragonbane Scimitar (8315 GP) with Int 10 (0 GP), Wis 14 (1000 GP), and Cha 14 (1000 GP), Telepathy (1000 GP), 120′ Senses (1000 GP), Darkvision (500 GP), and able to cast six first level spells three times per day each (6 x 1200 = 7200 GP) (Total Cost of 20,515 GP) at a net cost of 355 GP (and, presumably, one day of time).

        (According to a REALLY abusive RAW reading this doesn’t say anything about an old ability going away – so our scimitar still functions as a wand of Cure Critical Wounds with 48 charges and we can continue to add new powers subtracting 20.515 GP from the cost this time. Maybe make it function as a staff too?)

        That’s pretty obviously not how it’s supposed to work though, or there wouldn’t be rules about selling old items and buying new ones and the prices for magic items would be completely nonsensical.

        I tend to rule that the “adding new abilities” title on that section is a part of the rule; you can upgrade effects to increase numerical bonuses or upgrade (say) “Cure Light Wounds” to “Cure Serious Wounds” – but removing old functions or adding limitations is a no-go; attempting to remove things will destroy the item. (In comparison to technology, magic functions as a unified whole; it is easy to add to, but impossible or near-impossible to modify or downgrade).

        There’s some wiggle room there – if “Heal” is an acceptable upgrade from “Cure Critical Wounds” is “make the bolt of fire into a bolt of plasma so hot that it Disintegrates things!” (Scorching Ray to Disintegrate, possibly with a limitation that makes fire resistance or immunity effective against the damage) an acceptable “upgrade”? – but that is why games need game masters.

        Thus an item that only worked for Chaotic Evil folks (presumably because they contribute some chaotic and evil energies to make it work) can be upgraded to work for “any chaotic being” or “any evil being” – and from either of those to “any chaotic OR evil being”, and from THERE to “anyone” (and the base price) – but it can’t be shifted to work only for lawful good folks at no cost. After all, that would involve an upgrade (removing the dependence on chaotic and evil energies) and taking something away to create a dependence on good and lawful energies. I can’t see that being simple or easy (basically a dismantle-the-whole-thing and start-from-scratch maneuver), and it would seem all too likely to simply destroy the item in question.

        As a note, usage restrictions are generally only for permanent magic items. They usually won’t work with charged items, which contain already completed spells ready to be released. There’s no casting mechanism that needs to be powered involved.

        I suppose you could use a Wish or Miracle or come up with s special ritual or some such (or build a character with special artificer powers of some sort) – but that’s going in to “game masters option” or “writing a bunch of new rules”. It would probably be much easier to upgrade to eliminate the alignment dependence and then add an aligned intelligence to keep it from being used by opposing groups.

        As far as the world goes… well, looking at that chaotic evil cult, there are likely to be quite a few cultists who are neutral evil, or chaotic neutral, or neutral and just going with it – so we’d probably be going with “sect membership” (x.6), not a literal requirement to be chaotic evil.

        Of course, the most likely outsiders to get their hands on the cults weapons are going to be good-aligned adventurers. They’ll doubtless be annoyed to find out that the weapons are all aligned against them, and they can’t just sell them without supporting the cause of opposing alignments by providing cheap evil weapons – but they can spend 40% of the base cost on upgrading them to “anyone” and then sell them for 50% (or more with some feats) – getting a much wider market, still making a 10% profit, and allowing the player-characters primary targets – enemy lords, cults, and similar – to sensibly have their own crafters, and be heavily and effectively equipped, without the treasure haul breaking the game.

        Similarly, when Grandpa’s nifty magical sword won’t work for non-paladins, the inheriting noble is likely to have that little problem fixed. When someone is having magical armor made for their kid… they’ll usually want it to keep working even if he or she changes a lot (I don’t CARE if he’s gone evil! That’s MY KID!) – and will want the grandchildren to be able to use it too. Since permanent magic items tend to last for quite a while, most of the ones in circulation will soon wind up being upgraded to be “usable by anyone”. You’re only likely to find a bunch of them with restrictions if you raid a source that’s been commissioning them.

        It’s likely enough that an experienced party will use such modifiers to make their own items cheaper – but it’s not like there aren’t already plenty of ways to do that and I’ve seen a number of groups that wanted to pass items around, sell them, or give them to a replacement character, suddenly realize that they used “personalized” on them and that they’re now effectively worthless.

        Of course, issues like that only really matter in long-term campaigns with in-depth worldbuilding – but those are exactly the kind that I like, so talking about it is always fun!

  2. […] also some discussion on this and related topics in THIS article and it’s […]

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