Saturday, April 10, 2010

Troublesome Spells

Throughout my D&D Dming "career" I've come to find the following spells annoying and troublesome for a variety of reasons:

Charm Person, Magic Missile, Sleep ,Lightning Bolt, Fireball, Invisibility and Raise Dead.

Not a huge list really is it? Some of these spells are too powerful for RP scale dungeon adventures in my honest opinion, some are world changers and some are used to death.

Charm Person: This one has been discussed to death in RPG land (so of course I have to talk about it here) folks are always in favor of gimping (or nerfing) this spell. Folks claim it wouldn't compel someone to do something they usually wouldn't or risk their lives. Really? Come on folks this is a game where people defy death 5 times before lunch with drinking buddies they met in the local tavern, seems to me there are a lot of dangerous things the victim if a charm person spell would be willing to do. Not to mention the earliest versions of the spell clearly put the victim under total control of the MU.
One problem problem with Charm person is it's duration, it's lasts too long. In it's original version it lasted until dispelled. Greyhawk added a new save based on the recipients intelligence score which gives those of higher IQ a greater chance of freeing themselves by lucky save, but it still has the potential of lasting forever.
So total control and last almost forever, it's too powerful. Don't screw up the spell bump it up to 2nd or 3rd level.

Magic Missile: once upon a time this spell didn't even exist in D&D. In greyhawk where the spell was introduced the spell did 2-7 points of damage. and there was an additional 2 missile every 5 levels the MU has attained. No mention however as to whether or not a hit roll or saving throw is required. In the holmes edit of basic the spell requires a hit roll. In AD&D no hit roll is required , it has been downgraded to 2-5 points of damage and for every 2 levels over 1st an extra missile. Auto hits? At 1st level? A 1st level spell that hits almost any monster really. No hit roll, no no like.
I say require a hit roll, damage 1d6+1 and a new missile every 3 levels (2 at 3rd, 4 and 6th) or possibly bump it up to 2nd level and retain the auto hit.

Sleep: in it's original version this spell put mobs of critters to sleep, with a different range effected by HD. But seemingly allowed a save. In greyhawk the sleep spell has no save. Why wouldn't a MU pick this spell? In AD&D an area of effect is enforced but it still impacts a lo of critters. we find out the targets can be kicked ans slapped (wounding will wake one up but one can be killed outright will sleeping under influence of this spell) awake however, still no save.

Clearly by now I'm not a fan of no-save spells. Allow a save otherwise it's a party killer that also encourages too many elves in a campaign. No auto killing unless one spends a whole round adjacent to foe killing a single foe. Run up to attack and it's a damage roll and they begin waking up. I also recommend letting this spell work on just 2-16 total HD of foes regardless of HD and if a single high level target is the target of this spell let it function. Bump it up to 2 nd level if doing so however.

Invisibility: lasts too long and is simply too good for a second level spell. Bump it up to 3rd because there are certainly situations where I'd give up on a 3rd level spell for invisibility and when judging new spells and considering spell level that's always a power gauge.

Lightning bolt: Originally a pretty gimpy area of effect but it's doubling back feature was pretty cool. However, does the doubling back require targets to make another save? In AD&D the spell range and effect is alterable by caster to be 1/2" wide or 1" wide. I've seen the "bounce" used to make billiard ball style lighting bolts down corridors, been guilty of allowing it myself.

So no billiard ball shots but to require the bounce back towards caster. Someone in the area of the bolt ht twice has to make two saves. If either fails they take damage as normal. Anyone in metal armor saves at -4, because it's a cool twiddly bit that adds reason to use this spell instead of fireball.

Fireball: originally "A missile which springs from the finger of the Magic-User. It explodes
with a burst radius of 2" . In a confined space the Fire Ball will generally conform to the shape of the space", in AD&D it was a dungeon nuking volume of roughly 33,000 cubic feet . Note however in AD&D "The magicuser points his or her finger and speaks the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A streak flashes from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body prior to attaining the prescribed range, flowers into the fireball"

Argghhh...33,000 cubic feet, that's annoying as all get-out! It's 33 10' cubes, that's a huge area in a dungeon. No one ever seems to note the chance of the spell detonating early on an impact however.

Fireball screams out for a hit roll, treat it like a grenade like missile. It also begs to be free of the 33,000 cubic feet area of effect. Stick with a radius and leave it at that. If it's a powerful enough fireball to burn through doors and expand to full area (in distance only not cubic volume) of effect let it do so otherwise stay away from the expanding dungeon nuke.

Raise Dead: oh boy, this one should be a biggie and it should have social consequences. There should be a physical and social taint on those who receive this spell, longer it takes to raise someone the more obvious they were once dead, impose a CHA penalty of -1 for each day between death and being raised (maybe be kind and give a 3 day safe period). Do you really want to exist as an unworldly/undead looking thing even if not truly dead? This will cut down on royalty and nobles staying in power thanks to having high level clerics on hand and not totally disrupt society.
Some folks have cool raise dead complications tables that may be worth using, do some searching.

Just a few rants and a few ideas for dealing with spells I see used too much or in an annoying fashion.


  1. I agree with you about the "no save" effects, but that is the best part about RPGs - you can house rule them. As for many of the spells, I'm no fan of the cheap, flashy stuff! I like my magic with a dark sense of mysticism (like out of a sword & sorcery novel), and not a way to blast you enemies, or as a short-cut to figuring out a mystery. I also agree with the social consequences of casting the more creepier spells. How I have the magic set up in my games (mostly fortune-telling, curses, mind-control, necromancy, and demonology - shadowed by strange rituals and superstitions), most folks fear magic-users outright, and rightfully so!

  2. I kinda like the fact that there are some spells that are not balanced for their level.

    Back in the day, we never got to select our spells ... they were either assigned by the DM, or you rolled to see what spells you started out with. How would you like to start with Read Magic, Detect Magic, Erase and Jump? :(

    As a first level Wiz, finding that Scroll with a Sleep spell on it was a godsend!

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  4. Well you just about covered the standard old school load-out. Just the kind of room clearers one needs to take out that dungeon room and move on. Except for Charm Person, always a "Hail Mary Pass" and of dubious value in a game system where you picked your spells in advance, didn't always find humans lurking in the Dungeon. Always used these spells as the gold standard of what spells should be. Found most the new supplements spells underpowered for the same level when compared to these. Not sure why people wrote them other than people had to write something. Always thought Gary and company bumped the other up a level because they didn't think of them before their players did.

    P.S. Sorry too many typo's in the previous text. This one's the same text run throught the spellchecker.

  5. I guess I don't see much of a problem as they're presented, other than that the wording was ambiguous or that it was kind of silly.

    Charm Person is a bit much for the lower levels, I agree, and Sleep's much better than the other spells, but if you give them both saving throws and make their duration a little better, then there's no big deal.

    Magic Missile; it's an auto-hit for 1d6+1 damage, maybe once or twice day. I've never had any problems with it.

    Raise dead is more of a campaign issue- the spell itself doesn't state that there should be any problems because the game (at least originally) was a blank slate to which you could add what you liked. I've always made Raise Dead extremely rare, so that a dead character is a dead character. There aren't that many NPCs who can cast spells that high, at least when I've played. YMMV.