Magic is Irresistible

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

For a couple sessions now, I’ve been wondering exactly how to handle spells in my OSR project. I feel like Magic-user spells in particular should be “overpowered” in the sense that they just work. No saves against the effects. Magic-user casts Charm Person? They are now your best friend. Until the effect wears off, at least. Sleep? Goodnight, sweetheart, have a great nap.

Because Magic-users are dangerous. Scary. What they command, just happens. That’s the whole schtick of the Magic-user. It’s why peasants and kings alike fear and distrust them.

Thus far, I’ve also semi-ruled this also applies to clerics, but I hadn’t really decided. I’m coming to think cleric spells should allow saves, as (among other class features) clerics already have the benefit of picking their spells at the time of casting, rather than being locked into memorizing the ones they want to use for the day, as Magic-users are.

Irresistible spells, however, can be a party-hoser.

Example: in a recent game session, a cleric cast Hold Person against the party, a spell which paralyzes the closet four humanoids within range. Every affected character failed their save. Which was all but one of the adventuring party (only the Magic-user was left standing, and forced to drag the bodies of her companions back to safety–at least after blasting the cleric and chasing her off). This essentially duplicated the result of an irresistible spell: total party shut-down.

I don’t know this is truly a negative, though.

Adventuring is meant to be dangerous. And I’m doing old-school gaming right now, which means character death due to bad planning or ill-luck is a given at some point. There’s a reason Jack Peasant doesn’t pick up a sword and go off to kill goblins.

Regardless, back on point: Cure Light Wounds ends paralysis effects against one target, as does Free Person for the closest four people within range, so total shut-down isn’t necessarily total for the prepared party.

But in this case, the party’s Cleric was one of those down for the count, making them sitting targets for a couple hours (yep, the duration of Hold Person in the earliest D&D rulesets is hours. Seriously: the duration of enchantment effects are crazy-long in the old D&D rules: turns instead of rounds. 6 turns, 12 turns, 48 turns, etc. Because, holy crap, magic. In my perception, rounds or minutes just don’t seem to carry the same oomph.)

My current ruling on all this would be that magic–Clerical magic–can be resisted with a Wisdom check against a target number of 10 + the spell caster’s level + the spellcaster’s Wisdom modifier.

But that spells cast by Magic-users can not be resisted.

However, there’s an important distinction to note by my using this particular phrasing: spells can’t be resisted.

That doesn’t mean spells can not be saved against; the damage or penalties caused by some spells can be blunted with a save (or ignored entirely) as those effects arise as a secondary result of the spell.

For example, the main effect of Fireball is to create a huge burst of fire over an area, which damages creatures and objects caught in the blast. Note that those within the radius are not resisting the creation of the fire, so a save to get clear of the worst of the flames is allowed.

Conversely, targets of Sleep do not get a save, because the effect of sleep is specifically putting creatures to sleep, and therefore cannot be resisted.

A trade-off here will be that Cantrips can be resisted. They are minor magics, infinitely available to the Magic-user, and provide a Tool bonus for a supernatural or supernaturally-enabled action, at least where a check is needed (minor wizardly things like levitating tiny objects, or making tiny illusions, or causing a playing card to vanish just occur. Because wizards). And that’s actually how I’ve run Cantrips so far. Which I think is fair.

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