View Full Version : Rule-of-cooling non-advantageous spells and abilities

2011-09-29, 08:09 PM
Hi folks.

Recently in my game, i had an idea on how to manage certain spells and abilities.

The idea sprang up when the cleric player wanted to have intercourse with a woman in at a private party.
He wanted to use "Silence" on the door to prevent any... uncomfortable noises to exit the room.
Of course, i was about to say him no, silence dosn't work that way, and it's duration (pathfinder) is rounds/level.
But then i thought that there was no reason that i should have denied that use. It was cool, and it didn't give him any combat or important advantages.

A week later, i introduced an houserule. Any PC can now use their abilities in a different way. As long as a spell or ability doesn't give you any advantage in combat, social, or otherwise "important" situation, you can use it to perform minor "tricks" to help you roleplay a situation better.
You dont' need to have the spell/ability prepared (but must at least know it), as long as you don't breach immersion and don't get any advantage from the use, and you do not expend an use in casting/using it.
You can "fluff" spells and abilities as you like, not needing to follow the exact rules at all.

A few examples:

- Silence on the door as said above, to prevent noises to reach the outside. This doesn't work if you are planning an assault and actually NEED that no one hears you, and it is a challenge to do so. It works if you want to roleplay intercourse and not being heard. Duration is as long as it's needed.

- The paladin can summon his mount to join a regal procession, and it can even have special summoned armor that looks they way he wants to. It cannot be used to get special protection or advantages from it.

- If you want to talk with someone you know, and you have "sending" prepared, you can talk to him in whatever form you like, without expending the use or check for number of words. You can even decide that your image appears next to him and you can see as if you were there. You cannot use it if speaking with that person in time is actually important, or if the trip to get to the person was a challenge, and so on.

- The inquisitor can cast "zone of truth", "confess" and the like, and not have it resisted by commoners. If you could obtain the information in another way, and are level 10+ and the commoner is no danger to you, then no save is allowed. You could get the information you need in a hundred ways, but you look cool doing inquisitor-stuff, then you get to do it.

- The druid can chat with animals and roleplay with them if he desires. He can mentally control a nearby animal to impress someone, or to look cool, or to roleplay. It cannot gain any advantage from this use, so the animal will never reveal anything very useful. The animal can tell him where someone went or when he last saw him, treating this as a gather information check. If you are trying to solve a mistery, then the animal cannot help you. (unless you can normally speak with them, that is)

One last rule is, if you do something out of this houserule that i let you do, but then it gives you a non-intended advantage, you either:

- pay the spell slot or ability use if applicable;
- decide not to gain any advantage from it even if you could;
- find a way for the effect to end sooner than you wanted, negating any benefit.

So, if you have silenced the door and bad guys come, you can state that you lose concentration and the spell fails (in this case you cannot expend the use because the effect isn't legal in a normal situation); if you have summoned your warhorse for the parade and baddies come, you either expend the usage, unsummon it, or decide not to use your mount for the combat.

What do you think of this? Do you like the idea? I believe that for this to work, you have to trust your players a lot. I trust mine, and while i know that this could really, really get abused, i'm (almost) sure they won't try to. In a sense, i'm giving them a little of the DM power: the ability to shape nice roleplay opportunities without needing any special in-game abilities to do it.

Oh and, if you can come up with more ways to use abilities just for roleplay or rule-of-cool, you can share it if you want!

2011-09-29, 11:27 PM
I like the IDEA behind the idea, bur practically it makes for an awfully inconsistent world. Silence works one way at one time and place, but not the same way at another time and place? Sure D&D has... vague physics at best, but when even "It's magic!!" isn't a viable excuse you've gone a little to far. Sending? Same thing there.

Now I as a player don't mind if my DM is lenient on stuff like this, but I also expect that once it's been stated that yes, the spell/ability/whatever can be used in that fashion that is always true. Of course that's no excuse for me to abuse the crap out of the privilege, but it means that the DM needs to come up with a good reason for why it doesn't work that way when it did once.

Now if your players are cool with that rule and roll with it, great. But it does feel odd to me really. (Mind you like the druid makes a certain amount of sense to me, but I'm not really sure I like the whole "cool but useless" effect...)

2011-09-29, 11:38 PM
While an intriguing idea, I get enough immersion breaking as it is. I don't need more. After all, if you are planning an encounter on a enemy Lords wife, having it be silenced is absolutely to your advantage. This seems like it would just lead to a lot of grey-area arguments of whether something is "to ones advantage" or not. This wastes the most valuable resource in the game, time to play.

2011-09-30, 05:16 AM
The idea sprang up when the cleric player wanted to have intercourse with a woman in at a private party.
He wanted to use "Silence" on the door to prevent any... uncomfortable noises to exit the room.
Of course, i was about to say him no, silence dosn't work that way, and it's duration (pathfinder) is rounds/level.
But then i thought that there was no reason that i should have denied that use. It was cool, and it didn't give him any combat or important advantages.

Silence actually does work that way:

...no noise whatsoever issues from, enters, or passes through the area. The spell can be cast on a point in space, but the effect is stationary unless cast on a mobile object...

As for the spell's duration, just tell him that, as it turns out, he didn't need longer than Round/level.:smalltongue:

2011-09-30, 05:27 AM
I like the idea and i think it can work if you add in some fluff. and i welcome people to pick appart the idea and think of any way it could be abused to see if it would actually work.

The idea is...a spell has a duration because you are not able to concentrate on it. you cast a spell on a person or a object and then leave, well the spell is going to degrade. You are in combat and cant focus on it so it degrades.

Essentially you are taking 10 to extend the duration of the spell, if you couldnt, you cant hold it. So you could focus on your flying, or your studying (Int buff), or silence spell to use its benefit as long as you need. but soon as a dragon dives down on you, or you have to solve puzzles under pressure, or you get a little to worked up in the hanky panky, the spell breaks and leaves your psyche and begins its duration and you cant "pick it up" again.

This DOES have an effect on combat, for one you could keep buffs on you and have them at the beginning of combat and their duration all starts counting down at once. If your players are ok with retconning or you think of a sideplot where someone can teach players to "hold" spells (since i think it will come up, its basically the idea of taking the idea of spells that can be held and expanding the principal to other spells). then you can make it so that if people are to filled with magic they get nauseated. Thus keeping a limit of about 2 or 3 active spells which would solve the problem of OP excessive buffing. this might only apply to held spells (so in combat you could benefit from more spells). and some spells, like Haste cant be held.

Mark Hall
2011-09-30, 11:41 AM
I've allowed things like this, but I usually call for an Int or Wis SIEGE check of about their level (depending on how hard it is).

Of course, with clerics, I'd also ask if it makes sense for their ethos... probably wouldn't have it fail, but it would go on their performance review.

2011-09-30, 01:24 PM
This is a good idea. Keeping your world consistent is overrated (especially in DND where the rules themselves break consistency several times over already) and should not get in the way of your and the players' enjoyment of the game. You can always brush it aside with the "it's a variant of the ability" excuse - why should a Silence spell work exactly the same every time?

2011-09-30, 04:23 PM
Thanks everyone for your opinions.

About consistency, I usually am very very consistent in my games; all npcs are alive and have personality, dungeons are designed so that whoever built it was using it for a reason and designed accordingly, etc etc.

The thing is, the players are usually the unconsistent lot. There are artifacts with no rules to create them, "magically reinforced doors" with no idea HOW they get reinforced, magic statues that "lose their magic and value if removed from the place", and so on. The standard dnd module may have a dozen of special features that are mentioned nowhere else.
NPCs use this "rule of cool" all the time, yet the PC can usually never do anything outside the specific text of their spell or ability lists.

I wanted to change this. Everyone can fluff non-advantageous spells as he wants to: the important thing is that it is credible and provides a good roleplaying opportunity. Concentration is a good excuse: when relaxing, you can usually do much better than what you can when pressed, like the "take 10" rule.

NPCs can do the same, often with lesser effects as not to take away the spotlight from the PCs.

As for what consitutes an advantage, it depends.
You can cast these rule-of-cooled spells if:
- you gain no combat, social or puzzle related mechanical bonuses; or
- you could obtain the same results in another way with little to no effort; or
- you could obtain the same results with a skillcheck taking 10; and
- you are of a sufficient level to make your attempt credible.

Regarding the last point, for example a level 10 druid can use "gather information" by talking to birds and cats, and a level 20 one can use "tracking" by asking the earth itself to move as to reveal the footprints of a target.

In any case, my players will accept a "no; no questions asked" answer if needed. They don't need to know WHY i said no, because they know i'm doing it in good faith. Maybe you don't know yet, but future events will make that silenced door problematic and i know it, so you don't get to do it this time.

2011-09-30, 05:45 PM
Honestly this feels a lot like a combination of Reserve Feats (you can do this trick all day long as long as you have a certain type of spell prepared) and the incidental bonuses from magic from True Sorcery/Black Company.

In Black Company, there are various spell seeds you learn as you advance and you combine them to make big spell effects. But even knowing a spell seed gives you minor bonuses, usually something on the order of +2 to a skill. This can be fluffed as basically you're using trivial applications of magic to do X better.

The main issue here is, its just another thing spellcasters have over non-spellcasters, so you'd also probably want to have a way for non-casters to take advantage of it.

What you could do to formalize 'advantage' more is to say "In general I'm willing to give up to a +X to a given check for a clever description of how you do it.", and then these little spell tricks can be used as part of the description to earn a +X, but so can a Fighter's combat training to recognize the dangerous guy on a gather information, or a Ranger's particular knowledge of animal habits to tell that the bird song that he just heard was someone making the sound rather than a real bird on a Listen or Sense Motive check.

Another potentially interesting way to do it would be to make something like skill tricks for spells and other more granular abilities. So if you buy a skill trick in Spellcraft, it lets you use a given spell or set of spells or something 1/encounter as a lesser trick instead of actually expending the slot.

A third possibility: make cantrips free to cast (perhaps removing Cure Minor Wounds from the list or replacing it with 'this stabilizes someone who is bleeding out and heals up to 1 nonlethal damage') and allow any spell to be made into a cantrip version of itself at a comparable power level to other cantrips. So the Silence Cantrip wouldn't block enemy spellcasting, but it might muffle sounds a bit. The Planeshift Cantrip would display representative images of other planes without any specific information. The Apocalypse From the Sky cantrip, erm... makes a tiny thundercloud over someone's head that rains warm water on them and occasionally sparks little red lightnings and does no damage.

2011-09-30, 11:36 PM
On your third possibility, I think the OP is playing Pathfinder, which already does this with cantrips.