A New Look at Infrequently Used Spells
Did you ever notice just how many spells are in the Player's Handbook? Roughly a third of the book is dedicated to describing the hundreds of spells available for clerics, sorcerers, wizards, and other spellcasters. A couple of dozen spells, often blatantly offensive or defensive in nature, tend to fall into the "no-brainer" list for all but the most specialized of spellcasters, such as magic missile, fireball, mage armor, cure spells,and protection from energy (and for you power players out there, miracle and wish). Beyond this immediate list, however, are spells that may not always get the recognition that they deserve -- for both the player and the DM.
This series focuses on several spells that do not get frequent use in play, but are nonetheless interesting and effective when used in the proper manner. What's more, we'll be giving a nod to the DMs out there, hopefully inspiring them to use these spells as a way to keep the characters on their toes, or perhaps even start an entire campaign simply by the casting of one . . . little . . . spell.
In this first installment, look at a few illusion and enchantment spells that may get short shrift from a spellcaster.
In a game full of swinging swords and eldritch spell blasts, calm emotions may seem a little out of place. However, this spell is remarkably useful for both defusing potentially dangerous situations and negating some of the effects from other spells and situations (both good and bad, depending on where you are on the receiving end). While action-oriented players may disdain calm emotions as "too pacifistic," its in-game uses are undeniable. Hit the orc barbarian with this spell to deny him his rage for the encounter and see if you think the spell is too weak. Also, casting this spell on a person that you're sure is going to act in a less-than-appreciative manner before interacting with him may work in your favor. If you're pretty sure that Gustavor the Blacksmith is going to hate your guts, casting calm emotions on him beforehand could prevent a fight from breaking out.
Calm Emotions -- For the DM
Sometimes you're in a position as a DM where violence is not the answer. Arming an NPC with this spell (often times while hidden away) can defuse a volatile situation and bring the game back to its roleplaying aspect. Although players instantly become suspicious when they want to start a fight and, after a few unsuccessful dice rolls, are told "you feel strangely peaceful about the situation," it does force them to stop and think for a moment before charging in with swords drawn.
The Dirty Little Secret About Illusions
Illusions are a prominent feature in many adventures. If used correctly, an illusion steers players in the right direction or produces the red herring needed to throw them off the trail if the game is moving too quickly. However, here's something that few people realize:
Player characters are meant to see through illusions eventually.
The perfect illusion utterly deludes the PCs into believing what the DM wants them to see. But, a door hidden by an illusion is a door (and an entire part of the adventure) that never gets used, which means that the part of the adventure beyond it might never be experienced. It's pointless to have an NPC conceal his identity through illusion magic unless the ruse is revealed eventually. The best illusions in the game (in terms of game design) work best when they fool the PCs for only a portion of the time -- "failing" for the maximum leverage of game play and moving the story along.
However, illusions cast by the PCs are under no such restrictions. They get to "see" how well their spell works against other creatures.
Need to get some information conveyed a long distance? Think about using dream next time. In addition to its unlimited range, the message conveyed in a dream can be as long as the caster likes. If your party is divided for some reason (and you wouldn't let that happen now, would you?) then dream is excellent for keeping them up to speed.
Dream -- For the DM
Dream can be a fantastic way to start an adventure. As the characters bed down for the night, an NPC can use dream to pass along some vital bit of information or prophetic vision that gets the PCs motivated. This message need not be pleasant -- the dream could be dire and unsettling (although not as damaging as nightmare; see below). The spell does not indicate that the caster must use her true identity in the dream, so it's possible to cast this spell under some other guise.
No, this is not the horselike monster of the same name (that's an entirely different article). Nightmare is a 5th-level illusion (phantasm) [mind-affecting, evil] spell that is far more insidious than one might think at first glance. If the target fails his Will save, he loses a night of peaceful sleep and cannot regain arcane spells as normal the next day. On top of it, the victim also takes 1d10 points of damage! That's not too bad for a spell that can be used at almost any distance.
Nightmare is the perfect spell for disrupting bards, sorcerers, wizards, and other arcane spellcasters, since it makes their lives utterly miserable. An arcane spellcaster who not only lacks sleep (in other words, one who is fatigued, as the condition) and does not regain any of his spells for the day is nothing more than a walking target.
Nightmare -- For the DM
Like dream, nightmare has wonderful uses, both as a story device and as a way to reach adventurers at the time when they feel the safest. While the characters slumber in their safe haven, the villain can send horrific visions to keep them off kilter and paranoid. After all, if the enemy can reach them in their sleep, he can reach them anywhere! Although it's not clearly stated in the spell description, nightmare could be used to send specific and prophetic visions to the PCs, both hinting at the fate to come and as a lure to goad them into action.
About the Author
Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Monster Manual IV, and the Tome of Corruption from Green Ronin Publishing. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.