"Illusionist Week" continues. Hell, it might turn into "Illusionist Month." Sorry about that...I'll try to get the latest Zenopus update posted sometime this weekend...the kids aren't dead yet!
[mmm...maybe should have wrote *SPOILER*]
Just starting up from yesterday's cricket-worthy post, I decided that if I was going to rewrite the illusionist spell list I need to have some ideas of how I want to organize and structure it. There are, after all, some basic patterns that are readily apparent (spells based on color and light, spells that conjure "shadow stuff" from some demi-plane, spells that screw with a target's mind, etc.) and categorizing spells by type is something that will help with the re-organization of the list in a sensible manner. Sensible to me anyway.
SO...making a "deep dive" means doing some research and (in this case) started with reading the AD&D illusionist spell list. First up, audible glamer...not bad, though the whole "cast in conjunction with phantasmal force" is problematic (spell-casters don't cast spells "in conjunction"...unless Gygax meant "in conjunction with another illusionist" which, wow, TWO illusionists in the same party? That's got to be more rare than a pair of rangers...). I like the rough volume guidelines, though I'd probably cap it at "dragon level" (i.e. 24 men)...by my reckoning that would be 6th level, and any such illusionist would have access to the spell fear (what's more scary than a roaring dragon?). I don't want a spell to get into the range where eardrums start bleeding or cellular tissue begins to liquify.
Let's see...after that we have change self, a simple visual illusion and fine as written. Then we have the iconic color spray, okay, and...and...
Sweet Christmas, what the hell is this mess?
I'm not even going to bother quoting it here, because it's nonsensical. And, no, I'm definitely not the first person to notice it. The fact that I'm only noticing it NOW gives you an idea of how often I've run players with illusionist characters (some number less than two). I myself have run illusionists on multiple occasions but, given the choice, I've always taken phantasmal force as my first spell (dude...illusionist!) probably followed by hypnotism or wall of fog, maybe even change self. Some players might prefer a straightforward attack spell, but...well, that's not how I roll when I'm wearing the illusionist hat.
Which is all a long way of poorly justifying how I'm reading a book I've owned since 5th grade and never noticed that color spray spends a bunch of time defining what it does to creatures of higher level/HD than the caster while simultaneously limiting the effect to the level of the caster. Jeez Louise.
Checking other editions, I see that 2E "fixed" the spell by deleting the level cap. Which results in a power word equivalent spell that effects multiple creatures regardless of hit point value for a 1st level spell slot (creatures do get a save if they are over 6th level). I can see why it became popular. Oh, 2E...there are reasons I don't play you.
Once again, I see I need to go back to the source material: Peter Aronson. Aronson added this spell to the back end of the 1st level illusionist list for the 1976 Dragon #1 article that I mentioned in the earlier post. It's messily written...perhaps the reason why Gygax got "confused" in his editing...but let me take a shot at parsing it out (this is not a direct quote...it's my paraphrase):
Color spray effects 1D6 levels (HD) of opponents at a range of 24". The caster receives a bonus to the die roll of +1 for every five levels after 2nd (so +1 at 7th, +2 at 12th, etc.); however, the final result may not exceed six. If multiple targets are within range, randomly determine the order in which they are affected, assigning levels of effect (from the total effect rolled) until all levels have been expended. Partial assignment of spell effect is possible, and will impact whether or not the target receives a saving throw, as follows:
Level of effect equals creature's HD: no save
Level of effect exceeds HD/level by one: normal save
Level of effect exceeds HD/level by two: save at +2
Level of effect exceeds HD/level by three: save at +4
Level of effect exceeds HD/level by four: save at +6
Level of effect exceeds HD/level by five: save at +8
Color spray does not affect targets whose hit dice or level exceed six. Affected characters are rendered "unconscious through confusion." There is no other effect of the spell.
Example: a 10th level illusionist casts the spell at a group of 7 orcs and 1 troll. She rolls 1D6 to see the effect and adds +1 because of her high level. She rolls a "6" which is the maximum result she can achieve (despite her level, the result does not increase to seven). As there are eight possible targets that may be affected the DM rolls to see the particular targets and order in which they are affected: the result indicates orc #1, orc #3, orc #5, and then the troll (since three levels of spell effect were expended on the first three orcs, the last three levels are sucked up by the 6 hit die troll). The first three orcs are knocked unconscious (no save); the troll receives a save versus spells with a +4 bonus to resist being rendered senseless. If five orcs had been struck prior to the troll, the troll's save would have been at +8 (the maximum possible bonus). If the troll had been struck first, it would have received no saving throw; however, none of the orcs would have been affected. If the orcs had been traveling with a balrog instead of a troll, only orcs would have been affected by the spell as the balrog's HD exceeds six.
In reviewing the original version of the color spray spell, it appears to me that Aronson was offering up an "illusionist flavor" version of the classic magic-user spell sleep. It shares several characteristics with the spell including level (1st), range (24"), effect (knocking creatures unconscious), and the ability to impact multiple creatures without giving a saving throw. Also like sleep, color spray's effectiveness is limited by the targets' hit dice/level: sleep only affects multiple creatures at HD 3 or fewer (and only a single HD 4 target), while color spray affects creatures up to HD 6 at the cost of impacting far fewer "lesser" beings.
That is how I interpret the intention of the spell. Would you trade the ability to knock out more than six goblins or orcs for the chance to knock out a single minotaur or troll (or the possibility of TWO ogres?)? To me, that's a fair choice to offer to a player...though an Aronson illusionist of at least 9th level could have her cake and eat it, too (thanks to the option of choosing a 1st level magic-user spell...in this case, sleep...with a 4th level spell selection).
Still, as I wrote previously, I don't mind a little overlap in spell effect between two different types of caster, so long as it differs a bit in style and ties in with the class's overall "theme." A "sheet of bright conflicting colors" that renders a target unconscious "through confusion" is neat enough, though this gets nerfed with the 2E admonition that "blind or unseeing creatures are not affected by this spell."
[I lay the blame for this particular wonkiness (which is sure to lead to endless dispute about whether or not a creature with no eyeballs...like a skeleton...can "see") at Gygax's interpretation of the spray as some sort of laser light show that has a blinding affect, rather than a confusion attack with a visual component]
*ahem* As I was saying...a little overlap, with modification/variation, is fine and dandy, but the designer never intended the spell to be something that could be used to take down a mindflayer or greater demon. Should it be able to blind or stun a large creature (like a roc or a tyrannosaurus)? Maybe? But when you can accomplish the same feat with the spell light at a greater duration and with additional utility, do you really need it?
If you want to go strictly By The Book...well, you can't, because the spell as written is nonsensical. Or, rather, you can read it literally, in which case the blinding and stunning abilities never take effect (because it never affects creatures of greater HD than the caster's level). And yet, with a literal BTB reading color spray provides a method for high level illusionists in AD&D to knock out exceptionally powerful creatures with a single first level spell. It almost becomes a "must have" spell for the attack oriented illusionist. Sure, creatures get a save versus spells...but that's still a 45% chance to take down a frost giant. And consider the crafting of a wand of color spray! As a first level spell, that's probably a very cheap outlay for an 11th level illusionist to manufacture in exchange for a huge amount of firepower.
[**EDIT** Ha! Just realized that under the 2nd edition rules, that same 11th level illusionist...er, "specialist wizard"...would be able to knock down 1D6 frost giants with each casting of color spray, with a 50% chance of success (due to the -1 save penalty assigned for specialization), AND she could memorize the spell five times a day! Just walk around the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl...perhaps with an improved invisibility spell...knocking out 10+ hit die creatures left and right, recharging in her rope trick retreat when necessary. Talk about game breaking...]
Sorry folks but...much as it hurts...I think I'm going to have to modify this spell back to some semblance of what the original designer (Aronson) presented in Dragon magazine. My B/X mind would probably want to simplify it to something like:
Target 1D6 HD of creatures within range. Illusionist chooses creatures affected. No saving throw allowed unless a creature's level/HD exceeds the remaining number of HD affected by the spell (maximum of one creature may be assigned a "partial" number of HD). Affected creatures are knocked unconscious for 2D4 rounds. Range 6"+1" per level.
Something like that. But tarted up with language about clashing colors and whatnot.
All right, that's enough to chew on for a Thursday morning. Ha! Bet you didn't think I was going to pull a 1500 word post on color spray out of my hat, did you?
|Picture cropped or you'd see the mind flayer she's|
targeting. Must be an 8th level illusionist.