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Ask the Kobold: Magic and the Fine Art of DMing

Ask the Kobold: Magic and the Fine Art of DMing

The players in one of my groups are very much enamored with spontaneous spellcasting, to the degree that the druid and the cleric have both taken the various spontaneous divine casting feats.

They ran up against of the limitations of that build in a recent play session. A lamia cast blindness/deafness on the party wizard and permanently blinded him. The divine casters didn’t have remove blindness/deafness on their spell lists as spontaneous casters. This left the party in a real bind because they were not only deep in a dungeon, but also deep in the wilderness, far from civilization. It seemed as though the blinded wizard was going to be hosed for a very long time. [More…]

We researched the dispel magic spell to see if blindness/deafness might be dispelled and the affliction removed that way, but we weren’t sure. For the sake of a fun game experience, I allowed it, but it raised questions in my mind about how blindness/deafness actually plays out. Here’s how my reasoning went:

Dispel magic can’t affect anything with an instantaneous duration, but blindness/deafness is permanent.

If dispel magic can cure the condition that the blindness/deafness spell imposes, one has to assume that magic is somehow actively blocking the sense from working (albeit on a permanent basis).

There is a problem with that; however. The necromatic energies of the blindness/deafness spell have actually damaged the sense, so that the person is permanently deprived of that sense. That is, the spell is actually instantaneous but the effects are permanent. A look at the remove blindness/deafness shows it is a conjuration/healing spell, which suggests that it is healing actual damage, even if that isn’t damage expressed in the form of hit points. Remove blindness/deafness also restores non-magical losses of these two senses, which lends weight to the idea that we’re dealing with an actual injury here.

Finally, remove blindness/deafness and dispel magic are both 3rd-level spells, and it would certainly be redundant if they both worked.

Contrary to my decision with my players (which was based on what was going to be more fun for the group in the long run), I can find stronger support for the idea that you cannot dispel blindness/deafness.

I guess my question you, Skip, is whether you would consider blindness/deafness to be an instantaneous spell that does some permanent damage, or is it a magical effect that is permanent until dispelled?

Oh, and regarding my decision. I’ve had a lot more time to think about it than compared to when I had to make the call. I don’t have any regrets, but I was only trying not to slow the session down.

Once again, the short answer to your question is found right in the header for the blindness/deafness spell; in this case, the duration entry. Blindness/deafness has a permanent duration (not instantaneous), and it’s also a dismissible spell. That is, the caster can voluntarily end the spell by using a standard action, provided that the spell’s recipient is still within range.

Blindness/deafness is subject to dispelling—it continually disrupts the sense it targets. Remove blindness/deafness is not entirely redundant, because it works without a caster level check. Dispel magic not only requires a caster level check, there’s a cap of +10 on the check, which can make it darn hard to dispel a blindness/deafness effect from a really high-level caster with that spell. Greater dispel magic has no such limit, but it’s a higher-level spell.

The Nature of Magic and the Fine Art of DMing

This installment’s questions bring up some perennial topics facing players and DMs alike.

Spell descriptions are written with an eye toward giving DMs as much information in as little space as possible. Much of that information is packed into the header entries for the spell. Every line in the header gives clues about how the spell is supposed to work, and it always pays to study and consider that information when adjudicating a spell’s results or when deciding how that spell interacts with other spells. The text for the spell helps explain what’s in the header.

It doesn’t pay to think too hard about exactly how a spell achieves its effects. As I’ve written before, a spell is much more like a legal contract than a technical manual or computer program. A spell has a specified effect on the game world, and it does nothing else. It also does what its description suggests without much regard to the prevailing conditions. The remove blindness/deafness spell discussed here, for example, restores sight or hearing to a creature that has been deprived of them, no matter how the condition came about. Remove blindness/deafness repairs damaged eyes or ears, or removes continuing magic that disrupts sight or hearing, depending on which is necessary when you cast the spell.

I’m a big proponent of any DMing style that keeps the game fun and moving along. As I admitted previously, I’ll even bend the rules a little bit to reward player ingenuity. Still, I have a reputation for hard-nosed DMing and that’s because I don’t pull punches when players get lazy or make bad decisions. In the case of the blinded wizard, I would have been happy to leave the players work themselves out of the corner into which they’d painted themselves. After all, a party “first aid kit” with a few remove blindness/deafness, remove curse and similar spells doesn’t cost all that much and can prevent a great deal of heartache.

As it happened, a simple dispel magic spell solved the group’s problem; however, if that option had not been available to the party, I would have made the wizard’s blindness a challenge for the group to overcome. Consider this: you can cast area spells into places you cannot see. A group working together could work out some kind of method for “aiming” their unseeing wizard (such an effort might require some trill and error, but playing that out could be fun). Likewise, you can cast a targeted spell on anything you can touch (the spell’s capabilities permitting). A party could work out a way to allow the wizard to touch a target or two, though they also would need to develop a method for getting the character quickly out of harm’s way as well.

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