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Ask the Kobold: Succubi and Enervation

Ask the Kobold: Succubi and Enervation

Say I cast the simulacrum spell on a succubus (for, you know, science). The spell description says that my simulacrum would have only one-half of the real creature’s levels or hit dice (and the appropriate hit points, feats, skill ranks, and special abilities for a creature of that level or hit dice). My question is, what are the appropriate special abilities for my creation?

At first I thought I could just halve the caster level of a creature and work out what spell-like abilities for which it qualifies. A creature’s magical abilities, however, need not meet any such minimum caster-level requirement. This was clarified, I think, in a book somewhere, but a succubus already clearly proves this with its caster level 12 ethereal jaunt.

From a balance perspective, it seems unwise to allow players unrestricted access their foe’s most powerful abilities, but I can see no other option per the rules (other than disallowing the spell – which would be a shame). What do you suggest?

The simulacrum spell leaves DMs pretty much on their own when deciding what powers any duplicate should have. If you don’t feel up to yanking a few sparkling gems of unbridled power from the players’ hands, it would be best not to allow the simulacrum spell at all.

There are a few purely mechanical aspects to the power reduction and I recommend you start there. You can use those changes as a guideline for what else you should cut.

A simulacrum of a succubus has three hit dice (one half a real succubus’s six dice). With only three hit dice, the faux succubus has two feats (down from three), a base attack bonus of +3 (down from +6), base save bonuses of +3 (down from +5), and 48 base skill points (down from 72). Keep in mind that there are base values—we’re disregarding ability modifiers. (I don’t recommend reducing any ability scores in this case, but you’d do so with a simulacrum of a creature with class levels.) So, the faux succubus loses from anywhere from a third to half of its capabilities.

When choosing which third to half of a real succubus’s powers to eliminate from the simulacrum, do yourself a favor and dump the powers that players can most readily abuse. Try not to eliminate the creature’s signature powers. Let’s look at the possibilities:

Modes of Movement: The faux succubus still has wings, and its land and air speeds are much beyond the ordinary. It can keep these.

Feats: With its prerequisite, Mobility is arguably the highest “level” feat a succubus has, and a good one to cut here.

Energy Drain: The kiss of a succubus is perhaps its most infamous power, and it’s not all that easy to use. This one’s a keeper, but drop the saving throw DC to 19 (10 + 1 [half the simulacrum’s 3 hit dice] + 8 for the simulacrum’s Charisma modifier).

Spell-like Abilities: A succubus has a pile of these, so some of them should go. It’s correct that a creature can have a spell-like ability that’s far more potent that it could manage if it were a spellcasting character. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to target some of the more potent abilities on the list.

We’ll also want to keep in mind the earlier point about eliminating powers players can easily abuse. Here’s my hit list: polymorph, ethereal jaunt, and greater teleport. If the players put effort into making a copy of winged demon they should be happy with what they get (so no polymorphing). Ethereal jaunt and greater teleport are easily abused (even if the succubus can only transport itself). To keep things from getting out of hand, it’s also a good idea to limit the charm monster, detect thoughts, and suggestion abilities to three per day (each).

Summon Demon:
Yeah, this one’s right out for our faux succubus.

Tongues: A useful ability, but not a world beater, the simulacrum can keep that one.

General Demon Abilities:
Most of these our faux succubus can keep. We’ve already crossed off the summoning ability. I recommend dropping the telepathy ability (the tongues ability already makes the faux succubus a great translator). The faux succubus can keep its energy resistances, spell resistance, and damage reduction. These are perhaps a little potent for a creature with only three hit dice, but they give the faux succubus some extra defensive edge when it faces opponents tough enough to challenge its creator.

Skill Bonuses: I think our faux succubus could keep these.

So, were left with a 3-hit-die creature that can fly, influence other creatures, drain energy if it can get an opponent in a clinch, and withstand a fair amount of punishment. Keep in mind that there’s no reason that every succubus simulacrum has to be exactly like the one described here. Magic is mysterious and unpredictable and results from a simulacrum spell could vary quite a bit.

My group noticed that the description for the enervation spell says the spell imparts 1d4 temporary negative levels, but then explains what those negative levels do. The list of what negative levels do to you seems to be missing the -5 hit points per negative level. Do you think this was a mistake or was it intentional? Negative levels also imply that the creature bestowing the negative levels takes those lost hit points in the form of temporary hit points. Giving wizards another source of hit points (even temporary ones) seems a little too good for a spell whose negative levels don’t last long enough to require any check for permanent level loss.

It’s quite possible that omitting the hit point loss from enervation’s negative levels was an oversight. Early versions of the game bent over backwards to make any individual section of rules text self contained. This reduced page flipping during games and helped DMs remember to apply key rules. Also in the early days, the folks working on the rules were none too familiar, so a few details got lost here and there.

As the game got older, the drive to make everything complete tended to fade, and the game became more reliant on the DM’s memory.

That said, enervation works at range (so there isn’t a ready conduit between the caster and the target for transferring life energy), and the spell can put quite a whammy on a living target just as it is. Also, spells such as death knell and vampiric touch—which bestow temporary hit points on the caster—make it quite plain that they do so.

So, I recommend playing enervation (and its higher-level cousin, energy drain) just as it’s written. No temporary hit points for the caster.

Can the replica chest component for the secret chest spell be used by anyone other than the caster to recall the chest from the ethereal plane?

According to the spell description, no. To use the spell, have to have a full-sized chest (as detailed in the spell description) and a little replica (also as detailed in the spell description). When you cast the spell, you must touch both the original chest and the replica. The completed spell sends the full-sized chest to the ethereal and leaves the caster with the replica. While the spell lasts, the spell caster can use the replica to recall the full-sized chest from the ethereal plane. There’s nothing in the spell description that suggests anyone else can recall the chest.

On the other hand, your campaign isn’t going to go up in flames if you allow someone else to recall the chest if the caster is foolish or unlucky enough to allow the replica to fall into another character’s hands.

If you go this route, you should require the character using the replica to cast the secret chest spell again, and perhaps make a Spellcraft check with a DC of 15 + the original caster’s caster level. You might want to set the Spellcraft DC even higher, but I don’t recommend anything much higher. In either case, you might want to lower the Spellcraft DC a little if the second caster collects a few trinkets or bits of knowledge associated with the original caster (see the scrying spell description for examples).

When Spell Descriptions Fall Short

When you find yourself winging it when adjudicating a spell, either because the spell description leaves you hanging, or because your players push the envelope, keep these principles in mind:

The letter of a spell description usually is safe.
As I’ve written before, a spell works more like a legal contract than a scientific principle or piece of technology. Spells tend to do what their descriptions say they do, and nothing else. That said, it’s easy to misread a spell description or overlook something important in it. So if your gut tells you a spell is going wrong, follow your instincts.

Limit oddball or extra effects to things that logically and reasonably arise from a spell’s results.
Many spells produce effects that have quite a physical impact on the game world. Fireball is a great example. A big ball of fire might well set things alight (if they’re flammable in the first place), deplete the atmosphere in a tight space, or even trigger a colossal explosion if the prevailing conditions are sufficiently volatile, such as an area laden with flammable gas or dust.

On the other hand, the more subtle spells generally don’t produce anything spectacular. A knock spell, for example, allows you to open things that are built to open and close. It won’t let you pry apart objects, make creatures trip, or deal damage with the spell (except as a result of opening something that’s closed). You could knock open a trap door in mill and bury someone under a pile of grain, but you couldn’t knock someone into the millstones because knock doesn’t push anything—it just opens things.

It’s okay to tweak spells to promote a story, so long as the players have to work a little to get results.
The discussion of the secret chest spell presented earlier is a good example of this concept at work. You could easily build a whole adventure around recovering a chest from the ethereal plane. Perhaps the original spellcaster is dead or missing and something critical is hidden in the chest on ethereal plane. The players would need to discover the chests’ existence in the first place, recover the replica, and perhaps do enough legwork to make the required Spellcraft check.

Got a question for Ask the Kobold? Fire away in the ATK Forum thread.

2 thoughts on “Ask the Kobold: Succubi and Enervation”

  1. You are fool?
    Succubus are not warriors, they need charm monster, suggestion and detect thoughts at will. You ruin the role playing. I hope that other people don’t listen to you. You never play with PC succubus, right?

  2. Great Ruling on the Succubus,

    Before reading this I would have granted all the abilities., which would have lead to the spell being banned. Thanks

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