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Don’t Let Players Answer Stumpers

posted Saturday, May 5th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
None of the AboveThird Edition

Remember a month ago when I wrote about Wizard’s April un-answerable ‘stumpers’? It seems that not only have fans submitted their own answers, but they’ve made it onto the website.

As my irate friend explains, they’re also very frequently wrong, making mistakes ranging from the technical mistakes to utter inaccuracy. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that their answers sound official. As an unabashed pedant, I feel the need to take time out from my busy schedule of time-wasting to submit corrections to the article. Read it, see how many mistakes you can spot, and return here for the answers.

Scott, on vorpal longbows:

It seems to me this would make an interesting weapon, if all you did was rename the property from “Vorpal” to something akin to “Heart Rending”, and allowed any arrow fired from the longbow to automatically pierce the heart for a killing shot when the proper critical roll was made (assuming the creature had a heart, of course).

This is a terrible, terrible idea. This makes it possible for an archer to sit back and fire off a hail of low-damage arrows, knowing that one in twenty will instantly kill. Melee swords have a certain element of personal risk and have a strictly limited number of per-sword attacks each round; removing this cheapens the ability. He’s also half an edition behind; vorpal works on a natural 20 only, not a critical hit (which can have a wider range).

Robert thinks that more or less than two eyes should probably give you a penalty or bonus to saves against gaze attacks – apparently, having only one eye means you can shut it faster. “I’d draw the line at multiple eyes, but there’s no reason an ettin shouldn’t be forced to make two checks.” Somehow a single creature is supposed to make two saves, rather than treating it as a creature with four eyes. Forcing double saves is almost unprecedented; at worst, a penalty to the saves is implied.

“How far below my party’s usual CR should they be if they’re stripped of all their gear?” (The questioner means to ask the party’s effective level for basing the difficulty of challenges; but we know what he means, unless he plans somehow to have the PCs face their own doppelgangers.) Robert, in reply, seems to think that dropping enemy CRs by two is well enough if your cleric has no holy symbol, your wizard can’t prepare spells and your fighter is reduced to wielding a club while armourless. He suggests that CR minus one is well enough for a fifteenth level party given level 1 nonmagical equipment, and if a party is stripped of all their equipment by the DM it’s their own fault. I’m glad I’m not in his game!

Now, do illusiory opponents grant flanking bonuses? In my opinion they should; it’s +2 to hit for a wizard spell that’s either fifth level or requires round-to-round concentration – not exactly overpowered! Sam agrees with me with one stipulationL “I’d give the opponent a save. If they believe it’s there, it probably produces a flanking bonus.” He’s very much ignoring here that illusions do not allow a save until interacted with. If the opponent attacks your illusion or vice versa, or (realistically) the opponent has good reason to believe that you cast an illusion rather than something like a summoning spell, he gets his save to disbelieve.

“Billy” thinks invisible stalkers have no physical body, mumbling something about the astral plane. Invisible Stalkers do have a physical body; it’s just made of air, being as they are from the elemental plane thereof. A technicality, of course; Robert is correct in that invisible stalkers have no reason to be able to see through their own race’s invisibility.

Three people feel the need to seriously answer the gag about vampires making elementals cross. I suspect these are the kind of people who edit Wikipedia. However, as a level 1 spell I see no major balance problem with bless water granting a water elemental a small amount of bonus damage against undead, perhaps +2 or 1d6. However, the spell takes a full ten rounds to cast, the elemental would get a Will save if unwilling, and a “one round per caster level” duration may be in order.

In an amazing feat of failing to read the question, both Sam and Robert refute the possibility of taking anything but an animal as your familiar with the Improved Familiar feat. You know, the feat that lets you take something other than an animal as a familiar. Still, they’re right for the wrong reasons; this came up several years ago with awakened animals, and I vaguely recall that a familiar who becomes independent enough to take class levels themselves is no longer a familiar.

Answering the hilarious epic question of the break DC of a planet leads to perhaps the most ridiculous answer of the entire article. Robert replies: “The planet is not an object that can be targeted, but even if you managed to shatter it, it would just pull back into the same place because of the sun’s gravitational pull.” Sam corrects this ridiculous statement:

“The sun’s gravitational pull is not what keeps planets in one piece, the sun’s gravitational pull does nothing but pull the mass of the planet toward the sun, the planet’s own gravitational force would pull it back together. Sundering a planet is like putting a bit crack in a solid ball. The ball doesn’t explode, it simply has a crack in it now.”

If you put a crack in a planet and it survives, then you haven’t broken it. The correct answer is that there is a break DC for a planet, but no genuine player character ever made has a Strength score high enough to reach it.

Tarrasque versus Tarrasque led to some ridiculously ill-considered rulings. Sam reckons quite indistinctly that “They’d fight to a stalemate, as they have no abilities to counterract their own, except maybe DR.” Brrt – the tarrasque can penetrate its own epic damage reduction, not to mention hit itself quite easily dealing enough damage to overcome its own fast healing. Still, neither one can Wish the other to stay down. Robert says it’s irrelevant because you can’t time travel – technically, you can, just not with regular magic. I should be more specific: Vecna did it, once.

Continuing the tarrasque questions, my irate friend informs me that you can, technically, create a tarrasque permanently using polymorph any object on something like a bulette. You’re welcome to try wishing genders onto each tarrasque and wishing a ninth level compulsion that they would mate, but they get a save against each one. No sane DM will allow you to get as far as the first step.

Finally, a few words of unwisdom from our friend Robert, who presents a wholly illogical and rules-unworthy reasons for the tarrasque to be vulnerable to the almighty sphere of annihilation:

  • “Although it doesn’t list every single thing it’s immune to, it’s quite clear that it’s immune to effects that immediately cause death, or permanent injuries.” It does, and it’s not. The tarrasque is immune only to fire, poison, disease, energy drain, and ability damage, and its carapace reflects all rays, lines, cones, and magic missile spells. It is vulnerable to all else; it merely cannot be reduced below -10, and regenerates from all damage including death effects.
  • “The tarrasque is a legendary unkillable monster, fought throughout time, and there are relatively low level spells, and much easier monsters, that cause suffocation upon targets. If suffocation could drop the tarrasque to unconsciousness then it would have done so, and the same goes for starvation, and even powerful magic effects.” The tarrasque can easily resist such magic and kill such monsters. That the tarrasque lives today proves only that it has not yet been killed, not that it has never been knocked unconscious. At any rate, with 45 Strength and 35 Con, the tarrasque can both swim and hold his beath for incredibly long, and I doubt he will hold still long enough for anyone to do something like box him in with four walls of force.
  • “The tarrasque is immune to all death effects, and anything that causes death for any reason besides damage is a death effect.” Citation required! I seem to recall the term “death effect” having a very specific usage and an FAQ entry ruling that only spells with the Death descriptor were Death Effects even if they killed instantly, controversially ruling out the assassin’s Death Attack.

Finishing on a positive note, however, I suspect that he’s right – by the rules, “The tarrasque can be slain only by raising its nonlethal damage total to its full normal hit points +10 (or 868 hit points) and using a wish or miracle spell to keep it dead.” In other words, the sphere will work if you follow it up with a quick miracle spell, but not even an artifact can destroy the tarrasque permanently on its own. Then again, it’s an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object – can we really be sure which? Definitely a DM’s call on this tone.

As an aside, my own method of tarrasque combat dates back to the time we decided to put the great gold wyrm against the tarrasque. The tarrasque had a higher pure damage output and was immune to the dragon’s breath weapon, and the tarrasque could regnerate against a nickel-and-diming in fly-by attacks. The way the wyrm succeeded was by getting lucky with a repeated polymorph any object to emulate a stone to flesh, followed by a wish to keep him that way and an extended session of chewing the resulting statue into dust just to be sure. Really not an easy creature to finish off.

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