level 1 nuke spell

I must be insane. It occurred to me to give a SPELL THAT AUTO-KILLS EVERYONE to EVERY WIZARD. And I kind of think it’s a good idea.

Let me explain my thinking. Ever since 1e, one of the fundamental conceits of D&D has been that the PCs wander through a dungeon and run into bite-sized encounters. Even if the dungeon is occupied by, say, a tribe of orcs, the orcs never mass into an army: they run into the PCs in dribs and drabs until they are all slaughtered.

It would be pretty stupid to try to find an in-game explanation for this. But let’s start down that dark path. How can we justify this?

If it was well-known that every wizard had a daily spell that allowed them to effortlessly slaughter armies, it would change the world’s military tactics. You wouldn’t mass into an army as much. If you did, you’d risk losing your entire army to one spell. You’d be better off dividing your army into several units which traveled separately. Suddenly, military forces look a lot more like D&D adventuring parties and their adversaries.

What if an adventuring party invaded your dungeon? You’d have your units widely spread apart, hunkered down in separate rooms. That way, you’d be nullifying the advantage of the wizard’s nuke spell.

OK, that’s my “simulationist” thinking. Here’s my “gamist” thinking.

What would it mean for players if they had the ability to effortlessly win any one encounter? You’d basically be giving the players the option to “skip” one combat prepared by the DM. (Presumably the spell would function in such a way that the players didn’t get XP or treasure for the encounter, either.) It’s functionally similar to allowing the players to flee from an encounter.

If I, as a DM, knew that players had such a spell, it would change my preparation in the following ways:

1) I’d have to prepare one more encounter than usual, just in case the PCs skipped one.
2) If I throw the occasional potentially-overpowered combat at the PCs, I don’t have to worry about it ending the campaign. Therefore, I can stray from the 4e level-appropriate-encounter formula a little more frequently and really challenge the players, knowing they have a panic button they can hit if things get grim.

Of course, you don’t want the PCs skipping the climactic fight against the campaign’s main bad guy. Therefore, this ability shouldn’t be able to kill 4e Solo and Elite enemies, and should probably be of limited use against higher-level enemies.

Does this ability overpower the wizard? On paper, yes. But in practice, this seems more like a party resource: one that happens to be written on the wizard’s character sheet. The spell could be given to every controller, or every spellcaster, if its availability was sufficiently limited.

Here’s how I’d stat it out:

Time Warp (wizard feature)
(standard action, burst 20)

You send every enemy within 20 squares into the immediate future: they disappear and appear again in one hour. Elite enemies, solo enemies, and enemies 4 levels higher than the PCs may choose to ignore the effect of the spell if they wish.

The party has not defeated enemies banished in this way, and so does not get XP for them.

Special: This spell may be used only once per level: a maximum of 30 times during the wizard’s career.

10 Responses to “level 1 nuke spell”

  1. Siskoid says:

    Well, you convinced me!

  2. paul says:

    Then we are both mad.

  3. mbeacom says:

    This is an interesting idea. I’d be curious to see how it effects group morale over the long term.

    My answer to the problem your nuke spell solves is the environmental kill. I always have something in my combats that will allow ingenious PCs to do incredible one time damage to the bad guys and/or dramatically alter the combat layout in their favor. Due to the way I’ve adjudicated these scenarios up until now, they don’t tend to look for it unless things are getting dire. Things like causing a cave in, avalanche, toppling a tree, dragging local wildlife into the combat, or banishing somebody in a vortex/nexus have all popped up from time to time. The players love it because, like your nuke spell, its basically a get out of jail free card, but they also like it because its a reward for ingenuity, rather than a gimme.

  4. katre says:

    Interesting idea. I prefer the level cap, as otherwise any sane group of adventurers will go out, fight their enemies until backed into a corner, cast Nuke, and then nap for the night. With the once per level restriction they don’t need to decide, after using Nuke, whether to keep going or play it safe until Nuke recharges.

  5. Claire Claire says:

    I LOVE this idea, PURELY for its simulationist aspect, because I just am a simulationist and I don’t care about gaming in the least. Well, maybe a little little smidge. But my delight in the way in which it explains why you never have to fight an army–my main problem with most RPGs and most fantasy in general is that you REALLY SHOULD BE DEAD BY NOW; maybe I should play 1e more often?–is subdued a little by the “one hour in the future” explanation: why wouldn’t an orc army want to show up, get sent one hour into the future, and then mass again in like five hours somewhere else in the dungeon (rinse & repeat as necessary) until they finally smashed you? They don’t lose anything, and your wizard will eventually run out of spells, and there’s always the chance that 25 of their archers will get in lucky enough hits to down your wizard before he gets a chance to cast the spell (unless it’s a free action.)

  6. Claire Claire says:

    (Speaking of spellcasters, some mail came for you today from someone named MORG.)

  7. paul paul says:

    I guess one abuse of this spell is to send the orc army 1 hour in the future, and then spend one hour BUILDING A GIANT FIRE.

  8. Rory Rory says:

    This seems like it would have bizarre repercussions for the game world.

    War would work totally differently, for one thing. Wizards or controllers or whoever gets this ability would be in extremely high demand everywhere in the game world. Theft would become so easy as to be almost laughable.

    From a gamist perspective, the best party would be all controllers (or possibly all controllers and one leader). If you can auto win one encounter a level, why not 5 or 6?

    Also, I suspect that there are easier ways to explain a typical dungeon scenario or why orcs don’t attack in huge armies:

    1. Have orcs attack in huge armies from time to time.

    2. Monsters live in winding caves and abandoned ruins. Rooms are spaced apart and noise doesn’t carry well. The monsters group up into different areas because there isn’t enough space in one area, because they are doing different tasks (one monster is torturing merchants and the other is guarding their supplies of fresh meat, for example), or because they simply don’t get along (maybe the hobgoblins hate the bugbears). The PCs go from room to room clearly the way. Occasionally a monster tries to flee to warn others, but the PCs try to stop them!

  9. wickedmurph says:

    They have this in older versions of D&D. It is called “Sleep”. In Rules Cyclopedia (so Red Box or thereabouts) it affects 2d8 HD of monsters. No save.

  10. David says:

    I think my favorite part of this idea is that it is a once per level spell.

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