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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Illusionists Without Spells

I actually had more that mere mockery when I started talking about illusions this past weekend. A couple times in the past, I wrote posts like one proposing ideas for a new version of the illusionist class, and I always ended with the equivalent of "man, I really ought to write more about this at some point."

Today is "at some point".

What I think is the easiest approach is to actually not write up my own Illusionist spell list or tell people to track one down, but instead go the "Cleric Without Spells" approach, which I kind of like for any class that bases its powers on assistance from elsewhere, whether it be spirits, animal helpers, or in this case the victim's own mind. To avoid some confusion, I'll call this class the Mesmerist.

Concept: Mandrake the Magician, The Shadow, Morgan La Fay, and other characters who cloud men's minds.

XP/HD: As pre-Greyhawk Magic-User. Prime ability (for purposes of experience point bonus) is the lowest of Int, Dex, or Charisma.

Spells: None by default. Can research M-U spells that affect the mind, including the illusion spells (of course,) but spells known can't be "memorized", only written as scrolls. Mesmerist scrolls require 100 gp worth of belladona, opium or other drug per spell level, plus ink from an octopus, squid, or equivalent with 1 HD/spell level.

Mesmerist scrolls are not like M-U scrolls, but act more like a cursed scroll: the reader of the scroll is entranced by hypnotic diagrams that create an illusion that persists until the reader can no longer see the contents of the scroll. Knocking the victim unconscious, snatching the scroll out of his hands and burning it, or just plunging the room into total darkness will all work.

Other Abilities: Create illusions through mesmerism as a Cleric would Turn Undead. The target's HD or the spell level of the equivalent illusion (Phantasmal Forces = 2, Hallucinatory Terrain = 4,) whichever is higher, is used in place of the undead's HD. There is no equivalent to automatic turning or destruction.  Success means the mesmerist has planted a vision in the victim's mind. It lasts up to ten minutes, but can be reinforced with a second roll.

Mesmerist illusions require three things:

  1. Eye contact (both mesmerist and victim must be able to see.) Governed by Charisma. 
  2. Hypnotic gestures (mesmerist's hands must be visible.) Governed by Dexterity. 
  3. Murmuring subtle commands (mesmerist must be able to speak, and victim must be able to hear.) Governed by Intelligence.
If the governing ability score is 15+, that requirement can be intensified so that one or both of the other requirements can be dropped (at -1 per dropped requirement on the Turn Undead table.) Thus, a high Intelligence mesmerist whose hands are bound can use soothing suggestions to mesmerize a victim, or even entrance victims in total darkness. Mesmerists can start with one technique and switch to another later, but this requires another roll, as does any sudden distraction, combat, or attempts to shake or awaken the entranced victim. Thus, these illusions do not require concentration, but are much easier to "dispel".

If the mesmerist's lowest ability score is higher than both the Intelligence and Wisdom of the victim, the mesmerism roll is at +1. For each score that is below the victim's scores, the roll is at -1. Multiple victims can be mesmerized simultaneously with a single roll, but calculated the modifiers separately.

Obviously, targets of mesmerism must have a living mind and at least animal intelligence. Golems, robots, and mindless undead are unaffected.


  1. X without spells is a nice paradigm, especially since spells tend to consume anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of most rule sets.

    Perhaps we might even see a "magic-user without spells" post at some point? It changes the nature of the class, but still seems to hold some promise.

  2. Also: maybe you can extend the turn undead as morale check, necromancer as inverted cleric without spells, and mesmerist as the "living" variation on the necromancer (if that makes sense). One paradigm that just gets flipped around and folded depending on target.

  3. More like an enchanter, wouldn't you say?

  4. @Roger: do you mean that the mesmerist is an enchanter, or that Brendan's suggested "magic-user without spells" would be an enchanter?

  5. In my current party, there is a 3rd level illusionist. If we used this variant, he would create basic illusions on effectively 7+ ((3-2)*2=+2) against 1 or 2 HD creatures, 9+ on 3 HD creatures, and 11+ on 4 HD ones, am I right?

    Assuming Invisibility can be achieved via illusionist magic, how would you handle it? I mean, I know it's a 2nd level spell, but when would you roll if the illusion succeeds?

    Furthermore, do gestures and vocalisation used for any illusion not act as a fair warning towards the victim (especially concerning when it is most important not to unveil the presence of the illusionist)?

    1. Your math look right. As for gestures and vocalization being fair warning: yes, but the victim still has to deal with the illusion. But an illusionist with high Charisma might want to use eye contact only, just for that reason.

      I'm not sure what you're asking about invisibility, but here's how I'd handle it: 3rd level illusionist mutters and gestures, making himself invisible to a group. He can move while invisible, but if he does anything that would break eye contact, he has ten minutes to try to correct that before the next roll to maintain.

      This is a good example of what I mean about the victims still having to deal with the illusion, even with fair warning. Although they can guess that the illusionist must really still be there, the illusionist may move and the victims won't know the exact location. They can shut their eyes and cover their ears for more than ten minutes, which means the illusionist has no way to reinforce the illusion when the ten minutes are up; he can make himself invisible again when they open their eyes or uncover their ears, but there will be a brief moment of visibility.

    2. Thanks for your explanation; it really helped understanding how the mechanics are supposed to work in practice.