While much of this is skewed towards AD&D2, much of it is universal.
When making a couple of characters I was inspired to write about this topic. While neither of the them saw the light of day, the results from the work put into them resulted in some interesting discussion on the illusion system in AD&D2, and in many other systems.
Illusions are for advanced players ∞
The field of illusions in roleplaying games tends to be a touchy subject because the rules which cover illusions cannot fully describe every situation an illusion can be placed in. Illusions are intriguing because unlike other magics, most illusion spells are quite vague in their effects-description.
The general problem with illusions is that the less you describe an illusion's effects, and the less you predict it's outcome, the more open the illusion is to player abuse.
Mechanically speaking, illusions are bound by rules of fairness in roleplaying. A character who chooses a path of magic which includes illusion has to be compared to other characters taking a path that does not include illusions. Players desire fairness in their character's abilities. Certainly, some abilities are very, even outrageously, powerful in certain circumstances, so one has to have a keep eye when comparing one set of abilities with another. A traditional magic user compared to another character type may be considered to be of equal power because of several con/pro items:
- Apprenticing to learn magic
- Training to get better
- Daily study
- Resting to recharge
- Supernatural abilities
- Knowledge of the supernatural
Knowledge of magical items
A game tries to maintain balance by assigning situational effectiveness and player difficulty to the various classes. A plain, pure fighter-type may be considered a basic character effective for a starting player because it has a clear-cut set of abilities and fairly obvious routes of action for various situations. A pure mage may be considered an extremely difficult class to use because it involves so many different abilities and sets of rules for each one. Playing such a complicated character may prove impossible for fairly new players. Of course, situations vary, so some games/characters can easily suit a mage type with a beginning player. Obviously the opposite applies as well.. an advanced player can easily work with anything, no matter how 'limited' the set of skills may appear.
Generally speaking, advanced players are allowed more leaway with a character. They are able to pick non-standard races or class combinations with the understanding that they are comfortable with the difficulty of using the character on the long term. Often they are allowed special perks to encourage diversification from the standard character template. Sometimes these perks have little or no drawback for accepting them.
Consider illusionism to be advanced magery. As a start, it should only be permitted for the most advanced of players because it involves vague rules and on-the-spot decisions. Illusionists may appear quite rounded as mages go, but in fact they are quite restricted as to how they can influence their world. As stated earlier, the more advanced classes ought to be restricted to the more advanced players because they can be allowed to 'get away with' more perks with fewer or undefined drawbacks.
Suggested Changes to the Illusion System ∞
No Illusion kills; at best, a victim can pass out.
Phantasms can kill with brain-death
Shadow-plane spells are semi-real and can kill, but generally do phantasmal damage and minor real damage. A person generally passes out before being cut to pieces. In those circumstances, additional phantom damage will eventually kill them.
An illusion spell can only safely emulate an equal level or lesser level spell. Any attempt to overcast is disbelieved automatically. Special circumstances may apply at GMs discretion -- A caster could conceivably emulate a higher level spell's effects with ingenious description.
An illusion can only have an effect if the victim believes in it. Falling damage, sword cuts, fire etc... are common enough experiences that they are experienced properly. Acid, lightning, vorpal effects, gaze attacks etc... are uncommon at best, and only work if the victim believes in it. Generally speaking, a victim who has experienced such things could fall victim to the illusion. Similarly, educated people who know of such things can be affected.
One argument could be that a powerful mage could cast a forced-believable illusion which has deadly special effects because they are emulating a real spell which is of a lower level. An extraordinarily powerful mage casting what is, to them, a low level spell could be considered a special case.. almost bending the mind of the victim.
There are several different categories of illusion. These categories describe how intrusive or subtle a spell is, and they describe the ability to resist the illusion which the victim is granted:
- No Save:
non-intrusive, completely believable, non-damaging, non-hostile illusions with a regularly observant victim.
- Standard Save:
- Observant people with nonintrusive illusions, or a victim that actively disbelieves (has sensory evidence)
Intrusive Spells -- Pits, fire, cuts, bruises etc...
- Auto Save:
Illusion immunity, unbelievable illusion, victim cannot fathom the illusory effects.
Only intrusive spells may be countered by Magic Resistance. Subtle illusions like, say, invisibility are passive and aren't countered by Magic Resistance. Hostile illusions like, say, illusory fireballs trigger the resistance.
A bonus can be applied to the saving throw the victim is allowed, depending on how realistic the illusion is, or other factors -- the spell's desired effect(s) are unusual or barely fathomable for the victim in question, the victim is given evidence from a trusted or outside(unaffected) party, the victim is naturally untrusting or unusually observant or knowledgable about the proposed illusory effect.
Any illusion can be fortified to overcome high intelligence (e.g. immunity) by spending the normal slot, and the slot of the level of spell the caster wishes to strengthen it to.
I specifically researched the AD&D2 illusion rules to settle a score for myself.. I disliked the house rules which popped up everywhere and wanted to know what the official rule is.
pg: 82, pg 130
An illusion which is perceived to have a special effect, such as a bassilisk's gaze only "happens" if the individuals to be affected know this special effect. - system shock to resists - no normal saves!
Pointing out an illusion for a victim gives them at most another save at +4
If one enemy is "killed" by being turned to 'stone' (failed SS roll), this might convince another of the "reality", if they didn't know that a bassilisk turns stuff to stone (another save?). However, if the one friend rushes to check his statue friend, an additional difficulty arises.. does the illusion fail for him? If the friend made his save, and the victim failed and 'died', the friend would just see his friend collapse -- without seeing him turn to stone.
Illusions cannot support weight
Unavoidable instant kill illusions give system shock checks, failure being real death. If the victim succeeds that SS%, they get a standard save at +4. If they make that save, they are unaffected. If they fail that save, they feint for 1d3 turns.
Illusions duplicating another spell effect should also duplicate the appropriate level.. e.g. fireball is up to 10th lvl for a 10th lvl mage.
The problem with emulating a spell from another field is that the illusionist may be altogether blocked from that school. If this is the case, I would vastly restrict the effectiveness, or max effectiveness, or deny them from casting that type of spell altogether. Certainly there would be complications if a specialist illusion cast a fireball at an evoker. The evoker might be allowed an automatic save because of the absurdity -- they know the specific motions, components and sounds of the spell being case.. they could tell that the illusionist wasn't casting a subtle variation of the spell who's effect they are to be subject to. However, one could argue that the victim is 'surprised' by the illusion, removing that logic.
Cannot emulate a monster's special attack unless it has been experienced.
All illusory creatures use at most the wizard's THAC0
I could see using the wizard's THAC0 as being crippling for many, many illusions. Afterall, how believable is a great wyrm which can't hit?
Level of control = caster's level. So an 8th lvl illusionist can create one 8 HD monster, or 2 4HDs etc..
HD has to do with the effectiveness against a victim. It doesn't take into account the complexity of a spell or it's actions. This rule is not well made. It's extremely complex to create an illusion of multiple monsters compared to just one. One could, of course, argue that the magic itself aids to keep the focus of the illusions, relieving the caster of the massive amount of concentration which I would think is necessary for a complex illusion. Perhaps this is why the caster needs to have intimate experience with the illusion in question.. so that their subconscious and the spell itself can handle things.
Low and non-intelligent creatures are still effected. In fact, the rules state that they are more easily effected!
Undead are immune to illusions, but not to quasi-real (demi shadow magic) effects.
To disbelieve, reasons based on the stimuli must be made or the bonus save is not allowed!
Creatures are damaged and die at the caster's discretion
Phantasmal Force (lvl 1) cannot hide objects (invis), so a pit cannot be made, but a creature can be. Furthermore, it cannot "pick up" an object, because that would require making it invisible, and making a duplicate of it which will "pick it up".
Improved phantasmal force + can create pits, or for that matter pits with ceilings which look like the floor from above them, to hide the caster invisibly in the pit. However, all entering the room have a save vs the illusion. Walking into the covered pit area is a save at +4.. with an additional save (+0) for any other observing person. The person walking into the pit would have to fail the illusion and then they would themselves be made illusory and appear to walk through where the caster is standing (in the pit), even though their real self walks around the caster. Multiple people walking around such a room are certain to uncover the illusion at some point.
Illusions create physical light! (not phantasms)
More notes on illusions in AD&D2 ∞
lvl 1 ∞
- Audio, changable, no concentration(?)
Nystul's Magical Aura
- False magical aura
- Visual, "force", one thing, movable and changable, major concentration (no movement)
lvl 2 ∞
Improved Phantasmal Force
- Visual, "force", minor audio, moderate concentration (1/2 move, no spellcasting), lasts 2 rounds after loss of concentration.
- Detect: evil, invis, lie, magic, snares and pits - not know align, augury, esp, clairvoyance.
- Fool's Gold
- Illusion (visual)
lvl 3 ∞
- Implanted suggestion
- As improved phantasmal force, but with sound, small, thermal, and lasts 3 rounds after concentration.
lvl 4 ∞
- Hides terrain, like "vacancy" sort of, visual, outdoors only, terrain only, minor touch
- Visual only, no touch
(shadow) Minor Creation
- Nonliving, vegetable - real
- Makes it's illusion from another's mind
(shadow) Shadow Monsters
- 20% real, 1HD/lvl
- Area object invis, visual - indoors only, minor touch
lvl 5 ∞
(shadow) Demi-Shadow Monsters
- As 4th lvl, but 40% real
(shadow) Major Creation
- How complex? any material
- Mass change self
- Quasi-real evocation spell emulation
lvl 6 ∞
- 4-5th evocation
- Terrain illusion
- Illusory double
- Visual, auditory, olfactory, thermal (all)
Programmed Illusion - (all)
- Semi-programmed, changed with concentration
- Demi-shadow monsters
- Mirage arcana / hallucinatory terrain