What to do with Spell Resistance?

The conversations on my blog about shield and armor talents has brought up spell resistance. If it’s in the game, one or the other of these talents would be an appropriate mechanism for gaining it.

However, I have to wonder… is Spell Resistance really an appropriate mechanic in the first place? It largely amounts to a little sign that says “you must be at least *this* tall to cast against this monster”. While I admit I am okay with things that limit spell casters (because non-casters need something they can deal with better… though the orb spells take even that away), is this really a valid mechanism for Echelon?  Or D&D in general, come to that?

We already have mechanisms for avoiding effects: saving throws and armor class. Might a better solution than a straight level check be to simply have spell resistance grant a bonus to saving throws and armor class (for those spells that have attack rolls but no saving throw)?

What effect would this cause? As far as I can see, it still means that a creature with SR is harder to affect with magic. Almost all spells that can have negative effects have at least one of an attack roll and a saving throw (slay living requires both a melee touch attack and a saving throw for partial effect) — and I say ‘almost all’ because while I can’t think of any exceptions, I am certain that if I say none people will start shouting them out.

It also means that SR now automatically improves with level. Instead of having a calculation such as “11 + character level” (or some other formula that hopefully comes close to that, since SR equal to character level is nearly useless), you now just have “+2 Spell Resistance”, much as some (many) undead in RAW have Turn Resistance. It improves with level automatically now because it is in addition to other defenses that improve with level, rather than a seperate effect that has be developed.

I just realized, this also means that we can now rationally stack SR, for those who want to be able to stack things (Echelon tries to avoid stacking as much as possible). Instead of trying to find a mechanism for combining SR that takes into account the scaling requirement by level, you just add them together. +2 SR from a magic item, +3 for race, you get +5 on your saves and armor class against spells and spell-like effects that consider SR.

This does mean that conjuration (creation) spells, possibly among others, are slightly weakened. This change, assuming we drop the “Spell Resistance” applicability on such spells, means that spells such as acid arrow no longer bypass SR and become less effective against creatures with SR. I am not certain this is a downside, to be honest; the simplification of the rule may be worth it.

However, it is simple enough to keep the flag and only apply the SR bonus to…

… SR bonus. This mechanism could even be used for creatures unusually susceptible to magic. I don’t know if this is relevant or useful, but I’ll want to think about it.

Anyway. It would be simple enough to keep the ‘SR applies’ flag on the spells and only apply SR on those spells that are not affected by SR, so the previous point about conjuration becoming slightly weaker compared to evocation might not be important.

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12 Comments

  1. GreyKnight

    Right now SR doesn’t really work like most other things in the system; the change suggested would fix that. Also you can now combine spell resistances! Perhaps you could use this to simplify the definition of spells like protection from evil, by having them grant spell resistance against the specific things? But then its bonuses apply against attacks and non-spell abilities too, so maybe not that particular one.

    Since you mention the topic of turn resistance; is it just me or does that basically serve as a “fudge factor” to compensate for the way turn undead works (another special-case rule)? A particular case in point; wraiths have +2 turn resistance, while the advanced dread wraith doesn’t (its HD is high enough that it doesn’t need “fudging”). How odd. I’m trying to think of a way turn undead could work more naturally. There seems to be a loose sort of connection between the creature’s Int score and turn resistance (with exceptions); can we exploit that?

  2. GreyKnight

    Regarding a putative SR penalty; perhaps could be used to make things like golems, where it’s mostly magic-resistant except for a few things that affect it strongly. You could give it a racial SR bonus which turns into a penalty versus certain spells? I know “proper” golems are outright immune to spells not on their list, but maybe you can get away with a high SR instead. Shrug.

  3. I hadn’t considered that. What does it mean?

    I checked the RSRD, and protection from evil does the following:

    • +2 deflection bonus to AC and +2 resistance bonus to saves, applying only to attacks or effects from evil creatures.
    • suppresses all new mind control effects targeting the recipient of the spell (existing effects do not work, and when the spell elapses so does the protection).
    • prevents direct contact from summoned creatures (regardless of alignment) unless the summoned creature if the caster makes a caster level check against the creature’s SR, if any.

    This change to Spell Resistance would unilaterally nerf protection from evil by

    • Reducing the deflection bonus to AC (which works against all attacks, including incorporeal) to only affecting spells requiring attack rolls, and similarly reducing the resistance bonus (which would work with all saves) to only affecting saves against spells and spell-like abilities.
    • I don’t see this point changing as a result of defining protection from evil as providing Spell Resistance instead.
    • Providing protection against direct contact from summoned creatures, but the mechanic for bypassing the protection would become a save by the summoned creature (including SR, but the save may only be made at all if the creature has SR). I must say that I have never, ever liked this bit of the spell in the RSRD, so that I really don’t like it here shouldn’t be a shock.

    And yes, Turn Resistance is a fudge. A big steaming pile of it, done because Turn Undead has a poor implementation. At one point I discussed using a Will contest instead (and I can’t find it in this blog, bugger). I’ll have to dig it up from USENET, I guess. A quick look found this post to RGFD (best viewed in fixed-width font).

    The short form is a Will contest modified by Charisma (by the turner and the turned). If the turner wins, the turned flees. I don’t think I ever settled on a condition for destroying the undead.

  4. GreyKnight

    Perhaps turning could be a simple ability of the DC (10 + level/2 + mCha) variety, with the undead making a regular Will save to resist. In Echelon terms that’s (10 + level bonus + mCha) of course. In fact, if you’re using the above model of SR you could even absorb TR into it by just saying that they can apply their SR bonus on saves against the turning effect. Perhaps it’s spell-like. Heck, you could make it a spell! NetHack does so. And it would make it easier to define a channelling ability for if you can just refer back to a spell description. ;-)

    The issue of skeletons and zombies in your news post is lessened if you use a normal Will save rather than bringing Charisma in; out of the other undead, most have similar Wis and Cha scores anyway (only Allip and Dread Wraith buck the trend greatly; Ghosts might, depending on base creature’s stats).

  5. Actually, the Charisma scores vary a lot. Cha 1 does a lot to overcome the massive, massive Hit Dice mindless undead have for their CR (a 20 HD zombie is CR 6 and a 20 HD skeleton is CR 8).

    A Clr8 in D&D RAW has no chance whatsoever of turning either of them, and by the time the cleric has a reasonable chance of turning them they aren’t worth any experience (and he still can’t destroy them!).

    However, smack the mindless undead with the -5 for Cha 1 and the Will saves become (undead: base +12 + -5 = 7) vs (cleric6: base +5 + mCha or cleric8: base +6 + mCha). It’s now possible, at a level that is appropriate. At lower levels (2 HD, say) it is (undead: base +3 + -5 = -2) vs. (cleric 2: base +3 + mCha) — distinct advantage to the cleric.

    Vampires, OTOH, have their CR increased by 2 (so Vamp10 vs. Cleric12) but also get +4 to Cha (cancels out). This leads to (Vamp10: base +7[1] + 2 + mChaBase = 9 + mChabase) vs. (Clr 12: base +8 + mCa).

    [1] assuming good Will; +3 otherwise for 5 + mChaBase. ‘Physical vampires’ are easier to turn… yet again, fighters are… etc.

    Overall, this makes turning much, much closer to even. It’s still a bit of a save-or-die against the undead, in principle, but not so much since you often don’t want undead actually fleeing. If we change it to a track of some sort (Charisma Pool damage?) it might work better.

    Another option might be to redefine Turn Undead as using divine power to let you use Intimidate against undead. I haven’t explored this idea yet, though.

  6. GreyKnight

    Didn’t think of that part. Bloody templates. :-) Here’s an idea though: say mindless undead don’t get good Will saves. That means that HD 20 zmobies/skeeltons take a -6 hit versus where they are currently, but the low-level ones take a proportionately smaller hit. Which makes the high-HD ones accessible while not reducing the low-HD ones to meaningless speedbumps for their CR! :-D

    Since Echelon gives fairly fine control over your saves (i.e., not just picking “good” or “poor”) it should be possible to pull off something like that.

    As far as the “oops didn’t want them to run off” side of things goes; perhaps you can choose to force them to either cower or flee (defaulting to cower if they can’t go anywhere). My earlier link has a note to that effect, and also makes a proposal for handling destruction (turning effect deals scaling damage to undead, so lower-level ones are likely to get dusted).

  7. +2 per tier probably isn’t out of line. It’s more or less the default value I use unless and until I decide to do something else (and the only place I can think of +1 per tier comes up is the capstone that improves all six ability scores).

  8. hadsil

    I like this mechanic. If you’re not going to have stacking or named bonuses in Echelon then it probably wouldn’t matter, but considering 3E it should be a named bonus. For one, the system already exists but 3E calls it “resistance” bonus. Second, if it’s unnamed it becomes too high a creature could become immune to magical attack. That’s ok for particular and unique monsters the party will fight, to encourage spellcasters to diversify, but that shouldn’t be too common. Spellcasters are entitled to cast spells and have them work. If spell resistance is common enough and relatively easy to come by, just say no spellcasting exists at all and admit you hate magic already. (Colloquial “you”, not Keith Davies. :) )

  9. It probably should be named, since it does explicitly stack with other bonuses (base save bonuses and armor bonus)

    3e resistance bonuses work a little differently, though, in that they apply to all saves and only saves (unless someone did something I didn’t notice).

    I’d don’t expect SR to become massively common, though it may end up more so than core rules. However, if it adds to base saves and doesn’t stack with save-related talents it might not be an issue.

    For instance, Master Iron Will might bring a +4 bonus with it among other things, but if someone has SR +2 the SR is no particular use on Will saves but would still apply to Fort saves, Ref saves, and AC, so it’s still worth having.

    I say this without having considered specifics of all the talents involved. It may be that ‘SR’ is a straight bonus that doesn’t stack. No idea, really, I’m just exploring the edges of this.

  10. GreyKnight

    The version I posted on my wiki uses the legitimate (if somewhat uninspired) name of “spell resistance bonus”. What exactly is the bonus model in Echelon, not sure it’s been spelled out? From comments you’ve made I am assuming it’s something like “named bonuses stack with other bonuses, overlap within each named kind; unnamed bonuses overlap each other, stack with named ones; very few kinds of named bonus”.

  11. I’m still a little nebulous on the bonus name structure, but what you’ve said sounds about right. Named stack, like-named bonuses overlap, and ‘unnamed’ can be treated as a name (in that they overlap rather than stack). Bonuses are probably not often named because I don’t need many things to stack. I’m a lazy cuss and don’t want to worry about it.

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