Silence

Oh yeah, I started writing that other post to talk about the spell Silence 15′ radius!  OK, well, I think it’s worth having a post of its own.

One point that Delta and I agreed on was a general dislike of this spell.  Of course, he sidesteps the problem entirely by removing clerics.  Me, I like clerics, and I want to try and do something about this spell.  So let’s start with a little digging into its history.  The spell first appears in Supplement I of OD&D, and reads:

Silence, 15′ Radius: This spell allows the user to either cast Silence upon himself
and his party so as to move with no sound or to cast the spell upon some object or thing to silence it. Duration: 12 turns. Range: 18”.

Next up, it looks little changed in Holmes:

Silence: 15′ Radius — Level: clerical 2; Range: 180 feet; Duration: 12 turns

Allows the user to cast silence in a large area so as to prevent sound or allow his party to move noiselessly.  It can be used to silence some object as well.  Note: conversation is not possible under a silence spell.

Finally, by Moldvay it looks like this:

Silence 15′ Radius Range: 180′, Duration 12 turns

This spell will make an area with a 30′ diameter totally silent.  Conversation and spells in this area will be prevented for the duration of the spell.  This spell does not prevent a person within the area from hearing noises made outside the area.  If cast at a person, the victim must save vs. Spells, or the spell effect will move with him.  If the saving throw is successful, the spell will remain in the area in which it was cast, and the victim may move out of it.

As you can see, the spell has changed significantly over time.  In Supplement I all we hear about is the beneficial effects of silencing a party or an object.  I could see the latter being cast on a rusty portcullis or a door to be bashed down, allowing the party to enter without being detected right away.  Holmes introduces a drawback: no conversation is allowed while under the effects.  By Moldvay, that drawback is expanded to include spell casting, which may have seemed obvious to some GMs reading Holmes, as casting requires speech.  However, already there are signs of this loophole being expanded to become the spells new primary purpose: an offensive spell used to neutralise enemy spell casters.  You can tell it’s being used that way already due to all the language devoted to how saving against this effect works.

My main problem with this spell is how truly powerful it is in that final regard.  Even if the enemy spell caster saves, the area he is in is still silenced and he has to move away to escape it.  In practical use, almost every time I’ve seen this happen there was no good location for the spell caster to move to.  When cast indoors, the confines of a room or hall may make the large radius of this spell far too large to avoid.  This means a simple 2nd level clerical spell can now reduce a powerful 15th level wizard to a doddering old man.  It’s basically the equivalent to the 6th level magic-user spell anti-magic shell.

OK, so how do we fix this?  Well, first off we must decide what the intent of the spell is.  If it is truly a magic-user neutralising spell, we can do things like reduce the area, improve the effect of saving to completely negate the spell, and/or limit the spell to targeting only individuals (no casting the spell on a rock and tossing it next to the enemy wizard).  Or, we can go back to the original intent: stealth.  Allow targets to talk and cast while under the effect, and it quickly reverts to that original use, a means of allowing the entire party to move about stealthily.  I rather like this idea myself, because I’ve never seen a party use the spell this way and it seems fairly useful, about as useful as any 2nd level clerical spell.  How many times have you seen a party try to sneak around only to have their cover blown by the clumsy warrior bumbling about in plate mail armor?

So, here’s your chance to affect my home campaign.  The following poll will be open for the next week.  Tell me what you think the best house rule is for cleaning up this spell.  Note, you can select more than one item in the poll.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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21 Comments

  1. As we discussed in person, I voted for (1) Remove the spell (class) entirely, followed by (2) Only allow beneficial effects. Reading the OD&D text a few years back was eye-opening and a cool breeze of relief: the later “Note: conversation is not possible under a silence spell.” wasn’t there, and that makes all the difference.

    Using this reading, I see it as analogous to the “Invisibility 10′ radius spell”. With the 2 working together, wizard & cleric (if you’re into that sort of thing), you can make your whole party unseen & silent for infiltration.

    And I like your “silence the door we’re bashing in” idea. Much more interesting than auto-caster-lockdown.

  2. On a side note, I’ll say a similar thing about the “light” spell. The slightly goofball-gamey side effect (cast into your eyeballs, now you’re blinded!) overtook the spell as its central purpose. Yuck; I don’t allow that.

    (A few months back I got in an online argument where someone called this “creative casting”, and I retorted with: If it’s in the DMG text from 30 years ago, there’s not much creativity being applied right now.)

  3. Yeah, the funny thing is, the more I think of using the Silence spell the original intended way, the more it makes sense. I’m thinking of our G1 game the other night. Silence 15′ radius and Invisibility 10′ radius would have been killer for our infiltration of the base, if the giants had been alert and looking for us.

    As for the light spell, I guess I don’t have as big a problem with it simply because I don’t see it abused very often, and the effect isn’t as huge a gap. (What’s blindness, a 2nd level spell?) On the other hand, I hate anything that smacks of a pseudo-science interpretation of fantasy elements — like the idea that casting invisibility on someone would make them blind because their eyes can’t receive light, or bloody infravision for that matter. In fact, if I sat and thought for a minute about what casting a light spell on someone’s eyes would do, I kind of think they should have magic glowing head-light like eyes, that can be shut off by simply closing their lids.

  4. I voted for saving canceling the effect, because I think you should be able to save against the effect, and not the spell. That is, if I cast it on a rock, and throw it at you, you can still save because it’s the entrance into the effect radius that warrants the save, and not the creation of the effect if it happened to be in your immediate area.

    That is – I see the silenced rock like some kind of poison cloud – if I made some kind of poison cloud, intuitively I’d imagine you could save against it once it enveloped you.

  5. This may make it too weak, but have you thought about making it a more like a bubble? As in, people within the 15′ radius can’t be heard outside of the radius, but can hear each other within it, but then they also can’t hear anything outside the radius?

    Failing that, just keep the beneficial effects.

  6. I think the S&W version of this spells fixes the problem you are mentionning.
    It reads as follows:

    Silence, 15 ft Radius
    Spell Level: Cleric, 2nd Level Range: 180 ft Duration: 12 turns
    Magical silence falls in an area 15 ft around the targeted creature or object, and moves with it. Nothing from this area can be heard outside, no matter how loud.

  7. The bubble idea is in interesting take, though begs the question of what happens when a magic-user inside the bubble casts a spell on someone outside the bubble. I would presume it still goes off, in which case it’s extremely close to the winning vote: it becomes a stealth only effect. I suppose it also has the added benefit of keeping talking within the bubble stealthy, so the casting doesn’t give away the caster, only the effect of the spell going off would.

    Personally, I don’t think I’d use this interpretation, mostly because I don’t use miniatures or other stuff to keep track of absolute positioning. The bubble concept makes that radius (and who is inside vs. outside of it) rather important, and I wouldn’t want to deal with issues coming up around my fuzzy positioning.

  8. @Paul:
    In my ancient games of yore, not knowing any better, we used silence as an anti-magic provision, but for some reason, gave a saving throw anytime someone attempted to cast a spell, even if it was the same person multiple times. Should I ever encounter this problem again, I might do something similar–I like the anti-magic angle, but I agree, as normally used, it is simply overpowered. Thanks for a great article!

  9. Thankyou. Your analysis has pushed me back to the original OD&D definition of the spell, in that it prevents incidental, rather than intentional noise.

    Not that it really makes much difference, since I allowed spellcasting even when silenced, since it was the act of verbalising the words, not hearing them, which cast the spell.* I did have speech rendered incapable, but that was because I then demanded that the players operate in silence. Which was both amusing (especially to a passing observer watching the players throw battle sign language around), and surprisingly peaceful at times.

    I did have a 3rd level Cleric spell Strike Dumb, which was the equivalent of Cause Blindness, which did stop spellcasting, because it rendered the spellcaster incapable of forming words.

    * This included Words of Power, which can always be heard, even if the target is deaf, because of their fundamental (in the literal sense of the word) nature, but not actually giving suggestions or commands, which still required the ability to communicate.

  10. I like the spell, and one thing that I like about it is it’s varied uses. I have found that when I use it offensively, it often causes the party as much trouble as the enemy. So, I haven’t felt it was overpowered at all.

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