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.