Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Sleep Spell. To Tweak or Not to Tweak?

In the Swords & Wizardry game I am currently entrenched in, Gmed by Rob from Bat in the Attic infamy, I'm finding this 1st level spell to be overly powerful for my tastes and I am the one casting it. Putting to sleep a room full of goblins is fun, but not very sporting. There is no saving throw. I like the premise of it, but think for a 1st level spell it's a bit too much.

I was thinking of tweaking the sleep spell. Don't throw things at me. Seriously, it's not all that bad. Here is my proposal for the spell. At first level it won't be as effective, but it will grow in power with the magic-user in later levels. A magic-user can only affect creatures of the same hit dice or lower. The number of affected hit dice would be a d4 for every level of the mage. Example, a 2nd level mage is battle same said goblins he rolls 2 d4s get a total of 5 therefore he can knock five little goblins down. Say the mage it ninth level battling a group trolls that have HD 6+3. That mage that could not normally affect them with a sleep spell now rolls 9 d4s, and rolls a total of 24. He can put to sleep 4 trolls.

I go back and forth about allowing a saving throw. I am leaning more to allowing one because there is no reason why there shouldn't be. Pretty much every other spell a player or monster is permitted a saving throw.

So there is my question, to tweak or not to tweak the sleep spell? I like my version because it is still effective and helpful at a low level without being overly powerful (like I believe it is written now) and is still useful at higher levels.

Again, please, don't throw things at me.


  1. I tweak it so the MU casting it either chooses a single target (up to 4HD) who gets no save or it affects everybody in the area, allies included, who all get saves. That seems to be enough to make them work if they want to use it effectively.

  2. I like a combination of both your idea and jamused's idea. Let the MU target a single target for the full brunt of the spell without a save.

    Mind you, they're only casting the spell once or twice a day, so I'm not sure how much of an issue it's ever been for me.

  3. I don't think you should tweak it; here's why:

    Sleep already scales with just scales in the opposite direction. That is, sleep is far more powerful at low levels (when you're fighting orcs and goblins) and far LESS powerful as you go up in level. A single ogre will be effected. Maybe a handful of bugbears. It will have no effect on even the smallest giant. And while it might take out a few 1st level drow guards, all the powerful "leader-types" will still be around to fight...and the demons, and the mind flayers, etc.

    Sleep is the low-level wizard's uber-spell, helping that wiz to survive to higher levels. At higher levels, it becomes next to useless except as a utilitarian spell for putting to sleep normal guards and such (certainly not a combat "bomb" for your average mid-high level encounter!). I say enjoy it while it lasts.

    Just my two cents...not throwing stuff here!

    : )

  4. This may be blasphemous, but you might consider looking at 3E's version of the Sleep spell for inspiration:

    Starting with that example as a basis, you could take the average number of HD from the S&W version (probably around 10-ish), perhaps increased by level:

    "This spell puts enemies into an enchanted slumber (no saving throw is permitted). It affects 10 HD worth of creatures, plus one HD per level, to a maximum of 20 HD worth of creatures. This spell starts with creatures with the lowest number of HD in the area first."

    If that's too much, start at 4 HD worth of creatures, plus 2 HD per level, to a max of 20 HD.

    You can also add a limit that says the Sleep spell can't impact any creature with 5 or more HD, to keep with the limitations of the current S&W spell.

    Just a Thought,

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  6. Don't forget: those that aren't slept can wake up the ones that succumb.

    Sleep IS a powerful 'nuke' to be sure. I wouldn't argue strongly against 'nerfing' it some. However, be sure that you're enforcing its weaknesses. In most editions, it does effect allies if they are within the radius. Those 'slept' can be woken back up. Finally, intelligent monsters will know how dangerous a spell caster will be - and target them.

    I shudder to think of all the TPKs that the Sleep spell has avoided.

    Players do get to be awesome sometimes. Why else play a d4 hit point magic-user with one spell?

  7. I guess the other aspect I was considering to was the safety of the PCs in that if a rival mage casts sleep on a party of 1st levels they are toast because there is no save.

    In my campaign the players battle a lot more people as opposed to monsters.

    Should there be a save?

  8. I agree with JB. He said the things I was going to say.

    I'd add that the M-U doesn't feel magical and powerful if all he can do is a Scare or Magic Missile. Sure the MM automatically hits, but then he's done for the day. It's almost better to (at least in 2E) throw his darts. He gets one powerful spell right away, but he must still be very careful about when he uses it. It's a resource to be husbanded like any other.

    The Sleep spell is also great even at higher level for taking out the grubby nobodies without hurting them. There are always going to be 0-level peasants and town guards, and 1st level soldiers, and so forth. Capturing low-level prisoners is certainly worthwhile. It's a nice way to end animal encounters and especially for hunting. Especially since at some point the PCs are all too high level to be caught, so the Sleep spell has a built-in safeguard against friendly fire.

    Finally, the fact that it works differently from most spells is reason enough to keep it. Not every spell should be "save for half damage" or "save to negate a condition".

  9. I think the main problem with Sleep is that at low levels, you're a fool not to have it. But at high levels, there's no real reason to take it any more.

    Sleep is the single most useful 1st level spell, and that's not particularly good. And since you can either nerf sleep or make all the other 1st level spells better, allow me to support your idea.

    I think that d4/level of hit dice affected, and only of hit dice below the caster's level is not bad, especially if you also add a saving throw.

    And there you go- it scales well with level, like most of the other spells, it can still be useful at higher levels of play, and it's not the best spell at level 1 anymore. It's still strong, but I think we can all live with that.

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  11. My thoughts on the sleep spell:


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