Monday, July 14, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – ESP and Clairvoyance

The 2nd-level D&D wizard spell, ESP, has a somewhat interesting pedigree. For starters, it's oddly named -- just a 3-letter acronym, one which is not actually defined anywhere in OD&D, 1E, etc. Secondly, it's a bit of a misnomer; "ESP" is properly an umbrella term for a multitude of para-psychological powers, like telepathy, clairaudience, and clairvoyance (link). While the D&D ESP power itself is most like the first of those (3E renamed it "detect thoughts", a phrase briefly used in the OD&D text; perhaps "read minds" would be the best name for it), each of those D&D magics will be addressed below (they are all linked in the initial rules).

Inasmuch as D&D is an artifact of the pop sensibilities of its time, perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that ESP (extrasensory perception, of course) should be familiar to its readers -- in the wake of the 1960's "New Age" and "Human Potential Movement", there was a resurgence of interest in expanding one's consciousness by a number of means, and hope for investigating and harnessing it for practical real-world purposes. In fact, it was in the same decade as D&D's first publication that the governments of Russia, China, and the U.S. all founded research facilities dedicated to using ESP-like powers for military objectives (to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in the U.S. for at least a few decades -- see information on the "Stargate Project" and "remote viewing" generally.) Should your fantasy-world kings and archpriests be funding colleges of magic for the same purpose? Let's see:


Original D&D

ESP: A spell which allows the user to detect the thoughts (if any) of whatever lurks behind doors or in the darkness. It can penetrate solid rock up to about 2' in thickness, but a thin coating of lead will prevent its penetration. Duration: 12 turns. Range: 6"

Clairvoyance: Same as ESP spell except the spell user can visualize rather than merely pick up thoughts.

Clairaudience: Same as Clairvoyance except it allows hearing rather than visualization. This is one of the few spells which can be cast through a Crystal Ball (see Volume II).

ESP is 2nd-level, while the other two spells are 3rd-level. From a lot of personal use with medallions of ESP (the magic item in Vol-2) in contexts like the Dungeon! boardgame and AD&D DMG solo-dungeoneering rules, I feel like I've got a pretty good grip on the purpose of this short-range spell -- you use it to detect what's lurking on the other side of a door, before you burst in, kind of like a super-powered "hear noise" option. According to this text, the clairvoyance and clairaudience spells work about the same, but seem intended to give more complete information about the area behind the door. (Clearly of limited range: consider powers given to certain gods in OD&D Sup-IV tagged with a modification like, "Clairvoyance (no range limitations)": p. 23, 25, 43.)


B/X D&D Rules

ESP 
Range: 60'
Duration: 12 turns
 

This spell will allow the caster to "hear" thoughts. The spell caster must concentrate for one full turn in one direction to "hear" the thoughts (if any) of a creature within range. Any single creature's thoughts may be understood (regardless of the language), but if more than one creature is in the line of "hearing", a confused jumble of thoughts will be "heard". In this case, the caster may concentrate in that direction for an extra turn to sort out the jumble and concentrate on one creature. The spell caster may "hear" through 2 feet of rock, but a thin coating of lead will block the ESP. The thoughts of the undead (if any) cannot be "heard" by means of this spell.

Clairvoyance 
Range: 60'
Duration: 12 turns
 

This spell allows the user to see an area through the eyes of any single creature in it. The creature must be in the general direction chosen by the caster and in range. The spell is blocked by more than two feet of rock or a thin coating of lead. "Seeing" through a creature's eyes takes one full turn, after which the caster can change subjects.

The way these rules are organized, the 2nd level ESP is in Tom Moldvay's Basic D&D Set; the 3rd-level clairvoyance is in Dave Cook's Expert D&D Set (with clairaudience being discarded from those rules). ESP has effectively the same range & duration; it picks up complications over multiple targets, and an inability to read the minds of the undead. Clairvoyance is given greater specificity than in OD&D; the range & duration are the same as ESP (only given by implication in Vol-1), and Cook invents a detail that it functions by looking through another creature's eyes. One the one hand, that's sort of in spirit of "Same as ESP spell except the spell user can visualize" (per OD&D above); but on the other hand, that's generally not what's implied by the terms "clairvoyance" or "remote sensing" (see links above). This interpretation will not be re-used by any other version of the D&D rules.


AD&D 1st Ed. 

ESP (Divination)
Level: 2
Range: ½"/level, 9" maximum
Duration: 1 round/level
Area of Effect: One creature per probe
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 2 segments
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: When an ESP spell is used, the caster is able to detect the surface thoughts of any creatures in range - except creatures with no mind (as we know it), such as all of the undead. The ESP is stopped by 2 or more feet of rock, 2 or more inches of any metal other than lead, or a thin sheet of lead foil. The magic-user employing the spell is able to probe the surface thoughts of 1 creature per turn, getting simple instinctual thoughts from lower order creatures. Probes can continue on the same creature from round to round. The caster can use the spell to help determine if some creature lurks behind a door, for example, but the ESP will not always reveal what sort of creature it is. The material component of this spell is a copper piece.


Clairaudience (Divination)
Level: 3
Range: Special
Duration: 1 round/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time! 3 segments
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: The clairaudience spell enables the magic-user to concentrate upon some locale and hear in his or her mind whatever noise is within a 6" radius of his or her determined clairaudience locale center. Distance is not a factor, but the locale must be known, i.e. a place familiar to the spell caster or an obvious one (such as behind a door, around a corner, in a copse of woods, etc.). Only sounds which are normally detectable by the magic-user can be heard by use of this spell. Only metal sheeting or magical protections will prevent the operation of the spell. Note that it will function only on the plane of existence on which the magic-user is at the time of casting. The material component of the spell is a small silver horn of at least 100 g.p. value, and casting the spell causes it to disappear.


Clairvoyance (Divination)
Level: 3
Range: Special
Duration: 7 round/level
Area of Effect: Special


Explanation/Description: Similar to the clairaudience spell, the clairvoyance spell empowers the magic-user to see in his or her mind whatever is within sight range from the spell locale chosen. Distance is not a factor, but the locale must be known - familiar or obvious. Furthermore, light is a factor whether or not the spell caster has the ability to see into the infrared or ultraviolet spectrums. If the area is dark, only a 1" radius from the center of the locale of the spell's area of effect can be clairvoyed; otherwise, the seeing extends to normal vision range. Metal sheeting or magical protections will foil a clairvoyance spell. The spell functions only on the plane on which the magic-user is at the time of casting. The material component of the spell is a pinch of powdered pineal gland from a human or humanoid creature.

ESP is about the same as in OD&D. As usual for 1E, range & duration are transformed from fixed values to level-dependent variables, and at least two oddities arise from that -- first, it's one of only two in the entire ruleset that are tagged with a "maximum" range limit to its formula for range (the other being ventriloquism); and second, it's stepped into the confusing mess over time-units, in that the "1 round/level" duration is probably actually shorter than the text requirement of probing "1 creature per turn" (since 10 rounds = 1 turn in these rules).

It's in the clairvoyance/clairaudience pair that things get a bit more interesting. Here, Gygax has listed them both as "Range: Special" and written in the text "Distance is not a factor". So... that means you can see infinitely far away (as long as "familiar or obvious")? That's certainly not how I (or Dave Cook) would have read the OD&D text, and even here it's a bit cursory and easy to miss. I can see this causing a lot of interpretive arguments over what counts as "obvious" (The interior of the citadel I'm viewing from miles away, or simply know about? The center of the dungeon in that mountain I've been told exists?) No errata notes are given in the DMG. We might wonder if this expanded power takes some thunder away from the crystal ball magic item (originally the only infinite-distance detection power in the game; if clairaudience could do the job all by itself, then it wouldn't need casting through a crystal ball, as noted for OD&D above).

The fact the clairvoyance may work less well than ESP in the standard dungeon setting, because most rooms may well be dark in the first place, is noted for the first time here and addressed with a special "see 1 inch even in the dark" power (which I think is kind of fiddly). Also, is it a little strange that clairaudience is given a fairly pricey 100gp material component that gets disappears, but not clairvoyance?


AD&D 2nd Ed.

ESP
(Divination)
Range: 0

Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: 5 yds./level (90 yds. maximum)
 

When an ESP spell is used, the caster is able to detect the surface thoughts of any creatures in range--except for those of undead and creatures without minds (as we know them). The ESP is stopped by 2 feet of rock, 2 inches of any metal other than lead, or a thin sheet of lead foil.

The wizard employing the spell is able to probe the surface thoughts of one creature per round, getting simple instinctual thoughts from lower order creatures. Probes can continue on the same creature from round to round or can move on to other creatures. The caster can use the spell to help determine if a creature lurks behind a door, for example, but the ESP does not always reveal what sort of creature it is. If used as part of a program of interrogation, an intelligent and wary subject receives an initial saving throw. If successful, the creature successfully resists and the spell reveals no additional information. If the saving throw is failed, the caster may learn additional information, according to the DM's ruling. The creature's Wisdom adjustment applies, as may additional bonuses up to +4, based on the sensitivity of the information sought.


The material component of this spell is a copper piece.


Clairaudience
(Divination)
Range: Unlimited

Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: 60-ft. radius

The clairaudience spell enables the wizard to concentrate upon some locale and hear in his mind any noise within a 60-foot radius of that point. Distance is not a factor, but the locale must be known--a place familiar to the spellcaster or an obvious one (such as behind a door, around a corner, in a copse of trees, etc.). Only sounds that are normally detectable by the wizard can be heard by use of this spell. Lead sheeting or magical protections prevent the operation of the spell, and the wizard has some indication that the spell is so blocked. The spell creates an invisible sensor, similar to that created by a crystal ball spell, that can be dispelled. The spell functions only on the wizard's current plane of existence.

The material component of the spell is a small horn of at least 100 gp value.


Clairvoyance
(Divination)
Range: Unlimited

Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: Line of sight

Similar to the clairaudience spell, the clairvoyance spell empowers the wizard to see in his mind whatever is within sight range from the spell locale chosen. Distance from the wizard is not a factor, but the locale must be known--familiar or obvious. Furthermore, light is a factor, as the spell does not enable the use of infravision or magical enhancements. If the area is magically dark, only darkness is seen; if naturally pitch dark, only a 10-foot radius from the center of the spell's area of effect can be seen. Otherwise, the seeing extends to the normal vision range according to the prevailing light. Lead sheeting or magical protection foils a clairvoyance spell, and the wizard has some indication that it is so blocked. The spell creates an invisible sensor, similar to that created by a crystal ball spell, that can be dispelled. The spell functions only on the wizard's current plane of existence.

The material component is a pinch of powdered pineal gland.
So here's Dave Cook's second go at interpreting the works of Gygax. For the first time, Cook mentions a saving throw for ESP, in the specific case of an extended interrogation for specific information. For clairvoyance/clairaudience, the range is here explicated by Cook now listing them as "Range: Unlimited", so there's no question about how far they can function -- really far. They're in a very small group with that designator for range in this ruleset (the others being wish, limited wish, and the new spells sending and demand).


D&D 3rd Ed.

Detect Thoughts
Divination [Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 2, Knowledge 2, Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 ft.
Area: Quarter circle emanating from the character to the extreme of the range
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute/level (D)
Saving Throw: Will negates (see text)
Spell Resistance: No


The character can detect surface thoughts. The amount of information revealed depends on how long the character studies a particular area or subject:

  • 1st Round: Presence or absence of thoughts (from conscious creatures with Intelligence scores of 1 or higher).
  • 2nd Round: Number of thinking minds and the mental strength of each.
  • 3rd Round: Surface thoughts of any mind in the area. A target’s Will save prevents the character from reading its thoughts, and the character must cast detect thoughts again to have another chance. Creatures of animal intelligence (Int 1 or 2) have simple, instinctual thoughts that the character can pick up.

Note: Each round, the character can turn to detect thoughts in a new area. The spell can penetrate barriers, but 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt blocks it.

Arcane Focus: A copper piece.


Clairaudience/Clairvoyance
Divination
Level: Brd 3, Knowledge 3, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: See text
Effect: Magical sensor
Duration: 1 minute/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No


Clairaudience/clairvoyance enables the character to concentrate upon some locale and hear or see (the character's choice) almost as if the character were there. Distance is not a factor, but the locale must be known—a place familiar to the character or an obvious one. The spell does not allow magically enhanced senses to work through it. If the chosen locale is magically dark, the character sees nothing. If it is naturally pitch black, the character can see in a 10-foot radius around the center of the spell’s effect. Lead sheeting or magical protection blocks the spell, and the character senses that the spell is so blocked. The spell creates an invisible sensor that can be dispelled. The spell functions only on the plane of existence the character is currently occupying.

Oh 3E, I wanted to love you so terribly much. But here you've taken the old ESP, renamed to detect thoughts (which you can sort of sympathize with, although I can think of better names) and made a whole complicated piece of drama out of it. Now you've got this picky-itsy rule on what you pick up each round to distinguish between the "something's over there" and the "useful mental information" aspects of the spell. You've also got this big friggin' table with 10 rows to handle the fact that someone threw "mental strength" in as a detail in the 2nd round of scanning. That kind of thing totally burns my chaps, because it guarantees that the game stops and everyone flips through the PHB to this page every time the spell gets used. Hey, how about instead, I don't know, just directly declare the Intelligence ability score of the creature? Or cut it to 3 categories (dumb, average, genius)? Or skip the whole thing entirely?

Although in its defense, detect thoughts (nee ESP)  looks the way it does because all the 3E "detection" spells were synchronized to have this same kind of 3-rounds-of-increasing-effect and a table-of-strengths format. This includes: detect animals or plants, detect evil (et. al.), detect magic, detect secret doors, detect snares and pits, detect thoughts, and detect undead. And that was spawned by a little addition to detect magic back in the 1E DMG that allowed you get to get some extra information on a scan ("This spell detects the intensity of the magic (dim, faint, moderate, strong, very strong, intense) and there is a 10% chance per level of the caster that the type (abiuration, alteration, etc.) can be found as well..."; 1E DMG p. 44). Even the 3E detect thoughts "mental strength" table is basically derived from the similar table you'd find at the the start of the 1E Monster Manuals. On second thought -- that's not so much a defense, the fact that all of these detection spells were allowed to get so crazy complicated should be more of a deeper condemnation.

But meanwhile -- The clairaudience/clairvoyance pair has been collapsed to a single spell (again, you can sort of see why, but you just fixed the ESP name oddity and then made this the new clunkiest spell name in the system). Here the designers have stripped out Dave Cook's 2E clarification of "Range: Unlimited"... now you're back to 1E-style text with "Range: See text", and needing to pick up on the "Distance is not a factor" text and interpret it correctly.


D&D 3.5 Ed.

Detect Thoughts
Divination [Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 2, Knowledge 2, Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: 60 ft.
Area: Cone-shaped emanation
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: Will negates; see text
Spell Resistance: No

You detect surface thoughts. The amount of information revealed depends on how long you study a particular area or subject.

  • 1st Round: Presence or absence of thoughts (from conscious creatures with Intelligence scores of 1 or higher).
  • 2nd Round: Number of thinking minds and the Intelligence score of each. If the highest Intelligence is 26 or higher (and at least 10 points higher than your own Intelligence score), you are stunned for 1 round and the spell ends. This spell does not let you determine the location of the thinking minds if you can’t see the creatures whose thoughts you are detecting.
  • 3rd Round: Surface thoughts of any mind in the area. A target’s Will save prevents you from reading its thoughts, and you must cast detect thoughts again to have another chance. Creatures of animal intelligence (Int 1 or 2) have simple, instinctual thoughts that you can pick up.
Each round, you can turn to detect thoughts in a new area. The spell can penetrate barriers, but 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt blocks it.

Arcane Focus: A copper piece.


Clairaudience/Clairvoyance
Divination (Scrying)
Level: Brd 3, Knowledge 3, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Effect: Magical sensor
Duration: 1 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

Clairaudience/clairvoyance creates an invisible magical sensor at a specific location that enables you to hear or see (your choice) almost as if you were there. You don’t need line of sight or line of effect, but the locale must be known—a place familiar to you or an obvious one. Once you have selected the locale, the sensor doesn’t move, but you can rotate it in all directions to view the area as desired. Unlike other scrying spells, this spell does not allow magically or supernaturally enhanced senses to work through it. If the chosen locale is magically dark, you see nothing. If it is naturally pitch black, you can see in a 10- foot radius around the center of the spell’s effect.
Clairaudience/clairvoyance functions only on the plane of existence you are currently occupying.

Arcane Focus: A small horn (for hearing) or a glass eye (for seeing).

Okay, we can see a few things here that 3.5 actually did improve on -- or at least back-pedaled on some of the more ridiculous design decisions made in 3E. One is that the detect thoughts (ESP) big table did get snipped out, and replaced by simply knowing "the Intelligence score" of each target, as I suggested above. A second is that clairaudience/clairvoyance has its range cut down from unlimited (as it was in AD&D 1E-3E) back down to local-usage only, 400 ft. + 40 ft.level (a lot more like it was in OD&D and B/X). So that leaves some legitimate advantage to the higher-level scrying spells and items (crystal balls). At least those are good calls, I think.


Conclusions

So it seems to me like the clairvoyance/clairaudience spells are very powerful, if interpreted as being usable at totally any distance -- subject to arguments over what counts as "familiar or obvious", of course. In fact, I would think that these "remote viewing" spells available to any wizard would come pretty close to eliminating any need for crystal balls or the magic mirror/magic font spells that first popped up in 1E Unearthed Arcana and were kept in all later editions. Although: I can imagine in any edition other than 2E that someone might easily overlook the "Distance is not a factor" line and exactly what that implies. I have to admit, even with all this textual history, I keep coming back to these spells and expecting them to have the same restrictions that ESP did in OD&D.

Am I wrong about that? How powerful is the ESP-clairvoyance-clairaudience trio in your games? Do your players routinely use them to great effect? Have you found it necessary to insert any additional interpretations or limitations (or expansions) to these spells? Inquiring minds want to know.

Edit: One more question --  How do you feel about Cook's being able to understand any creature's thoughts "regardless of the language" that appears only in his Expert rules? Fair game or too powerful?

Edit: Added the look at the 3.5 edition versions. Thanks to commentator Monkapotomus for the heads-up on that.

16 comments:

  1. My friends and I have really only worked with the 2E AD&D and the 3E versions of the spells.

    ESP I don't find to be too overpowered since it is one creature at a time. With 2E I ruled that you knew there were multiple creatures in the area but could only listen to one at a time. For 3E I flattened the time requirements so that round 1 you detected the number and strength of minds and round 2 you could listen to the thoughts of a specific creature. 3E really weakened the spell by providing a saving throw for every creature no matter what.

    My friends and I also tended to limit the use of the Clairaudience/Clairvoyance spells since it has been difficult to come up with a useful definition of "familiar or obvious" that made the spells useful but not overpowered and could be consistently applied. After much debate we agreed that the spells would require a crystal ball or scrying device of some sort to use at all.

    After reading the OD&D description above, I think I may propose changing the spells so that the range of Clairaudience/Clairvoyance is the same as ESP and to get the unlimited range you either need a higher level version of the spells or a scrying device.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's really interesting that it sounds like you independently came up with connecting those spells to the crystal ball for unlimited usage. Is the crystal ball likewise only of use if you have a clairvoyance spell memorized, say?

      Delete
    2. Honestly, we never decided on that since it never came up. Pretty much the only characters to ever try and use a crystal ball were wizards. The other players looked to their own sources for information when needed and left the "ball gazing" to the wizard.

      Looking back at our house rules document I'm reminded that the rule change was implemented for Scrying since 3.5 D&D shortened the ranges on clairvoyance/clairaudience to long range (400' +40'/level) and left the spell Scrying (which combines sight and sound) to unlimited range.

      Assuming 3E, my thought is if a non-wizard wants to use a crystal ball than the effect would be the minimum of a wizard able to cast the spell (7th level) with no additional benefits while a wizard who uses it could use their caster level for all checks and include additional detection abilities they have active (like detect magic, detect invisibility, etc).

      Delete
    3. That's interesting that 3.5 knocked the ranges back down from unlimited, I didn't bother look that up before. Good info, thanks.

      Delete
  2. On second thought, the 3.5 version of the spells don't bother me as much as the 2E versions do. With 3.5, clairvoyance/clairaudience has a shorter range, targets a place, and takes 10 minutes to cast while Scrying targets one person who gets a saving throw and takes 1 hour to cast. Both spells can be detected with the See Invisibility spell and dispelled.

    The only immediate problem that I see is that Scrying is only one level higher but is a huge jump in power. I might move it up a couple of levels.and make it a 6th level spell that requires something associated with the target.

    The 2E spells I would probably limit to the same range as ESP and require the crystal ball for unlimited range.

    ReplyDelete
  3. 3e (but not 3.5) also had the "scry" skill, which for some reason I had recalled as interacting with the Clairaudience/Clairvoyance spell in addition to the full on Scrying spell. Requiring a skill investment and roll could be a way to check the power of unlimited range, albeit at a stiff cost in system complexity.

    Scry has probably the least helpful and useful skill description in 3e (http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/SRD3e:Scry_Skill) being as it just refers you to a bunch of unspecified spells and magical items and notes that it can be used untrained even though it's class-exclusive (which is a very awkward rule intersection).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's one of the few things 3.5 got right.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, that scrying skill really made me scowl in 3E, it just really didn't feel right to have this singleton very specific magic skill (even though it didn't connect direct to ESP/Clairvoyance/Clairaudience). Also didn't know that 3.5 had removed that.

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. With regards to languages, for 3E I would probably rule that thoughts are understood regardless of language (since every target is allowed a saving throw) while in previous versions I would probably require the caster to understand the language of the creature.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that's what I'm leaning towards myself (in the prior versions context).

      Delete
  6. A lot of the power of ESP and clairvoyance/scrying comes from assumptions about the advent of practical defenses against it. Let's say gold and silver are equivalent to lead (or, at least, used to conceal it). Can you spy on the king on his gilded throne, or read the thoughts of a noble wearing a coronet (or gilded helm)? If the walls are packed with lead-ore rubble (or the dungeon is a converted lead mine) can you see into it? Can you see into the Amber Room?.

    3e seemed to assume on expensive spellcasting services as the primary way to protect oneself against scrying and teleportation (and hence the forum-goers scry-and-die tactics), but the price of even one high-level spell would buy an awful lot of lead (or even silver and gold) foil.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Huh, that's a novel interpretation of the metal-protection language -- I would never have to say an object like a crown blocks the spell. When the spells says "coating" or "sheeting" I would naturally assume being totally enwrapped by the substance (as in a box or special room). Which is why it seemed like the range was the more broadly critical factor.

      Delete
    2. The crown is a stretch, but my assumption was that it worked more like blocking line-of-sight (despite the distances involved) than like a Faraday cage that has to block omnidirectionally due to reflected strange radiations (or whatever), but the latter makes at least a much sense.

      Delete
  7. In all my years of playing D&D, I don't recall anyone EVER using ESP or clairvoyance/clairaudience (nor "detect thoughts" when I played DND3).

    Ever.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Noted. I also don't think I've ever seen anyone memorize ESP, but a medallion of ESP is pretty sweet (at least in the Dungeon boardgame).

      Delete