Monday, August 18, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Telekinesis

Telekinesis is one of those spells that I've flat-out never seen used. (I never even figured out how to do anything with it in Diablo.) Let's see what it might do in D&D:

Original D&D

Telekenesis: By means of this spell objects may be moved by mental force. Weight limits are calculated by multiplying the level of the Magic-User by 200 Gold Pieces weight. Thus, a "Necromancer" is able to move a weight equal to 2,000 Gold Pieces. Duration: 6 turns. Range 12".

Notice the misspelling of the name (repeated in the list of spells). There's a weight limit calculation by level, but no specified speed or effects, really (like possible damage). Recall that in these rules 10 GP weigh 1 pound, so the weight rule is indicating 20 pounds/level.

D&D Expert Rules

Range: 120'
Duration: 6 rounds

The caster may levitate and slowly move weights of up to 200 coins weight/level. Thus a 10th level elf could move up to 2,000 coins of weight. The entire weight may be moved up to 20' per round in any direction the caster desires. Unwilling creatures get a saving throw vs. Spells. A successful save results in the spell having no effect. The caster must concentrate while moving objects, and if disturbed the telekinesed objects will fall.

Cook corrects the spelling, and adds a speed of movement -- which is fairly slow (20'/round, equivalent to a man in metal armor in these rules). There's also the possibility of a saving throw for a resisting creature.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Telekinesis (Alteration)
Level: 5
Range: 1"/level
Duration: 2 rounds + 1 round/level
Area of Effect: 250 g.p. weight/level
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 5 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: By means of this spell the magic-user is able to move objects by will force, by concentrating on moving them mentally. The telekinesis spell causes the desired object to move vertically or horizontally. Movement is 2" the first round, 4" the second, 8' the third, 16" the fourth, and so on, doubling each round until a maximum telekinetic movement of 1,024" per round is reached. (Heavy objects travelling at high speed can be deadly weapons!) Note that telekinesis can be used to move opponents who fall within the weight capacity of the spell, but if they are able to employ as simple a counter-measure as an enlarge spell, for example (thus making the body weight go over the maximum spell limit), it is easily countered. Likewise, ambulation or some other form of motive power if the recipient of the spell is not able to ambulate, counters the effect of telekinesis, provided the velocity has not reached 16" per round. The various Bigby's . . . Hand spells will also counter this spell, as will many other magics.

In AD&D, Gygax slightly modifies the weight limit calculation (from 20 to 25 pounds/level), and inserts a fairly complicated doubling-of-speed-per-round mechanic (assuming motion is not countered). That one's kind of a head-scratcher, as by the 4th round (16" movement) the object is almost certainly beyond the range of the spell (16" for 16th-level wizard) -- unless, I suppose, it's being whipped around in a circular motion. It's noted that "Heavy objects traveling at high speed can be deadly weapons!", but zero guidance is given on adjudicating the damage or other possible effect.

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Range: 10 yds./level

Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 10 yds./level 

By means of this spell, the wizard is able to move objects by concentrating on moving them mentally. The spell can provide either a gentle, sustained force or a single short, violent thrust.

A sustained force enables the wizard to move a weight of up to 25 pounds a distance up to 20 feet per round. The spell lasts two rounds, plus one round per caster level. The weight can be moved vertically, horizontally, or both. An object moved beyond the caster's range falls or stops. If the caster ceases concentration for any reason, the object falls or stops. The object can be telekinetically manipulated as if with one hand. For example, a lever or rope can be pulled, a key can be turned, an object rotated and so on, if the force required is within the weight limitation. The caster might even be able to untie simple knots, at the discretion of the DM.

Alternatively, the spell energy can be expended in a single round. The caster can hurl one or more objects within range, and within a 10-foot cube, directly away from himself at high speed, to a distance of up to 10 feet per caster level. This is subject to a maximum weight of 25 pounds per caster level. Damage caused by hurled objects is decided by the DM, but cannot exceed 1 point of damage per caster level. Opponents who fall within the weight capacity of the spell can be hurled, but they are allowed a saving throw vs. spell to avoid the effect. Furthermore, those able to employ as simple a counter-measure as an enlarge spell, for example (thus making the body weight go over the maximum spell limit), can easily counter the spell. The various Bigby's hand spells also counter this spell.

Cook does an uncharacteristically large rewrite of the spell in 2E. For the general case ("gentle, sustained force"), he keeps the 1E weight limit, and changes the duration to open-ended concentration (per the text). He also reverts the speed back to his own Expert D&D rule of 20 feet/round, which is problematic -- because while in B/X that was equal to a man in metal armor, in the different scale of AD&D, that's actually slower than anything else in the game (even a friend in plate mail moving your couch around on a Saturday). Apparently in response to the 1E major speed allowance and allusion to "deadly weapons!", he distinguishes a second use-case of "violent thrust" which is over in a round and does damage of up to 1 hp/level.

I'm not totally convinced by these changes, because it seems a bit of a half-hearted reaction to the 1E rule; generally I think split-use cases are both a complication and a sign of a poorly designed or underpowered spell; and the vague damage allowance seems quite low for a spell of this level (if against only one person). The spell text has grown from 1 paragraph in 0-1E to 3 paragraphs here.

D&D 3rd Ed.

Level: Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Target or Targets: See text
Duration: Concentration (up to 1 round/level) or instantaneous (see text)
Saving Throw: Will negates (object)(see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes (object) (see text)

The character moves objects or creatures by concentrating on them. Depending on the version selected, the spell can provide either a gentle, sustained force or a single short, violent thrust.

Sustained Force: A sustained force moves a creature or object weighing up to 25 pounds per caster level up to 20 feet per round. A creature can negate the effect against itself or against an object it possesses with a successful Will save or with SR.

This version of the spell lasts up to 1 round per caster level, but it ends if the character ceases concentration. The weight can be moved vertically, horizontally, or both. An object cannot be moved beyond the character's range. The spell ends if the object is forced beyond the range. If the character ceases concentration for any reason, the object falls or stops.

An object can be telekinetically manipulated as if with one hand. The character might even be able to untie simple knots, though delicate activities such as these require Intelligence checks against a DC set by the DM.

Violent Thrust: Alternatively, the spell energy can be expended in a single round. The character can hurl one or more objects or creatures who are within range and all within 10 feet of each other toward any target within 10 feet/level of all the objects. The character can hurl up to a total weight of 25 pounds per caster level.

The character must succeed at attack rolls (one per creature or object thrown) to hit the target with the items, using the character's base attack bonus + the character's Intelligence modifier. Weapons cause standard damage (with no Strength bonus). Other objects cause damage ranging from 1 point per 25 pounds to 1d6 points of damage per 25 pounds.

Creatures who fall within the weight capacity of the spell can be hurled, but they are allowed Will saves to negate the effect, as are those whose held possessions are targeted by the spell. If a telekinesed creature is hurled against a solid surface, it takes damage as if it had fallen 10 feet (1d6 points).

The spell text is now 7 paragraphs in length, with broadly these same effects (weight, cases, etc.) as in 2E. The speed is the same (20 feet/round), although it benefits from the system re-scaling, such that it's now equal to a man with a medium load (conveniently similar to B/X). The "violent thrust" attack usage gets an explicit rule for an attack roll, damage variation (by weapon type, or else a fairly wide range of 1 hp to 1 die/level), and a damage specifier for hurled creatures (limited to a seemingly low 1d6).

Open Questions

Have you ever seen someone use telekinesis on a regular basis (not just as a one-time over-the-cliff gag)? Should it have a more streamlined rule, or higher speed or damage margins? When I think of this power these days, I tend to think of the wizard battle in the first Lord of the Rings movie (Saruman and Gandalf flinging each other around the chamber), or the Force-battle at the end of Empire Strikes Back (Vader propelling a whole barrage of objects through the air to batter Luke). Does this spell do the job of simulating those kinds of actions?

And while I'm on it, what the hell good is it in Diablo?


  1. This falls into the spells I took away from Mages and gave to Mentalists "psionics". Also much like ESP and Claivoyance, it seems misnamed for what most players' THINK the spell does based on name.
    That said, I think Mage Hand does well for basic TK, and maybe emulate something like "Ring of the Ram" for the big shove type power.
    Sorry, can't help you on Diablo.

  2. My own character used this one a lot, back in the day. But he was a psionic, not a magician.

    This was AD&D 1E, early 80's, and most of our game effects were derived from the plethora of sic-fi films featuring folks with "mental powers." Think things like Firestarter (or any Steven King fiction), Scanners, and Zapped! The latter (silly as the film was) was especially inspiring to my character as we ruled the character could do things like "suck the air out of a person" creating a vacuum, and other gross/deadly effects.

    (you'll note that 1E does NOT define damage beyond saying TK can be used for creating "deadly weapons;" also there was no "minimum weight;" how much do you need to move to pluck someone's eyeballs from their skull?)

    We tended to reward creative use of magic and such. My character's use of TK was more often as a "veiled threat" than actual, practical use, BTW.

    I don't remember using anything but a big-ass axe when I played Diablo.

  3. ^ That's interesting that both you guys used it primarily in a modified "psionics" format. I do agree that I really wish the spell better simulated those kinds of heavy-hitting movie effects (if maybe not the gibbly stuff).

  4. I vaguely remember using it to get out of a jail cell once, by telekinetically moving the keys from the wall and into our cell. I also remember trying to keep some non-component spells in mind just in case I was stripped of spell components.

    1. Oh, that's a great scene. But obviously very unusual.

  5. It's odd that I've never seen my players take advantage of this spell considering that - now that I've read each version - I would allow theft (possibly with a saving throw). Enemy wizard casting spells? Steal his spell components. Ogre wielding a club? Steal his club (and drop it on his head). Bard playing an annoying song? Undo his belt buckle and watch his pants fall. And if it's an issue of, "Mage hand can do all that and it's a low level spell," then modify telekinesis so that you can get more use out of it. (For example, make the duration independent of the object, so that the caster can manipulate multiple objects so long as the spell lasts, but never more than one per round.)

    1. Yeah, I think that extending the duration and allowing different objects to be moved from round to round is a great idea and really makes the spell resemble other fantasy sources a lot better. I'd be all over that.

      The stealing items -- with a save -- is a pretty good use of the spell. Although I wouldn't want to limit it to that, I also want fairly large objects like a person to subject to being thrown through the air. (Of course, neither spell components nor mage hand are at issue in my OD&D games.)

  6. The Comedy sort of stuff Ozymandias talks about are pretty easily done with Unseen Servant (a spell that has seen a lot of use in my campaigns). I like to think of X-Men (Magneto and Kitty Pryde) with telekinesis and could see using a modified falling damage mechanic for characters being hurled against walls etc.

    1. Yes, I agree with that. Good thoughts.

  7. I remember using it once to pick up a black pudding and throw it at a cockatrice, taking out both of them. Pretty sure we weren't carefully calculating the probable weight of a black pudding, though.

    1. Ooh, geez, that's super nice. I do think that generally smashing one enemy into another should be one of the better uses.

  8. Other interesting telekinesis usage: certain episodes of the show Fringe feature telekinesis, in particular the series finale wherein the Big Bad Guy (TM) gets literally crushed by a flung car. Not bad...

    1. Oh, wow. Haven't seen that show, but that seems like a great use. Seems like our D&D spell would need to increase the allowed weight & speed to make that feasible.

    2. Worth seeing. It's available on Netflix. However, if you do watch the first 5-10 minutes of the very first episode you will *NEVER* want to get into a commercial airliner again... The show is pretty cool with a lot of "out there" science (hence the name, "Fringe") and neat premises. The characters are pretty good too, especially the "mad" scientist (who quite literally is, given years of taking LSD...) Lots of fun!

  9. Between my players and I we used TK a lot. It was one of our favorite spells!

    It saw a lot of uses in sieges, large combats, and when more subtle activities were needed. Those bundles of arrows or barrels of oil became very deadly to mooks when a wizard uses TK.

    Also, I believe one of the beholder's eyes allows for 1,000lbs of constant TK which I used once for a literal tornado of swords.

    1. Hmmm. Well there's an interesting point of interpretation in whether the spell can affect a whole batch of objects at a time (bundle of arrows, or tornado of swords). In places the spell text says "object" and in others "objects". Is the plural meant over multiple castings, or from round to round, or all at once? Certainly the spell is more powerful if allowed, although I rarely see that interpretation.

  10. I also essentially made TK an every level spell. A wizard could memorize it as a 1st level spell and only move 25lbs, 2nd level 50lbs, 3rd level 75lbs, etc. or memorize it as a 5th level spell and have the extended weight limit.

    At the time the thought was that it made it more useful without making it overpowered.

  11. Curious as to the limit on object number... Say if i wanted to use the spell to hurl an entire quiver of arrows or guide a barrage of throwing knives. (assuming my characters level permits the weight) or would i be required to cast it per object? I feel the spell could be rather usefull if used to manipulate mass amount of objects with little weight or used for precise targeting. Perhaps maybe even combine it with an object that removes the concentration penalty and use it during combat to move an enemys shield or say move a log to block an arrow. The possibilities seem ratger plentiful or am i missing something?

    1. I agree that the spell is pretty vague in terms like that. Only the the 2E+ versions clearly indicate that someone can throw more than one object at a time.

      Personally, I'm really not in favor of interpretations that allow someone to haul around a barrel of 100 arrows and shoot them all at once with telekinesis. That just seems cheesy and unbalanced to my reckoning.