Monday, October 27, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Invisible Stalker

In anticipation of the release of the 2nd Edition of Book of Spells on December 1st, I wanted to look at a couple of high-level spells which are not commonly thought of as problematic, but wind up revealing tricky details if you squint at them long enough. These are issues that I didn't have time to pick up on in the 1st edition, and only on this iteration did I catch them with the finer-toothed comb I was using to untangle stuff. At the end you'll see the specific language I decided to use in the new edition of the book.

Original D&D 

Invisible Stalker: The conjuration of an extra-dimensional monster which can be controlled with merely a word from the Magic-User who conjured him. The Invisible Stalker will continue on its mission until it is accomplished, regardless of time or distance. They cannot be dispelled once conjured, except through attack. Details of the Invisible Stalker itself will be found in the next volume.
The invisible stalker spell was never in Chainmail, so of course we begin with OD&D. One unusual issue with the spell is that you've got writeups for "invisible stalker" in two books: once in the player's book for the spell, and once in the monster book for the creature itself. So in each case we should look in both volumes. Here it is in OD&D Vol-2, Monster & Treasure:
INVISIBLE STALKERS: As previously noted (Vol. 1) these are monsters created by level 6 spells, uttered directly or from scrolls. They are faultless trackers. They follow continually until their mission is accomplished at which time they return to the non-dimension from whence they came. Until their mission is completed they will never vary, and must be destroyed by attack to be stopped, although a Dispell Magic spell will also work. The referee should note, however, that Invisible Stalkers resent missions which entail long periods of continuing service such as guarding a Magic-User for a month, a year, etc. They will then seek to fulfill the letter of their duties by perverting the spirit. For example: An Invisible Stalker is ordered to: "Guard me against all attack, and see that I come to no harm." In order to faithfully fulfill this endless duty the Invisible Stalker will have to take the Magic-User to its non-dimensional plane and place him in suspended animation, and assume this is accomplished whenever a 12 is rolled with two six-sided dice, checking either daily or weekly as the campaign progresses.
Did you catch the glitch? The spell writeup in Vol-1 says that dispel magic does not work, but the monster writeup in Vol-2 says dispel magic does work, so as to eliminate an invisible stalker. I don't see any way to decide the impasse in OD&D on the issue; perhaps taking a consensus from other editions will serve to clarify? The other thing that's interesting in this fairly long monster description (for OD&D) is the bit at the end, where long or ongoing assignments check a 2d6 roll daily or weekly, with box-cars indicating some subversion like carrying away the caster for eternity. This random roll is altered or deleted in future editions.

In the original D&D supplement Swords & Spells, invisible stalker appears in the list of parametrized spells, noting a Range of 1", Area Effect of "1 monster", and Turn Duration of "until destroyed". Note that many other spells in that list, basically the ones that are permanent, are listed as "until dispelled". So perhaps this is a second signal that dispel magic is not meant to work here; or perhaps it's just that destruction in combat takes priority as a more general and expected countering. So it's still unclear.

Expert D&D

Invisible Stalker
Range: 0'
Duration: special

This spell summons an invisible stalker (see page X34) which will follow orders from the magic-user that conjured it. The invisible stalker will continue on its given mission until the mission is accomplished, regardless of time or distance. Once conjured, the invisible stalker can only be sent back by being "killed" in combat or by a clerical dispel evil spell.
That's the spell description; note that it adds the capability of the 5th-level cleric dispel evil to take it out. While it doesn't mention dispel magic by name, if I'm reading the "can only be sent back" passage right, that lower-level spell should not be effective against invisible stalkers (same as the spell description in OD&D). Here's the monster description (stat block elided):
Invisible Stalker
...
An invisible stalker is a very intelligent enchanted monster summoned to this world by use of the invisible stalker magic-user's spell. If the stalker is given a simple task that is clear and can be swiftly completed, it will obey promptly. If the task is complex or lengthy, the invisible stalker will try to distort the intent while obeying the literal command. EXAMPLE: If ordered to guard a treasure for longer than a week, the stalker may take it away to its native plane of existence and guard it there forever.
Invisible stalkers are most often used to track and slay enemies. They are faultless trackers. They surprise any creature that cannot detect invisible creatures on a 1d6 roll of 1-5. They will return to their native plane once they are slain, or dispelled, or have completed their task.
Now once again the monster description says that it can be "dispelled". Most likely this is a carryover from the glitchy OD&D language. But in this case it at least can be interpreted as referring to dispel evil, thereby removing the contradiction. Perhaps.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Invisible Stalker  (Conjuration/Summoning)
Level:  6 
Range:  1"
Duration: Special 
Components:  V, S, M
Casting Time:  1 round
Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: Special

Expalantion [sic] /Description:  This spell summons an invisible stalker from the Elemental Plane of Air.  This 8 hit die monster will obey and serve the spell caster in performance of whatever tasks are set before it. However, the creature is bound to serve; it does not do so from loyalty or desire. Therefore, it will resent prolonged missions or complex tasks, and  it  will attempt to pervert instructions accordingly (for complete details of the invisible stalker, consult  ADVANCED DUNGEONS  &  DRAGONS, MONSTER MANUAL).  The invisible stalker will follow instructions even at hundreds or thousands of miles distance. The material components of this spell are burning incense and a piece of horn carved into a crescent shape.
In AD&D, for the first time we see the invisible stalker get the detail that it comes from the Elemental Plane of Air. For some reason I find this less awe-inspiring than some unknown alien dimension, possibly Lovecraftian, which is an option left open in OD&D. It does not mention use of dispel magic (so the restriction has been removed?). Note that the range given is 1", as seen first in Swords & Spells (and opposed to the B/X range of 0; a common pattern). The previously-published Monster Manual sayeth thusly:

INVISIBLE STALKER
...
The invisible stalker is a creature from the elemental plane of air, normally encountered on the material plane only due to the conjuration of some magic-user. This conjuration causes the creature to serve for a period on this plane. Invisible stalkers roam the astral and ethereal planes, and if they are encountered there on the elemental planes, they can be dimly seen. Otherwise or unless their opponents are able to detect/see invisible objects, their invisibility causes opponents to subtract 2 from "to hit" dice rolls. Unless slain on their own plane, invisible stalkers are simply sent back to the elemental plane when damage accrued exceeds their total hit points.

The conjuring party retains full command of the invisible stalker summoned until  it  fulfills its duties or is killed. Once set upon a mission, an invisible stalker will follow through unceasingly until it is accomplished. They are faultless trackers within one day of a quarry's passing. They must be destroyed to make them cease an ordered attack. Once a mission is finished, the creature is freed to return to its own plane. The invisible stalker is at best an unwilling servant but will not resent a brief, uncomplicated task. Service involving a period of a week tries the creature severely, and anything longer is  certain to make it attempt to fulfill the letter of command by perverting the spirit of it. This is not to say that impelling the invisible stalker to serve for extended periods is impossible, but the compulsion to cause it to do so fully and properly must be great, i.e. a carefully worded command from a very powerful magic-user. A simple command such as "Follow me, and guard me from any attack," could be interpreted to mean follow at  100'  distance if the invisible stalker had been on duty over a week - or perhaps even if it hadn't been that long, for dealing with such creatures is always a hazard. Similarly, a command to: "Keep me safe from all harm," can be construed by the invisible stalker to mean that it is to carry the conjuring party to its own plane and place them in suspended animation in a secret room in its own abode, thus carrying out its duties to the letter.

Each day of duty which an invisible stalker serves will see a 1% cumulative chance of the creature seeking to pervert the intent of its commands in order to be free of servitude. If no option remains open, the stalker must continue to serve.

Invisible stalkers understand the common speech, but they do not talk any language but their own.
While this block of text has bloated up usual under the unrestrained hand of Gygax in AD&D, parallel to the Player's Handbook spell description, the language allowing dispel magic to work has gone missing here from the monster description. So by default I would assume that most readers of AD&D would conclude that a dispel magic would will work to terminate this spell; and yet it's still not an explicit ruling on the situation one way or the other. Note that the boxcars-on-2d6 method of determining long mission subversion has switched to 1% daily cumulative chance (but unclear if that's meant to start after the first week or not).

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Invisible Stalker
(Conjuration/Summoning)
Range: 10 yds.
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 rd.
Saving Throw: None

This spell summons an invisible stalker from the Elemental Plane of Air. This 8-Hit
Dice monster obeys and serves the spellcaster in performing whatever tasks are set before it. It is a faultless tracker within one day of the quarry's passing. The invisible stalker follows instructions even if they send him hundreds or thousands of miles away and, once given an order, follows through unceasingly until the task is accomplished. However, the creature is bound to serve; it does not do so from loyalty or desire. Therefore, it resents prolonged missions or complex tasks, and it attempts to pervert instructions accordingly. Invisible stalkers understand common speech but speak no language save their own.

The material components of this spell are burning incense and a piece of horn carved
into a crescent shape.
The is pretty much the customary copy-and-paste job from 1E. Here's the (incredibly long) monster description in this edition:

Invisible Stalker
...
The invisible stalker is a creature from the elemental plane of Air. Those encountered on the Prime Material plane have almost always been summoned by wizards to fulfill a specific task.

The true form of the invisible stalker is unknown. On the Material, Astral, or Ethereal planes, the invisible stalker can only be perceived as a shimmering air mass which looks much like the refraction effect caused by hot air passing in front of cold. Invisible stalkers understand the common speech of men, but can not speak it. They can converse only in their own language, which sounds much like the roaring and whooshing of a great wind storm.

Combat: Invisible stalkers attack by using the air itself as a weapon. It is capable of creating a sudden, intense vortex that batters a victim for 4-16 (4d4) points of damage. Such attacks affect a single victim on the same plane as the invisible stalker. Due to their invisibility, these creatures impose a -6 penalty on the surprise rolls of those they choose to attack. Similarly, all opponents who are unable to see or detect invisible foes are at a -2 on their attack rolls. Although they are fully invisible on the Prime Material plane, their outlines can be dimly perceived on the Astral or Ethereal planes.

Invisible stalkers can only be killed on the elemental plane of Air. If attacked on another plane, they automatically return to their home plane when their total hit points are exceeded by the damage they suffered.

Habitat/Society:Little is known about the lives of these creatures on their home plane. It is assumed that they are similar to normal air elementals when encountered there. Those present on the material plane are there as the result of a conjuration by some wizard. This magic causes the creature to serve its summoner for a time. The conjurer retains full command of the stalker until it either fulfills its duties or is defeated and driven back to its home plane. Once given a task, an invisible stalker is relentless. They are faultless trackers who can detect any trail less than a day old. If ordered to attack, they will do so with great fury and will cease their efforts only upon their own destruction or the direct orders of their master. Once their mission is accomplished, the creature is free to return to its home plane.

The invisible stalker is, at best, an unwilling servant. It resents any task assigned to it, although brief, uncomplicated labors may be seen as something of a diversion and thus undertaken with little resentment. Tasks that require a week or more of its time will drive the invisible stalker to pervert the stated intent of the command. Such commands must be carefully worded and come from a powerful wizard. An invisible stalker may look for a loop hole in the command as a means of striking back at its master. For example, a simple command such as "keep me safe from all harm" may result in the stalker carrying the conjurer back to the elemental plane of air and leaving him there in a well hidden location.

Each day of the invisible stalker's indenturedness there is a 1% cumulative chance that the creature will seek a means to pervert its commands and free itself of servitude. If no option is open, the creature must continue to serve.

Ecology: Invisible stalkers are a species unwillingly transplanted to the Prime Material plane. They are slaves whose terms of servitude dominate their brief stays. Those who have been subjected to great hardship, assigned very difficult tasks, or who have faced death at the hands of humanoids, tend to retain a distrust or outright hatred of them. Those that have had an easy time during past periods of service or who are first time arrivals on the Prime Material plane may be easier to deal with. Such feelings may carry over to influence encounters with humanoids traveling in the aerial plane. Anyone who has befriended an invisible stalker in the past will find that voyages through the plane of elemental Air are far less hazardous than they might otherwise have been. Invisible stalkers only obey those who actually summon them and few wizards can be commissioned to summon such a being on another's behalf. Some mercenary wizards have been able to construct the necessary summons onto scrolls that are usable by others. These sell for between 5,000 and 10,000 gp and are very dangerous to use. Even the slightest error can cause users of such scrolls to come to a tragic end.

I guess I never played 2E enough to have read this whole thing. The "vortex of air" attack seems very strange, and not nearly as terrifying as an intimate attack by tooth & claw from an invisible assailant. Perhaps this is the legacy of the Air Elemental specifier come home to roost (elaborated by later designers). Anyway: I can't find any mention of dispel in these blocks of text. So it works normally, by default? Or not?

D&D 3rd Ed.

Summon Monster VII
Conjuration (Summoning) [see text]
Level: Clr 7, Sor/Wiz 7
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 full round
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Effect: One or more summoned creatures, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart
Duration: 1 round/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No


This spell summons an outsider (extraplanar creature).  It appears where the character designates and acts immediately, on the character’s turn.  It attacks the character’s opponents to the best of its ability.  If the character can communicate with the outsider, the character can direct it not to attack, to attack particular enemies, or to perform other actions.  Summoned creatures act normally on the last round of the spell and disappear at the end of their turn.


The spell conjures one of the creatures from the 7th-level list on the Summon Monster table below, 1d3 creatures of the same type from the 6th-level list, or 1d4+1 creatures of the same type from a lower-level list.  The character chooses which creature to summon, and can change that choice each time the spell is cast.

...
Invisible stalker N
In 3rd Edition, the invisible stalker spell is eliminated entirely. Instead it is folded into the broader summon monster spells (here at the 7th level); and in so doing it shortens the duration to just 1 round/level, abstracting away the traditional long-term, long-distance, high-risk-and-reward special nature of the creature (similar to a few other spells like conjure elemental). This might be among the greatest sins of the 3rd Edition project; here a highly memorable piece of the game has been safety-bumpered into a total nonentity.

Notice here that the (D) notation for Duration does definitively establish that a dispel magic can be used to end this greatly altered spell. The monster description is now greatly cut down:

Invisible Stalker
...
These creatures speak only Auran but can understand Common.

Combat
An invisible stalker attacks by using the air itself as a weapon. It creates a sudden, intense vortex of wind that pounds a single target on the same plane as the creature.
Invisible stalkers can be killed only when on the Elemental Plane of Air. When performing tasks elsewhere, they automatically return to their home plane when they suffer sufficient damage to destroy them.

Elemental: Immune to poison, sleep, paralysis, and stunning. Not subject to critical hits. 
Natural Invisibility (Su): This ability is constant, allowing the stalker to remain invisible even when attacking. This ability is inherent and not subject to the invisibility purge spell. 
Improved Tracking (Ex): Invisible stalkers are consummate trackers and make Spot checks instead of the usual Wilderness Lore checks to trace a creature’s passage.
I'd say that all of the interesting aspects of the invisible stalker have been eliminated in this iteration. The sullenness, possible resistance, and risk to the caster from literal interpretation of orders are all gone. Actually only the dumbest thing has been retained -- the antiseptic, hands-off "vortex of wind" attack method. Even the tracking ability has been downgraded from cosmically "faultless" to just getting a Spot check. Basically the spell and the creature have been entirely neutered. But at least we know that a dispel magic serves to exterminate them here.

Conclusions

On the issue of dispelling, no edition of D&D clearly and unambiguously stated whether a dispel magic serves to end the existence of an invisible stalker (up until 3rd Ed., when the spell itself was cut from the rules and the much watered-down analog can definitely be dispelled). So after wrestling with this angel for some amount of time, what did I decide to do in the 2nd edition of Book of Spells? Here's my edited text:


Invisible Stalker: (Range: 6 inches, Duration: Permanent) This spell conjures an invisible stalker (an extraplanar creature), which is compelled to perform one service for the caster. Once conjured, the stalker can work at any time or distance to complete its task; however, the creature is clever, and will seek to subvert instructions for long missions. It cannot be dispelled, although it can be killed in combat. The spell ends when the stalker completes the specified service.


As you can see, I decided to keep the non-dispel restriction, as in the original spell from OD&D. My thinking here is that it increases the threat and the drama from the magical creature -- especially to the summoning wizard him- or herself (if sent after some fighter, thief, or other monster, then it makes little difference). In many cases I would not want an exceptional rule like this, but I think I'm okay with it to distinguish a few spells at the highest level of magic in the game (6th level in OD&D). Furthermore, I actually wanted it here to round out the cases to the theatrical rule-of-3: the new Book of Spells disallows dispel magic against invisible stalker, antimagic sphere, and geas. For purposes of maximal brevity, I did snip out the specific percentage roll for the stalker to subvert its instructions, leaving it fully in the hands of the DM (similar to Dave Cook's version in Expert D&D).

What do you think of that?


36 comments:

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    1. I am interested to see how this compares to a Geas/Quest spell.
      Being able to compel an extra planar monster vs a mortal (or more importantly high-ish level player).
      If you plan on having such a spell of course.

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    2. Really good question; yes I do keep geas in the system and it's pretty close to being totally open-ended and quite powerful. I did at least entertain the thought that there should be some countermanding *bonus* to the geas (like to strength or to-hit or something), kind of like in the Cuchulain myth. But that's off from classic D&D too much for my intent. I'll try to post the exact text here tonight when I get home.

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    3. Geas: (Range: 6 inches, Duration: Permanent) A geas places a magical command on a creature to carry out some service or to refrain from some activity, language-permitting. If the subject does not obey the geas, then he or she loses one point of Strength per day (death occurs at 0 Strength). It cannot be dispelled, and remove curse is ineffective. The DM should assess the strength of the geas (it cannot result in certain death), and ways of possibly ending one.

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  2. Ignoring the first sentence in the Monster section of OD&D (where it says the Invisible Stalker is "created" by the spell), and ignoring the later iterations of the creature as type of Air Elemental, this spell has always read to me as a classic demon summoning spell...the kind of invisible, supernatural beast that an EHP or Voodoo shaman might use to enact revenge (or accomplish some dirty work) on his/her foes.

    This is how I treated the spell in 5AK. Since my version of "dispel magic" has no effect on "creatures created or summoned by magic," there's no controversy about how the creature can be defeated. It can either be killed or "banished" (which is a different spell).

    But that involves, you know, rethinking how all the spells interact with each other and with the cosmology of the setting.

    (just BTW: my spell that replaces is Invisible Stalker is simply called "Conjure Demon" and works to summon any such creature that has HD less than or equal to the magician. One of the demons in my game is the "invisible hunter"...voila!)

    RE: Your Version

    If 6th level spells are the most powerful magics in your Book of Spells, I think it's perfectly reasonable to disallow the creature to be dispelled. Make high level characters deal with high level magic in non-cheap-ass ways (a 3rd level dispel magic spell? Cheap-ass).

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    1. Yeah, I totally agree with your philosophy here. I want these things to be sinister and really scary. And even having it be a bit of a mystery to the players, so the DM can fill in those details behind the scenes to taste (demons or aliens or both), is one of the great virtues of OD&D. I'm glad you agree with the flavor of the no-dispel rule in this case.

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    2. Ha! When I ran White Plume Mountain a few years back, I treated the wandering "invisible stalker" encounter as a sinister, Predator-like monster...the party would just see it's footprints in the (knee-deep) water as it "made its rounds." Very disconcerting for the PCs (who never engaged it in combat), very amusing for Yours Truly.
      : )

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  3. Tangentially: I WAAAY prefer the "non-dimensional plane" stalker to the "variation on air elemental" stalker personally. It's interesting to imagine some early game salvos of Clerics vs. MUs sending aerial servants vs invisible stalkers

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    1. That's perhaps one example of over-systematizing things in AD&D (and elsewhere).

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  4. RE: Dispelling
    How about a caveat that dispelling an unseen servant can only be performed by a caster of equal or higher level? That would eliminate some middle-level schmoe magic user being able to eliminate a stalker.

    Or treat it similar to the 'permanent spell' dispelling (double the caster's level) - I remember someone pointing this out before - oh, here it is ...
    http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/2014/01/greyhawk-magic-tidbits.html

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    1. Thanks for reminding me about the wacky original Permanent Spell. :-) To a certain extent, gauging high-vs-low level is already built into dispel magic, so I would tend to not want to make a new rule in that regard within a spell.

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  5. One thought: I parse the language of the "boxcars" rule in the first iteration as determining when the wizard's sequestration *ends*, rather than when it *begins."

    "In order to faithfully fulfill this endless duty the Invisible Stalker will have to take the Magic-User to its non-dimensional plane and place him in suspended animation, *and* assume this is accomplished whenever a 12 is rolled with two six-sided dice, checking either daily or weekly as the campaign progresses."

    --You seem to be parsing the second "and" as switching the sentence to the imperative mood, i.e. "The stalker will have to X, and [you, the DM, can] assume...."

    I read it as grammatically correct as written: "The stalker will have to X, and [the stalker will] assume [that] this [i.e. the task] is accomplished when...."

    I prefer the latter reading; it penalizes the player for trying to abuse the spell by imposing an unknown number of days/weeks of being removed entirely from the campaign, but it isn't necessarily character-ending.

    Not that it matters to you, perhaps, since you cut the language from your own version, but a thought.

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    1. Well, an intriguing possibility. Partly I'm seeing "this" (in "this is accomplished") as referring to the immediately prior "place him in suspended animation". If it referred to the "fulfill this endless duty" it would seem contradictory. And of course later iterations indicate that Gygax was thinking of when perversion of duty occurs.

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  6. I always sort of assumed that this spell was inspired by Lovecraft's description of the end of the Mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, torn to pieces by invisible hands in the middle of a public square.

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    1. Me too; I've often substituted "Hounds of Tindalos" for Invisible Stalkers.

      I've never paid attention to the fact that the spell allows the caster to give arbitrary orders; I've always thought of it as only allowing the caster to name a target to be hunted and killed. In some ways, I'd rather have the invisible hunter work that way and have a separate spell that allows the caster to summon a potentially treacherous demonic servant, perhaps based more closely on the djinn than the stalker.

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    2. Oh, wonderful, wonderful. I never thought of that, now I'll always connect the two.

      I also think there was some surly Vancian invisible demon that people cite when these aspects come up?

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  7. I second Confanity's reading of the bit about boxcars. Also, it reads like a ruling for that particular situation, rather than a general rule for any perversion. It's not entirely clear, though, and the LBBs had lots of comma issues, so your reading may be the intended meaning

    Totally forgot 3e removed that spell, despite that being the edition I've played the most

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    1. It's such a crazy move in 3E that it's easy to overlook. Here, have an invisible stalker for 13 6-second rounds, you're welcome.

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    2. The 3rd edition more generic Planar Binding (sor/wis 6) spell is fairly compatible to the earlier Invisible Stalker spell and would be the go to spell for longer term summoning (although it gives a max of 1 day/level for indefinate duration tasks)

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    3. Yeah, I guess that's a fair point. Of course the spell can (apparently) just call any outsider of up to 8HD, so there's nothing special about the invisible stalker. And what it really does is just trap the entity and then engage in daily Charisma checks to see if it agrees to terms or escapes; you may not get any service at all out of it.

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  8. I find the BoS II version the clearest and most usable.

    Any thought of a future Book of Monsters project?

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    1. Ooh god. [vertigo] Thanks for the compliment!!

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  9. Thinking it over for a few days (well, not the entire time, of course), I find myself missing the objective measure of how long the Stalker will serve before attempting to pervert the intent of its instructions. It's fine for the DM to have input into the process, but I think that a specific roll for how quickly the Stalker gets bored is preferable. It's like the reason that XP for gold is better than XP for "quality of roleplaying" - it doesn't rely much on subjective and arguable judgements.

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    1. What's interesting about the OD&D version, if you interpret it as Confanity and I have, is that it's immediate. The Stalker in the example was annoyed because there's no end condition to its services, so right away it perverts the order. Had the wizard instead commanded it to hunt down a particular foe, it might persist to do so even if they evaded capture for months on end (which would be beyond the wizard's control)

      If we want the Stalker to grow bored after some time, though, then I'd agree that something like AD&D's approach would be desirable. In absence of that, I suppose the referee could always do a reaction check or something

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    2. I can see why you're saying that. I did find myself sliding in a direction where the top-level spells in particular (6th-level in OD&D) were intentionally being given extra wiggle-room for DM interpretation. In fact, I added a passage in this regard to the Foreword of the book; I think it's quite likely that any quality DM adjudicating world-bending stuff like control weather, legend lore, contact higher plane, invisible stalker, geas, reincarnation, etc. will need to do some massaging or interpretations or secret rulings to mesh with their campaign setting/milieu.

      In the case of invisible stalker, I think it would also have to interact with the exact wording and nature of the task itself (similar to say, a wish or geas). Like maybe the DM thinks "guard my front gate forever" is abusive; or maybe only so when the PC summons a 2nd and 3rd stalker on successive days. But maybe "turn the crank on my automatic astrolab for a century" is amusing (to DM and stalker) and that gets permitted. So inasmuch as what counts as a "boring ongoing task" needs DM interpretation in the first place, I didn't want to accidentally handcuff anyone with a seemingly hard and fast rule.

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    3. Partly I'm influenced by module O1 (Gem and the Staff) where there are at least two invisible stalkers that serve to just follow the PC around in certain places and give mangled riddles about the setting. Maybe there should be added flexibility for stuff like that (or maybe that itself was a result of subversion).

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    4. I wouldn't even worry about whether it's abusive or not from a game balance perspective. Just look at it from the Stalker's POV. "Kill this Gray Mouser fellow? Sure, I can do that!" "Protect this dude from all harm? Not seeing an end condition there, so screw him!" The one issue would be definite durations of time, like your turning a crank for a century example. I'd put a limit in the spell for that sort of thing, like a day or a week. That's only when giving a specific duration of time. The Stalker might spend longer hunting the Gray Mouser if he continually evades capture, but there's still a definite end condition, unlike the guarding example

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    5. Or here's another example: "Pretend to be our missing king, wearing his concealing robe of state, drinking his wine and watching his dancing girls, until we can find him", the stalker might not find so burdensome. (In fact, in that case, maybe it would resist ending the task.)

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    6. Yeah, I suppose that depends on how you envision the thing. Me, I see it as a monstrous beast with no particular interest in human affairs, all rending claws and dispassionate cruelty, that is compelled by sorcery to perform the bidding of the mage. It finds the task interesting enough at first, but quickly grows impatient with merely human activities and wishes to move away from this cage of matter and light back to its unnameable dimensions of existence. Drinking wine and watching dancing girls would be no different to the invisible stalker of my conception than throttling a baby or disemboweling a soldier. Actions performed within our existence hold no meaning for it, except that they provide the hope of escaping the black iron prison of existence as we understand it.

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    7. Great take on it. :-) I did think with these top-level spells that's an area where I wanted more room for different DM's to bring their interpretations to the table. Maybe even better if you have your own time-limits that the players don't fully know about.

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  10. About the discrepancy between M&M and M&T in the OD&D version: the first says that the monster itself cannot "be dispelled", but the second one says that a Dispell magic spell can "work" in order to "stop" it.
    In other words, the spell itself is not going to destroy or banish the Stalker, but could free him from its orders (with unforeseen consquences for the invoking MU).

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    1. Interesting. The best I could come up with was that Dispel Magic would work, but an M-U couldn't simply dismiss the Stalker if they change their mind. It's that classic trope of trying to call off a hitman, though that's usually the result of a mistake

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    2. Yeah, I felt like that was an outside possibility of an interpretation myself. The thing is, if that was the intent, it would make more sense to reverse the location of each statement (Vol-1 saying it could be dispelled, in reference to the controlling spell, and a trap for players; and Vol-2 saying it couldn't be dispelled, in reference to the free-willed monster, giving the teeth of the trap to the DM).

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