Monday, February 27, 2017

Spells Through The Ages – Protection from Evil

Man in suit holding cross
What can you do when evil stalks the land, threatening both the common man and heroes alike with doom and destruction? Consider casting protection from evil, a surprisingly potent 1st-level spell for both wizards and clerics.

D&D spells with "evil" in the title have a contentious existence; there is ongoing debate about whether it's appropriate for them to work against anyone with an evil alignment factor, or if they should only work against foes immediately intent on doing one harm. It seems like the rules as written ping-pong back and forth a bit between different editions (and is complicated by the fact that the very earliest version of D&D didn't even have any "evil" alignments as such). My friend Paul wrote about that earlier in the context of the detect evil spell from the clerical perspective. As we investigate this case, we will also consider the higher-level, area-effect versions of protection from evil.


Chainmail Fantasy

Protection from Evil: A 12" diameter circle which will keep out all evil fantastic creatures/men.

This spell did not exist in the 1st edition of Chainmail, but was added in 2nd edition Chainmail (1972; pre-OD&D) as the 8th in its list of 8 spells. It seems pretty potent -- irremediably warding off all "evil" beings in a 12" radius, which would be a big chunk of one's playing table (to be downgraded later). But elsewhere it is written: "It  is impossible to draw a distinct line between 'good' and 'evil' fantastic figures" (2E, p. 35); and of course the only alignments given are Law-Neutral-Chaos. So as usual, players or a referee must make some kind of adjudications on the issue (except for Dragons which are explicitly noted as being "extremely evil and egotistical beasts..."). We could consider treating all creatures of Chaos as evil, but then that creates an asymmetry in the spell for Chaotic parties, at which time we might consider making it effect any of one's enemies... well, there's the whole Pandora's Box of D&D "evil" right there, from just this one single sentence description for the spell.

In the 2nd Edition Chainmail quoted above, "complexity" (levels) for spells was not yet given; but by the 3rd Edition this spell was set at "Complexity 3".


Original D&D

Protection from Evil: This spell hedges the conjurer round with a magic circle to keep out attacks from enchanted monsters. It also serves as an "armor" from various evil attacks, adding a +1 to all saving throws and taking a — 1 from hit dice of evil opponents. (Note that this spell is not cumulative in effect with magic armor and rings, although it will continue to keep out enchanted monsters.) Duration: 6 turns.

This is a 1st-level spell for any spellcaster (magic-user or cleric). It's slightly unclear about whether there's one effect here or two (is the first sentence just flavor text, and are "enchanted monsters" the same or distinct from "evil opponents"?). At the 3rd level, better matching the spell from Chainmail, we also have:
Protection from Evil, 10' Radius: A Protection from Evil spell which extends to include a circle around the Magic-User and also lasts for 12 rather than 6 turns.

The range is, of course, much reduced from that seen in Chainmail (but see below). I think that when I first played D&D (via Holmes, basically the same) I interpreted the effect here in a very restrictive manner; the protected got a ±1 bonus, no more, and the spell seemed very weak. Like many things in the evolution of D&D, if we see this as a continuous work presuming awareness of Chainmail, then the idea that "enchanted monsters" are entirely warded beyond reach is easier to pick up on, and makes the spell seem much more useful. In fact, the inclusion of the added/separate ±1 bonus effect really seems to mostly confuse the issue.

In the Swords & Spells spell chart, protection from evil, 10' radius is given an area effect of 2" diameter, which is a little wonky because 1" is 10 scale yards, so the radius is effectively 30 feet. That's consistent with the rest of the system keeping tabletop inches constant at an outdoor scale, but it seems extra-weird when the "10'" is explicitly in the name of the spell. (Gygax later apologized for that issue and tried to adjust it, with mixed results.)


D&D Basic/Expert Rules

Protection from Evil 
Range: 0 (caster only)
Duration: 6 turns

This spell circles the magic-user or elf with a magic barrier. This barrier will move with the caster. The spell serves as some protection from "evil" attacks (attacks by monsters of some alignment other than the caster's alignment) by adding 1 to the spell caster's saving throws, and subtracting 1 from the "to hit" die roll of evil opponents. The spell will also keep out attacks from enchanted (summoned or created) monsters (such as living statues), but not missile fire attacks from these creatures. The spell caster may break this protection by attacking the monster in hand-to-hand combat.

Moldvay provides needed clarification to the spell here in Basic D&D. There are clearly two separate effects. "Evil" here counts as any alignment other than the caster's (which is not, I think, a ruling used in other editions). "Enchanted" monsters are identified as those summoned or created. There's several points for clarity in the B/X version. The area-effect version appears in Cook's Expert rules as:

Protection from Evil 10' 
Radius Range: 0'
Duration: 12 turns
 

This spell circles the caster with a magical barrier that will protect all friendly creatures within 10' of the magic-user or elf. This barrier will move with the caster, and acts exactly as a protection from evil spell (see page X13).

The reference to page X13 directs one the clerical version of the spell (at 4th level, instead of 3rd):

Protection from Evil 10' 
Radius Range: 0'
Duration: 12 turns
 

This spell circles the caster with a magical barrier that will protect all friendly creatures within 10' of the cleric. This barrier will move with the cleric. The spell serves as some protection from "evil" attacks (attacks by monsters of an alignment other than the caster's) by adding 1 to the caster's saving throw and subtracting 1 from evil opponents' "to hit" roll. This spell will also keep out melee attacks from enchanted monsters (such as elementals) but not missile or magical attacks from these creatures. Enchanted monsters can melee if any of the protected creatures attempt to attack them with hand-to-hand combat.

I feel like one of the most important uses of protection from evil (at any level) is explicated above: it entirely wards out elementals. That's particularly important given that if concentration breaks after conjuring an elemental, it irrecoverably turns to attack the caster. Well: with protection from evil, that becomes a non-issue (at least for the caster directly). If I were conjuring an elemental, I'd never, ever do it without first treating myself with protection from evil first.

Note also the fact that the protection moves with the caster is explicated for the first time. Also: Thus far, the spell can only be cast on the caster him- or herself.


AD&D 1st Edition

Protection From Evil (Abjuration) Reversible

Level: 1
Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rounds/level
Area of Effect: Creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 segment
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: With the differences shown above, and the requirement of powdered iron and silver as the material components for tracing the magic circle for protection from evil, the spell is the same as the first level cleric protection from evil spell (q.v.).

The clerical reference says this:

Protection From Evil (Abiuration) Reversible

Level: 1
Range: Touch
Duration: 3 rounds/level
Area of Effect: Creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast, it acts as if it were a magical armor upon the recipient. The protection encircles the recipient at a one foot distance, thus preventing bodily contact by creatures of an enchanted or conjured nature such as aerial servants, demons, devils, djinn efreet, elementals, imps, invisible stalkers, night hags, quasits, salamanders, water weirds, wind walkers, and xorn. Summoned animals or monsters are similarly hedged from the protected creature. Furthermore, any and all attacks launched by evil creatures incur a penalty of -2 from dice rolls ”to hit” the protected creature, and any saving throws caused by such attacks are made at +2 on the protected creature‘s dice. This spell can be reversed to become protection from good, although it still keeps out enchanted evil creatures as well. To complete this spell, the cleric must trace a 3’ diameter circle upon the floor (or ground) with holy water for protection from evil, with blood for protection from good - or in the air using burning incense or smoldering dung with respect to evil/good.


Like many spells in AD&D, Gygax has downgraded the duration from turns to rounds (arguably, "turns" in OD&D Vol-1 were intended as in Chainmail, i.e., the 1-minute span that AD&D calls rounds). For the first time, the spell can be cast on any creature, not just the caster, opening up its use greatly. The protection is bumped up to ±2, which I like (somewhere I've got a personal to rule to ignore any situational modifiers that only make a 1-pip difference out of 20). That bonus is against "evil creatures" which in these rules we must assume is actual, evil-in-the-alignment status.

The prevent-contact effect works against enchanted, conjured, and summoned creatures, and Gygax has more-or-less tried to give a complete list of what counts as "enchanted" (a common move in the AD&D PHB). I think the complete-hedging here is still  bit unclear as a separate effect; in fact, Gygax is compelled to add yet more clarification errata in the later AD&D DMG: "Protection From Evil: Note that this excludes (keeps out) monsters using natural (body) weapon attacks which require touching the protected character" (p. 41 and 45).

The components provide a nice thematic piece of of flavor; tracing a circle on the floor (with holy water, blood, dung, or powdered silver/iron, depending on the caster). But that's somewhat hard to rationalize with the 4 segment (officially, 24-second) casting time; and it may confuse the issue of whether the protection moves with the recipient (i.e., when they step out of the drawn circle). For magic-users, the area effect follows:

Protection From Evil, 10’ Radius (Abjuration) Reversible

Level: 3
Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rounds/level
Area of Effect: 10’ radius sphere around creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 3 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: This spell is the same as the first level protection from evil spell except with respect to its area of effect. See also the first level cleric protection from evil spell for general information.

The clerical version gets more detail (esp., concerning components):

Protection From Evil, 10' Radius (Abjuration) Reversible

Level: 4
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: 20' diameter sphere
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 7 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: The globe of protection of this spell is identical in all respects to a protection from evil (q.v.) spell, except that it encompasses a much larger area and the duration of the protection from evil, 10'radius spell is greater. To complete this spell, the cleric must trace a circle 20' in diameter using holy water or blood, incense or smouldering dung as according to the protection from evil spell.
This latter version, I think, would be very easy to mistake as a non-mobile effect (see the area of effect; no "creature touched" is listed).

For the 5th-level conjure elemental spell (and the similar 6th-level clerical aerial servant spell), a postscript note at the end says this (p. 79):

N.B. Special protection from uncontrolled elementals is available by means of a pentacle, pentagram, thaumaturgic triangle, magic circle, or protection from evil spell.

That's possibly a little confusing, because the first four items in the list are not spells of any sort; only protection from evil is. The DMG has a bit more detail on that under the clerical spell:

Aerial Servant: The spell caster should be required to show you what form of protective inscription he or she has used when the spell is cost. The three forms mentioned are:
Magic circle, pentagram, thaumaturgic circle

The way that I got confused by that was: I thought those were the diagrams you had to draw with the components of your protection from evil (or 10' radius) spell. (Link: The remarkable danger of pictures in conflict with words.) The intent was clarified a bit more in Gygax's later Dungeon Module S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, which included a separate 32-page book of new monsters and magic items, most of which were not used in the S4 adventure (rather, it served as something of a prototype for the Monster Manual II and sections of Unearthed Arcana). Among the additions was a 3-page section expanding on Magical Diagrams (including 6 types with varying effects, each with a large quarter-page illustration). No spells were required for construction of these protections, only time and money (starting at 1,000 gp for a temporary work or 10,000 gp for a permanent inlaid one). Unlike the rest of the work, this information was not included in any later rulebook, to my knowledge.


AD&D 2nd Edition

Protection From Evil
(Abjuration)
Reversible

Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rds./level
Area of Effect: Creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1
Saving Throw: None

When this spell is cast, it creates a magical barrier around the recipient at a distance of 1 foot. The barrier moves with the recipient and has three major effects: First, all attacks made by evil (or evilly enchanted) creatures against the protected creature suffer -2 penalties to attack rolls; any saving throws caused by such attacks are made with +2 bonuses.

Second, any attempt to possess (as by a magic jar attack) or to exercise mental control over (as by a vampire's charm ability) the protected creature is blocked by this spell. Note that the protection does not prevent a vampire's charm itself, but it does prevent the exercise of mental control through the barrier. Likewise, a possessing life force is merely kept out. It would not be expelled if in place before the protection is cast.

Third, the spell prevents bodily contact by creatures of an extraplanar or conjured nature (such as aerial servants, elementals, imps, invisible stalkers, salamanders, water weirds, xorn, and others). This causes the natural (body) weapon attacks of such creatures to fail and the creatures to recoil, if such attacks require touching the protected being. Animals or monsters summoned or conjured by spells or similar magic are likewise hedged from the character.

This protection ends if the protected character makes a melee attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature.

To complete this spell, the wizard must trace a 3-foot-diameter circle on the floor (or ground) with powdered silver.

This spell can be reversed to become protection from good; the second and third benefits remain unchanged. The material component for the reverse is a circle of powdered iron.

You'll notice that this spell is getting pretty long at this point with all the cases and side-cases. I think the modifier effect is still against real-evil-in-the-alignment foes. Cook has added another power to the spell here (identified as the "Second"); preventing mental control by charm, magic jar, etc. I guess he thought such a defense was needed somewhere, but wasn't worth a whole new spell for it. Cook is again the one to explicate (as in B/X) that the effect moves with the recipient. Consider also:

Protection From Evil, 10' Radius
(Abjuration)
Reversible

Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rds./level
Area of Effect: 10-ft. radius around creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 3
Saving Throw: None

The globe of protection of this spell is identical in all respects to a protection from evil spell, except that it encompasses a much larger area and its duration is greater. The effect is centered on and moves with the creature touched. Any protected creature within the circle can break the warding against enchanted or summoned monsters by meleeing them. If a creature too large to fit into the area of effect is the recipient of the spell, the spell acts as a normal protection from evil spell for that creature only.

To complete this spell, the caster must trace a circle 20 feet in diameter using powdered silver. The material component for the reverse is powdered iron.

The last line of conjure elemental in these rules reads: "Special protection from uncontrolled elementals is available by means of a protection from evil spell." The special magic diagrams of Gygax in 1E are gone.


D&D 3rd Edition

Protection from Evil

Abjuration [Good]
Level: Brd 1, Clr 1, Good 1, Pal 1, Sor/Wiz 1
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Target: Creature touched
Duration: 1 minute/level (D)
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless)
Spell Resistance: No (see text)

This spell wards a creature from attacks by evil creatures, from mental control, and from summoned or conjured creatures. It creates a magical barrier around the subject at a distance of 1 foot. The barrier moves with the subject and has three major effects:

First, the subject gets a +2 deflection bonus to AC and a +2 resistance bonus on saves. Both these bonuses apply against attacks made by evil creatures.

Second, the barrier blocks any attempt to possess the warded creature (as by a magic jar attack) or to exercise mental control over the creature (as by a vampire’s supernatural domination ability, which works similar to dominate person). The protection does not prevent a vampire’s domination itself, but it prevents the vampire from mentally commanding the protected creature. If the protection from evil effect ends before the domination effect does, the vampire would then be able to mentally command the controlled creature. Likewise, the barrier keeps out a possessing life force but does not expel one if it is in place before the spell is cast. This second effect works regardless of alignment.

Third, the spell prevents bodily contact by summoned or conjured creatures. This causes the natural weapon attacks of such creatures to fail and the creatures to recoil if such attacks require touching the warded creature. Good elementals and outsiders are immune to this effect. The protection against contact by summoned or conjured creatures ends if the warded creature makes an attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature. Spell resistance can allow a creature to overcome this protection and touch the warded creature.

In many ways, this is the same as the 2E spell with its three distinct effects (which I find a bit hard to remember). Again the function is against alignment-evil, so that's pretty much uniform across all editions (and different from its cousin detect evil). The big list of individual enchanted creatures is out; so is the detail of the drawing a circle with the material component. The area-effect version, post-Chainmail, has always been a bit awkwardly named with the "10' radius" bit in the title; here it is renamed as follows:

Magic Circle against Evil

Abjuration [Good]
Level: Brd 3, Clr 3, Good 3, Pal 3, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Area: Emanates 10 ft. from touched creature
Duration: 10 minutes/level
Spell Resistance: No (see text)

This spell wards all creatures in the area from attacks by evil creatures, from mental control, and from summoned or conjured creatures.

The subjects get a +2 deflection bonus to AC and a +2 resistance bonus on saves. Both these bonuses apply against attacks made by evil creatures.

The barrier blocks any attempt to possess the warded creature or to exercise mental control over the creature. The protection does not prevent a spell or effect that grants mental commands to be cast on the creature, but it prevents the caster of such a spell from mentally commanding the protected creature. If warding effect ends before the mental control effect does, the caster would then be able to mentally command the controlled creature. Likewise, the barrier keeps out a possessing life force but does not expel one if it is in place before the spell is cast. This effect works regardless of alignment.

The spell prevents bodily contact by summoned or conjured creatures. This causes the natural weapon attacks of such creatures to fail and the creatures to recoil if such attacks require touching the warded creature. Good elementals and outsiders are immune to this effect. The protection against contact by summoned or conjured creatures ends if the warded creature makes an attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature. Spell resistance can allow a creature to overcome this protection and touch the warded creature.

This spell has a special function that the character may choose when casting the spell. A magic circle can be focused inward rather than outward. In this case, it serves as an immobile, temporary magical prison for a summoned creature. The creature cannot cross the circle’s boundaries.

The character must beat a creature’s SR in order to keep it at bay, but the deflection and resistance bonuses and the protection from mental control apply regardless of enemies’ SR.

If a creature too large to fit into the spell’s area is the subject of the spell, the spell acts as normal for that creature only.

This spell is not cumulative with protection from evil and vice versa.

Yet another, fourth, feature has now been added to the spell; the ability to make a "prison" for a summoned creature. Note that this replaces one of the functions of Gygax's non-spell, magic diagrams back in 1E (maybe this is part of why I get confused by that?). The duration is much increased from the 1E/2E versions.

I kind of like the instinct to get the "10' radius" out of the title, but: I can't get over the fact that the effect isn't really a "circle" when you look at it in 3 dimensions. Even back in 1E Gygax indicated the area of effect as a "sphere". Plus there's no signal in the name that it's an iteration of protection from evil (moreover: this was the original back in Chainmail). In my Book of Spells rules, I renamed this again to protective sphere. Not completely perfect, but I'm happier with that name than some other options.

Note that conjure elemental doesn't even exist anymore as a distinct spell in 3E, so any special shout-out for this spell there is likewise gone.


Conclusions

Protection from evil is one of those spells that grew exponentially in rules-size over time. Originally it was just one sentence with 12 words in Chainmail; by 3E the analogous area-effect version is almost 400 words long. What has a really bad design smell to me is the number of distinct effects given to it -- Chainmail had 1, OD&D either 1 or 2 (a bit murky), 1E clearly 2, 2E had 3, 3E had 4. That is: basically every edition added another brand-new disjointed effect to the list, contributing to ongoing bloat (and difficulty in parsing this 1st-level spell for old and new players alike). Did 4E have 5, and 5E have 6 separate effects? I don't know.

What level of the complexity scale do you like your protection from evil? And did you ever use Gygax's side-system for magic diagrams of protection?


10 comments:

  1. How do you feel about adding a section comparing the 5e edition of the spell as the 5e rules are free and some spells are as well?

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    1. It's a good question. I've mentioned it at least once, and I wrestle with that issue. Thing is, it would probably commit me to going back and adding it to all the prior articles, and before I got done with that I fear there would be, Sisyphus-style, yet another new edition.

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  2. Never uses magic circles/diagrams as anything other than dungeon dressing.
    This is one of those spells they made the mistake of trying to convert the mechanical effect from edition to edition. It probably would have been better at some point to scrap it and re-visit the flavor/purpose they wanted in a new spell.
    To answer the question, I want an easy spell "Circle of Protection" : Prevents hostile creatures from entering, give s +2 to defenses against any ranged attack/spell" Or something like that. No going down the alignment rathole, etc.

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  3. Never used the circles, though I always thought they'd be neat as the basis of a different sort of magic system (Palladium ran with this?).

    My favorite version of this spell is the B/X one. Concise, clear and to the point.

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    1. B/X racks up lots of points like that.

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  4. I greatly simplified it with house rules: it's called "protection", works as a ring of protection +1 (+1 to saves, - 1 to AC), and prevents summoned and enchanted (those hit only by magical weapons) monsters to hit you in melee.

    The higher level one is "protection, 10' radius"; it gives the bonuses to all friendly characters that are inside the sphere, and prevents summoned and enchanted monsters to enter it.

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    1. Uh, I forgot. All beings animated by magic are enchanted: undeads and golems included.

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  5. In 4e the spell has been relegated to an Elixir:

    You drink the elixir and gain a +1 power bonus to damage rolls against evil creatures and to all defenses against evil creatures’ attacks. The bonus lasts until the end of your next turn.

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    1. Hmmm. Well I certainly wouldn't have guessed that. Thanks for the info!

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