Sunday, 21 March 2010

Persistence of Memory

A situation arose in our game the other night that interested me, because it demonstrated very clearly the extent to which we play by memory, rather than by the rules as written.

A couple of characters were immobilized by a nasty kobold spear-trap (people always underestimate kobolds), had oil poured all over them and were set alight. Things were looking bad indeed, when Zosia, the tiny (but perfectly formed) elvish fighter-mage, announced that she was going to extinguish her immolated chums by casting Pyrotechnics on them.

I had a vague memory that the spell did indeed extinguish any fire it was cast on, but I thought I'd better refresh my memory and check the actual spell description:

Pyrotechnics, courtesy of Swords & Wizardry:
The caster creates either fireworks or blinding smoke from a normal fire source such as a torch or campfire. The Referee will decide exactly how much smoke is produced, what effect it has, and what happens to it as it’s produced, but the amount of smoke will definitely be more than 20 cubic feet.

    And this is what our dim memories were recalling:

    Pyrotechnics, courtesy of AD&D1e (PHB p.58):
    A pyrotechnics spell can have either of two effects. It produces a flashing and fiery burst of glowing, colored aerial fireworks which lasts 1 segment per experience level of the druid casting the spell and temporarily blinds those creatures in the area of effect or under it or within 12" of the area (and in any event in unobstructed line of sight); or it causes a thick writhing stream of smoke to arise from the fire source of the spell and form a choking cloud which lasts for 1 round per experience level of the druid casting it, covering a roughly globular area from the ground or floor up (or conforming to, the shape of a confined area), which totally obscures vision beyond 2'. The spell requires a fire of some sort in range. The area of pyrotechnics effect is 10 times the volume of the fire source with respect to fireworks, 100 times with respect to smoke. In either case, the fire source is immediately extinguished by the employment of the spell.

      The S&W description is non-specific to the point of being vague; it certainly doesn't mention anything about the fire being extinguished. But that's what everyone at the table expected the spell to do, so that's how we played it, and will play it for ever more.

      Out of curiosity, I thought I'd see what some of the other editions of the game had to say...

      OSRIC:

      The pyrotechnics spell may be used to produce two entirely different effects: a bright display of fiery light or a massive pall of smoke. Both possible uses of the spell require an existing fire source (which may be anywhere in the spell’s range), and the spell’s area of effect depends on the size of the originating fire.
      If the spell is used to produce fireworks, the flashing display will temporarily blind (for 1d4+1 rounds) all creatures in the area of effect and 120 ft beyond—provided that the display is not obstructed from view, of course. The fireworks fill an area ten times the volume of the original fire source and persist for 1 segment/ caster level.
      If the spell is used to produce smoke, a billowing cloud will emanate from the fire source, obscuring vision beyond 20 ft in an area 100 times the volume of the fire source. Whatever fire is used as the spell’s source is extinguished immediately as the spell is cast.

      D&D d20 3.5 (SRD):

      Pyrotechnics turns a fire into either a burst of blinding fireworks or a thick cloud of choking smoke, depending on the version you choose.
      Fireworks: The fireworks are a flashing, fiery, momentary burst of glowing, colored aerial lights. This effect causes creatures within 120 feet of the fire source to become blinded for 1d4+1 rounds (Will negates). These creatures must have line of sight to the fire to be affected. Spell resistance can prevent blindness.
      Smoke Cloud: A writhing stream of smoke billows out from the source, forming a choking cloud. The cloud spreads 20 feet in all directions and lasts for 1 round per caster level. All sight, even darkvision, is ineffective in or through the cloud. All within the cloud take –4 penalties to Strength and Dexterity (Fortitude negates). These effects last for 1d4+1 rounds after the cloud dissipates or after the creature leaves the area of the cloud. Spell resistance does not apply.
      Material Component: The spell uses one fire source, which is immediately extinguished. A fire so large that it exceeds a 20-foot cube is only partly extinguished. Magical fires are not extinguished, although a fire-based creature used as a source takes 1 point of damage per caster level.

      Pathfinder:

      Pyrotechnics turns a fire into a burst of blinding fireworks or a thick cloud of choking smoke, depending on your choice. The spell uses one fire source, which is immediately extinguished. A fire so large that it exceeds a 20-foot cube is only partly extinguished. Magical fires are not extinguished, although a fire-based creature used as a source takes 1 point of damage per caster level.
      Fireworks: The fireworks are a flashing, fiery, momentary burst of glowing, colored aerial lights. This effect causes creatures within 120 feet of the fire source to become blinded for 1d4+1 rounds (Will negates). These creatures must have line of sight to the fire to be affected. Spell resistance can prevent blindness.
      Smoke Cloud: A stream of smoke billows out from the fire, forming a choking cloud that spreads 20 feet in all directions and lasts for 1 round per caster level. All sight, even darkvision, is ineffective in or through the cloud. All within the cloud take –4 penalties to Strength and Dexterity (Fortitude negates). These effects last for 1d4+1 rounds after the cloud dissipates or after the creature leaves the area of the cloud. Spell resistance does not apply.
      The later editions, unsurprisingly, are a lot more specific in what can and can't be done with Pyrotechnics, but the differences are reasonably subtle — just enough to sneakily trip you up when you're expecting one thing and suddenly have revealed to you by the resident rules lawyer that you're doing it totally wrong, dude.

      I couldn't find the spell in D&D4e at all, but that doesn't startle me much because it's not a spell that's all that useful in combat; most of those appear to have been done away with as being totally lame and pointless and uncool, just like this blog entry.