Siobhan came to me with a problem a few weeks back that I thought I had a pretty elegant solution for. One of her players, in a session, wanted to hide the somatic component of a spell in Pathfinder. That player’s character doesn’t have Still Spell, which is the normal way one gets around such pesky business, but instead wanted to fake it. He was suggesting a Stealth skill check, but I figure Sleight of Hand works a little better, as you’re trying to hide what it is your hands are doing.
In my own games, this would normally be accompanied by a few other rolls. See, I like to reward my players for doing stuff that rocks. You want to jump off a cliff spinning like a maniac, tossing grenades around yourself before landing on the giant’s eye, plunging your sword deep into his hideous cornea? Fucking sweet, here’s your plus five Sweet Shit bonus, and a small round of applause. You, sir or madam, are a goddamned hero. But when you want to do stuff that eschews heroism for the sake of your own hit points, you’re probably just being a scaredy douche. Too much of that sort of play, and any time you do want to do something awesome and heroic, you’re going to have to make a check against your own fear, Chicken-person.
Still, done is done. Dude wanted to roll a stealth check to hide his invisibility spell, and Siobhan let him after some arguing. Normally, I’d just leave it at that. Whenever I have a rules question at my own table and I don’t know the answer, or the answer is vague (as so often happens with role-playing games), I’ll declare “It’ll work like this for now, but we’ll look up the real rules after the game.” Then we look up the real rules after the game and decide what we’re going to do from there. But this guy decided that being able to hide his silent spell without the benefit of a feat wasn’t good enough. He figured he’d be able to get the spell off before initiative.
Or, at least, he figures that combat doesn’t start until after he’s flung his spell. Pathfinder is deliciously vague as to when a group should roll initiative. “When combat begins…” seems like it would be good enough, but when some guy is prepping a Fireball spell that can take out half my village, is that the beginning of combat? Or does it have to be after he’s actually cast the damned thing? Because I don’t know about you, when I see someone getting ready to cast a spell, I get a little uppity.
Now, I don’t know if these two arguments are related, but for the sake of a fluid argument, let’s assume they are. “I don’t want to have to take Still Spell to change the somatic component of my spell, and I think I should be able to cast that spell before initiative starts. Basically, I want to start every combat with Invisibility on.” This sort of douchery breaks games.
So just outlaw it. When people are being dickbags about vague rules, don’t let them. Hell, when people are being dickbags, punish them for it. Don’t let them get away with that sort of shit. You’re the DM. You are the final arbiter of all rules questions. The books do not supersede your rulings. Your players sure as shit don’t supersede your rulings. Gaaahhh!
Anyway. Siobhan’s a nice girl. She doesn’t want to have to retcon the little insta-invisibility from the game, and she doesn’t want to be unduly mean to one of her players, and I totally get that. She was looking for a different solution. This is what I came up with:
No one can cast spells from behind their back. Seriously. The somatic components of spells are set in stone; they are the way they are so that you can channel the arcane energy you’re calling forth and shape it into the spell you’re looking to create. When you try and do that backwards, you are probably going to fuck it up. I mean, your fingers aren’t even in the same places they should be. So to cast a spell behind your back is a hell of a thing. If anyone saw you do that, there would be talk. Rumors. Heresay. If a wizard saw you do that, there would be some ruckus, inquisition, questions to the highest powers of magic in the realm. Which is pretty much exactly what has happened.
Mr. McWizard had an audience, tossing his spells around from behind his back, and in that audience was a wizard. No one hugely powerful, no one you’d need to concern yourself with. But he’s talked. And the people he’s talked to have talked. And the people they’ve talked to have brought questions to some very powerful creatures, the most prominent of which is an ancient silver dragon called Grougaloragran (I stole the name from Wakfu; go watch it, it’s amazing). Grougaloragran is something of a geek. He collects things. In particular, he collects magical oddities, the sorts of things that just should not exist. He likes to figure out how they work. He wants to know how to do what they do. Think of him as the Sylar of the D&D world. He wants to cut open your brain and figure out what makes you tick. Grougaloragran is now very, very interested in Mr. McWizard, and wants the young (level five) dude to teach him how it works. Commence ridiculous skill-challenge with insanely high DCs.
Now, Grougaloragran is unimpressed. He came a really long way to find this young man, and he has turned out to be such a disappointment. He may just have to eat the little blighter… But wait! Maybe there’s a better use for tenacious young prodigies like Mr. McWizard. Maybe, instead of having to go and fetch the magical oddities himself, Grougaloragran will send this horribly disappointing little douche to do the work for him. And if he won’t, well, I guess Grougaloragran might just eat him after all…
The best way to deal with dicks at your table is to be a dick back. Don’t let your players get away with shit like this. Shut them down when they come up with ways to do things that rely on niggly little rules vagaries. Or, let them get away with it, but only if the NPCs get to do it, too. Or, worst case scenario, let them know they’re being unreasonable by getting unreasonable with them. Is a level 35 silver dragon too intense for such a low-level character to deal with? Well, a wizard who can cast his spells behind his back before initiative starts is a touch too intense for such a low-level campaign…