Spellcraft: Stoneskin

It amazes me how often people fail to understand how AD&D 2nd edition (and 1st ed and OD&D, as well) are written using standard English, primarily. Jargon usage is minimal, especially compared to later iterations of D&D, as well as many other RPGs. A case in point is the stoneskin spell. The spell is written in English, rather than jargon, and yet people still seem to insist that it does things it does not, such as block touch effects from spells (shocking grasp) or touch based-effects, such as those of ghouls or vampires. However, even though the latter are usually caused by a damaging attack by claws, it isn’t necessary. All of those abilities would take effect, if the creature wished it, from a simple hand shake or a pat on the shoulder. The relevant line in the spell description is “the affected creature gains a virtual immunity to any attack by cut, blow, projectile, or the like;” the key point here is that damage by forceful strikes are what is blocked. None of the abilities mentioned above, which are often claimed to be blocked by the spell, fit the description of attacks that are blocked. Similarly, the use of “attack” in that line, as well as the line “This limit applies regardless of attack rolls and regardless of whether the attack was physical or magical” has led many people to claim that you don’t roll attack rolls at all. But that begs the question: if you roll no attack rolls, do the attacks automatically hit and cause no damage, or automatically miss? In either case, what’s the logical reasoning for believing *either* of these cases is true? Simply put, the spell claims nothing of the sort; you still technically need to roll attack rolls regardless of whether or not the stoneskin spell will completely block the effects of the attack or not. A DM can handwave attack rolls if there is no chance of an attack having an effect or not, but even so it is often better to require attack rolls in order to let the PCs discover on their own that a foe is protected.

The silliest thing about arguments against the way the spell is written, though, are the lengths of twisting people will go to in order to preserve their belief. For example, I’ve had people claim that Skip Williams, the author of Dragon Magazine’s Sage Advice column and the DM’s Option: High Level Campaigns, where clarifications of the spell have been published, is wrong so often that everything he says should just be discarded entirely. In addition, I’ve also seen the argument that since the word “blow” is not defined in the game, it can mean anything from a “giant’s maul to the touch of a feather,” which completely disregards what the word means in the English language. If you have to disregard the English definitions of words used by the game to make your argument valid, your argument is not valid.

7 Responses to Spellcraft: Stoneskin

  1. DoctorPirx says:

    This seems to be one of the very rare cases where the German version is less ambiguous, because it actually specifies that the effects of spells/spell-like abilities are not blocked (although they count as attacks and thus reduce the number of “skins”), in contrast to attacks with magical weapons.
    Usually it’s the other way round and confused German DMs are required to study the English version.

    • AuldDragon says:

      I wonder if that clarity is due to a difference in the German language, or if the translators saw the fury of the discussion in the English speaking world and wisely decided to head it off. :)

      • DoctorPirx says:

        Or maybe it’s just me. ;) Just for the heck of it I’ve compared both versions and the German one is pretty much a literal translation.
        So I join you in your amazement how this spell can be misunderstood. :)

  2. In your example of the “claws,” stoneskin would protect the “wearer” from the damage the claws would normally incur, which is inline with “cut,” but you are correct, it would not protect against the magic delivered via the touch.

  3. Donny says:

    The mentioned exceptions to the immunity of the wearer are magic missile, fireball, lightning bolt (and so forth). These are all spells where no touch, cut, blow or other physical contact between the caster and wearer has to be made.

    Since this absence of physical contact is relevant to bypass the immunity of the wearer, you can therefore argue that (magical) damage delivered by touch is a part of the attack of either cut, blow, etc that the wearer is immune to. After all without this contact the wearer would also not receive the effect(s) that comes afterwards.

    • AuldDragon says:

      It can be argued, yes, but that argument isn’t sound. The spell description clearly describes in non-game terms what the spell protects against, and that does not include things that have no need to break the skin or inflict force on a target. A ghoul can paralyze by touch, meaning it can shake your hand and paralyze you. It doesn’t need to gouge your flesh or punch you. Same thing with the level draining of most undead, various touch spells like cause wounds or shocking grasp, etc. In other words, if you can inflict it outside of a combat situation, it very likely bypasses Stoneskin.

      • Donny says:

        I still think the absence of physical contact is relevant. They have their normal effects. You can therefore say (magical) touch attacks work a bit different.
        A touch attack includes a physical component (damage) and an effect component (creature/spell effect).

        Ghoul touch is a touch attack that only works on flesh and therefore I think it does have to bypass your Stoneskin in order to take effect. However, the Stoneskin spell does not grant the caster an additional AC bonus. Penetrating it is therefore easy. I would say a successful Ghoul attack will penetrate the Stoneskin (and possible armor) and hits the flesh (where you are not immune) and paralyzes you.
        The recipient is immune to the damage of the claw attack (physical component) but still suffers the paralyzing effect when hit (effect component).

        The difference for touch attacks is basically your “Ghoul/Drain/etc. attack does not have to bypass Stoneskin” vs my “Ghoul/Drain/etc. attack automatically bypasses Stoneskin on a hit”. The end result is the same though.

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