Three Takes on Sleep (DnD/S&W, GURPS, Night’s Black Agents)

+Tim Shorts over at Gothridge Manor just wrote two pieces on the Sleep spell. 

It called my attention to something that I didn’t pay much mind to, since I play a boring old fighter. Or young fighter. Whatever.

Tim’s character Minister has used sleep to good effect before, but I didn’t really realize how darn powerful it is. Rather than just start tweaking from the get-go (I’ll get to that later), I thought I might first look at how such a power is handled in the two games I actively play, and one I’d love to play a game in.

D&D (5e) and Swords and Wizardry


These two really aren’t that different. In S&W, you can impact a certain number of hit dice of critters. 1 at 4 HD (4 HD total), 1d6 at 3 HD (about 10 HD total), 2d6 at 2 HD (14 HD total), and 2d8 at 1 HD (9 HD total). 

For DnD 5th edition, casting this at first level you roll 5d8, and you can put that many HP of creatures asleep. Since the monster HD is a d8, by and large you’ll, on the average put 5 critters to sleep, or 5 HD.

Comparing the two, I think that the D&D version is clearly easier to adjudicate. You start from weakest to strongest, and put to sleep creatures until you run out of HP, and if your pool of HP don’t cover the next critter on the list, you’re done.

For S&W, the spell is a bit odd, and clearly the best way to throw it is against 2-3 HD creatures. And if you have a group of mixed foes . . . huh. Not sure. I think a better way would be to roll (say) either 3d6 or 2d8 (likely 2d8) and you can put to sleep that many HD of creatures, and steal a page from D&D5 and start from the weakest.

Because, wow . . . no saving throw. If you’re impacted by the spell, you’re just o-u-t out, and snoozing for a minute (D&D) or an hour (S&W). Against PCs of low-ish level, this is bad, bad news. 1d6 creatures at 3HD (3rd level)? A good roll can snooze half the party. 

Darn good reason to have at least one elf or something in the party!

GURPS

Now, there are a few different versions of magic spells in GURPS, so we’ll hit two of them. 

GURPS Magic – Standard Skill-based system
The basic Sleep spell costs 4 fatigue points (a normal human starts with 10, but casters will maximize this; I expect 15-20 to be more usual, plus mana stones, and discounts for high skill). You have to roll to cast it, but that’s probably not a big deal unless your subject is fairly close. A caster worth his salt will likely have high IQ and as much Magery as they can eat. Still, range penalties are -1 per yard of distance, and the subject can resist if he wins a Contest of Skills, often based on HT, against the spellcaster’s skill (subject to the rule of 16). 

If it works, the single victim drops for 8 hours of normal sleep. If awakened, they’re stunned for a bit until they snap out of it.

The more apt comparison, of course, is mass sleep. That has a base cost of 3, minimum radius 2 yards. . . so 6 FP for 2-yard raddius, 9 FP for 3 yards, etc. Everything else is basically the same as Sleep, though by rules-as-written you need to already know Sleep and have IQ 13 or higher – and Sleep has a “prerequisite chain” as well.

This is clearly depowered compared to D&D and S&W. You have to first make a skill roll to cast the spell, and even you have to win that Quick Contest to overcome the subject’s resistance. That being said, spells get high enough for few enough points in many cases (due to lots of IQ and Magery) that the Rule of 16 exists for that purpose. Only on a critical success is it a freebie.

Thanks to the comments for pointing out some errors with my assumptions

Ritual Path Magic
Another system that is gaining in popularity, and is a highly interesting alternative to the standard skill-based system, is Ritual Path Magic. This system uses a framework based on Powers, and is considerably more flexible, but requires a lot of GM and player participation, and no small amount of oversight, and a GM willing to say “no.” 

Still, +Christopher R. Rice has a substantial amount of mastery with the system, and he created for me three versions of an RPM sleep spell.

Sleep

  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Sleep.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell causes the target (who must be within 30 yards) to fall asleepfor the next 12 hours if he fails to resist.

Typical Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Sleep (30) +Duration, 12 hours (6) + Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3).153 energy (51×3).

Mass Sleep

  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Sleep + Area of Effect.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell causes multiple targets in a 10-yard area (who must be within 30yards of the caster) to fall asleep for the next 12 hours if they fail toresist the ritual

This Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Sleep (30) + Area OfEffect, 10 yards, excluding up to 4 subjects (10) + Duration, 12 hours (6) +Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3). 183 energy (61×3).

Sleeping Curse

  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Coma + Extra Energy.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell (a favorite of wicked godmothers and evil faeries) causes thesubject to enter a coma (p. B429) which lasts until the spell is broken orthe subject is kissed by their true love (commonly a prince).

This Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Coma (50) + Duration,Until subject is kissed by their true love (24) + Extra Energy, +61 energy(61) + Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3). 450 energy(150×3).

Looking at the three, each is cast by rolling against the Path skill in question, and resisted by the better of Will or HT (but still a Resistance roll, I believe – the same Quick Contest). The energy gathering phase can take many seconds, and is often done offstage, using a charm or some sort of suspended spell when it comes time for casting it. For that purpose, if you think “spell slots,” you’re not too far wrong, though significant differences exist.

An important modification to RPM is that by spending more energy – sometimes considerably more – you can hit the victim(s) with penalties to that HT or Will roll beyond the Quick Contest. So if you want to drop your average HT/Will 12 adventurer to 6- even before you roll against your skill, you’re probably looking at about 100 extra energy. That’s quite a bit, but it’s doable . . . and that might just bring you into the level of a 1st level D&D Magic User!

Night’s Black Agents


I actually have no idea if NBA has a sleep sleep spell in it. Yep, p. 132, send to sleep. A vampire can put a single target to sleep by spending at least 2 Aberrence points, adding that to a die roll (1d6+2 or more). That roll must be 5 or higher (“more than 4”) for the attack to occur. If it does occur, the victim must make a Stability check of equal or higher to the original attack roll. Against normals, well, they’re probably just out light lights. Against the Night’s Black Agents, which start with Stabilty 4 and may go to 12 or higher, they might have a good chance of resisting. PCs probably don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of putting a vamp to sleep. 

Parting Shot


Wow. I didn’t really have much of an appreciation for how awesome the sleep spell is in D&D. Especially compared to the hit-and-miss nature of most GURPS spells. 

The typical 1st level Wizard can probably count on a DC for his spells of about 13 – 8 +2 for his saving throw proficiency and likely +2 or +3 for intelligence; I’ll assume 13. A foe will likely get some sort of bonus to his save roll, likely again about +1 (for 1 HD) to +3, which means he’s got about a 50% chance to resist. If one wanted to make the 1st level Sleep spell just a bit less automatically nasty, double the dice rolled for HP or HD impacted, but allow a Saving Throw against the effects of the spell. 

That has its own possibilities, for tweakage, but as it stands . . . Sleep? 

Awesome.

9 thoughts on “Three Takes on Sleep (DnD/S&W, GURPS, Night’s Black Agents)

  1. One excellent defense against Sleep in D&D-likes is hirelings. Torchbearers and porters soak up the spell, leaving the characters free to take out the spellcaster.

  2. One small note: In GURPS spells are resisted as a contested roll. So "Joe Average" only has a 50% to resist if the spell roll had a margin of success of 0. A powerful wizard with 15+ skill is going to be far more capable of putting folks asleep (thought the "Rule of 16" also comes into play).

    1. It's a quick contest of skill? Can you hit me with a page reference? I saw "resisted by," but didn't read deeply enough to find the QC called out. That provides a much better chance for a powerful wizard to not spend his FP to no avail even without invoking house rules, or (as you can with RPM) absorb a large energy cost to hit the resistance roll with a big penalty.

    2. Magic p13-14 under Resisted Spells. It is sort of long winded, but here is the important bit (right in the middle of p14): "Compare the subject’s resistance roll to your skill roll in a Quick Contest. If you win, your spell affects the subject. If you lose or tie, the spell has no effect"

    3. And boom. That's a big difference, because it's basically a default penalty equal to the difference between a relatively cheap skill and a relatively expensive stat. So that works for me, and I'll need to edit the post accordingly. Thanks!

  3. That is a great idea, faoladh! I was originally just going to comment about how amazing the Sleep spell is and how often I've seen it overlooked but now I've got a great protective strategy to boot. Much obliged!

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