The Sleep spell. The first level iconic win button. You know, I don’t really have any problems with the idea of the Sleep spell, and the present mechanics aren’t actually broken. But I do think it could be better. I read Owen K.C. Stephens livejournal (or at least I used to, when he put new stuff on there), and he posted a modification to the Sleep spell I really liked. So with a tip of the hat, and full credit to him, as well as whatever relevant language making this Open Content, etc. etc. (if there are legal issues with this I’ll deal with them, contact me), I present a modified Sleep spell I feel is more useful in the long term and less of a win button in the short term.
Enchantment (Compulsion) [Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 1, Sor/Wiz 1
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: One or more creatures, no 2 more than 20 feet apart.
Duration: 1 min./level
Saving Throw: Will half
Spell Resistance: Yes
The sleep spell causes a magical weariness to overcome the target creatures. It deals 1d4+1 points of nonlethal damage per level of the caster (maximum 5d4+5). Affected creatures are also staggered for one round. Targets that make a Will save take only half damage, and are not staggered.
Any creature that falls unconscious as a result of the Sleep spell is effected by a magical slumber. Sleeping creatures are helpless. Slapping or wounding awakens an affected creature, but normal noise does not, nor does the recovery of hit points. Even if the sleeping creature regains enough hit points to reawaken, it remains asleep for the duration of the spell unless awakened. Awakening a creature is a standard action (an application of the aid another action), that cannot be taken as part of another action (you can’t cast Cure Light Wounds and slap the target to heal and wake it at once).
Sleep does not effect Constructs, Undead creatures, or any creature immune to sleep effects.
Material Component: A pinch of fine sand, rose petals, or a live cricket.
Okay, so I’ve revised Sleep, the question is: Why?
Sleep sucks. The core version of Sleep is, in most cases, a Save or Die. Those suck when you’re on the receiving end, and 1st level spells should not be save or die. Also, if your targets make the save, you have nothing to show for it. Finally, its 1 round casting time means that battlefield conditions between when you start casting and when you finish could be radically different, and you can’t move while casting it, so you’re probably gonna be vulnerable as hell.
The original fix removed the long casting time and the save or die aspect. By making this spell do nonlethal damage, it allowed the caster to usefully affect targets that had already been injured, rather than wasting the fighter’s time by Sleeping something he had worn to a nub anyway. Also, since a save still inflicted half damage, you always had something to show for your efforts. But…
No one wanted Sleep anymore. It went from the must-have 1st level spell to an also ran that nobody wanted. And I have to admit, it still kind of sucked. Nonlethal damage to a limited target pool, same average damage as Burning Hands? Yeah, no thank you, I’ll just take Burning Hands. So how do we fix it?
Magic Missile always hits, and does a d4+1 per missile. You only get an extra missile every other level, but hey, they always hit, do lethal damage, and can target any creature. Using that as a guideline, we determine that Sleep should now do 1d4+1 per level to a maximum of 5 levels, to stick with the standard die limits on 1st level spells. Now it does more average damage than a Burning Hands, less maximum damage than Shocking Grasp with the same average damage, but it is at a range. It’s also nonlethal. Ugh, right?
Since the original Sleep was all or nothing, but the all was REALLY good, we look to see what effects we can apply to recapture the feel without blowing the balance of the spell. We don’t want to step on Daze‘s balls (well, really, Daze Monster, but more on that later…), and given that the spell is called Sleep, and it forces a magical slumber on the poor bastards you hit with it, we choose to add the staggered condition for one round, with a save for both half damage (standard procedure) and to avoid the staggering effect. Now when you cast Sleep at someone, if they fail the save, they take nonlethal damage and are staggered, which is less than you used to get but still pretty good, and if they make the save they take some damage but are otherwise unaffected (beyond the normal effects of damage), which is better than you used to get with Sleep, as something is better than nothing.
We keep the whole magical slumber bit if they go unconscious because of the nonlethal damage from Sleep to represent the fact that they are, in fact, being magically put to sleep. If they do go down, you can’t just heal the nonlethal damage, you have to take the time to wake them up (provided the duration of the spell is ongoing). This is nice because it eats enemy actions and keeps regenerating creatures from ignoring the effect of the spell.
We no longer need a hit die limit, as the damage of the spell and the low save DC (1st level spell, after all) effectively render it a nonentity to tougher creatures, unless they are severely wounded. If they are, go crazy.
As an example of the spell in play, let’s imagine the encounter below:
Dronus the Incantator calmly stood his ground as the bugbear, goblins, and hobgoblins bore down on his party. Stabmaster McKillsfurfun readied to strike the first enemy to reach the lines, while Douchenozzle the Stealyfingered hid and tried to sneak behind the enemy lines. Healbot O’blandgodsdottir prepared herself to defend Dronus and heal the wounded.
The bugbear arrived first, screaming his war cries. Stabmaster chopped deep into the brute’s chest with his battleaxe, but it appeared that he was going to be overrun by the rest of the goblinoids, when Dronus unleashed his powers with a droning incantation. The effect was dramatic. Of the five goblins, two immediately slumped to the ground, while one staggered and clutched his head before recovering. One hobgoblin fainted, and the bugbear, chest spurting, fell asleep right at Stabmaster’s feet. Douchenozzle steps out of the shadows and kills the sleeping hobgoblin.
There are five goblins, four hobgoblins, and a bugbear brute in the enemy party. The goblins and the bugbear charge, the hobgoblins move in. Stabmaster readies an action to attack the first enemy within reach, which will be the bugbear. Douchenozzle finds cover and hides. Healbot defends, and Dronus waits. When the bugbear reaches Stabmaster, he lands a critical hit, but rolls relatively poorly, failing to take the brute out. Dronus then casts his Sleep spell, catching all of the goblins, the bugbear, and one of the hobgoblins in the area of the spell.
Four of the goblins make the save. Dronus is 3rd level, and he rolls average, resulting in 10 points of nonlethal damage. That would be enough to take out all but one of the goblins, who is an elite warrior and quite hardy. Unfortunately, all four of the non-elite goblins get lucky and make the save. Fortunately, 5 points of nonlethal damage is still enough to take two of them down anyway, and they fall fast asleep. The other two are not happy, but not unconscious. The elite warrior fails his save and takes full damage and is staggered. He has one hit point left, and can only take a standard or a move action on his next turn.
The hobgoblin fails his save, and because he is a weakling seeking to prove himself, he ran ahead of the formation and thus is now asleep while his wiser, tougher buddies shake their heads.
The bugbear makes his save, but because of the critical hit, his hit point total is only 4 when he is hit with the spell. Down he goes, and probably not to pleasant dreams.
Then the party rogue pops out and kills the weakling hobgoblin, and takes credit for the kill. What a douche.
School enchantment (compulsion) [mind-affecting]; Level bard 3, sorcerer/wizard 3
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
This spell functions like sleep, except that the range is close and it deals 1d6+1 points of nonlethal damage per level of the caster (maximum 10d6+10).
Deep Slumber updated to be similar to Sleep, here’s why:
A better damage die than Fireballs and Lightning Bolts plus a chance to stagger creatures for one round. Smaller AoE, range.
So anyway, we get to use the staggered condition, which doesn’t make too many appearances, to simulate that logy feeling just before or after sleeping. Staggering your foes is not as good as putting them to sleep, but hey, better than nothing. Also, HP damage for enchanters! I know, right? Sleep was awesome at 1st, slowly started to drag, and then became totally pointless. Now, it maintains it’s usefulness as much as any 1st level spell can, so there’s that. Deep Slumber same same. And since they are compulsions, they are tempting for the fey bloodline sorcerer to take (well, they get Deep Slumber for free…) and actually keep. Deep Slumber becomes the enchanter’s fireball. I know, I know, HP damage is not as efficient or as cool as just taking someone out. But hey, no HD cap, you can use it at high levels to clear out mooks, and anyway, if you don’t like the changes, don’t use them, amirite?
I’m considering adding the ability to tune the spell to a single target, out of combat, to upgrade the staggered effect to a sleeping one regardless of HP damage done. I also hate hate hate that elves are immune. That shit should just be a bonus to saves, and I may add that to my house rules. Feel free to pipe up in the comments if you have something to say.