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Dismember death effect

I have a question about the Dismember spell. The spell description states that if a target of this spell is killed, the death is so vivid that it inflicts 4CD with 2 Vicious on anyone who can see it. My question is twofold: firstly, does this apply to the caster of the spell too? I presume yes, but the Sorcerer in the game I am currently running argues that it shouldn’t; after all, it would not be significantly different than any standard combat monster bashing in the brains of an enemy with his maul — surely the caster would be inured to the effect just as a warrior would be inured to the horrors of war. My second question is whether this effect can be avoided by a Discipline check or not, by either the caster or anyone else witnessing it. Our Sorcerer argues that it should, especially considering the FAQ clarifies that the spell itself can be opposed with Acrobatics. (This in itself is a seperate concern, but I’ve searched this forum and it seems to have been discussed before).

The sorcerer is never protected from the effects of their own spell.
That is a (slight) balancing effect for the Dismember spell, as a sorcerer who tends to kill using that spell blasts away his own mental health.

There is no Difficulty for any Discipline test given.
See someone getting ripped apart by unholy eldritch energies does that to any formerly sane human being.

The spell is basically a ranged attack, which you can try to dodge.
That is the actual spell attack, not the mentally disrupting side effect of witnessing a victim getting killed by the spell, after it had hit the target.

So, the sorcerer will get to eat his own recklessly caused mental damage. The sorcerer and everyone - NPCs and PCs - who witness the kill will get slammed with the mental damage without any defense (except having Courage Soak and Morale Soak, if available). No one can dodge this sanity wrecking effect.

Not even a maxed-out barbarian axe-wielding combat monster character kills in such a messy way as the Dismember spell does.
If a player wants his or her sorcerer character to be able to do the most deprived, brutal, inhumane killing the Hyborean age knows, then so be it - an deal with the fallout.

I have played in games, where the sorcerer using Dismember mentally killed off ALL our supporting allied NPCs (mostly Minions) and caused Trauma to all player characters.
That could actually wreck the whole goal of a scenario, if it is about protecting an NPC or guarding someone important, but essentially helpless.
In one game the axe-wielder PC killed the sorcerer PC right after this feat of group sabotage. And everyone else, except the sorcerer player, cheered for him dealing out justice.

Yeah, I have had similar things happen in my game (and have also been on the receiving end enough times), but my current player’s argument is that in that case, the spell needs to be reinterpreted. After all, its base damage is 4CD. Fair enough, you can pump Momentum into it, and it already comes with Piercing, but your twin battle axe wielding combat monster can easily outperform that in damage. And the game actively encourages the players to narrate grisly, gory, epic deaths. Why is that ok for the combat monster but not ok for the sorcerer? And I can kind of see his point, to an extent. I’d still want to make the visible effect of Dismember cause mental damage, but why isn’t it mitigated by Discipline? Is there anything in the rules which says that it isn’t, or is that just your interpretation?

Do you mean that it uses Coordination as the base Attribute? I have always just taken that part of the spell description to mean that it can be used at range, not that it requires an alternate skill replacement.

No, this is not a Skill replacement. It still is a Sorcery test, but one that is treated as a Ranged Attack with Range Close. So you can defend against it as against a Ranged Attack.

The spell description does not state having any skill test to resist this mental damage at all.
Other spells do allow some kind of resisting or even an opposed test, but for Dismember everyone seeing someone getting killed by this spell gets the damage.

Compare that to other spells, which actually allow to resist, Dismember does not.

And regarding the “grisly, gory, epic deaths”. Those are feeding into the Display Threaten attacks. So if you perform a grisly decapitation, you can follow up with the Threaten attack - and that is still “mostly harmless”, as it is a “natural” cause of death. Dismember is so unnatural, that it is not a Threaten attack, but an unavoidable side effect to get your sanity shredded.

But, power gaming recommendation, if the sorcerer mentally survives the mental damage by his own Dismember spell, he can immediately follow it up with a Swift Attack, a Threaten attack, for only 1 Momentum (as this is using a different “weapon”) with the Display of Sorcerous Might, which has an Area Effect, too. So that will take care of any Toughened NPC in the area, who might have mentally survived witnessing the Dismember spell in the first place.

How to harden yourself against the Dismember mental damage:
Get the Courageous Talent (Discipline) and have a high Discipline Focus, which gives you Courage Soak.
Get a Talisman with a few points of Courage Soak.
Have another character with the Inspiring Leader Talent (Command) within Close range for 4[CD] Morale Soak.
Spend some Momentum for the Confidence spend, up to 4 Momentum for 4[CD] additional Morale soak.

So a character with maxed out Discipline Focus 5, Courageous Talent, an Inspiring Leader close by and 4 Momentum spent on Confidence has 5+8[CD] soak against mental damage from Dismember.
That should to the trick (although the Inspiring leader is defenseless and will get mentally traumatized by this spell).

Here is a long winded in game explanation I have delivered to my players. Magic in Hyboria is very primal and otherworldly and it is not a source of power that a sorcerer can draw from with x spell always equals x effect. They don’t have control over it. The best they can hope for is to coerce fell magic to do what they will it to do for the time being.

The Basic Nature of Sorcery


In rules terms, this is a question for the developers of this spell.
As written, there is no resisting of the collateral mental damage.

My own view on this is, that it was included this way, to balance out damage dealing using sorcery.
Conan’s Sword&Sorcery fantasy is NOT D&D.
I have often seen PC sorcerers choosing Dismember, because the player thinks in D&D terms, so that the sorcerer is the ranged magical damage dealer.
In Conan, dealing ranged damage is much more efficient using a bow.
Dealing damage in close combat, you have your axe and your polearms.

Magic in Sword&Sorcery Fantasy is supposed to be unreliable, dangerous for the actual magic user, and to be BAD for everyone involved - and even not involved.
I wouldn’t have minded if Modiphius didn’t include even this single directly damage dealing spell at all. Magic should be able to do things mundane solutions cannot. Killing an opponent, that is a mundane thing many, many tools and ways do better and safer for the practitioner.

That is, why I assume this mental collateral damage was included to make the use of Dismember much more damaging to friendly characters, no resisting it at all, so that the sorcerer needs to be VERY careful when and where to employ this spell - preferable out of sight of any allies.

In the first Conan games I ran, where I didn’t provide pregenerated characters, some players chose to play a sorcerer, many of those took this damage dealing spell. In most of the sessions they used it, they did cause some (not that massive) damage to their opponent, but caused quite a bit more mental Trauma to their companions - often having low Resolve due to putting all into their physical combat stats. That happened often at the very start of a session in the first, low threat combat encounter. That meant, the PC group had to continue the adventure with some (mostly treated) Trauma, which, of course, made them all vulnerable for Threaten attacks by NPCs later on.

For one-shots, I tend not to allow Dismember at all, as my experiences with this, see above, have been not so great.
For campaigns, I might allow Dismember, as I have experienced that reckless use of this spell will prompt the other players to simply kill off the sorcerer PC, so that the player has to create a new character. That has some educational value for some players, others leave the campaign.

Thanks! I’ll try and put all of that into a form my player will find acceptable. Feond, I really like your Basic Nature of Sorcery doc!

I’ve been thinking about this and other sorcery related issues as I am also playing a sorcerer at the moment in a game — first time ever — mainly in order to try and see my player’s point of view. I confess that I am finding it much more of a challenge than playing a melee oriented character, but that is interesting for me, rather than a source of irritation. I guess each to their own.