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    Orc in the Playground
     
    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    I'm interested in the differences, mechanically, between spells and spell-like abilities.

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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Devil

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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?


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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    These are the key differences, as far as I'm aware.

    Quote Originally Posted by SRD
    A spell-like ability has no verbal, somatic, or material component, nor does it require a focus or have an XP cost. The user activates it mentally. Armor never affects a spell-like ability’s use, even if the ability resembles an arcane spell with a somatic component. [...]

    Spell-like abilities cannot be used to counterspell, nor can they be counterspelled.
    http://www.d20srd.org/srd/specialAbi...lLikeAbilities

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Jowgen's Avatar

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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    In practical optimization terms, SLAs are preferred mainly due to not having Exp or GP costs associated with them, so methods to gain certain expensive spells as SLAs are widely sought after. Another factor is that their activation is purely mental, so they are still accessible while paralyzed, silenced or somesuch.

    Another factor that goes into them is the rules on casting times. Unless otherwise specified, an SLA takes a standard action to cast. There is text in the Rules Compendium that makes it so that SLAs that duplicate spells that have a shorter casting time than 1 standard action only require that shorter action, but there is no general rule anywhere that the same applies to spells with longer casting times. There are some detractors who believe that if the referenced spell takes longer to cast so should the SLA, but in my experience most people agree that its a standard action or shorter.

    So getting a spell that normally takes full round, 1 round, hours or even days to cast as an SLA can not only save time, but make spells that are otherwise useless in combat viable in that setting.

    Beyond the above, and the basics about how SLAs interact with counterspells and such (rules compendium sums that up nicely), other niche considerations include the rules on Invocations, how certain effects that work on spells interact with SLAs, and so forth.
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    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    The lack of somatic components makes SLAs great for gishes: you can use them in armor.

    The lack of all components means there is no display of the SLA: You can't see it being cast, therefore you can't react to counterspell it, you can't notice it at all outside of the effect, and likewise no one knows where the spell is coming from unless the spell's effect gives a clue. For example the half-fey's at-will charm person SLA is incredibly powerful. You can walk around populated areas and start making friends & allies to join your cause, and nobody can notice you casting it. The only way they can notice the SLA is to pass their save (passing a save lets you notice a hostile force, failing does not) or to start noticing that those around them seem to be acting different. Even with those clues it will be a long time anyone figures out that you are the cause, and you will have several allies by then. While they fight for you, or at least cause a delay by trying to make peace between their old friends and their new "friend", you can keep getting more allies. Armies can follow you this way, though like anything else there are limitations and counter-tactics. It's very powerful if used properly with stealth tactics. Likewise other SLAs are great for stealth casting.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Malphegor's Avatar

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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    Worth noting that a warlock’s invocations are the exception to the ‘no somatic’ bit though. Still SLAs, but they specifically require you to wiggle your bits about to do the magic still.
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    Firbolg in the Playground
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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    Quote Originally Posted by Malphegor View Post
    Worth noting that a warlock’s invocations are the exception to the ‘no somatic’ bit though. Still SLAs, but they specifically require you to wiggle your bits about to do the magic still.
    Likewise, utterances are SLAs with a specific exception to the “no verbal components” part: utterances all require verbal components.

    The really interesting question centers around whether game elements that apply to spells apply to SLAs, what with that “just like spells” language floating around. That gets really ambiguous and potentially weird no matter which interpretation you use.
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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jowgen View Post
    Another factor that goes into them is the rules on casting times. Unless otherwise specified, an SLA takes a standard action to cast. There is text in the Rules Compendium that makes it so that SLAs that duplicate spells that have a shorter casting time than 1 standard action only require that shorter action, but there is no general rule anywhere that the same applies to spells with longer casting times. There are some detractors who believe that if the referenced spell takes longer to cast so should the SLA, but in my experience most people agree that its a standard action or shorter.
    The MM says "using a spell-like ability is a standard action unless noted otherwise", but the hypertext d20 SRD has it that "A spell-like ability takes the same amount of time to complete as the spell that it mimics (usually 1 standard action) unless otherwise stated".

    It doesn't say where it gets this from though, there's just a general note saying "I have made many corrections and v3.0 to v3.5 rules updates that do not appear in any official d20 SRD publication. Aside from obvious spelling and grammatical corrections, I have only incorporated changes originating form an official Wizards of the Coast source (published errata, FAQ, later printed edition, etc.)".

    It's not in the errata and I can't find anything about it in the FAQ, does anyone know where this version originates from?

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zaq View Post
    Likewise, utterances are SLAs with a specific exception to the “no verbal components” part: utterances all require verbal components.

    The really interesting question centers around whether game elements that apply to spells apply to SLAs, what with that “just like spells” language floating around. That gets really ambiguous and potentially weird no matter which interpretation you use.
    Yeah, was hoping for that to be cleared up. Looks like WOTC had as little idea about this as I do.

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    RedKnightGirl

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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    Quote Originally Posted by pabelfly View Post
    Yeah, was hoping for that to be cleared up. Looks like WOTC had as little idea about this as I do.
    Well, for what it's worth we recently (re)litigated this in a thread about the Wu Jen spell Body Outside Body and whether clones made with that spell, which are forbidden from casting spells, can activate SLAs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Silvercrys View Post
    I don't think I would challenge any of those interpretations as a player, but then, I wouldn't really bring this to another DM's table as a player, either, heh.

    But I do feel compelled to defend my position as a DM who thinks the trick does work, RAW, even though I wouldn't allow it at my table unless the other players were similarly optimized.

    So, here's all the evidence I could find, both for and against, BOB clones being able to use SLAs.

    -------------

    (1) Using a Spell-Like Ability is a different action from the "Cast a Spell" action in the combat chapter of the PHB. This means that "Cast a spell" is a defined game term and does not refer merely to any act of creating an effect that has the same effect as a spell.

    Here is the SRD page for reference, the rules for activating an SLA are a bit further down, under "Use special ability".

    -------------

    (2) Furthermore, if we were to treat activating an SLA as the same thing as casting a spell, we would either have to allow the Warlock to qualify for prestige classes that require the ability to cast X level spells or we would have to claim that there is a specific rule that prevents them from doing so even though it ought to be allowable.

    According to page 72 of Complete Arcane, the reason Warlocks (and other creatures with SLAs) do not qualify for these classes is that knowing how to cast a spell of level X is fundamentally different from knowing how to activate an SLA of that level.

    -------------

    (3) One of the few times I've seen WotC claim that SLAs and casting a spell are close enough to the same is on page 71 of CAr, where they say that Sudden Metamagic feats work on SLAs because they have no slot adjustment and consequently imply that the reason Metamagic feats don't work on SLAs is because they have a slot adjustment, not because SLAs aren't actually spells.

    -------------

    (4) I'd like to address the "Usually an SLA works just like the spell of the same name" bit.

    The direct quote from the SRD is: "Usually, a spell-like ability works just like the spell of that name. A few spell-like abilities are unique; these are explained in the text where they are described." The Rules Compendium reference is identical.

    From the following sentence, I think the context is pretty clear that this is not saying that using an SLA is the same as "casting" the spell of the same name. It's saying that if you have an SLA named Bless, it has the same effect as the spell named Bless unless the SLA has overriding text where it is described.

    -------------

    (5) There is also an (in my opinion) errant use of the word "cast" in the SRD, in the combat chapter linked above it says "The casting time of a spell-like ability is 1 standard action, unless the ability description notes otherwise."

    One might use this to conclude that, therefore, using an SLA is a kind of "casting" because it has a "casting time", something both (Su) and (Ex) abilities lack, but in virtually every other instance of an SLA the phrase "use a Spell-Like Ability" rather than "cast a Spell-Like Ability" is used.

    That language is even partially amended in the RC, page 118 where it says "Using a spell-like ability usually takes 1 standard action..." but it is then replicated a few sentences later where it says "If the spell-like ability duplicates a spell that has a casting time of less than 1 standard action, the spell-like ability has that casting time."

    I think it's apparent that the writers for the RC tried to make the distinction between spells and SLAs clearer and just didn't catch the latter casting time reference, but your mileage will vary.

    -------------

    Conclusion:

    You could certainly use the Sudden Metamagic stuff from CAr page 71 and the casting time stuff from the SRD/Rules Compendium to make the case that using an SLA is similar enough to casting a spell that BOB clones shouldn't be permitted to use SLAs. I would accept such a ruling as a player even if I don't think it's necessarily correct because the build is extremely powerful even if you can't drown the world in clones of yourself, and, well... really I just wouldn't even bring this character to a table as a player unless it was meant to be a high op TO showcase and the DM agreed that it worked ahead of time.

    But I do believe that the evidence points to the notion that using an SLA is a fundamentally different thing from the explicitly forbidden by BOB "cast spells", particularly because it also forbids the extremely similar to actually casting a spell "Use a spell trigger item" and "use a spell completion item" but does not explicitly mention SLAs.

    I do agree that Supernatural Transformation probably does not apply to Archmage-gained SLAs, though.
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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Jowgen's Avatar

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    Default Re: What is the difference between spells and spell-like abilities?

    Quote Originally Posted by Biggus View Post
    The MM says "using a spell-like ability is a standard action unless noted otherwise", but the hypertext d20 SRD has it that "A spell-like ability takes the same amount of time to complete as the spell that it mimics (usually 1 standard action) unless otherwise stated".

    It doesn't say where it gets this from though, there's just a general note saying "I have made many corrections and v3.0 to v3.5 rules updates that do not appear in any official d20 SRD publication. Aside from obvious spelling and grammatical corrections, I have only incorporated changes originating form an official Wizards of the Coast source (published errata, FAQ, later printed edition, etc.)".

    It's not in the errata and I can't find anything about it in the FAQ, does anyone know where this version originates from?
    There are a bunch of unexplained minor discrepancies between the d20srd.org and the official books like this, that don't appear in other online SRD copies. For example, the special abilities section at dndsrd.net does not have that wording.

    Since the d20srd site has the section about making updates (including FAQ, which should never be taken at face value), my guess is that this alteration snuck in there being taken from a less reputable source or from the editor taking some creative license.

    But I can't be sure, there might in fact be some obscure piece of errata somewhere that I don't know that in fact backs this up. THIS is why you always cite your sources, kids.

    Bears noting that a complete search of my book, errata, web-enhancement and update document pdf's for the phrase "spell-like ability takes" turned up nothing.
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