It can be fun to exploit a loophole. It can even be fun to permit such exploits. But if you’re the DM, you want to watch for exploits that rely on misreadings of the text. Lately, I’ve seen a few of these crop up on Facebook gaming forums.
The most amusing of these misreadings is bardic horsecasting. Before I go any further, the name of the exploit is fantastic. Even if your idea turns out to be wrong, name it. I kind of want the idea to work just because the name is so amusing!
The idea behind bardic horsecasting is this: The bard, at higher levels, gets to dabble in spells from other classes. If she chooses the paladin spell Find Steed, she gains an intelligent, speaking, outsider mount with this bonus property: Whenever the bard casts a spell that targets only herself, she can choose to have it affect the mount, too. The intent of the spell is clear: If the bard casts a movement or defensive spell, the mount also gains that advantage.
But…. the bardic horsecaster argument holds that cone-shaped offensive spells like cone of cold have a listed range of self (in that they use the caster as a point of origin for a cone). As a result, says the bardic horsecaster, “When I cast cone of cold, my horse casts a cone of cold, too, and I get to dish out twice as much frostiness!”
Aside from being a silly interpretation, the above reading is also … wrong. Plain wrong. Clearly wrong. Black and white wrong. Read-as-written, the spell has to target the spellcaster, and only the spellcaster, to get mirrored. A cone of cold aimed at orcs targets the orcs, not the caster. Now, if the caster really wishes to cast cone of cold on herself (!!), then well, I guess it’s her privilege if she wants to ice her horse, too.
Seems impolite to summon it just to hit it with liquid nitrogen, though.
|“Damn, Wilbur. Was it something I said?”|
The above argument is just the latest in a series of misreadings I’ve seen.
I also saw an argument that a dragonborn sorcerer with the draconic bloodline would get two breath weapons (one for race, one for class), even though nothing in the sorcerer write-up mentions a breath weapon. The draconic bloodline does let you add your Charisma modifier to spell damage associated with your draconic bloodline, but evidently someone saw the “damage type” table and assumed those were for breath weapons.
Then there was a fellow arguing quite passionately (and incorrectly) that a shapechanged druid/wizard who casts mage armor would gain AC benefits both from the spell and from the hide of the adopted beast form. As with the other cases, this isn’t a matter of interpretation: They don’t stack. Each one sets a different base AC. You only get one base AC. So you have to choose. The Player’s Handbook even says so explicitly on page 14: “Some spells and class features give you a different way to calculate your AC. If you have multiple features that give you different ways to calculate your AC, you choose which one to use.” A DM could house-rule that they stack, but the text of the rules is clearly not supportive.
I’ll stop at three examples, though more exist.
It’s worth noting that all of the above misreadings appear to have been suggested by players — and in each case, those misunderstandings are in the player’s favor. I know how easy it is to get cynical after such an observation. “Players, man,” you say. “They’re always trying to pull something.”
But they’re probably not lying. Not deliberately. They’re just reading through wishful eyes. This phenomenon is well-documented in psychological and reading-comprehension research: When people have an idea, they tend to look for confirmation of their idea, reading right past anything that might contradict it.
As it happens, a solution is also well-known, though mostly to teachers. I teach. Several times a term, a student will tell me that my syllabus or my assignment prompt says something I know for a fact it does not say. I ask them to read it aloud.
“Me?” they say. “Aloud?”
“Yeah,” I say. “We can spare a minute. Read it aloud.”
They start reading it aloud. Usually, they get to around the halfway point. Then…
“Oh,” they say. “I missed that part. Sorry.”
In 15 years, I have yet to watch a student get all the way through the reading before having that epiphany.
When you read something aloud, you are forced to read it word-for-word instead of skimming. As a result, it becomes much more difficult to skip past those pesky details that would otherwise derail your crazy scheme. (You know, the one involving an extra-dimensional rocket full of flumphs.)
What works in the classroom often works at the table. If you have players who regularly propose hare-brained interpretations of rules, ask them to read the relevant pages aloud. In each of the above cases, the problems would have become apparent, if not to the player, then to others at the table — and likely, to you.
But there’s another benefit: Whenever I have students read stuff aloud, I only have to do that once or twice before I stop getting crazy misreadings. The students start to read things more carefully before blurting out their interpretations. Most players will respond similarly: Before getting embarrassed by another misreading, they’ll eventually read every word to themselves.
At that point, you’ll be left mostly with the actual exploits.
You know, like the flumph-rocket. †