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The Earth Spell feat says:

As long as you are standing on stone or unworked earth (including normal soil). You can use the Heighten Spell fear to added effect. If you cast a spell using a spell slot one level higher than the spell's actual level, the spell is treated as a spell of two levels higher and your effective caster level is increased by one. If you use a spell slot two levels higher, the spell is treated as three levels higher and your effective caster level is increased by two, and so on. You cannot gain the benefit of this feat when casting a spell with the air, fire, or water descriptor.

I see two different interpretations here:

  1. This specific wording supersedes the Heighten Spell feat. I cast an 8th level spell using a 9th level spell slot, giving me a +1 CL and an effective 10th level spell.

  2. This specific spell slot illustrates how the Heighten Spell feat works, and then changes one part of it. I cast an 8th level spell using a 9th level spell slot, giving me a +1 CL and an effective 9th level spell, because Heighten Spell can only heighten a spell to 9th level.

I'm fairly certain that interpretation #2 is RAI, but what is the RAW on this?

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2 Answers 2

RAW, the spell after modification, is limited to 9th level. As per Heightened spell.

You can use the Heighten Spell feat to added effect.

Heighten Spell feat is a requirement and Earth Spell helps boost its effects.

Heighten spell does limit your spells to a maximum of 9th level, RAW. This feat does not override that limit.

This feat boosts how Heighten Spell works by using the specific language of the Earth Spell in place of Heighten Spell's benefits in the specified areas.


MOAR POWER disclaimer

Always be wary of giving MOAR POWAR to casters. While my table would have no problem with this feat and it's (relatively) situational boost, some other tables with malicious munchkins could run into problems. Beware of the chee~eese.


In regard to banning the feat

Spells cast with metamagic (even Heighten Spell) do not, necessarily, implicitly allow early access to PrCs. That is a conversation DMs need to have with their PCs.

Simply denying the ability to use this feat for early-PrC entry is a solid, reasonable, decision.

While KRyan is correct that, RAW, a Heightened Spell could probably be considered as "being able to cast Nth level spells". The decisions on whether the PrC prerequisite limit means "inherently casts" or "can cast through any means necessary" is left up to the DM/GM/MC. Often, that is where DMs will make their differentiation.

Even if they did, early access to PrCs is very rarely (almost never) a problem when a DM is capable of utilizing good judgement. Definitely not grounds to ban this feat.

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Heighten Spell and Earth Spell both say that the spell is treated as a higher-level spell, with no qualifications on that. Other metamagics would not qualify for prestige classes, but these would. And oh yes, early-entry into prestige classes is one of the tried-and-true ways to break the game, so it absolutely is a reason to ban the feat. –  KRyan Mar 2 at 15:12
    
That's personal opinion, at best. Also not a valid reason do down-vote. –  Squish Mar 2 at 15:14
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Why would you ban the feat entirely rather than simply deny its ability to qualify you for a PrC early? –  tarkisflux Mar 2 at 15:43
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@Kryan raises DC by one, for instance, or bypasses some spell-level based restrictions like Globe of Invulnerability. I've mostly seen Heighten Spell used to raise DCs, another +1 on top of that would be really useful in 3.5e IMHO (My opinion is biased by me using nothing but no-save spells) –  Zachiel Mar 2 at 17:24
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What Zachiel said, and it also increases CL (not that you care most of the time). It's situational and arguably "basically worthless" to a large number of games and situations, but so what? If you want to reduce the poor option cruft in games that's commendable I suppose, but you're making a ban recommendation based on its use cases after patching unintended function without actually indicating that. It's not particularly helpful to obfuscate / conflate in that fashion. –  tarkisflux Mar 2 at 18:02
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I see no evidence that #2 is specifically the intent; considering that you’re dealing with high-level, high-power spellcasters with a fancy trick, having an effective 10th-level spell doesn’t seem too preposterous. Yes, the step up from 9th to 10th does imply a great deal more than the step from 8th to 9th does, and yes it’s rare (though not unprecedented) for pre-epic spellcasters to have 10th-level spells, but ultimately there just isn’t enough evidence for me to agree with your assertion that #2 is the intent.

All that said, the rules as written are almost as ambiguous. I can see two arguments, one which allows the spell to be treated as a 10th-level spell, and the other that enforces the 9th-level maximum. These are effectively the same two arguments you have identified, but I want to restate them with more rigorous identification of the text that is being used to justify the argument.

  1. Earth Spell specifically says that “You can use the Heighten Spell feat to added effect,” which means the limitations and specifications of Heighten Spell do not automatically apply. Moreover, Earth Spell itself very explicitly says that your spell counts as a spell one level higher than the slot you prepare it in, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Even if we assume that

  2. Earth Spell references Heighten Spell, and does not explicitly supersede Heighten Spell’s limitation on only going up to 9th level. Since it is an improved version of Heighten Spell, it works like Heighten Spell in all ways except those explicitly stated in the feat.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any clear way to say one is definitively right and the other is definitively wrong. I tend to favor #2 since you are explicitly using Heighten Spell, just gaining an extra benefit. On the other hand, #1 isn’t problematic if you simply state that it counts as “10th-level” for the purposes of calculating DC and whether or not things like greater globe of invulnerability can block it, but not for the purposes of the epic magic rules.

Ultimately, using Earth Spell at low levels is far more problematic (allowing early entry into prestige classes), and alone a good enough reason to ban the feat.

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Ban the... spell? I was with you until that last sentence. –  Phill.Zitt Mar 2 at 6:14
    
@Phill.Zitt Oops, meant feat. –  KRyan Mar 2 at 15:29
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