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Castle Amber (1981)—an adventure for characters levels 3 to 6— contains an encounter in area #34 with…

…Catherine Amber, a level 13 magic-user who used the spell magic jar to transfer her life force into a piece of furniture. When the PCs enter, she possesses one of the PCs and attacks the remaining PCs with her spells. Apparently, Catherine cannot be reasoned with, having become "both evil and hopelessly insane due to her disembodied ordeal" (12).

The spell magic jar mentions only the spell dispel evil as capable of exorcising an invading life force, but that spell's only available to a level 10 or higher cleric! And Castle Amber proper's only level 10 or higher cleric is unlikely to help as he's a jerk… and he doesn't have dispel evil memorized anyway.

I'm okay with a Kobayashi Maru scenario or even a PC opting to make a noble sacrifice before control is complete (complete control taking about 5 rounds), and I'm okay with problems without immediate solutions—I mean, sometimes there is not a scroll of stone to flesh next to the medusa—, but this encounter? This seems absolutely guaranteed to kill at least one PC. Really, unlike many classic brutal encounters, the PCs have made no mistakes to deserve this encounter, nor have the PCs, for example, earned this encounter as a result of their carelessness or greed. This encounter just happens.

Is this actually a puzzle encounter, the solution eluding me because of my lack of familiarity with Basic D&D or because I overlooked something else in the module? Or is this just a way for the DM to kill off a troublesome PC?

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The encounter is more like a very lethal trap. It occurs unless the PC's are either specially prepared or very paranoid/lucky. It's definitely not fair.

Detect magic will reveal the chair-cum-magic jar, as would detect evil. Especially detect evil as it reveals evilly enchanted objects within 120'. Note that in this edition the saving roll is dependent on the target's level, without any adjustments not specified in the spell, so the first target might not become possessed. If the PC's have such a warning, they might destroy the chair before the, now maddened, wizard can successfully possess one of them.

A 3-6 level party (as suggested on the cover) could well not be expected to survive. However if they were able to subdue their comrade, they could then pursue a, perhaps impossible to find, dispel evil. Since the rules of the game were a bit less codified than in even AD&D, let alone D&D 3.5, lateral thinking might have permitted them to perhaps net, or knock unconscious, the possessed character.


Note that, encounter text notwithstanding, a caster using magic jar may well be unable to cast spells (Expert Rulebook p15):

The caster may cause the body to perform any normal actions, but not special abilities (similar to a polymorph self effect)...

and polymorph self says (14)

...A magic-user polymorphed into a dragon could fly but would not be able to use any breath weapons or cast spells.

Spells cannot be cast while polymorphed into a different form.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Huh. I guess a detect evil might preempt the encounter, but the room isn't so weird (by Castle Amber standards, anyway) to seem to warrant a detect evil here more than anywhere else, and there's no paladin in Basic to spam a detect evil, either. Also, there's no indication the creature takes time to assess the party before attempting to jar, so there might not be enough time to even go Evil chair! Break it! Break it! (I'm not trying to minimize your answer but, instead, follow all the threads. By the way, detect evil is a solid workaround. Thank you.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 29 '17 at 13:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Note that detect evil lasts 6 turns. IIRC 1 turn == 10 mins. If that's true, then it might be up in the PC's case. If they get initiative (are unsurprised) then they could bypass the very very lethal trap. \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus May 29 '17 at 13:57
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We managed to defeat her by use of a 1st level spell. Protection from evil-type spells negate possession and mind-control effects and allows the party a chance to manage what to do with their friend until they can find a way to expel her for good. Once she was suppressed, we tied our friend up and gagged him, preventing her from casting spells after the spell expired.

I will admit to not being the one who found that one out, but a friend had a scroll in his bag at the time and when "could this work?"

... And there was much rejoicing.

That encounter is the the reason I keep a prot-evil (or a magic circle) in my spell lists for what... 5-6 editions now?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In [dnd-bx] protection from evil is range 0 (self), and where in either the Cler or MU spell descr. is the reference to mental control or charm? I only found that an enchanted creature (charmed for instance) was prevented from touching the warded Cler/MU. \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus May 30 '17 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chemus That's my reading of Basic's and AD&D's protection from evil spells, too. It's not until AD&D 2e that protection from evil prevents (but does not suppress) mental control like, for example, magic jar. However, that's not to discount JP's experience: maybe JP's AD&D 2e DM ran the PCs through Castle Amber? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 30 '17 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could very well be... would've been played around 1990ish... so half 1st, half 2nd... oh yeah! It was about ~30 years ago! :D \$\endgroup\$ – JP Chapleau May 30 '17 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Yeah, I recalled pro evil from 2e, but the Q is re: Basic/Expert, which is why I looked the spell up prior to answering. However, I'm not certain that pro evil even protected against possession already in progress, it just keeps it out, preventing the possession in the first place. "...any attempt to possess (as by a magic jar attack)...a possessing life force is merely kept out. It would not be expelled if in place before the protection is cast." \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus May 30 '17 at 17:17

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