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Dragonlance Campaign Setting has a feat called Reserves of Strength. This is the complete text of its benefit:

When you cast a spell, you can decide to increase your caster level with that spell by 1, 2, or 3, but you are stunned for an equal number of rounds immediately after doing so. Your increased caster level affects all level-based variables of the spell, including range, area of effect, spell penetration, and the difficulty of dispelling the spell. You can exceed the normal level-fixed limits of a spell with this feat, so a 9th-level wizard could use Reserves of Strength to cast a Fireball as a 12th-level wizard and deal 12d6 fire damage.

If you are not subject to stunning effects, you instead suffer 1d6, 3d6, or 5d6 points of damage when you call upon your Reserves of Strength feat.

(Dragonlance Campaign Setting pg. 86, emphasis mine)

The bolded portion is the one that gets the most attention: it allows spells to exceed their usual caster level cap, potentially allowing vastly more powerful effects from the same spell slot. In practice, it tends not to matter very much at all—usually spells become obsolete well before hitting their caps anyway—but certain spells, particularly when combined with other shenanigans to boost caster level absurdly high, are quite broken by this feat.

Some claim, however, that the feat cannot do this: that the feat is limited only to exceeding that limit by the 1, 2, or 3 you add to your caster level with the rest of the feat, and not any other source of caster level—be it simply being high level, or having tons of bonuses—can exceed that limitation.

Is there anything in the text of the feat itself that supports that claim?

Note that, in a sense, there are two aspects to this claim: that you can only benefit from the limit-exceeding benefit while using the CL-for-stun trade, and secondarily, that the limit-exceeding benefit applies only to the CL from the CL-for-stun trade, and not to CL from any other source. It would be sufficient to address only the second (since if the limit-exceedingly only applies to the bonus from the trade, you obviously have to be making the trade), but it would be insufficient to address only whether the trade needs to be taking place. The primary concern is whether or not the feat allows arbitrarily-high CLs to be used; whether or not you must takes a stun or d6 of damage in order to gain that benefit is a secondary concern.

This question is not about balance, nor is it about what anyone thinks the feat should say, or even about what we suspect the authors may or may not have meant the feat to do: this is purely about what the text in the feat itself, as published, says, and if there is any way to justify that limitation within the feat’s own text.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It seems a bit more biased than what I was writing, but is okay nevertheless. \$\endgroup\$ – Aguinaldo Silvestre Dec 14 '18 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AguinaldoSilvestre Acknowledged; there are two reasons I wrote it that way (or, three, if you want to include my own biases): 1. it emphasizes heavily that we are talking purely about the rules text, and thus attempts to ward off irrelevant answers about balance or apparent intent (since that was never the claim I was making—I’ve already acknowledged it can be game-breaking in combination with particular tricks), and 2. it hopefully means that any answer that stands up well against the slant of the question is particularly well-written and well-argued. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 14 '18 at 20:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this the correct stack for this kind of question? I mean, yeah, the question is about a game element, but demanding an answer based solely on grammar and syntax so as to forcibly exclude everything else (including the game itself!) sounds closer to logic or English language. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 14 '18 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I was reading the English grammar to try to answer this and it classifies it under "Ambiguity". The more I read, the less I can prove both points. \$\endgroup\$ – Aguinaldo Silvestre Dec 14 '18 at 20:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because I don't think it's actually a question -- the author is not trying to gain any information, they're just trying to generate a specific answer which they can then point to as being "official". \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Dec 17 '18 at 23:35
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Without Context

Let's re-imagine this feat in a vacuum.

You can exceed the normal level-fixed limits of a spell.

In the situation where that is the entire text of the feat, the questioner's claim (that any spell can ignore level-fixed limits) is unilaterally supported.

However...

Adding the rest of the text in gives us more to work with. Going sentence by sentence, we have:

  1. An active use of the feat to boost your caster level when casting a spell
  2. A clarification of what this boost affects
  3. A second clarification in the same vein "you can exceed the normal level-fixed limits of a spell with this feat", as well as example of this exception in action in the same sentence
  4. A final clarification for what happens if you are not subject to stunning effects

The first sentence details an active effect you can use when casting a spell. The rest are just clarifications for the ramifications of that effect. In particular, the bolded phrase "with this feat" should be enough to justify interpreting the third sentence this way.

After granting this understanding, a straightforward reading of the first sentence is enough to cap the spell limit exception to 3 at most.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I find the case for #1 to be dubious, and the case for #2 to be completely specious: the example you indicate as clarification conforms to both claimed interpretations, and therefore provides zero evidence either way. Nothing about it rules out a higher-level spellcaster exceeding the limit “with this feat” (which we’ll stipulate means they are getting some bonus with it, for the sake of argument) exceeding those limits with their entire bonus. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 17 '18 at 22:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question doesn't require there to only be one interpretation. As long as you grant that "with this feat" can plausibly imply that the level bonus must be actively applied to exceed normal limits, then 1 is in-text evidence. For 2, absence of evidence is weak evidence of absence. The only use case clarified is when the active effect is applied, which is evidence that (in combination with 1) the level exception is for the active component. The point isn't that "with this feat" must necessarily be interpreted this way, but that it is a valid reading at all, which answers your question. \$\endgroup\$ – m bzroll Dec 18 '18 at 15:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed on 1, as unconvincing as I personally find it, but I’m not seeing any justification for 2 in there. If reading “when you actively use the other, unmentioned facet of this feat” into “with this feat” is a stretch, adding in “by a particular, again unmentioned, amount,” is a bridge too far, at least to me. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 18 '18 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ The interpretation is that the sentence is merely clarifying that using the active effect isn't limited by usual level caps. The amount is mentioned in the active effect, 1-, 2-, or 3-levels. The fact that the example falls neatly in these bounds, without positing additional level-cap exceptions beyond the 1-,2-,3-level active effect, is evidence for this interpretation. \$\endgroup\$ – m bzroll Dec 18 '18 at 17:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan The crux might be the word exceed. Were the feat supposed to completely obviate level caps, it just shouldn't use the apparently vague and wishy-washy verb exceed (that often begs the question But by how much?) and, instead, a confident and uncompromising verb like remove. (However, again, exceed can still mean here by any amount and just be the author's unclear stylistic choice that slipped past the editor—that being the main reason I dismissed this line of argument, by the way.) Note, m, that a downvote hasn't come from me: I respect any answer that takes on this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 18 '18 at 18:15
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I think the text "...with this feat" means "...with the bonus provided by this feat" and not "...with your entire caster level". So a level-14 wizard would not be able to use this feat to cast a 14d6 fireball.

You've written:

This question is not about balance, nor is it about what anyone thinks the feat should say, or even about what we suspect the authors may or may not have meant the feat to do

so I'll end my answer here, without discussion of any of those topics, as requested.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you care to elucidate why you think that? The entire point of the question is to back up that claim—restating that claim and saying you agree with it, doesn’t actually answer the question at all. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 17 '18 at 22:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ My source for this answer is my extensive experience as a native speaker of the English language for 25+ years. The meaning of this feat is very clear, and I don't think posting an etymology of those three words would improve my answer. I don't think anyone could be confused about this feat unless they were actively looking for ways to misinterpret the rules, perhaps to gain an advantage in a theoretical-optimization contest. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Dec 17 '18 at 23:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you'd like a longer or more detailed answer, you're welcome to edit the last paragraph of your question. It's very unusual on this stack for questioners to ask people not to give them information, and I think this is decreasing the quality of the answers you're getting. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Dec 17 '18 at 23:30

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