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The Wish and The Word are a well-known optimization showcase from early in D&D 3.5's run by Frank & K. The Word's signature trick is casting Blasphemy at an extremely high caster level to instantly kill nearby opponents.

Here's the description of how it achieves such a high caster level:

The Word takes full advantage of the eccentricities of the Ur Priest and the Sublime Chord. The Sublime Chord resets all of your arcane caster levels to the sum of all of your arcane caster levels. So in this case, since The Word has 8 separate Arcane Spellcasting classes with a caster level of 11. If he pulls an Orange Ioun Stone out of his pocket, all 8 classes increase by one, and all eight of them are set to the new sum – of 12. Repeat this with 17 more Stones, and we get a grant total of 28 for all his classes. The Ur Priest, which The Word can use as if he had all 10 levels of it thanks to his “Recall Class Features” ability of the Emancipated Spawn class, takes as its caster level half the sum of all other caster levels. In this case, that's half of eight times 28, which is 112, plus a base caster level of 10. So The Word casts all Arcane Spells at level 28, and all Divine spells at level one hundred and twenty-two.

This trick sounds fishy to me - it appears to be adding caster levels together, but the class features of Ur-priest and Sublime Chord both reference levels in spellcasting classes, which isn't the same thing. For reference, here are the descriptions of how to calculate Ur-priest and Sublime Chord's caster levels, from their class descriptions:

  • Ur-Priest (Complete Divine, p. 70):

To determine the caster level of an ur-priest, add the character's ur-priest levels to one-half of his levels in other spellcasting classes.

  • Sublime Chord (Complete Arcane. p. 60):

A sublime chord's caster level for both her sublime chord spells and the spells she gains from other arcane spellcasting classes is determined by adding her sublime chord level to her level in another arcane spellcasting class. If she had more than one arcane spellcasting class before becoming a sublime chord, she must choose to which class to add her sublime chord levels for the purpose of determining her sublime chord spellcaster level.

This caster level trick is at the core of The Word's effectiveness. Does it actually work?


(Note: There are many other things about The Word that are extremely cheesy, like stacking multiple Orange Ioun Stones, and getting more than 20 levels of class features by voluntarily getting yourself killed by a Shadow and then taking levels of Emancipated Spawn. As questionable as those are, I'm assuming they're fine for the purposes of this question; I'm just asking about the caster level trick.)

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The Wish and The Word is a theoretical optimization (TO) exercise. That means it is not intended to be played at all, it is intended purely to experiment and play with the system’s rules. It also means that it is operating under the most-favorable-conceivable interpretations of RAW. And there is a... conceivable argument for each point in The Word. Many of them are dubious, even form a TO perspective, because it is really pushing the envelope.

Stacking multiple orange ioun stones

This is an extremely dubious interpretation of the rules, and wide consensus is against it. Certainly, I do not recommend ever allowing it in your game.

However, ultimately, this comes down to a question of what it means for something to be “the same source.” The rules prevent untyped bonuses from stacking when they come from the same source, but it’s not exactly clear what that means. Most people argue it’s when the source is the same sort of thing, usually hinging on whether or not it has the same name. Two orange ioun stones are two of the same thing, so their bonuses are from the same source.

The opposite argument, used by The Word, is that two orange ioun stones are two different physical objects, i.e. not the same source at all. This is rather dubious—after all, the explicit example of same-source failure to stack is the same spell cast twice. Using two of the same item is rather similar to casting the same spell twice.

For what it’s worth, “The Sage” Q&A column ruled against multiple orange ioun stones—as noted in our own Q&A on the subject of the FAQ, Wizards of the Coast’s “rules clarification” channels are notoriously unreliable, and that includes the Sage, but nonetheless, it’s worth knowing the answer exists.

Sublime chord caster level

Yes, the sublime chord can effectively “reset” one’s caster level in a number of arcane spellcasting classes, because it specifies that all of your arcane spells, both sublime chord spells and “the spells she gains from other arcane spellcasting classes” use the indicated formula, based on sublime chord level and level in one other arcane spellcasting class.

The big favorable interpretation here is that The Wish is counting other prestige classes that increase her caster level with wizard spells as counting towards her wizard level for the purposes of her global arcane caster level. That is, when sublime chord sets the caster level of all her arcane spells to \$L_\text{wizard} + L_\text{sublime chord}\$, she is treating \$L_\text{wizard}\$ as being equal to her wizard class level plus any prestige class levels that advance wizard spellcasting, and treating \$L_\text{sublime chord}\$ as being equal to not just her sublime chord level, but also any levels in prestige classes that are advancing sublime chord level.

This is doubtful, by RAW, because sublime chord refers to “levels in class” rather than any kind of “effective spellcasting level” or similar. That said, a most-favorable interpretation could include them, claiming that those prestige classes all say something like “these levels stack with those levels for the purposes of caster level.”

Unlike the multiple orange ioun stones, this one is a pretty common interpretation, even when not engaging in a TO exercise. However, and this is important, that goes out the window when you start abusing it—the sublime chord wording is a mess and is really counter-intuitive and confusing, so as long as no one’s being abusive, most people just let it work. When you start pulling shenanigans, though, people are usually going to get a lot more strict.

Ur-priest caster level

Ur-priest is similar to the sublime chord, and uses a similar mechanic to determine its caster level. Again, we are adding together the levels of other spellcasting classes to determine the sublime chord caster level. Unlike sublime chord, ur-priest does not set those class’s spells to the same value it uses itself. But also unlike sublime chord, ur-priest adds all those classes together, rather than just one of them.

The Word is using this to basically multiply her arcane caster level by the number of arcane classes she has, and then using half that product to determine her ur-priest caster level. That’s the whole gimmick.

The dubious part here is using “caster level” when ur-priest says “one-half his levels in other spellcasting classes.” Unlike the situation where prestige classes explicitly say they stack with class levels for the purpose of caster level, sublime chord setting the caster level does not say that. In fact, it actually says that it is those spells that use this calculation for caster level. Because that’s one of the dirty little secrets of D&D 3.5e—spells have caster levels, not spellcasters. Spellcasters have the caster level used by their spells (usually equal to their class level), it’s technically not “their caster level.”

However, we can make an abusive argument to get around this. This basically doesn’t fly unless you are trying really, really hard to convince yourself it does. Basically, we are going back to the wording on those prestige classes: they specify that those levels stack with the other class levels for the purpose of caster level. Since we are talking about caster level here, everything here is “for the purpose of caster level,” even if indirectly.

So now we are arguing that the sublime chord doesn’t just set the number used by other classes’ arcane spells, but actually setting those spells to use the entire stack of prestige class levels. As a result, sublime chord doesn’t set, say, the caster level of a bard spell to \$X\$, but sets it to \$\left(L_\text{wizard} + \sum{L_\text{prestige}}\right) + \left(L_\text{sublime chord} + \sum{L_\text{prestige}}\right)\$, treated “symbolically” if you will. And as a result, your “levels in other spellcasting classes” isn’t just the 1 level you’ve actually got—it’s the stack of levels that sublime chord set those spells to use, because those all stack with her class level “for the purpose of caster level.”

This argument is, basically, absurd. It requires, basically, wanting this result and twisting your head around any possible justification. But that can be what TO is.

Conclusion

If you buy those three arguments, they lead directly to The Word. So that is how you get to that point. It is what it is. I wouldn’t honestly worry about it too much.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm idly curious. Does it matter that when The Word hits the table, he has no ur-priest levels? I never quite figured out how the extraordinary ability recall class features works with class features that the character literally doesn't possess. I mean, if the recall class features ability really works that way, why go to all this trouble? Just say The Word was whatever and make up stuff! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jan 30 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I have to do more digging on that front; I’ve probably only scratched the surface on this mess. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 31 at 3:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Elindor Since you’ve deleted your answer, I cannot reply there, but for what it’s worth: I am very sorry to have given you such a negative impression. I certainly have not been intending to do so, or to single you out for criticism or a hard time. It probably would have been better to just post my answer, you’re right; I tend to prefer to indicate why I’m downvoting when it’s a particular address-able issue, but ultimately as I got more into it it became more and more a matter of “my answer’s right and yours is wrong,” which is the wrong way to do things. My apologies. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 31 at 3:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Elindor For what it’s worth, though, the back-and-forth with you is what led to this answer, and helped me articulate these points. I appreciate that. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 31 at 3:03
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It won't work. The ioun stones increase caster level, not class level.

We're presumably all in agreement as to the definitions of class level and caster level (D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook p.22 and p.171). A special ability may increase your caster level without increasing your actual class level.

The orange prism ioun stone has this effect: "+1 caster level", with no further explanation as to how this works for multiclass spellcasters. It's this lack of detail that is being exploited by The Word, a character with one level each in multiple arcane spellcasting classes, and which relies on three specific rules interpretations:

  • That a single ioun stone increases your caster level in every class, not just the one you're currently using to cast
  • That multiple ioun stones stack
  • That the combination of Ur-Priest and Sublime Chord allows caster levels to stack

If any one of these violates the rules, the character concept fails.

Does an ioun stone affect every class?

Unclear. The description says only "+1 caster level". However, this is usually a moot point, since caster level is only relevant when casting a spell, and you're always casting a spell with a specific class.

Do multiple ioun stones stack?

Yes. As per the D&D 3.5 FAQ, page 62, on this very item, stacking is discouraged, but within the rules as written:

Can a character benefit from multiple nightsticks (Libris Mortis 78) or multiple orange prism ioun stones (DMG 260)?

Neither of these items provides extra bonuses in multiples. The rules for stacking (Rules Compendium 21) do not allow untyped bonuses to stack if they come from the same source. However, this does lead to an interesting question: Could a character use a nightstick and then grab a second nightstick to use? The Sage recommends Dungeon Masters limit the nightstick and similar items to one a day.

The Sage discourages DMs from allowing multiple of the same item, but there's no actual rule-as-written which forbids using multiple of the same item to stack an untyped bonus with that item. The Rules Compendium p.21 is clear that:

Untyped bonuses stack unless the bonuses come from the same effect.

And here the Sage interprets this to mean that two identical or similar items don't count as the same effect. Rules Compendium p.137 is clear that "a bonus that has no type stacks with any other bonus", and page 87 declares that "item effects stack just as spells do".

And, as per FAQ p.43 on a character who receives a caster level bonus from a feat, it is stated that bonus caster levels can be applied as the player finds most beneficial:

The bonus from Practiced Spellcaster applies whenever it would be most beneficial to the caster.

On this point, rules-as-written, The Word has a valid argument that they should be allowed to use 18 orange prism ioun stones.

Can Ur-Priest stack caster levels?

No. This is where The Word falls apart.

The Ur-Priest's caster level is equal to their Ur-Priest level plus half their levels in other spellcasting classes. The Sublime Chord's caster level is equal to their Sublime Chord class levels plus their level in one other arcane spellcasting class. To quote the original article:

The Ur Priest, which The Word can use as if he had all 10 levels of it thanks to his “Recall Class Features” ability of the Emancipated Spawn class, takes as its caster level half the sum of all other caster levels.

This statement is based on an inaccurate reading of the rules! the Ur Priest takes as its caster level half the sum of all other class levels, not caster levels.

The 18 orange prism ioun stones do not give class levels, they only give caster levels. A level 10 Ur-Priest / level 1 Sorcerer can't declare himself a 19th level Sorcerer and use half of those levels toward his Ur-Priest spellcasting, because the ioun stones only boost caster level, and Ur-Priest only adds class levels.

Even stacking both Ur-Priest and Sublime Chord at all has one problem: You apply bonuses in the most beneficial order, but this implies that there has to be an order. Either you're casting as an Ur-Priest, and adding your Sublime Chord level and half your other spellcasting classes' levels, or casting as a Sublime Chord, in which case you add your levels from any one class. You are casting any given spell as one class or the other, and may choose the most beneficial order, but you must choose.

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The Word's caster level trick works only by consistently reading level as caster level instead of as class level

The question acknowledges that much of what is relied upon by the Word—a character available here that was originally created as theoretical exercise for a Most Powerful Character contest on the now-defunct Wizards of the Coast messageboards—is now perhaps a little suspect, but the question is concerned only with the Word's technique of caster level stacking. That works, but it requires reading two classes' spells class features in one very specific way.

The Word and sublime chord

The Wiki article says, "The [prestige class s]ublime [c]hord resets all of [a creature's] arcane caster levels to the sum of all of [the creature's] arcane caster levels," and, while that could be phrased a little better, it's accurate enough. Here's the important part of the sublime chord spells class feature:

A sublime chord’s caster level for both her sublime chord spells and the spells she gains from other arcane spellcasting classes is determined by adding her sublime chord level to her level in another arcane spellcasting class. If she had more than one arcane spellcasting class before becoming a sublime chord, she must choose to which class to add her sublime chord levels for the purpose of determining her sublime chord spellcaster level. (Complete Arcane 61)

So let's say a creature is—like the Word—a bard 1/sorcerer 1/warmage 1/wizard 1/wu jen 1/assassin 1/emancipated spawn 2/mage of the Arcane Order 9/Suel arcanamach 1/sublime chord 1 that applies 9 times to the prestige class sublime chord the class feature +1 level of existing arcane spellcasting class of the prestige class mage of the arcane order. (That's legit, by the way. The prestige class sublime chord casts its own spells so the mage of the Arcane Order class feature +1 level of existing arcane spellcasting class can totally be applied to the casting of the prestige class sublime chord.)

Doing this gives the creature with its sublime chord spells both a minimum caster level of 11 (1 level of the sublime chord prestige class + 9 effective levels via mage of the Arcane Order prestige class +1 level via any of the creature's other arcane casting classes) and the spells per day of a level 10 sublime chord. (This, not incidentally, enables the Word also to cast 9th-level arcane spells, just like the article says.)

This creature still has only one actual, for-reals class level in the prestige class sublime chord, but the vagueness of the sublime chord's class feature spells—"A sublime chord’s caster level for both her sublime chord spells and the spells she gains from other arcane spellcasting classes is determined by adding her sublime chord level to her level in another arcane spellcasting class" (emphasis mine)—means that because the game doesn't make a distinction here between sublime chord caster level and sublime chord class level, the reader must.

Now, I assume most folks read that as class level, but instead reading that as caster level means that the creature adds 10 to each of its other classes that cast arcane spells to determine those classes' caster levels: bard, sorcerer, warmage, wizard, wu jen, assassin, and Suel arcanamach. This usually wouldn't be a big deal—"Yay, my color spray is at caster level 11!"—, but this becomes a big deal if reading this way consistently… and that's precisely what happens.

The Word and ur-priest

The important part of the ur-priest prestige class's class feature spells says, "To determine the caster level of an ur-priest, add the character’s ur-priest levels to one-half of his levels in other spellcasting classes" (Complete Divine 70 and emphasis mine).

Again, I suspect most folks read this as class levels, but if this, too, is read as caster levels—and because here again the game doesn't make a distinction so the reader must—, the creature sums all those caster levels (that's a total of 88 caster levels, by the way) and applies half of that to the creature's 10 ur-priest caster level for an ur-priest caster level of 54.

Then the creature takes out 17 orange prism ioun stones (DMG 260) (30,000 gp; 0 lbs.) and Pun-pun wipes the creature from existence.


Note: This is an answer that attempts to address only the question and address it at its most elemental, ignoring, for example, whether the effects of multiple orange prism ioun stones stack (which the question's author has already said is cheesy) or whether the extraordinary ability recall class features of the Savage Species prestige class emancipated spawn (75-7) can recall the class features of a class the spawn no longer possesses levels in.

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