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The first iteration of this race can be found here. This is the second iteration of this race, due to excellent feedback by "Hey I Can Chan".

Could everyone please evaluate the below race in terms of balance issues? I am trying to keep it at ECL 0 but some of the qualities while minor are a bit difficult to evaluate when combined.

Sidhelien (Elf)

  • Ability: -2 Strength, +2 Dexterity, -2 Constitution, +2 Intelligence, +2 Charisma.

  • Size: Medium

  • Speed: 30 feet.

  • Immunity (1): To magic sleep spells and a +2 racial saving throw bonus against Enchantment spells & effects.

  • Immunity (2): To normal disease and +2 racial saving throw bonus against magical disease spells & effects.

  • Senses (1): Low-light Vision.

  • Senses (2): +2 racial bonus on Listen, Search, and Spot checks. Do NOT gain the automatic search check within 5’ that standard Player’s Handbook elves receive.

  • Weapons: Proficient with longsword, shortbow, longbow, composite longbow, and composite shortbow.

  • Sleep: Elves do not require sleep (but can do an elven version if they desire it). Instead they need to only rest (light activities such as keeping watch) for the same amount of time as a human sleeps (eight hours).

  • Timeless: Immortal (in regards to aging). Note: Player characters do not suffer penalties or receive bonuses from aging. NPC's still receive bonuses. (This is to prevent any deliberate min-maxing by players)

  • Nature Stride: May move in natural terrain without leaving any tracks as per the Pass Without Trace Spell and with their normal movement rate and without suffering any damage or penalty.

  • Automatic Language: Sidhelien. Bonus Languages : Draconic, Dwarven, Giant, Goblin, Orog (Orc), Sylvan.

  • Favored Class: Choose any one arcane spellcasting class (Bard, Sorcerer, Wizard). *Note: In our table we allow free multi-classing and I would generally encourage other tables the same.

  • Alignment Restriction: Must follow a non-lawful alignment. A Sidhe who becomes lawful stops earning XP until they revert to a non-lawful alignment.

  • Infamous Reputation (Alien Mein)**: Sidhelien receive a -4 racial penalty to Diplomacy and Gather Information and a +4 racial bonus to Intimidate. I am open to suggestions here. In Birthright this flaw is to reflect the fact that Sidhelien have waged war against practically everyone. In other settings I want this to reflect the Sidhelien being somewhat alien. Would reducing both the penalties and bonus to -2,-2 & +2 be appropriate? or can it be reflected some other way?

  • Soulless (1): Cannot be raised by Raise Dead or Resurrection, only by a Wish or Miracle same as Outsiders. Optional Rule:- If a DM wishes to allow Raise Dead or Ressurection then the Sidhe must pay an additional XP cost of 1/10 of the Sidhe's current XP (after being raised) or the party (not counting the Dead Sidhelien) may pay the XP cost, dividing it evenly amongst themselves.

  • Soulless (2): Cannot be a member of classes which channel Divine power such as clerics, druids or paladins. May become a non-spellcasting variant of a ranger.

The experienced ones among you might recognise this race as a conversion of the elves in the 2E Campaign Setting "Birthright". I've always preferred this version of elves over others as they seem more "Tolkien-esque" then the ones in the PHB. Immortal, Not needing to sleep, moving without trace etc. I've used them in 3.5 Birthright games but want to use them in other settings (being a planar traveller or something) so was concerned about balance issues. (Let me put it this way: In Birthright Halflings could basically Detect Evil/Undead/Magic at will and use Dimension Door or Shadow Walk three times a week.)

Race Details & Changes From Normal Elves:

Bonuses:

  • They have an unbalanced ability bonus (3x +2 attributes and 2x -2 attributes) but according to the DMG on page 173, a Strength penalty is worth a bonus to Intelligence AND Charisma while Dexterity and Constitution are given equal weight.
  • They are immune to normal disease and slightly resistant to magical disease. My personal experience in games is that normal disease was never a problem for characters so I don't think the immunity is an big advantage. The resistance to magical disease might be but I don't know how much to weigh the +2 bonus.
  • They do not gain the automatic search check that normal elves receive. My personal experience... this is not a big penalty at all (or an advantage for that matter).
  • Not requiring sleep: In all honesty I do not know exactly how to weigh this. While Sidhelien do not need to sleep or trance they do require rest for the full eight hours a human does (not four hours like ordinary elves), on the other hand how often does this come up in games? This is a bit difficult to evaluate for me because the ability to NOT SLEEP / TRANCE at all could be problematic for some.
  • Immortality, this is almost pure fluff as I have never seen any character/campaign last long enough for age penalties/bonuses without a timeskip where we also prepare their replacement characters. Due to suggestion it was made clear that Age Bonuses should only effect NPC's.
  • Nature Stride, this is perhaps the most obvious and biggest boost. The Sidhelien get what is effectively a 1st level spell and also the ability to ignore terrain penalties in natural environments but is it worth a level adjustment?

Penalties:

  • As per the Birthright setting, Sidhelien are fairly chaotic and cannot be lawful at all.
  • Again as per the Birthright setting, Sidhelien cannot be members of divine classes and practically never worship deities (They are all faithless...).
  • Infamous Reputation: This came from 3.0 BRCS (a fan-made conversion of 2E Birthright) as a way to give penalties to the Sidhelien race. In 3.0 BRCS, this was justified as the Sidhelien had waged war against practically every humanoid race. As I intend to use a character of this race in other settings I was going to change the justification to Sidhelien being a bit in-human that despite being humanoid there was just something in the way they moved, spoke and behaved that was a bit alien that struck people as intimidating because they otherwise looked normal. However I am VERY open to suggestions here.
  • Resurrect like Outsiders, partly to simulate Tolkien and partly to reflect certain revelations that came in one of the last splat books for Birthright. This is a penalty if your group handles character death strictly.
  • Note: The reason for the lack of divine magic and being difficult to ressurect is that in Birthright, Sidhelien are basically HALF a race which was split ages ago into two. The Sidhelien got Arcane Magic and live in the material world while the other race got Divine Magic and live in the 'Fey' world. Both are 'Timeless' in their own world but mortal in the others. (This is partly why I am against easy ressurection, whenever a Sidhe dies a member of the other race dies as well, the opposite is true too and also the same for births).

So is the race balanced for ECL 0?

I know it's on the high end for ECL 0 (and definitely better than normal elves, but I don't see normal elves being that popular for their abilities - they are more popular for being elves). That being said, if you really think they need further penalties are needed, then could you please consider the following:

  1. Breaking Nature Stride into two abilities and delaying them to 3rd (No Terrain Penalty) and 5th level (Pass without trace) of whichever class the Sidhelien PC takes?

  2. Beneficial Divine Spells cast on you function suffer a penalty of 2 Caster level. If this lowers the caster level below the minimum required for the spell, the spell fails to affect the character. This does not apply towards Druid spells (due to nature connection).

If the above are not suitable, then any ideas would be welcome.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Timeless benefiting NPC's but not PC's creates a logical inconsistency. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 5, 2019 at 22:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, but in my last version I was warned against letting players benefit from 'Timeless' as it would encourage them to create characters who are already extremely old for stat boosts. In our table games It's not much of an issue as we are not allowed to create such characters without an extremely good background and reason otherwise we get asked questions as why your level 1 character is 800+ of years old but I was told to make it more clear for other games/tables. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sarethus
    Jul 7, 2019 at 8:40

2 Answers 2

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This class seems perfectly fine balance-wise, but it may need some polish. I'll list out the race's attributes and my take on them.

Ability Scores

While these ability scores are technically unbalanced, I see no problem with them. You mention the penalty to Strength being a balancing factor, but the more relevant penalty by far is Constitution. Everyone wants Constitution, so a penalty to it is a hefty price to pay. A good set of bonuses is an elegant way to offset it.

Immunities

Your immunities and saving throw bonuses are good. I would advise a slight shift in wording, however, to specify that the Sidheilen are immune to all sleep spells and effects, and that they have a bonus against all supernatural diseases. A strict reading of the ability as currently written would preclude any resistance to a psionic disease or to a nonmagical sleeping poison.

Senses, Weapons

All good here - sticking in line with the racial abilities given to Elves.

Sleep

I'm confused by the wording of "Elves do not require sleep (but can do an elven version if they desire it)." Without specification of what an elven version of sleep entails, it's a meaningless statement. I would strongly advise changing the wording to reflect that eight hours of light rest can grant all the regular bonuses of sleep, including allowing spellcasters and psionic manifesters to regain spells or power points. Then just indicate that the Sidhelien don't sleep.

Timeless

I would strongly advise not putting a disparity between NPCs and PCs. Just take away an ability score gain from all members of the race. Very old Sidhelien will already have higher ability scores from leveling up, or you can just ad-hoc a higher mental ability score onto certain NPC elders if you really need them. As-is, this could cause all sorts of ravenous nitpicking over edge cases like cohorts and thralls.

In other words, given how it's already a niche on top of a niche, just take away any mention of what NPCs get. It's like giving your players a peek behind the DM screen and makes the ability description needlessly cluttered.

Nature Stride

Cool, flavorful ability. Given how most parties are quite diversely made, I don't think this is anything of a balance concern either. Sure, you can't track the Sidhelien, but you can track his human buddy who wears full plate.

Languages

Include that the race can speak common. And if you don't think the race should be able to speak common, I strongly suggest that you reconsider.

Infamous Reputation

I like the idea behind this, but I think it needs some tweaking. First, I would suggest that the penalties and bonuses not apply to others of the same race. Perhaps it may even be best to make it only apply against non-Sidhelien humanoids - I doubt, for instance, that a troglodyte or a pit fiend would find anything specifically offputting about this race.

Perhaps remove or reduce the bonus to Intimidate, too. This class as-written would make a very good combat demoralizer build thanks to this ability combined with the bonuses to Intelligence and Charisma. Maybe that's something you want, but I would personally see it as being quite off-flavor.

Soulless

I'll reiterate my previous note about letting the players peek around the DM screen. Either remove the optional rule entirely or make sure it's included somewhere seperate from the race listing.

I, for one, entirely support letting the race just not be eligible for raise dead. However, in the case that the DM is afraid of the character staying permanently dead, I don't think the additional XP cost makes much sense. Either allow revival spells or don't; trying to strike a middle ground just sticks out.

Soulless (2)

I would advise changing up your wording here to be a bit less restrictive to edge cases of classes that use very little divine magic. As-written, the race would not be able to take levels in something like Factotum despite the class using hardly any divine magic. Perhaps it could instead be worded as such:

"Sidhlien are completely separated from divine forces. As such, members of this race cannot cast divine spells or use the Supernatural abilities of any class that can cast divine spells. They also cannot use any abilities that are specified as using divine power."

The last sentence is strapped on to cover the edge case of the Crusader, a class that uses divine magic without technically casting divine spells.

Final Remarks

This race is perfectly well balanced and is nowhere close to needing a level adjustment. LAs are a sledgehammer approach that can cripple a race, and there are significantly stronger races without any kind of LA to speak of. While this race is probably stronger than a Grey Elf, that's not a terribly high bar to begin with. The Con penalty and Infamous Reputation keep it solidly in line with published races.

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Some outliers, and otherwise underwhelming

The ability scores, the alignment restriction, the PC/NPC disparity on aging, the limitations on raising, and the prohibition on divine classes are weird features that are out of keeping with the design precedents set by Wizards of the Coast. Some of those are more important than others, but they all warrant a closer look. A couple of them—most notably the alignment and divine issues—are very serious problems.

There are also some minor wording and formatting issues. The whole “(1)” “(2)” thing is awkward and I don’t recommend it.

Other than those things, the race doesn’t have a lot going for it. LA +0 races often don’t have much going for them—the half-elf and half-orc, say, are laughable even compared to this—but the good ones do. There doesn’t seem like much here to really sink one’s teeth into, that says “oooh, that’d be interesting in combination with X,” or “ah, this would be really good for Y.” Whether or not that’s important to you is personal opinion, but it’s definitely something that a lot of players are looking for, and without finding it, seek out some other race to play as.

Yes, you are correct that this race is probably better than elf—it’s pretty well established that elves are pretty bad. But aside from the bonuses to Intelligence and Charisma, nothing here is terribly exciting, certainly not worth putting up with the problems and accepting the lack of anything more exciting. You’d only ever bother with it for a bard, sorcerer, or wizard, most likely. Maybe an artificer, and at a stretch perhaps factotum if that’s allowed. That’s pretty limited.

So I’d really prefer they have net-0 modifiers, and something more unique and interesting to be all their own, that might make you actually look at a wide variety of classes differently if you’re a sidhelien. Not many official races manage that, of course, but the best—and most popular—ones do.

Ability Scores

You have a net +2 ability modifier: that’s not really an LA +0 thing. People differ on how important they think this is—and there are some... very dubious official examples (e.g. Player’s Guide to Faerûn’s lesser planetouched, Savage Species’s anthropomorphic animals) where this rule isn’t followed, but personally, I think it’s pretty important, and do not like LA +0 races with any net ability modifiers.

Also, Strength is the least important ability score. I know the Dungeon Master’s Guide calls it the most valuable, and the Player’s Handbook gives half-orcs a −4 penalty to offset the +2 to Strength they get, but Wizards of the Coast was simply wrong. Melee characters may be concerned with Strength, but they can always use Weapon Finesse if they like, and everyone else absolutely doesn’t care about the score much at all.

On the other hand, when speaking of penalties, Constitution is the most notable one, and you’ve got that too, so the idea is still there. A −2 penalty to Constitution is a serious drawback, and a +2 to anything else more-or-less fails to offset it.

But one of the quirks of the system is that it’s really hard to find a +2 to Intelligence or Charisma without a −2 to Constitution. That means if you want that starting 20 in either score, you’re looking at taking that Constitution penalty. Again, there are some exceptions, but for the most part it’s true, and those exceptions deserve a critical look themselves even if Wizards did write them.

If we assume that the norm is that a +2 Int or +2 Cha comes with −2 Con, getting both, on a race that has a net +2 overall, is a big deal. Those +2 Int-or-Cha/−2 Con races aren’t super-popular, but they see play—because Intelligence-based and Charisma-based characters are some of the most powerful in the system.

Which is basically where I land on this: this race is looking like the choice for a starting 20 in Intelligence or Charisma. There basically isn’t any competition for it. That’s a bit niche, but not so niche, so I have concerns about this being centralizing.

Immunities

Sleep immunity is nice, though not amazing. Disease immunity is meh. Obviously these are non-negative, but they’re not much in the “pro” column.

“Immunities (1)” and “Immunities (2)” is ugly and awkward, in my opinion. Either give them names, just call them “Immunities” and lump them together, or—following the official precedent—leave them without names.

Senses

A big shrug. Low-light vision is better than nothing but only so much (and very campaign dependent because a whole lot of DMs just don’t bother with the whole light minigame; it’s fairly complex to play out on paper). The skill bonuses are small.

The same naming concerns apply to these as Immunities.

Weapons

Elven proficiencies are nice, but almost everyone who is ever going to make a weapon attack is going to get these proficiencies and more from their class. Mostly a low-level convenience for wizards and sorcerers (who are, admittedly, fairly likely candidates for this class).

Sleep

Probably best off just copying the wording from the Player’s Handbook on this. Also, you should probably highlight that it’s different from the elven version in that the same 8 hours are required, rather than 4 as elves require.

Timeless

Ditch the PC/NPC dichotomy; it’s not adding anything, and it’s not something this system does. PCs and NPCs follow the same rules for almost everything (the only exceptions are things specific to adventuring, e.g. XP and the treasure that adventurers find).

There are timeless races out there: they fall into one of three camps:

  1. they don’t take the aging penalties or gain aging bonuses at all. (e.g. elan)
  2. they take both the aging penalties and gain the aging bonuses, they just don’t die of old age. (e.g. warforged)
  3. they gain the aging bonuses, but don’t take the aging penalties (e.g. Dragonwrought kobolds)

Version 3 is the only one with a balance concern. Version 3 is, legitimately, a big balance concern, and you shouldn’t allow that (you saw how concerned I was about a +2 net modifier; try making it +11 and see how that goes)—it’s absurd that Races of the Dragon did (and astonishingly, the book explicitly states that this is a feature and not a bug).

But you can still easily choose 1 or 2 without any concerns whatsoever about balance. Maximum life is—in almost every campaign ever—an entirely fluff concern. Adventures play out over weeks or months, not years, in almost all cases. Birthright might encourage some of those longer campaigns, but there are plenty of ways for powerful characters to stave off death if it really comes down to it. And, for that matter, the venerable modifiers are generally not considered optimal—mostly because −6 Constitution is seen as more than a bit suicidal by most adventurers, no matter how much they’d like +3 to their mental scores.

(Necropolitan from Libris Mortis is an easy way out of this problem—and out of the race’s own −2 Constitution for that matter—but that template is pretty well overpowered and that’s not really relevant to the analysis of this race.)

Nature Stride

You should indicate if this is an extraordinary or supernatural ability—it being based on pass without trace makes it seem plausibly magical, so it’s worth noting. That said, it’s probably easier to just copy the druid’s woodland stride and trackless step features. There’s some precedent for that, since the Oriental Adventures bamboo spirit folk get trackless step.¹

  1. Note that the arcane hierophant is a somewhat popular prestige class that has a requirement “Special: Trackless step class feature.” Some people have argued that bamboo spirit folk meet this requirement, and some DMs have allowed that. Insisting on it as a “class feature” is an exceedingly fine hair to split, and not something the editing standards at Wizards of the Coast would generally support. But, as written anyway, it doesn’t work and it’s not a concern. I only mention it because if you add another race that gets trackless step, you might run into players asking the same question. Personally, I’m not really opposed to allowing it—it’s a fairly awkward requirement anyway and the arcane hierophant isn’t really good enough to justify it—but be ready for the question.

Languages

Absolutely include Common as an automatic language.

Favored Class

Yes, your table allows free multiclassing: so does almost every table. The multiclass XP penalty is probably the single most unpopular rule in the entire system and almost no one uses it—and absolutely no one should, since it was a bad idea that doesn’t really achieve what it set out to do—which was itself also a bad idea to begin with.

But that being the case, it’s probably not worth making this longer than it has to be. Just pick a favored class and assign it, and don’t make this space take up more room than it has to.

Alignment Restriction

Wrong.

I’m sorry, that’s rude, but this is simply incorrect by the rules of the system. Races—creatures generally—are not alignment restricted. Even demons and devils can change alignment—if literal evil incarnate can be good, if literal chaos-incarnate can be lawful, so can these sidhelien.

Infamous Reputation (Alien Mien)

(I think you should probably just pick one name, personally, unless “infamous reputation” is going to be a recurring thing across several different races/classes/whatevers.)

Anyway, “everyone dislikes them because of the historical relations between their peoples” is really more of a thing that should be handled at the level of NPCs starting attitudes and such, rather than skill modifiers. Possibly it’s worth noting that NPCs may have worse starting attitudes than they would with other races, but I note that Wizards of the Coast did not do that, and instead this kind of thing was a roleplaying concern that was explained in the race’s long description, and not included in the bullet points. See, for example, the half-orc description in the Player’s Handbook. I’d probably opt for that.

But if you really want it to be mechanical, these bonuses and penalties are appropriate. You’re going to want to make sure the penalties overcome the race’s bonus to Charisma—and I’ll note here that penalties to Charisma are one way that Wizards of the Coast noted this kind of issue, and as silly as that winds up being in many cases, that is the precedent and applying a “penalty” in the form of not giving the race +2 Charisma would be appropriate.

Soulless (1)

Ew, split-level parties being encouraged? Please don’t. Don’t go mucking about with XP; the system already does far too much of that.

Anyway, this feature is awkward even ignoring the optional rule.

First of all, as written, you have a discrepancy between “only by a Wish or Miracle” and “same as Outsiders” since those two statements do not match one another. The outsider type lists limited wish and true resurrection alongside miracle and wish, and other spells after the Player’s Handbook can also do it, such as revive outsider (raise dead but for outsiders, 6th-level conjuration, 5000-gp diamond component, Spell Compendium). You should—if you want to continue along this vein—just say that they can only be raised from the dead by spells that are capable of raising an outsider from the dead.

But more importantly, this doesn’t really capture the fluff you’re describing. What you really want is to require that they be raised in parallel with their “other half.” Can’t have one without the other, etc. So just say that: say you have to coordinate with someone in the fey realm who is raising their counterpart at the same time you are, effectively requiring them to be raised twice (and forcing you to manage the coordination, which is no mean feat at 7th (reincarnate) or 9th level (raise dead). Then you can say that more powerful spells that can raise outsiders can work without requiring the coordination. (And, I guess, raise both? It’s not clear how this would work.)

Finally, again with the naming thing, per Immunities above, except now I’m also confused by the name “soulless”—how literally am I to take that? That could have a lot of ramifications here. Is this race immune to trap the soul? For that matter, how does it even work, what animates them? Warforged are maybe soulless, maybe, but a lot of the questions are answered by what they are (constructs) and the question is really only whether or not they have their own souls, as opposed to just elementals bound to their frame that provide animation.

Soulless (2)

This is extremely awkward and something the system just doesn’t do well. Unlike the edition you’re adapting from, in 3.x no race is barred from any class. It’s just not a thing, and that’s a pretty significant part of the system’s identity. This isn’t quite as “flat wrong” as the alignment restriction, but it is very out of keeping with all precedent and stated design constraints.

Instead, you want to block them from doing certain things. If you can’t have a domain, turn or rebuke undead, or cast divine spells, taking a level of cleric makes no sense (it’s literally worse than an NPC class) and no one will do it (probably), but it will be much more in keeping with the game as a whole. It also allows you to avoid weird corner cases, like banning the entire factotum class because of one feature that lets them fake being a priest and turn undead a little.

This is also important because it gets at the heart of the problem here: It’s simply not clear what precisely the race is lacking that prevents them from accessing divine power. You need more details here to make it clearer, so that players and DMs know where the line is exactly. For instance, the karsite race has

Spellcasting Inability: A karsite cannot cast arcane or divine spells, even if he takes levels in a class that grants spellcasting ability. He can use spell-like abilities, psionic powers, and magic items normally.

(Tome of Magic, pg. 85)

That doesn’t cover everything you want it to, at a guess, but it’s very clear on what you cannot do as a karsite, which is cast spells. Well, technically, they can cast spells if they are neither arcane nor divine—which describes artificer infusions, so there is a corner case there that the authors of Tome of Magic may not have anticipated.

Which brings us to my final point here: 3.x has way, way more sources of magical power than just arcane and divine. Splitting the race that way... doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I have a whole lot of questions:

  • Who gets psionics?
  • Who can make pacts? (Does being “soulless” prevent “soul binding” altogether?)
  • For that matter, what about the Book of Exalted Deeds vows, can sidheliens make those?
  • Where do artificer infusions fall?
  • How about warlock invocations, are those arcane enough to be sidhelien-only?
    • If so, what about dragonfire adept invocations—those too?
      • And if so, are dragon shaman auras in the same boat?
        • And if so, are marshal auras? What if a marshal gets a dragon aura?
  • Ki, as used by monks and ninjas?
  • Blade “magic”? What about when it’s actually magical, as in the supernatural maneuvers, does that change anything?
  • The whole smörgåsbord of various spell-like and supernatural abilities frequently handed out by classes that are not clearly divine or arcane?
  • What if the other race that got the “divine” side becomes a half-dragon, does their stuff still work considering dragons are kinda-sorta inherently arcane?

I feel like working this race into 3.x and trying to capture this “split” is going to require a bit more thinking on your part on where exactly you want the line to be. And that means determining more about what each race is actually lacking. If it’s a connection to the gods... clerics of ideals are a thing in 3.x. If it’s a connection to the “divine,” well, what exactly does that mean? Maybe what you want is something like

Sidhelien do not gain any class features that would be lost if they became an ex-member of that class. This does not make them ex-members of that class, and does not prevent them from gaining more levels in that class, but they “lose” (never gain) class features as if they were ex-members of that class. This makes many classes, especially divine classes, very poor—and very rare—choices for sidhelien.

Though IIRC there are some non-divine classes that will get nailed by this. Still, it might be the best rule-of-thumb available.

The opposite race will be even worse, I suspect. What does it mean to be cut off from the “arcane,” I mean, the arcane is kind of just reality, the word literally just means “secrets” and arcane magic is supposed to just be a matter of knowing a secret “cheat code” to reality that gets it to do what you want. Is the opposite race unable to have that knowledge? Or does the cheat code just fail for them? And does it include stuff like bardic music? That’s magical, and bard’s a class that’s got arcane spells, but it’s not at all clear to me that the magic of their music is arcane. (And what about divine bards?) And then just... every spell-like or supernatural ability from any class that isn’t explicitly divine is going to be suspect.

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