It is commonly said that epic spellcasting in D&D 3.5e is broken. What are some examples of broken epic spellcasters?

Available options I've read about include things like chain-gating solars to mitigate infinity-DC spells. But even the naivest, most RAW-abiding DM would not let that fly.

Say we had a naive, RAW-abiding DM who is not an idiot. They might overlook an item like dust of sneezing and choking, but they won't miss candles of invocation.

Under such a DM, epic spellcasting seems (on the front) difficult to pull off. Spellcraft DCs already look impossible merely to replicate ninth level spells. Is there another RAW means to mitigate infinitely that is subtler than chain-gating solars or leadership? Or maybe I could craft a low-DC epic spell that makes me nigh unto a god?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course, it's the case that an epic spellcaster can also necessarily cast broken non-epic spells like PaO, shapechange, or simulacrum. But this question is concerned mainly with epic spells. \$\endgroup\$ – user7535 Feb 20 '13 at 12:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, welcome to RPG.Stackexchange.com, I'm having a bit of trouble understanding what would be a good answer to your question, could you please clarify what you're looking for? Please also take a look at the FAQ. \$\endgroup\$ – C. Ross Feb 20 '13 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Spellcasting itself is broken. Epic spellcasting is simply epicly broken. \$\endgroup\$ – Cristol.GdM Feb 20 '13 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ As for an example, not worth an answer, considering the following: an epic spell giving you an increase in Spellcraft. \$\endgroup\$ – Cristol.GdM Feb 20 '13 at 15:53

I’m not going to give a list of examples because list questions are off-topic here, and because I don’t have a list handy. Instead, I’m going to talk about the problems with Epic Spells.

Also, caveat, I have not really spent a lot of time with Epic Spellcasting; I saw the problems that they had, and wrote them (and all of the Epic Level Handbook) off as useless, a long time ago.


The first, and obvious, problem with Epic Spells is that they are extremely open-ended. You combine different factors together, and theoretically you plug in the appropriate numbers and figure out how difficult a thing this is to do. The problem with this is that it is a system with an astounding number of possible combinations, and there is absolutely no way for a designer to consider even a small fraction of them specifically. That means all of the rules that he or she designs for the system are based on generalities, and there’s a mathematical guarantee that those generalities are not going to fit quite a few combinations.

So on some level, the system cannot be balanced. And I’ve seen very thorough, competent, and mathematically-inclined designers attempt to do so: this has tended to result in absurdly complicated rules that still have plenty of cases where they break.

DM Judgment

All of Dungeons & Dragons, and most likely all of any RPG, depends on the DM’s judgment to function. However, because of the above fact, Epic Spells tend to be purely a matter of DM judgment, since the system itself is all-but-useless. This results in more work for the DM, and potentially greater risks for the campaign if he makes a poor judgment.

Because the rules are so close to useless, a DM is close to better off ignoring them entirely and deciding on the fly whether or not a given thing works. The problems with that can be myriad (arguments about what works or not, yet more work for the DM, can be hard-if-not-impossible for the player to plan ahead and rely on something, etc.), but ultimately are probably fewer than the problems of the actual Epic Spellcasting system itself.


Ultimately, though, the real problem with Epic Spellcasting is mitigation. Epic Spellcasting can actually be broken “both ways,” that is, underpowered or overpowered, depending on one’s (ab)use of mitigation.

No Mitigation: Epic Spellcasting is useless

The DCs could probably be hit if you were really optimizing Spellcraft, but the times or other problems involved would make most Epic Spells completely useless. This includes almost every statted Epic Spell. The power of 9th-level spells is enormous, and without considerable mitigation, Epic Spells just do not keep up.

Heavy Mitigation: Epic Spellcasting can do anything

You can stack mitigation factors ad infinitum, and reduce the costs of your Epic Spell to next-to-nothing if you try hard enough. In particular, getting a lot of followers helping to cast the spell is not a difficult thing for a properly-motivated Epic-level spellcaster.

Meanwhile, you can combine the abilities of Epic Spells to break the (already few) limits of spellcasting in powerful ways. You can literally create an Epic Spell to do more-or-less exactly what you want in each case. Mitigate it a lot, and you can have it ready and cast very quickly.

Where do we draw the line? Epic Level Handbook has no help for us.

It’s basically impossible to say in a general way where the line between “completely useless” and “absurdly overpowered” is. Partially because 9th-level spells are already more-or-less “absurdly overpowered” as it is, and therefore Epic Spellcasting is supposed to be better than that somehow without breaking the game (impossible, I’d argue, because 9th-level spells already have). So of course, the Epic Level Handbook does not actually have any useful guidelines for us, and we return to my previous point about pure DM adjudication.

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    \$\begingroup\$ From what I can tell about Epic spellcasting, I'm more under the impression that it's meant less as a standard adventuring tool (i.e. normal spells) and more of a narrative one. You don't get into epic level spellcasting just to make some new way to clear a dungeon or win encounters; you make stuff that changes the world and sparks plotlines. Epic spells probably won't make you a better adventurer, but they'll almost certainly catch the eye of other ambitious adventurers. \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Feb 26 '14 at 19:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, but just imagine a DM getting campaign plot ideas by running one-on-one sessions separate from the main party with a roleplay-minded player in control of, say, a level 30 venerable wizard living in a tower with a crapload of resources and manpower at his disposal and start things off by asking this player to make something epic. Craft checks are consolidated to a handful of rolls, with failures allowing the DM to slip in flaws and side-effects instead of ruining the whole thing (unless all rolls fail). Whatever happens next becomes the plot for the main group of non-epic players. \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Feb 26 '14 at 21:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cobalt I see no reason to actually stat out that wizard or use the rules in the Epic Level Handbook for doing that. The concept is sound, ELH and Epic Spellcasting just don't really add much of anything. As I described in the answer, Epic Spellcasting can do just about anything if you abuse it enough, so you might as well skip all that and just come to an agreement between DM and player. Because ultimately you'll wind up doing that anyway since the ELH rules break down and you have to make the same judgment. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 26 '14 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ True. Still, at least you could use the seeds mechanic to get the NPC Wizard's player some ideas if need be. \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Feb 27 '14 at 2:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cobalt I can see a campaign starting out just like that. "And the wizard Greybeard, bored with even his mightiest magics, did something forbidden, something no sane wizard would ever do...he tried Epic-Level spellcasting." \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Sep 3 '14 at 17:29

Go to a BIG city, build a frame to allow as many people to be packed into a cube as possible. (I forget the dimensions, I'm not going to bother to work the numbers again. The point is obvious.)

Announce: If you're interested in inherent +5 stat increases and you're a caster come on down at lunchtime with a first level slot available. If enough people show up I'll give everyone an inherent +5 at no charge. If you can contribute a higher level slot you can bring a friend who doesn't need to be a caster.

You pack your frame full of people, they each contribute the slot, the DC is zero for an area effect spell covering your whole cube. You can buff as many stats as you have epic slots available, do it again tomorrow and the next day if needed.

Your cost is nothing but the construction of the framework for everyone to stand on, you get 750k in inherent buffs (and presumably for your whole party also), not to mention what you leave behind in the community.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure this is blocked by the 'DM who isn't an idiot' clause. If a player says to me "I need to build a cubical frame to hold as many people as I can" in regards to epic spellcasting, the answer is almost certainly no. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Feb 22 '13 at 0:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DuckTapeal But then you have to ask "Why not?" I mean, building such a thing is clearly well within the limits of fabricate, and true creation can trivially handle the procurement of materials. Even barring both of those, we're talking about neither exotic nor complicated construction or materials here; you can just hire craftsmen and get supplies for it. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 22 '13 at 1:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan It has nothing to do with the construction of such a structure, and everything to do with the fact that the one guaranteed way to make epic spellcasting broken is to use a ton of low level spells as mitigators. It's the combination of "Let's get as many people in a tiny space as possible" and "I'm researching an epic spell" that make me think that a non-idiot DM would disallow this. Now if you wanted to put a whole crapton of people together with such a structure for another purpose, then go right ahead. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Feb 22 '13 at 4:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, to clarify: it's not the cube that I'd say no to, it's the epic spell requiring that many mitigators that I'd disallow. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Feb 22 '13 at 4:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DuckTapeal ah, that yes, I agree there. I thought you were saying you'd disallow the cube construction, which was kind of "but clearly a Wizard of that level is capable of constructing one, wouldn't you need to give a reason?" The question, of course, comes down to "how many mitigators are you going to allow?" At which point you might as well ignore the entire ruleset and judge each final Epic Spell on its own merits because the whole DC/mitigation system becomes meaningless. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 22 '13 at 4:19

As a slight point of order, the biggest problem that exists in regards to 3.5 D&D and epic spells is that Epic Level Handbook is a 3.0 book. It isn't made for a 3.5 setting, and the D&D v.3.5 Accessory Update Booklet (which includes an update for Epic Level Handbook) isn't up to snuff.

The rules for creating spells exists in a world where the 6th level spell Harm takes someone down to d4 HP. 6th level.

I think this question is asking how to Munchkin-ize your character and that's the fun of playing a spellcaster; most all 9th level spells do that for you. What says being "nigh unto a god" more than Storm of Vengence, Meteor Swarm, Wish, or Genesis (psionics)?

Or Were-doom.

Dear god, Were-doom -ing your followers again...

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    \$\begingroup\$ The Book of Vile Darkness spell were-doom [trans] (109) grants targets a random form of lycanthropy, grants no control over targets, and mandates targets attack everybody. The Defenders of the Faith spell curse of lycanthropy [necro] (84), however, is just... wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 3 '14 at 17:58

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