The 6th-level corrupt spell consume likeness [necro] (Book of Vile Darkness 89), for those unfamiliar with it, lets the caster engage in a little bit of cannibalism and, thereafter, permanently--yeah, whenever he wants--the caster can take a standard action to change form into that dead humanoid he consumed. It's a neat spell, and, although I plan to use the spell in a Dungeons and Dragon 3.5 campaign, officially it was never updated from Dungeons and Dragons, 3rd Edition.1

Needless to say the spell has a couple of pretty severe problems,2 but I've not seen this one addressed, even by the BV's lackluster and often rules-oblivious FAQ.3 I'm interested in the equipment angle of the spell consume likeness. The spell says that

The caster can take on the appearance and form--including clothing and equipment--of a corporeal humanoid that is freshly dead. The caster assumes the form of the creature as it looked when it lived. The caster must eat the flesh of the corpse whose form is to be assumed as he casts the spell. (BV 89)

Emphasis mine.

Seriously? The spell duplicates the creature's gear? I don't expect there to be an official answer to this, like, at all, but I would appreciate advice on how to handle this spell from those who have used it or seen it used.

Options

  1. Should the duplicated equipment be magic if the creature's original equipment's magic? If so, how should the DM adjudicate consumable magic items?
  2. Should the duplicated equipment be mundane facsimiles of the creature's equipment?

    • Assuming either of the above, can the caster of the spell consume likeness load up the dead humanoid with equipment before casting the spell to gain extra equipment when he assumes the dead humanoid's form?
  3. Should the duplicated equipment be organic nonfunctional facsimiles of the creature's equipment?

Other opinions are welcome, but opinions suggesting I ban the spell outright will go unappreciated.


Notes

  1. The spell's presence in an unupdated text has little impact on the spell except to clarify Casting Time: 1 action to Casting Time: 1 standard action. However, it's possible, given the spell's unusual nature, to infer some connection to the supernatural ability alternate form referenced by many Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 form-changing spells.
  2. I'd argue the spell's caster probably has a few problems, too.
  3. I'm reluctant to post a link to the FAQ as it's ZIPped. You're better off hunting it down yourself.
  • This should be tagged dnd-3e. The Book of Vile Darkness from which this question was based around was never converted upwards to 3.5e. – Sandwich Oct 5 '14 at 1:31
  • I suggest that in the interests of making your tag choice clear, you should describe that situation. We are in major habit of using edition tags to not actually describe written question content as tags should be used, and whilst that's fine, if there's any confusion or lack of clarity as to how the question connects to the tags.... That indicates you should definitely be describing something with words in your question rather than leaving us to guess what's going on. – doppelgreener Oct 6 '14 at 14:28
  • For issue (1), how is "appearance and form" (which notably does not include function) unclear? The question could use some clarification on why (1) is debatable in the first place. – SevenSidedDie Sep 13 '15 at 20:42
  • @SevenSidedDie That's an interesting point. I'd welcome such a challenge to the question's frame. (However, in brief, the game never states that form excludes function; form-changing via spells like alter self and gaseous form or the special ability alternate form provide varying degrees of different or improved functionality due to the new form, and the form assumed by the spell consume likeness specifically includes equipment.) – Hey I Can Chan Sep 14 '15 at 8:33

I tend to play RAW with reference to various English style guides if the intent of a passage is deemed unclear (we assume the authors correctly communicated their intent, which is, of course, not always the case).

That said, this is how I have seen this spell dealt with:

The caster takes on the form of the creature as it was when it lived, not necessarily right before it died. The specific form of the creature assumed is chosen by the GM. Specifically, the GM I played with had the spell cause the caster to take on the form of the creature that was most typical to it in life. Giving diamonds to a commoner, thus, does not produce wealth but killing Scrooge McDuck might (though he's probably not a hominoid). It should be noted that it does not matter what you put on or remove from the corpse after the creature dies, the spell references the gear they had in life.

The spell CAN duplicate equipment, including functioning magic equipment. It specifically says it can duplicate gear and doesn't say 'but magic items don't work' or 'but it's all made of hemp' or some other caveat, which spells and effects that have caveats like that specifically do. This is why it is a 6th level spell. It does make the spell one of a few spells 'more powerful than Wish' (except that Wish can duplicate this spell) in very limited circumstances in that you can duplicate very powerful magic items (potentially including even those that cannot be otherwise made), but those circumstances are GM-controlled and incredibly difficult to manufacture. In general, the kinds of beings that typically carry around epic magic items such that the form you would get with this spell would include them (with this GM) are not corporeal hominoids, though you COULD use this spell to do that if you had the chance. Your party members, for example, are likely good targets. Probably wont go too well for you if you try to kill them and eat their flesh, though. On the other hand, you do almost certainly get a nice suit of full plate if you eat a knight and super expensive clothing if you go for a king. Many people have some pocket change you could probably copy with this spell, and wizards that use iconic staves are just about your best bet for high-return cannibalism.

It should also be noted that, while the spell is permanent, it has no special protection against being dispelled. I would be careful about using and then discarding your magically produced goods, because an unfortunate dispel magic cast on a single generated coin would technically end the whole spell.

  • 1
    Thank you for the interesting advice and the phrase high-return cannibalism. – Hey I Can Chan Oct 6 '14 at 8:59

In 3.5, if you separate any part of a polymorphed creature's body, that part reverts to its original form. This ruling prevents you from (for example) polymorphing someone into a wyvern and extracting the vemom. It also prevents you from polymorphing into someone rich and then spending the money. (You've noted that the spell you're looking at is a necromancy spell without the polymorph descriptor, but I think the rule should still apply.)

I don't think any interpretation of this spell can allow infinite uses of consumable magic items -- that would quickly break the game.

We might speculate about whether consuming your polymorph-duplicated items harms your original form -- like, did you just destroy the piece of you (or of your equipment) that polymorph-duplicated into that potion? But this restriction would be pretty easy to circumvent, so I don't think it's a fruitful avenue to pursue.

I like dark wanderer's interpretation that you get "the form of the creature when it lived" including its typical equipment loadout. But I would propose a second interpretation: you get the use of the corpse's magic items as long as they are still equipped on the corpse. If you take the plate mail off the corpse, then the corpse's equipment no longer includes a plate mail, so you don't get that when polymorphing any more. Using this interpretation, we could also allow consumable magic items, with the catch that consuming your copy of a magic item also consumes the corpse's copy.

Third interpretation: How much of the corpse did you consume when casting the spell? Were you magically able to consume all of it? If so, I'll bet you consumed the equipment as well. Any magical equipment you consumed, you can now generate when taking that form. If you ate a scroll when casting the spell, you can generate that scroll when taking that form, until you read the scroll. Once you've read the scroll, you can't generate copies of it any more.

  • 1
    I like a house rule requiring preservation of the corpse with the items still on it as a requirement to transform into the dead creature with its gear. That opens up a lot of interesting plots. However, I do need to point out that the spell consume likeness is a necromancy spell without the polymorph descriptor. I don't know if that changes your answer, but your answer might mention it. – Hey I Can Chan Sep 13 '15 at 4:42
  • +1: The "usage is mirrored on the corpse" rule has a decidedly Egyptian vibe to it that I like and definitely good plot ramifications as Hey I Can Chan mentioned. – Lucas Leblanc Oct 12 '15 at 20:01

The first problem I have with the spell Consume likeness is that it seems to counteract another portion of the book, specifically the one dealing with how Corrupt Magic cannot be permanent, listed here:

A corrupt spell has no material components. Instead, it draws power away from the mental or physical well-being of the caster in the form of ability damage or ability drain. The ability damage or drain occurs when the spell's duration expires. (There are no corrupt spells with a permanent duration.)

If what is listed here is true, that would mean that the spell Consume likeness since it has a permanent duration would either not exist, or would result in the following:

Corruption Cost: 2d6 points of Wisdom drain.

So casting the spell once would result in 2d6 points Wisdom drain until the spell ended. Which would be a huge detriment when the same spell effect could likely be replicated by a Polymorph spell or Alter self spell from the same level.

As far as the rulings above are concerned, I would go with this one:

The duplicated equipment be organic nonfunctional facsimiles of the creature's equipment.

The differences between Illusion spells ( Specifically Glamours, which this spell seems to emulate ) and Necromancy spells is mostly an aesthetic flavor difference. A glamour would make you look or feel different by way of illusion magic. By the same assumption, a Necromancy spell would cause your bones to crack and your skin and flesh to reform after eating the flesh of the target of the spell. You'd essentially become that person.

Too many opportunities for abuse exist if you use the first ruling, as your high level wizard could just purchase a bunch of high level equipment, put it on a first level commoner, kill them, eat their flesh to gain their likeness, then sell the equipment and recoup half the costs ( or if they're evil, dominate the person they bought the equipment from and recoup all the costs. )

Put quite simply, a 6th level spell should not be able to create or duplicate any item exceeding 25,000gp in value, as that would mean that that spell is more powerful than Wish, or Miracle.

  • The FAQ addresses the corruption cost, albeit in a way that doesn't jibe at all with how corruption costs are computed for other spells. Further, corruption costs--like the Book of Exalted Deeds' sanctified costs--are assessed when the spell's duration expires not when the spell's cast (BV 76)--which is even weirder for this spell. – Hey I Can Chan Oct 5 '14 at 3:23
  • Even if you ignore the Corruption cost for having to cast the spell there's still the fact that if you used any magic-item gain based ruling you'd essentially be playing with a spell with the potential to be more powerful than Wish. – Sandwich Oct 5 '14 at 3:39
  • O, I know that, but as a 6th-level spell limited to duplicating humanoids, the copy one makes should--somehow--be perfect; seriously, the spell must be better at doing what it does than polymorph to justify its level. It'd be an unconvincing disguise without the dead humanoid's magic items or, at least, its magic items' auras. – Hey I Can Chan Oct 5 '14 at 4:03
  • In that regard I would treat the effect like a Glamour spell. The armor feels and looks like armor, but has no weight, no statistical value, and only looks like but doesn't have the properties of the item in question. If you were wearing an item that was in a shoulder slot and you took a form that was wearing shoulder items on death, you would probably still be wearing your shoulder plates, but would appear like you had on the other shoulder plates. – Sandwich Oct 5 '14 at 4:13

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