Hitchhiker's Guide to the Planes
The soft knock repeated for the third time. With a heavy sigh, he rose from his workbench. “Narmal the Great, how may we serve you? Ensure that I’m not disturbed for the next four hours. Yes, Narmal the Great, it shall be done as you ask,” the robed figure mumbled to himself as he carefully folded his reading glass lenses, and unmade the enchantment boiling the now muddy liquid in the beaker in front of him. He lifted it to inspect it against the candle light. Ruined. Again.
Lifting the beaker slowly he turned to the door. The knocking continued until, with a wave of a gnarled finger, the door violently flung itself open to reveal the simpering face of the goblin in charge of his personal retinue at this hideaway. Eyes wide with fear and surprise suddenly dropped as he curled into a wingeing half bow. “Your eminence, em…” it squeaked, “I know you asked ehem… not to be disturbed, em… but, there seems to be an intruder, emmm…“
Narmal shook his head slowly, feeling an ache in the front of his head begin to grow. He wasn’t sure what was worse, that the supreme commander of his armed force – the fourth one this month – couldn’t handle the odd intruder, or that he lacked the wit not to report it against explicit instructions.
The beaker made it across the room before Grassht or Grizzt or whatever his name was had even ceased in his genuflection, breaking over the grim beast’s pauldron and drenching him with the swirling muddy liquid. He shrieked in horror as his left arm began to contort into a flipper, or perhaps a prehensile wing of some sort, and a beak began to grow grotesquely from the front of his face in a way that did not look altogether painless. What he would become was anyone’s guess, but the chance that it would be viable given the incomplete potion recipe was minimal. He’d have to get someone to clean up the gurgling mound of… whatever, later.
Narmal could hear the commotion dimly as he walked down the corridor from his workshops and made his way briskly toward the service halls of the hideaway. The metallic clinging, a high pitched whine almost, made his head ache all the more and gained intensity as he turned the corner into the goblins’ eating hall.
There in the far side near the kitchen – if you could call what these foul creatures ate food – stood a whirling circle of what looked like knives. They whorled and dashed, occasionally clinging against one another as they circled, floor to ceiling in what must be a fifty-foot circle. The bodies of over a dozen of his guardians lay in various stages of dissection around the whirling circle. Narmal could taste the metallic tang of blood.
As he looked on one of his… warriors threw what appeared to be a javelin directly into this wall of blades, only to have it shredded to bits. The only major surviving piece of any size ejected from the wall and embedded itself into the thigh of one of their cooks, who bellowed in pain.
Narmal approach cautiously, and deep within the circling knives there sat a solitary creature. A gnome? Sitting with eyes shut right in the center of this maelstrom of whisking blades? “My wards should have detected this, clever gnome, what secrets have you got?” Narmal muttered as he reached into his little bag to pull on a tight glove.
”You!” Narmal shouted to the biggest of the goblins nearby. “You’re rank commander now, eh? See if you can’t last until morning…”
”As Narmal the Great commands! So shall I…” the creature squeaked before being cut off.
”How long’s he been in there?”
”Errm, Several minutes? Narmal the Great?” it sniveled.
A heavy sigh escaped the wizard. So much to do. ”Very well. Gather the rest of you in front of me. Snap to it,” ordered the wizard as he withdrew a hollowed eggshell from his pouch. As they mustered before him, all marveled as a purplish hand formed behind the gnome inside the knives, cupping his form and suddenly pushing him across the floor toward Narmal the Great and his… army. The gnome’s stout legs scrambled mightily to hold his position, but they became entangled on his cassock and he was inexorably pushed toward the blades himself.
Just before it seemed the gnome would be cut to bits, the blades simply vanished. Yet the hand continued to push him ever forward. “Lunchtime, gentlemen,” Narmal scoffed with a look of distaste, as his minions fell on the little gnome from all sides. Replacing the glove and egg in his pouch, he marched back down the hallway toward the workshop. He’d need to work on his wards, it seems. But first one more shot at that potion, he thought, if they’ll leave me in peace for an hour or two.
The Blade Barrier has been a staple of the high level cleric’s magic for centuries in one form or another. The blade barrier creates for the cleric a barrier from intrusion, either as a straight wall or ringed sanctuary-like environment, with sufficient cover to conduct whatever business requires one’s group not to be disturbed, and with sufficient penalty for crossing the barrier to dissuade most of those who would come across it.
The effect of the Blade Barrier is not as elemental as other clerical spell effects, yet it is no less effective and can provide benefits that more elemental forces cannot. Unlike most other area of effect spells in the cleric’s repertoire, many of which are flame-based, the blade barrier is a quiet and benign effect which can leave even the most delicate of environments intact after its removal. As such it is appropriate for use in environments where the light or heat of a Wall of Flame would not be appropriate.
It is believed that the effect is an enhancement of the divinely inspired capabilities of some of the champions of the gods. The flashing sword of the Solar, circling it on the field of battle, shapes its area of influence, smiting the unworthy independently of the Solar itself. Likewise, the Marilith, champions her fiendish overlords with a ring of flashing blades to cut down her foes.
There are those who claim that Blade Barrier is related to the arcane Cloud of Daggers spell. Those people are idiots. Cloud of Daggers is a much weaker and less effective damage spell which conjures actual spinning metal, or perhaps glass, dagger-like blades rather than evoking the swirling magical energies of the Blade Barrier.
For the cleric who desires to hold enemies at bay, block their advance (or retreat) or damage those while perhaps not setting them on fire, the Blade Barrier provides a most powerful boon.
Learning and Casting the Spell
The casting of Blade Barrier requires no physical material to cast, merely the strong vocalization “Empodio Xiphos” accompanied by the drawn-fingered throwing action of the dominant hand in the direction of the wall or in a circle for a ring, while concentrating on the spot within 90 feet or so to center the circle or place the wall of blades.
The barrier can be set up as a straight, vertical wall or as a ring around a central point. It can last for 10 minutes under normal circumstances, so it can provide time for a ritual preparation even in the heat of battle or other dire circumstances. Alternatively, it can be cast up to 90’ away, creating a barrier around an enemy across which it will be loath to travel.
The blades not only provide a disincentive for creatures to attack those within or behind them, they are physically very difficult to traverse, leading to more damage than expected, and are nearly opaque in their aspect. The swirling magical blades let very little through, be they arrows, javelins or the arms and legs of a foolish, but determined, enemy.
The blade forms in the barrier itself seem to be the result of the extraplanar energy being pulled or drawn into the plane where it is cast. Like much magic, this divine effect alters the weave of arcane energy surrounding the caster’s plane to loosen its flows and allow extraplanar intrusion through the weave, much like sunlight through coarse burlap, but sunlight made solid. As the weave flows, these intrusions of razor-edged, piercing energies flow and writhe in this plane, just as moving the burlap creates an ever-changing light pattern on a barnloft floor.
So while the overall visual impression of the energy brought forth is similar between most casters, the color of the barrier can vary greatly depending upon the energies drawn forth, and on the location where the blessings of the spell are sought. When cast upon the prime material plane, the blade energy seems to emanate from the plane favoured by the patron of the spellcaster. Gleaming white blades of icy brilliance form from the Tyran cleric’s spell, while the follower of Bane might conjure black, tar-like scythes of energy that almost drip with venom.
The sound of the spell’s effects are likewise varied by the type of energy brought, but tend to be a whisper of lightly snicking blades to a rasp of rusted iron. Those unlucky enough to be close to a barrier, and wise enough in the ways of clerical magics can also attempt to divine its nature from the appearance, sound and smell. The intruding energies do bring an identifiable musk of their plane of origin should the perceiver have experience in those planes.
It is interesting to note that casting the Blade Barrier on other planes can significantly alter the appearance of the blades themselves. Colors, sounds, smells and shape can be altered by the various planes in ways that are not easily categorized in this short grimoire entry, but that might be predictable to those familiar with the reality-altering effects of the planescape. Where the weave is tightest, energy must force its way through; where looser great swaths of blade-like force can create walls seemingly made of swirling efreet scimitars.
When cast on other planes, the Blade Barrier can be more or less difficult to achieve, then. When cast on the home plane of the cleric’s deity, it is unclear whether the spell would form in the same way, or at all. Perhaps it would become a barrier of purest energy, cutting anything that entered it to shreds instantly, or perhaps it would just be light, natural and pure and native to that plane, harmless to any who entered. Perhaps the fact that this remains unknown speaks more to the need of casting such a protective and powerful magic while in the plane of one’s own deity.
The effects of interacting with the Barrier are several and to be avoided. First those who find themselves within the area of the barrier when they act will receive a large amount of precise slashing damage, essentially distributed evenly over the entire body. Clothing and skin, leather and soft materials are literally sliced to pieces by these incorporeal blades of purest energy as they dart in and out of the arcane weave of the plane.
Travelling through an area controlled by this effect is difficult, to say the least, slowing even the speediest of adversaries. It takes twice as long to cross a Blade Barrier as crossing open space, often stranding those who thought to dash through within the area of effect.
The spell also provides cover for those who are in an antipodean position. It is up to 50% more difficult, studies have shown, to hit a target through such a barrier with a weapon that traverses it. The larger the weapon, the lower the percentage of success, of course.
Magic cast through a Blade Barrier seems to function normally. Magical effects which traverse the barrier seem to be variously affected by it, I would posit due to the warping of the fabric of the arcane weave in the area of effect. Thus a lightning bolt cast through a barrier might find its energies deflected or lessened.
Casting a magical effect directly on or inside of the area of effect of a Blade Barrier can be fraught with danger as well. Well-controlled studies using the most sound of arcane practitioners in conditions that were made safe for those involved in their experimentation have shown greatly unpredictable and catastrophic results casting an effect inside of the barrier itself. In particular, evoking energy within the spell area seems to further weaken the fabric of the magical weave, which has led in at least one documented case, to an explosive rift in the fabric of the plane’s boundary at the point of intersection. I beseech you to heed our warning: this sort of experimentation should not be attempted within your personal castle or laboratory.