|Ross Byers RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32|
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This is spun off of some of the discussion of Pathfinder Unchained.
As written, planar binding has issues.
- The reliance on magic circle (and dimensional anchor) creates a Spell Known tax on spontaneous casters, and creates problems for aligned casters.
- It treats all outsiders the same, regardless of alignment or ethos: There is only a minimal difference between binding a demon and an angel.
- 'Unreasonable', 'impossible', and 'cannot complete though its own action' are vague, leading to wide table variation, especially if the GM tries to use these clauses to reign in the spell
- Even lesser planar binding is a 5th level spell, meaning that characters who want to make such deals don't actually 'turn on' until 9th or 10th level.
- It has jagged cuttoffs determined by spell level, not caster level, making evaluating bound outsiders an exercise in system mastery and corner-cases.
- And the big one, it is a poorly-bounded spell (HD is a poor indicator of potency) that gets bigger with every Bestiary, and as a result exhibits loopholes, like making wish into a 6th level spell if you're not in a hurry.
At the same time, it's easy to see why errata hasn't been issued - I have hard time imagining errata that would fit on the page, and address things like the wish loophole in a way that doesn't either arbitrarily limit some SLAs that are ok, or become an itemized list 'per monster'. And you'd still have the problem of a future book possibly breaking the spell.
In comparison, the summon monster (and summon nature's ally) spells use a curated list of monsters, checked for general power level and early access to spell-like abilities. The list doesn't get bigger with later monster books: instead new, different spells like eagle aerie, summon minor monster, or summon elder worm are necessary.
Likewise, Polymorph effects had similar problems in the 3.0 era. They were streamlined somewhat in 3.5, but was a monumentally flexible spell that got better and more flexible with every Monster Manual.
Pathfinder solved the problems with the polymorph spell by breaking it up like Ma Bell. It became a series of spells that granted access to specific forms, with clearly delineated powers. Beast shape i made simpler transformations like turning into a wolf possible at lower than 7th level, but eventually obsolesces like most spells (compared to 3.5 polymorph, which scaled smoothly up to 15th level). New monster books no longer inflated the powers of these spells unless specifically added and evaluated as a new spell. Individual powers could be evaluated on a better basis than 'how many HD does the critter have'. It was a much better paradigm for everyone but sorcerers, who now had to invest in more spells if they wanted to turn into many different shapes. I think that's fine: 'anyspells' should be limited for exactly that kind of reason, and it makes the 'shapeshifter sorcerer' invest in parallel spells in the same way that a 'fire sorcerer' or 'beguiler sorcerer' does. It promotes the ability to actually know what your spells do, instead of bringing the game to a halt to flip through 5 monster books in case there is one with <12 HD that would happen to solve the problems none of your other available spells can.
So, my proposal is this: break planar binding (and possibly planar ally) into a series of spells. Bind genie i could be lower-level and bind a janni, while bind genie iv (or whatever) could get an efreeti, and require 17th caster level to actually get a wish. Bind devil i could be limited to imps and lemures. You can mirror fantasy tropes and make it easier to bind demons/devils than angels, reducing the team red/team blue thing some alignment-based spells have now.