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DesignSpells

Morgenstern Revisited: Babble & Bat’s Hearing

Cover image for Morgenstern's Spellbook

Let’s continue with our series on revitalizing the Morgenstern Family Papers and bringing them up to speed with the other 5e spells. Today we focus on babble and bat’s hearing from Morgenstern’s Spellbook.

Babble

Babble is a spell that makes the target speak in tongues, ruining their ability to communicate or speak the verbal component of spells. It’s basically Morgenstern’s “let’s fuck with other spellcasters” spell and it reflects his disdain for his contemporaries. It’s a touch spell precisely because it’s more personal.

There wasn’t much that needed tweaking to bring this spell up to 5e standards.

  • Spells tend to be limited to one or two class lists now, so I dropped cleric and sorcerer from the list. This spell has a feeling of backstabbing competition that I just don’t see as rampant in those classes.
  • Permanency is no longer among the 5e spells, but several spells can be made permanent simply by maintaining concentration long enough or by reapplying the spell often enough. So, I opted for the “hold concentration” method.
  • I thought about changing the material component to one that wasn’t destroyed, but I figured if you’re permanently messing with someone in this way, it ought to cost something each time. Assuming you can hold concentration while your target is pounding on you to cut it out.

Babble

4th level divination [Bard, Wizard]
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a small ceramic model of a generic humanoid worth 10gp that implodes upon casting the spell)
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes

This spell forces the target to make a successful Wisdom save or begin to speak all languages — known and unknown — randomly and nigh simultaneously. The target produces an incoherent babble that is impossible to understand and prohibits verbal communication and spellcasting (somatic components are unaffected). The spell does not affect the target’s mental speech, so telepathy is still viable.
Babble becomes permanent if held active for the full duration.

Bat’s Hearing & Mass Bat’s Hearing

These spells were inspired by the 3.5e animal-themed spells that boosted the six abilities with a +4 bonus — bear’s endurance, cat’s grace, etc — giving a +2 bonus to checks made with those abilities. With a desire to be economical with his spellcasting power, Morgenstern experimented with boosting a target’s facility with specific skills. Rather than waste a spell slot on boosting everything an ability governed, he wanted a spell of the same level that gave a more powerful boost to a single skill. He finally settled on the trio of bat’s hearing, hawk’s seeing, and hound’s finding, which added a +5 bonus to checks with listen, spot, and search, respectively.

In fifth edition, the six animal-themed buffs are rolled into a single spell, enhance ability, which lets the caster choose an ability to boost. Rather than giving a bonus to an ability, enhance ability now provides Advantage to ability checks using the chosen ability. Advantage on a roll works out to about a +5 bonus to the check, the same as our trio above.

In revising for 5e, I wanted to keep the same relationship between the ability-enhancing spell and the skill-enhancing spell, where they were the same level spell, but the skill enhancer gave a more powerful bonus. However, in fifth edition, Advantage is the highest bonus (barring the proficiency bonus of 6 at character levels 17–20). So, I opted to go in the opposite direction and make the skill-enhancing spell a lower level with a smaller, more precise bonus. At low character levels the bonus is equivalent to the old 3.5e spell, while at high levels it meets or exceeds the enhance ability bonus. I also rolled the trio into a single spell, adding a couple of senses for good measure!

Zoæsthesia

1st level transmutation [druid, ranger]
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a preserved specimen of the appropriate animal body part)
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes

The target of this spell takes on the abilities of the chosen animal (see below) and gains an appropriate enhancement to one of the five senses. For the duration of the spell, they may add their proficiency bonus one more time than usual to perception or investigation checks involving the modified sense (see below).

Bat’s Hearing. The target’s ears triple in size and take the shape of a bat’s, affecting checks involving hearing.
Catfish’s Questing. The target grows fleshy grey whiskers around its mouth briming with taste receptors, affecting checks involving taste.
Hawk’s Seeing. The target’s eyes double in size and become sensitive to minute details, affecting checks involving sight.
Hound’s Finding. The target’s nose elongates and widens resembling that of a hound, affecting checks involving smell.
Mole’s Feeling. The target’s fingers (or appropriate appendage) develop a multitude of tiny, fleshy tendrils sporting Eimer’s organs like that of the star-nosed mole, affecting checks involving touch.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.