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GameMasterY: Adjudicating Rules - Teleportation
Teleportation... what is it?
Teleportation is the means whereby an object or being disappears from one location and reappears in another location without seeming to traverse the space in between, almost instantaneously. The idea of teleportation has existed for millennia, ever since people began reporting beings that mysteriously appeared and disappeared. It has been made popular in fantasy and science fiction, and has become reality recently (1997), if only on a very small scale.
Popular representations of teleportation include the wizard casting a spell which instantly whisks the subjects to a far away location, the psychic who can pop into and out of locked rooms, and the teleportation machines which 'beam' people down to a planetary surface or to another ship.
- Bonus Point: Have a story about a teleportation done well, or perhaps a story of a teleport gone bad? Share it below in the comments!
Why is teleportation problematic in gaming?
Teleportation allows the PCs to circumvent almost any obstacle. They may be able to enter locked and sealed locations, hidden locations, steal objects or kidnap people untraceably, travel vast distances in seconds, escape traps with a thought, rescue people easily, and much more.
This ability poses design challenges for the DM when constructing plots and machinations. How does one keep things hidden from the PCs? How can the PCs be prevented from taking something, from getting to someone, or from capturing someone? After all, normal obstacles such as pits, traps, distance, locks, bars, geography, and other similar impediments potentially no longer have much meaning.
A lot will depend on the exact abilities of teleportation as defined by the rules of the game system you use.
Do you allow teleportation?
How do you use teleportation
Example: How to adjudicate a ruleset:
As an example for adjudication, we will pick out the rules for Scrying from a popular open source game: the Dungeons and Dragons™, 3rd edition, System Reference Document (SRD), which can be found here. While it is not the last version of that edition of the game, nor the latest version of the game itself, it has the benefit of being Open Source, and thus can be quoted in full. As required by the Open Gaming License under which the game may be copied, modified, and redistributed, please find a copy of the OGL here.
The following text is the section describing Teleportation which is considered a subset of Conjuration:
Each conjuration spell belongs to one of five subschools. Conjurations bring manifestations of objects, creatures, or some form of energy to you (the summoning subschool), actually transport creatures from another plane of existence to your plane (calling), heal (healing), transport creatures or objects over great distances (teleportation), or create objects or effects on the spot (creation). Creatures you conjure usually, but not always, obey your commands.
A creature or object brought into being or transported to your location by a conjuration spell cannot appear inside another creature or object, nor can it appear floating in an empty space. It must arrive in an open location on a surface capable of supporting it.
Teleportation: A teleportation spell transports one or more creatures or objects a great distance. The most powerful of these spells can cross planar boundaries. Unlike summoning spells, the transportation is (unless otherwise noted) one-way and not dispellable.
Teleportation is instantaneous travel through the Astral Plane. Anything that blocks astral travel also blocks teleportation.
The next quote is of the basic teleportation spell:
Teleport; Conjuration (Teleportation); Level: Sor/Wiz 5, Travel 5; Components: V; Casting Time: 1 standard action; Range: Personal and touch; Target: You and touched objects or other touched willing creatures; Duration: Instantaneous; Saving Throw: None and Will negates (object); Spell Resistance: No and Yes (object)
This spell instantly transports you to a designated destination, which may be as distant as 100 miles per caster level. Interplanar travel is not possible. You can bring along objects as long as their weight doesn’t exceed your maximum load. You may also bring one additional willing Medium or smaller creature (carrying gear or objects up to its maximum load) or its equivalent (see below) per three caster levels. A Large creature counts as two Medium creatures, a Huge creature counts as two Large creatures, and so forth. All creatures to be transported must be in contact with one another, and at least one of those creatures must be in contact with you. As with all spells where the range is personal and the target is you, you need not make a saving throw, nor is spell resistance applicable to you. Only objects held or in use (attended) by another person receive saving throws and spell resistance.
You must have some clear idea of the location and layout of the destination. The clearer your mental image, the more likely the teleportation works. Areas of strong physical or magical energy may make teleportation more hazardous or even impossible.
To see how well the teleportation works, roll d% and consult the Teleport table:
Very Familiar: 01-97=On Target, 98-99=Off Target, 100=Similar Area
Studied Carefully: 01-94=On Target, 95-97=Off Target, 98-99=Similar Area, 100=Mishap
Studied Casually: 01-88=On Target, 89-94=Off Target, 95-98=Similar Area, 99-100=Mishap
Viewed Once: 01-76=On Target, 77-88=Off Target, 89-96=Similar Area, 97-100=Mishap
False Destination: (1d20+80): 81-92=Similar Area, 93-100=Mishap
Refer to the following information for definitions of the terms on the table:
“Very familiar” is a place where you have been very often and where you feel at home. “Studied carefully” is a place you know well, either because you can currently see it, you’ve been there often, or you have used other means (such as scrying) to study the place for at least one hour. “Seen casually” is a place that you have seen more than once but with which you are not very familiar. “Viewed once” is a place that you have seen once, possibly using magic.“False destination” is a place that does not truly exist or if you are teleporting to an otherwise familiar location that no longer exists as such or has been so completely altered as to no longer be familiar to you. When traveling to a false destination, roll 1d20+80 to obtain results on the table, rather than rolling d%, since there is no real destination for you to hope to arrive at or even be off target from.
On Target: You appear where you want to be.
Off Target: You appear safely a random distance away from the destination in a random direction. Distance off target is 1d10x1d10% of the distance that was to be traveled. The direction off target is determined randomly
Similar Area: You wind up in an area that’s visually or thematically similar to the target area.
Generally, you appear in the closest similar place within range. If no such area exists within the spell’s range, the spell simply fails instead.
Mishap: You and anyone else teleporting with you have gotten “scrambled.” You each take 1d10 points of damage, and you reroll on the chart to see where you wind up. For these rerolls, roll 1d20+80. Each time “Mishap” comes up, the characters take more damage and must reroll.
The last quotes are the three other teleportation spells for comparison:
Teleport Object; Conjuration (Teleportation); Level: Sor/Wiz 7; Range: Touch; Target: One touched object of up to 50 lb./level and 3 cu. ft./level; Saving Throw: Will negates (object); Spell Resistance: Yes (object)
This spell functions like teleport, except that it teleports an object, not you. Creatures and magical forces cannot be teleported.
If desired, the target object can be sent to a distant location on the Ethereal Plane. In this case, the point from which the object was teleported remains faintly magical until the item is retrieved. A successful targeted dispel magic spell cast on that point brings the vanished item back from the Ethereal Plane.
Teleport, Greater; Conjuration (Teleportation); Level: Sor/Wiz 7, Travel 7
This spell functions like teleport, except that there is no range limit and there is no chance you arrive off target. In addition, you need not have seen the destination, but in that case you must have at least a reliable description of the place to which you are teleporting. If you attempt to teleport with insufficient information (or with misleading information), you disappear and simply reappear in your original location. Interplanar travel is not possible.
Teleportation Circle; Conjuration (Teleportation); Level: Sor/Wiz 9; Components: V, M; Casting Time: 10 minutes; Range: 0 ft.; Effect: 5-ft.-radius circle that teleports those who activate it; Duration: 10 min./level (D); Saving Throw: None; Spell Resistance: Yes
You create a circle on the floor or other horizontal surface that teleports, as greater teleport, any creature who stands on it to a designated spot. Once you designate the destination for the circle, you can’t change it. The spell fails if you attempt to set the circle to teleport creatures into a solid object, to a place with which you are not familiar and have no clear description, or to another plane.
The circle itself is subtle and nearly impossible to notice. If you intend to keep creatures from activating it accidentally, you need to mark the circle in some way.
Teleportation circle can be made permanent with a permanency spell. A permanent teleportation circle that is disabled becomes inactive for 10 minutes, then can be triggered again as normal.
Note: Magic traps such as teleportation circle are hard to detect and disable. A rogue (only) can use the Search skill to find the circle and Disable Device to thwart it. The DC in each case is 25 + spell level, or 34 in the case of teleportation circle.
Material Component: Amber dust to cover the area of the circle (cost 1,000 gp).
What does it all mean?
Thus the effects of the of teleportation can be summarized as follows:
- Teleportation spells can take you almost anywhere on the same plane of existence as you are currently occupying.
- The teleport destination must be a place.
- Teleportation occurs "instantly".
- The more familiar you are with the destination, the better your chances of arriving in the correct location, unless you are using a version of teleport without a miss chance. You will get better results if you intimately know a place, can currently see it, or can study it through some form of remote viewing, such as scrying.
- You do not get a saving throw or spell resistance against your own teleport effect, but attended objects that are affected do get a saving throw or spell resistance.
- Willing creatures in contact with you can be brought along, which conversely means that unwilling creatures cannot be nabbed by the spells listed as examples.
- Teleportation is determined by having "a clear mental picture" which is represented mechanically by the table of Familiarity and Results. The DM decides which row the PCs roll against, based on which category of Familiarity they qualify for any given destination.
- "Areas of strong physical or magical energy may make teleportation more hazardous or even impossible."
- Unless there is another agency at work, or using a no-miss version, what happens during a teleport is determined by random roll of the dice.
- Teleportation of the listed types cannot land you inside another object.
- You cannot teleport to a place that you have never seen at least once.
- Teleportation utilizes the Astral plane, therefore, any effects which block access to the Astral plane, also block teleportation in that area.
How will it affect my game?
Teleportation gives increased travel opportunities and possibilities for players, and allows them to leap all terrains in a single round. (Please excuse the pun. ^^) This will have a drastic effect on overland encounters, as they are very likely to be skipped or bypassed if the players can simply teleport to where they need to go. PCs are able to go anywhere that the characters have seen, even if only by magic or remote viewing of some kind. Even in the confines of a dungeon, other structures, or out in nature: a chasm, cliff, portcullis, or other obstacle that does not block vision will no longer prevent the characters from reaching the location in question.
Large distances are able to be covered in the blink of an eye. PCs can reach or return to any location they have seen, which requires some extra planning.
In the rules given as an example, teleportation cannot use a person, creature, or object, but must select a location as the target destination. It is important to note that while knowledge of how to get to a specific destination is not required, having seen the destination is, even if only once.
For example, if the characters are kidnapped and taken by secret means and ways to an unknown destination (unconscious, or gagged, blinded, and bound), interrogated in a room (that they can see) by mysterious masked people, and then again taken by secret ways and means unknown and released somewhere... the characters WILL be able to later teleport back into the room where they were interrogated.
If the character's enemies (or maybe the DM) planned poorly, and held the characters for the interrogation at an important and revealing location (like the basement of a noble who is involved in the plot but doesn't want to be revealed as an enemy of the characters), then this secret will be uncovered as soon as the players have the characters teleport back and start dungeon-crashing the location....
This can be a deliberate loose end on the part of the DM for the players to find out necessary information, but all too often this sort of thing occurs because the DM forgot to take into account how teleportation works when designing the encounter.
The most common complaint I hear about teleportation in D&D, is that the players can go anywhere, and circumvent anything. This is completely false. A careful reading of the rules quickly reveals what one can and cannot do with teleportation. The most basic rule of teleportation and the key point that most DMs seem to miss, is that if you haven't seen your destination, you can't teleport to it.
- Bonus Point: For example, one of my groups wanted to teleport to a major city. However, not only were none of them from that region, in all their travels, they had never been to that particular city. Thus, they were completely unable to teleport to it. This particular group did not have access to scrying, nor did they happen to think of it. They tried finding some maps, but the maps only put a symbol for the city so they still couldn't get a visualization. They next attempted to find some paintings of scenes in the city, but had no luck. Finally, someone asked them for help, and it "just so happened" that the person knew of something that would serve as a perfect visualization for the city they wanted to go to... in exchange for 'one little favor'. Enter the side quest!
For DMs wishing to block teleportation, start by put things where they can't be seen. This includes finding a method to counter scrying, which is logical to protect against if you are trying to hide something and/or somewhere from unwanted visitors.
Sources of physical or magical energy can interfere or even block teleportation. This implies that locations like volcanoes, waterfalls, fault zones in the earth, rivers, geysers, geothermal, any other location with extremes in temperature or activity, tornadoes, hurricanes, all have the potential to interfere or block teleportation. Even the ocean and atmosphere itself has a lot of physical energy with tides and currents and wavefronts.
Magical locations could include ley lines, ley nexuses, sites of old battles or disasters, deep underground locations (in all default D&D settings, the great caverns deep below the ground block or interfere with teleportation), and locations with portals to other places, times, planes, or dimensions.
How much energy exactly is required to interfere or block teleportation is left up to the DM.
Finally, teleportation relies upon access to the Astral plane. Any place that does not have access to the Astral plane (many demi-planes do not), prevents use of teleportation and related effects. There are also a number of spells and effects which can be used to block access to and from the Astral plane, all of which will simultaneously block teleportation.
Keep in mind that most games place the players as the heroes of the game. Taking away abilities that are expected within the scope of the game, and that the players have worked for and earned, is simply bad form on the part of a DM.
Consider carefully when and where to place obstacles to teleportation. Ask questions: is it logical to have a block here and why? How valuable is this location? What is stored here? Would the protections have faded, perhaps been partially or completely destroyed with the passage of time?
Instead of banning an ability, or making it impossible to use, be creative and clever when applying a block or parry to an ability. It adds spice to the game when a favorite ability meets with the occasional check, and the players have to think of a way around it.