What in the heck is going on in this spell?
For ease of reference, here is the text from page 156 of DCCRPG, which describes the effects of a 32+ spell check result for sleep:
Now, there is a lot to unpack in this paragraph. First and foremost, this result entry veers away from the format and style of all lower sleep result entries. It uses different terminology, gives a new set of examples for the specific interrupt condition, and omits clarifying statements which appear in most lower result entries.Natural slumber to all things: the caster causes the world around him to slow and sleep. All creatures within 500 yards fall asleep. Creatures of 4 or fewer HD receive no save. The affected creatures include birds, insects, and small animals as well as people. Both friendly and unfriendly creatures are affected. Plants are also affected; those that close their petals or retract flowers at night behave as if it is nighttime. The effect is supernatural in aspect and cannot be disturbed. The affected world continues to slumber until a specific interrupt condition occurs (e.g., the new moon rises, or 100 years have passed). Only powerful magic can end the effect sooner.
The specific term "natural slumber" is only used in this entry. In all lower result entries the term "normal slumber" is used, and in all cases where normal slumber is mentioned, it is clarified that normal slumber can be cancelled by normal means (shaking, water in the face). This clarifying statement is not given with respect to the "natural slumber" mentioned in result 32+, and it is not stated whether "natural" slumber is in any way different from "normal" slumber. That said, there is a sentence in result 30-31 which suggests they are the same thing: "The sleep is natural and the targets can be awakened with normal means (rough shaking, water on the face, etc.)." 30-31 is the only other result entry which uses the word "natural".
The term "supernatural" is likewise employed differently in this result entry. Whereas all lower result entries make a clear distinction between normal slumber and supernatural slumber, 32+ seems to contradict itself. After stating the slumber is "natural", it goes on to claim "the effect is supernatural in aspect and cannot be disturbed." This specific phrasing itself is unique among all spell result entries which reference supernatural slumber.
Like the lower result entries, 32+ does state the supernatural "aspect" causes every creature affected by the spell to slumber until a specific interrupt condition occurs. This in itself is not unlike what has been explained of supernatural slumber and the use of interrupt conditions from lower results, however this entry introduces an entirely new set of example interrupt conditions which differ from those offered in lower result entries. Lower result entries use the same set of example interrupt conditions in all instances in which they appear: the kiss of a prince, the smell of a rose, hearing a clock strike midnight. 32+ puts forth the following examples: the new moon rises, 100 years have passed. I can't help but notice the former examples all reference individual senses (touch, smell, hearing), while the latter reference the passage of time. I will say, given the scope of the effects for result 32+ it makes sense the interrupt condition should be tied to the passage of time, lest some poor prince be tasked with kissing every ant and flower within 500 yards of his castle.
So, what is "natural slumber"? Why introduce a new (albeit similar) term? Is it in any way distinct from "normal slumber"? if it is, why is it not further elaborated in the entry? If it is not, then what of the supernatural "aspect"? What does "supernatural aspect" mean in this context? Can characters be awoken by normal means or not? The latter half of the result entry suggests they cannot be, but then why specify "natural slumber" at all? What do you mean "natural slumber with a supernatural aspect"? Is dispel magic sufficiently powerful magic to end the effect sooner? And what are the criteria which constitute an acceptable interrupt condition? Should they be somehow different, given the far-reaching scope of this powerful casting? Why is this result, the most powerful possible result given, the one which any self-respecting sorceror of somnolence would strive to achieve, so confusing and inconsistent with all lower result entries, when the rest fit together so coherently?
There is more I could pick apart here, but I believe my point has been made. This spell as a whole, as written, all it's entries taken together, is at once specific and vague enough to cause exhaustive debate between player and judge over the effects it has on PC, NPC, and game world alike. After all, the casting of sleep is a contentious moment, most especially when the spell is directed toward the player characters, but also when it may mean the difference between life and TPK.
Studying this spell, trying to come to my own interpretation for use at the table, has given me such a headspin I felt I needed to hear the opinions of the wider community. I would love to hear your thoughts.
I'm well aware of the heights of pedantry to which I have soared with this post. I'm well aware of the nature of the game, and the judges prerogative to interpretation and ruling at the table. I know much of the rulebook is presented as inspirational and reference material, and not meant to be followed strictly. My goal with this post is to explore the intentions of the good designers and writers at Goodman Games, and examine the implications of the various possible interpretations of this spell as it is presented in the text. Given the history of the spell within the hobby and its power at the table, I believe it deserves a good looking over and thinking about.