The Purest

Eric Lis

Last week, I asked what I, at least, think was an interesting question: can a creature with celiac disease or other forms of gluten intolerance be protected by magics that defend against poisons. My reasoning, which I still stand by one week later, is that spells such as delay poison and neutralize poison must logically be somehow able to identify what substances are poisonous to a creature and selectively block the metabolic effects of those substances, and only those substances.

These spells must be able to identify, for example, that the snake venom in a target’s bloodsteam is abnormal and harmful, but that the very similar anticoagulant enzymes that the creature is supposed to have aren’t. More than that, the spells can obviously distinguish between, say, arsenic and a potion of fire breathing, both of which are substances very foreign to the body. The point is, to be able to even distinguish poison from non-poison inside of a creature, detect poison has to be able to scan a creature and magically identify every molecule within its body as being safe or unsafe. It can’t simply identify all exogenous substances, because it has to be able to tell the “dangerous” poisons from all the other crazy stuff that adventurers put into their bodies, including but not limited to alcohol, chocolate, tattoo ink, dirt, radioactive substances, and gods only know what else. It can’t simply identify everything with the potential to poison a creature, because the spell somehow ignores all of the perfectly normal poisons and toxins which our bodies are actually full of at all times, and make no mistake, as you’re reading this, your body already contains chemicals which would make you very, very sick if ingested or injected. It can’t simply detect a specific list of poisons, because there’s an infinite variety of venomous creatures and deadly chemicals in the world, and a substance that would poison a human might be perfectly safe for the human’s horse.

All of this, which would seem to me to be well beyond the power of many high-level divination spells, could be considered impressive for a 0-level spell, except that detect poison is naturally limited by its specificity. It can’t look for anything except poison, and it doesn’t do anything about the poison. To actually eliminate the poison requires a fourth level spell, which is a respectable power level for magic which combines awe-inspiring divination powers with the ability to instantly and flawlessly destroy individual molecules within a body without damaging the surrounding tissue.

All of this arguably goes to show why purify food and drink would seem to be one of the most powerful spells in existence.

Consider what this astonishing spell actually does. Purify food and drink is a 0-level spell which, in many respects, replicates all of the features of neutralize poison, and then some. With one admittedly huge limitation – it has no effect on living creatures – the spell has all of the amazing divination effects of detect poison with the addition of being able to restore rotten organic matter to a pristine state, which is arguably a power level that falls anywhere between mending and regenerate. Both of them are able to purify up to one cubic foot of matter per level when cast (to put that in context, an average adult human weighing in at 70 kilos is less than three cubic feet of volume). From a certain point of view, purify food and drink is even more powerful than the fourth level neutralize poison, on the grounds that neutralize poison can’t make spoiled food edible and nutritious, just non-poisonous. In essence, the only difference between the two spells is that purify food and drink can be cast on only a very limited list of targets and can’t be used to save the life of a creature that’s been poisoned, an obviously important limitation, but one which still means that it’s among the most reality-bending spells on the books and arguably the single most powerful 0-level spell in existence. It’s akin to being able to cast cause critical wounds or ice storm, but only on food, and even this analogy fails to grasp how much spell power its divination component should logically require. 

More than four years ago, Dr. Eris Lis, M.D., began writing a series of brilliant and informative posts on RPGs through the eyes of a medical professional, and this is the one that appeared here on February 20, 2016. Lis is a physician, gamer, and author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC OGL sourcebook Insults & Injuries, which is also available for the Pathfinder RPG system