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Dispel magic in 3rd Edition: 125 lines of text
Dispel magic in 4th Edition: 10 lines of text
Behold, the power of editing!
Creating such a concise version of the wizard spell dispel magic was more than a matter of wielding our red pens and cutting away. In many ways, D&D 4th Edition has involved rebuilding the game from the ground up, and dispel magic needed to be reconceived alongside the rest of the game system. The new edition's dispel magic was developed during the process of editing the Player's Handbook.
To begin with, the number of magical effects that might be dispellable had narrowed since 3rd Edition. Most arcane powers and divine powers -- called spells and prayers respectively -- create effects that are instantaneous or that last for 1 round, so the days of having numerous spells that last for many minutes or hours are over. Instantaneous and 1-round magical effects aren't intended to be dispellable, which left us considering the game's persistent magical effects. Most of the persistent spells and prayers in 4th Edition last no more than one encounter. Rituals can create magical effects that last for hours, days, or years, but it would take more than a spell or a prayer to dispel the effects of most rituals. Similarly, magic items -- which are created by rituals -- are designed so that their magic can't normally be suppressed by a spell or a prayer.
With these things in mind, we focused our attention on the spells and the prayers that create magical effects that last longer than 1 round. Some of those powers grant bonuses to or impose penalties on a target, but like 1-round effects, they aren't intended to be dispellable, and the game provides other ways of counteracting them.
So with all of these magical effects in the new edition that dispel magic wasn't intended to apply to, what purpose could it serve? To destroy magical effects created by powers and persisting in the environment, whatever their power source.
When the editors received the classes and powers chapter of the Player's Handbook, we found a number of familiar spells like Bigby's grasping hands, spells that conjure forth things made of magical energy. We also found persistent areas of effect, such as the cleric's blade barrier and the paladin's righteous inferno, which could be sustained for many rounds. Over the course of a few conversations with the development team -- okay, more than a few -- we settled on two keywords to describe these powers: conjurations and zones.
Conjurations create objects or creatures out of magical energy and are often movable. The wizard's Bigby spells and the cleric's spiritual weapon are examples of powers that have the conjuration keyword. Zones are areas of effect that persist for several rounds. For example, the cleric's consecrated ground and the wizard's stinking cloud have the zone keyword. Conjurations and zones allow their users to add new elements to an encounter or to reshape a battlefield in their favor.
With the definitions of conjurations and zones in place, the role of dispel magic became clear. Useful for dispelling persistent effects: check. Useful across power sources, as defined by keywords: check. It doesn't matter whether an effect is the creation of a wizard or a warlock spell or a cleric or a paladin prayer -- if it's a conjuration or a zone, it can be dispelled. Good news for PCs caught in an enemy warlock's tendrils of Thuban!
So here's the new dispel magic, in all its short-and-sweet glory: