Saturday, November 22, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 12

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

Five categories of threats are covered, as follows:

“Death Ray or Poison”
One can assume that Death Rays were expected to be much more common in the original game. Or one can assume that ‘save or die’ situations were to be the most forgiving. Jumping ahead to the very end of the EXPLANATION OF SPELLS section, we find The Finger of Death spell for Clerics. I can only assume that Death Ray here in the Saving Throw Matrix was added due to that very spell, and that early dungeons were not actually littered with hidden, zapping Death Rays.

“All Wands - Including Polymorph and Paralization”
My assumption here is that ALL Wands, regardless of attack type, use this column, and all Polymorph and Paralization attacks, regardless of source, do as well. A trend is developing showing certain specific threats superseding their source.

Flesh to Stone threats, whether by monster or spell. Jumping ahead to Monsters & Treasure, the short list of such threats includes Cockatrice, Basilisk, Medusae and Gorgons.

“Dragon Breath”
These ‘elemental’ threats are more potent than their potential ‘Wand’ counterparts. Whether they are magical in nature or not is open for debate (and would determine whether or not a dwarf would receive a bonus against them). Types include Cold, Acid, Chlorine Gas, Lightning and Fire.

“Staves & Spells”
Unless specified by one of the previous columns, spells and staves are treated as threats within this category. Clearly, ‘elemental’ type threats from these two sources are more potent than those from Wands. Staves & Spells are a greater threat to Fighting-Men than Dragon Breath; not so for Magic-Users and Clerics.

“…or one-half effect (poison scoring one-half of the total possible hit damage and dragon’s breath scoring one-half of its full damage).”
This tidbit of insight in the footnote of the Saving Throw Matrix raises some questions in regard to poison. Jumping ahead in the other volumes, I find that there are only five examples of poison as a threat: a Wyvern’s sting, a Purple Worm's sting, a Green Dragon’s Chlorine Gas, the M-U spell Cloudkill, and the deadly Poison Potion. I assume that poison was indeed normally a ‘save or die’ threat when used in traps or when home brewed with deadly snakes and spiders. The above sentence clearly says that poison can cause one-half damage, but this fact is separated from dragon’s breath. A referee can decide for himself that there are simply different types of poison, some deadly, some which cause damage even if the saving throw is made, but I’m lead to believe that a Green Dragon’s Chlorine Breath is the only example of a type of poison (gas) that causes full or one-half damage; the rest are an all or none proposition, save or die. This means ALL dragon breath attacks use the Dragon Breath column, and the rest of the poison threats use that first column which seems to be reserved for save or die threats.

“Wands of cold, fire balls, lightning, etc. and staves are treated as indicated, but saving throws being made result in one-half damage.”
Notice that elemental spells (Fireball, Lightning Bolt) are not mentioned here in this sentence about full or one-half damage, just those types of threats from Wands or Staves (and earlier, Dragon Breath). Skipping ahead to the Explanation of Spells section, we find that saving throws for one-half damage are not mentioned in the spell descriptions themselves, either. It seems only logical that these Magic-User spells behave in a similar fashion, dealing full or one-half damage. The quandary presented by the vagaries of the spell descriptions will be explored in an upcoming section, but for now I assume that all Fireballs, from Wand, Staff or Spell, are for all intents and purposes a 'full or one-half damage' type of threat.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

-edited- to add another example of poision; a Purple Worm's sting.


Snorri said...

"Notice that elemental spells (Fireball, Lightning Bolt)..."

I agree with you on that point (among many others): it seems in od&d "by the text", Lightning is an element. This can be deduced also from the elements attacks against dragon's table. That's how I will use it now, with five elements rather than the classical five.

Wayne Rossi said...

I can only assume that Death Ray here in the Saving Throw Matrix was added due to that very spell, and that early dungeons were not actually littered with hidden, zapping Death Rays.

Not only do I think that's a perfectly Blackmoor-ish thing to have in a dungeon, I think I'm going to lift it and have a death ray somewhere in my dungeon. My players may forever curse your name. ;-)

Sham aka Dave said...

Snorri: I like that feel as well. I'm still trying to decide if Dragon Breath should be considered magical or not (in regard to the Dwarf modifier).

Wayne: It's funny, we used to debate about Death Ray Traps and whether they were fair or not. After all, though, it's just a super simple 'save or die' mechanic, no different really than a poison needle trap on a door-knob. I'd probably toss a few cadavers in it's path as a warning, and it wouldn't be a 100% would still follow the 2in6 chance of springing when passed by (vol.3, p.9).

Skydyr said...

I may be a bit late to the party, but when I read the bit about saving for poison, the first thing that came to my mind was that poison is a die vs. take 50% of your HP in damage.