Monday, November 24, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 14

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

Pages 23-34 of Men & Magic are devoted to brief explanations of the 70 Magic-User and 26 Cleric spells found on the SPELLS TABLE. Before I dive in and begin quoting items of note, I’d like to make an observation that stems from my experience as an AD&D Dungeon Master for three decades. If you, like me, are using these rules after playing later editions of D&D, you might consider the system unclear or enigmatic. Just take the leap and try it, remembering that the great fun in playing this way is that the referee is free to decide how it works on his own. It might work one way today, and another tomorrow (it is magic, after all). If you’re like me, though, you will probably feel the burning desire to add some level of definition to these spells, be it prior to actual play, or on the fly. Either way, knowing what issues might arise down the road and being prepared for the magic system and its somewhat fuzzy nature can never hurt a prospective referee.

What struck me immediately is that certain AD&D-isms have not been introduced at this point in the magic system. There is no notion of Casting Time, for example. Whether or not the target of a spell is allowed a Saving Throw is indeterminate at times. Material components and spell casting methods are not defined. For the most part I like the bare bones presentation here. It’s a simple system; spell casters memorize and can then use the indicated number of spells each day. That’s it. For my own treatment of the rules here, I will attempt to sort out the ins and outs of various spells, based on text in the spell, and upon precedence established elsewhere (such as the Saving Throw Matrix).

Casting Time: Dexterity is the only precedent here; as it helps in ‘conjuration’ and indicates speed in regard to ‘getting off a spell’. The assumption is that either spells may be cast ‘faster’ or that reaction and perfection of motion are increased with an above average Dexterity rating; and the contrary with a below average Dexterity rating. Nothing in the rules indicates that a spell caster has a chance to ‘fail’ his spell; just that it might not ‘go off’ before something else (such as an enemy’s attack) transpires.

Spell Casting Methods: Based on what we know about Dexterity, one may assume then that spell casting involves motion of some kind. Being bound or otherwise restricted might prevent successful spell casting. Likewise, being struck in melee might also interrupt or prevent a spell casting; this is entirely a judgment call on behalf of the referee.

Saving Throws: As noted above, I will attempt to approach this category in a logical fashion. In the end, though, like all of the rules, this is a judgment call by the referee if it is not specifically stated (and even then, the referee runs D&D his way and changes will be commonplace).

Area of Effect: This is very rarely defined. For spells like Sleep or Confusion, I would simply assume that it affects with line of sight; if the Magic-User can see the enemies, they are potential targets if they are within range.

1st Level
Read Magic: Without such a spell or similar device magic is unintelligible to even a Magic-User.”
This is the all-purpose identification method for Magic-Users, and the text hints that without it (and therefore without a M-U, or similar device) that no magic items may be understood (and subsequently used). I would presume that this includes scrolls, wands, staves, miscellaneous items and certain rings, but not magic items which are simply enchanted (such as weapons and armor). A very handy spell if players want to discover the usefulness of items mid-adventure.

Read Languages: The means by which directions and the like are read, particularly on treasure maps. It is otherwise like the Read magic spell above.”
This is interesting. If it is like the Read Magic spell, one can assume that directions and treasure maps are in code or cipher, and are unusable until deciphered. Does this mean ALL treasure maps are so encoded and useless until a Read Languages spell is cast upon them? That’s up to the referee, but it certainly adds an amount of utility to this rarely memorized spell.

Protection from Evil: …also serves as an “armor” from various evil attacks, adding a +1 to all saving throws and taking a -1 from hit dice of evil opponents.”
Ah, the good/evil debate is back. Protection from Chaos might have proven to be more useful. Keep in mind that ‘-1 from hit dice’ doesn’t mean it reduces an evil monster’s life total, it simply means his attack rolls are less likely to hit you (since they are based on hit dice). Remember, evil is Chaotic, but not all Chaos is evil…or something like that. I’d say considering Undead and Anti-Clerics as evil is pretty much a safe bet, the rest is up to you.

Charm Person: If the spell is successful it will cause the charmed entity to come completely under the influence of the Magic-User…”
Save or no Save? It says IF successful. Therefore, a Saving Throw is permitted. This spell is immensely useful, as it is PERMANENT until the victim is the beneficiary of a Dispell Magic spell. It not only removes a potential enemy from a conflict, but adds that target to the Magic-User’s own side. Furthermore, it states ‘completely under the influence’. Those familiar with the AD&D version should understand that this original version is far superior.

Sleep: The spell always affects up to the number of creatures determined by the dice.”
A cornerstone Magic-User spell, even in later editions. Based on the above text we can see that there is NO Saving Throw against Sleep. Will the targets be awoken by loud noise? Can the PC’s easily give them the slip, or can they quietly cut the throats of all of these now slumbering foes? Again, this is a judgment call, as the only effect is that those targets indicated by the dice are asleep.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


Wayne Rossi said...

Based on the above text we can see that there is NO Saving Throw against Sleep.

I've interpreted this one differently. In my games, I've ruled that Sleep triggers a saving throw - it's a spell, there are saving throws vs. spell, ergo one gets a saving throw. This matter was unclear enough that Greyhawk needed a clarification in the direction you interpret it - no saving throw. This carried over into subsequent TSR editions. I really think a Sleep with no saving throw would need to be a higher level spell, and there was actually some commentary on its relatively high power level in the early issues of Alarums & Excursions.

Sham aka Dave said...

I can't argue with the fact that the Sleep spell is very powerful. Just based on the wording I am left to believe that there is no save...but, and I touched on this briefly in the notes, what 'sleep' actually does determines how powerful it truly is.

The spell does not render targets unconscious, it simply makes them fall asleep. It does not say that this magic sleep is akin to being comatose. There might be a chance for targets to wake up from noise, light, being touched, etc. If even a few of the foes are not affected, they might be able to rouse their allies in the next round.

That said, I play Sleep how I assume most D&D players do, though. That those affected are knocked out for long enough that the player characters can tie them up or cut their throats.

And you're right, played this way, especially with no save, Sleep might be more appropriate as a 3rd or 4th level spell, imo.

belst8 said...

In AD&D magic always seemed to me like a sort of weird technology, and certainly a known quantity. I found this uninspiring and even vaguely depressing.

But I LOVE the original list of spells from Men and Magic. There's something about how generic and elemental they are. It's as if the wizard masters basic mystical forces: the ability to influence other's minds (sleep, charm person, suggestion), to see things with an occult eye (detect magic, evil, invisibility), to change his form or the form of others (the polymophs), etc.

I understand the natural impulse to proliferate spells and to fine tune and specialize them. But unless it's done with care, I think the result will be to make magic mechanical rather than the strange and wonderful, or even disturbing, thing that it could be. And what a loss that is.

belst8 said...

The text of charm person certainly reads as you interpret it. But I speculate that it may have undergone a change in play, when Gygax found it to be too powerful. My evidence for this hypothesis is the inclusion in Supplement I of the third level spell suggestion, which, as described, is LESS powerful than charm person. Admittedly, it can have a delayed effect, which is neat, but it is limited to a single, simply worded command. If charm person makes someone your puppet, it's ten times more powerful than this.

(In fact, the original charm person might even encompass the delayed effect: after all, you could make someone your puppet and then tell him to do something much later.)

Sham aka Dave said...

belst8: I agree in regard to Charm Person. In fact, 'completely under the influence' is a misleading choice of words. There's a clue from an upcoming M-U spell that perhaps even at the time of this writing, Charm Person was not meant to give the caster a 'puppet' victim.

I also agree whole heartedly with the sentiment:

the result will be to make magic mechanical rather than the strange and wonderful, or even disturbing, thing that it could be. And what a loss that is.

Good stuff, belst8.

John said...

I treat Charm Person as if the victim rolled a 12 on the Reaction Table, and then an 18 for morale. You now have the person on your side; it's up to you to keep him there.

Sham aka Dave said...

I treat Charm Person as if the victim rolled a 12 on the Reaction Table, and then an 18 for morale. You now have the person on your side; it's up to you to keep him there.

John: Excellent way to handle Charm Person. I like your take on it.