Tuesday, December 23, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 31

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.

Monsters & Treasure

SWORDS: Among magic weaponry swords alone possess certain human (and superhuman) attributes, Swords have an alignment (Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic), an Intelligence factor, and an egoism rating (as well as an optional determination of their origin/purpose).”
First, I’d like to comment that the explanation of Swords here in Monsters & Treasure encompasses nearly four full pages. Swords are the Dragons of Magic Items, and are clearly meant to be an important part of the game. I believe that this is loosely based on the swords of myth, legend and literature; those weapons which dominate stories, tales and novels, and in many cases, our own history. On the other hand, I also believe this to be an intentional feature of the game which benefits the Fighting-Man class. Until Greyhawk was published, only Fighting-Men could actually use swords, which are potentially the most powerful magic weapons in the game.

As most readers of this series already know, magic swords in the original game are indeed unique, being the only weapons that might possess alignment, intelligence, communicative ability and special magical powers. You will note, however, that the passage does not say that ALL magic swords possess human attributes. Instead, it states that of all magical weaponry, swords alone possess human attributes. In other words, only swords have a chance to be enchanted or ensorcelled with humanlike qualities. How you interpret the above passage is your decision, as referee. Either all magic swords have those attributes, or only some of them do.

Since there is no actual chance provided to determine which swords are indeed possessive of human attributes, I think that most referees assume that all magic swords in the game are to be created using the tables which follow. I cannot argue with this approach, but I will share my own solution to the topic at the end of this section.

If a character picks up a sword which is not of the same alignment as he, damage will be taken as follows:

Law - Chaos: 2 Dice (2-12 points)
Neutrality - Law/Chaos: 1 Die (1-6 points)”
The above table is a guide which shows the penalty for claiming a magic sword of opposing alignment; one which does not preclude a character from wielding it after the damage roll.

“…if the Intelligence/Egoism of the sword (see below) is 6 or more points above that of the character who picks it up the sword will control the person, even causing him to become aligned as the sword is, and he will immediately act accordingly…a hireling of a Lawful player-character ordered to pick up a Neutral sword and taken over by it would deliberately lie about its powers, while if the sword were Chaotic he would attack.”
This details the chance of immediate influence exerted by magic swords, upon both characters and hirelings. I’d allow this to effect monsters, as well. A particularly powerful magic sword could create many enjoyable sessions, or form the basis for more than a few interesting adventures by taking over characters, hirelings, townsfolk or monsters. Also of note here is a tidbit in regard to the interaction of Law-Neutral and Law-Chaos. Neutral seems to include the traits of selfishness, dishonesty and greed. Chaos is apparently opposed to Law at all times, or simply given to violent and treacherous acts.

Intelligence: There are two factors considered under Intelligence, mental power and communicative ability.”
One-half of the magic swords randomly created by the referee using this table have less than 7 Intelligence, and are therefore, according to this section, not possessive of any mental power nor communicative ability. For all intents and purposes, these swords with 6 or less Intelligence might as well have no intellect.

Also, this is the first time I actually noticed that the Primary and Extraordinary Powers which follow this section are described as Mental Powers. It later goes on to state that these powers are passed on to the sword user, so the fact that these are Mental Powers may or may not have any bearing on a referee’s campaign. I’m left to wonder why the distinction was made; perhaps it’s because these magic swords are the only intelligent items in the game, or perhaps Mental Powers are different in some way than standard magical ones. Apparently these powers differ in name only, and function just like their magical counterparts.

Primary Powers:

31-40 Locate Secret Doors
41-50 Detect Traps
71-80 Detect Meal & What Kind
Above are a few of the interesting Primary Powers of magic swords. The first two are potentially game-breakers for dungeon crawl campaigns without some referee house ruling involved. No referee should hand an item over to a player-character which automatically points out all secret doors or traps. Instead, a limited number of daily uses, a chance of failure, a long activation time, or even all three together would create a suitable scenario and not deter referees from including such items in their campaign.

Readers of my favorite D&D forum, Finarvyn’s OD&D Discussion, are probably already familiar with that last power included above. My guess is that this is a typo that was simply never corrected by TSR, and is supposed to read “Detect Metal…”. This may seem obvious to everyone but me. Believe it or not, due to the “& What Kind” wording, I didn’t realize that this was a typo until I read a thread on the above linked form! I actually thought this was just some awkward old power from the original game. I can confidently share this fact with my readers, because they already know I’m a bit off my rocker to begin with. Besides, in all honesty, I like the idea of a sword that is able to detect meals. If anyone were to ever find a sword with the 71-80 Primary Power, I would rule that it does indeed find food for them. I wouldn’t advocate this ruling, so referees feel free to correct this typo and allow the power to detect metal. I can only imagine the inquiries mailed into the TSR office in Lake Geneva back in the 70’s, and the jokes that evolved from this typo. It’s no wonder it was never corrected.

Extraordinary Powers:

88-92 Healing (1 point/6 turns or 6 points/day)
93-97 1 - 4 Times Normal Strength for 1 - 10 Turns Employable Once/Day

Rolling the same Ability twice indicates it is twice normal strength, range, accuracy, etc
As with certain Primary Powers, I would advocate limitations placed on the abilities listed in the Extraordinary Powers table, even though no such guide is provided except in the case of the two results listed above. The 93-97 result is interesting. There are no actual rules covering the extreme numbers which might be resultant from this power. The increased damage inflicted by what could be assumed to be super strong monsters is actually attributed to their size, or mass, and not simply Strength. Referees will be left to determine the advantages of increased Strength. Increases in melee damage, carry capacity, chance for opening doors and even lifting heavy objects are a few of the possible considerations. It is possible that the result would be a character with 72 Strength, assuming the power actually increases Strength. Perhaps the wording “Normal Strength” means 1 to 4 times the Strength of a normal man; perhaps it applies to the sword and not the wielder. A sword of 1 to 4 times Normal Strength might have its to hit bonus increased from say +2 to +8 for 1 to 10 Turns. While your game might never have to handle this power, it does leave me thinking of its possibilities, especially if the extremely rare scenario arises wherein this power is in fact of double strength by being rolled twice.

Egoism: Only those swords Intelligence of 7 or more will have an Egoism rating.”
As I mentioned earlier, swords with 6 or less Intelligence might as well have no intellect. As we can see, they also have no Egoism rating at all.

Origin/Purpose: …To determine if the sword has such a purpose roll percentile dice, and a score of 91 or higher indicates the sword has a special mission. Swords with special purposes automatically have intelligence and ego categories moved to the maximum score and they will gain an additional ability:

Law: The ability to paralize Chaotic opponents
Neutrality: Adds +1 to all saving throws
Chaos: The ability to disintegrate Lawful opponents

The special ability will only apply to those whom the sword has been endowed to destroy, or those serving such a creature…Special purpose swords will always be at their task, and any attempts by their users to go counter to them will cause an immediate influence check to be made
Noted in the first passage on Swords is the fact that Origin/Purpose is an optional determination. I take this to mean that not every sword has even a 1 in 10 (91-00) chance of possessing an Origin/Purpose. Referees will be inspired by this section on Swords, and I would use the relative power on those special purpose swords of Neutrality as a guide when I house rule the Law and Chaos ones. For example, house ruling that the ability is used by the sword only on a roll of 20 to hit might balance what at first blush appears to be an imbalanced item. A Lawful sword, with the special purpose of Defeat Chaos, would simply be too powerful if it paralyzed every chaotic target which it struck in the campaign.

SWORDS, DAMAGE BONUSES: The swords all receive bonuses as far as the probability of hitting an opponent is concerned, but some also gain a damage bonus when they do hit. These swords are those with a +2 or +3 against specific creatures, but not those with a general bonus of +2 or +3.”
This is a roundabout way of saying that unlike most magic weapons, swords do not deal extra damage upon hitting. Their bonus is “to hit” only, unless otherwise specified. This is an important difference of the original rules and later editions.

Lastly, on the topic of whether all swords are intelligent and possessive of an alignment, I house rule the following method. Given that one-half (result of 1-6 on a d12 from the Intelligence roll) of all magic swords have an Intelligence of 6 or lower, and that swords with 6 or less Intelligence have no Egoism rating, no special Mental Powers, and no Communicative Ability, I simply rule that those swords are all standard, non-aligned, non-intelligent magic swords.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


Will Douglas said...

I always loved magic swords.

When I first got my Original Collector's Edition, I immediately tried rolling up special, powerful swords.

But I kept rolling 6 or less on that d12, so they just didn't come up.

(I was raised in the wild by a pack of rules lawyers, so the idea of just picking something didn't even occur to me at that time.)

And the next magic sword I create will be called Skoing, from the word I need to type to post this comment. These words amuse me more all the time!

Sham aka Dave said...

I think there's a clan of ether-Gnomes in the internets typing those words. There's no way they're random.

The swords...I've yet to roll up a memorable one using the OD&D rules, but I'm sure some crazy powerful one will pop up eventually.

John Stephens said...

An idea just occurred to me: what if all magic swords have the capacity for intelligence and special abilities, but for some reason most of them haven't awoken - yet. Something has to happen to wake them up, but after that they gain experience points and abilities tied to level, and an ever increasing Ego score as well.

Sham aka Dave said...

That's an interesting idea, John. It might be perfect for those special purpose swords. I've already realized I need to keep an index card for each intelligent sword handy with my notes during play (otherwise I forget about them), so adding more specifics like this might be fun, and tracking experience or occurences which might possibly increase that sword's power or ego wouldn't be too difficult.

Thanks for the ideas!

Chgowiz said...

Dave, what a fantastic post and it has fit neatly into some questions I've been asking about how to Identify magical items from an OD&D perspective.

I tend to think of the simple 'plussie' type of weapons to be similar to the "Hanzo" type of weapons - best of the best, perfect items that convey advantages that aren't 'magical' in nature, but are just as powerful. That flail you bought from Scruffy the Blacksmith is good, but if you pick up Sauron's Massive HeadCrusher, it might not be magical, but it sure as hell is going to be extremely high quality.

I guess this is similar to 3.x's mechanic of "Masterwork" weapons? I don't know.

Thank you for the inspiration though.

Pere Ubu said...

You know - I had thought for ages that "Detect meal" was perfectly valid and meant that the sword could detect masses of grain. It was odd, sure, but I thought "what the heck, they must know what they're doing".

Sham aka Dave said...

As noted, although I have not rolled a magic sword with the "Detect Meal and what kind" ability, I do look forward to having such a sword in my OD&D campaign.

It's just too cool not to leave it as is!

hcg said...

I hope you have a nice day! Very good article, well written and very thought out. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.