Monday, January 12, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 33

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
EXPLANATIONS OF MAGIC ITEMS (continued)

POTIONS: All potions come in a quantity sufficient to perform whatever their end is, although a small sample can be taken without effecting the whole.”
The notion of “taking a sip” of a potion in order to glean some minor insight into its effects is as old as the hills, as they say. My players have always done this, but I’m not sure where exactly they learned this method. Perhaps it has been handed down though the ages, and as long as I can remember, it has been a staple of player magic item investigation. The question is what happens when a sip is taken of the Delusion or Poison varieties? Delusion would give some false clue, or simply hint at something untrue. Once quaffed, Delusion would just make the poor sap think the potion was something else, such as Dragon Control, Flying or Treasure Finding. Hilarity will normally ensue. Poison on the other hand is a bit trickier. If a sip is all that is required to force a saving throw, then the party has just found a large amount of poison which might be used for some sinister purpose later. I read the above passage to mean that while a small sample can be taken, the effects are not gained unless the whole amount is drunk. So, the infamous Poison Potion is a bit tricky in that regard. The best approach might be to mislead the players until such a time that the entire Poison Potion is consumed, revealing its true nature then and only then. Another solution might be to assume that the Poison Potion is dropped as soon as it is tasted as the character clutches at his neck; the contents spilling out or the vial shattering. Or, you might not care that you have allowed the players access to some amount of deadly poison. They might even thank you for it later, assuming they made their saving throw.

Giant Strength: Gives the recipient full Giant prowess, including two dice of damage when he scores a hit.”
Aha. An example of Strength literally adding to melee damage. Previous wording had attributed such monster damage ranges to mass, and not Strength. A very potent libation, to be sure. 70 to 120 minutes of two dice of damage is nothing to sneeze at in this version of the game.

Longevity: Reduces 10 game-years from the game-age of the character drinking it.”
I’m led to believe that game-age and game-years came into play in the old days often enough that this item was devised as a much needed counter-measure. I’m curious as to why the authors felt the need to specify “game-years” and “game-age” rather than simply years and age. Am I missing something? Why is it being deliberately spelled out to avoid confusion? I’m missing something here.

RINGS: A ring must be worn to be employed, and only one ring may be worn on each hand if the ring is to be operable by the wearer. (The referee should be careful to enforce this in order to maintain some balance in the game).”
I’m reminded of the NPC in The Rogue’s Gallery who wore a bracelet with numerous magical rings which could be quickly changed as the situation demanded. I think it was an Assassin, but as I misplaced my copy of that AD&D product, I can’t remember for sure. You can bet in my later Monty Haul campaign most of the high level players duplicated this little trick. Of course I required a full round’s actions to swap rings, just because I got tired of the tactic. Perhaps if I hadn’t handed out magical rings like lemon drops I never would have had to cope with those antics? Hmmmm. Anyway, I later brewed up a funky magic item that allowed characters a third hand, as well as one free attack per round in melee. The now infamous "Zipper Arms" were sought high and low in that same gonzo campaign. If only I had actually READ passages like the one above, warning referees to maintain control of the game balance and not go too crazy. Ah, the youthful exuberance of yesteryear.

Three Wishes: As with any wishes, the wishes granted by the ring must be of limited power in order to maintain balance in the game. This requires the utmost discretion on the part of the referee.”
More warnings from Mr. Gygax. Wishes are more or less flexible magic spells. Potentially powerful, but best used with extreme caution and foresight. We are treated through the old editions of the game with bits and pieces hinting at how the authors handled wishes. I’ve always taken that approach to heart, and my players, as I assume most players did as well, would carefully write out their wishes and present them to me almost in contract form. They’d pore over the notes, ensuring that everything was air-tight and straight-forward. This of course only made me think longer and harder of ways in which to pervert their wishes. They’d have been better off just stating their wishes, but of course I created that monster through the years; all it took was one or two “minor” misinterpretations on my behalf to make the players eventually behave like copyright lawyers.

Delusion: A ring which makes the wearer see whatever he desires, I.e. a bummer thrown in to fool the players.”
Nothing earth-shattering here, fairly self-explanatory. I just like the “a bummer thrown in to fool the players” bit. Not only do I rarely ever hear anyone say “bummer” anymore, that bit of 70’s slang is actually used in a way in which I’ve never seen nor heard.

WANDS AND STAVES:

Paralization: A paralization ray of the same dimensions as a Fear Wand. Creatures take half damage if their saving throw is made
.”
Huh? Either someone was being lazy and copied the last sentence of the entry before this one (which is a Wand of Cold), or the wording is way off. I’d rule that the saving throw is for no effect, but one might assume it is for one-half duration. No actual duration is provided, though.

Staff of Striking: This Staff does not add to hit probability, but due to the energy within it, it scores two dice of damage when a hit is made.”
This, dear readers, is in fact an item that most Fighting-Men would give up their shields for! Unfortunately it is usable by Magic-Users and Clerics only. What a waste. On the other hand, a Cleric with one of these is nothing to scoff at, provided he’s able to connect since the staff yields no bonus to hit. Still a cool magic item, as it requires no charges to operate. It’s just a 1974 beat-stick.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

13 comments:

Geoffrey said...

A portion of a transcript of what has often happened when a potion is found:

Player A: I take a sip. Do I feel anything?

DM: No.

Player B: I go pee in the corner.

Player A: I try walking on the pee.

DM: You just splash right through it.

Player A: Well, it's not a potion of water walking.


Sad, but true.

Rod said...

Why not poison an actual potion?

Matthew said...

Perhaps poison potions would simply seem like some other type of potion, similar to sipping a potion of delusion?

You'd only require a saving throw if the entire potion is drank as normal.

Perhaps you could roll randomly (on a d8, for this example) to see what potions seem to be from sampling:

1-4 type is correctly determined (except for a delusion potion which will seem like something else)
5 appears to be a healing potion
6 appears to be a poison potion
7-8 type cannot be determined

-Random

John Stephens said...

I treat Poison and Delusion as ordinary potions that have gone "off" due to age, etc. A sample gives the effect of the original, but if the whole thing is taken then WHAMO!

After all, those things have been down there a long time, and even magic potions have a "best by" date, or should if you ask me.

Sham aka Dave said...

Geoffrey: LOL, funny.

Excellent suggestions, by the way!

Rod and John, sorta the same idea, and I like it!

Random: Again, similar approach. I really like your idea for the Potion Sipping Table!

This is the kind of stuff I'll "borrow" once I get around to compliling and organizing notes and comments from this series. Thanks!

Steamtunnel said...

Hi Sham,

Perhaps you could have the potion take effect with an added poison effect. Yes- the potion of fire breathing works but it also can kill you.

Sham aka Dave said...

Steamtunnel, thanks for the comment. The more I think about it the more I agree with both you and Rod, the easiest way might be to just "add poison" to a Potion. The funny thing is, I've had some fountains that essentially do something like this already. The fountain heals, as advertised, but it also poisons. Save vs poison and be cured, miss save vs poison and be cured, then die.

John has the same line of thinking; that the Poison Potion is another sort of potion which turned toxic with age.

Brunomac said...

I'm not sure what to chime in about the "poison potion." Isn't a vial of poison just a vial of poison? So, some tricky wizard put some poison in a potion vile. Sort of like somebody spiking your carton of milk.

At some point I started making potions in my game fairly obvious as far as affects. A potion of featherfall will have a small piece of feather floating in it. A potion of cold resistence will be a frosty blue color. Some potions won't be that obvious though.

I never liked the "sipping" method. In my game I usually have 4 full doses in a vial, so a dose might often have to be sacrificed to find out what it is. Or maybe just drop by the local wizards guild/school with a pocket full of gold to pay for an identify.

This D&D cover to cover is really an incredible undertaking. Way beyond the scope of my own crappy blog. Keep up the good work!

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks, Bruno. I've done some similar stuff with potions in the past. For the longest time I ruled that a Potion of Healing had 8 oz, and that each oz healed a single hit. I also used a color-chart for the longest time, with experience the players might learn the various colors, and not bother sipping everything.

The Poison Potion bit was due to the fact that sipping was permitted in OD&D. I've always allowed it myself, but it doesn't always help the players determine the effects. If you don't allow sipping as a way to possibly glean some insight into the potion's effect, then yeppers, Poison Potions need be nothing more than just that.

Brunomac said...

Hmm...color coding. I've always had healing potion be blue (probably a standard with most), and of course you could imagine that a protection from fire might be red. It would make sense that the brewing wizard/alchemist would have at least a color code for containers if not the liquid itself. How else would they know what was what in the workshop?

The poison potion must be from the same school as that worm that lives in doors, and jumps into your head if you try to listen at it. So many penalties for so many things you had to do in OD&D (sip potions, listen at door, look out windows, sleep in a dungeon corridor, etc etc etc).

I do tend to simplify things a bunch. I usually have something like an amulet of protection be in the shape of a shield. Not very imaginative, but it's easy...

Matthew said...

Brunomac, the poison potion makes sense for DMs who require that an entire potion be drank to get any effects at all.

It can be interesting when players sip and are fine, but gulp it and have to save or die.

That's a bit different from normal poison, where perhaps even a sip will kill you.

-Random

Sham aka Dave said...

Brunomac: I usually have something like an amulet of protection be in the shape of a shield.

This is excellent. Perhaps another way of making magic shields with no actual "plusses", something which was discussed in the previous Cover to Cover post about armor. I'll be stealing this idea if I do in fact do away with +X shields.

Random: Yep. Thank you for making my often rambling points much clearer!

Brendan said...

I've always treated the "take a sip" method as a dangerous method of identification that you only use if you want to risk it. Much safer to wait until you return to the surface and can engage the services of a sage to identify the potion reliably. This also makes poison potions seem more "fair" to me. I've always avoided making potions identifiable visually as Bruno suggests (makes me think too much of video games).