Monday, December 15, 2014

Book of Spells, 2nd Edition Released!

Original Edition Delta: Book of Spells, 2nd Edition has been released as of today. In case you don't know what that means, here's the elevator pitch:
A concise, comprehensive collection of magic spells for use with the "original edition" fantasy game rules (as published by Gygax & Arneson, 1974-1975). A handy supplement for both DMs and players of wizard characters. Now revised & edited with extra care for the 2nd Edition! All of the spells have been refined and polished to let their essential facets shine brightly -- bringing them in even closer alignment with the original game. It's easier than ever for DMs and players to use and remember any wizard spell at the table without slowing down the game.
For those of you have been waiting since Dec-1 for me to get this out, I greatly appreciate your patience. There's definitely a lesson here for how ludicrously OCD I get at the end of a project, reviewing and re-reading and re-editing tiny details over and over again on a daily basis (I think I have over 20 edited version of the thing on my hard drive, most in the last few weeks). I guess in the future I need to make more of a push early on to really finalize stuff to my satisfaction. And also not schedule that work right during final exams where I teach.

I encourage you to get a PDF copy so you can store and duplicate it when you need to, and provide a copy to each wizard player at your table (especially when they don't have the old books). But the print copies from Lulu are quite nice, and personally I get a stack of about a half-dozen and keep the handy for all my games. If you need it by the holiday you can still get expedited shipping. :-)

Get it at Lulu, by the links below or in the updated sidebar. Enormous thanks to everyone who's commented on the blog here or by email, many of your comments were incorporated and made big improvements in places, by my standards. Looking forward to any comments you may have in the future. Happy Yuletide!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book of Spells 2E Delayed

 Pascal is famed for having said:

I made this very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.

Well, granted that the prime directive for the Book of Spells, 2nd Edition is "maximal brevity", even though I've been promising a release today (Monday, Dec-1), I am going to be taking some damn time to make it even shorter. And hopefully better. More specifically: I had some really wonderful and detailed comments and suggestions from reviewers for improvements, and I fell behind on reading, defending, and acting on them (entirely my own fault over the Thanksgiving weekend). So I'll be taking another few days to make sure it's as polished as I can make it with everyone's help. Hopefully later this week? Thanks for your patience!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Project Image

Here's a historical look at one more top (6th) level spell from Original D&D, with some fine print you may have overlooked, before seeing my take on it in Book of Spells, 2nd Edition -- on sale in just one week, on Monday December 1st!

Original D&D

Projected Image: By means of this spell the Magic-User projects an image of himself up to 24" away, and all spells and the like used thereafter appear to originate from the Projected Image. Duration: 6 turns. Range: 24".

Here's projected image, as it appears in OD&D; it make an illusory duplicate of the caster, from which his or her spells now originate. Reading this, I would raise a few questions: If you see a separate duplicate of a caster (not close-by as for mirror image), don't you have proof that the one casting spells is the illusory one? The long range of of 24" is very nice but can the caster control it from out-of-sight (around a corner, through a screen or door, behind numerous stone walls? Does the caster get some kind of sensory report to permit that long-distance functioning? And is this really worth a 6th-level (top) slot?

The Swords & Spells specification is no different (Range: 24", Area Effect: personal, Turn Duration: 6), so with that we'll move on to the Moldvay/Cook rules.

Expert D&D

Projected Image
Range: 240'
Duration: 6 turns

This spell creates an image of the magic-user that cannot be distinguished from the original except by touch. All spells cast by the magic-user will seem to come from the image. However, the caster must still be able to see the target. If touched or struck by a melee weapon, the image will disappear. Spells and missile attacks will seem to have no effect on the image. The magic-user who casts the spell can make the image appear up to 240' away.

Cook keeps the name & basics the same, but inserts some answers to those rather obvious, and continually nagging, questions about illusions. The caster must see the target of any spell normally (but not the projected image?). The illusion disappears if touched physically, but is immune to spells and missiles (very similar to other Cook-interpreted illusions such as phantasmal force). And spells still come from the image, no exceptions.

AD&D 1st Edition

Project Image  (Alteration, Illusion/Phantasm)
Level:  6
Range: 1"/level
Duration:  1 round/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components:  V, S, M
Casting Time:  6 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description:  By means of this spell, the magic-user creates a non-material duplicate of himself or herself, projecting it to any spot within spell range which is desired. This image performs actions identical to the magic-user -- walking, speaking, spell-costing -- as the magic-user determines. A special channel exists between the image of the magic-user and the actual magic-user, so spells cast actually originate from the image. The image can be dispelled only by means of a dispel magic spell (or upon command from the spell caster), and attacks do not affect it. The image must be within view of the magic-user projecting it at all times, and if his or her sight is obstructed, the spell is broken. The material component of this spell is a small replica (doll) of the magic-user.

Here's Gygax revision (and renaming) of the spell in AD&D. The range is now variable with level (as usual), and the duration is now in 1-minute rounds (as happened to most spells in turns from OD&D Vol-1, prior to the turn = 10 minutes stipulation that appeared in Vol-3). Notice that his answers to the questions from OD&D are the converse of Cook's: the caster must maintain line-of-sight to the projected image, but apparently not the targets of any spells coming from it. No normal attacks of any sort affect it or can banish it (even melee), which is somewhat in line with Gygax's more powerful interpretation of phantasmal force (which stays in the game as long as the caster makes it respond to attacks in a realistic manner). Note that we still have all spells automatically coming from the projected image, which to me maintains the obviousness of identifying which is image and which is real caster (unless the caster always manages to be screened or in some hidey-hole; perhaps best used for audiences in their personal stronghold?).

Project image is not among the spells with errata notes in the 1E DMG.

AD&D 2nd Edition

Project Image
(Alteration, Illusion/Phantasm)
Range: 10 yds./level
Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 6
Saving Throw: None

By means of this spell, the wizard creates a nonmaterial duplicate of himself, projecting it to any spot within spell range. This image performs actions decided by the wizard -- walking, speaking, spellcasting -- conforming to the actual actions of the wizard unless he concentrates on making it act differently (in which case the wizard is limited to half movement and no attacks).

The image can be dispelled only by means of a successful dispel magic spell (or upon command from the spellcaster); attacks pass harmlessly through it. The image must be within view of the wizard projecting it at all times, and if his sight is obstructed, the spell is broken. Note that if the wizard is invisible at the time the spell is cast, the image is also invisible until the caster's invisibility ends, though the wizard must still be able to see the image (by means of a detect invisibility spell or other method) to maintain the spell. If the wizard uses dimension door, teleport, plane shift, or a similar spell that breaks his line of vision, the project image spell ends.

The material component of this spell is a small replica (doll) of the wizard.

Cook's second take at the project image spell shares most of the rules that Gygax laid down in 1E -- such as the requirement that the caster remain in sight of the image (not targets of the spell). What I am not found of here is the added detail on what happens if the caster is invisible (presumably something a player of Cook's once did), and cessation of the spell in case of the wizard teleporting (which is really implied by the line-of-sight rule) -- both seem like unnecessary complications that will rarely happen, things the DM should be able to adjudicate, and making the spell text bloated and somewhat harder to read.

D&D 3rd Edition

Project Image
Illusion (Shadow)
Level: Brd 6, Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Effect: One shadow duplicate
Duration: 1 round/level (D)
Saving Throw: Will disbelief (if interacted with)
Spell Resistance: No

The character creates a shadow duplicate of him or herself; it looks, sounds, and smells like the character but is intangible. The shadow mimics the character's actions (including speech) unless the character concentrate on making it act differently. The character can see through its eyes and hear through its ears as if the character were standing where it is, and during the character's turn in a round the character can switch from seeing through its eyes to seeing normally, or back again. If the character desires, any spell the character casts whose range is touch or greater can originate from the shadow instead of from the character. (The shadow is quasi-real, just real enough to cast spells that the character originates.) The shadow can cast spells on itself only if those spells affect shadows. The character must maintain line of effect to the shadow at all times. If the character's line of effect is obstructed, the spell ends. If the character uses a spell that breaks the character's line of effect, even momentarily, the spell ends.

The 3rd Edition designers make some subtle, but I think in effect fairly powerful, changes. (If you scan the spell quickly it might be easy to miss what they did here.) First, while the caster must maintain "line of effect" to the image, the caster is given full sensory input from the perspective of the image -- which nicely rationalizes why throughout the AD&D line you don't need line-of-sight to targets of the spells (because you can just see out from the image itself). Second, spells originating from the image are now optional to the caster -- which I think is great, because now you have a legitimate way of masking which is which, even if both are in plain sight on the battlefield or dungeon, say (in addition to still being able to cast those protections and escape spells on the actual caster himself, if desired). Also that junky language specific to invisibility and teleports is cleaned out. I think this is a really good job, which is characteristic of why I do respect much of what the 3E designers were doing.


Basically, I like what the 3E writers did enough -- answering my lingering questions from the days of OD&D, making the spell rather more powerful to legitimize it's 6th-level status -- that I mostly kept the language we received through the SRD, with minor trimmings. Here it is as presented in my Book of Spells, 2nd Edition:

Project Image: (Range: 24 inches, Duration: 6 turns) The caster creates an illusory image of him or herself; it looks, sounds, and smells like the caster but is intangible. The illusion mimics the caster's actions (including speech) unless the caster concentrates on making it act differently. If the caster desires, any spell from the caster whose range is touch or greater can originate from the image instead of from the caster. Attacks do not affect it, and it does not disappear when touched.

I keep the optional status of spells originating from the illusion, which I think is a great idea. I actually cut out the language specifying getting sensory input from the image, not because I loathe it, but simply because it would make the text for spell longer than anything else in the book; and the line-of-effect requirement is by implication with all other spells (both intentionally subject to DM adjudication). I keep the AD&D sensibility of the image not being subject to any attacks (thus making it stronger than phantasmal force which does disappear with any melee hit, as in OD&D).

Is it now worth the 6th-level slot? In what circumstances do you think this spell would most commonly get used? Do you agree with the 3E-era optional image-spellcasting allowance?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Previewing Book of Spells 2E: Stone to Flesh

Who's this gentleman, on the very last page of the new Book of Spells, 2nd Edition, available Monday December 1st?

That's the illustration that my partner Isabelle came up with for the very last spell in the book, stone to flesh. Now, a couple things that I like about this "Easter Island" looking fellow, inspired by that spell: it's a little ambiguous exactly what would happen if you cast stone to flesh on him. Is the implication that it's a trapped giant who then comes back to life and serves you? Can the spell give animation to a huge statue and possibly answer questions from the party? I actually want to give DM's some amount of flexibility and authority in interpreting those kinds of questions, particularly so for spells at the maximum level -- and if I or they are inspired by a work of art like this, so much the better. Plus, he echoes the "great stone face" of the Original D&D Greyhawk supplement -- which Isabelle has never seen.

Here's my current rules text for the stone to flesh spell. Note that there is no allowance for a "reversed" usage of the spell; in OD&D it's the only magic-user spell that seems to imply such usage, and I thought it much cleaner to just remove that complexity from the system (if you want a different effect, then research a different spell).

Stone to Flesh: (Range: 12 inches, Duration: Instant) This spell restores any petrified creature to its normal state. The spell can also convert a mass of stone into a fleshy substance; such flesh is inert unless a life force or magical energy is available. The caster can affect a mass up to 3 feet in diameter and 10 feet long.

The funny thing is that prior to Isabelle's illustration, I had the spell much shorter; it simply said, "This spell restores any petrified creature to its normal state," and I'd cut out the other usage that comes from AD&D/3E SRD. But seeing Isabelle's vision for the spell, I decided I really wanted a figure like that to be affected by the spell. Will it have some "life force" or "magical energy" available for it to speak or act? Or maybe it's just a big slab of meat to use in some more profane way? The DM gets to decide within the given parameters of the spell. At the topmost levels, I think there should be a little mystery in your campaign (at least until your players put their magic to the test).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Move Earth

Here's another installment in our look at top (6th) level spells in Original D&D that have surprising little details packed into them -- ones that informed particular editing choices in the upcoming Book of Spells, 2nd Edition (available on Dec-1). This week we look at move earth.

Chainmail Fantasy

Moving Terrain: Causing the shifting of vegetation hills, etc. A spell possible only to a Wizard. (Complexity 6)

My understanding is that moving terrain wasn't in the 1st-edition Chainmail wizard's spell list, but it was in the 2nd edition from 1972, so it does predate Dungeons & Dragons. (Thanks to Jon Peterson for that info.) Now that's a short spell description, almost the shortest in the game -- beat only in a few characters by haste and slow. Note that the "Wizard" specifier restricts this spell to only the highest level magic-users in the game.

Basically my whole key observation about move earth is right here in the original presentation as moving terrain; it's delightfully curt, clear, and coherent specifically because it's so tightly coupled with the miniatures wargame. All it does is reference the existing terrain pieces in the wargame, and allow them to be moved around on the table. (In Chainmail, this terrain is suggested in the form of 3×5" index cards which are drawn randomly for placement; see p. 10.) In this regard it's a rather obvious game design strategy to introduce an element that monkeys with pre-existing, usually fixed mechanics; in the same category we might include magics like control weather, wizard light and darkness, summoning effective new units via phantasmal forces, etc.

The history of move earth from this point is basically one of its evolution away from this atomic miniatures-wargame mechanic. In so doing it perhaps becomes progressively harder to discern the mission or proper interpretation of the spell.

Original D&D

Move Earth: When above ground the Magic-User may utilize this spell to move prominences such as hills or ridges. The spell takes one turn to go into effect. The terrain affected will move at the rate of 6" per turn. Duration: 6 turns. Range 24".

In OD&D, the spell has changed its name to move earth, slightly obscuring the original intent, but otherwise pretty much the same and comparably brief. It does get additional detail in terms of range, duration, and speed at which the affected terrain features move, which I think was definitely necessary. It doesn't say "vegetation" anymore, so one might possibly rule out its affecting terrain such as woods, swamp, etc.? (Not that I would do that.)

Swords & Spells

Move Earth: [Range] 24", [Area of Effect] 80" (square), [Turn Duration] 6.

In the Swords & Spells listing, move earth has the same range & duration as OD&D, but the area of effect is a new specification. Generally when Gygax writes "(square)" here, it synchs up with "square inches" in OD&D (albeit a mangled way of writing such), so by inference this indicates an 8"×10" area, close to the size of a standard sheet of paper on the tabletop, if that's being used for terrain pieces. Note that this specification is not shared by any later edition.

Expert D&D

Move Earth
Range: 240'
Duration: 6 turns

This spell may be used to magically move earth. It can also be used to alter the surface features of any area within the spell range. The spell will extend downwards until it reaches the limit of the spell range or solid rock. The earth in this area will be moved at 60' per turn, according to the spell caster's wishes. Stone will not be affected by this spell, only soil.

As usual, the Dave Cook Expert D&D rules do a very light brush-up on the spell from OD&D. Perhaps the text here might not appear as crisp nor powerful as OD&D's "move prominences such as hills or ridges". It also introduces restriction in regards to how deep it can go, and that hard stone is unaffected. I'm really not offended by those delimitations.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Move  Earth  (Alteration)
Level: 6
Range: 1"/level
Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: Special
Components:  V,  S,  M
Casting Time: Special
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description:  When cast, the move earth spell moves dirt (clay, loam, sand) and its other components. Thus, embankments can be collapsed, hillocks moved, dunes shifted, etc. The area to be affected will dictate the casting time; for every 4" square area, 1 turn of casting time  is required. If terrain features are to be moved - as compared to simply caving in banks or walls of earth - it is necessary that an earth elemental be subsequently summoned to assist. All spell casting and/or summoning must be completed before any effects occur. In no event con rock prominences be collapsed or moved. The material components for this spell are a mixture of soils (clay, loam, sand) in a small bag, and an iron blade.

Here's the move earth spell as I first encountered it, in AD&D. The emphasis at this time clearly seems to be on flattening terrain features, i.e., removing them, rather than transporting them around ("embankments can be collapsed... dunes shifted... simply caving in banks or walls of earth..."). There is an exceptional case permitted for actually moving terrain features a la OD&D/Chainmail; but it requires a whole extra spell to be cast, namely conjure (earth) elemental, to empower it so. Also we get area limitations (vis-a-vis spell casting time) for the first time, which is probably a good idea. And the prohibition from affecting hard rock is also here.

The AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide also says this about the spell:
Move Earth: The practical limitation on the area of effect of this spell is a 24" square area, with four hours of casting time, exclusive of elemental conjuration.

I would argue that doesn't mathematically make sense. If you cast move earth for 4 hours (24 turns), and got a 4" square area each turn, then you'd affect a total of 384 square inches ~ 20" square. But the stated 24" square area is at least on the same order of magnitude.

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Move Earth
Range: 10 yds./level
Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: Special
Saving Throw: None

When cast, the move earth spell moves dirt (clay, loam, sand) and its other components. Thus, embankments can be collapsed, hillocks moved, dunes shifted, etc. However, in no event can rock prominences be collapsed or moved. The area to be affected dictates the casting time; for every 40 yard x 40 yard surface area and 10 feet of depth, one turn of casting time is required. The maximum area that can be affected is 240 yards x 240 yards, which takes four hours.

If terrain features are to be moved--as compared to simply caving in banks or walls of earth--it is necessary that an earth elemental be subsequently summoned to assist. All spell casting or summoning must be completed before any effects occur. As any summoned earth elemental will perform most of its work underground, it is unlikely that it will be intercepted or interrupted. Should this occur, however, the movement of the earth requiring its services must be stopped until the elemental is once again available. Should the elemental be slain or dismissed, the move earth spell is limited to collapsing banks or walls of earth.

The spell cannot be used for tunneling and is generally too slow to trap or bury creatures; its primary use is for digging or filling moats or for adjusting terrain contours before a battle.

The material components for this spell are a mixture of soils (clay, loam, sand) in a small bag and an iron blade.

Note: This spell does not violently break the surface of the ground. Instead, it creates wavelike crests and troughs, with the earth reacting with glacierlike fluidity until the desired result is achieved. Trees, structures, rock formations, etc. are relatively unaffected, save for changes in elevation and relative topography.

So in 2nd Edition, the move earth spell jumps from one paragraph to five paragraphs in length. The first two paragraphs are mostly the same as the 1E AD&D spell, with added notation on any associated earth elemental doing work underground, being unlikely to be interrupted, but losing its advantage if it is (which starts to look a bit pedantic to my eye). Paragraphs three and five seem to mostly entail restrictions on using it in combat to bury or trap opponents, due to issues of speed, location, and functionality. It can't be used for tunneling (which I agree with).

D&D 3rd Ed.

Move Earth
Level: Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: See text
Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Area: Dirt in an area up to 750 ft. square and up to 10 ft. deep (S)
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

Move earth moves dirt, possibly collapsing embankments, moving hillocks, shifting dunes, etc. However, in no event can rock formations be collapsed or moved. The area to be affected determines the casting time. For every 150-foot square (up to 10 feet deep), casting takes 10 minutes. The maximum area, 750 feet by 750 feet, takes 4 hours and 10 minutes to move.

This spell does not violently break the surface of the ground. Instead, it creates wavelike crests and troughs, with the earth reacting with glacierlike fluidity until the desired result is achieved. Trees, structures, rock formations, and such are mostly unaffected except for changes in elevation and relative topography.

The spell cannot be used for tunneling and is generally too slow to trap or bury creatures. Its primary use is for digging or filling moats or for adjusting terrain contours before a battle.

The 3rd Edition version is largely the same as the 2nd. Certainly it's not a widely-used spell, nor one that seems overpowered, so it's likely not one that the designers felt needed a total overhaul. Note that, as in 2d Edition, "Trees... are relatively unaffected", which is exactly the opposite of the original version of the spell in Chainmail, which actually mentioned moving "vegetation" around first and foremost, even before hills and other features, in the context of terrain pieces in a miniatures wargame.


Here's what I decided to do in Book of Spells, 2nd Edition: go back to the inspiration, clarity, and brevity in the OD&D/Chainmail version of move earth/moving terrain. Instead of obscuring the use of the spell in a miniatures wargame, I wanted to highlight it and bring it to the fore -- without prohibiting more creative uses. At this highest level of spell power, this provides an intentional and direct link to a mass warfare game such as Book of War, for example, and indeed it was designed and tested in parallel with that game. Here's the final text:

Move Earth: (Range: 24 inches, Duration: 6 turns) This spell can move any one terrain feature over soft ground (not hard rock formations). An area up to 12” × 12” square is affected, and moves at a speed of 6” per turn. Creatures may be caught up and moved with the feature in question. Concentration is required throughout the spell's duration.

The prohibition against moving hard rock is maintained. I specify that creatures caught in the effect are moved with the terrain, because that's the simplest adjudication while the mass warfare game is in progress (picture a stand of figures already sitting on a hill; might as well just keep them on the hill while it moves -- in contrast, perhaps, to the 2nd & 3rd Edition "wavelike crests and troughs" ruling).

One other point should be made; the 12 × 12" square area (smaller and simpler than the 1E/2E rule) is chosen specifically to encompass the size of terrain features established for my Book of War game.  (These are specified as being equal to a standard page size of about 8½×11"; and that in turn designed to be compatible with terrain pieces from Warhammer 6th Ed.: "...areas are all assumed to be no greater than 12" across at their widest point. So, a wood or hill can be 12" in diameter or 12"×6" for example", p. 220).

However, in this regard we run into a problem with the rules-fix that first appeared in the AD&D Player's Handbook p. 39: "IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT OUTDOOR SCALE BE USED FOR RANGE ONLY, NEVER FOR SPELL AREA OF EFFECT (which  is  kept at  1”  =  10’)" (screamy caps as in the original). Unfortunately, this would actually mean that our area here is fixed at 120 feet square, and in the outdoors/mass-warfare scale of 1"=10 yards or so, the spell would effectively shrink on the tabletop to a mere 4" in length and width (and thereby not encompass a whole terrain piece). So specifically because of this I've invented a new rules exception in the Foreword to Book of Spells, 2nd Edition for this and other spells in the same category:

While areas-of-effect do not usually scale up outdoors (feet-to-yards), this should be allowed for higher level spells that are specialized to the wilderness setting (i.e., hallucinatory terrain, plant growth, transmute rock to mud, lower water, move earth).

How does that look to you?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Previewing Book of Spells 2E: Wizard Eye

Well, here we are are the end of Halloween weekend. Some people say that their greatest fear is spiders or something like that (I think I spent too much time growing up on the farm with all creatures great and small walking under me, next to me, and on me from time to time). Even the invisible stalker from last week really intrigues more than terrifies me. No, what has always completely freaked me out is disconnected or dislocated body parts. So here, let me share with you my partner Isabelle's page of rough concept sketches for the Book of Spells, 2nd Edition "wizard eye" spell and give you the creeps for another week:

Among the priorities for the 2nd edition (available Dec-1 with the even more horrifying final art within, how's that for a sales pitch?) has been to bring the text even more closely in alignment and theme with the Original D&D game. For example, I've switched numerous names back to the recognizable classic ones: Arcane eye is once again wizard eye. Likewise: Arcane lock is back to wizard lock. Protection from arrows is protection from missiles. Summon elemental is conjure elemental, and summon stalker is invisible stalker. Circle of death is once again the death spell. Stuff like that.

(Now, not absolutely everything is back to OD&D standards. Like: I just can't get over how much I loathe the acronym ESP in the spell list, nor did I like the SRD-brand detect thoughts, so I settled on read minds as the title it really should have had all along -- having some amount of real myth/magician resonance to it. Also, those spells with numerical parameters in the title: invisibility 10' radius is still invisibility sphere, and protection from evil 10' radius is what I now call the protective sphere.)

Anyway, here's my cut-and-polished version of the wizard eye spell for you to sneak a peek at yourself. Small is beautiful!

Wizard Eye: (Range: 6 inches, Duration: 6 turns) The caster creates an invisible, magical eye through which he or she can see from a distance. Once conjured, the wizard eye can travel at a speed of 12” per round, up to 24” from the caster. The eye can pass through cracks about the size of a mouse-hole.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Invisible Stalker

In anticipation of the release of the 2nd Edition of Book of Spells on December 1st, I wanted to look at a couple of high-level spells which are not commonly thought of as problematic, but wind up revealing tricky details if you squint at them long enough. These are issues that I didn't have time to pick up on in the 1st edition, and only on this iteration did I catch them with the finer-toothed comb I was using to untangle stuff. At the end you'll see the specific language I decided to use in the new edition of the book.

Original D&D 

Invisible Stalker: The conjuration of an extra-dimensional monster which can be controlled with merely a word from the Magic-User who conjured him. The Invisible Stalker will continue on its mission until it is accomplished, regardless of time or distance. They cannot be dispelled once conjured, except through attack. Details of the Invisible Stalker itself will be found in the next volume.
The invisible stalker spell was never in Chainmail, so of course we begin with OD&D. One unusual issue with the spell is that you've got writeups for "invisible stalker" in two books: once in the player's book for the spell, and once in the monster book for the creature itself. So in each case we should look in both volumes. Here it is in OD&D Vol-2, Monster & Treasure:
INVISIBLE STALKERS: As previously noted (Vol. 1) these are monsters created by level 6 spells, uttered directly or from scrolls. They are faultless trackers. They follow continually until their mission is accomplished at which time they return to the non-dimension from whence they came. Until their mission is completed they will never vary, and must be destroyed by attack to be stopped, although a Dispell Magic spell will also work. The referee should note, however, that Invisible Stalkers resent missions which entail long periods of continuing service such as guarding a Magic-User for a month, a year, etc. They will then seek to fulfill the letter of their duties by perverting the spirit. For example: An Invisible Stalker is ordered to: "Guard me against all attack, and see that I come to no harm." In order to faithfully fulfill this endless duty the Invisible Stalker will have to take the Magic-User to its non-dimensional plane and place him in suspended animation, and assume this is accomplished whenever a 12 is rolled with two six-sided dice, checking either daily or weekly as the campaign progresses.
Did you catch the glitch? The spell writeup in Vol-1 says that dispel magic does not work, but the monster writeup in Vol-2 says dispel magic does work, so as to eliminate an invisible stalker. I don't see any way to decide the impasse in OD&D on the issue; perhaps taking a consensus from other editions will serve to clarify? The other thing that's interesting in this fairly long monster description (for OD&D) is the bit at the end, where long or ongoing assignments check a 2d6 roll daily or weekly, with box-cars indicating some subversion like carrying away the caster for eternity. This random roll is altered or deleted in future editions.

In the original D&D supplement Swords & Spells, invisible stalker appears in the list of parametrized spells, noting a Range of 1", Area Effect of "1 monster", and Turn Duration of "until destroyed". Note that many other spells in that list, basically the ones that are permanent, are listed as "until dispelled". So perhaps this is a second signal that dispel magic is not meant to work here; or perhaps it's just that destruction in combat takes priority as a more general and expected countering. So it's still unclear.

Expert D&D

Invisible Stalker
Range: 0'
Duration: special

This spell summons an invisible stalker (see page X34) which will follow orders from the magic-user that conjured it. The invisible stalker will continue on its given mission until the mission is accomplished, regardless of time or distance. Once conjured, the invisible stalker can only be sent back by being "killed" in combat or by a clerical dispel evil spell.
That's the spell description; note that it adds the capability of the 5th-level cleric dispel evil to take it out. While it doesn't mention dispel magic by name, if I'm reading the "can only be sent back" passage right, that lower-level spell should not be effective against invisible stalkers (same as the spell description in OD&D). Here's the monster description (stat block elided):
Invisible Stalker
An invisible stalker is a very intelligent enchanted monster summoned to this world by use of the invisible stalker magic-user's spell. If the stalker is given a simple task that is clear and can be swiftly completed, it will obey promptly. If the task is complex or lengthy, the invisible stalker will try to distort the intent while obeying the literal command. EXAMPLE: If ordered to guard a treasure for longer than a week, the stalker may take it away to its native plane of existence and guard it there forever.
Invisible stalkers are most often used to track and slay enemies. They are faultless trackers. They surprise any creature that cannot detect invisible creatures on a 1d6 roll of 1-5. They will return to their native plane once they are slain, or dispelled, or have completed their task.
Now once again the monster description says that it can be "dispelled". Most likely this is a carryover from the glitchy OD&D language. But in this case it at least can be interpreted as referring to dispel evil, thereby removing the contradiction. Perhaps.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Invisible Stalker  (Conjuration/Summoning)
Level:  6 
Range:  1"
Duration: Special 
Components:  V, S, M
Casting Time:  1 round
Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: Special

Expalantion [sic] /Description:  This spell summons an invisible stalker from the Elemental Plane of Air.  This 8 hit die monster will obey and serve the spell caster in performance of whatever tasks are set before it. However, the creature is bound to serve; it does not do so from loyalty or desire. Therefore, it will resent prolonged missions or complex tasks, and  it  will attempt to pervert instructions accordingly (for complete details of the invisible stalker, consult  ADVANCED DUNGEONS  &  DRAGONS, MONSTER MANUAL).  The invisible stalker will follow instructions even at hundreds or thousands of miles distance. The material components of this spell are burning incense and a piece of horn carved into a crescent shape.
In AD&D, for the first time we see the invisible stalker get the detail that it comes from the Elemental Plane of Air. For some reason I find this less awe-inspiring than some unknown alien dimension, possibly Lovecraftian, which is an option left open in OD&D. It does not mention use of dispel magic (so the restriction has been removed?). Note that the range given is 1", as seen first in Swords & Spells (and opposed to the B/X range of 0; a common pattern). The previously-published Monster Manual sayeth thusly:

The invisible stalker is a creature from the elemental plane of air, normally encountered on the material plane only due to the conjuration of some magic-user. This conjuration causes the creature to serve for a period on this plane. Invisible stalkers roam the astral and ethereal planes, and if they are encountered there on the elemental planes, they can be dimly seen. Otherwise or unless their opponents are able to detect/see invisible objects, their invisibility causes opponents to subtract 2 from "to hit" dice rolls. Unless slain on their own plane, invisible stalkers are simply sent back to the elemental plane when damage accrued exceeds their total hit points.

The conjuring party retains full command of the invisible stalker summoned until  it  fulfills its duties or is killed. Once set upon a mission, an invisible stalker will follow through unceasingly until it is accomplished. They are faultless trackers within one day of a quarry's passing. They must be destroyed to make them cease an ordered attack. Once a mission is finished, the creature is freed to return to its own plane. The invisible stalker is at best an unwilling servant but will not resent a brief, uncomplicated task. Service involving a period of a week tries the creature severely, and anything longer is  certain to make it attempt to fulfill the letter of command by perverting the spirit of it. This is not to say that impelling the invisible stalker to serve for extended periods is impossible, but the compulsion to cause it to do so fully and properly must be great, i.e. a carefully worded command from a very powerful magic-user. A simple command such as "Follow me, and guard me from any attack," could be interpreted to mean follow at  100'  distance if the invisible stalker had been on duty over a week - or perhaps even if it hadn't been that long, for dealing with such creatures is always a hazard. Similarly, a command to: "Keep me safe from all harm," can be construed by the invisible stalker to mean that it is to carry the conjuring party to its own plane and place them in suspended animation in a secret room in its own abode, thus carrying out its duties to the letter.

Each day of duty which an invisible stalker serves will see a 1% cumulative chance of the creature seeking to pervert the intent of its commands in order to be free of servitude. If no option remains open, the stalker must continue to serve.

Invisible stalkers understand the common speech, but they do not talk any language but their own.
While this block of text has bloated up usual under the unrestrained hand of Gygax in AD&D, parallel to the Player's Handbook spell description, the language allowing dispel magic to work has gone missing here from the monster description. So by default I would assume that most readers of AD&D would conclude that a dispel magic would will work to terminate this spell; and yet it's still not an explicit ruling on the situation one way or the other. Note that the boxcars-on-2d6 method of determining long mission subversion has switched to 1% daily cumulative chance (but unclear if that's meant to start after the first week or not).

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Invisible Stalker
Range: 10 yds.
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 rd.
Saving Throw: None

This spell summons an invisible stalker from the Elemental Plane of Air. This 8-Hit
Dice monster obeys and serves the spellcaster in performing whatever tasks are set before it. It is a faultless tracker within one day of the quarry's passing. The invisible stalker follows instructions even if they send him hundreds or thousands of miles away and, once given an order, follows through unceasingly until the task is accomplished. However, the creature is bound to serve; it does not do so from loyalty or desire. Therefore, it resents prolonged missions or complex tasks, and it attempts to pervert instructions accordingly. Invisible stalkers understand common speech but speak no language save their own.

The material components of this spell are burning incense and a piece of horn carved
into a crescent shape.
The is pretty much the customary copy-and-paste job from 1E. Here's the (incredibly long) monster description in this edition:

Invisible Stalker
The invisible stalker is a creature from the elemental plane of Air. Those encountered on the Prime Material plane have almost always been summoned by wizards to fulfill a specific task.

The true form of the invisible stalker is unknown. On the Material, Astral, or Ethereal planes, the invisible stalker can only be perceived as a shimmering air mass which looks much like the refraction effect caused by hot air passing in front of cold. Invisible stalkers understand the common speech of men, but can not speak it. They can converse only in their own language, which sounds much like the roaring and whooshing of a great wind storm.

Combat: Invisible stalkers attack by using the air itself as a weapon. It is capable of creating a sudden, intense vortex that batters a victim for 4-16 (4d4) points of damage. Such attacks affect a single victim on the same plane as the invisible stalker. Due to their invisibility, these creatures impose a -6 penalty on the surprise rolls of those they choose to attack. Similarly, all opponents who are unable to see or detect invisible foes are at a -2 on their attack rolls. Although they are fully invisible on the Prime Material plane, their outlines can be dimly perceived on the Astral or Ethereal planes.

Invisible stalkers can only be killed on the elemental plane of Air. If attacked on another plane, they automatically return to their home plane when their total hit points are exceeded by the damage they suffered.

Habitat/Society:Little is known about the lives of these creatures on their home plane. It is assumed that they are similar to normal air elementals when encountered there. Those present on the material plane are there as the result of a conjuration by some wizard. This magic causes the creature to serve its summoner for a time. The conjurer retains full command of the stalker until it either fulfills its duties or is defeated and driven back to its home plane. Once given a task, an invisible stalker is relentless. They are faultless trackers who can detect any trail less than a day old. If ordered to attack, they will do so with great fury and will cease their efforts only upon their own destruction or the direct orders of their master. Once their mission is accomplished, the creature is free to return to its home plane.

The invisible stalker is, at best, an unwilling servant. It resents any task assigned to it, although brief, uncomplicated labors may be seen as something of a diversion and thus undertaken with little resentment. Tasks that require a week or more of its time will drive the invisible stalker to pervert the stated intent of the command. Such commands must be carefully worded and come from a powerful wizard. An invisible stalker may look for a loop hole in the command as a means of striking back at its master. For example, a simple command such as "keep me safe from all harm" may result in the stalker carrying the conjurer back to the elemental plane of air and leaving him there in a well hidden location.

Each day of the invisible stalker's indenturedness there is a 1% cumulative chance that the creature will seek a means to pervert its commands and free itself of servitude. If no option is open, the creature must continue to serve.

Ecology: Invisible stalkers are a species unwillingly transplanted to the Prime Material plane. They are slaves whose terms of servitude dominate their brief stays. Those who have been subjected to great hardship, assigned very difficult tasks, or who have faced death at the hands of humanoids, tend to retain a distrust or outright hatred of them. Those that have had an easy time during past periods of service or who are first time arrivals on the Prime Material plane may be easier to deal with. Such feelings may carry over to influence encounters with humanoids traveling in the aerial plane. Anyone who has befriended an invisible stalker in the past will find that voyages through the plane of elemental Air are far less hazardous than they might otherwise have been. Invisible stalkers only obey those who actually summon them and few wizards can be commissioned to summon such a being on another's behalf. Some mercenary wizards have been able to construct the necessary summons onto scrolls that are usable by others. These sell for between 5,000 and 10,000 gp and are very dangerous to use. Even the slightest error can cause users of such scrolls to come to a tragic end.

I guess I never played 2E enough to have read this whole thing. The "vortex of air" attack seems very strange, and not nearly as terrifying as an intimate attack by tooth & claw from an invisible assailant. Perhaps this is the legacy of the Air Elemental specifier come home to roost (elaborated by later designers). Anyway: I can't find any mention of dispel in these blocks of text. So it works normally, by default? Or not?

D&D 3rd Ed.

Summon Monster VII
Conjuration (Summoning) [see text]
Level: Clr 7, Sor/Wiz 7
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 full round
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Effect: One or more summoned creatures, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart
Duration: 1 round/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

This spell summons an outsider (extraplanar creature).  It appears where the character designates and acts immediately, on the character’s turn.  It attacks the character’s opponents to the best of its ability.  If the character can communicate with the outsider, the character can direct it not to attack, to attack particular enemies, or to perform other actions.  Summoned creatures act normally on the last round of the spell and disappear at the end of their turn.

The spell conjures one of the creatures from the 7th-level list on the Summon Monster table below, 1d3 creatures of the same type from the 6th-level list, or 1d4+1 creatures of the same type from a lower-level list.  The character chooses which creature to summon, and can change that choice each time the spell is cast.

Invisible stalker N
In 3rd Edition, the invisible stalker spell is eliminated entirely. Instead it is folded into the broader summon monster spells (here at the 7th level); and in so doing it shortens the duration to just 1 round/level, abstracting away the traditional long-term, long-distance, high-risk-and-reward special nature of the creature (similar to a few other spells like conjure elemental). This might be among the greatest sins of the 3rd Edition project; here a highly memorable piece of the game has been safety-bumpered into a total nonentity.

Notice here that the (D) notation for Duration does definitively establish that a dispel magic can be used to end this greatly altered spell. The monster description is now greatly cut down:

Invisible Stalker
These creatures speak only Auran but can understand Common.

An invisible stalker attacks by using the air itself as a weapon. It creates a sudden, intense vortex of wind that pounds a single target on the same plane as the creature.
Invisible stalkers can be killed only when on the Elemental Plane of Air. When performing tasks elsewhere, they automatically return to their home plane when they suffer sufficient damage to destroy them.

Elemental: Immune to poison, sleep, paralysis, and stunning. Not subject to critical hits. 
Natural Invisibility (Su): This ability is constant, allowing the stalker to remain invisible even when attacking. This ability is inherent and not subject to the invisibility purge spell. 
Improved Tracking (Ex): Invisible stalkers are consummate trackers and make Spot checks instead of the usual Wilderness Lore checks to trace a creature’s passage.
I'd say that all of the interesting aspects of the invisible stalker have been eliminated in this iteration. The sullenness, possible resistance, and risk to the caster from literal interpretation of orders are all gone. Actually only the dumbest thing has been retained -- the antiseptic, hands-off "vortex of wind" attack method. Even the tracking ability has been downgraded from cosmically "faultless" to just getting a Spot check. Basically the spell and the creature have been entirely neutered. But at least we know that a dispel magic serves to exterminate them here.


On the issue of dispelling, no edition of D&D clearly and unambiguously stated whether a dispel magic serves to end the existence of an invisible stalker (up until 3rd Ed., when the spell itself was cut from the rules and the much watered-down analog can definitely be dispelled). So after wrestling with this angel for some amount of time, what did I decide to do in the 2nd edition of Book of Spells? Here's my edited text:

Invisible Stalker: (Range: 6 inches, Duration: Permanent) This spell conjures an invisible stalker (an extraplanar creature), which is compelled to perform one service for the caster. Once conjured, the stalker can work at any time or distance to complete its task; however, the creature is clever, and will seek to subvert instructions for long missions. It cannot be dispelled, although it can be killed in combat. The spell ends when the stalker completes the specified service.

As you can see, I decided to keep the non-dispel restriction, as in the original spell from OD&D. My thinking here is that it increases the threat and the drama from the magical creature -- especially to the summoning wizard him- or herself (if sent after some fighter, thief, or other monster, then it makes little difference). In many cases I would not want an exceptional rule like this, but I think I'm okay with it to distinguish a few spells at the highest level of magic in the game (6th level in OD&D). Furthermore, I actually wanted it here to round out the cases to the theatrical rule-of-3: the new Book of Spells disallows dispel magic against invisible stalker, antimagic sphere, and geas. For purposes of maximal brevity, I did snip out the specific percentage roll for the stalker to subvert its instructions, leaving it fully in the hands of the DM (similar to Dave Cook's version in Expert D&D).

What do you think of that?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

D&D Alignment: Three Hearts and Three Lions

If you're a D&D player who hasn't read Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions (1953), you should go find a copy and fix that as soon as possible. It's short, it's easy to read, and it's very explicit and dense with proto-ideas that fed into the original version of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, I dare say that pound-for-pound (or word-for-word) it's the single densest, most rewarding work to provide background for the milieu and set pieces of the D&D game.

Just one part of that is the origin of the D&D alignment system, in its most coherent state of Law-Balance-Chaos. For the purposes of commentary, criticism, teaching, and scholarship (and so the larger internet community can find it) I present the key passages below. Read this, and then the next step would be start reading some classic Michael Moorcock stories about Elric, which expands on the system (with an overview here).

Chapter 3

He let the dwarf growl on for a long time without learning much. Hugi wasn't very bright, and a backwoodsman as well. Holger got the idea that a perpetual struggle went on between primeval forces of Law and Chaos. No, not forces exactly. Modes of existence? A terrestrial reflection of the spiritual conflict between heaven and hell? In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Law. Ranged against them was almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faeries, Trollheim, and the Giants -- an actual creation of Chaos. Wars among men, such as the long-drawn struggle between the Saracens and the Holy Empire, aided Chaos; under Law all men would live in peace and order and that liberty which only Law could give meaning. But this was so alien to the Middle Worlders that they were forever working to prevent it and to extend their own shadowy dominion.

The whole thing seemed so vague that Holger switched the discussion to practical politics. Hugi wasn't much help there either. Holger gathered that the lands of men, where Law was predominant, lay to the west. They were divided into the Holy Empire of the Christians, the Saracen countries southward, and various lesser kingdoms. Faerie, the part of the Middle World closest to here, lay not far east. This immediate section was a disputed borderland where anything might happen.

Chapter 11

He lost sight of the camp as he wandered on, trying to fit what he had learned into a pattern. This business of Chaos versus Law, for example, turned out to be more than religious dogma. It was a practical fact of existence, here. He was reminded of the second law of thermodynamics, the tendency of the physical universe toward disorder and level entropy. Perhaps here, that tendency found a more... animistic... expression. Or, wait a minute, didn't it in his own world too? What had he been fighting when he fought the Nazis but a resurgence of archaic horrors that civilized men had once believed were safely dead?

In this universe the wild folk of the Middle World might be trying to break down a corresponding painfully established order; to restore some primeval state where anything could happen. Decent humanity would, on the other hand, always want to strengthen and extend Law, safety, predictability. Therefore Christianity, Judaism, even Mohammedanism frowned on witchcraft, that was more allied to Chaos than to orderly physical nature. Though to be sure, science had its perversions, while magic had its laws. A definite ritual was needed in either case, whether you built an airplane or a flying carpet. Gerd had mentioned something about the impersonal character of the supernatural. Yes, that was why Roland had tried to break Durendal, in his last hour at Roncesvalles; so the miraculous sword would not fall into paynim hands...

The symmetry was suggestive. In Holger's home world, physical forces were strong and well understood, mental-magical forces weak and unmanageable. In this universe the opposite held true. Both worlds were, in some obscure way, one; the endless struggle between Law and Chaos had reached a simultaneous climax in them. As for the force which made them so parallel, the ultimate oneness itself, he supposed he would have to break down and call it God. But he lacked a theological bent of mind. He'd rather stick to what he had directly observed, and to immediate practical problems. Such as his own reason for being here.

Chapter 12

There were still many miles of wilderness to travel on the other side of the range, but she had seen a few clearings, isolated farmsteads, and hamlets. "And where'er several men dwell, if they be not evil doers, will belike lie hallowed ground -- a shrine, if naught else -- which most o' the creatures that dog us dare no approach closely."

"But in that case," Holger asked, "how can the Middle World even think of seizing human land?"

"By help o' beings who need no fear daylicht or priestcraft. Animals like yon dragon; creatures wi' souls, like bad dwarfs. However, such allies be too few, and mostly too stupid, to have more than special use. Chiefly, methinks, the Middle World will depend on humans who'll fight for Chaos. Witches, warlocks, bandits, murderers, 'fore all the heathen savages o' the north and south.  These can desecrate the sacred places and slay such men as battle against them. Then the rest o' the humans will flee, and there'll be naught left to prevent the blue gloaming being drawn over hundreds o' leagues more. With every such advance, the realms of Law will grow weaker; not alone in numbers, but in spirit, for the near presence o' Chaos must affect the good folk, turning them skittish, lawless, and inclined to devilments o' their own." Alianora shook her head, troubled. "As evil waxes, the very men who stand for good will in their fear use ever worse means o' fighting; and thereby give evil a free beachhead."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Previewing Book of Spells 2E: Sleep

This December 1st I'll be releasing a 2nd-edition update to my Book of Spells (see sidebar). This is my interpretation of the wizard spells in Original D&D, as they initially existed in levels 1-6 (plus some Greyhawk spells thrown in), with some hopefully judicious edits and fixups for things I've seen in my games over the 40 years since then.

This is meant to serve a couple of purposes simultaneously: one, to be able to provide each wizard player at the table their own concise documentation for the effects of their spells in the game (without burdening other players with that information in a rulebook); and two, to fill in the gap that the original edition has been out-of-print and difficult to obtain for quite some time (while other editions are now sold digitally online, the original game is still not made available by Wizards/Hasbro).

The new edition is, of course, meant to serve the same major goals. While the 1st edition was based rather strictly on the Open Gaming System Reference Document (the new edition is still OGL), in the 2nd edition I've been spending more time individually crafting each spell to bring it more in line with the original game in terms of range, duration, effect, thematics, etc. And generally to try even harder to cut down the text and produce maximal brevity in the spell descriptions, to make things as clear and fast to players and DMs during play as possible. And also do some tune-ups to things that have bothered us in last couple of years about certain spells, or were unintentional side effects of using the SRD as a basis, etc.

One other thing: the 2nd edition has all-new interior artwork by my talented and beautiful partner Isabelle. It's been really delightful to throw some ideas for spells I'd like to see illustrated at her and see what she's come up with. In the next couple of weeks I'd like to share some of these with you. Let me start with this: I think she managed to nail the single most perfect, archetypal, and hilarious depiction of the omnipresent sleep spell in all the years that I've been gaming. Check it out:

(Yes, apparently some adventurers had the decency to put a blanket over their fallen victims before departing.) I'll provide some more updates to Book of Spells, 2nd Edition here in the weeks before Dec-1. If you have other ideas for errata I or rules details you think I may have missed, feel free to send them to me before that time. And check out past "Spells Through the Ages" posts (link) for analyses and discussions that we've had before.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Minis Workshop – Can They Retreat? Part 2

In the last post I asked a series of "can they retreat?" cases, in the context of a miniature mass warfare game, where a hypothetical routed unit is surrounded on just one side, or two, three, etc. Truth be told: The ruling on this is something that has frustrated me my entire life; I feel like I've never gotten it right, and it still pesters me today when running Book of War games. Let's look at some different minis rulebooks to see what they say.


Chainmail (3rd Ed., 1979) actually has two separate morale mechanics: one on p. 15 for post-melee morale (including effects like simply being pushed back a half move or so), and a second on p. 17 for total casualties throughout the battle (which results in immediate elimination). Rules for the former include clauses on what happens if a retreating unit contacts friendly troops (causing disorder or rout in the other unit), but nothing for contact on enemy units. The snippet above is from the second rule section, which says briefly that if "no route of retreat is open to it", then the unit surrenders instead of escaping -- but no guidance is given on what qualifies as an acceptable "route of retreat", or how complete a cordon is needed for a unit to be "surrounded". In these rules that passes as academic, because in either case the routed unit is immediately removed from the table when they fail that excess-casualty morale check.

Swords & Spells

Gygax's Swords & Spells rules was actually my first encounter with miniatures wargaming as a kid. Above you see the two cases in the morale rules there where a forced retreat can happen; in both situations, there is a one-line clause similar to Chainmail about what happens if the unit is "unable to retreat" (respectively: stand and fight at a penalty, or abject surrender). But what exactly constitutes being "unable to retreat"? That's still a raw judgement call. See also the note on the very last line: in both situations the unit "cannot change formation or face", which would seem to rule out any of the cases in the last post where there's contact on all 4 sides. Keeping that particular formation block, the routed unit would seem to be "stuck" by even a minimally wrapped-around enemy.

Battlesystem v.1

In Doug Niles' 1st version of Battlesyststem (the 1985 boxed set), he adds a little more detail to the situation than Gygax did. Here he indicates that as long as there is a gap of 1" extent -- about the width of one single figure -- than the entirety of any routing unit is allowed to escape through the bottleneck, irrespective of the size of the unit. This is actually how I myself interpreted Gygax's rule in Swords & Spells when I initially played with that ruleset. However, at some point it became deeply dissatisfying. If a relatively large unit routs, it seems nonsensical for all the figures to be able to file out through a tiny gap without the enemy being able to stop the action. Game-wise, if you added up the time for all the movements of the separate figures, it couldn't possibly happen within one turn; realism-wise, it fails to simulate "crowd crush" and panic-type situations in those sorts of bottlenecks. Also, since only a completely-surrounded unit could be stopped from escaping, it made capturing an enemy unit effectively impossible (the ability to get figures on every outer inch of a unit, without attacking and routing the target too early, is basically nil).

Battlesystem v.2

Here is Doug Niles' second take on his mass war rules for D&D (1989 perfect-bound glossy book). Seemingly sharing my dissatisfaction with the previous naive interpretation of Gygax, he's a little bit more strict here. On the one hand, he says "a routed unit cannot change frontage [as in Swords & Spells], unless that is the only way it can perform its rout movement" -- but that's just a different way of saying "a routed unit can change its frontage [the opposite of Swords & Spells]". But instead of the previous one-figure gap requirement, here you need a gap equal to "the widest stand of figures in the unit". In these rules, "stand" means a combined base of either two figures for cavalry, or three for infantry. So now that's probably about 2" or 3" wide and then a whole unit can escape. So it's a difference, but not a big one.

I should say that, looking at the preceding, there's a lot of continuity in the mass-warfare rules published by TSR. We could perform an exercises similar to "Spells Through the Ages" and track specific rules or even blocks of text that are basically copy-and-pasted forward from Chainmail, to Swords & Spells, to Battlesystem, with certain edits or expansions along the way (much like this "when do you get blocked from retreating" rule). For some contrast, let's look at the other gorilla in fantasy wargaming:

Warhammer 6th Ed.

A lot of the sensibility is the same here -- a badly-damaged unit is forced to retreat, and is in some danger of being totally destroyed ("if caught by pursuers", i.e., the overrun rule, last paragraph above). Much like Chainmail, there is a treatment of running into friendly units on the move (moving around or even through, 4th paragraph), but not of running into enemy units. Also much like Swords & Spells, the text gently suggests that for fleeing units you should "keep them in formation" (2nd paragraph), which again if enforced strictly would prevent the retreat of a unit with even one or two enemy figures on its backside.

I can't find any more detail on the rights or restrictions for retreating units than that in these 6E Warhammer rules. Again we seem mostly in a judgement-call situation about how small a gap is necessary for a large mob of creatures to escape.


Personally,  I'm pretty surprised that I can't find any more detail to this situation in any of these miniature wargame rules than that. No wonder I've been frustrated for so long. The naive interpretation of Gygax's short comment in Swords & Spells, as implemented in Battlesystem, seems unsatisfyingly generous, and doesn't seem to resemble real "crowd crunch" situations.

What do you think the best expression of the allowed-retreat rule should be? Do any of these rulebooks synch up with your intuitions from the prior blog post?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Minis Workshop – Can They Retreat? Part 1

Below you'll see a series of cases from a miniature mass wargame. Each figure represents 10 or 20 actual creatures. In each case, the Orcs in the center have been Routed, which ordinarily indicates a must-retreat situation. The question is: in which of these cases, if any, would you expect that the Orc unit is blocked from retreating?

Case 1: Contact on one side.

Case 2: Contact on two sides.

Case 3: Contact on three sides.

Case 4: Contact on four sides, with a fairly large gap in the back.

Case 5: Contact on four sides, with a gap slightly larger than one figure in the back.

Case 6: Contact on four sides, completely surrounded.

In which of these cases does it seem that Orcs should not be able to run away or escape? And can you think of any other situations that might be tough or close judgement calls?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Orc & Goblin Light Penalties

I've always been frustrated with D&D's rule for Orc & Goblin light penalties. For example, here it is for goblins in the AD&D Monster Manual:

This is basically repeated in the entries for kobolds and orcs. It's always seemed to me that the −1 attack modifier is really too small to make any real difference. In fact: These days I'm of the mind set that I don't want to deal with any situational ±1 modifiers at all; the payoff from such things is almost surely not worth the mental effort spent tracking them. Certainly we can agree that a 1 in 20 difference does not resemble the complete abhorrence of daylight that you see in say, Tolkien's goblins or northern orcs.

I've known that this modifier had its origins in Chainmail, and assumed that the difference in scale to the combat mechanics was to blame, and that when viewed in those rules it would work in a rational and significant fashion. Let's actually look at that today, which I'd never done before. The interesting thing is that you have to join up three separate tables before you see the actual result in those rules. First, the text unit description (p. 29):

Note that the original had both a −1 modifier to morale and a −1 to "any die rolled"; this was included by reference in the entry for Orcs. Note also that this attack modifier was copied forward to any later version of D&D that we might care about. The −1 to morale was copied into Original D&D (which ostensibly makes use of Chaimail's inscrutable morale rules), but does not appear in Holmes or Moldvay Basic or AD&D, as seen above.This is slightly strange because Moldvay has excellent and highly playable morale rules in which the −1 modifier would be quite well-balanced, and technically there are percentage-based morale rules in the AD&D DMG (even if no one ever used them).

Second, let's look at the Chainmail Fantasy Reference Table near the end of the book (p. 43), where we can see exactly how well goblins and orcs normally fight:

As we can see in the 2nd-to-last column, each of these types attack as "Heavy Foot" (the middle of the 3 infantry types, equivalent to men in chain mail armor). But what does that mean, exactly? Now we flip back a few pages to the Chainmail Combat Tables (p. 40):

The "-" are organizational dashes (not subtractions), so see what the mechanic is here: Players attacking with these types of units will be rolling some handfuls of d6's, the number based on a ratio of attackers to defending types. In every case except one (light foot defending) kills are only possible when some dice show a perfect "6". Therefore: When orcs/goblins fight in daylight, and take a −1 modifier on their attack dice, then the highest they can roll is 5 and it is totally impossible for them to score hits on any opponent except light foot!

That seems like an amazing result when I noticed it tonight. In some wordings, you could sort of try to interpret it as "losing one of the dice they get to roll", but in truth the original language for Chainmail goblins, as shown above ("subtract 1... from any die rolled") can't be read that way -- it's not one subtracted from "dice", it's "any die", that is, every individual die clearly must get the same subtraction from its rolled result.

Amazing! As much as I always wanted a more significant penalty, that seems really stunning, making orcs and goblins entirely ineffective and impotent against almost any enemy when struck by light; how tremendously different that same -1 is in the d20 alternative system, where it is almost negligible. Recall that technically OD&D uses the Chainmail d6-based combat tables above by default -- scaling changes to the modifiers should have been necessary -- surely the difference is so huge it was an oversight and not an intentional adjustment.

Before we go, let's also check in on the little brown book that is Gygax's Swords & Spells fantasy miniature rules for use with (original) Dungeons & Dragons: here, all combat modifiers are given in terms of percentages (p. 24):

Notice that in full daylight, kobolds, orcs, and goblins are assessed a −30% melee output penalty (3rd row from the bottom). That's equivalent to subtracting 6 pips on a 20-sided die -- or close to 2 pips on every 6-sided die in a system like Chainmail, Warhammer, or Book of War! Even in "near full daylight" they take a −10% penalty, equal to subtracting 2 pips on a d20 (bottommost row). This is in addition to the −10% morale penalty that is specified elsewhere (p. 20). We might conclude that when Gygax was looking at the issue with intention, he assessed a severely heavy-duty penalty. Only when he was doing a mindless copy-and-paste job do we get the niggling −1 on a d20 modifier -- which is, unfortunately, how it appears in all the core rulebooks for OD&D, B/X D&D, AD&D, etc.

Looking at this closely, I'm actually motivated to revise my house rules and even Book of War miniature rules for orcs & goblins. Consider this: Let's say that the orcs & goblins D&D d20-based to-hit penalty "should have been" on the order of −4 or so in daylight. Then in a d6-scale like Book of War this becomes a substantive −1 penalty to hit, as in Chainmail; note that in my system they would then be helpless against opponents in plate armor (like heavy cavalry; "6" needed to hit by default), but would still have some chance to hit targets in leather or chain. So this would give greater interest to these types, and rationalize with what we see in Gygax's Chainmail and Swords & Spells games.

And it would also help rationalize the troop costs that he gives in OD&D Vol-3 p. 23 ("Orc support and upkeep is only half that of a man"); when I run these stats through our simulator program (link), preferred costs of just about half do in fact fall out of the system quite nicely (whereas previously there was almost no difference in effectiveness between orcs & men). If we do this re-interpretation, then Orcs & Goblins become a high-risk, high-reward gamble on the battlefield; you really want to avoid the weather being sunny (or at least make sure to bring a Wizard who can control the weather in your favor). What's your preference for that?

Friday, October 3, 2014

DHBoggs on Turning Undead

In response to the "Special Herbs" last post, DHBoggs pointed out a wonderful bit of archeology he wrote about a month back on the cleric "turn undead" power, why it's so poorly defined in OD&D (no text description, no times-per-day, no duration, etc., etc.), crankily off with the mythology, and overpowered in later editions. Turns out (no pun intended) that if you look at Arneson's original game where it originated, it's far more restrained, balanced, in tune with the horror films, and so forth. Wish I'd written this; but when better to read it than in October?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Special Herbs

The Original D&D equipment list includes, near the end of the list, three special herbs:

However, there is no description given to the player about what the effects of those herbs are. In fact: The OD&D equipment list has no explicit explanation to any of the items featured therein (including armor, weapons, steeds, etc.; some you have to track down in other places or books, while weapons in fact have no distinctions from one to another in the original LBBs.) The herbs were copied forward into later edition equipment lists, but still received no explication to the players on their effects.

Let's see if we can piece together the intentions from different sources. Using Wikipedia may give you some clues, but I'd like to narrow down what was on the designer's mind in this regard, if we can.

I think it's the case that in OD&D, only one of those herbs is ever referenced at all (emphasis mine throughout this article):
Vampires cannot abide the smell of garlic, the face of a mirror, or the sight of cross. They will fall back from these if strongly presented. [OD&D Vol-2, p. 10]

So that's something, but the phrase "fall back" is at least a bit ambiguous. Let's skip forward to Gygax's AD&D project, and first check in on the DMG, which conveniently includes "Appendix J: Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Vegetables". This features a very short, inspirational suggestion of possible uses for about 150 herbal types. Fortunately, the three on the equipment list are included:

Notice that a rather specific usage against a D&D-game monster is included as the last element in each of those suggestions. Now let's turn to the AD&D Monster Manual (which was published earlier, of course) for some more detail. Regarding vampires and garlic:
Vampires recoil from strong garlic, the face of a mirror, or a cross (or several other holy symbols of lawful good) if any of these objects are presented boldly. Note, however, that none of these devices harm or drive the monster off. They do cause a vampire to hesitate 1 to 4 rounds before attacking in the case of garlic... [AD&D MM, p. 99]

While in the entry for lycanthropes (werewolves, at. al.) we see this:
Any humanoid creature bitten by a lycanthrope for damage equal to or greater than 50% of its total potential, but not actually killed (and eaten), is infected by the disease of lycanthropy. If the person is carrying belladonna there is a 25% chance that this will cure the affliction if eaten within one hour. Note that this infusion will incapacitate the person for 1-4 days and there is a 1% chance of the poison in it killing the creature. [AD&D MM, p. 63]

The above is basically repeated in the DMG section on lycanthropy, along with the following tidbit:
If the adventurer decides to be cured and the methods mentioned thus far have been unsuccessful, he or she may take refuge in a holy/unholy place such as a monastery or an abbey. There the clerics can administer to the afflicted one holy/unholy water laced with a goodly amount of wolfsbane and belladonna prepared by the spiritual methods of that particular religion. This potation is to be consumed by the victim at least twice a day from a silver chalice. No adventuring may be done by the character while he or she is being treated by the clerics. After a month or more (depending upon how advanced the disease is) the player character should be cured and somewhat poorer in the purse, as this procedure is very costly. [AD&D DMG, p. 22]

Obviously, this particular usage (of either wolfsbane or belladonna) is of no use to adventurers actively exploring a dungeon. Garlic and belladonna are also mentioned in DMG Appendix O, in the example of encumbrance among the equipment carried by the magic-user Dimwall. The only other reference I can find is in the PHB, where garlic is given as the material component to the spell slow poison.

So while no in-game use for wolvesbane was specified by Gygax, Moldvay in his D&D Basic rules included this:
If a lycanthrope is hit by wolfsbane, it must save vs. Poison or run away in fear. The sprig of wolfsbane must be swung or thrown as a weapon, using normal combat procedures. [Moldvay Basic, p. B38]

I will include one quote from Wikipedia, on the use of wolvesbane in the 1931 Dracula movie from Universal (whose monster movies are clear inspirations in places for the D&D designers):
In the 1931 classic horror film, "Dracula" starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula and Helen Chandler as Mina Seward, reference is made in regards to wolfbane (aconitum). Towards the end of the film, "Van Helsing holds up a sprig of wolfbane". Van Helsing educates the nurse protecting Mina from Count Dracula to place sprigs of wolfbane around Mina's neck for protection. Furthermore, he instructs that wolfane is a plant that grows in central Europe. There the natives use it to protect themselves against vampires. As long as the wolfbane is present in Mina's bedroom, she will be safe from Count Dracula. During the night, Count Dracula desires to visit Mina. He appears outside her window in the form of a flying bat. He causes the nurse to become drowsy and when she awakes from his spell, she removes the sprigs of wolfbane placing it in a hallway chest of drawers. With the removal of the wolfbane from Mina's room, Count Dracula mysteriously appears and transport Mina to the dungeon of the castle. [Wikipedia: Aconitum; link]

In this respect, note the otherwise odd language in Gygax's OD&D writeup of the vampire:
These monsters are properly of the "Undead" class rather than Lycanthropes. [OD&D Vol-2, p. 9]

Perhaps this argument is mostly in regards to the movie use of "wolfbane" to ward of the vampire? In the D&D game, Gygax instead specifies garlic, but the effect otherwise seems to be very similar in this respect.

So in summary we seem to find the following intentions for the three special herbs:
  • Garlic for warding off vampires.
  • Wolfsbane for driving off lycanthropes.
  • Belladonna for curing lycanthropy.

Side note: Recently Jon Peterson salvaged and published Craig VanGrasstek's 1974 "Rules to the Game of Dungeon" (link), which apparently documents someone who sat in on a D&D-like game at some point, without ever seeing the D&D rulebooks, and interpolating a set of written rules. One of the things that caught my eye is that in the rather whimsical list of equipment, there are two conspicuous protective items (p. 8):

Notice that there is a neck brace for "safety from vampires", and a special warding device so the "wearer cannot become a were-wolf". No other piece of equipment on this page mentions protections or use against any other specific monster. So from this we can infer that players of the game at its inception were uniquely interested or concerned (for some reason) with protecting themselves from vampires and werewolves. While we don't normally see these exact items, D&D does express the same interest in those two monster types by way of its special herbs in the equipment table (and personally I think it's much preferable to use legendary or real-world content for the same game mechanics).

Back to the main topic. Let's consider how we can clearly communicate the use of D&D's special herbs to the players by way of our maximally-brief house rules.

Herbs, Special: Wreaths of garlic ward off vampire attacks; wolvesbane does so for lycanthropes (save vs. breath negates; –1 reaction checks). Belladonna consumed just after infection may cure lycanthropy (save vs. poison, but on “1” death results).

Notice that you get some protection from wearing a wreath of garlic or wolvesbane, but if your PC does it all the time, then there's a drawback: -1 on reaction checks. What do you think of that? Is it acceptable to make the power of garlic-versus-vampires and wolvesbane-versus-lycanthropes symmetric? Anything else I missed in the published rules?