Monday, September 1, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Animal Growth

This week we're looking at the 5th-level D&D wizard spell, animal growth. No need for artificial growth hormone with this bit of magic in your book. But how did the spell itself grow over the years?


Original D&D

Growth of Animals: A spell which will cause from 1-6 normal-sized animals (not merely mammals) to grow to giant-size with proportionate attack capabilities. Duration: 12 turns. Range 12".

Originally Gygax called the spell growth of animals. It can affect 1-6 animals; but is that a random roll, or at the election of the caster? Of course, the biggest problem is that while the spell says the targets "grow to giant-size", OD&D nowhere provides concrete statistics for any giant animals. There is one line in the table of Vol-2 that simply says "Variable" for all statistics; and a short block of text that essentially says they could be, well, anything at all. So with this spell the DM and players are utterly on their own about negotiating what benefit the caster gets. (Note that this spell was one of those excluded from Cook's D&D Expert rules, so next we'll go directly to the AD&D line.)


AD&D 1st Ed.

Animal Growth (Alteration) Reversible
Level: 5
Range: 8"
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 7 segments

Duration: 2 rounds/level
Area of Effect: Up to 8 animals in a 2" square area
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast, the druid causes all animals, up to a maximum of 8, within a 2" square area to grow to twice their normal size. The effects of this growth are doubled hit dice (with resultant improvement in attack potential) and doubled damage in combat. The spell lasts for 2 melee rounds for each level of experience of the druid casting the spell. Note that the spell is particularly useful in conjunction with a charm person or animal or a speak with animals spell. The reverse reduces animal size by one half, and likewise reduces hit dice, attack damage, etc.

Above, we're looking at the druid-spell entry, to which the magic-user section back-references. The name is now animal growth, as it will be in all later editions. The number affected has increased from 1-6 to a maximum of 8 (technically by the wording "all animals" not modifiable by the caster). The effect has changed in kind of a weird way: in OD&D, it said that animals "grow to giant size", even though OD&D lacked explicit giant animal stats. Here in AD&D, you now do have a catalog of specific giant animals available (via the Monster Manual), but the spell effect does not refer you to them, instead saying "effects of this growth are doubled hit dice" -- which is now a whole new problem, because what the MM generally does not have are the stats for the normal version of the animals which are getting doubled here (think: badgers, weasels, spiders, centipedes, etc.). That is: the spell zigged while the monsters zagged. Later on, the Monster Manual 2 gave lots of entries for "normal" animals that I suppose you could use as a basis for the wording of this spell. To me it seems like the best solution would be to extrapolate away from the exact language above and use those giant entries in the MM. But fundamentally this "doubling" rule will be retained consistently in 2E & 3E.


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Animal Growth
(Alteration)
Reversible
Range: 60 yds.

Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: Up to 8 animals in a 20-ft. cube
 

When this spell is cast, the wizard causes all designated animals, up to a maximum of eight, within a 20-foot-square area to grow to twice their normal size. The effects of this growth are doubled Hit Dice (with improvement in attack rolls) and doubled damage in combat. The spell lasts for one round for each level of experience of the wizard casting the spell. Only natural animals, including giant forms, can be affected by this spell.
 

The reverse, shrink animal, reduces animal size by half and likewise reduces Hit Dice, attack damage, etc.

The component of both versions of the spell is a pinch of powdered bone.

This is almost a direct copy-and-paste from 1E with some very minor edits (changing area in scale inches to feet, etc.). The "double Hit Dice" rule is kept intact. Cook does change the wording from "all animals" in the area to "all designated animals", so the caster can now clearly choose how many to gigantify.


D&D 3rd Ed.

Animal Growth
Transmutation
Level: Drd 5, Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: Up to one animal/two levels, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes

A number of animals grow to twice their normal size. This doubles each animal's height, length, and width, increasing its weight by a factor of eight. This increase in size has a number of effects:

Hit Dice: The creature's HD double, doubling the creature's base attack bonus and increasing its saves accordingly.

Size: The creature's size increases one step. This increase reduces its AC (according to the new size), reduces its attack bonus (according to the new size), affects its ability to grapple, and so on. The creature gains an enlargement bonus to Strength and Constitution scores, and its damage with natural attacks increases. This spell does not affect Colossal creatures.

When the spell ends, the creature's hit points return to normal, and all damage the creature has taken while enlarged is divided by 2.

The spell gives the character no special means of command or influence over the enlarged animals.

This version still maintains the kernel of the spell since 1E -- doubling the normal creature's hit dice (and 3E did provide a fairly extensive list of normal animals in its core rules: see 3E Monster Manual Appendix 1.) The number grown has changed to a variable one-per-two-caster-levels. And consistent with 3E's elaborate rules for monster creation and size changes, you now have a whole gauntlet of math calculations that you're supposed to make from the spell: first increasing hit dice, base attack bonus, and saving throws (due to the hit dice basis). Then reducing AC and attack bonus (due to size penalties). Then increasing Strength and Constitution and subsequent attack bonus and damage (due to size bonuses). No matter how you slice it, if you do this extemporaneously during a session at the table, play will be halted for some extended amount of time while you assess these changes, which I personally find to be highly unacceptable. If I recall correctly, a lot of published 3E material would pick one "favored" type or companion for NPCs and present the long stat block for when that animal gets animal growth cast on it. In some sense you'd have to admit that the original simplicity of "double stats on the fly" (to the extent there was some source animal to double in the first place) is in fundamental conflict with the strictly-constructed 3E system for creating and calculating monsters.


Questions

In early editions (0-1-2E), how did you come up with stats for the grown animals? Did you actually take normal stats and double them, or did you turn to the Monster Manual and use the appropriate giant type? Were you ever troubled by the lack of an upper bound on the hit dice possibly created (for example: 15HD giant sharks and sea turtles in the AD&D MM)? Were you able to use the 3E spell on the fly as written at the table, or did that grind your game to a halt?


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Arena – Man vs. Monster


Adding Monsters to the Simulated Arena of Battling D&D Fighters, So As to Assess Average Advancement and Ability Scores at High Levels


Background

Previously, I presented a simulation of a D&D gladiatorial "Arena", where we generated a random population of 10,000 original D&D fighters and paired them in battles to the death for a few generations, to see what kind of level, hit point, and ability distributions would arise (link).

Note that this gave rise to a fairly predictable system: Once one fighter graduated from 1st to 2nd level, almost all of their later fights would be against 1st level opponents (96% or more of the population), whom they would almost surely defeat and gain XP from (generally 10 xp × 20 prize factor = 200 xp), reliably increasing in level from that point on. This gave rise to a fairly smooth set of numbers in level and ability distributions over 1,000 cycles of combat (what we might guess as 250 years of arena competitions).

One limitation of that simulation was obviously that normal D&D does not predominantly battle PCs versus NPCs, but rather a regime of mostly nonhuman monsters. It would take additional programming work to add that capacity to the simulation.


New Method

At this point I've added modules to the Java program for the simulation to allow input of a variety of basic monster types and determination tables from CSV text tables. (As a side-benefit, this also allowed use of more exact class XP tables, which were previously approximated by a simple formula.) Now, each combat consists of a given gladiator (fighter) pairing off against a monster of a random level as determined by the tables in OD&D Vol-3, p. 10 (see below). The level of the NPC fighter is used for "Level Beneath the Surface", that is, as though the character were exploring a dungeon equal to their own level. Only the simplest melee-type monsters are included from the following tables: Kobolds, Goblins, Skeletons... and so on up to Superheroes, Lords, and Giants. The program doesn't currently handle any special abilities, so the gladiators do not face off against any monsters with poison, paralysis, petrification, energy drain, breath weapons, spell casting, etc. (For a listing of the specific monsters and game statistics used, see the file Monsters.CSV, linked at the bottom of this post). In order to better resemble standard D&D play, I changed the fighters' presumed armor from chain & shield to non-magical plate & shield (the exact type didn't matter when all opponents are equal in this way, but now it certainly does against predefined higher-level monsters).



Results

Here are some of the chief lessons from this exercise. (1) There is enormously more variation in the system: a 2nd level fighter can be paired off against anything from a Zombie to a Lord or a Giant. (2) The wandering monster tables in Vol-3 are far too dangerous for this exercise as written, and almost no one can advance beyond 3rd level with this system; for example, when one encounters a Lord or Giant at 2nd or 3rd level, that fighter is almost surely destroyed. (3) Experience awards are many times more variable; for example, killing a Giant gains about 5400 xp including prize award (compare to the predictable 200 xp from most fights in the old system). If a 2nd level fighter does manage to accomplish this (through a set of cosmically fortunate rolls, or abnormally low monster hit points, say), then that would be enough to jump over two levels immediately (if it were not capped at a one-level jump). This, then returns us to point #1: there is enormously more variation in the system.

So when I started this simulation at the old parameters (10,000 population, 2,000 cycles), the most common thing was for no one in the entire population to be above 3rd level at the end. But sometimes, there would be one lucky star who managed to graduate past the danger area, and then continued cruising to 10th, 20th, or even 45th level! Of course, anyone in that situation is clearly an outlier that can't tell us anything about overall distributions or ability averages.

Clearly I needed a much larger population (to get better data about higher levels), and a smaller cycle length (to prevent the lucky few from shooting off the end of the scale and becoming deities). The simulation runs below are thus done for a population of 100,000 and only 200 cycles (what we might guess as 50 years of real-life gladiator combat). Here are the results of that, confronting the "normal" random monster tables in OD&D:


As you can see, extreme violence is inherent in the system. Of the 100,000 population, only about 2% have survived to 2nd level, and less then a half-percent have made it to 3rd level or above. The numbers are flat and single digits from 9th-15th level, so that surely looks like random noise to me, and the ability score averages swing up and down without any pattern at that point (the NPCs got there through dumb luck, not any particular ability advantage). So this doesn't tell us much, and I don't think that we expect D&D character levels to be so intensely constrained as all that.

However, before I go on, I must call out the one figure who achieved 16th level in that particular simulation: What a character! Strength 17, Constitution 16, hit points 92, he's clearly the beefiest fighter in the list. And also: Intelligence 5, Wisdom 6, a drooling barely-aware moron (IQ 50?). Charisma 10, so not a completely dislikable sort. Even with those physical abilities, I'd say he could only get to this point through a whole gauntlet of insane (really, really dumb) luck along the way. What if the most powerful NPC fighter in your campaign world was this same, blessed-by-the-gods, illiterate mass of muscle? Call him "Arnold" or "Jean-Claude" or "Groo" if you like.

Anyway, this excursion into nonstop brutality against most of our gladiators is not exactly what I wanted. So I went looking for a simple way to re-interpret use of those tables (have solo fighters play against a lower dungeon level, lower monster level, etc.). The easiest way seemed to be this: simply subtract 1 or more pips from the d6 roll on the monster level determination table. In fact, that's what I already have noted for my games, so it seemed like an obvious choice.

As it turns out, subtracting 1 from the d6 die makes a fairly small difference; achieved levels might increase by about one, is all (perhaps 2nd level fighters get stomped by a Superhero or a Minotaur instead). Even subtracting 2 is not a lot different. Here's what happens when I subtract 3 from that initial die-roll (i.e., limit results 1-3 only): 


At this point, I think you at least start have something that looks like a potentially legitimate D&D fighter population: about 80,000 1st-level fighters, 14,000 (about one-sixth) 2nd level, a third of the 3rd level, a third of that 4th level, and then diminishing reductions after that. There is a clearly increasing pattern to the favored abilities (Str, Dex, Con) that we can use to gauge proper values for new PCs or NPCs -- advancing a bit more slowly than in the former Man-vs-Man case, which makes sense because the gladiators are not contending directly with each other (in which case those abilities are the only distinguishing factor), whereas now the overall luck in monster draw is more telling.

The other thing I like about this is that, very broadly, it replicates the figures stipulated by Gygax in OD&D Vol-2 for proportion of a group of men that are higher-level leaders (see: Bandits, p. 5, and back-referenced in other places). Consider the following comparison:


While not perfect, the numbers are about the right order of magnitude. (And they look better if we add in the simulation numbers at 3rd level and 7th level to complete the picture.) It suggests that this is a place where we can choose to throw our anchor for the population distribution, before assessing ability scores achieved by the selection method. (Note that the more we modify the die roll, the greater the advancement proportions become. If we subtract 4 from the level die-roll, numbers at higher levels increase, and form a better match for the AD&D numbers where Gygax somewhat inflated leader proportions. For brevity, I'll omit showing that comparison here.)

Before I conclude, I'll make a few points about the need to soften those wandering monster tables. I've long seen the need for that already in my own games (link1, link2), and the same was indeed carried out by all later writers, including Holmes, Moldvay, and Gygax himself in AD&D (arguably over-compensating in the DMG). Even though some writers have expressed positive views of how tough they are (see the comments under link2 above).

But I must emphasize how incredibly charitable I'm being in all my interpretations towards our NPC gladiators, even in the original simulation that massacres almost every one with fail. There are no monsters included here that have poison, paralysis, petrification, breath weapon, hit by magic, etc. (any one of which could destroy a lone fighter of practically any level). I've very gently interpreted monster statistics at every turn (see Monsters.CSV below); for example, all the giant animals are given just a single attack for 1d6 damage, white apes are given just 2 attacks (when it could justifiably be 4), NPC fighters are given no bonuses whatsoever for abilities, feats, or magic items, etc. Hit dice are all still 6-sided as per the Original D&D boxed set. There is no penalty to XP for battling creatures under your own level (which arguably would be worse for solo fighters, as opposed to parties that can gang up on one monster of like level for full XP). And yet for all that, the system is practically a sure-fire-killer unless we soften the initial roll for monster level (or the like) in each pairing.


Questions

What do you think of that? Is it what you expected when we switched from man-vs-man to man-vs-monster? Can you think of any more justifiable way of determining random pairings of D&D fighting gladiators versus monsters? Is it helpful for the game?

Want the data files and Java code used for the simulation? See here:




Monday, August 25, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Antimagic Shell

Antimagic shell has been in the game ever since Chainmail Fantasy. It's another one of those high-level spells that I haven't seen get used much (in fact: never), because despite its obvious power, it seems to cancel out the very thing that makes the wizard casting it special: his or her own spells. Let's consider it:


Chainmail Fantasy

Anti-Magic Shell: This causes a bubble of force to surround the user and totally prevents anything magical from either entering or leaving the shell. It lasts for up to six turns. Shell radius is 5". (Complexity 6)

Notice that the name is actually hyphenated, which is retained up through 2E. Now, some important stuff which will contrast with what comes later: First, it says that magic is prevented from "entering or leaving" the shell; narrowly read, this leaves normal operations inside the shell, such that the wizard can continue casting spells within (e.g., protective spells or items, conjuring an elemental, teleporting away to safety, etc.), seemingly giving more options for the wizard in question. Also, this seems to be in tune with the unique naming of the magic as a "Shell", which seems to imply a barrier defense, with some different content inside. Was that the original intent? Secondly, notice the rather enormous area of effect: 5" radius (which depending on how you interpret that might be 50 feet radius, although I assess it at 25 feet radius in man-to-man scale); this will be greatly reduced in later editions.


Original D&D

Anti-Magic Shell: A field which surrounds the Magic-User and makes him totally impervious to all spells. It also prevents any spells from being sent through the shell by the Magic-User who conjured it. Duration: 12 turns.

Largely the same as in Chainmail, but note some fine details. The description has changed from a "bubble" to a "field" (which in physics "occupies space"; link), and makes the caster "totally impervious to all spells", possibly even inside the shell (e.g., an enemy caster that walked into the shell couldn't cast spells within the barrier)? Also, the wording has switched from preventing "anything magical" to "any spells", which might arguably be more limited (magic swords, et. al.?), but is probably not the intent. Finally, no area of effect is given: note that it's a common Gygaxianism to leave out some of the most important details like that when advancing editions (generally still presuming familiarity and use of the prior work).


Swords & Spells

Anti-Magic Shell: [Range] touch, [Area of Effect] 1", [Turn Duration] 12.

In Swords & Spells, Gygax gives the antimagic shell an area of 1", filling in the gap in OD&D, and much smaller than that seen in Chainmail. This actually might be my favorite and simplest specification for the area, but no other edition will use it. Recall that the range "touch" here is used for all caster-only spells (c.f. polymorph self and so forth).


D&D Expert Rules

Anti-Magic Shell 
Range: 0' (caster only)
Duration: 12 turns


This spell creates a personal barrier about the caster that stops any magic spell or spell effect from coming in or going out. It blocks all spells (including the caster's) until the duration is up or until the caster decides to end the spell.

If we look at this with a magnifying glass, it has some bits of understanding from both the prior editions ("any magic spell or spell effect from coming in or going out"). However, Cook makes it a "personal barrier" (Range: 0', caster only), which is pretty likely how you'd interpret the OD&D text with no listed area, if you weren't also looking at Chainmail at the same time.


AD&D 1st Ed.

Anti-Magic Shell (Abjuration)
Level: 6

Range: 0
Duration: 1 turn/leve1
Area of Effect: 1'/level diameter sphere
 

Explanation/Description: By means of an anti-magic shell, the magic-user causes an invisible barrier to surround his or her person, and this moves with the spell caster. This barrier is totally impervious to all magic and magic spell effects (this includes such attack forms as breath weapons, gaze weapons, and voice weapons). It thus prevents the entrance of spells or their effects, and it likewise prevents the function of any magical items or spells within its confines. It prevents the entrance of charmed, summoned, and conjured creatures. However, normal creatures (assume a normal troll rather than one conjured up, for instance) can pass through the shell, as can normal missiles. While a magic sword would not function magically within the shell, it would still be a sword.

That's the PHB text, here's the DMG errata:
Anti-Magic Shell: It must be pointed out that creatures on their own plane are normal creatures, so this spell cost upon the Elemental Plane of Fire, for example, would hedge out none of the creatures of the plane.

Now, this version has several changes. It returns an area of effect based on caster level (at least about 12' diameter, so you can probably fit in several friends). It is the first one totally explicit that magic is disrupted "within its confines". The effect also includes defense against breath, gaze, and voice weapon; charmed, summoned, and conjured creatures; and also the effects of magic swords and the like. However, these newly called-out defenses create some possible interpretive problems: If a magic arrow is shot at the shell, does it shatter, disappear, or turn into a normal missile? If the caster moves aggressively against a summoned monster, what happens then? What if a charmed creature gets thrown through the air at the shell, does it physically bounce off or something else?


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Antimagic Shell
(Abjuration)
Range: 0

Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: 1 ft./level diameter

By means of this spell, the wizard surrounds himself with an invisible barrier that moves with him. The space within this barrier is totally impervious to all magic and magical spell effects, thus preventing the passage of spells or their effects. Likewise, it prevents the functioning of any magical items or spells within its confines. The area is also impervious to breath weapons, gaze or voice attacks, and similar special attack forms.

The antimagic shell also hedges out charmed, summoned, or conjured creatures. It cannot, however, be forced against any creature that it would keep at bay; any attempt to do so creates a discernible pressure against the barrier, and continued pressure will break the spell. Normal creatures (a normally encountered troll rather than a conjured one, for instance) can enter the area, as can normal missiles. Furthermore, while a magical sword does not function magically within the area, it is still a sword. Note that creatures on their home plane are normal creatures there. Thus, on the Elemental Plane of Fire, a randomly encountered fire elemental cannot be kept at bay by this spell. Artifacts, relics, and creatures of demigod or higher status are unaffected by mortal magic such as this.
 

Should the caster be larger than the area enclosed by the barrier, parts of his person may be considered exposed, at the DM's option. A dispel magic spell does not remove the spell; the caster can end it upon command.

This is basically identical to 1E, and folds in the note from the DMG as is customary. The name is finally changed to remove the hyphen. It tries to solve the problem of "what happens when the caster attacks a magical creature?", by creating a "discernible pressure" that might break the spell -- personally, that seems a bit clunky and tone-deaf in how an immaterial field of non-magic can create physical pressure on the caster. There is also an added paragraph at the end that introduces two new details: (1) large creatures may or may not be partly exposed when casting the spell (a maybe-or-maybe-not 2E-ism), and (2) dispel magic cannot remove an antimagic shell. Is that a good idea? Does antimagic serve to cancel other antimagic?


D&D 3rd Ed.

Antimagic Field
Abjuration
Level: Clr 8, Magic 6, Protection 6, Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 10 ft.
Area: 10-ft.-radius emanation, centered on the character
Duration: 10 minutes/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: See text

An invisible barrier surrounds the character and moves with the character. The space within this barrier is impervious to most magical effects, including spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities. Likewise, it prevents the functioning of any magic items or spells within its confines.

An antimagic field suppresses any spell or magical effect used within, brought into, or cast into the area, but does not dispel it. Time spent within an antimagic field counts against the suppressed spell's duration. Golems and other magical constructs, elementals, outsiders, and corporeal undead, still function in an antimagic area (though the antimagic area suppresses their supernatural, spell-like, and spell abilities normally). If such creatures are summoned or conjured, however, see below.

Summoned or conjured creatures of any type and incorporeal undead wink out if they enter an antimagic field. They reappear in the same spot once the field goes away. Time spent winked out counts normally against the duration of the conjuration that's maintaining the creature. If the character casts antimagic field in an area occupied by a conjured creature who has spell resistance, the character must make a caster level check (1d20 + caster level) against the creature's SR to make it wink out.

Normal creatures can enter the area, as can normal missiles. The spell has no effect on constructs that are imbued with magic during their creation process and are thereafter self-supporting (unless they have been summoned, in which case they are treated like any other summoned creatures). Undead and outsiders are likewise unaffected unless summoned. These creatures' spell-like or supernatural abilities, however, may be temporarily nullified by the field.

Dispel magic does not remove the field. Two or more antimagic fields sharing any of the same space have no effect on each other. Certain spells remain unaffected by antimagic field (see the individual spell descriptions). Artifacts and creatures of demigod or higher status are unaffected.

Note: Should the character be larger than the area enclosed by the barrier, any part of the character's person that lies outside the barrier is unaffected by the field.

3E changes the name from antimagic shell to antimagic field, borrowing from the text description back in OD&D, and aligning the name with the fact that it's antimagic throughout the volume of space (which was possibly not the case back in Chainmail, but that can be argued). There is additional detail given to the fact that spells get suppressed but their duration clock keeps ticking, and that summoned, conjured, and incorporeal undead "wink out" if they come in contact with the sphere, reappearing later on -- which to me seems even more kindergarten-y and deaf to the literature. Charmed creatures are no longer specifically called out, although I think we can conclude that the creature can pass into the sphere but the charm is then lifted at the time. 3E keeps the no-dispel rule, answers the antimagic-vs-antimagic question (they can overlap with no effect), and also settles the large-creature issue (definitely partly exposed, which seems very strange).

Also this addresses another issue that I'm surprised didn't come earlier: What about golems and similar constructs, who are created by magic, but whose essential power is that they're immune to all magic by default? 3E answers in that they are not affected in any way; an iron golem can waltz in and brain your wizard just like he normally can, a possibly strange ruling, but generally consistent from the point-of-view of the golem's ignoring of most types of spells. Does that seem correct to you?


Conclusions

While it's possible to read the Chainmail description as a true "shell" (surface barrier only), such that the wizard can still be casting personal magic inside, this clearly gets ruled out in later editions. As I mentioned above, this has always seemed partly troubling, for what does the D&D wizard have but his spells? In this respect the AD&D spell globe of invulnerability seems seems like a better option, possibly a direct response, in that spells go out but they don't come in (up to a certain level).

In later editions, the effect of antimagic shell was expanded (or further fleshed out) to ban exotic attacks like breath, gaze, summonses, and conjured creatures, but the corner-cases of exactly what happens when those creatures touch or get touched by the sphere caused ongoing complications that seem indelicately resolved (not uncommon in powers initially designed as defenses that get turned around by players for offensive purposes). Note that in theory, even something like the 1st-level protection from evil might have the same issue ("keep out attacks from enchanted monsters", OD&D), but that spell never found need to add the same complications that antimagic shell did.

I might go so far as to ask: What's so critical about disallowing that anyway? Might we not run antimagic shell by allowing the caster to move into range of a conjured elemental or invisible stalker and actually disrupt their presence? That would make for some legitimately potent use from this otherwise questionable spell, and the wizard would need to balance the risk in that they have no choice but to walk out onto the field of battle, with absolutely no other defenses active in order to make it happen (by virtue of the non-magic effect, of course). It could be used in magic-trap-sweeping capacity, as well (otherwise not prohibited in any edition).

Other questions: Do you see the spell get used much in your games? In what tactical situations does it get used? Would it be a better option if the casting wizard could still use personal magic inside the shell? And what's your preference for the effect it has when contacting summoned, conjured, charmed, or magically constructed monsters?


Thursday, August 21, 2014

In Which I Sit In Judgement

Back in May, I had the distinct pleasure of serving as one of judges in this year's One Page Dungeon Contest. The winners were announced in June -- and among the ways you can see the entries is via a pay-what-you-want package of all the submissions at RPGNow (link), compiled by organizer Random Wizard. Then in July fellow judge Martin Thomas had the great idea of starting a conversation with all the fellow judges, at his "Daddy Rolled a 1" blog, about our various protocols and advice for future dungeon designers. He posted a summary of everyone's responses (link), and prior to that a writeup of his own individual observations (link).

I wanted to match Martin's good idea and post the entirety of my responses here. First of all, here was the questionnaire that he mailed out:
  1. Is this your first time judging the One Page Dungeon contest? What other similar contests, if any, have you judged before?
  2. What were your expectations for the contest before judging began? Were those expectations met?
  3. In general, what kinds of things stood out in this year's submissions? For example, did you notice any similar themes across entries?
  4. Have you used any of the ideas from the contest in any games you're currently running?
  5. What are the Top 3 things you were looking for in the submissions to pick a winner?
  6. For those who are thinking of entering next year, what are 3-4 things you would suggest *not* do to?
  7. Unrelated to judging, but what are some things you're currently working on that you'd like fans to know about, and where can they go to find out more information?
Below you'll find my full responses to his questions.


(1) First, enormous thanks to Random Wizard for asking me to do the judging this year. It's my first time, and so I wrestled with developing some criteria as I plowed through the list. (Actually, the initial results results were delayed by a day or two and that was because of me.) I don't usually use the one-page format myself, but this was golden opportunity to see a wide range of perspectives on dungeon design (110 entries, to be exact). It felt like a master's class in the subject, and was tremendously educational from the judge's seat.

(2) I really don't know what to expect going into the judging. In fact, the educational process kind of unfolded after I'd begun and gotten quite a ways into the list (over a number of days).

(3) It was indeed interesting to see how some of the same ideas bubbled up in multiple entries. Two very young crayon-based entries was present (given special mention in the results, amusing). Two of the entries were full-on "mini-campaigns" that both ended very high in the results. Two entries had features which called for sending PCs to *other* one-page dungeons in the contest, chosen randomly. And several were systems for producing randomized or "infinite" adventures. See more in #5 and #6 below.

(4) I made lists of specific adventures and trick ideas I could use in my own play, but I haven't actually played them out yet.

(5) Starting in a very amorphous place, I developed my criteria in bits and pieces as I was reading the many entries. Overall, I found myself looking for clever and coherent design, plus quick usability for the DM (readable, fully executed, etc.). Some good points would be: (a) Specific number appearing and usable stats for monsters, traps, and treasure (almost any system will do, prefer to see AC, HD, Damage); (b) Clean and readable linear text layout (ideally: map and text aligned, with area 1 at top, and last area at bottom in each); (c) More encounter areas (with detail) are better than few; (d) Usability as a pure drop-in to an existing, standard fantasy campaign.

Note that my very first item (a) above is that I wanted to see some concrete statistics for monsters (and traps and treasure). To me, this shows extra effort and eases use by the DM at the table, so this actually became my first cutoff when looking at any entry. Any system would do, even one I wasn't familiar with. A bit later I thought to research the origin of the One Page Dungeon Contest, and I what somewhat rattled to see the original directions had a "No game stats" allowed rule (http://www.critical-hits.com/blog/2009/04/14/new-grand-contest-the-one-page-dungeon/). Then I had a bit of worry I might be triggering a scandal in the judging; but fortunately Random Wizard's direction here 5 years later was "a good strategy is to avoid using too many system specific stats", so I think what I was doing was compatible with that.

More specifically, my rubric for stats was something like this (from best to worst):
(A) Specific number appearing and brief D&D-like stats (e.g., AC, HD, Damage)
(B) Monsters named by type with details in a core fantasy rulebook (e.g., orcs, harpies, etc.)
(C) Monster strength given by analog to core monsters (e.g., "fight as hobgoblins", "armor as plate", etc.)
(D) Monsters with no information or comparisons, need to be designed from scratch by DM (a "transforming blood demon", "a group of very strong monsters", "a large amount of treasure").

As we go down that list, more and more design work is offloaded to the DM, it becomes less feasible that one could pick a random entry and run it instantly on the fly, and I become less confident of the adventure's cohesion and balance. I do wish that we could come up with a standard stats package for work like this, but Random Wizard told me that prior conversations found this to be surprisingly contentious (with no less than 3 camps for how AC should be presented).

So here's how some of the entries fared in this regard. Generally, my choices were well-represented in the finalists (6 of my top 10 were in the finals). The two entries that were mini-campaigns didn't have any stats, but used common monsters (B-level above), so I was debating not including them in my top 10; but they were otherwise so exciting, so vibrant, and so bursting with energy that I did wind up including them both (with Will Doyle's "Island of the Lizard God" the grand prize winner; and I actually put PJ Cunningham's "Amid the Reapers Scattered Bones" a bit higher in my own list).

I actually like Sean Loftiss' "Bloodberries" quite a bit; I thought it was tight and clever; while it used Fighting Fantasy (non-D&D) stats, I felt it could be translated pretty neatly, and it gave me a metric for how tough one thing was meant to be against the other (e.g., the various alchemy bombs usable by PCs against monsters). However, apparently it didn't show up on any other judges' list.

On the other hand, I was a bit surprised that Matthew Adams "The Long Fall" ended as high as it did; it has a clever and inspiring map, but no stats, nonstandard monsters, sketchy text, and lots of complicated vertical adventuring that will require significant DM fill-ins and adjudication.

(6) In accordance with #5 above, I would recommend including bare-bones D&D-style monster stats (again: at least AC, HD, Damage). Also specify their number, as well as traps and treasures. Don't say "here is a group of very strong monsters" or "there is a powerful NPC wizard" (that the DM must spend time selecting and designing before running the game); personally that made me to see red and immediately reject entries.

Don't create a "randomized infinite adventure table" system. I think there were around a half-dozen in this group of entries? One did get into the finalists, but not highly, and none were on my list. This kind of work makes it hard for the prospective DM to "know what they're getting" or discern a theme (when in fact there usually isn't one); plus it's exacerbated by correlation with not specifying monster stats (see above). Some of my brothers and sisters in the software biz occasionally become enamored of over-abstraction, which I think hurts the fantasy game more than helps it. As my college creative writing instructor told us "it's the specific details that really sell a piece".

Don't create a sci-fi piece. Now, personally, I was very open to the entries that went in this direction, but none really made the cut for me or other judges. (Paul Hughes' space-fantasy "The Great Stag" was #14 on my list, just a bit too sketchy to get in the Top 10.) I think it's just a bit too hard to reconcile these when thinking about using them in a D&D campaign or similar context (as the judges probably have on their mind when reading a series of these adventures).

Don't have blatant logical gaps in how pieces connect, how traps function, etc.

Don't create just an image entirely lacking text or numbers.

Don't have typos or irritating grammatical errors.

(7) I'm currently working on Version 2 of my "Original Edition Delta: Book of Spells", to incorporate the last few years of play experience, and align it even more closely with the old-school game (that is, Original D&D). This summer I'm writing a "Spells Through the Ages" blog at least once a week as I go through the assessment and judging process on this particular project: at my usual blog, http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/. Plus trying to apply some lessons and become a better adventure-writer myself. :-)

Martin, thank so much for digging into this and asking these questions!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Telekinesis


Telekinesis is one of those spells that I've flat-out never seen used. (I never even figured out how to do anything with it in Diablo.) Let's see what it might do in D&D:




Original D&D

Telekenesis: By means of this spell objects may be moved by mental force. Weight limits are calculated by multiplying the level of the Magic-User by 200 Gold Pieces weight. Thus, a "Necromancer" is able to move a weight equal to 2,000 Gold Pieces. Duration: 6 turns. Range 12".

Notice the misspelling of the name (repeated in the list of spells). There's a weight limit calculation by level, but no specified speed or effects, really (like possible damage). Recall that in these rules 10 GP weigh 1 pound, so the weight rule is indicating 20 pounds/level.


D&D Expert Rules

Telekinesis 
Range: 120'
Duration: 6 rounds


The caster may levitate and slowly move weights of up to 200 coins weight/level. Thus a 10th level elf could move up to 2,000 coins of weight. The entire weight may be moved up to 20' per round in any direction the caster desires. Unwilling creatures get a saving throw vs. Spells. A successful save results in the spell having no effect. The caster must concentrate while moving objects, and if disturbed the telekinesed objects will fall.

Cook corrects the spelling, and adds a speed of movement -- which is fairly slow (20'/round, equivalent to a man in metal armor in these rules). There's also the possibility of a saving throw for a resisting creature.


AD&D 1st Ed.

Telekinesis (Alteration)
Level: 5
Range: 1"/level
Duration: 2 rounds + 1 round/level
Area of Effect: 250 g.p. weight/level
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 5 segments
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: By means of this spell the magic-user is able to move objects by will force, by concentrating on moving them mentally. The telekinesis spell causes the desired object to move vertically or horizontally. Movement is 2" the first round, 4" the second, 8' the third, 16" the fourth, and so on, doubling each round until a maximum telekinetic movement of 1,024" per round is reached. (Heavy objects travelling at high speed can be deadly weapons!) Note that telekinesis can be used to move opponents who fall within the weight capacity of the spell, but if they are able to employ as simple a counter-measure as an enlarge spell, for example (thus making the body weight go over the maximum spell limit), it is easily countered. Likewise, ambulation or some other form of motive power if the recipient of the spell is not able to ambulate, counters the effect of telekinesis, provided the velocity has not reached 16" per round. The various Bigby's . . . Hand spells will also counter this spell, as will many other magics.

In AD&D, Gygax slightly modifies the weight limit calculation (from 20 to 25 pounds/level), and inserts a fairly complicated doubling-of-speed-per-round mechanic (assuming motion is not countered). That one's kind of a head-scratcher, as by the 4th round (16" movement) the object is almost certainly beyond the range of the spell (16" for 16th-level wizard) -- unless, I suppose, it's being whipped around in a circular motion. It's noted that "Heavy objects traveling at high speed can be deadly weapons!", but zero guidance is given on adjudicating the damage or other possible effect.


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Telekinesis
(Alteration)
Range: 10 yds./level

Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 10 yds./level 

By means of this spell, the wizard is able to move objects by concentrating on moving them mentally. The spell can provide either a gentle, sustained force or a single short, violent thrust.

A sustained force enables the wizard to move a weight of up to 25 pounds a distance up to 20 feet per round. The spell lasts two rounds, plus one round per caster level. The weight can be moved vertically, horizontally, or both. An object moved beyond the caster's range falls or stops. If the caster ceases concentration for any reason, the object falls or stops. The object can be telekinetically manipulated as if with one hand. For example, a lever or rope can be pulled, a key can be turned, an object rotated and so on, if the force required is within the weight limitation. The caster might even be able to untie simple knots, at the discretion of the DM.


Alternatively, the spell energy can be expended in a single round. The caster can hurl one or more objects within range, and within a 10-foot cube, directly away from himself at high speed, to a distance of up to 10 feet per caster level. This is subject to a maximum weight of 25 pounds per caster level. Damage caused by hurled objects is decided by the DM, but cannot exceed 1 point of damage per caster level. Opponents who fall within the weight capacity of the spell can be hurled, but they are allowed a saving throw vs. spell to avoid the effect. Furthermore, those able to employ as simple a counter-measure as an enlarge spell, for example (thus making the body weight go over the maximum spell limit), can easily counter the spell. The various Bigby's hand spells also counter this spell.

Cook does an uncharacteristically large rewrite of the spell in 2E. For the general case ("gentle, sustained force"), he keeps the 1E weight limit, and changes the duration to open-ended concentration (per the text). He also reverts the speed back to his own Expert D&D rule of 20 feet/round, which is problematic -- because while in B/X that was equal to a man in metal armor, in the different scale of AD&D, that's actually slower than anything else in the game (even a friend in plate mail moving your couch around on a Saturday). Apparently in response to the 1E major speed allowance and allusion to "deadly weapons!", he distinguishes a second use-case of "violent thrust" which is over in a round and does damage of up to 1 hp/level.

I'm not totally convinced by these changes, because it seems a bit of a half-hearted reaction to the 1E rule; generally I think split-use cases are both a complication and a sign of a poorly designed or underpowered spell; and the vague damage allowance seems quite low for a spell of this level (if against only one person). The spell text has grown from 1 paragraph in 0-1E to 3 paragraphs here.


D&D 3rd Ed.

Telekinesis
Transmutation
Level: Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Target or Targets: See text
Duration: Concentration (up to 1 round/level) or instantaneous (see text)
Saving Throw: Will negates (object)(see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes (object) (see text)

The character moves objects or creatures by concentrating on them. Depending on the version selected, the spell can provide either a gentle, sustained force or a single short, violent thrust.

Sustained Force: A sustained force moves a creature or object weighing up to 25 pounds per caster level up to 20 feet per round. A creature can negate the effect against itself or against an object it possesses with a successful Will save or with SR.

This version of the spell lasts up to 1 round per caster level, but it ends if the character ceases concentration. The weight can be moved vertically, horizontally, or both. An object cannot be moved beyond the character's range. The spell ends if the object is forced beyond the range. If the character ceases concentration for any reason, the object falls or stops.

An object can be telekinetically manipulated as if with one hand. The character might even be able to untie simple knots, though delicate activities such as these require Intelligence checks against a DC set by the DM.

Violent Thrust: Alternatively, the spell energy can be expended in a single round. The character can hurl one or more objects or creatures who are within range and all within 10 feet of each other toward any target within 10 feet/level of all the objects. The character can hurl up to a total weight of 25 pounds per caster level.

The character must succeed at attack rolls (one per creature or object thrown) to hit the target with the items, using the character's base attack bonus + the character's Intelligence modifier. Weapons cause standard damage (with no Strength bonus). Other objects cause damage ranging from 1 point per 25 pounds to 1d6 points of damage per 25 pounds.

Creatures who fall within the weight capacity of the spell can be hurled, but they are allowed Will saves to negate the effect, as are those whose held possessions are targeted by the spell. If a telekinesed creature is hurled against a solid surface, it takes damage as if it had fallen 10 feet (1d6 points).

The spell text is now 7 paragraphs in length, with broadly these same effects (weight, cases, etc.) as in 2E. The speed is the same (20 feet/round), although it benefits from the system re-scaling, such that it's now equal to a man with a medium load (conveniently similar to B/X). The "violent thrust" attack usage gets an explicit rule for an attack roll, damage variation (by weapon type, or else a fairly wide range of 1 hp to 1 die/level), and a damage specifier for hurled creatures (limited to a seemingly low 1d6).


Open Questions

Have you ever seen someone use telekinesis on a regular basis (not just as a one-time over-the-cliff gag)? Should it have a more streamlined rule, or higher speed or damage margins? When I think of this power these days, I tend to think of the wizard battle in the first Lord of the Rings movie (Saruman and Gandalf flinging each other around the chamber), or the Force-battle at the end of Empire Strikes Back (Vader propelling a whole barrage of objects through the air to batter Luke). Does this spell do the job of simulating those kinds of actions?

And while I'm on it, what the hell good is it in Diablo?


Thursday, August 14, 2014

What Level Do You Make New PCs?

Here's an important question that is only rarely addressed directly in any version of the D&D rulebooks (and related to our discussions of ability-score rolling and reincarnation in the last week)  -- What level should you make new PCs, and why?

In traditional D&D (0-1-2E and B/X), the unstated assumption was that new PCs are made at 1st level, period, end of story. If you lose a character in campaign play, perhaps you've cultivated a henchman NPC to a higher level who can step in as the PC replacement. But if not, are you relegated to 1st level while the rest of the party is higher? On the one hand, survival seems like an issue, but on the other hand, XP may come quickly enough to rapidly advance in just a few sessions.

In the 1E AD&D DMG, Gygax included "Appendix P: Creating a Party on the Spur of the Moment", which supported random creation of party members of advanced level for those cases where it is required, "often if you attend many conventions" (p. 225). However: (a) there is no guidance given for why you'd pick one level instead of another, (b) the party is being generated simultaneously all at the same time (by level, when XP might be a better metric), and (c) the emphasis is on convention play, not for ongoing campaigns.

Probably Dave Cook in the 2E DMG has the most direct commentary on this issue (Ch. 3):

Mixing New and Old Characters

Letting players start at the beginning is fine when you first open a campaign, and all player characters can begin at the same level. As sessions are played, however, a disparity in character levels will develop. New players will join the game and old players will create new characters. Eventually, you'll reach a point where the original group of players has characters many levels higher than when they began. How, then, do you introduce new players and new player characters into your game?
 

There are times when you should allow a character to start above 1st level. A newly-created character should begin a campaign no higher than 4th level unless the group is very powerful. If this is the case, he should begin no higher than the lowest level character in the party (and it may be better to start a level or two lower).

3E D&D had very robust rules for creating PCs at any level (including a formalized "expected equipment" value that could be used to buy any desired magic items at game start). But again, not much guidance as to exactly what level to choose when playing with a pre-existing group.

My long-running Boston gaming group (late 90's-mid 00's) dealt with this issue, obviously, and we had a series of discussions about it. Starting briefly in 2E and then mostly playing in 3E rules, we basically used the Cook advice above: new and replacement PCs started at one level below the average of the existing party. Over time the party levels stretched out a bit (some died more than others), to something like 8th-12th level; so by the end of the campaign new PCs would be made at the 8th level, the same as the lowest-levels in the party. On the one hand this was both several levels behind the party "leaders", and yet it also caused awkwardness that the lowest-level members could commit suicide and then respawn new PCs at the same level. Also this collided with the 3E philosophy of raise dead and the like, that characters come back reduced by one level; in some cases it would actually be more profitable to create a brand-new PC at 8th level, than play the raised PC at 7th level, for example. Some of the more crunchy players might ask: What's the benefit in being raised from the dead in this case?

So what's your rule? How do you decide on the level for new and replacement PCs in a game that already has mostly high-level characters in play? We would seem to want PCs to be viable partners of the existing party, and yet we also want to motivate a high level of play (players should prefer fighting to survive, than retiring/recycling PCs and returning at the same or better level). If you use the 3E principle of raise dead return a PC at −1 level, then seemingly new PCs would have to appear at least −2 levels behind the rest of the party to make that truly beneficial. If that's unacceptable, then seemingly you would have to scrub that rule from late-era raise dead (as well as reincarnation, for example); the two issues seem to be inextricably tangled. What do you think?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Reincarnation

Reincarnation is traditionally a 6th-level spell for D&D wizards that doesn't get a lot of use, because (much like contact other plane: link) there is a clerical spell that gets the same job accomplished more easily and without the potentially very nasty side-effects. But in my no-cleric D&D games, reincarnation is the only spell available for resuscitating a slain PC, so it is of much more interest. It usually gets used once in most of my high-level convention games, and I spend a lot of time trying to "dial it in" properly for both tournament and campaign play. The concept of reincarnation is of course most closely related to various Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism; in particular the idea of cross-species migration), but the idea also had a major role in early Greek thought, among the Celtic druids (as reported by Julius Caesar), certain Norse myths, and many other cultures (link). Here are the various aspects through which the D&D spell passed over the years:


Original D&D

Reincarnation: A spell to bring a dead character back to life in some other form. The form in which the character is Reincarnated is dependent upon his former alignment (Law, Neutrality or Chaos). Use a random determination on the Character Alignment table, and whatever the result is, the reincarnated character is that creature and must play as it. If he comes back as a man, determine which class, and roll a six-sided die to determine which level in that class,and similarly check level for reincarnation as an elf or dwarf.

This spell is brief because it gets to offload the various body-type possibilities to a table from the start of the book, a listing of OD&D monster types under three columns for "Law", "Neutrality", and "Chaos". In the interest of comprehensiveness, here it is (Vol-1, p. 9):


That's almost all of the monsters in OD&D Vol-2. It includes all the humanoids, including giants. Dragons, hydras, purple worms and sea monsters (HD 15+) are included. So are all the higher-level undead types, making those technically possible targets for the reincarnation spell. Some things that are not included appear to be -- totally mindless undead (skeletons, zombies), extraplanar types (elementals, djinn, efreet, invisible stalkers), cleanup crew (jellies, puddings, slimes, oozes, molds), a few beast-like monsters (cockatrice, basilisks), animals and insects (including horses), etc.

Note that in these rules if you come back as a human, dwarf, or elf, you get your class randomized and new level based on a 1d6 roll. That's probably better that having to start over at 1st level, but still a pretty bad beat if you used to be 11th+ level (the level required to cast reincarnation, for example), and there doesn't seem to be much visible connection between the old character and the new.


Expert D&D Rules

Reincarnation
Range: 0'
Duration: permanent


This spell brings a dead character back to life in a new body, which magically appears in front of the magic-user casting the spell. The DM should roll on the Reincarnation Table below to determine if the character returns as a character class or a monster. If the character is reincarnated as a character class (as opposed to a monster), the level is randomly rolled on a six-sided die. This level can never be higher than the character's level when slain. If the character returns as a monster, the kind of monster must be rolled on the table that matches the character's alignment. If the monster rolled has more hit dice than the character had at the time of death, then the monster type must be rolled again. A monster does not advance in experience: the character must play as reincarnated or retire from play.




The DM is free to add more monsters to the lists if desired. Such monsters should be 6 hit dice or less and should be at least semi-intelligent.

In the Expert D&D Rules, Dave Cook creates a new table for reincarnation, such that all the possibilities are encapsulated and available at a glance in the spell listing. One radical change is that by the OD&D rule, the chance of returning as a classed human/elf/dwarf was almost negligible (3 out of 12 options for Lawful characters), while here in Expert D&D it is almost unavoidable (9 out of 10 options on the main table). Class is still randomized (except in the #8-9 slots) and level is based on 1d6 just like in OD&D (with a restriction that level can't increase this way). The second major change is that the possible monster types are greatly reduced, with some foresight that they should be semi-intelligent, mostly humanoid/bipedal, and restricted to 6 HD or less (in line with the random level determination).


AD&D 1st Ed.

Reincarnation (Necromantic)
Level: 6

Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: Person touched

Explanation/Description: This spell is similar to the seventh level druid spell of the same name (q.v.). It does not require any saving throw for system shock or resurrection survival. The corpse is touched, and a new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1 to 6 turns, providing the person has not been dead for longer than 1 day per level of experience of the magic-user. The new incarnation will be:




Note: Very good or very evil persons will not be reincarnated as creatures whose general alignment is the opposite. The material components of the spell are a small drum and a drop of blood.

In AD&D, Gygax crafts his own custom table, and as you can see the entries are all entirely humanoid-types (topping out with the troll, at 6 HD, reminiscent of the previous returning level limits). There is no specific comment on class or level in any event (another case of leaving out the most important detail in the OD&D-to-AD&D matriculation?). Unlike previous versions, this table is not split up by alignment (although there is the "very good or very evil persons" guidance at the end).

The old corpse must be touchable (so I guess no reincarnation if the body is lost or disintegrated), and there's a detail that the "new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1 to 6 turns". I always interpreted this with the understanding that the new body would wander onstage from some outside location (much like the way monster summoning was written), although you could arrange some contrived example where that wouldn't be possible.

The other alteration in AD&D (as referenced in the first line of the spell above), is that a very similar spell is given to the new PC druid class, called reincarnate (note the slightly different spelling). This spell has entirely sylvan woodlands creatures on it, starting with -- badgers, bears, boars, centaurs, etc. Humans, elves, and gnomes are possibilities, as well as a 15% chance to be sent to the magic-user's table, above. The 1E DMG has this note for both (p. 44):
Reincarnation: Regardless of the form of the creature in which the character is reincarnated, allow the new form to progress as far as possible in characteristics and abilities. For example, a badger character could grow to giant size, have maximum hit points, plus bonus points for a high constitution, and the intelligence level of its former character. A centaur reincarnation might eventually gain hit dice up to 5, 6, 7, or even 8, and it would be eligible to wear armor, use magic items, etc.

So while that's very sketchy, there is at least some hope held out for any creature type to have the possibility of advancement.


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Reincarnation
(Necromancy)
Range: Touch

Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: Person touched

With this spell, the wizard can bring back to life a person who died no more than one day per level of experience of the wizard before the casting of the spell. The essence of the dead person is transferred to another body, possibly one very different from his former body. Reincarnation does not require any saving throw, system shock, or resurrection survival roll. The corpse is touched, and a new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1d6 turns. The person reincarnated recalls the majority of his former life and form, but the character class, if any, of the new incarnation might be different indeed. The new incarnation is determined on the following table. If a player character race is indicated, the character must be created.




Note: Very good or very evil persons will not be reincarnated as creatures whose general alignment is the opposite.

The material components of the spell are a small drum and a drop of blood.

This version of the spell looks pretty much the same as in 1E. The table is identical. So is the parallel listing of the druidic (priestly) reincarnate spell (although the 15% likelihood of going to the wizard's table has been replaced by "DM's choice"). The only real difference I can spot is Cook's addition at the end of the main paragraph, "If a player character race is indicated, the character must be created."; does this mean rolled up fresh at 1st level? If so, then it doesn't seem like this reincarnation spell actually buys you anything.


D&D 3rd Ed.

Reincarnate
Transmutation
Level: Drd 4
Components: V, S, DF
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: Touch
Target: Dead creature touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None (see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)


With this spell, the character brings back a dead creature in another body, provided death occurred no more than 1 week before the casting of the spell and the subject’s soul is free and willing to return. If the subject’s soul is not willing to return, the spell does not work; therefore, subjects who want to return receive no saving throw. Since the dead creature is returning in a new body, all physical ills and afflictions are repaired. The magic of the spell creates an entirely new young adult body for the soul to inhabit from the natural elements at hand. This process requires 1 hour to complete. When the body is ready, the subject is reincarnated.

A character reincarnated recalls the majority of his former life and form. The character retains his or her Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores, as well as any class abilities or skills formerly possessed. The character’s class, base attack bonus, base save bonuses, and hit points are unchanged. Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores depend partly on the new body. First eliminate the character’s racial adjustments (since the character is no longer of his or her previous race) and then apply the adjustments found below. The character’s level is reduced by 1. (If the character was 1st level, his or her new Constitution score is reduced by 1.)

It’s quite possible for the change in the character’s ability scores to make it difficult for the character to pursue his or her previous character class.

The new incarnation is determined on the following table or by DM choice.




Some bodies may make it impossible for the reincarnated character to use some of his or her class abilities. The reincarnated character does gain any powers or abilities associated with his new form. A humanoid reincarnated into an animal body can speak the languages it formerly knew and is a magical beast.

A wish spell can restore a reincarnated character to his or her original form.

The biggest change that 3E makes is that reincarnation is entirely deleted from the wizard's spell list; all that's left is the druidic version, shown above. The table is very similar to the one for druids in 1E/2E, with just a small number of changes (deleted fox, raccoon, stag; replaced faun → satyr, lynx → leopard; reduced DM's choice, formerly the trigger to wizard's table, to just 1%).

A minor change is that the new body doesn't walk in from offstage; the spell "creates an entirely new young adult body for the soul to inhabit from the natural elements at hand", thereby dodging any complications of its arrival; the former up-to-6-turn arrival time is here changed into 1 hour of body-creation (growth?) time. A major change is the new paragraph that explicates mental abilities and class stay the same, and while physical abilities have the same basis, they are subject to new racial modifiers (very much like the language in the 3E polymorph; link). Level is reduced by just 1, in line with all the other 3E rules on returning from the dead -- enormously more generous than in prior versions of the game.

And that's where we'll end our story -- at the point where reincarnation itself escapes from the cycle of officially-published D&D wizard spell lists for all time (moksha, you might say).


Open Questions

How much have you seen the magic-user reincarnation get used in play? Any memorable examples of PCs turned into interesting animals or monsters? If clerical raise dead and the like were not available, what would your preference be in how this spell functions (for example -- arbitrary monsters as in OD&D; humanoids-only as for AD&D wizards; or mostly animals-types as restricted to 3E druids)? What level should the PC come back as, and how should it be handled for non-standard PC types?