Thursday, July 24, 2014

In Which My Girlfriend Gets Hooked

So I've been trying to get my girlfriend Isabelle into D&D for what, 15 years now? The first go-round was as part of a long-running 3E D&D campaign with rotating DMs when it first came out and we were newly dating, so she was willing to humor me a bit more, but it really didn't take for her and was always a bit confusing and oblique. I've had numerous one-off games over the years, and the best match I'd gotten up to now was the solo-thief adventure, module O1 (The Gem and the Staff).

But then this Jul-4 comes around and she rather hesitantly agrees to join me at Paul S.'s house where we'll plan to play D&D for 3 days straight, purely old-school style, using Paul Jaquays' mega-dungeonish Caverns of Thracia (1979). And to our great mutual surprise, she is now totally hooked. She got up every morning that weekend increasingly hungry for what the party would explore next, where to find more treasure, how to possibly find and strike down the Minotaur King. We wrapped up Sunday afternoon and she was still jonesing for more. We've been talking for the last week (as I write this) about when we can play more, how we can jointly write dungeons and adventures together, etc., etc.

One of the great things is to be able to see the game through fresh eyes. My girlfriend doesn't have any back-in-the-day nostalgia. She first slogged through 3E and did not find it to her liking. (As a side note, the new 5E rules basically look to me like 3E with some of the parts moved around, and I was over that circa 2007.) But as we've reverted back to the most old-school stuff, and really gotten the first chance at a proper "mega-dungeon" style run, it's completely converted her. Here's a few observations that she's made independently in the last week since that game:


The large but limited dungeon environment felt manageable for the first time. Here it seems clear that she's locked onto the strengths of the mega-dungeon design structure. She said that prior campaign games seemed endless, without any apparent limits, and therefore somewhat pointless. But this environment excited her in that each foray allowed the players to focus on one subsection of the caverns and have a real possibility of exploring it in full, defeating it and solving its puzzles, and sacking its treasures and experience. So it felt like the players could set clear goals and actually "win" for the first time; but there were more subsections to be chosen and won over in later gaming sessions, and thus the excitement built on itself. And those sub-sections seemed rational and coherent in ways that other games did not (a nod to Jaquays' design, I think). When Isabelle said this, I felt like I was hearing Gygax's words on successful play from the back of the PHB all over again.

Having an advance sketch of the environment intensified interest. Two completely insane accidents served as an experiment which I would have never devised on my own. One is that Paul's character walked up to a statue of Apollo and cried out, "Oh Apollo, blessed healer, touch me and make me fly" -- to which I gave the old 1% chance that a god responds to an entreaty, and then couldn't believe my eyes when I leaned around the DM's screen and saw the percentile dice publicly come up the requisite "00"! So Paul's character took the opportunity to fly around the entire "outdoor" level and map out the gardens, orchards, and classical palace from above. On the next session, the party used this information to guide an assault the palace and just happened to catch the officers of the guard by surprise in the 2nd room, kill them, and take sketchy maps of almost the entire dungeon complex. Once I turned these over, all the later sessions started with players huddling over the maps and picking locations that seemed interesting, mysterious, or promising, and working out the most strategic paths of attack and areas to avoid or defend against, etc. The whole proceeding took on an extra level of strategic thoughtfulness and commitment, and the players clearly had their destinies in their own hands in a way that I'd not seen before. Isabelle & I have since been talking about what other devices could be used to give players similar advance, partial knowledge as to options about where they can explore in the future. (To which I'm thinking of some classic adventures that start with multiple obvious entrances for selection, like G1, G2, B2, etc.)

The locations seemed rational and not random. Apparently this was Isabelle's first foray into a dungeon that had a recognizable king, officers, guards, servants, a kitchen, dining area, etc., etc. To me this seems old-hat (again: see any of G1, G2, B2, etc., "Gygaxian naturalism"), but it had somehow escaped me that she'd never had a chance to experience that. The fact that players could quasi-correctly guess what the next few rooms contained made the game again more concrete, immediate, manageable, winnable, and rewarding.

One thing that I'm now personally wrestling with -- and feel free to say that I'm late to the party as usual -- is that this kind of design pattern is totally dislike what is presented in any of the classic D&D rules as a adventure-design protocol. That is: Make a map, place a few specially-crafted encounters in about 1/6 of the rooms, another 1/6 with traps, 1/3 of the rooms with random monsters, and another 1/3 or more empty (see: OD&D Vol-3, Dungeon Geomorphs/Monsters & Treasure, Moldvay Basic D&D, DMG Appendix A, etc.) I've been trying to follow that protocol, with frankly little success, for a number of years. But almost none of the classic published D&D adventures follow that design: practically every room has something to interact with in it, and nearby rooms are coordinated together in clans or supporting design or usage. Jaquays Caverns of Thracia has over 126 numbered areas in it (several with sub-locations lettered A-H or so), and not a single one is an empty room. (In fact: Area #85 makes a gag out of this by being labelled "An... Empty Room", and then when the author tries to inform you of this, he comically breaks down and can't resist putting in a set of giant watching eyes on the wall that put a curse on the players if they stay within.)

This is really bothering me at the moment, and I'm feeling like I've been blind (unlike those giant eyes) to what really hooks people into a good dungeon adventure. Perhaps we might say that while Gygax & Co. greatly advanced their dungeon designs from their initial mid-70's creations, the advice on dungeon construction stayed locked at that early state of OD&D in much later rulebooks. My own concern is that without random-table supports, I may not be personally creative enough to come up something interesting in every single room of an expansive mega-dungeon.

But Paul Jaquays did, and thanks to his creative genius it seems like my girlfriend is finally hooked on D&D. More interesting stuff to come later, I hope.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Contact Other Plane

The contact other plane spell is the D&D equivalent of a Magic 8-Ball; the wizard player asks several "yes or no" questions, and receives answers of varying accuracy based on dice-rolls by the DM. Trivia: It's the only spell in the OD&D LBB's complicated enough to have an attached table for its effects, or to run more than a single paragraph in length. That table and its expressed probabilities changed in every later edition, so it seems perfect for the kind of analysis I do here. It's a spell that rarely gets used in most games, because the clerical commune does the same job without any chance of inaccuracy ("veracity and knowledge should be near total"; Vol-1, p. 33) -- but since I run a non-clerical game, contact other plane is potentially of much greater interest. For brevity in the discussion below, I will use N = the Nth planar option in the list (regardless of title, which changes in almost every edition; usually between 1 and 10).


Original D&D

Contact Higher Plane: This spell allows the magical-type to seek advice and gain knowledge from creatures inhabiting higher planes of existence (the referee). Of course, the higher the plane contacted, the greater the number of questions that can be asked, the greater the chance that the information will be known, and the higher the probability that the question will be answered truthfully. Use the table below to determine these factors, as well as the probability of the Magic-User going insane. Only questions which can be answered "yes" or "no" are permitted.



If a Magic-User goes insane, he will remain so for a number of weeks equal to the number of the plane he was attempting to contact, the strain making him totally incapacitated until the time has elapsed. For each level above the 11th, Magic-Users should have a 5% better chance of retaining their sanity. The spell is usable only once every game week (referee's option).

So among the first questions I've always had about Gygax's original contact higher plane spell is: Why does it only start at the "3rd" plane? My best guess is something like: 1st is "Underworld", 2nd is "Surface World", and then 3rd+ are the "Seven+ Heavens" or something like that (i.e., the "higher planes"). Maybe you have a better idea about that than I do?

But let's look at the probabilities expressed; the Knowledge and Veracity columns aren't perfectly regular, jumping by either 5% or 10% increments in different spots (usually more gradual 5%'s near the start or end). The Insanity column does increase by exactly 10% per step. Thus we can observe (recall that N=1 indicates the starting 3rd Plane and so forth):
  • Knowledge ≈ N×10%
  • Veracity ≈ (N+2)×10%
  • Insanity = (N−1)×10%
Now, one thing that makes this spell really tough to use is that to get accurate information on any question you need to succeed at both the Knowledge and Veracity rolls (otherwise you get nothing, or incorrect information). Which is to say: You're at the mercy of the special multiplication rule of probability, which makes your chance of success drop below either of the individual components. Here's what you get for those products, that is, the actual chance of getting good information for each question:
  • 3rd Plane: 7.5%, 4th: 12%, 5th: 17.5%, 6th: 24%, 7th: 35%, 8th: 45%, 9th: 56%, 10th: 68%, 11th: 81%, 12th: 95%.
So as you can see, the chance of getting correct answers is practically negligible at any of the lower levels (3rd-5th Planes). In order to get past 50% (i.e., more right than wrong answers), you need to contact at least the 9th Plane -- at which point the chance of insanity is also more than half (60%), that is, you're resigned to probably going insane and not even getting to ask any questions in the first place (modified by caster levels above 11th, much like magic resistance). In summary: It's hard to avoid saying that this spell isn't flat-out broken. You're incredibly likely to go temporarily insane, and if you don't, then in most cases you'll get far more wrong answers than right answers.


D&D Expert Rules

Contact Higher Plane
Range: 0'
Duration: see below

This spell allows the caster to contact a higher plane and seek knowledge from strange and powerful creatures (played by the DM). The chart below lists the planes the caster can contact, how many yes or no questions a creature of it will answer, what its chance of knowing the answer is, how often the creature will lie, and what risk of insanity the caster takes contacting the plane. There is no way of knowing if the creature is lying. For every level above 11th, there is 5% less chance of insanity (thus a 12th level magic-user would have 5% less chance of going insane than indicated on the table shown).

This spell can be used once a week (or less often at the DM's option). Characters going insane recover after a number of weeks of game time equal to the number of the plane contacted. Thus, a person contacting the eighth plane would be out of the campaign for 8 weeks. The caster selects the plane to be contacted.

For Dave Cook's first take on interpreting Gygax, as usual he keeps the spell as much like the OD&D text as he can. The "Knowledge" chance is identical to OD&D. He's inverted the "Veracity" chance to what's here "Chance of Lying", and as he did that, he also smoothed out the progression to exactly 5% per step (resulting in a generally greater chance of veracity than in OD&D). He's also radically reduced the "Insanity" chance to only 5% per level, instead of OD&D's 10% per step. In summary the system here is:
  • Knowledge ≈ N×10%
  • Veracity = (N+9)×5%
  • Insanity = N×5%
Checking on multiplied products for good information with each question:
  • 3rd Plane: 12.5%, 4th: 16.5%, 5th: 21%, 6th: 26%, 7th: 35%, 8th: 45%, 9th: 56%, 10th: 68%, 11th: 81%, 12th: 90.3%.
With the small changes that Cook made, these chances are somewhat improved at the lower levels (3rd-5th Planes), but they're still all less than 25%, and thus pretty much not useful as options at all. The higher level (7th-11th) are all identical to OD&D, with the 12th Plane marginally reduced. At least with the reduction in Insanity chance, you're more likely to actually get to use the spell, no matter what Plane you pick in this system. So that's something.


AD&D 1st Ed.

Contact Other Plane (Divination)
Level: 5
Range: 0
Duration : Special
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V
Casting Time: I turn
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast, the magic-user sends his or her mind to another plane of existence in order to receive advice and information from powers there. As these powers are located at random, and resent such contact in any case, only brief answers will be given. (Your DM will answer all questions with a "yes", "no", "maybe", "never", "irrelevant", etc.) The character can contact an elemental plane or some plane further removed. For every 2 levels of experience of the magic-user one question may be asked. Contact with minds far removed from the plane of the magic-user increases the probability of the spell caster going insane or dying, but the chance of the power knowing the answer, as well as the probability of the being telling the correct answer, are likewise increased by moving to distant planes:



* For every. 1 point of intelligence over 15, the magic user reduces probability of insanity by 5%.

** If the answer is unknown, and the answer is not true, the being will answer definitely. If truth is indicated, it will answer "unknown."


***Assumes knowledge of questions pertaining to the appropriate elemental plane.


Insanity will strike as soon as 1 question is asked. It will last for 1 week for each removal of the plane contacted, 10 weeks maximum. There is a 1% chance per plane that the magic-user will die before recovering unless a remove curse spell is cast upon him or her.

By AD&D, Gygax seems to have been convinced that the spell needs some significant fix-ups. Here are the highlights of those changes:

  1. He changes the name to contact other plane (AD&D having now fleshed out the Gygaxian "Great Wheel" cosmology in early Dragon articles and the PHB Appendix, such that there are now both "higher" and "lower" planes that should reasonably be accessible by both good and evil wizards). 
  2. He's changed the names of the options, fixing that confusing start at the "3rd Plane", and now instead starting at "1 removed" (although now I'll ignore that anomalous "Elemental" option; below N=1 indicates "1 removed", et. al.). 
  3. He seems to agree with Cook on the reduced Insanity chances, duplicating them exactly as they appeared in the Expert Rules (and also moving that column first, which makes sense, because it's really the first thing you'd have to check as the spell commences). 
  4. On the other hand, he's removed the standard 5% modifier per level above 11th vs. insanity, replacing it with a 5% improvement per Intelligence above 15, which is likely to be a much smaller modifier (at most +3 steps in PHB rules; see single-asterisk note above). 
  5. He's changed the Knowledge chance to a straight 5% increase per step, and greatly increases the base chances at the lower levels over either OD&D or B/X (which were equal).
  6. He's likewise massively increased the Veracity chance over OD&D or B/X, more than doubling it in the starting "1 removed" (old 3rd Plane) category.
  7. He's also changed the number of questions from the Planar number to a formula based on caster level, namely Questions = Level/2 (thus abbreviating the table a little bit).
  8. He's added some specification to what happens if both the Knowledge and Veracity checks fail at the same time (namely, the spell lies and claims either "yes or no" -- presumably the opposite of the facts, otherwise this would wind up accidentally revealing correct information in a fail-fail situation; see the double-asterisk note).
  9. And there's a chance of caster death, following insanity, unless the user has an ally with remove curse nearby at the ready (maybe to make casters less blasé about using the spell casually and waiting out the insanity periods?).
In the DMG there's a note (p. 45) referring users of this spell to the new section on "Insanity" for specific options if things go awry here. So having said that, the overall system is now equivalent to (with irregularities only at the terminating 9+ level):
  • Knowledge = (N+11)×5%
  • Veracity = (N+20)×3%
  • Insanity = N×5%
And the products for truthful information per question work out as follows:
  • 1st Removed: 39.0%, 2nd: 43.6%, 3rd:49.0%, 4th: 54.8%, 5th: 60.0%, 6th: 66.3%, 7th: 72.9%, 8th: 80.8%, 9th+: 88.2%.
This is clearly improved from the user's perspective. There's no option with less than a one-third chance of correct answers; picking a plane where you'll get more correct answers (4th+) still has a low chance of insanity (20%; or just 5% after being modified for an 18 Int, say). I think a partisan can still reasonably argue that the contact other plane may be underpowered, but at least by this point I wouldn't tell a fellow player to hands-down avoid using the spell under any circumstances.


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Contact Other Plane
(Divination)
Range: 0

Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special

When this spell is cast, the wizard sends his mind to another plane of existence in order to receive advice and information from powers there. As these powers resent such contact, only brief answers are given. (The DM answers all questions with "yes," "no," "maybe," "never," "irrelevant," etc.) Any questions asked are answered by the power during the spell's duration. The character can contact an elemental plane or some plane farther removed. For every two levels of experience of the wizard, one question may be asked. Contact with minds far removed from the plane of the wizard increases the probability of the spellcaster going insane or dying, but the chance of the power knowing the answer, as well as the probability of the being telling the correct answer, are likewise increased by moving to distant planes. Once the Outer Planes are reached, the Intelligence of the power contacted determines the effects.


The accompanying random table is subject to DM changes, development of extraplanar NPC beings, and so on.


If insanity occurs, it strikes as soon as the first question is asked. This condition lasts for one week for each removal of the plane contacted (see the DMG or the Planescape™ Campaign Setting boxed set), to a maximum of 10 weeks. There is a 1% chance per plane that the wizard dies before recovering, unless a remove curse spell is cast upon him. A surviving wizard can recall the answer to the question.


On rare occasions, this divination may be blocked by the action of certain lesser or greater powers.


* For every point of Intelligence over 15, the wizard reduces the chance of insanity by 5%.

** If the being does not know an answer, and the chance of veracity is not made, the being will emphatically give an incorrect answer. If the chance of veracity is made, the being will answer "unknown."
 

Percentages in parentheses are for questions that pertain to the appropriate elemental plane.
 

Optional Rule
The DM may allow a specific Outer Plane to be contacted (see the Planescape Campaign Setting boxed set). In this case, the difference in alignment between the caster and the plane contacted alters the maximum Intelligence that can be contacted--each difference in moral or ethical alignment lowers the maximum Intelligence that can be contacted by 1. For example, an 18th-level lawful good caster could contact Mount Celestia (a lawful good plane) on the "Intelligence 20" line, or Elysium (a neutral good plane) on the "Intelligence 19" line.

And here's Cook's second swing at interpreting & updating the works of Gygax. The overall mechanic, and the chances for both "Knowledge" and "Veracity" are totally identical to 1E. But he's significantly increased the chance of Insanity, adding +20% over what was used in both 1E and his own Expert rules; that seems unwarranted, and I'm kind of mystified by why he did that for this spell (maybe feeling he had to counter-balance the Int bonus that was added in 1E?). He gives a "mulligan" to the unfortunate caster, by letting him or her return from insanity with the answer to 1 question in their mind from using this spell.

But the biggest noticeable change here is a flavor-text makeover, now that the Great Wheel has been further fleshed out in later AD&D works like Deities & Demigods, the Manual of the Planes, and the Planescape campaign setting (which is given two shout-outs in the text above). At this point, it's been established that major and minor powers may hold dominion throughout the various planar levels -- it's not strictly just higher-is-better. And therefore Cook is compelled to switch from the simple "planar level" dial to one which specifies entities of different mega-Intelligence, regardless of what planar level they're on. Also he adds the "Optional Rule" that caster alignment interacts with what level of Intelligence they're allowed to contact on each Outer Plane. So that sort of makes sense, but for my money it starts entangling too many issues at once for the spell to be quickly comprehensible (esp. by newer players that don't have prior understanding of the "Great Wheel" cosmology... and after all, the "Optional Rule" just implies you should contact your alignment's plane, with no other side-effects from that fact). In any case, as stated earlier, the actual game-mechanics are effectively the same as before.

So the probability system is the same as 1E except for the increased "Insanity" chances (N=1 for "Inner Plane", etc.):
  • Knowledge = (N+11)×5%
  • Veracity = (N+20)×3%
  • Insanity = (N+4)×5%
And the truth-per-question chances are exactly the same as 1E (see above). However, to break 50% odds for correct answers, you need to pick a contact  (N=4, "4 removed" in 1E, "Outer Plane, Int 20" here) where you're almost equally likely to go insane before asking your first question (specifically, 40% or higher). So I can live with the flavor-text changes, but I'm wondering if Cook regrets that increase to the Insanity chances.


D&D 3rd Ed.

Contact Other Plane
Divination
Level: Brd 5, Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: Personal
Target: The character
Duration: Concentration
The character sends his or her mind to another plane of existence in order to receive advice and information from powers there. (See the accompanying table for possible consequences and results of the attempt.)

Avoid Effective Intelligence/Charisma Decrease: The character must succeed at an Intelligence check against this DC in order to avoid effective Intelligence and Charisma decrease. If the check fails, the character's Intelligence and Charisma scores fall to 8 for the stated duration, and the character becomes unable to cast arcane spells. If the character loses Intelligence and Charisma, the effect strikes as soon as the first question is asked, and no answer is received. (The entries in parentheses are for questions that pertain to the appropriate Elemental Plane.)

Results of a Successful Contact: The DM rolls d% for the result shown on the table:

  • True Answer: The character gets a true, one-word answer. Questions not capable of being answered in this way are answered randomly.
  • Don’t Know: The entity tells the character that it doesn’t know.
  • Lie: The entity intentionally lies to the character.
  • Random Answer: The entity tries to lie but doesn’t know the answer, so it makes one up.
The powers reply in a language the character understands, but they resent such contact and give only brief answers to the character's questions. (The DM answers all questions with "yes," "no," "maybe," "never," "irrelevant," or some other one-word answer.) The character must concentrate on maintaining the spell (a standard action) in order to ask questions at the rate of one per round. A question is answered by the power during the same round. For every two caster levels, the character may ask one question.

The character can contact an Elemental Plane or some plane farther removed. Contact with minds far removed from the character's home plane increases the probability of suffering an effective decrease to Intelligence and Charisma, but the chance of the power knowing the answer, as well as the probability of the being telling the correct answer, are likewise increased by moving to distant planes. Once the Outer Planes are reached, the power of the deity contacted determines the effects.


On rare occasions, this divination may be blocked by an act of certain deities or forces.

So in Jonathan Tweet's 3E Player's Handbook, the spell is broadly similar (much of the text is copy-and-pasted from before), but the main mechanical change is that the double-roll for Knowledge and Veracity has been collapsed into a single roll on the table above that incorporates all the different possibilities. The last column, "Random Answer" is defined in the note as "entity tries to lie but doesn’t know the answer, so it makes one up". That's equivalent to our previous double-fail condition, although the 3E designers are interpreting that differently than I did above, apparently allowing for the accidental-truth possibility (which I guess makes sense; maybe I should use that myself).

The flat percentage "Insanity" chance has been replaced by an Intelligence check under these rules at some specified DC. Assuming that the caster has an Intelligence of 15 (like the basis for 1E/2E), then I calculate the chances for failing this insanity-like check as follows:
  • N=1 ("Positive/Negative Energy Plane"): 25%, 2: 30%, 3: 35%, 4: 45%, 5: 55%, 6: 65%.
And this is actually identical to how Cook's 2E chart for Insanity starts & ends, with a few lines cut out in the middle (see above). Those cut-out lines represent the new flavor text, which has switched from 2E's "Outer Plane Intelligence" trigger to the new "Lesser-Intermediate-Greater Deity" descriptions, and thus has fewer categories in that pre-existing system for gods (which I think I prefer). Also, the result for failure on this check has been "safety-bumpered" to simply reduce Int & Cha to 8, and thereby losing spellcasting abilities temporarily (which seems less harsh, but less interesting, than cosmic insanity). But Tweet cuts out Cook's 2E one-automatic-answer charity, here specifying that "no answer is received" in the case of a failed check.

If we just strip out the probabilities for a "True Answer" at each level (neglecting the possibility of accidental truthfulness from the last column), then we see:
  • N=1: 39%, 2: 44%, 3: 49%, 4: 60%, 5: 73%, 6: 88%.
Which again is exactly the same as the 1E/2E probabilities at the levels of "1 removed", 2, 3, 5, 7, and 9+  (see in 1E above, and round off to the nearest percentage). So it's obvious that the resident 3E number-cruncher was indeed carefully looking at the 1E/2E table and doing the same probability calculations I did above, to make those results match up as closely as possible, and with just a single die-roll. We can praise this for close observation and efficiency (one die-roll instead of two), but on the other hand this makes you entirely dependent on the lengthy table (no way to break out the two factors into simple probability formulas; the sources are entirely hidden in the 3E text).


Conclusions

The contact higher plane spell was super-weak, effectively unusable, in OD&D and B/X, largely due to an oversight about how compound probability events work (i.e., they get multiplicatively lower). When the spell changed to contact other plane in 1E, Gygax made those probabilities much more tractable, and they were retained effectively unchanged through 2E and 3E (except for the highly questionable Insanity-boost inserted in 2E). Also: flavor-text changed, from OD&D's planes-that-shall-not-be-named, 1E's steps on the Great Wheel, 2E's Intelligence-based Planescapery, and finally 3E's specific classes of deities.

One thing that I don't see addressed here, for the relative weakness of the spell, is to what extent players are allowed to re-ask the same question over again compare answers. If allowed to do this and apply the mechanic as-written, then players could compare answers and use statistical inference to decode what the truth really is -- even if only contacting the lowest-level option in OD&D where almost all of the answers are false. The most obvious response to this is: keep in mind what the entity said previously and repeat the same answer in all such cases. But players could maybe take one or more steps upward, contact a different entity with the same question, and compare those answers. Insanity-permitting, of course.

So, what do you think about the spell? Is it too weak or strong (pretending, for argument's sake, that options like clerical commune are not available)? Have you seen it used in actual games (I never have), and how did it work? Would it be better to discard the big table (remember, it's the only spell like that in the LBBs) and just present core mechanic dice-rolls in its place? I'm almost surprised that 3E didn't go that route instead (but god forbid 3E actually make something short when it could be long). I might also consider using the actual list of responses from the Magic 8-Ball (link), although that would require a bit more paper at the table, if I don't remember the list outright.

(Footnote: An ODS spreadsheet of my various probability calculations is available here.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Surprise & Initiative Details

A little while ago, I got a wonderful invitation from Paul S. to run a D&D game for 3 days straight of the 4th of July holiday. Which was awesome for more reasons than I can count, but one I'll state explicitly is that he has the most perfect dedicated RPG gaming space that I've ever seen (link; now with shelves full of miniatures & Dwarven Forge, old-style chairs from the Higgins Armory, etc.) Also it gave me a chance to see if my long-form DM'ing skills were still up to snuff.

Here's a thing I've had written in my house rules for some time -- not really a change of any sort, but a reminder to honor the original D&D rules for surprise and initiative. Namely: Surprise gives a free round and then automatic initiative, for 2 rounds of action in sequence (Vol-3, top of p. 10); and that at the start of the action sequence, a round of missile fire & spells are allowed before movement or melee (as seen in Chainmail p. 9, to which OD&D refers, or Swords & Spells p. 3, as an update).

Conceptually, I really like this, because it simulates arrows and spells flying and striking the opposition while they're making their charge across the space between. It synchs up with the Gygaxian/Holmesian descriptions of combat where PCs loose one round of missiles, then drop bows and pull out swords for melee. If monsters get surprise, they may not have any missiles on the actual surprise round, but they still get the free initiative to charge into combat and get one free round of melee attacks.

The main problem: The last several times I've run games, I keep entirely forgetting to enforce this rule. Even though I've got it written down as a reminder, even though I prime myself mentally to use it before going into the game; it just completely slips my mind every time. Secondarily, even when I've remembered about it in the past, players are a bit confused by the (now) unusual rule.

One thing that I'm noticing from this past Jul-4 weekend is that players were still using lots of missile weapons even in the absence of the "first round is missiles only" rule. They were using them to attack monsters at a distance, or to allow back ranks to fire over a melee in front (which should be further encouraged by my very liberal rule on firing into melee, even though I also forgot about that all weekend, too; link). In theory, if I strike out this joint rule for surprise & missiles, then I'll be matching what was done in all later rulesets, like BX/AD&D/3E, etc.

Maybe I should take a clue from my instincts in actual play, and let go of that attractive-in-theory but difficult-in-practice original rule?


Monday, July 14, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – ESP and Clairvoyance

The 2nd-level D&D wizard spell, ESP, has a somewhat interesting pedigree. For starters, it's oddly named -- just a 3-letter acronym, one which is not actually defined anywhere in OD&D, 1E, etc. Secondly, it's a bit of a misnomer; "ESP" is properly an umbrella term for a multitude of para-psychological powers, like telepathy, clairaudience, and clairvoyance (link). While the D&D ESP power itself is most like the first of those (3E renamed it "detect thoughts", a phrase briefly used in the OD&D text; perhaps "read minds" would be the best name for it), each of those D&D magics will be addressed below (they are all linked in the initial rules).

Inasmuch as D&D is an artifact of the pop sensibilities of its time, perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that ESP (extrasensory perception, of course) should be familiar to its readers -- in the wake of the 1960's "New Age" and "Human Potential Movement", there was a resurgence of interest in expanding one's consciousness by a number of means, and hope for investigating and harnessing it for practical real-world purposes. In fact, it was in the same decade as D&D's first publication that the governments of Russia, China, and the U.S. all founded research facilities dedicated to using ESP-like powers for military objectives (to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in the U.S. for at least a few decades -- see information on the "Stargate Project" and "remote viewing" generally.) Should your fantasy-world kings and archpriests be funding colleges of magic for the same purpose? Let's see:


Original D&D

ESP: A spell which allows the user to detect the thoughts (if any) of whatever lurks behind doors or in the darkness. It can penetrate solid rock up to about 2' in thickness, but a thin coating of lead will prevent its penetration. Duration: 12 turns. Range: 6"

Clairvoyance: Same as ESP spell except the spell user can visualize rather than merely pick up thoughts.

Clairaudience: Same as Clairvoyance except it allows hearing rather than visualization. This is one of the few spells which can be cast through a Crystal Ball (see Volume II).

ESP is 2nd-level, while the other two spells are 3rd-level. From a lot of personal use with medallions of ESP (the magic item in Vol-2) in contexts like the Dungeon! boardgame and AD&D DMG solo-dungeoneering rules, I feel like I've got a pretty good grip on the purpose of this short-range spell -- you use it to detect what's lurking on the other side of a door, before you burst in, kind of like a super-powered "hear noise" option. According to this text, the clairvoyance and clairaudience spells work about the same, but seem intended to give more complete information about the area behind the door. (Clearly of limited range: consider powers given to certain gods in OD&D Sup-IV tagged with a modification like, "Clairvoyance (no range limitations)": p. 23, 25, 43.)


B/X D&D Rules

ESP 
Range: 60'
Duration: 12 turns
 

This spell will allow the caster to "hear" thoughts. The spell caster must concentrate for one full turn in one direction to "hear" the thoughts (if any) of a creature within range. Any single creature's thoughts may be understood (regardless of the language), but if more than one creature is in the line of "hearing", a confused jumble of thoughts will be "heard". In this case, the caster may concentrate in that direction for an extra turn to sort out the jumble and concentrate on one creature. The spell caster may "hear" through 2 feet of rock, but a thin coating of lead will block the ESP. The thoughts of the undead (if any) cannot be "heard" by means of this spell.

Clairvoyance 
Range: 60'
Duration: 12 turns
 

This spell allows the user to see an area through the eyes of any single creature in it. The creature must be in the general direction chosen by the caster and in range. The spell is blocked by more than two feet of rock or a thin coating of lead. "Seeing" through a creature's eyes takes one full turn, after which the caster can change subjects.

The way these rules are organized, the 2nd level ESP is in Tom Moldvay's Basic D&D Set; the 3rd-level clairvoyance is in Dave Cook's Expert D&D Set (with clairaudience being discarded from those rules). ESP has effectively the same range & duration; it picks up complications over multiple targets, and an inability to read the minds of the undead. Clairvoyance is given greater specificity than in OD&D; the range & duration are the same as ESP (only given by implication in Vol-1), and Cook invents a detail that it functions by looking through another creature's eyes. One the one hand, that's sort of in spirit of "Same as ESP spell except the spell user can visualize" (per OD&D above); but on the other hand, that's generally not what's implied by the terms "clairvoyance" or "remote sensing" (see links above). This interpretation will not be re-used by any other version of the D&D rules.


AD&D 1st Ed. 

ESP (Divination)
Level: 2
Range: ½"/level, 9" maximum
Duration: 1 round/level
Area of Effect: One creature per probe
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 2 segments
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: When an ESP spell is used, the caster is able to detect the surface thoughts of any creatures in range - except creatures with no mind (as we know it), such as all of the undead. The ESP is stopped by 2 or more feet of rock, 2 or more inches of any metal other than lead, or a thin sheet of lead foil. The magic-user employing the spell is able to probe the surface thoughts of 1 creature per turn, getting simple instinctual thoughts from lower order creatures. Probes can continue on the same creature from round to round. The caster can use the spell to help determine if some creature lurks behind a door, for example, but the ESP will not always reveal what sort of creature it is. The material component of this spell is a copper piece.


Clairaudience (Divination)
Level: 3
Range: Special
Duration: 1 round/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time! 3 segments
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: The clairaudience spell enables the magic-user to concentrate upon some locale and hear in his or her mind whatever noise is within a 6" radius of his or her determined clairaudience locale center. Distance is not a factor, but the locale must be known, i.e. a place familiar to the spell caster or an obvious one (such as behind a door, around a corner, in a copse of woods, etc.). Only sounds which are normally detectable by the magic-user can be heard by use of this spell. Only metal sheeting or magical protections will prevent the operation of the spell. Note that it will function only on the plane of existence on which the magic-user is at the time of casting. The material component of the spell is a small silver horn of at least 100 g.p. value, and casting the spell causes it to disappear.


Clairvoyance (Divination)
Level: 3
Range: Special
Duration: 7 round/level
Area of Effect: Special


Explanation/Description: Similar to the clairaudience spell, the clairvoyance spell empowers the magic-user to see in his or her mind whatever is within sight range from the spell locale chosen. Distance is not a factor, but the locale must be known - familiar or obvious. Furthermore, light is a factor whether or not the spell caster has the ability to see into the infrared or ultraviolet spectrums. If the area is dark, only a 1" radius from the center of the locale of the spell's area of effect can be clairvoyed; otherwise, the seeing extends to normal vision range. Metal sheeting or magical protections will foil a clairvoyance spell. The spell functions only on the plane on which the magic-user is at the time of casting. The material component of the spell is a pinch of powdered pineal gland from a human or humanoid creature.

ESP is about the same as in OD&D. As usual for 1E, range & duration are transformed from fixed values to level-dependent variables, and at least two oddities arise from that -- first, it's one of only two in the entire ruleset that are tagged with a "maximum" range limit to its formula for range (the other being ventriloquism); and second, it's stepped into the confusing mess over time-units, in that the "1 round/level" duration is probably actually shorter than the text requirement of probing "1 creature per turn" (since 10 rounds = 1 turn in these rules).

It's in the clairvoyance/clairaudience pair that things get a bit more interesting. Here, Gygax has listed them both as "Range: Special" and written in the text "Distance is not a factor". So... that means you can see infinitely far away (as long as "familiar or obvious")? That's certainly not how I (or Dave Cook) would have read the OD&D text, and even here it's a bit cursory and easy to miss. I can see this causing a lot of interpretive arguments over what counts as "obvious" (The interior of the citadel I'm viewing from miles away, or simply know about? The center of the dungeon in that mountain I've been told exists?) No errata notes are given in the DMG. We might wonder if this expanded power takes some thunder away from the crystal ball magic item (originally the only infinite-distance detection power in the game; if clairaudience could do the job all by itself, then it wouldn't need casting through a crystal ball, as noted for OD&D above).

The fact the clairvoyance may work less well than ESP in the standard dungeon setting, because most rooms may well be dark in the first place, is noted for the first time here and addressed with a special "see 1 inch even in the dark" power (which I think is kind of fiddly). Also, is it a little strange that clairaudience is given a fairly pricey 100gp material component that gets disappears, but not clairvoyance?


AD&D 2nd Ed.

ESP
(Divination)
Range: 0

Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: 5 yds./level (90 yds. maximum)
 

When an ESP spell is used, the caster is able to detect the surface thoughts of any creatures in range--except for those of undead and creatures without minds (as we know them). The ESP is stopped by 2 feet of rock, 2 inches of any metal other than lead, or a thin sheet of lead foil.

The wizard employing the spell is able to probe the surface thoughts of one creature per round, getting simple instinctual thoughts from lower order creatures. Probes can continue on the same creature from round to round or can move on to other creatures. The caster can use the spell to help determine if a creature lurks behind a door, for example, but the ESP does not always reveal what sort of creature it is. If used as part of a program of interrogation, an intelligent and wary subject receives an initial saving throw. If successful, the creature successfully resists and the spell reveals no additional information. If the saving throw is failed, the caster may learn additional information, according to the DM's ruling. The creature's Wisdom adjustment applies, as may additional bonuses up to +4, based on the sensitivity of the information sought.


The material component of this spell is a copper piece.


Clairaudience
(Divination)
Range: Unlimited

Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: 60-ft. radius

The clairaudience spell enables the wizard to concentrate upon some locale and hear in his mind any noise within a 60-foot radius of that point. Distance is not a factor, but the locale must be known--a place familiar to the spellcaster or an obvious one (such as behind a door, around a corner, in a copse of trees, etc.). Only sounds that are normally detectable by the wizard can be heard by use of this spell. Lead sheeting or magical protections prevent the operation of the spell, and the wizard has some indication that the spell is so blocked. The spell creates an invisible sensor, similar to that created by a crystal ball spell, that can be dispelled. The spell functions only on the wizard's current plane of existence.

The material component of the spell is a small horn of at least 100 gp value.


Clairvoyance
(Divination)
Range: Unlimited

Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: Line of sight

Similar to the clairaudience spell, the clairvoyance spell empowers the wizard to see in his mind whatever is within sight range from the spell locale chosen. Distance from the wizard is not a factor, but the locale must be known--familiar or obvious. Furthermore, light is a factor, as the spell does not enable the use of infravision or magical enhancements. If the area is magically dark, only darkness is seen; if naturally pitch dark, only a 10-foot radius from the center of the spell's area of effect can be seen. Otherwise, the seeing extends to the normal vision range according to the prevailing light. Lead sheeting or magical protection foils a clairvoyance spell, and the wizard has some indication that it is so blocked. The spell creates an invisible sensor, similar to that created by a crystal ball spell, that can be dispelled. The spell functions only on the wizard's current plane of existence.

The material component is a pinch of powdered pineal gland.
So here's Dave Cook's second go at interpreting the works of Gygax. For the first time, Cook mentions a saving throw for ESP, in the specific case of an extended interrogation for specific information. For clairvoyance/clairaudience, the range is here explicated by Cook now listing them as "Range: Unlimited", so there's no question about how far they can function -- really far. They're in a very small group with that designator for range in this ruleset (the others being wish, limited wish, and the new spells sending and demand).


D&D 3rd Ed.

Detect Thoughts
Divination [Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 2, Knowledge 2, Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 ft.
Area: Quarter circle emanating from the character to the extreme of the range
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute/level (D)
Saving Throw: Will negates (see text)
Spell Resistance: No


The character can detect surface thoughts. The amount of information revealed depends on how long the character studies a particular area or subject:

  • 1st Round: Presence or absence of thoughts (from conscious creatures with Intelligence scores of 1 or higher).
  • 2nd Round: Number of thinking minds and the mental strength of each.
  • 3rd Round: Surface thoughts of any mind in the area. A target’s Will save prevents the character from reading its thoughts, and the character must cast detect thoughts again to have another chance. Creatures of animal intelligence (Int 1 or 2) have simple, instinctual thoughts that the character can pick up.

Note: Each round, the character can turn to detect thoughts in a new area. The spell can penetrate barriers, but 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt blocks it.

Arcane Focus: A copper piece.


Clairaudience/Clairvoyance
Divination
Level: Brd 3, Knowledge 3, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: See text
Effect: Magical sensor
Duration: 1 minute/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No


Clairaudience/clairvoyance enables the character to concentrate upon some locale and hear or see (the character's choice) almost as if the character were there. Distance is not a factor, but the locale must be known—a place familiar to the character or an obvious one. The spell does not allow magically enhanced senses to work through it. If the chosen locale is magically dark, the character sees nothing. If it is naturally pitch black, the character can see in a 10-foot radius around the center of the spell’s effect. Lead sheeting or magical protection blocks the spell, and the character senses that the spell is so blocked. The spell creates an invisible sensor that can be dispelled. The spell functions only on the plane of existence the character is currently occupying.

Oh 3E, I wanted to love you so terribly much. But here you've taken the old ESP, renamed to detect thoughts (which you can sort of sympathize with, although I can think of better names) and made a whole complicated piece of drama out of it. Now you've got this picky-itsy rule on what you pick up each round to distinguish between the "something's over there" and the "useful mental information" aspects of the spell. You've also got this big friggin' table with 10 rows to handle the fact that someone threw "mental strength" in as a detail in the 2nd round of scanning. That kind of thing totally burns my chaps, because it guarantees that the game stops and everyone flips through the PHB to this page every time the spell gets used. Hey, how about instead, I don't know, just directly declare the Intelligence ability score of the creature? Or cut it to 3 categories (dumb, average, genius)? Or skip the whole thing entirely?

Although in its defense, detect thoughts (nee ESP)  looks the way it does because all the 3E "detection" spells were synchronized to have this same kind of 3-rounds-of-increasing-effect and a table-of-strengths format. This includes: detect animals or plants, detect evil (et. al.), detect magic, detect secret doors, detect snares and pits, detect thoughts, and detect undead. And that was spawned by a little addition to detect magic back in the 1E DMG that allowed you get to get some extra information on a scan ("This spell detects the intensity of the magic (dim, faint, moderate, strong, very strong, intense) and there is a 10% chance per level of the caster that the type (abiuration, alteration, etc.) can be found as well..."; 1E DMG p. 44). Even the 3E detect thoughts "mental strength" table is basically derived from the similar table you'd find at the the start of the 1E Monster Manuals. On second thought -- that's not so much a defense, the fact that all of these detection spells were allowed to get so crazy complicated should be more of a deeper condemnation.

But meanwhile -- The clairaudience/clairvoyance pair has been collapsed to a single spell (again, you can sort of see why, but you just fixed the ESP name oddity and then made this the new clunkiest spell name in the system). Here the designers have stripped out Dave Cook's 2E clarification of "Range: Unlimited"... now you're back to 1E-style text with "Range: See text", and needing to pick up on the "Distance is not a factor" text and interpret it correctly.


D&D 3.5 Ed.

Detect Thoughts
Divination [Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 2, Knowledge 2, Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: 60 ft.
Area: Cone-shaped emanation
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: Will negates; see text
Spell Resistance: No

You detect surface thoughts. The amount of information revealed depends on how long you study a particular area or subject.

  • 1st Round: Presence or absence of thoughts (from conscious creatures with Intelligence scores of 1 or higher).
  • 2nd Round: Number of thinking minds and the Intelligence score of each. If the highest Intelligence is 26 or higher (and at least 10 points higher than your own Intelligence score), you are stunned for 1 round and the spell ends. This spell does not let you determine the location of the thinking minds if you can’t see the creatures whose thoughts you are detecting.
  • 3rd Round: Surface thoughts of any mind in the area. A target’s Will save prevents you from reading its thoughts, and you must cast detect thoughts again to have another chance. Creatures of animal intelligence (Int 1 or 2) have simple, instinctual thoughts that you can pick up.
Each round, you can turn to detect thoughts in a new area. The spell can penetrate barriers, but 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt blocks it.

Arcane Focus: A copper piece.


Clairaudience/Clairvoyance
Divination (Scrying)
Level: Brd 3, Knowledge 3, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, F/DF
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Effect: Magical sensor
Duration: 1 min./level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

Clairaudience/clairvoyance creates an invisible magical sensor at a specific location that enables you to hear or see (your choice) almost as if you were there. You don’t need line of sight or line of effect, but the locale must be known—a place familiar to you or an obvious one. Once you have selected the locale, the sensor doesn’t move, but you can rotate it in all directions to view the area as desired. Unlike other scrying spells, this spell does not allow magically or supernaturally enhanced senses to work through it. If the chosen locale is magically dark, you see nothing. If it is naturally pitch black, you can see in a 10- foot radius around the center of the spell’s effect.
Clairaudience/clairvoyance functions only on the plane of existence you are currently occupying.

Arcane Focus: A small horn (for hearing) or a glass eye (for seeing).

Okay, we can see a few things here that 3.5 actually did improve on -- or at least back-pedaled on some of the more ridiculous design decisions made in 3E. One is that the detect thoughts (ESP) big table did get snipped out, and replaced by simply knowing "the Intelligence score" of each target, as I suggested above. A second is that clairaudience/clairvoyance has its range cut down from unlimited (as it was in AD&D 1E-3E) back down to local-usage only, 400 ft. + 40 ft.level (a lot more like it was in OD&D and B/X). So that leaves some legitimate advantage to the higher-level scrying spells and items (crystal balls). At least those are good calls, I think.


Conclusions

So it seems to me like the clairvoyance/clairaudience spells are very powerful, if interpreted as being usable at totally any distance -- subject to arguments over what counts as "familiar or obvious", of course. In fact, I would think that these "remote viewing" spells available to any wizard would come pretty close to eliminating any need for crystal balls or the magic mirror/magic font spells that first popped up in 1E Unearthed Arcana and were kept in all later editions. Although: I can imagine in any edition other than 2E that someone might easily overlook the "Distance is not a factor" line and exactly what that implies. I have to admit, even with all this textual history, I keep coming back to these spells and expecting them to have the same restrictions that ESP did in OD&D.

Am I wrong about that? How powerful is the ESP-clairvoyance-clairaudience trio in your games? Do your players routinely use them to great effect? Have you found it necessary to insert any additional interpretations or limitations (or expansions) to these spells? Inquiring minds want to know.

Edit: One more question --  How do you feel about Cook's being able to understand any creature's thoughts "regardless of the language" that appears only in his Expert rules? Fair game or too powerful?

Edit: Added the look at the 3.5 edition versions. Thanks to commentator Monkapotomus for the heads-up on that.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dice-Rolling Software

Back in the early 80's there were ads in Dragon magazine for an LED-lit stick that would generate random numbers, called the "Dragonbone" (link, although I wish the picture were in the original white, as opposed to that tasteless red color). This definitely caught my imagination, although I never had or saw one, and clearly the functionality was extremely limited. For example: it only did one roll at a time, so it wouldn't automatically roll 3d6 for abilities, or simulate the fistful of dice you need for mass saving throws from spells such as confusion, fireball, sleep (pre-Sup-I), etc.

So I was thinking the other day that obviously this functionality would be beyond trivial on a modern smartphone. Coincidentally, a few days later I had Allier G. contact me to point out his dice-rolling app (link; free and pay versions, Android only, no iPhone).

Does anyone use software-based dice rolling at the table? And if so, what's your favorite application for it? Or: do the benefits of tactility, visibility, security, and naturalness always favor actual dice-in-the-hand?


Monday, July 7, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Confusion

Confusion is a 4th-level wizard spell that dates all the way back to the Chainmail Fantasy rules. Did you ever puzzle over how to manage its effect, exactly? Let's take a look at how it developed:


Chainmail Fantasy

Confusion: By using this spell up to 20 of the enemy can be caused to react in absolutely the apposite manner. For example, if they advanced, they will be retreated instead. Duration is but one turn. The user secretly indicates which unit is to be confused, and when the spell takes effect he allows the enemy to move the troops and then when all movement is finished he changes the action of the confused unit to the apposite of what it actually did. (Complexity 4)

At 86 words, this is almost the longest spell in this ruleset (beaten only by conjuration of an elemental at 94 words). This is a fairly elegant mechanic in this context -- whatever move is made for the target unit (whether using the written-orders system or otherwise; CM p. 9), the caster gets to reverse it into its opposite. Kind of clever; it only lasts for 1 turn so there's no question about what happens afterward.


Original D&D

Confusion: This spell will immediately effect creatures with two or fewer hit-dice. For creatures above two hit dice the following formula is used to determine when the spell takes effect: score of a twelve-sided die roll less the level of the Magic-User casting the spell = delay in effect, i.e. a positive difference means a turn delay, while a zero or negative difference means immediate effect. Creatures with four or more hit dice will have saving throws against magic, and on those turns they make their saving throws they are not confused; but this check must be made each turn the spell lasts, and failure means they are confused. The spell will effect as many creatures as indicated by the score rolled on two six-sided dice with the addition of +1 for each level above the 8th that the Magic-User casting the spell has attained. Confused creatures will attack the Magic-User's party (dice score 2-5), stand around doing nothing (6-8), or attack each other (9-12). Roll each turn. Duration: 12 turns. Range: 12".

In OD&D, the spell is given a variable number of creatures affected (2d6+level over 8th), a unique variable delay onset time (d12-level in turns?), and an extended duration (12 turns). The effect itself takes the form randomly-determined actions each turn (attack PC's, do nothing, or attack each other). Apparently victims under 4HD get no save (an oddity in the LBBs); creatures over that level are still affected, but get a save to see if they're confused every turn throughout the duration (possibly quite complicated for a number of creatures all at once).


D&D Expert Rules

Confusion 
Range: 120'
Duration: 12 rounds


This spell affects 3-18 creatures in a 60' diameter area. Creatures with less than 2 + 1 hit dice have no saving throw. Those with 2 + 1 or more hit dice must make a saving throw vs. Spells every round the spell lasts or the spell will affect them that round. A confused creature rolls 2d6 each round to determine its action:



Next we'll look at Dave Cook's interpretation of the spell for the Expert Rules. This is probably the shortest and sweetest version of the spell for D&D. Range, duration, and effect are the same as in OD&D (effect put in table form, like all editions after OD&D). Number affected is simplified to 3-18. The no-save HD limit is lowered from the former 4HD to just 2HD (although not removed entirely, as it will be AD&D 1E etc.). Still, this seems like a powerful spell, in that it apparently automatically affects a large number of arbitrarily-high HD creatures, and at least partially disrupts their actions over the course of spell. Keep this in mind if you're a player in a B/X game, maybe fighting giants (or other high-HD creatures appearing in numbers); it may be one of the only spells in the system that implies that cheat-y no-save advantage.


AD&D 1st Ed.

Confusion (Enchantment/Charm)
Level: 7
Range: 8"
Duration: 1 round/level
Area of Effect: Up to 4" by 4"


Explanation/Description: This spell causes confusion in one or more creatures within spell range. Confused creatures will react as follows:


The spell lasts for 1 melee round for each level of experience of the spell caster. It will affect 2 to 8 creatures, plus a possible additional number of creatures determined by subtracting the level or number of hit dice of the strongest opponent creature within the spell range and area of effect from the level of the druid who cast the spell of confusion. If a positive number results, it is added to the random die roll result for number of creatures affected; a negative number is ignored. All creatures affected will be those closest to the druid within the area of effect. Each affected creature must make a saving throw each round, unless they are caused to "wander away for 1 turn" in which case they will go as far away from the druid as is possible in one turn of normal movement, as  conditions permit. All saving throws are at -2. Confused creatures act according to the  table of actions shown above, but saving throws and actions are checked at the beginning of each round.

This is one of the many spells in 1E where the main text got pushed into the new druid's spell list (note 7th level above), and only back-referenced in the magic-user spell list (still at 4th level). In addition to the 3 effect options from OD&D, a new one is added in table form: "Wander away for 1 turn", which I always found inconvenient, because it puts the recipient on a different recurring check schedule than the other targets (other options last only 1 round each). Here, everyone gets a recurring save to avoid the effect each round (not just those over 4HD, as in OD&D; possibly more fair, but yet more rolling for the DM). There's a sufficiently complicated formula for number affected that I'm actually having some trouble parsing it right now -- 2d4 + max(caster level - max(target HD), 0)?  There's also a -2 save modifier whose rationale eludes me.

Compared to the druid text you see above, the wizard's spell is strengthened in line with OD&D, with longer-range (12"), larger area (6×6 inches), longer duration (bonus of 2 rounds), and more creatures affected (2d8 + addition as above).


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Confusion
(Enchantment/Charm)
Range: 120 yds.

Duration: 2 rds. + 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: Up to 60-ft. cube

This spell causes confusion in one or more creatures within the area, creating indecision and the inability to take effective action. The spell affects 1d4 creatures, plus one creature per caster level. These creatures are allowed saving throws vs. spell with -2 penalties, adjusted for Wisdom. Those successfully saving are unaffected by the spell. Confused creatures react as follows:


The spell lasts for two rounds plus one round for each level of the caster. Those who fail are checked by the DM for actions each round for the duration of the spell, or until the "wander away for the duration of the spell" result occurs.

Wandering creatures move as far from the caster as possible, according to their most typical mode of movement (characters walk, fish swim, bats fly, etc.). Saving throws and actions are checked at the beginning of each round. Any confused creature that is attacked perceives the attacker as an enemy and acts according to its basic nature.


If there are many creatures involved, the DM may decide to assume average results. For example, if there are 16 orcs affected and 25% could be expected to make the saving throw, then four are assumed to have succeeded. Out of the other 12, one wanders away,
four attack the nearest creature, six stand confused, and the last acts normally but must check next round. Since the orcs are not near the party, the DM decides that two attacking the nearest creature attack each other, one attacks an orc that saved, and one attacks a confused orc, which strikes back. The next round, the base is 11 orcs, since four originally saved and one wandered off. Another one wanders off, five stand confused, four attack, and one acts normally.


The material component is a set of three nut shells.

Having almost totally skipped 2E in my playing years, I think that I'm reading this spell description for the first time ever. The level, range, duration, and area are the same as in 1E. The number affected is much simplified (d4+caster level).  The "wander off" effect is admirably streamlined, since it lasts the whole duration and takes those creatures out of the recurring rolls entirely. However, the spell still seems sufficiently clunky that an extra "2E maybe" paragraph was added, outlining how the DM might average the effects over several creatures (something that maybe shouldn't need to be said in the first place, or made a more general rule elsewhere).

Also: The fact that victims save every round to avoid the effect seems easy to overlook (when to make the save is mentioned once in the third paragraph, "Saving throws and actions are checked at the beginning of each round", but it's not explicated exactly what the purpose is). Perhaps jointly with that, what used to be the "attack caster" case has turned into a wider "act normally" statement (at the end of the list).


D&D 3rd Ed.

Confusion
Enchantment (Compulsion)
[Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 3, Sor/Wiz 4, Trickery 4
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: All creatures in a 15-ft. radius
Duration: 1 round/level
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes


Creatures affected by this spell behave randomly, as indicated on the following table:



Except on a result of 1, roll again each round to see what the subject does that round. Wandering creatures leave the scene as if disinterested. Attackers are not at any special advantage when attacking them. Behavior is checked at the beginning of each creature’s turn. Any confused creature who is attacked automatically attacks its attackers on its next turn.

Now, in some ways I really like how this was simplified. All of the language about number affected, special save modifier, optional ways to rule on the effects, etc., were totally sliced out. (Number affected is now purely determined by the reduced area-of-effect.) Note also that the recurring save each round has disappeared (partly due to the 2E text nearly obscuring that aspect?). However, the spell weirdly backslid in one way: the "wander away" result doesn't last the whole spell (as in 2E), now it's back more like 1E (where after 10 rounds you'd have to start rolling again). I wonder why that was?


D&D 3.5 Revision

Confusion
Enchantment (Compulsion) [Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 3, Sor/Wiz 4, Trickery 4
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: All creatures in a 15-ft. radius burst
Duration: 1 round/level
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes


This spell causes the targets to become confused, making them unable to independently determine what they will do. Roll on the following table at the beginning of each subject’s turn each round to see what the subject does in that round.



A confused character who can’t carry out the indicated action does nothing but babble incoherently. Attackers are not at any special advantage when attacking a confused character. Any confused character who is attacked automatically attacks its attackers on its next turn, as long as it is still confused when its turn comes. Note that a confused character will not make attacks of opportunity against any creature that it is not already devoted to attacking (either because of its most recent action or because it has just been attacked).

Arcane Material Component: A set of three nut shells.

I don't normally check in on this edition (another one that I skipped), but here it is. In 3.5 they switched the effects table from d10 to percentile-based, even though they kept the 10% gradations, so: more dice for no reason. They now have 5 options, having re-inserted the "attack caster" option (top of list here) that appeared up through 1E but evolved out of 2E. They also added a detail to the "do nothing" option, that the person babbles incoherently (okay, big thanks for that, 3.5), and that that's the default if no other action is possible. You also have to remember who attacked last round because that trumps the normally random actions; also you need a special rule for attacks-of-opportunity, because otherwise it wouldn't be fully 3E-ified.


Did we make that clear? Which version of the confusion spell is your preference? Personally, I think my solution to the multitude-of-rolls with this spell would be to roll back to the Chainmail sensibility and have the entire affected group follow the same action (one single roll) each round.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

AnyDice.com

One of the commentators here last week pointed out a website that I didn't previously know about, anydice.com. This is a product by Jasper Flick that automatically generates the distribution of any dice group you can think of, outputting the frequency-percent-table-graph, as well as summary statistics (mean, max, min, standard deviation), density probabilities for "at least" or "at most" questions, etc. Type in "output [highest 3 of 4d6]" if you want to see the 4d6-drop-lowest distribution. In fact, it's an entire programing platform where you can script calculations, formulas, functions, loops, and conditions if you like. Amazing! You should go use it and throw a donation at Jasper for his good work. I'm jealous that I didn't think of this first, but he did a better job than I could anyway. (And thanks to Jay Goodenbery for telling me about, I needed to see this!)