Monday, September 15, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Walls of Ice and Fire

The 4th-level wizard spells wall of fire and wall of ice first appear on the same page of Original D&D, Vol-1 (p. 26). At first blush you'd expect them to be simply symmetric in regards to range, duration, area, and effect, but they never are in any edition (with one possible exception). As we investigate this, we get to ask this math puzzle: Is 2 square inches the same as 2 inches square? And did Gygax answer that question correctly? (Please jot down your response before proceeding. All set? Good...)

Original D&D

Wall of Fire: The spell will create a wall of fire which lasts until the Magic-User no longer concentrates to maintain it. The fire wall is opaque. It prevents creatures with under four hit dice from entering/passing through. Undead will take two dice of damage (2-12) and other creatures one die (1-6) when breaking through the fire. The shape of the wall can be either a plane of up to 6" width and 2" in height, or it can be cast in a circle of 3" diameter and 2" in height. Range: 6".

Wall of Ice: A spell to create a wall of ice six inches thick, in dimensions like that of a Wall of Fire. It negates the effects of creatures employing fire and/or fire spells. It may be broken through by creatures with four or more hit dice, with damage equal to one die (1-6) for non-fire employing creatures and double that for fire-users. Range: 12"

At their inception, the area and effect of these spells are identical (6" plane or 3" diameter cicle; base damage 1-6, doubled for those specially vulnerable). But the range is different: only 6" for the fire wall but 12" for the ice wall. And the duration is very different: by concentration for fire but unspecified, possibly permanent (?) for wall of ice.

Why the difference? Wall of fire is one of only three spells in OD&D that have a constant-concentration requirement (the others being phantasmal force and conjure elemental). In my games, I find that makes the spell very hard to use, as a high-level wizard can't afford to spend time inactive just to maintain this one spell (useless to block a passage and escape, for example). I suppose you might argue that a wall of fire requires sustained input of energy to keep it going (as opposed to ice that can just sit there), but in my book that violates the Vancian interpretation of magic (energy comes from outside the caster), and what about the case of continual light?

I could kind of see the fire duration as being generally shorter than ice, if in exchange the ranges were correspondingly reversed; but the wall of fire is also given the shorter range of 6". Proclus specifically identified fire as being "sharp, subtle, and mobile", so I would think if anything it should be given the longer range. This situation is very hard to puzzle out, and makes wall of fire surprisingly difficult to use in-game as written.

Swords & Spells

Wall of Fire: [Range] 6", [Area of Effect] 6"×2" or 3" dia., [Turn Duration] until dispelled.
Wall of Ice: [Range] 6", [Area of Effect] 6"×2" or 3" dia., [Turn Duration] until dispelled.

Here we check in on the Swords & Spells table of spell effects and areas (link), and we note something intriguing -- in this work Gygax made them identical in all the ways we can see. The wall of ice range has been reduced to 6". The wall of fire duration has been increased to "until dispelled" (usually, but not always, signifying a permanent spell). That solves several of the discrepancies seen in Vol-1 above, but perhaps sadly, these corrective points were not used in any later editions. It's possible to argue that even here they might be the result of an oversight or transcription error while copying them from Vol-1.

Expert D&D

Wall of Fire 
Range: 60'
Duration: special

This spell creates a thin wall of fire of up to 1200 square feet. The wall can be in any shape the caster desires (a straight wall 60' long and 20' high, a circle 20' diameter and 20' high, etc.). The wall is opaque and will block sight. Creatures of less than 4 hit dice cannot break through the wall. Creatures of 4 or more hit dice can break through but will take 1-6 (d6) points of damage — twice this amount (2d6) if they are undead or cold-using creatures (white dragons, frost giants). The wall cannot be cast in a space occupied by another object. The wall lasts as long as the caster remains stationary and concentrates on it.

Wall of Ice 

Range: 120'
Duration: 12 turns

This spell creates a translucent wall of ice 20' tall and 60' long (or any other shape the caster desires). Creatures of less than 4 hit dice cannot break through the wall. Creatures of 4 or more hit dice can break through the wall but will take 1-6 (Id6) points of damage — twice that amount (2d6) if fire-using creature (red dragon, salamanders, hell hounds, etc.). It must be cast to rest on the ground or similar support and cannot be cast in a space occupied by another object.

In the Cook D&D Expert rules, the two spells are duplicated mostly as they were in OD&D Vol-1, ignoring the changes listed in Swords & Spells. Wall of fire has the short range and duration by concentration, etc. Cook also makes the area more flexible, granting the ability to be shaped any way the caster chooses, so long as surface area remains the same (as he does for all the wall spells: see also wall of stone); in this regard, he shrinks the the circular diameter so the circumference more correctly matches the straight-line length (C = πd ≈ 3(20) = 60 feet), showing again the B/X authors' fine awareness of the math involved. However, this greater flexibility does possibly make the spell more complicated to use, and it's a move for which Gygax never explicitly gives permission.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Wall of Fire (Evocation)
Level: 5
Range: 8"
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 7 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: The wall of fire spell brings forth a blazing curtain of magical fire of shimmering color - yellow-green or amber in case of druidical magic. The wall of fire inflicts 4 to 16 hit points of damage, plus 1 hit point of damage per level of the spell caster, upon any creature passing through it. Creatures within 1" of the wall take 2-8 hit points of damage, those within 2" take 1-4 hit points of damage. Creatures especially subject to fire may take additional damage, and undead always take twice normal damage. Only the side of the wall away from the spell caster will inflict damage. The opaque wall of fire lasts for as long as the druid concentrates on maintaining it, or 1 round per level of experience of the druid in the event he or she does not wish to concentrate upon it. The spell creates a sheet of flame up to 2" square per level of the spell caster, or as a ring with a radius of up to ½" per level of experience from the druid to its flames, and a height of 2". The former is stationary, while the latter moves as the druid moves.

Wall Of Fire (Evocation)
Level: 4
Range: 6"
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: This spell differs from the fifth level druid spell, wall of fire (q.v.) only as indicated above and as stated below: the flame color is either violet or reddish blue, base damage is 2-12 hit points (plus 1 hit point per level), the radius of the ring-shaped wall of fire is 1" + 1/4" per level of experience of the magic user casting it, and the material component of the spell is phosphorus.

Wall Of Ice (Evocation)
Level: 4
Range: l"/level
Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast, a sheet of strong, flexible ice is created. The wall is primarily defensive, stopping pursuers and the like. The wall is one inch thick per level of experience of the magic-user. It covers a 1" square area per level, i.e. a 10th level magic-user would cause a wall of ice up to 10" long and 1" high, or 5" long and 2" high, and so forth. Any creature breaking through the ice will suffer 2 hit points of damage per inch of thickness of the wall, fire-using creatures will suffer 3 hit points, cold-using creatures only 1 hit point when breaking through. If this spell is cast to form a horizontal sheet to fall upon opponents, it has the same effect as an ice storm's (q.v.) hail stones in the area over which it falls. Magical fires such as fireballs and fiery dragon breath will melt a wall of ice in 1 round, though they will cause a great cloud of steamy fog which will last 1 turn, but normal fires or lesser magical ones will not hasten its melting. The material component of this spell is a small piece of quartz or similar rock crystal.

In Advanced D&D, the first quote above is from the druid spell list, with the magic-user version that follows referencing it, being almost but not exactly the same (for example, the specified color changes, of all things). Before I say anything else, I have to point out how cumbersome this back-referencing of spells is in AD&D. It actually works fine for OD&D, which is so short that linked spells are usually sitting immediately next to each other on the same page. But as the game expands, bloats, and separates linked spells by 20 pages or so (as in this case), then it's a method that is no longer tenable.

Now, as usual in AD&D, the range, duration, and area have all become variable calculations based on the caster's level, which serves to obscure a few things. The wizard wall of fire is still oddly fixed at the short 6" range, while wall of ice is the longer 12" for a nominal 12th-level wizard. Looking at the druidic wall of fire, we can see that Gygax started to waffle on the concentration requirement, without completely overhauling it, making the duration a complex concentration + 1 round/level within the text. The spell does increased damage (base 2d6+level), with cases added for standing close by in different ranges; so does wall of ice, at 2 points/level, for some 24 points for a stock 12th-level wizard. Another important edit: Where OD&D had a 4 HD minimum restriction on those who could break through either wall, that has been removed in AD&D (so apparently anyone can move in and choose to get burned up).

The area for wall of ice is very close to that in OD&D (1" square/level: so the basic 12th-level wizard can make a 6"×2" wall, just as in OD&D). But what I'd really like to look at is the revised area to wall of fire, for which you have to look at the druidic listing: the planar version says it's a "2 inch square per level of the spell caster".

Now, I hope you answered the quiz question at the top of the post correctly: No, of course 2 square inches is not the same as 2 inches square. The latter, meaning a 2-inch square, is actually 4 square inches in surface area:

But there is evidence that Gygax wasn't aware of this geometric distinction. For example: Looking at the wall of stone spell, in OD&D he specified its area as "10 square inches" (Vol-1, p. 28), while in Swords & Spells he wrote it as "10 inches (square)" (S&S, p. 13), which is technically a tenfold increase in area. In fact, he wrote it like that for every entry in Swords & Spells that was square-inches in OD&D, suggesting strongly that he thought they were the same thing. Again in the AD&D listing for wall of stone, he includes an illuminating example (1E PHB, p. 82):

The wall of stone is 1/4' thick and 20' square in area per level of experience of the magic-user casting the spell. Thus, a 12th level magic-user creates a wall of stone 3' thick and 240 square feet in surface area (a 12' wide and 20' high wall, for example, to completely close a 10' × 16' passage).

Note that while the rule says "20' square" (which would be 20×20 = 400 square feet per level), the example applies the different value of 20 square feet per level, giving the 12th level wizard only 240 square feet in area (barely covering a standard Gygaxian 10×16 foot arched dungeon corridor, as noted).

Back to the wall of fire case. What he explicitly wrote was "2 inch square per level", so the example 12th-level wizard could make a wall 12×2 inch squares = 24" long × 2" high, for example; quadruple what it was in OD&D, S&S, or B/X. But if we look to our evidence and stipulate that he meant to be writing "2 square inches per level", then the 12th-level wizard would get a sheet of fire 12×2 = 24 square inches = 12" × 2"; merely double what it was in OD&D, et. al. Now see what happens with that in 2E...

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Wall of Fire
Range: 60 yds.
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special

The wall of fire spell brings forth an immobile, blazing curtain of magical fire of shimmering color--violet or reddish blue. The spell creates either an opaque sheet of flame up to one 20-foot square per level of the spellcaster, or a ring with a radius of up to 10 feet + 5 feet per two levels of experience of the wizard. In either form, the wall of fire is 20 feet high.

The wall of fire must be cast so that it is vertical with respect to the caster. One side of the wall, selected by the caster, sends forth waves of heat, inflicting 2d4 points of damage upon creatures within 10 feet and 1d4 points of damage upon those within 20 feet. In addition, the wall inflicts 2d6 points of damage, plus 1 point of damage per level of the spellcaster, upon any creature passing through it. Creatures especially subject to fire may take additional damage, and undead always take twice normal damage. Note that attempting to catch a moving creature with a newly-created wall of fire is difficult; a successful saving throw enables the creature to avoid the wall, while its rate and direction of movement determine which side of the created wall it is on. The wall of fire lasts as long as the wizard concentrates on maintaining it, or one round per level of experience of the wizard, in the event he does not wish to concentrate upon it.

The material component of the spell is phosphorus.

Wall of Ice
Range: 10 yds./level
Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: Special

This spell can be cast in one of three ways: as an anchored plane of ice, as a hemisphere, or as a horizontal sheet to fall upon creatures with the effect of an ice storm.

A) Ice plane. When this spell is cast, a sheet of strong, hard ice is created. The wall is primarily defensive, stopping pursuers and the like. The wall is 1 inch thick per level of experience of the wizard. It covers a 10-foot-square area per level (a 10th-level wizard can create a wall of ice 100 feet long and 10 feet high, a wall 50 feet long and 20 feet high, etc.). Any creature breaking through the ice suffers 2 points of damage per inch of thickness of the wall. Fire-using creatures suffer 3 points of damage per inch, while cold using creatures suffer only 1 point of damage per inch when breaking through. The plane can be oriented in any fashion as long as it is anchored along one or more sides.

B) Hemisphere. This casting of the spell creates a hemisphere whose maximum radius is equal to 3 feet plus 1 foot per caster level. Thus, a 7th-level caster can create a hemisphere 10 feet in radius. The hemisphere lasts until it is broken, dispelled, or melted. Note that it is possible, but difficult, to trap mobile opponents under the hemisphere.

C) Ice sheet. This casting of the spell causes a horizontal sheet to fall upon opponents. The sheet covers a 10-foot-square area per caster level. The sheet has the same effect as an ice storm's hail stones--3d10 points of damage inflicted to creatures beneath it. A wall of ice cannot form in an area occupied by physical objects or creatures; its surface must be smooth and unbroken when created. Magical fires such as fireballs and fiery dragon breath melt a wall of ice in one round, though this creates a great cloud of steamy fog that lasts one turn. Normal fires or lesser magical ones do not hasten the melting of a wall of ice.

The material component of this spell is a small piece of quartz or similar rock crystal.

In the 2E game, as usual, Dave "Zeb" Cook  keeps these spells basically the same in terms of range (fire short/ice long), duration (fire concentration/ice fire-and-forget), and effect (several different cases for determining damage). While he doesn't completely open-door all possible shapes as he did in Expert D&D, he explicates three different shapes for wall of ice, including the new trapping "hemisphere" option explicated for the first time (we might guess as the result of a creative player in one of his games).

For wall of fire, he takes Gygax for his word in 1E, and keeps the area at the very large value of a "20-foot square per level of the spellcaster" (i.e., quadrupled from OD&D). Note that in distinction to this, Cook does correct other places that had a contradicting example, such as the wall of stone spell -- shown below, in which the "20' square" text has been fixed to "20 square feet" (compare to 1E description above):
The wall of stone is 0.25 inch thick and up to 20 square feet per level of experience of the wizard casting the spell. Thus, a 12th-level wizard can create a wall of stone 3 inches thick and up to 240 square feet in surface area (a 12-foot-wide and 20-foot-high wall, for example, to completely close a 10-foot x 16-foot passage).

But with wall of fire, there was no clarifying example, and so without any clue for him to pick up on (unlike the other spells which he does correct), Cook unintentionally cements into the rules the quadruple-area wall of fire which was likely a typo by Gygax in 1E. (As an aside, note that by going in the other direction on the issue, the areas of the wall of iron and wall of stone spells are actually much smaller in AD&D than they were back in OD&D.)

D&D 3rd Ed.

Wall of Fire
Evocation [Fire]
Level: Drd 5, Fire 4, Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Effect: Opaque sheet of flame up to 20 ft. long/caster level or a ring of fire with a radius of up to 5 ft./two caster levels; either form 20 ft. high
Duration: Concentration + 1 round/level
Saving Throw: See text
Spell Resistance: Yes

An immobile, blazing curtain of shimmering violet fire springs into existence. One side of the wall, selected by the character, sends forth waves of heat, dealing 2d4 points of fire damage to creatures within 10 feet and 1d4 points of fire damage to those past 10 feet but within 20 feet. The wall deals this damage when it appears and each round that a creature enters or remains in the area. In addition, the wall deals 2d6 points of fire damage +1 point of fire damage per caster level (maximum +20) to any creature passing through it. The wall deals double damage to undead creatures.

If the character evokes the wall so that it appears where creatures are, each creature takes damage as if passing through the wall. Each such creature can avoid the wall by making a successful Reflex save. (If the creature ends up on the hot side of the wall, it takes 2d4 points of damage, as normal.)

If any 5-foot length of wall takes 20 points of cold damage or more in 1 round, that length goes out. (Do not divide cold damage by 4, as normal for objects.)

Wall of Ice
Evocation [Cold]
Level: Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Effect: Anchored plane of ice, up to one 10-ft. square/level, or hemisphere of ice with a radius of up to 3 ft. +1 ft./level
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: See text
Spell Resistance: Yes

This spell creates an anchored plane of ice or a hemisphere of ice, depending on the version selected. A wall of ice cannot form in an area occupied by physical objects or creatures. Its surface must be smooth and unbroken when created. Fire can melt a wall of ice. It deals full damage to the wall (instead of the normal half damage suffered by objects). Suddenly melting the wall of ice creates a great cloud of steamy fog that lasts for 10 minutes.

Ice Plane: A sheet of strong, hard ice appears. The wall is 1 inch thick per caster level. It covers up to a 10-foot-square area per caster level (so a 10th-level wizard can create a wall of ice 100 feet long and 10 feet high, a wall 50 feet long and 20 feet high, etc.). The plane can be oriented in any fashion as long as it is anchored. A vertical wall need only be anchored on the floor, while a horizontal or slanting wall must be anchored on two opposite sides.

Each 10-foot square of wall has 3 hit points per inch of thickness. Creatures can hit the wall automatically. A section of wall whose hit points drop to 0 is breached. If a creature tries to break through the wall with a single attack, the DC for the Strength check is 15 + caster level.

Even when the ice has been broken through, a sheet of frigid air remains. Any creature stepping through it (including the one who broke through the wall) takes 1d6 points of cold damage +1 point per caster level.

Hemisphere: The wall takes the form of a hemisphere whose maximum radius is 3 feet +1 foot per caster level. It is as hard to break through as the ice plane form, but it does not deal damage to those who go through a breach.

The character can create the hemisphere so that it traps one or more creatures, though these creatures can avoid being trapped by the hemisphere by making successful Reflex saves.

In 3E, for the first time since Swords & Spells, the two 4th-level wall spells are given equivalent ranges (Medium, or 200 feet for a 10th-level wizard). Wall of fire retains its wonky legacy of concentration + 1 round/level for duration, while wall of ice is massively reduced to 1 minute/level (recall it was 1 turn/level, i.e. 10 minutes/level in AD&D; and apparently permanent back in OD&D and S&S). Wall of ice commendably snips out the "horizontal sheet" attack that crashes down on opponents.

But of course the areas are the same as in 2E, particularly wall of fire, which again retains the after-effect of what I think was a geometric error by Gygax back in 1E AD&D (i.e., a misunderstanding that "square inches" ≠ "inches square"). And so we again see a massive wall of fire that has four times the area as compared to wall of ice, whereas they started with identical areas back in OD&D.

Open Questions

What are your preferred versions of wall of fire and wall of ice? Should they have identical range, area, etc.? Are you as aggravated as I am by wall of fire's concentration requirement? And are you convinced that the giant-sized wall of fire is a result of Gygax's units typo back in 1E?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Fear

Fear has almost always been a 4th-level wizard spell in D&D. Primarily the weird thing about it has been how much the range/area of effect changed in different editions.

Original D&D 

Fear: The Wand effects all creatures within a cone-shaped area eminating from it 6" outwards to a base 3" wide. All within it must make their saving throw as against magic or be panicked and flee.

In the boxed-set LBBs of OD&D, fear does not appear as a spell; it only appears as the effect of a magic wand, as shown above (quote from Vol-2, p. 34). It's the first effect given in the game as a smallish and close-range cone effect, 6" long maximum. This cone area is re-used for the wand of cold and wand of paralization [sic] which immediately follow on the same page of Vol-2. In Supplement-I Greyhawk, this wand effect then inspires a new magic-user spell:

Fear: This spell operates as if the user were employing a Fear Wand. All those not saving vs. fear react as follows: They immediately attempt to flee, or get as far away from the user as possible, with a 50% chance that they will drop any weapons they had in hand when struck by the Fear spell. Duration: 6 turns (movement or melee as applicable). Range 24”.

Here's the rub: The spell says that it works as a fear wand, but that's contradicted by the 24" range for the spell. Is the wand's 6" cone area extended out to 24", for a titanic area of effect? Or is the same-sized cone generated at any point within the 24" range (very hard to rationalize)? This seems like a clear mistake/oversight. Note that as written, there are actually no spells in OD&D with a cone-shaped area of effect (there are wands, breath-weapons, and the horn of blasting, but absolutely no spells described as cone-shaped). Also, someone added the new "50% drop weapons" side-effect which I think is a fiddly Sup-I'ism of which I'm not fond.

Swords & Spells

Fear: 24" (Range), 4" diam. (Area Effect), 6 (Turn Duration).

As we've said before, Gygax's Swords & Spells miniature combat for D&D has a comprehensive listing of magic range, area, and durations. In some few places this includes effective errata for some spells, and fear is among the examples. As you can see above, the small cone area is deleted, with a circular 4" diameter area of effect allowed in the 24" range (just like fireball, et. al.). I think that's about the most reasonable fix if we want to keep the long range for the spell. In fact, I kind of wish that Gygax had used the same fix for the other short-range, wand-inspired spells ice storm and cone of cold (in 1E). However, this interpretation was not kept in any later edition of D&D. (Like many Sup-I additions, it doesn't appear in B/X at all, so now we skip to AD&D.)

AD&D 1st Edition

Fear (Illusion/Phantasm)
Level: 4
Range: 0
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 6” long cone, 3” diameter at end, 1/2’ at base
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 segments

Explanation/Description: When a fear spell is cast, the magic-user sends forth an invisible ray which causes creatures within its area of effect to turn away from the spell caster and flee in panic. Affected creatures are likely to drop whatever they are holding when struck by the spell; the base chance of this is 60% at 1st level (or at 1 hit die), and each level (or hit die) above this reduces the probability by 5%, 1.e. at 10th level there is only a 15% chance, and at 13th level 0% chance. Creatures affected by fear flee at their fastest rate for the number of melee rounds equal to the level of experience of the spell caster. The panic takes effect on the melee round following the spell casting, but dropping of items in hand will take place immediately. Of course, creatures which make their saving throws versus the spell are not affected. The material component of this spell is either the heart of a hen or a white feather.

Now in AD&D the fear effect has reverted radically back to the same very short area as the Original D&D wand. The range has switched from the maximal 24" category to 0 here, and the area is the 6" cone emanating from the caster (which seems to put the caster in proximity with the dangerous opponent, and makes it possibly hard to avoid catching friends in the beam). Also that aggravating drop-weapons detail is blooming into another unique rule that requires a varying-probability roll for each creature affected (ugh).

AD&D 2nd Edition

Range: 0
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 60-ft. cone, 30-ft. diameter at end, 5-ft. at base

When a fear spell is cast, the wizard sends forth an invisible cone of terror that causes creatures within its area of effect to turn away from the caster and flee in panic. Affected creatures are likely to drop whatever they are holding when struck by the spell; the base chance of this is 60% at 1st level (or at 1 Hit Die), and each level (or Hit Die) above this reduces the probability by 5%. Thus, at 10th level there is only a 15% chance, and at 13th level no chance, of dropping items. Creatures affected by fear flee at their fastest rate for a number of melee rounds equal to the level of experience of the spellcaster. Undead and creatures that successfully roll their saving throws vs. spell are not affected.

The material component of this spell is either the heart of a hen or a white feather.

Mostly the standard copy-and-paste job for 2E spells. The range remains 0, and the area the old short cone effect.

D&D 3rd Edition

Necromancy [Fear, Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 3, Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Area: Cone
Duration: 1 round/level
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes

An invisible cone of terror causes living creatures to become panicked. They suffer a –2 morale penalty on saving throws, and they flee from the character. A panicked creature has a 50% chance to drop what it’s holding, chooses its path randomly (as long as it is getting away from immediate danger), and flees any other dangers that confront it. If cornered, a panicked creature cowers.

In 3E, this is basically similar to the preceding AD&D effect. The drop-weapons chance is at least simplified to a flat 50% here (as in Sup-I). The "cone" area expands with the level, and elsewhere is specified to have a terminal width the same as the length. For example: a 12th-level wizard has a 55 ft. long cone, 55 ft. wide at the far end (about the same length as in AD&D, but twice as wide).


There's quite a significant difference between the OD&D and Swords & Spells conception of the fear spell that wanted to give it an extended 24" range, versus the AD&D versions that reverted back to the original close-up wand effect. I would think that the former would be much more useful to a wizard, as the latter necessarily puts them in some amount of danger to get close to the target hostile creatures. Which do you prefer for your games? If you added it to the B/X rules (where it is missing) what would it look like? How important is it that the effect aligns with the magic wand? And what's your opinion on the drop-weapons chance?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Growing Animals

Original D&D Vagaries; Advanced D&D Statistics; Proposal for Simplified Spellcasting 

In the prior post I was looking at the 5th-level D&D wizard spell, animal growth, throughout various editions of the game. One problem I pointed out is that the earliest editions commonly didn't give explicit stats for normal or giant animals (as required by different versions of the spell). For example, while the OD&D spell says that animals can "grow to giant-size with proportionate attack capabilities", the following is all you get in OD&D on the subject (from Vol-2, Monsters & Treasure):

That's from the table on p. 4. The first value is for Number Appearing (more for smaller types); the rest, including Armor Class, Move in Inches, Hit Dice, % in Lair, and Treasure Type, are all simply "Variable".

The text paragraphs are from p. 20. For large insects or animals ("giant" types), AC can be 2-8 (i.e., practically the entire range of AC's allowed in the game at this point), hit dice can be 2-20 (at the top end, significantly exceeding any other monster in the list), and damage can be from 2-4 dice (d6, of course; and again actually exceeding any other damage listing in the text of this book). So that more or less boils down to "anything you want, and feel free to surpass any of the other monsters we presented". Which to me seems like a big problem when numerous giant animals are included on the core wandering monster lists, quite heavily so at the starting levels (see Vol-3, p. 10). And an open-ended argument when a player casts animal growth in the game. (Also, you'll notice that reference to John Carter-type Martian beasts is included, and those types likewise show up in the desert wilderness random encounters on p. 18.) 

Now, in the Monster Manual (the first of the AD&D line, and almost entirely consistent with OD&D rules) we do get lots of explicit entries for giant animals. This solves the wandering-table issue, and would almost solve the animal growth spell issue (except that the spell is changed to double the normal animal's hit dice and now that's the thing you're generally lacking). But what are the general parameters for those animals (e.g., if we wish to use them as products of the OD&D spell)? Consider the table below which compiles all the AD&D Monster Manual giant animal types (ordered by increasing hit dice; optionally refer to PDF or spreadsheet ODS).

What do we see here? For starters, the hit dice range of 3-to-5 encompasses almost two-thirds of the giant animals (27/43 = 63%), with a fairly small number of monsters above that and below. In those few cases where hit dice for the "normal" animal type are given (see last column), the giant animal is never exactly double hit dice; some are close while others are much higher or lower. I'll also point out that there are some notable outliers to the high side, in the range of 7-15 hit dice, and they are almost entirely aquatic-type monsters (noted in bold at the bottom of the table -- perhaps emblematic of the rather terrifying "sea monsters" suggested in OD&D Vol-2, p. 15; in fact, the top-level hit dice match up quite nicely). Therefore, I've excluded those unusually huge aquatic monsters, and computed "Trimmed Average" statistics for all the other types, in the last row. Of course, since the majority of giant animals are in the 3-to-5 hit dice range, the average is 4 HD, etc.

So here's an idea: If we're playing under classic-type rules, and almost all of the land-based "giant animals" in the game are close to 4 HD anyway, why not just set that average as a standard profile in the description of the animal growth spell and run with that? That would mean: (1) We don't have to catalog, look up, or debate a list of either normal or giant animals when using the spell (as in any published edition of D&D). (2) We don't need to do a series of math calculations at the table when the spell gets used (most egregiously in 3E). (3) We can rein in the magic to some known parameters, and not run into trouble with some totally open-ended potential from the spell (like, say, casting it on a group of smilodons, killer whales, or triceratops; see also the polymorph problem -- link). Even using that simplifying assumption, we'd be within 1 HD of almost all the giant animals in the AD&D Monster Manual anyway, and with enormously less work.

So here's a proposal for a revised and simplified animal growth spell:

Animal Growth: (Range: 12 inches, Duration: 6 turns) Up to 6 normal animals in range grow to giant size. In most cases this provides: AC 6, MV 15, HD 4, Atk 1, Dam 2d6 (some creatures will exchange one die of damage for poison, paralysis, or blood-drain).  Optionally, use specific statistics from any monster book in use. This spell gives the character no special means of command or influence over the enlarged animals.

What do you think of that?

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
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
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.


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


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).


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.


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
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
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?


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 ( 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, 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!