Monday, November 17, 2014

Previewing Book of Spells v.2: Stone to Flesh

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Move Earth

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

Chainmail Fantasy

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

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

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

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

Original D&D

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

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

Swords & Spells

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

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

Expert D&D

Move Earth
Range: 240'
Duration: 6 turns

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

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

AD&D 1st Ed.

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

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

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

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

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

AD&D 2nd Ed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D&D 3rd Ed.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

How does that look to you?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Previewing Book of Spells v.2: Wizard Eye

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Invisible Stalker

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

Original D&D 

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

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

Expert D&D

Invisible Stalker
Range: 0'
Duration: special

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

AD&D 1st Ed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

AD&D 2nd Ed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D&D 3rd Ed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

What do you think of that?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

D&D Alignment: Three Hearts and Three Lions

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

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

Chapter 3

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

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

Chapter 11

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

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

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

Chapter 12

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Previewing Book of Spells v.2: Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Minis Workshop – Can They Retreat? Part 2

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


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

Swords & Spells

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

Battlesystem v.1

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

Battlesystem v.2

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

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

Warhammer 6th Ed.

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

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


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

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