Monday, April 24, 2017

OD&D Experience Levels


Question: Do Wizards need more XP to level up than Fighters?

This is one of those questions that has an answer which, for OD&D, is "clear, simple, and wrong" (with apologies to H.L. Mencken). Granted that Wizards start with a bigger XP step to 2nd level than Fighters have. But while Fighters consistently double the XP required to reach each level up to 9th, Wizards -- and also Thieves from Sup-I -- do not. Rather, in the range of levels 6-10 or so these latter classes add less than a doubling's increment, closer to 50% or so (specifically: between 33% and 75%). And therefore by the 7th level Wizards actually need less XP for each level than Fighters do; this is highlighted in the summary table below.


A few other observations: In the original D&D rules, while it was explicated that "There is no theoretical limit to how high a character may progress" (Vol-1, p. 18) -- and also indicated patterns for hit dice, attacks, and spells at levels off the chart -- no guidance was given for XP steps above those shown here. Sup-I does state for the new Thief class that it requires "+125,000 additional points for each level above Master Thief" (p. 9), and from this we might infer a similar increment to the last step in the table for others (also: in synch with later rulesets) -- which would be 120,000 for Fighters but only 100,000 for Wizards, so the flipped relation would hold true for all higher levels. Also note that the "Name" level at which hit dice stop accruing is different for each class (Fighters at 9, Thieves at 10, Wizards at 11, per Sup-I); the table above matches everything given in the OD&D book tables.

Gygax made some edits to XP tables in AD&D but this artifact largely persists there (AD&D Fighters need 70,001 XP to reach level 7, Wizards merely 60,001; by 10th level the Fighter needs precisely double what the Wizard does). Cook in the Expert D&D rules made the tables completely uniform; everyone doubles XP requirements up to Name level, which is universally 9th. Even in OD&D, Clerics had a regular doubling of XP, like Fighters, starting from a low 1,500 XP needed for 2nd level (omitted from table above; a suspiciously low basis for a class that gets all of fighting, armor, and spell capability).

An open question would be: Why? The fact that Gygax maintained this asynchronicity in both OD&D and AD&D seems to suggest that it was intentional -- that Magic-Users were intended to get accelerated advancement compared to Fighters at higher levels. Perhaps this was an amplification of the idea that Magic-Users will be weak at low levels and need assistance, but increasingly more powerful at high levels.

(Also consider: Do Wizards get better saves vs. spells than Fighters?)

Monday, April 17, 2017

OED Deck of Spells

For about 8 years now I've been using my custom Book of Spells in my own OD&D games. It's an Open Gaming Licensed version of magic-user spells that are in OD&D -- based on text from the d20 SRD, but massively cut-down and refined so they're short (usually just a few lines of text each) and more like the original game (subject to some small changes based on my own play experience). Now in its 2nd Edition, I really like being able to hand every wizard player at the table their own slim volume for looking up their spell effects (see sidebar; available at Lulu.com).

But now my good friend Paul S. has done one better and turned it into a custom deck of cards! This way you can pull out your memorized spells at the start of the day, have all their effects directly in front of you, and simply discard the spells when you use them. We're finding that many players actually prefer it in this form, because once chosen it entirely skips any book look-ups during the game. All the spells in the OED Book of Spells are included, and the text is identical to the 2nd Edition of the book.

I myself played a wizard in a game of Paul's (who's started running OED-style games himself -- which was a little Being John Malkovich-y for me) and I really liked being able to slap down a card on the table during my turn as a representation of what I was doing. Also: If it's an effect that boosts or protects another PC, I could simply hand the card over to them and they could use that as a reminder of what the effect was on their character. It's ridiculously nifty! Only $14.99 at TheGameCrafter.com (which is pretty close to the manufacturing price, so we'll see how long we can keep it at that level). Thanks to Paul for creating that resource!



Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fallible Fiend

I recently had the opportunity to acquire and read L. Sprague de Camp's The Fallible Fiend (1972), and it's completely delightful; a real treasure and highly recommended. Of course, in Gygax's Appendix N, it's one of two works by de Camp called out by name (the other being Lest Darkness Fall).

In terms of D&D, The Fallible Fiend falls into a category of possibly lesser-known works that are (a) great literature, and (b) loaned a few very critical ideas to the D&D game. Other examples would be: Bellairs' The Face in the Frost (on the profession of wizardry and spellcasting); Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions (alignment, paladins, trolls); and so forth.

In the case of The Fallible Fiend, the primary ideas that it gives us are those around the D&D concepts of planes, extradimensional creatures, how they are summoned and controlled, and their overall demeanor in response to such summons. The opening paragraph of the book reads as follows:
On the first day of the Month of the Crow, in the fifth year of King Tonio of Xylar (according to the Novarian calendar) I learnt that I had been drafted for a year's service on the Prime Plane, as those who dwell there vaingloriously call it. They refer to our plane as the Twelfth, whereas from our point of view, ours is the Prime Plane and theirs, the Twelfth. But, since this is the tale of my servitude on the plane wherof Novaria forms a part, I will employ their terms.
This alone give us several central concepts to D&D: The idea of calling other dimensional spaces "Planes" (is it the first in pulp literature? Possibly so). The idea of the place of your origin being called the "Prime Plane". The fact that at least 12 such planes exist -- explaining my earlier mystification as to why, in Original D&D, the spell contact higher plane went up to exactly 12 planes (Vol-1, p. 29).

Other now-familiar tropes to us also seem to come from the first chapter of this book, such as -- The powerful "demon" being something of a mundane citizen in his own realm. The need to give very precise, literal commands to avoid ironic downfalls by the creature (or a wish). The extradimensional creature returning to their own plane when they seem to be slain. And so forth.

Moreover, I have to say that this slim little work of fantasy also provides an almost uncannily sharp cultural commentary for this exact time that we find ourselves in. The titular character is in all regards well-meaning, but subject to constant unwarranted abuse due to his strange appearance, language, and place of origin. We manage to follow him through a travelogue of various fantasy kingdoms, each of which has deeply insane customs -- but whose citizens are generally entirely convinced and willing to argue as to their rightness, in ways that are unsettling echoes of our own world. At a key point the Fiend meets with a crude and addlepated former entertainer (wrestler), who by a random electoral process has been named Archon of his nation, and has since let the country fall into complete ruin and anarchy.

Within this latter chapter the first-person Fiend finds temporary shelter at an otherwise abandoned inn, and engages the innkeeper, named Rhuys, who at one point finds himself needing to muster a defense of humankind:
"We're not all thieves and murderers at heart," quotha. "In fact, most of us do be peaceable and orderly, asking only to be let alone to earn our livings."

"But enough of you are of the other kind, if I may say so," I said.

Rhuys sighed. "I fear me you are right. Do no demons ever misbehave?"

"Oh, certes; but the fraction is small enough to be easily mastered. Besides, our wizards have puissant spells, which compel one accused of crime to speak the exact truth. This greatly simplifies the task of ascertaining the culprit's guilt."

Rhuys looked sharply at me. "Does the Twelfth Plane permit immigration?"

"I misdoubt the question has hitherto come up. When I return thither, I will try to learn and let you know."
Prescient commentary indeed, for a work of pulp fiction. The book is not without its flaws: most notably, it has a rather obvious sexist blindspot. But the ending is as pitch-perfect as any I've seen in a fantasy novel. You should read The Fallible Fiend

Monday, April 3, 2017

HelgaCon X

We held HelgaCon X in Plymouth, MA this past weekend -- and it was probably my favorite one yet. Saw some stuff happen in games that I'd seriously never seen in my life before; amazing. Also: I finally broke my decades-long streak of train-wrecks and finally crafted one actually successful puzzle/riddle in a D&D game. So I'm psyched! Here's a few quick snaps of the activities:





Google photo archive here.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Bismarck Tactical Values

Avalon Hill's Bismarck (1979) has always been one of my favorite games. However, it's a bit long, and my close friends aren't intense wargamers, so it's hard to find fellow players for a game. So recently Isabelle and I started playing some tactical pick-up games -- cut out the whole strategic search aspect, and just run a straight-up firefight on the battleboard. Not how the game was designed, but it's palatable for both of us, and provides a bit of entertainment.

Of course, the problem is that since the game wasn't designed for this, there aren't any guidelines for setting up or balancing such games. We could use the "victory points" for sinking each ship, or some calculation on each ship's statistics, but I found that none of those seemed terribly consistent. You may be able to guess what the solution was: My customary response of simulating a version of the game in code, running it a few tens of million times in a Monte Carlo simulation, and seeing what balance of objects give a 50% chance of winning against each other. (Prior examples of this were done for: D&D Arena, Monster Metrics, Book of War, Star Frontiers.) Results in this case are shown in the table below (plus PDF, ODS versions):

Points-balanced by Monte Carlo simulation


Methods

  • We used the Bismarck itself as the "basis" ship worth 30 points (the same as its victory point value in the game as written). Every other ship in the game was run through a loop of creating N = 1, 2, 3... sister clones and battling each group in 10,000 repeated firefights against the Bismarck. Once we found a number N that beat the Bismarck over 50% of the time, we did a linear interpolation for that type of ship's real value (shown under "Points" above).
  • For simplicity, the simplified simulation was always run assuming: Basic combat rules only, a fight at long range, firing at broadsides, with no movement, and port sides facing. The fact that it was at long "B" range implied that only main guns could fire, at half salvoes; and also no torpedoes could be used (which are not in use for Basic game combat anyway).
  • Aircraft carriers (CV's) were skipped -- Their power is not in ship-to-ship combat; they are usually allowed to avoid such combat; and they have no main guns usable at long range, so their effectiveness here would be automatically zero. 
  • I batched up ships into real-world classes to make the table a bit shorter. "Game #" shows the number of ships of that class included in the game; "Real #" shows the number of real-world ships so constructed. Bismarck and Tirpitz (really sister ships) are separated because the game gives the Tirpitz reduced-fire penalties for not finishing sea trials in its alternative scenario.
  • The AI of either side is set to shoot all its guns at the one target on the other side with the biggest guns. When that target is sunk or degraded to zero firepower, the AI switches to the next highest-gunned target, and so forth. This was my attempt to split the difference between real-world action and optimal in-game tactics.
  • Code & data archive is made available, as usual (Java ZIP).


Observations

  • Compared to the table above, the official game victory points seem to greatly undervalue British battleships (BB, BC). The rules-as-written only award 12, 14, or 16 points for those types (versus 20 or 21 points above).
  • Likewise, cruisers of all types seem undervalued in the game. The official rules assign only 6 points for any heavy cruiser (CA; usually 8 points above), and 4 points for any light cruiser (CL; again usually 7 or 8 points above with some exceptions). In particular, the game assigns almost indistinguishable stats for most CA's and CL's, so the difference in victory points is rather hard to justify. The assessed valued of most CL's is exactly double that given for them in the game.
  • The French battlecruisers (BC) seem probably the most undervalued. The game only gives them 8 victory points value (assessed above at 19 points; note that victory points as shown assume British control, i.e., the special rule for possible surrender is not in effect).
  • The US BB North Carolina is also undervalued at 20 points in the rules (versus 29 above). Note that the rules don't give it special combat advantages like resistance to special damage, reduced evasion damage, etc., that the Bismarck does, so at least a 1-point disadvantage seems reasonable. 
  • Ships suffering from the "reduced fire" rule (new ships with a history of gunnery problems, 50% to reduce bow or stern main guns by half in any turn; i.e., King George V, Prince of Wales, Tirpitz) really take a big hit in their value in the simulator. Prime example: The Bismarck is identical to the Tirpitz except for reduced-fire, and the assessed point values come out to 30 versus 24 (i.e., a 6-point difference just for the reduced fire effect). The Intermediate game rules assign 28 victory points to the Tirpitz, which probably should have been lower.
  • The Prinz Eugen and her sister ships are best assessed here at 9 points. Note that the game rules vacillate on this datum -- she is assigned 10 victory points in the Basic game, and 8 points in the Intermediate game. The best value is apparently the midpoint of those numbers. 
  • We might interpret the fact that all non-German ships are apparently undervalued in terms of game victory points as this: The German player is very much incited to avoid ship-to-ship combat, and truly must focus (as was the goal of the real operation) on evading British combat ships and catching convoys instead. Even if the German player were to exchange exact-same-stats warship for warship, they would then lose on victory points.
  • The point-values in the table above can be used to set up reasonably-balanced firefights. For example, a 40-point game would simulate the classic Bismarck & Prinz Eugen vs. Hood & Prince of Wales face-off. A 100-point game would make for an epic fleet battle.


Open Questions

  • Considering the critique of undervalued game victory point values above, a number of factors not simulated in the program might conceivably make a difference, such as -- Speed, search values, fuel consumption, torpedoes, overall prestige, etc. While I think that most of these would be fairly minimal (depending on ruleset in use), note that most of these factors would if anything further advantage the cruisers -- which are already seen as worthy of improved point valuations above (i.e., if anything, perhaps they should be even higher).
  • The battleship-vs-battleship valuations should be the most dependable; they generally have similar values for any factors not handled in the simulation. Speed (evasion) is usually in the range of 28-32 knots, effectively equal for game purposes. A notable exception would be for the older, slow British battleships -- the Revenge & Nelson classes at only 20 and 21 knots. Possibly the high valuations for those classes above should be adjusted downward because of speed.
  • I didn't code special handling for the ships with all-front main guns (Nelson, Dunkerque classes). It wouldn't make any effective difference in this all-broadsides scenario, anyway. 
  • Point of rules debate: The game Hit Record Pad gives all cruisers a 0-point box for secondary guns on each side. Obviously that provides no fire value (no secondaries are usable at "B" range here anyway). But there is a bit of a dilemma on whether that box should be crossed out for damage purposes or not. If so, it would provide an additional 1-point defensive buffer before cruisers start taking midships damage (which ultimately culminates in sinking). The simulator here assumes we do not spend a damage point marking those zero-boxes. If we adjudicated that the other way, then that would increase the assessed value of cruisers even more.
  • The game rules officially allow ships to split their salvoes among multiple targets (whereas my simulator directs all fire from a task force at one target). Perhaps if we had a more sophisticated AI that could split up targets, the big ships with many gains would claw back some advantage when fighting many smaller ships (i.e., lowering the value of cruisers down a bit). One could debate philosophy of whether we should pursue pure in-game advantage, or instead try to simulate real-world fire control tactics of the WWII era.
  • In the table above, the "Real #" column is intended if anyone wants to expand the ships in use beyond those included in the boxed game. In addition, many of these classes had even more such ships planned for construction, many of which were scrapped at the outbreak of WWII; players should of course feel free to further expand the fleets in any "What If?" scenarios. Wikipedia is has very well-organized overviews of each class of ships referenced above.

 Thoughts? Anyone still play tabletop Bismarck?


Monday, February 27, 2017

Spells Through The Ages – Protection from Evil

Man in suit holding cross
What can you do when evil stalks the land, threatening both the common man and heroes alike with doom and destruction? Consider casting protection from evil, a surprisingly potent 1st-level spell for both wizards and clerics.

D&D spells with "evil" in the title have a contentious existence; there is ongoing debate about whether it's appropriate for them to work against anyone with an evil alignment factor, or if they should only work against foes immediately intent on doing one harm. It seems like the rules as written ping-pong back and forth a bit between different editions (and is complicated by the fact that the very earliest version of D&D didn't even have any "evil" alignments as such). My friend Paul wrote about that earlier in the context of the detect evil spell from the clerical perspective. As we investigate this case, we will also consider the higher-level, area-effect versions of protection from evil.


Chainmail Fantasy

Protection from Evil: A 12" diameter circle which will keep out all evil fantastic creatures/men.

This spell did not exist in the 1st edition of Chainmail, but was added in 2nd edition Chainmail (1972; pre-OD&D) as the 8th in its list of 8 spells. It seems pretty potent -- irremediably warding off all "evil" beings in a 12" radius, which would be a big chunk of one's playing table (to be downgraded later). But elsewhere it is written: "It  is impossible to draw a distinct line between 'good' and 'evil' fantastic figures" (2E, p. 35); and of course the only alignments given are Law-Neutral-Chaos. So as usual, players or a referee must make some kind of adjudications on the issue (except for Dragons which are explicitly noted as being "extremely evil and egotistical beasts..."). We could consider treating all creatures of Chaos as evil, but then that creates an asymmetry in the spell for Chaotic parties, at which time we might consider making it effect any of one's enemies... well, there's the whole Pandora's Box of D&D "evil" right there, from just this one single sentence description for the spell.

In the 2nd Edition Chainmail quoted above, "complexity" (levels) for spells was not yet given; but by the 3rd Edition this spell was set at "Complexity 3".


Original D&D

Protection from Evil: This spell hedges the conjurer round with a magic circle to keep out attacks from enchanted monsters. It also serves as an "armor" from various evil attacks, adding a +1 to all saving throws and taking a — 1 from hit dice of evil opponents. (Note that this spell is not cumulative in effect with magic armor and rings, although it will continue to keep out enchanted monsters.) Duration: 6 turns.

This is a 1st-level spell for any spellcaster (magic-user or cleric). It's slightly unclear about whether there's one effect here or two (is the first sentence just flavor text, and are "enchanted monsters" the same or distinct from "evil opponents"?). At the 3rd level, better matching the spell from Chainmail, we also have:
Protection from Evil, 10' Radius: A Protection from Evil spell which extends to include a circle around the Magic-User and also lasts for 12 rather than 6 turns.

The range is, of course, much reduced from that seen in Chainmail (but see below). I think that when I first played D&D (via Holmes, basically the same) I interpreted the effect here in a very restrictive manner; the protected got a ±1 bonus, no more, and the spell seemed very weak. Like many things in the evolution of D&D, if we see this as a continuous work presuming awareness of Chainmail, then the idea that "enchanted monsters" are entirely warded beyond reach is easier to pick up on, and makes the spell seem much more useful. In fact, the inclusion of the added/separate ±1 bonus effect really seems to mostly confuse the issue.

In the Swords & Spells spell chart, protection from evil, 10' radius is given an area effect of 2" diameter, which is a little wonky because 1" is 10 scale yards, so the radius is effectively 30 feet. That's consistent with the rest of the system keeping tabletop inches constant at an outdoor scale, but it seems extra-weird when the "10'" is explicitly in the name of the spell. (Gygax later apologized for that issue and tried to adjust it, with mixed results.)


D&D Basic/Expert Rules

Protection from Evil 
Range: 0 (caster only)
Duration: 6 turns

This spell circles the magic-user or elf with a magic barrier. This barrier will move with the caster. The spell serves as some protection from "evil" attacks (attacks by monsters of some alignment other than the caster's alignment) by adding 1 to the spell caster's saving throws, and subtracting 1 from the "to hit" die roll of evil opponents. The spell will also keep out attacks from enchanted (summoned or created) monsters (such as living statues), but not missile fire attacks from these creatures. The spell caster may break this protection by attacking the monster in hand-to-hand combat.

Moldvay provides needed clarification to the spell here in Basic D&D. There are clearly two separate effects. "Evil" here counts as any alignment other than the caster's (which is not, I think, a ruling used in other editions). "Enchanted" monsters are identified as those summoned or created. There's several points for clarity in the B/X version. The area-effect version appears in Cook's Expert rules as:

Protection from Evil 10' 
Radius Range: 0'
Duration: 12 turns
 

This spell circles the caster with a magical barrier that will protect all friendly creatures within 10' of the magic-user or elf. This barrier will move with the caster, and acts exactly as a protection from evil spell (see page X13).

The reference to page X13 directs one the clerical version of the spell (at 4th level, instead of 3rd):

Protection from Evil 10' 
Radius Range: 0'
Duration: 12 turns
 

This spell circles the caster with a magical barrier that will protect all friendly creatures within 10' of the cleric. This barrier will move with the cleric. The spell serves as some protection from "evil" attacks (attacks by monsters of an alignment other than the caster's) by adding 1 to the caster's saving throw and subtracting 1 from evil opponents' "to hit" roll. This spell will also keep out melee attacks from enchanted monsters (such as elementals) but not missile or magical attacks from these creatures. Enchanted monsters can melee if any of the protected creatures attempt to attack them with hand-to-hand combat.

I feel like one of the most important uses of protection from evil (at any level) is explicated above: it entirely wards out elementals. That's particularly important given that if concentration breaks after conjuring an elemental, it irrecoverably turns to attack the caster. Well: with protection from evil, that becomes a non-issue (at least for the caster directly). If I were conjuring an elemental, I'd never, ever do it without first treating myself with protection from evil first.

Note also the fact that the protection moves with the caster is explicated for the first time. Also: Thus far, the spell can only be cast on the caster him- or herself.


AD&D 1st Edition

Protection From Evil (Abjuration) Reversible

Level: 1
Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rounds/level
Area of Effect: Creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 segment
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: With the differences shown above, and the requirement of powdered iron and silver as the material components for tracing the magic circle for protection from evil, the spell is the same as the first level cleric protection from evil spell (q.v.).

The clerical reference says this:

Protection From Evil (Abiuration) Reversible

Level: 1
Range: Touch
Duration: 3 rounds/level
Area of Effect: Creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast, it acts as if it were a magical armor upon the recipient. The protection encircles the recipient at a one foot distance, thus preventing bodily contact by creatures of an enchanted or conjured nature such as aerial servants, demons, devils, djinn efreet, elementals, imps, invisible stalkers, night hags, quasits, salamanders, water weirds, wind walkers, and xorn. Summoned animals or monsters are similarly hedged from the protected creature. Furthermore, any and all attacks launched by evil creatures incur a penalty of -2 from dice rolls ”to hit” the protected creature, and any saving throws caused by such attacks are made at +2 on the protected creature‘s dice. This spell can be reversed to become protection from good, although it still keeps out enchanted evil creatures as well. To complete this spell, the cleric must trace a 3’ diameter circle upon the floor (or ground) with holy water for protection from evil, with blood for protection from good - or in the air using burning incense or smoldering dung with respect to evil/good.


Like many spells in AD&D, Gygax has downgraded the duration from turns to rounds (arguably, "turns" in OD&D Vol-1 were intended as in Chainmail, i.e., the 1-minute span that AD&D calls rounds). For the first time, the spell can be cast on any creature, not just the caster, opening up its use greatly. The protection is bumped up to ±2, which I like (somewhere I've got a personal to rule to ignore any situational modifiers that only make a 1-pip difference out of 20). That bonus is against "evil creatures" which in these rules we must assume is actual, evil-in-the-alignment status.

The prevent-contact effect works against enchanted, conjured, and summoned creatures, and Gygax has more-or-less tried to give a complete list of what counts as "enchanted" (a common move in the AD&D PHB). I think the complete-hedging here is still  bit unclear as a separate effect; in fact, Gygax is compelled to add yet more clarification errata in the later AD&D DMG: "Protection From Evil: Note that this excludes (keeps out) monsters using natural (body) weapon attacks which require touching the protected character" (p. 41 and 45).

The components provide a nice thematic piece of of flavor; tracing a circle on the floor (with holy water, blood, dung, or powdered silver/iron, depending on the caster). But that's somewhat hard to rationalize with the 4 segment (officially, 24-second) casting time; and it may confuse the issue of whether the protection moves with the recipient (i.e., when they step out of the drawn circle). For magic-users, the area effect follows:

Protection From Evil, 10’ Radius (Abjuration) Reversible

Level: 3
Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rounds/level
Area of Effect: 10’ radius sphere around creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 3 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: This spell is the same as the first level protection from evil spell except with respect to its area of effect. See also the first level cleric protection from evil spell for general information.

The clerical version gets more detail (esp., concerning components):

Protection From Evil, 10' Radius (Abjuration) Reversible

Level: 4
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: 20' diameter sphere
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 7 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: The globe of protection of this spell is identical in all respects to a protection from evil (q.v.) spell, except that it encompasses a much larger area and the duration of the protection from evil, 10'radius spell is greater. To complete this spell, the cleric must trace a circle 20' in diameter using holy water or blood, incense or smouldering dung as according to the protection from evil spell.
This latter version, I think, would be very easy to mistake as a non-mobile effect (see the area of effect; no "creature touched" is listed).

For the 5th-level conjure elemental spell (and the similar 6th-level clerical aerial servant spell), a postscript note at the end says this (p. 79):

N.B. Special protection from uncontrolled elementals is available by means of a pentacle, pentagram, thaumaturgic triangle, magic circle, or protection from evil spell.

That's possibly a little confusing, because the first four items in the list are not spells of any sort; only protection from evil is. The DMG has a bit more detail on that under the clerical spell:

Aerial Servant: The spell caster should be required to show you what form of protective inscription he or she has used when the spell is cost. The three forms mentioned are:
Magic circle, pentagram, thaumaturgic circle

The way that I got confused by that was: I thought those were the diagrams you had to draw with the components of your protection from evil (or 10' radius) spell. (Link: The remarkable danger of pictures in conflict with words.) The intent was clarified a bit more in Gygax's later Dungeon Module S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, which included a separate 32-page book of new monsters and magic items, most of which were not used in the S4 adventure (rather, it served as something of a prototype for the Monster Manual II and sections of Unearthed Arcana). Among the additions was a 3-page section expanding on Magical Diagrams (including 6 types with varying effects, each with a large quarter-page illustration). No spells were required for construction of these protections, only time and money (starting at 1,000 gp for a temporary work or 10,000 gp for a permanent inlaid one). Unlike the rest of the work, this information was not included in any later rulebook, to my knowledge.


AD&D 2nd Edition

Protection From Evil
(Abjuration)
Reversible

Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rds./level
Area of Effect: Creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1
Saving Throw: None

When this spell is cast, it creates a magical barrier around the recipient at a distance of 1 foot. The barrier moves with the recipient and has three major effects: First, all attacks made by evil (or evilly enchanted) creatures against the protected creature suffer -2 penalties to attack rolls; any saving throws caused by such attacks are made with +2 bonuses.

Second, any attempt to possess (as by a magic jar attack) or to exercise mental control over (as by a vampire's charm ability) the protected creature is blocked by this spell. Note that the protection does not prevent a vampire's charm itself, but it does prevent the exercise of mental control through the barrier. Likewise, a possessing life force is merely kept out. It would not be expelled if in place before the protection is cast.

Third, the spell prevents bodily contact by creatures of an extraplanar or conjured nature (such as aerial servants, elementals, imps, invisible stalkers, salamanders, water weirds, xorn, and others). This causes the natural (body) weapon attacks of such creatures to fail and the creatures to recoil, if such attacks require touching the protected being. Animals or monsters summoned or conjured by spells or similar magic are likewise hedged from the character.

This protection ends if the protected character makes a melee attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature.

To complete this spell, the wizard must trace a 3-foot-diameter circle on the floor (or ground) with powdered silver.

This spell can be reversed to become protection from good; the second and third benefits remain unchanged. The material component for the reverse is a circle of powdered iron.

You'll notice that this spell is getting pretty long at this point with all the cases and side-cases. I think the modifier effect is still against real-evil-in-the-alignment foes. Cook has added another power to the spell here (identified as the "Second"); preventing mental control by charm, magic jar, etc. I guess he thought such a defense was needed somewhere, but wasn't worth a whole new spell for it. Cook is again the one to explicate (as in B/X) that the effect moves with the recipient. Consider also:

Protection From Evil, 10' Radius
(Abjuration)
Reversible

Range: Touch
Duration: 2 rds./level
Area of Effect: 10-ft. radius around creature touched
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 3
Saving Throw: None

The globe of protection of this spell is identical in all respects to a protection from evil spell, except that it encompasses a much larger area and its duration is greater. The effect is centered on and moves with the creature touched. Any protected creature within the circle can break the warding against enchanted or summoned monsters by meleeing them. If a creature too large to fit into the area of effect is the recipient of the spell, the spell acts as a normal protection from evil spell for that creature only.

To complete this spell, the caster must trace a circle 20 feet in diameter using powdered silver. The material component for the reverse is powdered iron.

The last line of conjure elemental in these rules reads: "Special protection from uncontrolled elementals is available by means of a protection from evil spell." The special magic diagrams of Gygax in 1E are gone.


D&D 3rd Edition

Protection from Evil

Abjuration [Good]
Level: Brd 1, Clr 1, Good 1, Pal 1, Sor/Wiz 1
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Target: Creature touched
Duration: 1 minute/level (D)
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless)
Spell Resistance: No (see text)

This spell wards a creature from attacks by evil creatures, from mental control, and from summoned or conjured creatures. It creates a magical barrier around the subject at a distance of 1 foot. The barrier moves with the subject and has three major effects:

First, the subject gets a +2 deflection bonus to AC and a +2 resistance bonus on saves. Both these bonuses apply against attacks made by evil creatures.

Second, the barrier blocks any attempt to possess the warded creature (as by a magic jar attack) or to exercise mental control over the creature (as by a vampire’s supernatural domination ability, which works similar to dominate person). The protection does not prevent a vampire’s domination itself, but it prevents the vampire from mentally commanding the protected creature. If the protection from evil effect ends before the domination effect does, the vampire would then be able to mentally command the controlled creature. Likewise, the barrier keeps out a possessing life force but does not expel one if it is in place before the spell is cast. This second effect works regardless of alignment.

Third, the spell prevents bodily contact by summoned or conjured creatures. This causes the natural weapon attacks of such creatures to fail and the creatures to recoil if such attacks require touching the warded creature. Good elementals and outsiders are immune to this effect. The protection against contact by summoned or conjured creatures ends if the warded creature makes an attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature. Spell resistance can allow a creature to overcome this protection and touch the warded creature.

In many ways, this is the same as the 2E spell with its three distinct effects (which I find a bit hard to remember). Again the function is against alignment-evil, so that's pretty much uniform across all editions (and different from its cousin detect evil). The big list of individual enchanted creatures is out; so is the detail of the drawing a circle with the material component. The area-effect version, post-Chainmail, has always been a bit awkwardly named with the "10' radius" bit in the title; here it is renamed as follows:

Magic Circle against Evil

Abjuration [Good]
Level: Brd 3, Clr 3, Good 3, Pal 3, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Area: Emanates 10 ft. from touched creature
Duration: 10 minutes/level
Spell Resistance: No (see text)

This spell wards all creatures in the area from attacks by evil creatures, from mental control, and from summoned or conjured creatures.

The subjects get a +2 deflection bonus to AC and a +2 resistance bonus on saves. Both these bonuses apply against attacks made by evil creatures.

The barrier blocks any attempt to possess the warded creature or to exercise mental control over the creature. The protection does not prevent a spell or effect that grants mental commands to be cast on the creature, but it prevents the caster of such a spell from mentally commanding the protected creature. If warding effect ends before the mental control effect does, the caster would then be able to mentally command the controlled creature. Likewise, the barrier keeps out a possessing life force but does not expel one if it is in place before the spell is cast. This effect works regardless of alignment.

The spell prevents bodily contact by summoned or conjured creatures. This causes the natural weapon attacks of such creatures to fail and the creatures to recoil if such attacks require touching the warded creature. Good elementals and outsiders are immune to this effect. The protection against contact by summoned or conjured creatures ends if the warded creature makes an attack against or tries to force the barrier against the blocked creature. Spell resistance can allow a creature to overcome this protection and touch the warded creature.

This spell has a special function that the character may choose when casting the spell. A magic circle can be focused inward rather than outward. In this case, it serves as an immobile, temporary magical prison for a summoned creature. The creature cannot cross the circle’s boundaries.

The character must beat a creature’s SR in order to keep it at bay, but the deflection and resistance bonuses and the protection from mental control apply regardless of enemies’ SR.

If a creature too large to fit into the spell’s area is the subject of the spell, the spell acts as normal for that creature only.

This spell is not cumulative with protection from evil and vice versa.

Yet another, fourth, feature has now been added to the spell; the ability to make a "prison" for a summoned creature. Note that this replaces one of the functions of Gygax's non-spell, magic diagrams back in 1E (maybe this is part of why I get confused by that?). The duration is much increased from the 1E/2E versions.

I kind of like the instinct to get the "10' radius" out of the title, but: I can't get over the fact that the effect isn't really a "circle" when you look at it in 3 dimensions. Even back in 1E Gygax indicated the area of effect as a "sphere". Plus there's no signal in the name that it's an iteration of protection from evil (moreover: this was the original back in Chainmail). In my Book of Spells rules, I renamed this again to protective sphere. Not completely perfect, but I'm happier with that name than some other options.

Note that conjure elemental doesn't even exist anymore as a distinct spell in 3E, so any special shout-out for this spell there is likewise gone.


Conclusions

Protection from evil is one of those spells that grew exponentially in rules-size over time. Originally it was just one sentence with 12 words in Chainmail; by 3E the analogous area-effect version is almost 400 words long. What has a really bad design smell to me is the number of distinct effects given to it -- Chainmail had 1, OD&D either 1 or 2 (a bit murky), 1E clearly 2, 2E had 3, 3E had 4. That is: basically every edition added another brand-new disjointed effect to the list, contributing to ongoing bloat (and difficulty in parsing this 1st-level spell for old and new players alike). Did 4E have 5, and 5E have 6 separate effects? I don't know.

What level of the complexity scale do you like your protection from evil? And did you ever use Gygax's side-system for magic diagrams of protection?


Monday, February 20, 2017

Spells Through The Ages – Magic Mouth

Dwarves on hobbit on stairwell react to mouth on pillar
An entity which is nothing but a BIG MOUTH. Is it only hot air? Or can it still pose a distinct danger by virtue of being "Wicked, tricksy, false!"; and if so, then what should we immediately do about it?

Denis McCarthy reminds us that a version of a magic mouth appears in Jack Vance's Dying Earth, appearing on an innkeeper's forehead.The spell wasn't in Original D&D (1974); it first showed up with the frequently wonky new spells in OD&D Supplement I, Greyhawk, in 1976. In some sense, it's part of a Gygaxian gesture to expand the game world to cover more than just combat encounters (see also: unseen servant and cantrips, last week). If nothing else, it must have served as inspiration for Dave Trampier's jaw-dropping piece of artwork near the end of the AD&D Player's Handbook, seen at the top here. The spell scores major points for that alone.


OD&D Supplement-I

Magic Mouth: A spell which resembles ventriliquism in that the sound issues from a chosen object, hut there are differences. A mouth appears, or the mouth of the object moves in accordance with what is being said. The Magic Mouth can he ordered to speak upon certain conditions, i.e. if anyone comes within 10' of it, if a neutral person comes within 10', if Flubbit the Wizard comes within 10', and so on. The spell lasts until the message is given. The message cannot exceed twenty-five words.
This is a 2nd-level spell. Given that it has no effect other than uttering 25 words, one might think it a total waste of a spell. However, it is intriguing in a few ways; one, that it has apparently permanent duration until it speaks; and two, that it apparently has remarkable abilities of detection, available to few other spells in the system (detect alignment, class, identity of individuals, etc.)

Elsewhere, the charm plants spell notes, "For example, combined with several Magic Mouth spells, the plants could act as a warning system". Of the cursed crystal hypnosis ball, it is said: "It will hypnotise its user and leave him in such a state from 3-24 turns, unless there is also a Magic Mouth spell placed upon the item. In the latter case the user of the item will carry out the instructions given by the Magic Mouth immediately, conforming to the limits given for a Suggestion spell."


Holmes D&D Basic

Magic Mouth -- Level 2; Range: 0 feet; Duration: infinite

Resembles the ventriloquism spell in that sound issues from a chosen object, but there are differences. A mouth appears, or the mouth of the object moves in accordance with what is said. The magic mouth can be ordered to speak under certain conditions, such as when anyone comes within 10 feet, or when a specific person comes within 10 feet, etc. The spell lasts until the message is given. Message can not exceed 25 words.
I don't usually include the Holmes rules here, but this bears a listen. It is almost exactly the same, except for one notable edit: the example of detecting someone's alignment has been struck out. Zenopus Archives informs us that the alignment example was gone as of Holmes' original manuscript; note that this will fortuitously synch up with Gygax's changes in the AD&D PHB in the next year. (Less critically, we note that Flubbit the Wizard is no longer named; but Zenopus Archives also informs us that Flubbit appeared in a few other examples in Holmes' manuscript -- starting gold, starting spells -- before being turned into Malchor by the Gygaxian editorial pass)

Interestingly, although magic mouth was included by Holmes, it was not included in the Basic/Expert D&D rules by Moldvay and Cook (perhaps as part of their wrangling the magic-user spell lists to exactly 12 entries at each level, suitable for d12 random selection).


AD&D 1st Edition

Magic Mouth (Alteration)

Level: 2
Range: Special
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: One object
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 2 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast, the magic-user empowers the chosen object with an enchanted mouth which suddenly appears and speaks the message which the spell caster imparted upon the occurrence of a specified event. The magic mouth can speak any message of 25 words or less in a language known by the spell caster, over a 1 turn period from start to finish. It cannot speak magic spells. The mouth moves to the words articulated, so if it is placed upon a statue, for example, the mouth of the statue would actually move and appear to speak. Of course, the magic mouth can be placed upon a tree, rock, door or any other object excluding intelligent members of the animal or vegetable kingdoms. The spell will function upon specific occurrence according to the command of the spell caster, i.e. speak to the first creature that touches you - or to the first creature that passes within 30'. Command can be as general or specific and detailed as desired, such as the following: "Speak only when an octogenerian female human carrying a sack of groat clusters sits cross-legged within 1'." Command range is ½" per level of the magic-user, so a 6th level magic-user can command the magic mouth to speak at a maximum encounter range of 3", i.e. "Speak when a winged creature comes within 3'." Until the speak command can be fulfilled, the magic mouth will remain in effect, thus spell duration is variable. A magic mouth cannot distinguish invisible creatures, alignments, level or hit dice, nor class, except by external garb. The material component of this spell is a small bit of honeycomb.
A bit more detail is given to the spell here, possibly after Gygax confronted some player abuse on the issue. It cannot speak spells. It cannot appear on an intelligent creature. It cannot detect anything about a triggering creature other than what would be known from plain sight -- now, no detection of alignment, level, class, invisibility, etc. Clearly, at some point Gygax must have decided his early example gave away too much. As noted above, that matches the Holmes manuscript (was that just a lucky coincidence, or was there some other communication on the issue?).

Magic mouth is also noted as an "object" spell subject to the effect permanency at the 8th-level (p. 91); this can only mean that the message is deliverable on repeated occasions, because there is already no duration limit to the spell. In these rules, the spell is not referenced in either charm plants or the crystal hypnosis ball (the effect is more directly given as a telepathic suggestion).

In addition to the iconic Trampier artwork, magic mouth was to memorable effect in a few adventure modules of the period. In Gygax's AD&D module G1, Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (1978), it is used as a ruse on a war hammer: "This weapon has a magic mouth spell placed on it to speak to a dwarf: 'Here's a kiss for you, runt!' so until it has spoken it will radiate magic very strongly." In his follow-up D1, Descent Into the Depths of the Earth (1978), "The lich, Asberdies, has cast 600 magic mouth spells in various portions of his lair — walls, floor, ceiling, and on stalactites and stalagmites too. Therefore, magic detection will show virtually everyplace in the cave as radiating magic...".

In Mike Carr's Basic D&D module B1 (1979), In Search of the Unknown, a pair are in area I (one), so this was likely many players' first-ever encounter in the game of D&D: "The east mouth speaks first, in a booming voice: 'WHO DARES ENTER THIS PLACE AND INTRUDE UPON THE SANCTUARY OF ITS INHABITANTS?' After but a moment, and drowning out any attempted reply by the party, comes the reply from the west mouth: "ONLY A GROUP OF FOOLHARDY EXPLORERS DOOMED TO CERTAIN DEATH!'", followed by prolonged maniacal laughter. (Raise your hand if you ever practiced delivering this all-caps dialogue with appropriate gusto. No? Just me?). Gygax again references the spell in module B2 (1980), Keep on the Borderlands: "You can have magic mouth spells placed in key areas to shout 'ALARM' whenever an invisible creature passes within 10' or so!" (Note that in the 1981 revision of the module, the phrase "magic mouth spells" was replaced by a more generic "magical traps"; which nonetheless provides another piece of evidence that B2 was originally written for OD&D rules. Thanks to Zenopus Archives in the comments for reminding me of this reference.)


AD&D 2nd Edition

Magic Mouth
(Alteration)


Range: 10 yds.
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 1 object 

Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 2
Saving Throw: None

When this spell is cast, the wizard imbues the chosen object with an enchanted mouth that suddenly appears and speaks its message when a specified event occurs. The message, which must be of 25 words or less, can be in any language known by the spellcaster, and can be delivered over a period of one turn. The mouth cannot speak magical spells or use command words. It does, however, move to the words articulated -- if it is placed upon a statue, the mouth of the statue would actually move and appear to speak. Of course, the magic mouth can be placed upon a tree, rock, door, or any other object, excluding intelligent members of the animal or vegetable kingdoms.
 

The spell functions when specific conditions are fulfilled, according to the command of the spellcaster. Some examples are to speak "to the first creature that touches you," or "to the first creature that passes within 30 feet." Commands can be as general or as detailed as desired, although only visual and audible triggers can be used, such as the following: "Speak only when a venerable female human carrying a sack of groat clusters sits crosslegged within 1 foot." Such visual triggers can react to a character using the disguise ability. Command range is 5 yards per level of the wizard, so a 6th-level wizard can command the magic mouth to speak at a maximum encounter range of 30 yards ("Speak when a winged creature comes within 30 yards."). The spell lasts until the speak command can be fulfilled; thus, the spell duration is variable. A magic mouth cannot distinguish invisible creatures, alignments, level, Hit Dice, or class, except by external garb. If desired, the effect can be keyed to a specific noise or spoken word.
 

The material component of this spell is a small bit of honeycomb.
I'm pretty sure that's all functionally identical to 1E. It's still listed as an allowed target for the permanency spell. The DMG notes, in the section on hiring assassins, that "Wizards make use of magic mouth, alarm, explosive runes, and other trap spells."


D&D 3rd Edition

Magic Mouth

Illusion (Glamer)
Level: Brd 2, Sor/Wiz 2
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target: One creature or object
Duration: Permanent until discharged
Saving Throw: Will negates (object)
Spell Resistance: Yes (object)

This spell imbues the chosen object or creature with an enchanted mouth that suddenly appears and speaks its message the next time a specified event occurs. The message, which must be twenty-five or fewer words long, can be in any language known by the character and can be delivered over a period of 10 minutes. The mouth cannot speak verbal components, use command words, or activate magical effects. It does, however, move according to the words articulated.

The spell functions when specific conditions are fulfilled according to the character's command as set in the spell. Commands can be as general or as detailed as desired, although only visual and audible triggers can be used. Triggers react to what appears to be the case. Disguises and illusions can fool them. Normal darkness does not defeat a visual trigger, but magical darkness or invisibility does. Silent movement or magical silence defeats audible triggers. Audible triggers can be keyed to general types of noises or to a specific noise or spoken word. Note that actions can serve as triggers if they are visible or audible. A magic mouth cannot distinguish invisible creatures, alignments, level, HD, or class except by external garb.

The range limit of a trigger is 15 feet per caster level. Regardless of range, the mouth can respond only to visible or audible triggers and actions in line of sight or within hearing distance.

Material Component: Worth 10 gp.
That's mostly the same, with some extra detail on exactly what kinds of subterfuge can get around the triggering of the magic mouth. Apparently the spell has the equivalent of infravision (sees through normal darkness, but not magical darkness). Again, it's listed under permanency. Deceptively important change: the material component switches from unpriced "small bit of honeycomb" to unidentified thing "Worth 10 gp" (see discussion below).


Conclusions

Magic mouth is subtle, and it embarrasses me, in that I've always had a hard time developing intuition for its uses. Among its best uses is as an overnight alarm for a party's campsite. Or an alarm system on any wizard's tower, book, treasure chest, front door, etc. Or any town or castle with a wizard in residence. Or on the robe of a wizard to alert him or her to pick-pockets. This list goes on; but none of those uses were ever explicated in the spell descriptions themselves, so I have a bit of a blind spot for them; only the examples in the adventure modules of the time clue me into its best uses.

And the fact that it is only 2nd-level (castable by a 3rd-level magic-user), permanent until triggered, and free to cast (before 3E), gives it possibly campaign-altering potential. A wizard would be well within his rights to spend his down time casting magic mouth alarms on every single one of his positions before adventuring outside. Taking the example of the lich Asberdies, crafty wizards of this or earlier ages could go around alarming every castle wall, door -- maybe every tree, bush, rock -- with a magic mouth, either as defense or just for the lolz. Maybe the whole world comes to radiate magic from mouths cast with long-forgotten triggers.

That may possibly get out of hand in that way. 3E made the move to add an unnamed 10 gp material component, such that unending magic mouths become less reasonable.  In my own Book of Spells, I developed a rule in which no spell below 5th was allowed to be permanent (for reasons such as these); magic mouth there lasts one week maximum (the upper limit in my system for 2nd level spells). On a related note, given that magic mouth overlaps with ventriloquism so much (it is directly referenced in OD&D and Holmes), I made the editorial decision to simply snip that latter 1st-level spell from my list.

Any intelligent thoughts? Speak up!