Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sliding Spell Effects

Another brief observation about the OD&D set -- spell effects truly had the "safety off". Even your low-level spell effects could be truly devastating: sleep (take out 2-16 1st level enemies, or 2-12 2nd level, etc.), hold person (affect 1-4 persons, duration over 1 hour), charm person (permanent until dispelled!), etc. Animate dead is a 5th-level magic-user spell that creates 1-6 undead per level above 8th (e.g., a 16th-level wizard gets an average of 36 undead per casting). A potion of diminution makes you 6 inches tall, a potion of growth makes you 30 feet! (Which again is much more in the tradition of myth or Carroll, etc.) In contrast, modern D&D has evolved to grant much more subdued effects with spells, but gives spellcasters a lot more spell slots to fire off over time.

An interesting place which has been mentioned by others is the classic blasting spells of fireball and lightning bolt. They're in OD&D (and Chainmail), of course, and they have always, always, done 1d6 damage per level of the caster. But hit points have routinely crept up over the editions, radically weaking the power of these spells over time. Consider a 5th-level caster who does 5d6 damage (17.5 points average.)

(1) In OD&D, a stock ogre had 4d6+1 HD, average 15 hit points. Your sample fireball would definitely kill this guy, unless he made his save for half damage (and then be over half-dead).
(2) In 1st-2nd Edition, the ogre had 4d8+1 HD, or 19 hit points. This is very close to the spell's damage, and so is about 50/50 to kill him before the save, depending on exact damage or hit points rolled.
(3) In 3rd Edition, the ogre has 4d8+8 HD, average 26 hit points. The sample fireball will definitely not kill him. If he makes his save he'll only lose about one-third of his hit points.

So in short, the classic fireball or lightning bolt has gone from almost certainly killing ogres, to sometimes killing ogres, to almost certainly not killing ogres in one blast. This, even though the actual damage roll is completely unchanged from the inception of the game. Wacky!


  1. I know this is an old, old post, but I’m passionate about this issue. People talk about how wizards are too powerful in 3.x. Their power level has gone down in every edition. The Ogre issue is germane, but it’s even worse when you look at the playable races, there hit dies have increased and the constitution bonus has gone up. Characters used to not roll for hit point beyond named level, now they do. Characters can have easily twice the hit points of 1st edition, which had at least 50% more hitpoint than ODD. Fireballs were not originally limited to 10d6, now they are. Many more characters have the save for no damage ability now as well. A fireball was a very dangerous before, a fireball by a wizard above named level was truly lethal. Now my wizard/archer does more damage with his bow.