Friday, May 8, 2009

Sleep Analysis

Let's consider the OD&D sleep spell for a moment (you can see me grappling with the spell in my last game, below). First, imagine that the game originates with just some 4th-level Hero fighters and a few Magic-Users. Assume we're playing in a game where the Heroes get 4 attacks per round (for example, they likely fell 4 normal men each round). Consider designing a reasonable offensive spell for the accompanying Magic-User; since his spells are limited, they should have a more potent effect. Say, perhaps, that the spell is equivalent to 2 rounds worth of the Hero's attacks -- so, the spell should drop about 8 or so 1st-level creatures on average.

Now, to my understanding, the first part of this is exactly how the original fantasy RPG began play under Dave Arneson -- players took the parts of Heroes (worth 4 figures) from Chainmail, and advanced them to Superheroes (worth 8 figures) through play. In those rules, your basic Hero did in fact make 4 attacks for each normal man figure.

Sometimes we lose sight of that fact, since it's unstated in the OD&D books, which presume we're referring back to the Chainmail man-to-man combat system. But the point was reinforced in the article "Questions Most Frequently Asked About Dungeons & Dragons Rules", from The Strategic Review #2, p. 3 (Summer 1975, Editor: E. Gary Gygax):

Combat Example: 10 ORCS surprise a lone Hero wandering lost in the dungeons... Note that he is allowed one attack for each of his combat levels as the ratio of one Orc vs. the Hero is 1:4, so this is treated as normal (non-fantastic) melee, as is any combat where the score of one side is a base 1 hit die or less. Hero: 19; 01; 16; 09. Two out of four blows struck...

Now, it's made clear in this passage -- and again elsewhere -- that the multiple-attack rule is here being limited to opponents who have 1 hit die or less (and that's why you see the rule appearing in AD&D the same way). Nevertheless, it's clear that the game assumes that the PCs are facing down very large numbers of normal opponents, and hewing through them quite rapidly (even in a 1:10 ratio, as seen here). Consider also Arneson's "Temple of the Frog" in the Blackmoor supplement, where the first level of the dungeon contains barracks housing 50, 100, 250 men each, etc.

The point is, the original play of the OD&D game assumed that your Fighters were cleaving through enormous numbers of non-fantastic enemies, and obviously the Wizard-types had to have something to keep up with them. The sleep spell as we see it in OD&D exactly matches this situation -- 2-16 normal men affected (9 on average), a bit more than the number of attacks that a Hero would dish out in 2 rounds. (And you can also see why Greyhawk stipulated the first no-save rule for sleep; the number of saves you'd have to roll would otherwise be enormous.)

So if we switch to a system where Fighters are not getting these Chainmail-esque machine-gun attacks, then this wouldn't make sense anymore. Certainly, I play with everyone just getting one attack all the time. If I were to read the OD&D books by themselves, that's certainly how I would interpret the combat system. And after playing 3E for a number of years, I'm solidly in the camp that the multiple-iterative-attacks mechanic there was really a huge mistake. Let's proceed with the more elegant rule of one basic attack resolution for all PC-types.

If our OD&D Heroes only get one attack against normal foes (1:4 original), then our sleep spell must also be reduced in the same ratio to remain balanced with it. Say, take the basic effect (2-16, average 9), divide it by 4 (9/4 = 2.25), and find a reasonable die for that range (d4, perhaps d6 if we prefer the shape?). And do the same thing for the other hit die categories (2HD: average 7/4 = 1.75, say 1/2 d6; 3HD: average 3.5/4 = 0.88, say just 1 creature; 4HD: average 1/4 = 0.25, say no creatures affected). We do this while acknowledging that the D&D Fighter, under the TSR #2 rule, doesn't get multiple attacks against higher-level foes (it would be very odd to give sleep a greater number of upper-HD affected).

So that's what I think I'll do for my game's sleep spell. We'll have sleep affect 1d6 1HD, 1/2 d6 2HD, or 1 3HD figures (and none of higher level). That's in harmony with the reduced number of Fighter attacks and presumed number of enemies, as compared to Chainmail. It seems about fair to me, and in the same spirit as the original environment for the spell.

Finally, here's some other comments. There's no need to impose Greyhawk's no-save rule here, so I'll continue to afford saves to the targets of the spell. Flavor-wise, I feel that sleep-enchantments should be generally more difficult to break out of than normal sleep. Therefore, I see no reason for more than a 2-in-6 chance to wake up a victim by way of shaking/slapping, etc. It should also last a fairly long period of time (duration is unstated in OD&D), perhaps a full sleep cycle -- I'll say 12 turns (a common duration in Vol. I), although if you said 12 hours I'd be quick to agree with that, as well.


  1. Nice logic.

    Only problem is, whatever the intentions of the original writers, the fighters you are talking about can go on hacking and slashing indefinitely. The mage gets to throw the spell only once.

  2. Nice research and rationale! I think Alexis has a point, though. On that note, I wonder if it might be worth making Sleep scale with the mage’s level the way the Fighter’s attacks vs. mooks increase with his level. It also allows for lovely stuff like the evil arch wizard putting the king’s whole court to sleep with a single spell, leaving only the heroes (ie: the high HD folks) standing.

  3. But fighter attacks don't increase by level here. I'm assuming you're not using Chainmail or AD&D (or TSR #2) rules for that.

  4. Talking about game ablance of a spell's effect:

    Note that an adventuring party will stop to rest if their magic-user is out of spells. Think what the Fighter would want to do if he had lost his sword and could no longer make melee attacks? Simply put you must assume that spellcasters will use their spells as often as possible, which in this case is once per fight if you can memorize it once per day. The PCs will just work things so they have only one fight per day.

    At higher levels the magic-user is prepared to cast one spell per round every round of one fight and still have spells left, so they can fight more than one battle per day. Fights tend to be longer in rounds as you rise in level but the fight duration doesn't increase as quickly as the magic-user's number of memorized spells. So the problem sorts itself out around level 5 or 6 unless you're in a dungeon with many fights between rest periods. In a dungeon you tend to see a more pronounced "fight one room then leave to rest" mentality because the challenges are so close together.

    A way around seeing a magic-user casting an overpowered spell every round of every combat, and also slowing down the progress of the group by requiring continual resting, would be to increase casting times.

    If your casting time for spells were set at a standard 1 action per level it would reduce how many spells he could cast in a combat and extend the number of combats he could be effective in. It would also make protecting the magic-user during casting more important in the fight.

    When I say 2 actions, I mean that on one round the magic-user would begin casting and on the second round he would use his second round action to finish the spell. So first-level spells would still go off on the action used to cast them, making first-round missile strikes possible.

    Perhaps magic-users would just use only first-level spells in combat and demand a rest when they ran out.

    This is a problem inherent in the Vancian memorization system which 4E attempted to fix by offering spells that could be used every round. That way the magic-user is never sitting around throwing darts instead of using magic.

  5. "Note that an adventuring party will stop to rest if their magic-user is out of spells... The PCs will just work things so they have only one fight per day."

    A common and absurd misunderstanding of OD&D game play. It won't affect my writings on this blog at any time. (If it has driven the 4E design, then my greatest condolences.)

  6. @ Delta:
    I'm confused, in your games do your players generally push on longer than this?

    It's been my experience that players get antsy when they're low on HP, spells, lamp oil, etc. and want to resupply.

  7. Yes. They conserve spells.

    Re: "Simply put you must assume that spellcasters will use their spells as often as possible, which in this case is once per fight if you can memorize it once per day. The PCs will just work things so they have only one fight per day."

    In 30 years of gaming classic D&D, no one has ever come remotely close to doing such a thing.

  8. I have to agree with Delta here. Monsters and enemies do not conveniently limit themselves to one combat per day. Obviously, any villain with a 13 intelligence or above would assume that the first step would be to soak off a party's spells with pawns, and THEN hit them with the hardcore thrust.

    Of course, many DMs lack a 13+ intelligence.

  9. Oh cool, I was just curious. One thing I love about your blog is reading how differently you do some things. Very refreshing. Provides a lot of inspiration.

    Knowing my group though, I just don't see how I could get them to consider that as a possibility. Our strategy when investigating some adventure site is hardly cinematic: establish a base camp and explore for a short time, returning to the camp to heal up and recover.

    We have encountered severe problems with this strategy a few times! So I can see how your group's approach would work better in those cases. I think our goal originally was to face the toughest challenges at as close to full capacity as possible, regardless of what the villain wanted.

  10. I think you're right to bump the effect against 1HD creatures from 1d4 to 1d6 since it's a "take out the trash" type spell.

    Another way that might be even easier to remember: 1d6 HD worth of creatures, max HD affected = MU's level.

  11. First off, the old Chainmail-based "take out as many <1 HD mooks in a turn as you have levels" rule is actually quite different from the more recent iterative attack rules you critiqued in the other post. It's one I actually quite like, since it allows for rapid resolution of battles against hordes of minor opponents. You may only get one chance at a telling blow per round of 6-10 seconds up to one minute against more powerful, named opponents, but against the nameless cannon fodder you can mow down one after another; quite cinematically (or pulpishly - Conan and Fafhrd and the Mouser and Elric and others being famous for this). Heck, the child kings and queens of Narnia are at least Hero level, going by the latest films.

    Now, having to roll all those attacks individually can be a royal pain, I agree. Rather than do away with the mook-mowing rule altogether, I'd suggest something different like allowing attacks against multiple <1HD opponents of the same AC to score additional hits by margin of success. Just make your to-hit roll? You only tagged one of them - but if you rolled one better, you get another, and so on.

  12. "Another way that might be even easier to remember: 1d6 HD worth of creatures, max HD affected = MU's level."

    Yes, that's a good idea, and I thought of that later myself. I'd probably stick to "1d6 total HD, max 3".