Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Alternative Level of Monster Matrix

Tavis over at The Mule Abides sent me a question last week that reminded me of my OD&D monster level analysis blogs from last August (some key links below). I pointed out some oddities of the OD&D dungeon encounter tables at that time, and meant to present alternative options for them (with the usual smallest-possible changes), but never got around to it.

For example, on OD&D Vol-3, p. 10, you get the "Monster Determination and Level of Monster Matrix" (i.e., what level of monster do you encounter?). My observation from last year is that the table is tough: by the 2nd dungeon level, the average encounter is with a 3rd-level monster, with a good chance of getting a 4th or 5th level monster (and remember that the scale only goes up to 6!). That's probably too accelerated, and if you look at the AD&D DMG, Gygax would perhaps agree; he actually overcompensated in the other direction there, and made the equivalent table go up too slowly.

Here's what I currently use. It's not rocket science: simply make the progression smoothly increase. The average encounter level now increases by one for each row of the table. I also added a column on the far right called "tier" (i.e., index of the row; same as dungeon level for 1-4), which we'll use in a bit:

Alternative Level of Monster Matrix

Dungeon

Monster Level


Level

1

2

3

4

5

6

Tier

1

1-3

4-5

6

-

-

-

1

2

1-2

3-4

5

6

-

-

2

3

1

2

3-4

5

6

-

3

4-5

-

1

2

3-4

5

6

4

6-7

-

-

1

2

3-4

5-6

5

8-9

-

-

-

1

2-3

4-6

6

10-12

-

-

-

-

1-2

3-6

7

13+

-

-

-

-

-

1-6

8


Now, after you consult this table, you'll refer to one of the individual "Monster Level Tables" (which I'll leave for a later day). But the end of the process is to determine the "Number Appearing", for which OD&D gives some very loose, vague guidance. I've even previously posed this as a question to readers in the past, and gotten excellent feedback: in particular, I was tickled by "if in doubt, as a basis, roll 1d6".

So here's what I do currently:
  • If the tier is equal to the monster level, roll 1d6.
  • If there is a one-step difference, multiply or divide by 2.
  • If there is a two-step difference, multiply or divide by 4.
When multiplying you roll extra dice (i.e., when monsters are weaker than the tier); when dividing you roll one die, divide, and round up on 0.5 or more (minimum one monster; i.e., when monsters are stronger than tier). Note: You'll never have more than a two-step difference between monster level and tier level, based on the modified matrix above.

Here are some examples:
  1. We're on level 2 and generate a 1st-level monster. Since that's one step weaker than the dungeon level (tier), I'll roll double monsters: i.e., 2d6 for the number.
  2. We're on level 3 and generate a 3rd-level monster. I'll simply roll 1d6 for the number appearing.
  3. We're on level 4 and generate a 6th-level monster. Since that's two steps tougher than the dungeon level (tier), I'll roll for one-fourth as many monsters: i.e., roll 1d6 for 6, divide 6/4 = 1.5, and thus 2 monsters appear (note that any die result 1-5 would be only a single monster).
Gygax in both OD&D (Vol-3, p. 11) and AD&D (DMG, p. 175-179) tried to "naturalize" the numbers appearing (e.g., orcs in larger numbers, skeletons in smaller numbers), but personally I don't think that's sustainable. One or the other type will be over- or under-powered (all the time), so it's probably best and simplest to just use a single rule for all monster power levels. The random dice will create some nice variation in any case.

The table and rules above are indicated as Open Game Content under the terms of the Open Game License v1.0a. A copy of the table in spreadsheet form (.XLS) is available here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Spells Through the Ages -- Control Weather

Have you recently wished that you could control weather? Are you aware of the notable differences between editions of this powerful spell? Does my house have any power or telecommunications at the time you read this? All excellent questions.


Original D&D
Control Weather: The Magic-User can perform any one of the following weather control operations with this spell: Rain, Stop Rain, Cold Wave, Heat Wave, Tornado, Stop Tornado, Deep Clouds, Clear Sky. [OD&D Vol-1, p. 31]
We start with OD&D. Note that Chainmail has no control weather spell -- although it does have some optional rules for random weather [CM, p. 21-22], and the options above are at least semi-compatible with the possibilities there.

Recall that OD&D spells only go up the 6th level, and this is a 6th-level spell, so it is intended to be among the most powerful magics in the game (it's actually the very last magic-user spell in the list, which is organized by some principle other than alphabetization). Notice that there is no range, and no duration specified (indefinite? one battle(field)? DM's choice?). Most of the options would require DM adjudication on the exact in-game effects (e.g., Rain, Cold Wave), although at least one could be clued-in from Chainmail (where it says: "Excess heat... Fatigue doubled, greater chance of fire in dry grass or woods if dry [p. 22]), and perhaps a "Tornado" could be simulated by the Air Elemental "Whirlwind" ability. If the spellcaster has carte blanche to instantly create and control any of these conditions, then it is a very powerful spell, indeed.


Advanced D&D (1st Edition)
Control Weather (Alteration)

Level: 7
Range: 0
Duration: 4-48 hours
Area of Effect: 4-16 square miles
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 turn
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: The control weather spell allows a cleric to change the weather in the area he or she is in at the time the spell is cast. The spell will affect the weather for from 4 to 48 hours (4d12) in an area of from 4 to 16 square miles (4d4). It requires 1 turn to cast the spell, and an additional 1 to 4 (d4) turns for the effects of the weather to be felt. The control weather spell will not radically change the temperature, i.e. from below zero to a 100 degree temperature heat wave. The weather control possible depends upon the prevailing conditions:
All three aspects of the weather (clouds/precipitation, temperature, and wind) can be controlled, but only as shown. For example, a day which is clear, warm, and with light wind can be controlled to become hazy, hot, and calm. Contradictions are not possible - fog and strong wind, for example. Multiple control weather spells can be used only in succession. The material components for this spell are the cleric’s religious symbol, incense, and prayer beads or similar prayer objects Obviously, this spell functions only in areas where there are appropriate climatic conditions. [AD&D 1E PHB, p. 52]
The text above is copied from the clerical spell roster; the magic-user spell references this (again at 6th level), with half the maximum duration (4-24 hours), and arcane-style material components ("burning incense, and bits of earth and wood mixed in water."). [AD&D 1E PHB, p. 83]

So at this point the spell has been fleshed out with range & duration, and they are enormous: on an entirely different scale (days and miles) than almost any other spell in D&D. Other than that, however, a decision has been made to dramatically reign in the power of the spell through a multifaceted series of restrictions. (1) The spell's power has been switched from a blank-check to a "one step adjustment" effect, among several fine-grained categories. For example: You can't just pick "Tornado" at any time now; the natural weather already has to be a "Storm" before you can change it to "Hurricane-Typhoon" (if you wanted such a thing, for argument's sake). (2) There is a very long time-to-effect after casting of 1-4 turns (10-40 minutes by the book in AD&D), which really makes it totally useless in the context of any standard D&D combat. (3) There is the "no contradictions" rule, and also the "only... appropriate climatic conditions" language, which allows the DM to nerf the spell in many ways that it might be used. And finally there is the rule (4) "Multiple control weather spells can be used only in succession", which is to say, "no stacking" (as I read it) -- a key support to #1, that weather will never be altered more than one step from the natural conditions.

The DMG provides its usual errata-like detail:
Control Weather: To find the prevailing conditions at the time the spell is cast, you must know the clime and the season, of course. Sky conditions (cloudy, foggy, partly cloudy, clear), precipitation, wind speed and direction, and temperature must be determined according to the area. Knowing this, you should have no great problem informing the would-be spell caster as to what sort of weather exists. [AD&D 1E DMG, p. 42]

Advanced D&D (2nd Edition)
Control Weather (Alteration)

Range: 0
Duration: 4d6 hrs.
Area of Effect: 4d4 sq. mi.
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 turn
Saving Throw: None

The control weather spell enables a wizard to change the weather in the local area. The spell affects the weather for 4d6 hours in an area of 4d4 square miles. It requires one turn to cast the spell, and an additional 1d4 turns for the weather conditions to occur. The current weather conditions are decided by the DM, depending on the climate and season. Weather conditions have three components: precipitation, temperature, and wind. The spell can change these conditions according to the following chart.

The upper-cased headings represent the existing weather conditions. The small headings beneath each large heading are the new conditions to which the caster can change the existing conditions. Furthermore, the caster can control the direction of the wind. For example, a day that is clear and warm with moderate wind can be controlled to become hazy, hot, and calm. Contradictions are not possible--fog and strong wind, for example. Multiple control weather spells can be used only in succession.

The material components for this spell are burning incense and bits of earth and wood mixed in water. Obviously, this spell functions only in areas where there are appropriate climatic conditions... [AD&D 2E PHB]
As is most often the case, the 2E spell is just a copy-and-paste of the 1E spell, will some minor reformatting to some of the text. What follows (after the ellipses) is the same table of possible conditions, as seen in 1E. I don't see any changes to the effect of the spell whatsoever.


Rules Cyclopedia
Weather Control
Range: 0 (magic-user only)
Duration: Concentration
Effect: All weather within 240 yards

This spell allows the magic-user to create one special weather condition in the surrounding area (within a 240 yard radius). The spellcaster may select the weather condition. The spell only works outdoors, and the weather will affect all creatures in the area (including the caster). The effects last as long as the spellcaster concentrates, without moving; if the caster is being moved (for example, aboard a ship), the effect moves also. The spell's effects vary, but the following results are typical:

Rain: -2 penalty to attack rolls applies to all missile fire. After three turns. the ground becomes muddy, reducing movement to half the normal rare.

Snow: Visibility (the distance a creature can see) is reduced to 20’; movement is reduced to half the normal rate. Rivers and streams may freeze over. Mud remains after the snow thaws, for the same movement penalty.

Fog: 20' visibility, half normal movement. Those within the fog might become lost, moving in the wrong direction.

Clear: This cancels bad weather (rain, snow, fog) but not secondary effects (such as mud).

Intense Heat: Movement reduced to half normal. Excess water (from rain. snow. mud transmuted from rock. etc.) dries up.

High Winds: No missile fire or flying is possible. Movement reduced to half normal. At sea, ships sailing with the wind move 50% faster. In the desert. high winds create a sandstorm, for half normal movement and 20' visibility.

Tornado: This creates a whirlwind under the magic-user's control, attacking and moving as if it was a 12 HD air elemental. At sea, treat the tornado as a storm or gale. [RC, p. 54]
At this point, as usual, I like to check in on the Aaron Allston Rules Cyclopedia from 1991, which represents the results of divergent evolution of the game along the BXCMI line. The rules above are fundamentally the same as those first laid down in the Expert Rulebook by Dave Cook and Steve Marsh in 1981 (same area, weather categories etc.; although most of the sentence-structures have been rewritten; p. X17). Oddly, the spell does not appear in Frank Mentzer's Expert Rulebook of 1983 (possibly appearing in the Companion rules?) While the earlier Cook text still called it control weather, the name now (in Allston) has for some reason been switched around to weather control (like most of the constituent sentences, actually) .

So: The BXCMI spell is very different from AD&D's spell. It has a much smaller area: 240 yards instead of some number of square miles (although perhaps that's an academic difference in a standard D&D fight). It lacks the multi-turn "transition" delay, but it does require that the caster be still and concentrate throughout the duration (a restriction that does not appear in AD&D). The suggested effects are actually more reminiscent of the OD&D options, with specific in-game mechanics attached to each, and apparently the caster can switch between any of them instantly and at will (no alternate AD&D "move one step" mechanic). There also isn't any "appropriate climatic conditions" restriction, as was added in AD&D.

Finally, the spell has the cracked-open-door line that says, "The spell's effects vary, but the following results are typical...", implying that the list of effects is not exhaustive, and if the DM/players are so willing, others might be added.


d20 System D&D (3rd Edition)
Control Weather
Transmutation
Level: Air 7, Brd 6, Clr 7, Drd 7, Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 10 minutes (see text)
Range: Two miles
Area: Two-mile-radius circle, centered on the character (see text)
Duration: 4d12 hours (see text)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

The character changes the weather in the local area. It takes 10 minutes to cast the spell and an additional 10 minutes for the effects to manifest. The current, natural weather conditions are determined by the DM. The character can call forth weather appropriate to the climate and season of the area the character is in.

Season Possible Weather
------ ----------------
Spring Tornado, thunderstorm, sleet storm, or hot weather
Summer Torrential rain, heat wave, or hailstorm
Autumn Hot or cold weather, fog, or sleet
Winter Frigid cold, blizzard, or thaw

The character controls the general tendencies of the weather, such as the direction and intensity of the wind. The character cannot control specific applications of the weather. When the character selects a certain weather condition to occur, the weather assumes that condition 10 minutes later (changing gradually). The weather continues as the character left it for the duration, or until the character uses a standard action to designate a new kind of weather (which fully manifests itself 10 minutes later). Contradictory conditions are not possible simultaneously.

Control weather can do away with atmospheric phenomena (naturally occurring or otherwise) as well as create them.

Druids casting this spell double the duration and affect a circle with a three-mile radius. [D&D 3E SRD]
In many respects this follows from the AD&D version of control weather. It has the same "10 minute warmup delay" and "no contradictions" language. A similar miles-and-days range & duration are maintained. It's explicit that no concentration is required (as opposed to the BXCMI version).

The list of effects, however, has switched backed to a fairly small number of options (in this case, keyed off the current season) which are once again reminiscent of those found in OD&D, with no "move one step" mechanic involved. In some sense, then, this may be looked at as a re-merging of the divergent AD&D and BXCMI lines; it doesn't have any direct mechanical effects listed here, but in many cases those can by synched up with appropriate listings in the 3E DMG.

Edit: At a slightly later date, I realized that the descriptions for the available weather conditions by season were actually taken from the alternate weather spell for AD&D (both 1E and 2E), the druidic weather summoning (6th-level spell). "Thus, in spring a tornado, thunderstorm, cold, sleet storm, or hot weather could be summoned," etc. [AD&D 1E PHB, p. 63]


Conclusions

Control weather is an interesting and imagination-grabbing spell that didn't have a chance to be playtested in Chainmail, first appearing in brief form in OD&D, and requiring significant refinements afterward. The approach to that refinement was very different between the AD&D and BXCMI lines (the former, by Gygax, being notably more liberal with its alterations/revisions; the latter remaining closer to the OD&D source, but with much heavier restrictions to duration, area, and ongoing caster activity).

I had the opportunity to think closely about control weather when I had to deal with its effects in the course of designing my upcoming Book of War D&D-based wargame. Obviously, the spell seemed like a natural fit for inclusion, being a high-level spell with outdoor usage, large area-of-effect, and a natural tie-in to battlefield weather conditions. But it also became obvious that the OD&D effect as written was simply too powerful -- under almost any interpretation, you could instantly summon a heavy storm or "high winds" and shut down all of an opponent's missile troops, for example. The AD&D modification provides a very nice and praiseworthy fix to this situation, I think; giving a "one step adjustment" to natural weather conditions means that it's possible to sway the weather a bit, and the "no stacking" ("only in succession") rule reinforces that there isn't any "cheat" to work around that and completely break the game. That said, control weather will still be an extremely important tactic in your D&D mass combat simulation.

(Illustration by AZRainman under CC2.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Backstory Rewards

Some folks like and encourage (sometimes with rules & benefits) extensive backstory as part of their RPG character-creation. I don't think it's any secret: I don't. Personally, I find it to be a hassle, a burden, a bondage, and generally a waste of time -- particularly in the context of an old-school RPG where we expect a fairly high body count/turnover. As a player, I'm very happy to experience my PC's "story" unfold in its entirety at the gaming table, to have it be organically anchored to other players and the milieu, and to be surprised and have to improvise as the character-arc unfolds (whether briefly or at length).

But let's think for a moment at the possibility for "backstory rewards", that is the inverse, awards for keeping your backstory shorter rather than longer (perhaps even a cap or a rules-based prohibition on long backstory). Say that at 1st level, you get to add one item of backstory to the campaign -- maybe as simple as your character's name. If you tell me anything more than that you get penalized in equipment (ha!; semi-joking). If that seems limiting, recall that in classic old-school play even naming the PC at 1st level was commonly avoided; some folks didn't bother to pick name until survival to a later level was proven. (And, sadly, this has a reflection in reality: once upon a time, it was common practice to forgo naming newborn babies for some time. I'm only a single generation removed from that myself.) At 2nd level, you get to add one more item of backstory -- like making up the town where you're from. Maybe at 3rd level you get to make up/specify a cult, ally, or magical school that gave you training in the past. And so on and so forth. Perhaps around name level (9th-12th or whatever) you earn the right to establish descent from a particular royal line or something.

So, in theory, this would accomplish a few things: (1) it would limit the initial backstory which can be seen as wasteful; (2) it provides yet another benefit to "leveling up"; (3) it allows limited player input to the campaign as a reward for superior play (but not carte blanche for any new entrant to mess it up); (4) it models many sources of literature where the protagonist's "special birth" or "chosen one" status unfolds as a mystery over time, only being revealed in full near the end of the character arc; and likewise (5) it plays with the idea of "fate", normally extremely hard to simulate in RPGs, as a function of re-interpreting history after-the-fact, as it were.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More on Choose Your Own Adventures

We've praised Choose Your Own Adventure books in the past. Having again looked at some of TSR's equivalent Endless Quest books recently, a few other things occurred to me:

Unpredictable Timing

One of the nice things about these books is that you can't predict how close you are to the ending based on your position within the pages of the book. Lots of media you can't say that for -- A normal novel, a standard TV show, a movie whose run-time you have a general sense for. All of these things allow you to glance at your page position, or a clock, and know that you aren't in any real danger of the story ending soon based on that placement compared to that end-time. But Choose Your Own Adventure-style books raise the stakes because they could always legitimately end in catastrophe (or otherwise) with the next page-flip. The drama is not sabotaged by the physical structure of the media itself. (The only other things I can think of like this are video games, or maybe short-story collections.)

Sense of Phatasmagoria

What I mean by this is: The very act of flipping through the book on various "turn to page X" directions causes you to, unavoidably, see little snatches of text from other possible branches, and also glances at illustrations of things that may-or-may-not happen. Personally, I'm pretty scrupulous about my page-flipping, trying as best I can to only scrape open the page numbers themselves (kind of like professional poker players' extraordinary care in flipping up the tiniest possible bit of a card to identify what it is). Nonetheless, I wind up subconsciously picking up new bits of text and illustrations. Are they things in the past, or the future, or possible-futures? It's almost like having vague shamanic visions of alternate timelines. The overall effect, to me, deepens the fantasy world, making me feel surrounded by nearby alternate spirit-worlds (which is certainly not something I actually feel in reality). Consider this excellent link noted by commenter Matthew W. Schmeer, and (at the end) the example of an entirely disconnected branch whose only clue is an enticing two-page splash page of a paradisaic city.

Example of Evolution

This final item, not so much complimentary, but perhaps sympathetic to the troubles we've seen in our other interactive entertainments and the big business of producing them. With Choose Your Own Adventure books you see, early on, a cornucopia of different possible branches and alternate endings; as time and the business progressed, fewer branches and fewer different endings; and in its place (necessarily) much longer narrative chunks of text in which the author gets to tell their "story" (again, see link above for the documentation of this). Gee, what does that sound like?

I would say that it sounds like D&D and the evolution through 2E when the call for "more story", and less player capacity for affecting plot structure, became prominent and irresistible. I would also say that this resembles video games tendency to develop away from "sandbox" or "digital toy" type games in the early years, or layouts with many branches and side-corridors, to more linear story structures in later years. Or more generally, Richard Garfield's seminal (to me) observation in a Game Developer magazine essay (November 2006) that "Historically, games usually evolved in such a way as to reduce the amount of luck in them." Can the same possibly be said about plays, opera, or epic poems (possibly more responsive to a live audience in an earlier era, and becoming fossilized over time)? Maybe even social network websites?

At least with our more modern gaming forms, you can see a number of pressures that would lead to reduced player choice over time: (1) the desire for the creator to be more of an auteur, or at least an honored expert (see Garfield's essay); (2) the promotion of cross-merchandising brands into other properties, via fixed and canonical characters and backstory; and (3) the business efficiency case for having a maximum amount of content generation actually consumed by the audience (and not wasted in undiscovered branches, especially as production values and costs accelerate greatly over time; e.g. see recent New Yorker article on Mass Effect creators grappling with alternate FemShep and BroShep character development). Perhaps every "wild west" ultimately gets its taming, but nevertheless, as we've written here before, we can still regret the loss of freedom that comes with it. Perhaps more of a "devolution", really.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Endless Quest Flowchart -- Dragon of Doom

I was visiting my folks' house this past weekend, and took this as an opportunity to dig up some of my old Endless Quest books (D&D's answer to the popular Choose Your Own Adventure books of the era).

It occurred to me that a nice analytic tool would be to see one of these adventures mapped out completely in flowchart form; a quick Google search turned up nothing, so I figured I'd do one myself. Above you'll see my flowchart for Endless Quest Book #13: Dragon of Doom by Rose Estes. Likely not the best example of the series, but it's the first one that I grabbed. (If you can't read my handwriting, hopefully at least the overall shape of the adventure is apparent.)

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

The first thing we see here is that this adventure has two distinct and totally separate paths based on the first decision point (broadly left-vs-right in the image above). There is no way to switch back from one to the other after the initial decision is made. You trigger one of two incompatible plot designs based on that decision (in one, the evil wizard & dragon plan to meet at the Edge of the World; in the other, the meeting point is Dragon Castle).

The paths are fairly linear; in general there's a pretty obvious "throughline" from the top to one of the two bottom victory points, with several danger zones along the way which might result in premature endings. This is more true on the left branch; less true on the right branch (which has a few crossover/back points, and actually two different successful endings).

My overall sense of this adventure (#13 in the line) is that it's more juvenile and rather "gentler" than some of the adventures that came earlier. The protagonist is a child-wizard with an intelligent and cuddly pet pseudo-dragon; most of the failure endings avoid directly saying that he's killed, usually leaving it ambiguous and off-screen. This impression is reinforced by the flowchart structure; there are numerous seeming hazard points where the decisions turn out to not be at-risk at all, with most or all of the options being success, or at worst returning back to the decision point (see prime examples on the lower left branch, like "53 shambler attack" and "22-24 over lava").

Edit: One other thing that strikes me as a bit odd is the very-long narrative endings for 2 of the 3 possible victories, after the last decision point has been passed. For example, at the bottom of the left branch you have "79-86 victory!", that is, an 8-page stretch of narration (including 2-page splash illustration) to conclude the adventure. On the right branch, one ending features "148-152 feed room & pearl", followed automatically by "102-107 dragon throne victory!", constituting an 11-page block of text without any decision point (the entire book being only 157 pages total). Hypothesis: I bet earlier books didn't have such long, author-centric, narrative "climaxes" like this very much.

Total number of variant endings: 13. Failure endings: 10. Victory endings: 3.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More on Catapults & Giants

In the past few weeks I was looking closely at the mechanics for OD&D catapults, giant stone-throwing, and fireball spells, which really all share the same single mechanic originating in Chainmail. If you recall how catapult-like-attacks function in Chainmail, they land at some declared range by the attacker, killing everything within an area-of-effect diameter of 2" or 3.5" (depending on light/heavy category; some survival allowed for heroic-type targets; but otherwise ignoring any armor considerations). Particularly with catapults, you then get into questions of what scale this is intended to be -- I argued that they're best understood at Siege/Man-to-Man scale, and somewhat accidentally shoved into the mass combat section.

As usual, Gygax's Swords & Spells book (which counts as being in the OD&D line) gives some nice additional perspective if you hunt around in it enough. In these 1:10 mass-combat rules, catapults are explicitly said to be 1:1 scale, which I think bolsters my previous argument:
Artillery: As the various artillery pieces represent but a single scale engine, only a single figure is needed to represent crew for each... [S&S, p. 10]
Catapults (both light & heavy) have decreased rate-of-fire from 1/2 or 1/3 [CM, p. 12] to 1/4 here [S&S, p. 9]. Meanwhile, bow archery has increased rate-of-fire from 2 per turn [CM, p. 11] to 3 per turn [S&S, p. 9]. And as far as giants go:
Giants act as 20" range -- light catapults with a fire arc of 45% [sic] left or right, but they must stand one-half move to fire. [S&S, p. 10]
That's an oddball rate-of-fire: sort of between the allowances for ROF 1 or 2 [S&S, p. 9], now much more potent than a mundane light catapult (by a factor of 4), similar to the description in Chainmail but without following the Swords & Spells reduction to catapult speed. This is backed up by the Example of Game Play at the back of the book which features giants throwing rocks on each of subsequent turns [S&S, p. 38].

Now, the thing I thought particularly interesting is that the result of catapult/giant fire is already no longer an area-of-effect. And I think this is particularly reasonable if we're interfacing between scale 1:1 throwers and 1:10 targets. The effect is now simply an application of a certain number of hit points damage to the target unit [S&S, p. 26]:

STONE CASTERS Target About Man-sized Larger
Small Catapult 30 15
Large Catapult 40 20
Trebuchet 50 25

Consider: The effect of the small catapult (i.e., giants) in these rules is to kill 30/4.5 = 6.7 normal men. That's actually very close to the number of men you'd kill if the Chainmail/OD&D area-of-effect was applied over man-to-man figure bases areas: Pi*r^2/Fig^2 = 3.14*1^2/(0.75)^2 = 3.14/0.5625 = 5.6 normal men. The large catapult kills 40/4.5 = 8.9 normal men, compared to Chainmail's heavy catapult which at man-to-man scale would kill at most Pi*r^2/Fig^2 = 3.14*1.75^2/(0.75)^2 = 9.62/0.5625 = 17.1 normal men (i.e., about twice as many).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Haste Effect Poll Results

Here are the results from another past poll (embarrassingly, from last year). This follows from my pointing out how much the effect of the haste spell has changed over time, with a distinctly different (increasingly powerful) mechanic in every edition. The question asked was, "What would be a reasonably balanced effect for the haste spell as a 3rd-level wizard (magic-user) spell?"

Here the far-away favorite was for the well-known version of the spell basically shared between AD&D 1E, 2E, and B/X -- double move and melee/missile attacks. Honestly, left to my own devices, I would have picked something different -- namely the second option, with double movement, but no attack benefit (explicitly matching the OD&D description for a potion of speed in Vol-2, p. 31). That said, I've accepted this poll result into my own OD&D games, and I'm comfortable with it so long as the duration is interpreted as only a certain number of rounds (i.e., one combat only, as per the previous poll's finding; and as explicit in AD&D, with the modified spell duration given there in rounds). If the duration was interpreted in terms of 1 turn = 10 minutes, then I'd say this is demonstrably broken unless you at least remove the double-attacks effect (it pretty much single-handedly broke my G1 giants game last year).


Monday, August 15, 2011

Turn Length Poll Results

Again digging through a directory of older poll results I neglected posting on the blog (apparently there's a couple from over a year ago I never documented -- awkward!).

This one here is from when I pointed out that the word "round" never appeared until OD&D Vol-3, and that therefore when Chainmail and OD&D Vol-1 spell durations are given in "turns", it might be better to interpret them in terms of what we now think of as "rounds". This poll was somewhat inconclusive, with a fairly uniform distribution across the options given -- narrowly led by the "1 minute" option, which is to say, "Vol-1 turn" = "AD&D or B/X round".

Since then, I've indeed run my OD&D games assuming that spell "turns" are really "melee turns", i.e., "rounds". This makes for potent spells with shorter durations that pass within the span of a single combat session, as opposed to lasting throughout several exploration activities. I kind of like this, since it (a) heightens the drama of conserving and then using spells mostly in dangerous situations, (b) reduces routine "buffing" long before combat, and (c) has a certain elegance that we don't need to track many ongoing effects after combat. But it does surprise some players, and I've gotten some warnings that it might make for some unbalanced (too low-powered) spells; and it does wind up coincidentally stumbling into widely-criticized 3.5-isms (but counteracting some others). It's tentatively worked for me so far, but I'm not going to be dogmatic about it.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Super Saturday: The Ultimates

The Ultimates 1 & 2 were the Ultimate Marvel re-imagining of the Avengers by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, published between 2002 and 2007 (13 issues each). They definitely sucked me in, with what I consider to be gorgeous art, compelling dialogue, and generally intriguing characterizations.

Plotting by Mark Millar was perhaps a little more sketchy. One thing that really struck me, once I finished the complete work, was how almost perfectly parallel the two volumes were in terms of overall story arc. Below I present the Ultimates 1 & 2 Plot Point Comparison Table:

Plot PointUltimates 1Ultimates 2
Issue #1 opening-scene Captain America airdrop target is:Nazi nuclear missile baseIraqi terrorist kidnapping site
Issue #5 team powerhouse identified as a threat who receives a brutal full-team beatdown, and then gets imprisoned, is:HulkThor
Issue #6 Giant-Man embarrassing sideplot concerns:Domestic disturbance versus the WaspJoining the non-superpowered Defenders
Issue #8/9 team member identified as a threat who receives a shocking beatdown by one rogue member is:Giant-Man (at the hands of Captain America)Captain America (at the hands of Nick Fury)
Issue #9/10 method by which the entire SHIELD atomic helicarrier fleet gets instantly destroyed is:Alien nuclear bombStolen security codes
Issue #9-11 unearthly invasion force which takes over America is:Skrull alien space armadaLoki's Axis-of-Evil army, followed by Norse mythological monsters
Issue #12-13 character who returns by surprise, dropping out of the sky to fight and ultimately kill the otherwise-unstoppable enemy leader, thereby saving the world, is (and see issue #5 above):HulkThor

(Photo by Mr. Tea under CC2.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

No-Stat Game Materials

Okay, so I've noticed lately that there's been an increasing trend for D&D-esque game materials with practically no game mechanic stats whatsoever. Like, The Dungeon Alphabet would be one example of this. I must say that I don't get much traction with game writing of that nature.

Personally, I feel that good, really top-notch game design must be a marriage of both creative ideas & compelling mechanics, in a way that each supports the other. (Best of all: If it seems like this fantasy idea & this game mechanic could not possibly have functioned without the other one in place to prop it up.) Perhaps you might say "flavor & crunch" working together; or "medium & message". Poetry I expect to have both good meter & meaning (in fact, hopefully the metrical restrictions have forcibly squeezed out some heretofore undiscovered, meaningful phrases). Graphic design should have both clarity & interest, etc. Having just one side is relatively easy; having both is harder.

A few short D&D examples: It's been said (I forget where) that the most difficult and highest achievement in RPG writing is a really compelling, cohesive adventure setting. One of my favorite examples is the metaphor of D&D wizards poring through dusty spellbooks for their spell formulae, reflected at the game table by the players of wizards flipping through lengthy books to find their spell descriptions. I prefer the trap tables in AD&D 1E DMG Appendix A (Table VII, which has game stats) over those in Appendix G (no stats, inspirational only).

Speculation -- Is it just me, or have these kinds of no-stat materials emerged in the aftermath of the 4E D&D game, which so radically broke the mechanical continuity with what came before? (As far as the interpretation & scale of levels, hit points, damage, attacks, etc.) Is it basically the 4E game which requires materials to be entirely no-stat if they seek to be "usable with any fantasy RPG"?

If I'm going to use some material for the D&D game, then I would hope for, at an absolute minimum, the basic stuff present in OD&D Vol-2 -- AC, Move, Hit Dice, Treasure. And preferably Number of Attacks, and Damage Dice (just a number of d6's will suffice, in my "half-of-Greyhawk-supplement" mode of thinking). I kind of barely feel like you're writing about D&D without giving some thought to those mechanical stats, and how they fit into the context of the rest of the D&D ecosystem, at a bare minimum.

Anyone else feel the same way?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chainmail Conversions Poll Results

I've got a number of old polls that I've asked on this blog, and haven't had time to present or comment on the results.

Here's one: In January of this year I asked the question, "What's the best way to convert modifiers from Chainmail?" This was at the end of a discussion in which it was pointed out that since the Chainmail Man-to-Man combat system was based on rolling 2d6 (range of 11), any modifiers should really be scaled by ×2 when switching to a d20 roll (range of 20); but despite that, a clear precedent was set in OD&D and AD&D to simply copy any such modifiers directly and unchanged (i.e., 1:1).

So this poll had a clear favorite among readers who expressed an opinion -- In general, you prefer (77%) to convert those modifiers at a 2-for-1 rate, even where it diverges from published (A)D&D. Thanks for the feedback!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Yet Another Scale

Sometimes we have reasonable debates on whether the "inches" scale in Chainmail Man-to-Man and OD&D really should have been 1"=10 ft (per official Vol-3 text), 1"=5 ft (as 25mm scale height), 1"=3⅓ ft (as per DMG miniature rules), or the like. Here's another OD&D source passage with something yet again totally different.

OD&D Sup-III, Eldritch Wizardry, has an interesting "Alternative Combat System (Addition)" (p. 5). Basically, the intent is to turn all movement and attacks during the round into always-continuous and simultaneous action; it introduces the concept of six "segments" to each round. Fairly large tables are presented for missile fire and movement by segment; missile fire and spell sequence is based on Dexterity, modified by a large number of factors (the source for Holmes' initiative mechanic?). For example, if your modified Dex is within 5-9, then your shot will take place on the 2nd segment of the round. If you have a move of 9", then your character should be moved 1½" in each of the 6 separate segments per round.

I can't imagine anyone using such a burdensome mechanic. It kind of boggles the mind, really. I'd say it's an easy bet that the authors never actually used this system in play. But anyway, the unique note on scale is at the end of the segmented movement table (Sup-III, p. 7):
Suggested Scale: 1":2'. Movements should be made simultaneously.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Super Saturday: MSH Box Delta

So this interaction happened between me & my girlfriend a few weeks ago:
------------------------------------------

D: (Walks into room.) Hey, let me show you something.

I: What?

D: Here's the box to this old role-playing game, Marvel Super Heroes. Normally it features the headshots of these four primary heroes, but I added one myself. I found a headshot of Thor, printed it out at the right scale, cut it out, and glued it in place.

I: Wow, you really had a thing for Thor back when you were a teenager, didn't you?

D: Yeah, I really did. (Walks out of room)
...

D: (Walks back into room.) You realize I'm saying that I just did this last night?

I: Oh.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stones Through the Ages -- Giant Throwing

Today I figured I'd take a look at the tradition of giant rock-throwing -- that cousin of the fireball and lightning bolt missile spells, which also had its roots in how Chainmail catapult fire worked. However, we'll see that the original mechanic did not have quite the same lasting legacy as those two mainstay spells.


Chainmail Fantasy
GIANTS: Giants are one of the most effective fighters. They can demolish normal opponents with ease, for they melee as 12 Heavy Foot with an extra die for their oversized weapons. They defend as 12 Armored Foot, and Giants must take cumulative hits equal to a number sufficient to destroy 12 Armored Footmen before melee or missiles will kill them. Moreover, Giants act as highly mobile small catapults (20 inches), without minimum range restrictions, and they can move on turns they don’t throw missiles, for reloading for them simply consists of picking up a boulder to give it a heave. Giants need never check morale! [CM, p. 34-35]
That's the entirety of the text for giants in the Chainmail Fantasy rules. Their stone-throwing is simply the same as that of a light catapult. Recall that rules for light catapults involve declaring range of a shot; killing all normal figures under a 2" diameter; and firing only every other turn. (Until recently I'd overlooked this last restriction to giant throwing, but it seems highlighted by the phrase "can move on turns they don’t throw missiles", which would seem unnecessary if it wasn't a forced-reload time.) Some limitations to who gets killed are given a bit later on:
CATAPULT FIRE VS. FANTASTIC FIGURES: Only the following kinds of fantastic creatures will be subject to catapult fire (including missile fire by Giants): Halflings, Sprites, Dwarves, Gnomes, Goblins, Kobolds, Elves, Fairies, Orcs, Heroes, Anti-heroes, Wights, Ghouls, Lycanthropes, Ogres, Treants, and Rocs. [CM, p. 38]
In terms of Chainmail Fantasy, this then excludes these types -- Super-heroes, Wizards, Trolls, Giants, Dragons, and Elementals. I suppose it's something of an open question for Basilisks, Cockatrice, Giant Spiders and Insects, and Giant Wolves, which are not mentioned as being vulnerable, but clearly seem weaker than other types (and listed in terms of "defend as a Lycanthrope", etc.)

Note that there are no differing giant types yet. Likewise, there's only one dragon explicitly detailed in Chainmail ("We will deal here with the great Red Dragon (Draco Conflagratio, or Draco Horribilis)"; also p. 35). Variation in types is emblematic of the expansion (or bloat) that is endemic to the commercial enterprise in later editions.


Original D&D
GIANTS: As stated in CHAINMAIL, Giants act as mobile light catapults with a 20" range. [OD&D Vol-2, p. 8]
That's actually all OD&D has to say about giant rock throwing. It's a good example of how dependent OD&D is on using Chainmail for actual combat resolution.

The next sentence does say, "Due to their huge weapons all Giants will score two dice of damage when hitting an opponent", but is that for melee only? It's slightly unclear if missiles use the old Chainmail "kill all humans", or if they should use the new 2d6. (The following table also notes that Stone Giants specially "Throw as a heavy catapult".) I know if I'm running OD&D giants I feel like there's a good bit of ambiguity there.


Holmes D&D
Giants can throw rocks like a catapult, range 200 feet with a 20 foot hit area. Each rock does 2 dice of damage to anything it hits. A giant can throw one rock every 5 melee rounds. [Holmes D&D, p. 26]
After this passage, the rest of the Holmes D&D giant description is a recapitulation of the "Fire Optional" rule from Chainmail catapults: declare a range and roll 2d6 for over/under that for exact location of the throw on the tabletop. "Anything within 2 inches of the impact is hit. If figures are not used, treat the thrown rock as an arrow or other missile on the combat table." [See the full text.]

So here we see that we've explicitly changed from Chainmail's "kill everything under 6HD" (basically) to 2d6 damage. We've also wrapped in the variation rule (which previously was optional), and reduced rate-of-fire from every 2 rounds (by reference in Chainmail/OD&D) to only once every 5 rounds. I think these edits are very wise, as the effect of giant-throwing is overwhelmingly powerful if it affects everyone in a blast area and totally bypasses the armor mechanic, without some serious reduction in damage and rate-of-fire. Without the change, I'd think that giants would nearly always avoid melee in favor of throwing.

But this is actually the last time we'll see this mechanic for giant throwing; it wasn't carried forward into any later edition of D&D. Instead, the attack form is hereafter absorbed into the standard D&D "to hit" roll motif versus a single target (as alluded to in the last line quoted above). We've discussed giants a few times on the blog before (see very end here), and many commentators have expressed favor for giant stones acting as area-effect grenade-like weapons; but after OD&D and the Holmes book, this mechanic was no longer officially used.

One other point highlighting the method's end-of-the-line status: This is the only place in all of the Holmes D&D rules where any distance is expressed in inches ("Anything within 2 inches of the impact is hit"). With the ironic single exception of an earlier passage that prepares you to see that a lot ("Since DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was originally written for wargamers who are used to miniature figures, distances are often given in inches... 1 inch = 10 feet" [Holmes, p. 9]).


Advanced D&D (1st Edition)
All giants are very strong, with strengths ranging from 19 to 25 as compared with humans. Because of this strength, they are able to pick up rocks and hurl them as if the missile were shot from a catapult, but without the minimum range restrictions of the device. [1E MM, p. 44]
Keep in mind that the 1E Monster Manual was the first of the AD&D books to be released, and was largely a consolidation of the OD&D monsters in the various volumes (desperately needed at the time, since basic monster stats were in a separate section or even book from their damage statistics). So it's no surprise that the language is mostly the same. Throwing damage keeps the revisions first seen in the Greyhawk supplement (Sup-I); still 2 dice, but the dice may now be 8, 10, or 12-sided (depending on type).

One thing that's added is the possibility of catching opposing missiles, as shot by each giant type. For example: "Adult hill giants are able to hurl rocks from 1” to 20” distances, inflicting 2-16 hit points of damage. They are able to catch similar missiles 30% of the time." [1E MM, p. 45]

Something that's been kept is the comparison of giant throwing to catapults (see quote above). But interestingly, when siege engines appear in the AD&D DMG (published 2 years later), they no longer appear to have the area-effect capacity that they did back in Chainmail. Rules in the DMG for catapults (and the like; p. 108-109) are to make a normal to-hit roll with certain adjustments against a single specific target. Only if it's a miss is the "Grenade-Like Missiles" section consulted for possible bounce onto another target (or alternatively, if a target is totally unseen due to cover, then "A target area must be named and the GRENADE-LIKE MISSILES determination is then used to find where the missile actually hits." [1E DMG, p. 109]). It does say that "As noted in the GRENADE-LIKE MISSILES section, missiles from small catapults are considered to be of 1' diameter, those from trebuchets 2'" [p. 109]


Advanced D&D (2nd Edition)

2E AD&D doesn't appear to have any special general language about giant rock-throwing. Each individual giant type simply has it listed as a missile attack, with the same parameters as 1E. (Example: "Hill giants... hurl rocks for 2-16 (2d8) points of damage. Their targets for such attacks must be between 3 and 200 yards away from the giant. They can catch rocks or other similar missiles 30% of the time." [2E MM]) Cloud giants appear to have their rock-catching ability removed, but that's probably just an oversight.


Rules Cyclopedia
All giants can throw boulders as missile weapons, though the range varies. Any hit from a thrown boulder inflicts 3d6 points of damage. Throwing ranges in yards (for outdoor encounters) are given for each giant. If encountered in a dungeon, the range should be read as feet. [RC, p. 179]
So at this point in the BX/BXCMI evolution, giant throwing damage has been boosted from 2d6 to 3d6. The maximum range is mostly as it was before: earlier 20" here written as 200 yards/feet for most types. Hill giants have been reduced to range 100; stone giants get 300. We also see ranged categories such as "100/200/300", indicating that standard ranged attack penalties apply (which is not something we saw in any other edition up to this point). No sign of any area-attack effect is given; neither is the AD&D "catching" ability present.


d20 System D&D (3rd Edition)

Rock Throwing (Ex): Adult giants are accomplished rock throwers and receive a +1 racial bonus to attack rolls when throwing rocks. A giant of at least Large size can hurl rocks weighing 40 to 50 pounds each (Small objects) up to 5 range increments. The size of the range increment varies with the giant’s variety. A Huge giant can hurl rocks of 60 to 80 pounds (Medium-size objects).

Rock Catching (Ex): A giant of at least Large size can catch Small, Medium-size, or Large rocks (or projectiles of similar shape). Once per round, a giant that would normally be hit by a rock can make a Reflex save to catch it as a free action. The DC is 15 for a Small rock, 20 for a Medium-size one, and 25 for a Large one. (If the projectile has a magical bonus to attack, the DC increases by that amount.) The giant must be ready for and aware of the attack. [3E SRD]

Here we see that the overall throwing ability is clearly part of the standard missile attack metaphor, including standard ranged penalties. The catching ability is included (with the necessary detail expanding over time, as usual). Range increments (as per 3E) are 120 feet for hill/frost/fire giants, 140 feet for cloud giants, and 180 feet for stone giants. With up to 5 increments maximum, that's a total of 600, 700, or 900 feet -- a whole lot farther than the 200 feet underground that we'd see in OD&D/Holmes/1E/RC, but matching the non-scaling 200 yards that you get in 2E.


(Photo by nhussein under CC2.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Spells Through the Ages -- Lightning Bolt

Had any summer thunderstorms lately? (We did last night.) Today, let's take a look at the effects of the D&D lightning bolt. Recall that lightning bolt has its true origin in the Chainmail mechanics for cannon-fire (with their bouncing-cannonballs line-of-effect), and, along with fireballs, was one of the two primary wizard powers called "Missiles" in that ruleset.


Chainmail Fantasy

In Chainmail Fantasy, lightning bolts were described in tandem with fireballs in the section detailing the wizard's "Missile" powers. See here.


Original D&D
Lightning Bolt: Utterance of this spell generates a lightning bolt 6" long and up to 3/4" wide. If the space is not long enough to allow its full extension, the missile will double back to attain 6", possibly striking its creator. It is otherwise similar to a Fire Ball, but as stated in CHAINMAIL the head of the missile may never extend beyond the 24" range. [OD&D Vol-1, p. 25]
As usual, OD&D was built on a foundation that assumed use of Chainmail for all the basics of turn sequence, combat, morale, ranged weapons fire, fantasy unit abilities, etc., etc. The lightning bolt spell is one of many places that explicitly highlight this linkage. Note that while the area in Chainmail was simply "3/4" wide", here it is given variation of "up to 3/4" wide" (I'm not sure what the advantage might be to that). Vol-3 has additional commentary on the "rebound" rule, which was introduced for both fireball and lightning bolt in exchange for not blowing up stonework equal to their full volume. I find that rule pretty suspect: see here (under OD&D).


Holmes D&D

Lightning bolts are not detailed in Holmes D&D. No spellcaster powers of 3rd level or above are so given in the book. Although the wand of fireballs was included among the list of magic items (again: here under Holmes D&D), the wand of lightning bolts was not. Perhaps this signals the greater iconic standing of the fireball over its sister spell (and also its higher power/area-of-effect).


Advanced D&D (1st Edition)
Lightning Bolt (Evocation)

Level: 3
Range: 4" + 1"/level
Duration: Instantaneous
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 3 segments
Saving Throw: ½

Explanation/Description: Upon casting this spell, the magic user releases a powerful stroke of electrical energy which causes damage equal to 1 six-sided die (d6) for each level of experience of the spell caster to creatures within its area of effect, or 50% of such damage to such creatures which successfully save versus the attack form. The range of the bolt is the location of the commencement of the stroke, i.e. if shot to 6", the bolt would extend from this point to n inches further distance. The lightning bolt will set fire to combustibles, sunder wooden doors, splinter up to 1' thickness of stone, and melt metals with a low melting point (lead, gold, copper, silver, bronze). Saving throws must be made for objects which withstand the full force of a stroke (cf. fireball). The area of the lightning bolt's effect is determined by the spell caster, just as its distance is. The stroke can be either a forking bolt 1" wide and 4" long, or a single bolt ½" wide and 8" long. If a 12th level magic-user cast the spell at its maximum range, 16" in this case, the stroke would begin at 16" and flash outward from there, as a forked bolt ending at 20" or a single one ending at 24". If the full length of the stroke is not possible due to the interposition of a non-conducting barrier (such as a stone wall), the lightning bolt will double and rebound towards its caster, its length being the normal total from beginning to end of stroke, damage caused to interposing barriers notwithstanding. Example: An 8" stroke is begun at a range of 4", but the possible space in the desired direction is only 3½"; so the bolt begins at the 3½" maximum, and it rebounds 8" in the direction of its creator. The material components of the spell are a bit of fur and an amber, crystal or glass rod. [1E PHB, p. 74]
Again, an expansion similar to that of fireball. In fact, the connection of the two "missile" spells is still explicit, as the new information on heat and destructiveness to inanimate objects refers back to the other spell for details ("cf. fireball").

In OD&D we saw an allowed area of "up to 3/4" wide"; now the option is restricted to one of two types, either 1" or ½" wide. (The width has modified a bit like that each edition.) The length is no longer simply 6" (classic multiple-of-3 as per the roots of the system), but either 2" shorter or longer (depending on the width chosen).

Whereas in prior editions, the range for both fireball and lightning bolt was an identical 24", here the lightning bolt appears to be given a disadvantageous range (fireball 10"+1"/level versus lightning bolt 4"+1"/level). However, that's counterbalanced by a change in direction to how the bolt head is placed: previously it said "body extends 6" behind it" [CM/OD&D], but now we are told, "the bolt would extend from this point to n inches further distance". So in some sense we've gained back the 6" difference; wizards can't be hit by placing their lightning bolts too close, and the spells have an equal total range (at least on average) like they used to.

Finally, a little bit of extra detail in the errata-like section of the DMG:
Lightning Bolt: Note that physical damage is not exceptional, so that if a solid wall is struck, the bolt effectively rebounds its full remaining distance. If it strikes a barrier which is shattered/broken through by the force of the stroke, then the bolt continues beyond. [1E DMG, p. 45]


Advanced D&D (2nd Edition)
Lightning Bolt
(Evocation)

Range: 40 yds. + 10 yds./level
Duration: Instantaneous
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 3
Saving Throw: ½

Upon casting this spell, the wizard releases a powerful stroke of electrical energy that inflicts 1d6 points of damage per level of the spellcaster (maximum damage per level of 10d6) to each creature within its area of effect. A successful saving throw vs. spell reduces this damage to half (round fractions down). The bolt begins at a range and height decided by the caster and streaks outward in a direct line from the casting wizard (for example, if a 40-foot bolt was started at 180 feet from the wizard, the far end of the bolt would reach 220 feet (180 + 40). The lightning bolt may set fire to combustibles, sunder wooden doors, splinter up to a half-foot thickness of stone, and melt metals with a low melting point (lead, gold, copper, silver, bronze). Saving throws must be rolled for objects that withstand the full force of a stroke (see the fireball spell). If the damage caused to an interposing barrier shatters or breaks through it (i.e., the saving throw fails), the bolt continues. A bolt can breach 1 inch of wood or half an inch of stone per caster level, up to a maximum of 1 foot of wood or half a foot of stone.

The lightning bolt's area of effect is chosen by the spellcaster: either a forked bolt 10 feet wide and 40 feet long or a single bolt 5 feet wide and 80 feet long. If a bolt cannot reach its full length, because of an unyielding barrier (such as a stone wall), the lightning bolt rebounds from the barrier toward its caster, ending only when it reaches its full length.

For example: An 80-foot-long stroke is begun at a range of 40 feet, but it hits a stone wall at 50 feet. The bolt travels 10 feet, hits the wall, and rebounds for 70 feet back toward its creator (who is only 50 feet from the wall, and so is caught in his own lightning bolt!).

The DM might allow reflecting bolts. When this type of lightning bolt strikes a solid surface, the bolt reflects from the surface at an angle equal to the angle of incidence (like light off a mirror). A creature crossed more than once by the bolt must roll a saving throw for every time it is crossed, but it still suffers either full damage (if one saving throw is missed) or half damage (if all saving throws are made).

The material components of the spell are a bit of fur and an amber, crystal, or glass rod. [2E PHB, Appendix 3]
As expected, that's mostly the same as in 1E. It even still has the "see the fireball spell" linkage in regards to inanimate object saves. Like fireball in 2E, damage has been capped at 10d6. Range has been converted from sliding-scale "inches" to yards (which is a greatly advantageous shift underground; in fact, it's now actually longer than a fireball by 30 yards due to 2E's unique stubbing of that latter spell's range formula). The 1E DMG note on traveling through a shattered barrier is absorbed here (1st paragraph, 2nd-to-last sentence). We also get some explicit thumbnail rules on how thick a barrier it's likely to break for the first time (in the following sentence).

The one totally brand new thing is DM's option to "allow reflecting bolts" (the 4th paragraph), with angle of reflection equal to angle of incidence, as light would actually bounce off a mirrored surface. This would be a change from prior rules where any rebound is always back at the caster (or perhaps just always presuming a perpendicular wall to the caster). As before, I propose the alternate solution of possibly having lightning bolts simply ground into the earth when they hit a solid barrier.


Rules Cyclopedia
Lightning Bolt
Range: 180'
Duration: Instantaneous
Effect: Bolt 60' long, 5' wide

This spell creates a bolt of lightning, starting up to 180' away from the caster and extending 60' in a straight line further away. All creatures within the area of effect take 1d6 points of damage per level of the spellcaster. (Thus a 6th level elf would cast a lightning bolt doing 6d6 points of damage.)

Each victim may make a saving throw vs. spells; if successful, he takes only half damage.

If the lightning bolt strikes a solid surface (such as a wall), it will bounce back toward the caster until the total length of the bolt is 60'. [RC, p. 49]
A simpler version than AD&D, which more-or-less maintains the same content as the OD&D language. Area is fixed: always 60' long and 5' wide. As in 1E, it looks like the spell has been shortened (fireball 240', lightning bolt 180'), but when we include the switch-around that the bolt extends forward instead of back, we see that we can still hit something 180+60 = 240 feet away, just like a fireball. The rebound rule is the same as it always was (no 2E style light-like reflection option mentioned). Contextually we recall that BXCMI/RC cap all damage spells at 20d6 (a lot more potent than the 10d6 fireball/lightning cap we got in 2E). And this is the first example we've seen that didn't include a specific link or reference back to fireball.


d20 System D&D (3rd Edition)
Lightning Bolt

Evocation [Electricity]
Level: Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level) or 50 ft. + 5 ft./level
Area: 5 ft. wide to medium range (100 ft. + 10 ft./level); or 10 ft. wide to 50 ft. + 5 ft./level
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Reflex half
Spell Resistance: Yes

The character releases a powerful stroke of electrical energy that deals 1d6 points of damage per caster level (maximum 10d6) to each creature within its area. The bolt begins at the character's fingertips.

The lightning bolt sets fire to combustibles and damages objects in its path. It can melt metals with a low melting point, such as lead, gold, copper, silver, or bronze. If the damage caused to an interposing barrier shatters or breaks through it, the bolt may continue beyond the barrier if the spell’s range permits; otherwise, it stops at the barrier just as any other spell effect does. [3E SRD]
This spell description seems to be cut down quite a bit from the prior AD&D line. There's no link to fireball; there are no guidelines for how thick a barrier might be broken; and there are neither any rebound or reflection rules, making it safer for the caster (very much in character for the 3E system). The pass-through-broken-barrier language from the 1E DMG is still included.

The other idea that has been terminated is the use of a separate "bolt" area to be laid down on the tabletop at a distance from the caster (inspired, again, by the bouncing cannonballs shot from Chainmail's cannons). Now the spell simply affects everything from the caster's "fingertips" to the maximum range of the spell. Apparently in compensation for this, the range has been radically reduced in comparison to fireball (400+40 ft/level in 3E), being only one-quarter or one-eighth the total range of that spell (depending on width chosen).


Fireball has always had a great advantage over lightning bolt in terms of overall area-of-effect (in the earliest rules, 12.6 square inches for the former, versus 4.5 for the latter). I think this is even more pronounced in the open field (facing enemies more likely to be in a long line than a deep column; making it hard for the rail-thin lightning bolt to cross multiple figures). Perhaps lightning bolt gains an increase in usefulness in the dungeon, with enemies pinned down in a long corridor in front of the caster? But I think in 3E the massive gimping of the range, along with lack of flexibility in affecting figures directly next to the caster, make it a far less preferable spell in many or most circumstances (even if overall area is now comparable at around, say, 15th level).


(Photo by Pete Hunt under CC2.)