Thursday, February 6, 2014

More Burning Oil

You may know that one of the things I find most irritating about classic D&D is the idea that oil you'd buy for a lamp can burn in a big pool in the open. Ridiculous!

But did you ever notice this tidbit from Gygax in Chainmail?
Boiling Oil: "Have some nice hot oil," said the smiling sergeant. When poured from atop a castle wall, flaming oil will sweep a 2" path downward, killing all figures within it; and at the base of the wall the flaming ail will form a puddle 4" wide by 3" deep, which will also kill all figures in its area. It will burn for three turns, preventing any troops from entering the area it lies on. Any wooden structure struck by flaming oil will begin to burn immediately... [Chainmail, p 23]
See how the section is titled "boiling oil" but then switches immediately to referencing "flaming oil" as though it's the exact same thing? Confusing!


13 comments:

  1. Here here! It took ages for me to explain to my players that they couldn't purchase fire bombs at the local supply shop.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I went back and looked at your older posts. I have never considered the mechanics of the burning oil in AD&D.

    With regards to the "We dumped barrels of oil in the dungeon, lit it and collected xp" part of the first post. That simply wouldn't work. Dungeon floors have cracks and there are pits that would collect vast amounts of oil. You could probably empty a whole city's supply of oil into a dungeon and it would not fill it up. Even if it did, the burning oil might deplete the local oxygen source in an area and put itself out. Even if that didn't happen, there may be fire-proof monsters down there. Even if everything went right, you wouldn't get xp for monsters that died while you weren't there to even see them die.You have to experience the deaths to gain experience.

    http://castletriskelion.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I do agree with all your objections. When my work colleague said that I thought it was about the dumbest thing ever.

      Plus, it just wouldn't burn in the first place. :-)

      Delete
  3. Maybe the confusion is that the oil Gygax is thinking about is thick black unrefined petroleum, which actually has to be heated (boiled!) before it can start burning. This is quite distinct from "lamp oil", which is far lighter (and flammable).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ah - I've just followed your links, and I realise I am repeating what you've already said!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right, and of course I agree that confusion over different types of "oil" is partly to blame. Supposedly EGG later defended this as being "movie kerosene" or somesuch (still no sale to me).

      Delete
  5. Well, Philotomy in his Musings admitted that the oil thing was unrealistic but still fun. It's a fantasy world, and so lamp oil has the properties of nepalm, or whatever. I think that's acceptable as long as it's not carried too far.

    Plus, if you're tracking light sources (as I think you should), it introduces another interesting choice and trade-off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For me, "fun" doesn't beat out the fact that it's bad game design -- a secret technique, hidden outside the player's book, which is more powerful than any actual PC ability (so: unfair to new players). That plus physical inaccuracy, and also in contradiction to EGG's DMG theme that chemicals in the fantasy world are less volatile (so no gunpowder, dynamite, etc.), and the burning oil gets my trifecta for a bad idea in D&D. IMO, of course.

      Delete
    2. Or as I've said elsewhere: If one wants a "greek fire" type weapon in D&D, then I fully approve, but it should be designed and balanced up-front with a reasonable cost, etc., and not be the result of an accidental rules glitch.

      Delete
  6. Boiling Oil: "Have some nice hot oil," said the smiling sergeant. When poured from atop a castle wall **at midnight**, flaming oil will sweep a 2" path downward, killing all figures within it; and at the base of the wall the flaming ail will form a puddle 4" wide by 3" deep, which will also kill all figures in its area. It will burn for three turns, preventing any troops from entering the area it lies on. Any wooden structure struck by flaming oil will begin to burn immediately... [Chainmail, p 23]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really? I don't have that in my copy of the book (3rd Edition, 7th Printing, April 1979).

      Delete
    2. Ooh, I'm tempted to do something with this. Maybe lamp oil has latent magical properties that're only realized when certain conditions are met - midnight, the glow of a full moon, etc.

      Delete