Among the classical depictions of instant-transfer powers we might include (link) -- Djinn in "The Arabian nights" (transporting from China to Morocco instantly); examples in the Talmud of "contracting the path" (Kefitzat Haderech); a Tibetan mystical skill of instantaneous transportation (Lung-gom-pa); and the Tarnhelm in Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen". In T.H. White's "The Sword in the Stone", Merlyn accidentally vanishes himself to Bermuda for a few moments (Chapter 9).
Obviously, teleportation is a powerful ability, and in some versions of the game (in conjunction with other powers), it's become problematic and possibly game-breaking. Every edition has had some attached limitation or danger to the ability -- however, traditional legendary versions have seemingly no restriction, so the D&D limits are distinctly sci-fi flavored. Common SF drawbacks are that the teleported person might get "scrambled" en route or incorrectly reconstructed, such that they lose parts of themselves (see Arthur C. Clarke's "Travel By Wire!", or Edward Mitchell's "The Man Without a Body"), gain parts of other beings (as in "The Fly"), mangled fatally (as in the first Star Trek movie), or simply "grounded" and disappear into the Earth (Clarke again). In the 1943 "Philadelphia Experiment" urban myth/movie, a Navy destroyer is teleported and many of crew are merged into the steel superstructure (link). Another complication more recently explored is the idea that multiple copies of the transportee might be produced, causing existential dilemmas of identity (James Kelly's 1996 "Think Like a Dinosaur"; and I also wrote a short story on this theme circa 1990). For a more comprehensive listing of possible mishaps, check out TV Tropes (link). But for now let's look at how D&D has tried to circumscribe the 5th-level teleport spell.
Teleport: Instantaneous transportation from place to place, regardless of the distance involved, provided the user knows where he is going (the topography of the arrival area). Without certain knowledge of the destination teleportation is 75% uncertain, so a score of less than 75% of the percentile dice results in death. If the user is aware of the general topography of his destination, but has not carefully studied it, there is an uncertainty factor of 10% low and 10% high. A low score (1-10%) means death if solid material is contacted. A high score (91-100%) indicates a fall of from 10 to 100 feet, also possibly resulting in death. If a careful study of the destination has been previously made, then the Magic-User has only a 1% chance of teleporting low and a 4% chance of coming in high (10-40 feet).
Of course, the traditional drawback to teleporting in D&D is to possibly appear at the destination point either high (and suffer falling damage) or low (instant death). Teleporting to an "uncertain" location is basically prohibited, since it is 75% likely to result in instant death. More likely usage will be either "general" knowledge (80% safety), or "careful study" of the destination (95% safety, only 1% death result). It's a possibly unique limitation, in that I can't think of any prior source that handles it this way (esp. the "high"/falling possibility). An advantage is that it's concisely determined at the receiving point; a disadvantage is that invisible auto-destruction is not very conducive to continued play of the game. Personally, I might have simply prohibited "uncertain" teleporting, rather than fence it off with the 75% instant death danger.
The other detail here is that the original spell seems to be written assuming that only the magic-user him- or herself can travel by the spell ("...provided the user knows where he is going...", "...
the Magic-User has... a 4% chance of coming in high"). There is no allowance given here for other passengers. However, note how the magic item helm of teleportation is written (OD&D Vol-2, p. 37; likely inspired by Wagner's Tarnhelm?):
Helm of Teleportation: The Magic-User employing this helm must have a Teleportation spell in order to take advantage of this device. Having but one such spell the Magic-User can Teleport himself endlessly about the universe, but if he teleports some other person or object the helm does not function and the spell proper is used. Thus the helm is good only to transport the Magic-User himself. Treat as a non-protective helm if worn into combat.
Here the second and third sentences are devoted to a major distinction between teleporting the wizard himself versus "some other person or object", and in that external case the memorized "spell proper is used" (not the magical helm). So by inclusion here, OD&D allows for use of the spell on some other entity than the casting wizard, but it's extremely easy to overlook that fact (as I did for an extended period of time).
Expert D&D Rules
This spell instantly transports the caster or another creature any distance to any known place the caster can visualize. The transported creature (carrying up to its full encumbrance load) will arrive at "ground level" in any suitable open place. The chance of arriving safely at the aiming point depends on how carefully the caster has studied the area. Casual knowledge means the caster has been there once or twice, or is visualizing the aiming point from descriptions or magical scanning. General knowledge means the caster has been to the area often, or has spent several weeks studying the area magically (via crystal ball, etc.). Exact knowledge means the caster has made a highly detailed personal study of the aiming point. The chances of success are:
A creature arriving too high rolls 1d10 for the number, in tens of feet, the creature is above the aiming point. If this area is occupied by a solid object, the creature dies instantly. Otherwise, each 10' a creature falls will do Id6 points of damage on impact. A creature arriving too low has teleported into the ground or other solid object and dies instantly. A creature can never be deliberately teleported too high, too low, or into a solid object. An unwilling creature is allowed a saving throw vs. Spells.
The D&D Expert rules massage teleport in a couple of small ways. First, it is explicit that either the magic-user or another creature within 10' (not an object) may be transported. However, this opens up a can of worms in that the magic-user might simply destroy an enemy by teleporting them low into the earth, so there is language added to prohibit that (which to my eye seems poorly justified, and nonetheless the wizard can choose the more dangerous option in the table to likely cause that result anyway).
Second, Cook has apparently shaved off the "uncertain 75% death" option, and inserted a new "casual" option which is 50% safe (25% instant death). The other two cases are identical to OD&D, and presented in the form of a table for the first time (the table will expand in later editions of the game, of course).
As a small aside, Cook also changes the helm of teleportation such that the device loses its charge when used to "teleport an unwilling creature" (which gets a save as in the spell above; p. X50); but this is actually much more permissive than OD&D, where the helm could not ever be used to teleport any other person, willing or otherwise.
AD&D 1st Ed.
Area of Effect: Special
Explanation/Description: When this spell is used, the magic-user instantly transports himself or herself, along with a certain amount of additional weight which is upon, or being touched by, the spell caster, to a well-known destination. Distance is not a factor, but inter-plane travel is not possible by means of a teleport spell. The spell caster is able to teleport a maximum weight of 2,500 g.p. equivalence, plus an additional 1,500 g.p. weight for each level of experience above the 10th. i.e. a 13th level magic-user teleports a maximum weight of 7,000 g.p. (700 pounds). If the destination area is very familiar to the magic-user (he or she has a clear mental picture through actual proximity to and studying of the area) it is unlikely that there will be any error in arriving exactly in the place desired. lesser known areas (those seen only magically or from a distance) increase the probability of error. Unfamiliar areas present considerable peril. This is demonstrated below:
Teleporting high means the magic-user will arrive 1" above ground for every 1 % he or she is below the lowest "On Target" probability - only 2" when the destination is very familiar, and as high as 32" if the destination area was never seen. Any low result means the instant death of the magic-user if the area into which he or she teleports to is solid. Note that there is no possibility of teleporting to an area of empty space, i.e. a substantial area of surface must be there, whether a wooden floor, a stone floor, natural ground, etc.
In AD&D Gygax appears to restrict the spell more firmly such that the caster must be the primary traveler ("...the magic-user instantly transports himself or herself, along with a certain amount of additional weight...", no saving throw as in the Expert rules, etc.). There is the clause that additional weight "upon, or being touched by" the wizard may be taken, which is ambiguous in whether it is intended for inanimate gear only, or possibly fellow-characters -- it clearly gets used in the latter way in later editions. On the one hand, this solves the "deadly enemy teleportation" problem by always making the caster subject to the same risk. On the other hand, I'm not fond of either (a) the fairly complicated weight calculation (subtract, multiply, add; then shuffle lots of paper for fellow traveler weight and encumbrance sums), or (b) the tone of wizard as magical chauffeur as used in lots of 2E-3E campaign material (I feel it more true to the literature for a wizard to send heroes into some murky danger while he remains behind, keeping himself safe).
The table is now expanded to five gradations of familiarity. All of the risk percentages have changed from before, most a bit safer than in OD&D. Even the "never seen" category has only a 48% total chance for a mishap (unlike the 75% instant death as in Vol-1).
But, if we look at the helm of teleportation magic item, we again get a noticeably different story (DMG, p. 146):
Helm of Teleportation: This is another helmet of normal appearance which will give off a magical aura if detected for. Any character wearing this device may teleport (q.v.) once per day, exactly as if he or she were a magic-user, i.e. the destination must be known, and a risk is involved. If a magic-user has access to this device, its full powers can be employed, for the wearer can then memorize a teleportation spell, and use the helm to refresh his or her memory so as to be able to repeat the spell up to 3 times upon objects or characters and still be able to personally teleport by means of the helm. As long as the magic-user retains the teleportation spell uncast, he or she can personally teleport up to 6 times before the memory of the spell is lost, and even then a usage of the helm remains as noted above.
As in Gygax's OD&D, the AD&D spell seems to restrict usage to the caster only, while the magic item explicitly allows using the power "upon objects or characters" and then separately, "personally teleport by means of the helm". What to make of that, vis-a-vis the spell itself? Also, there is more of a restriction on usages, from OD&D's "endlessly about the universe" to AD&D's 6 times by the wizard himself before the empowering, memorized spell is burnt out.
Edit: While that's the story in the core 1E AD&D rulebooks, the later Unearthed Arcana added a new spell, the 7th-level teleport without error, which avoids all chance of error, unless traveling to another plane. This would seem to be so immensely useful that no wizard would use the original spell once they gained the extra 4 levels to access the new one, I would think. (Thanks to poster JB for pointing this out in 1E UA.)
AD&D 2nd Ed.
Area of Effect: Special
When this spell is used, the wizard instantly transports himself, along with a certain amount of additional weight that is on or being touched by the spellcaster, to a well-known destination. Distance is not a factor, but interplanar travel is not possible by means of a teleport spell. The spellcaster is able to teleport a maximum weight of 250 pounds, plus an additional 150 pounds for each level of experience above the 10th (a 13th-level wizard can teleport up to 700 pounds). If the destination area is very familiar to the wizard (he has a clear mental picture due to previous proximity to and study of the area), it is unlikely that there is any error in arriving, although the caster has no control over his facing upon arrival. Lesser known areas (those seen only magically or from a distance) increase the probability of error. Unfamiliar areas present considerable peril (see table).
Teleporting high means the wizard arrives 10 feet above the ground for every 1% he is below the lowest "On Target" probability; this could be as high as 320 feet if the destination area was never seen. Any low result means the instant death of the wizard if the area into which he teleports is solid. A wizard cannot teleport to an area of empty space--a substantial surface must be there, whether a wooden floor, a stone floor, natural ground, etc. Areas of strong physical or magical energies may make teleportation more hazardous or even impossible.
This text is basically copy-and-pasted from 1E. The weight language is the same, the categories are identical, and the probabilities are all equal to what came before.
While the teleport spell text is still a tiny bit ambiguous about teleporting other people, the DMG definitively lists it as an available service from NPC wizards in the campaign ("Teleport 2,000 gp per person"; DMG Chapter 12: NPCs), and elsewhere asserts "Those with wealth can cross oceans by other, more practical, means: flying mounts, undersea dwellers, and teleportation are all available, at least to the rich and powerful" (DMG Chapter 14: Time and Movement). Meanwhile, the helm of teleportation retains its explicit ability to be used on other "objects or characters" as it always has, here identical to 1E:
Helm of Teleportation: This is another helmet of normal appearance which will give off a magical aura if detected for. Any character wearing this device may teleport once per day, exactly as if he were a wizard—the destination must be known, and a risk is involved. If the wearer is a wizard, the helm's full powers can be employed, for the wearer can then memorize a teleportation spell, and use the helm to refresh his memory so he can repeat the spell up to three times upon objects or characters and still be able to personally teleport by means of the helm. As long as the wizard retains the teleportation spell uncast, he can personally teleport up to six times before the memory of the spell is lost, and even then a usage of the helm remains as noted above for all characters.
D&D 3rd Ed.
Level: Sor/Wiz 5, Travel 5
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Personal and touch
Target: The character and touched objects or other touched willing creatures weighing up to 50 lb./level
Saving Throw: None and Will negates (object)
Spell Resistance: No and Yes (object)
This spell instantly transports the character to a designated destination. Distance is not a factor, but interplanar travel is not possible. The character can bring along objects and willing creatures totaling up to 50 pounds per caster level. As with all spells where the range is personal and the target is the character, the character need not make a saving throw, nor is SR applicable to the character. Only objects held or in use (attended) by another person receive saving throws and SR.
The character must have some clear idea of the location and layout of the destination. The clearer the character's mental image, the more likely the teleportation works. Areas of strong physical or magical energies may make teleportation more hazardous or even impossible.
Note: Teleportation is instantaneous travel through the Astral Plane. Anything that blocks astral travel also blocks teleportation.
To see how well the teleportation works, roll d% and consult the Teleport table.
Refer to the following information for definitions of the terms on the table.
Familiarity: "Very familiar" is a place where the character has been very often and where the character feels at home. "Studied carefully" is a place the character knows well, either because the character has been there often or the character has used other means to study the place. "Seen casually" is a place that the character has seen more than once but with which the character is not very familiar. "Viewed once" is a place that the character has seen once, possibly using magic. "Description" is a place whose location and appearance the character knows through someone else’s description, perhaps even from a precise map.
"False destination" is a place that doesn’t exist. When traveling to a false destination, roll 1d20+80 to obtain results on the table, rather than rolling d%, since there is no real destination for the character to hope to arrive at or even be off target from.
On Target: The character appears where the character wants to be.
Off Target: The character appears safely a random distance away from the destination in a random direction. Distance off target is 1d10 x 1d10% of the distance that was to be traveled. The DM determines the direction off target randomly.
Similar Area: The character winds up in an area that’s visually or thematically similar to the target area. Generally, the character appears in the closest similar place, but since the spell has no range limit, the character could conceivably wind up somewhere else across the globe.
Mishap: The character and anyone else teleporting with the character have gotten "scrambled." the travellers each take 1d10 points of damage, and the character rerolls on the chart to see where the travellers wind up. For these rerolls, roll 1d20+80. Each time "Mishap" comes up, the characters take more damage and must reroll.
As you can see 3E performs a major overhaul on the teleport spell, primarily by removing the traditional "high/low" (i.e., instant death) possibilities, and replacing them with "off target/similar area/mishap" chances. In the first two cases the caster still arrives safely at ground level, but possibly in some greatly removed location many miles away, or possibly "across the globe". The most perilous outcome is no longer instant death, but "mishap", which is to say merely 1-10 points of damage and then a reroll. While I personally agree that those outcomes seem closer to fantasy-world sensibilities (appearing in some foreign location in an amusing accident: see the "Sword in the Stone", "Harold Shea" stories, etc.), it's obviously very much "safety bumpered" compared to what went before. In that sense it opens more options for the wizard exploring by random teleports, and in 3E campaign and organized play, there was an immense problem around the power of the "scry-buff-teleport" assassination technique (granted greater access to scrying, and much less risk to teleporting, compared to prior editions).
Other changes include: (a) a simplified weight calculation, (b) explicit usage for the first time to "bring along objects and willing creatures", (c) an added familiarity case for "false destination". Related spells on the wizard list include the 7th-level teleport without error (just like in 2E) and the 9th-level teleportation circle (new to 3E, allowing a temporary bridge across which any number of creatures can pass). The magical helm is greatly simplified in these rules, simply allowing three teleports per day with no other qualifiers:
Helm of Teleportation
Any character wearing this device may teleport three times per day, exactly as if the character had cast the spell of the same name.
ConclusionsThroughout the classic 0-1-2E there is some ambiguity or confusion in that the player spell teleport never outright says that it can be used to transport other objects or creatures, yet the magic item helm of teleportation always consistently calls out that usage (seemingly in reference back to the spell). The Cook DMG campaign text clearly sets the expectation for wizard chauffeurs using teleport, which is the kind of 2E-ism which is a bit too "wahoo" and counter to the pulp literature for my taste. 3E makes the major switch from "high/low" instant death risk to accidental-foreign-location, which I think is a better fit with the literature, and in some sense opens up more gaming adventure possibilities (but also made the spell problematically powerful as a means of attack).
What would your preference be? The classic high/low teleporting risk, or possibly random movement into distant wilderness locales? Should the spell be castable on other creatures and objects (like the helm device), or is it critical for the game that the casting wizard be part of the travel? Do you like the sliding weight allowance, or should it simply be one creature (as in Expert)? And can you think of any prior work which might have inspired the Gygaxian danger of high-or-low reappearance?