Monday, September 29, 2014

Special Herbs

The Original D&D equipment list includes, near the end of the list, three special herbs:


However, there is no description given to the player about what the effects of those herbs are. In fact: The OD&D equipment list has no explicit explanation to any of the items featured therein (including armor, weapons, steeds, etc.; some you have to track down in other places or books, while weapons in fact have no distinctions from one to another in the original LBBs.) The herbs were copied forward into later edition equipment lists, but still received no explication to the players on their effects.

Let's see if we can piece together the intentions from different sources. Using Wikipedia may give you some clues, but I'd like to narrow down what was on the designer's mind in this regard, if we can.

I think it's the case that in OD&D, only one of those herbs is ever referenced at all (emphasis mine throughout this article):
Vampires cannot abide the smell of garlic, the face of a mirror, or the sight of cross. They will fall back from these if strongly presented. [OD&D Vol-2, p. 10]

So that's something, but the phrase "fall back" is at least a bit ambiguous. Let's skip forward to Gygax's AD&D project, and first check in on the DMG, which conveniently includes "Appendix J: Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Vegetables". This features a very short, inspirational suggestion of possible uses for about 150 herbal types. Fortunately, the three on the equipment list are included:


Notice that a rather specific usage against a D&D-game monster is included as the last element in each of those suggestions. Now let's turn to the AD&D Monster Manual (which was published earlier, of course) for some more detail. Regarding vampires and garlic:
Vampires recoil from strong garlic, the face of a mirror, or a cross (or several other holy symbols of lawful good) if any of these objects are presented boldly. Note, however, that none of these devices harm or drive the monster off. They do cause a vampire to hesitate 1 to 4 rounds before attacking in the case of garlic... [AD&D MM, p. 99]

While in the entry for lycanthropes (werewolves, at. al.) we see this:
Any humanoid creature bitten by a lycanthrope for damage equal to or greater than 50% of its total potential, but not actually killed (and eaten), is infected by the disease of lycanthropy. If the person is carrying belladonna there is a 25% chance that this will cure the affliction if eaten within one hour. Note that this infusion will incapacitate the person for 1-4 days and there is a 1% chance of the poison in it killing the creature. [AD&D MM, p. 63]

The above is basically repeated in the DMG section on lycanthropy, along with the following tidbit:
If the adventurer decides to be cured and the methods mentioned thus far have been unsuccessful, he or she may take refuge in a holy/unholy place such as a monastery or an abbey. There the clerics can administer to the afflicted one holy/unholy water laced with a goodly amount of wolfsbane and belladonna prepared by the spiritual methods of that particular religion. This potation is to be consumed by the victim at least twice a day from a silver chalice. No adventuring may be done by the character while he or she is being treated by the clerics. After a month or more (depending upon how advanced the disease is) the player character should be cured and somewhat poorer in the purse, as this procedure is very costly. [AD&D DMG, p. 22]

Obviously, this particular usage (of either wolfsbane or belladonna) is of no use to adventurers actively exploring a dungeon. Garlic and belladonna are also mentioned in DMG Appendix O, in the example of encumbrance among the equipment carried by the magic-user Dimwall. The only other reference I can find is in the PHB, where garlic is given as the material component to the spell slow poison.

So while no in-game use for wolvesbane was specified by Gygax, Moldvay in his D&D Basic rules included this:
If a lycanthrope is hit by wolfsbane, it must save vs. Poison or run away in fear. The sprig of wolfsbane must be swung or thrown as a weapon, using normal combat procedures. [Moldvay Basic, p. B38]

I will include one quote from Wikipedia, on the use of wolvesbane in the 1931 Dracula movie from Universal (whose monster movies are clear inspirations in places for the D&D designers):
In the 1931 classic horror film, "Dracula" starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula and Helen Chandler as Mina Seward, reference is made in regards to wolfbane (aconitum). Towards the end of the film, "Van Helsing holds up a sprig of wolfbane". Van Helsing educates the nurse protecting Mina from Count Dracula to place sprigs of wolfbane around Mina's neck for protection. Furthermore, he instructs that wolfane is a plant that grows in central Europe. There the natives use it to protect themselves against vampires. As long as the wolfbane is present in Mina's bedroom, she will be safe from Count Dracula. During the night, Count Dracula desires to visit Mina. He appears outside her window in the form of a flying bat. He causes the nurse to become drowsy and when she awakes from his spell, she removes the sprigs of wolfbane placing it in a hallway chest of drawers. With the removal of the wolfbane from Mina's room, Count Dracula mysteriously appears and transport Mina to the dungeon of the castle. [Wikipedia: Aconitum; link]

In this respect, note the otherwise odd language in Gygax's OD&D writeup of the vampire:
These monsters are properly of the "Undead" class rather than Lycanthropes. [OD&D Vol-2, p. 9]

Perhaps this argument is mostly in regards to the movie use of "wolfbane" to ward of the vampire? In the D&D game, Gygax instead specifies garlic, but the effect otherwise seems to be very similar in this respect.

So in summary we seem to find the following intentions for the three special herbs:
  • Garlic for warding off vampires.
  • Wolfsbane for driving off lycanthropes.
  • Belladonna for curing lycanthropy.

Side note: Recently Jon Peterson salvaged and published Craig VanGrasstek's 1974 "Rules to the Game of Dungeon" (link), which apparently documents someone who sat in on a D&D-like game at some point, without ever seeing the D&D rulebooks, and interpolating a set of written rules. One of the things that caught my eye is that in the rather whimsical list of equipment, there are two conspicuous protective items (p. 8):


Notice that there is a neck brace for "safety from vampires", and a special warding device so the "wearer cannot become a were-wolf". No other piece of equipment on this page mentions protections or use against any other specific monster. So from this we can infer that players of the game at its inception were uniquely interested or concerned (for some reason) with protecting themselves from vampires and werewolves. While we don't normally see these exact items, D&D does express the same interest in those two monster types by way of its special herbs in the equipment table (and personally I think it's much preferable to use legendary or real-world content for the same game mechanics).


Back to the main topic. Let's consider how we can clearly communicate the use of D&D's special herbs to the players by way of our maximally-brief house rules.


Herbs, Special: Wreaths of garlic ward off vampire attacks; wolvesbane does so for lycanthropes (save vs. breath negates; –1 reaction checks). Belladonna consumed just after infection may cure lycanthropy (save vs. poison, but on “1” death results).


Notice that you get some protection from wearing a wreath of garlic or wolvesbane, but if your PC does it all the time, then there's a drawback: -1 on reaction checks. What do you think of that? Is it acceptable to make the power of garlic-versus-vampires and wolvesbane-versus-lycanthropes symmetric? Anything else I missed in the published rules?


Monday, September 22, 2014

Book of Spells – Call for Errata

If you couldn't guess from this summer's series of "Spells Through the Ages" posts, I've been looking carefully at the spells in my game recently. In fact, I think it's time to update my Book of Spells publication (see sidebar). You may recall that this project started a few years ago when I took the open-gaming 3E SRD and started cutting it down to a single paragraph each, hopefully revealing a spell similar to what we'd use in OD&D (and presented in a concise independent booklet). Over time I've been making sidebar edits and changes to that text, particularly in places when the 3E wording collided with what we wanted in the original game. So recently I've made a major sweep through the product, trying to refine the text further, make more cuts for brevity, and more often than not make the spells even more similar to the OD&D product.

Hopefully I'll release that new version some time this fall. But surely I've overlooked something. So I'd like to put the call out: if you've used Book of Spells at your table, what changes did you make? What are the top things you'd like to see changed in Version 2? Or thinking from the perspective of the written OD&D spells, are those always optimal, or else what are the top changes you'd make today?

And feel free to dig into any of the recent "Spells Through the Ages" conversations to see where we may be going for the hopefully "best" version of any of those spells. You can use the sidebar link to the Google search of those posts, or just click here. Comments welcome.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

On Burning Oil, Part 3

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you know of one of my pet peeves in D&D; burning lamp oil as a weapon. To recap, my stance is that it's both unrealistic and poor game design:
  1. Vegetable oil as used in medieval lamps simply cannot burn in the open because the flashpoint is far too high (link).
  2. Use of it as a grenade overshadows existing low-level player powers (attacks and spells).
  3. It's unfair to have the power "hidden" in the DM's book where new players won't know about it, and 
  4. It contradicts Gygax's thesis in the DMG that chemicals are less volatile in the fantasy world than real life (p. 32, 113). 

Generally any combination of realism plus game design running in the same direction locks in a decision for my games (see golden rule: link), but here I've got a quadrafecta, so you might say that the proper ruling is massively overdetermined. You can see prior blogs for more of my gaming history and analysis of the subject (link), and also documentation of me actually running the experiment in trying, and failing, to get a pool of vegetable oil to burn (link). (Side note: This is not to say that some "Greek Fire" element in the campaign is totally out of place, but it must be intentionally designed and priced appropriately, not the same as mundane lamp oil, and not the result of a rules glitch or oversight.)

But one other possible consideration remains. Previously, poster DHBoggs was tremendously helpful in pointing out the following quote by Gygax in the ENWorld Q&A thread from 2007 (emphasis mine; currently archived here):
In OD&D the 1st level PCs did do several things to help extend their chances--hire men-at-arms, use missile weapons (including flaming lamp oil, that is kerosene), and run away when things appeared to be too dangerous to stay and fight.

While "kerosene" wasn't trademarked as such until 1854, and thus the name would be an anachronism in the middle-ages milieu, similar processes were described as far back as the 9th century (link). Thus, one might hold out hope that the basic D&D campaign has access to somewhat more advanced lamp oil technology, i.e., kerosene, which may be more successful in burning as a weapon in the open. So we should run that experiment and check -- although if you read the link above on "flashpoints", then you already know what the answer will be...


Today I've procured a quantity of kerosene and poured it in the bottom of this container.



Applying a lit match  to the surface of the pool of kerosene does nothing (even on a fairly hot day); the flashpoint is too high for it too ignite (specifically, somewhere between 100 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit).



Even dropping the lit match directly in the pool of kerosene does nothing except burn the match itself.



Now, if we set up some element as a wick (which could be a bit of string or the match itself) and allow it to become saturated with the fluid, then it certainly does draw up the kerosene to maintain the flame, thus serving as a very nice source of light.



Actually, the wick burns like the dickens when I do this. I'd better put it out before I stink up my whole room. But usable as a weapon, grenade, or burning pool of oil? No, that's impossible.




In conclusion: There's definitely no substance that's both commonly used as lamp oil and has the capacity of igniting in an open pool (at normal temperatures). The very idea is just kind of ludicrous, akin to saying that one's pack-mule can naturally fly, or that one could live by eating nothing but belladonna (deadly nightshade). Maybe with some magical or exotic treatment it's an interesting element, but not out-of-the-box as a mundane, everyday item. Even if we posit some anachronistically more advanced substance like kerosene, as shown here, it still fails the test.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Walls of Ice and Fire

The 4th-level wizard spells wall of fire and wall of ice first appear on the same page of Original D&D, Vol-1 (p. 26). At first blush you'd expect them to be simply symmetric in regards to range, duration, area, and effect, but they never are in any edition (with one possible exception). As we investigate this, we get to ask this math puzzle: Is 2 square inches the same as 2 inches square? And did Gygax answer that question correctly? (Please jot down your response before proceeding. All set? Good...)


Original D&D

Wall of Fire: The spell will create a wall of fire which lasts until the Magic-User no longer concentrates to maintain it. The fire wall is opaque. It prevents creatures with under four hit dice from entering/passing through. Undead will take two dice of damage (2-12) and other creatures one die (1-6) when breaking through the fire. The shape of the wall can be either a plane of up to 6" width and 2" in height, or it can be cast in a circle of 3" diameter and 2" in height. Range: 6".

Wall of Ice: A spell to create a wall of ice six inches thick, in dimensions like that of a Wall of Fire. It negates the effects of creatures employing fire and/or fire spells. It may be broken through by creatures with four or more hit dice, with damage equal to one die (1-6) for non-fire employing creatures and double that for fire-users. Range: 12"

At their inception, the area and effect of these spells are identical (6" plane or 3" diameter cicle; base damage 1-6, doubled for those specially vulnerable). But the range is different: only 6" for the fire wall but 12" for the ice wall. And the duration is very different: by concentration for fire but unspecified, possibly permanent (?) for wall of ice.

Why the difference? Wall of fire is one of only three spells in OD&D that have a constant-concentration requirement (the others being phantasmal force and conjure elemental). In my games, I find that makes the spell very hard to use, as a high-level wizard can't afford to spend time inactive just to maintain this one spell (useless to block a passage and escape, for example). I suppose you might argue that a wall of fire requires sustained input of energy to keep it going (as opposed to ice that can just sit there), but in my book that violates the Vancian interpretation of magic (energy comes from outside the caster), and what about the case of continual light?

I could kind of see the fire duration as being generally shorter than ice, if in exchange the ranges were correspondingly reversed; but the wall of fire is also given the shorter range of 6". Proclus specifically identified fire as being "sharp, subtle, and mobile", so I would think if anything it should be given the longer range. This situation is very hard to puzzle out, and makes wall of fire surprisingly difficult to use in-game as written.


Swords & Spells

Wall of Fire: [Range] 6", [Area of Effect] 6"×2" or 3" dia., [Turn Duration] until dispelled.
Wall of Ice: [Range] 6", [Area of Effect] 6"×2" or 3" dia., [Turn Duration] until dispelled.

Here we check in on the Swords & Spells table of spell effects and areas (link), and we note something intriguing -- in this work Gygax made them identical in all the ways we can see. The wall of ice range has been reduced to 6". The wall of fire duration has been increased to "until dispelled" (usually, but not always, signifying a permanent spell). That solves several of the discrepancies seen in Vol-1 above, but perhaps sadly, these corrective points were not used in any later editions. It's possible to argue that even here they might be the result of an oversight or transcription error while copying them from Vol-1.


Expert D&D

Wall of Fire 
Range: 60'
Duration: special


This spell creates a thin wall of fire of up to 1200 square feet. The wall can be in any shape the caster desires (a straight wall 60' long and 20' high, a circle 20' diameter and 20' high, etc.). The wall is opaque and will block sight. Creatures of less than 4 hit dice cannot break through the wall. Creatures of 4 or more hit dice can break through but will take 1-6 (d6) points of damage — twice this amount (2d6) if they are undead or cold-using creatures (white dragons, frost giants). The wall cannot be cast in a space occupied by another object. The wall lasts as long as the caster remains stationary and concentrates on it.

Wall of Ice 

Range: 120'
Duration: 12 turns


This spell creates a translucent wall of ice 20' tall and 60' long (or any other shape the caster desires). Creatures of less than 4 hit dice cannot break through the wall. Creatures of 4 or more hit dice can break through the wall but will take 1-6 (Id6) points of damage — twice that amount (2d6) if fire-using creature (red dragon, salamanders, hell hounds, etc.). It must be cast to rest on the ground or similar support and cannot be cast in a space occupied by another object.

In the Cook D&D Expert rules, the two spells are duplicated mostly as they were in OD&D Vol-1, ignoring the changes listed in Swords & Spells. Wall of fire has the short range and duration by concentration, etc. Cook also makes the area more flexible, granting the ability to be shaped any way the caster chooses, so long as surface area remains the same (as he does for all the wall spells: see also wall of stone); in this regard, he shrinks the the circular diameter so the circumference more correctly matches the straight-line length (C = πd ≈ 3(20) = 60 feet), showing again the B/X authors' fine awareness of the math involved. However, this greater flexibility does possibly make the spell more complicated to use, and it's a move for which Gygax never explicitly gives permission.


AD&D 1st Ed.

Wall of Fire (Evocation)
Level: 5
Range: 8"
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 7 segments
Saving Throw: None
 

Explanation/Description: The wall of fire spell brings forth a blazing curtain of magical fire of shimmering color - yellow-green or amber in case of druidical magic. The wall of fire inflicts 4 to 16 hit points of damage, plus 1 hit point of damage per level of the spell caster, upon any creature passing through it. Creatures within 1" of the wall take 2-8 hit points of damage, those within 2" take 1-4 hit points of damage. Creatures especially subject to fire may take additional damage, and undead always take twice normal damage. Only the side of the wall away from the spell caster will inflict damage. The opaque wall of fire lasts for as long as the druid concentrates on maintaining it, or 1 round per level of experience of the druid in the event he or she does not wish to concentrate upon it. The spell creates a sheet of flame up to 2" square per level of the spell caster, or as a ring with a radius of up to ½" per level of experience from the druid to its flames, and a height of 2". The former is stationary, while the latter moves as the druid moves.


Wall Of Fire (Evocation)
Level: 4
Range: 6"
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 segments
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: This spell differs from the fifth level druid spell, wall of fire (q.v.) only as indicated above and as stated below: the flame color is either violet or reddish blue, base damage is 2-12 hit points (plus 1 hit point per level), the radius of the ring-shaped wall of fire is 1" + 1/4" per level of experience of the magic user casting it, and the material component of the spell is phosphorus.



Wall Of Ice (Evocation)
Level: 4
Range: l"/level
Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 segments
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast, a sheet of strong, flexible ice is created. The wall is primarily defensive, stopping pursuers and the like. The wall is one inch thick per level of experience of the magic-user. It covers a 1" square area per level, i.e. a 10th level magic-user would cause a wall of ice up to 10" long and 1" high, or 5" long and 2" high, and so forth. Any creature breaking through the ice will suffer 2 hit points of damage per inch of thickness of the wall, fire-using creatures will suffer 3 hit points, cold-using creatures only 1 hit point when breaking through. If this spell is cast to form a horizontal sheet to fall upon opponents, it has the same effect as an ice storm's (q.v.) hail stones in the area over which it falls. Magical fires such as fireballs and fiery dragon breath will melt a wall of ice in 1 round, though they will cause a great cloud of steamy fog which will last 1 turn, but normal fires or lesser magical ones will not hasten its melting. The material component of this spell is a small piece of quartz or similar rock crystal.

In Advanced D&D, the first quote above is from the druid spell list, with the magic-user version that follows referencing it, being almost but not exactly the same (for example, the specified color changes, of all things). Before I say anything else, I have to point out how cumbersome this back-referencing of spells is in AD&D. It actually works fine for OD&D, which is so short that linked spells are usually sitting immediately next to each other on the same page. But as the game expands, bloats, and separates linked spells by 20 pages or so (as in this case), then it's a method that is no longer tenable.

Now, as usual in AD&D, the range, duration, and area have all become variable calculations based on the caster's level, which serves to obscure a few things. The wizard wall of fire is still oddly fixed at the short 6" range, while wall of ice is the longer 12" for a nominal 12th-level wizard. Looking at the druidic wall of fire, we can see that Gygax started to waffle on the concentration requirement, without completely overhauling it, making the duration a complex concentration + 1 round/level within the text. The spell does increased damage (base 2d6+level), with cases added for standing close by in different ranges; so does wall of ice, at 2 points/level, for some 24 points for a stock 12th-level wizard. Another important edit: Where OD&D had a 4 HD minimum restriction on those who could break through either wall, that has been removed in AD&D (so apparently anyone can move in and choose to get burned up).

The area for wall of ice is very close to that in OD&D (1" square/level: so the basic 12th-level wizard can make a 6"×2" wall, just as in OD&D). But what I'd really like to look at is the revised area to wall of fire, for which you have to look at the druidic listing: the planar version says it's a "2 inch square per level of the spell caster".

Now, I hope you answered the quiz question at the top of the post correctly: No, of course 2 square inches is not the same as 2 inches square. The latter, meaning a 2-inch square, is actually 4 square inches in surface area:


But there is evidence that Gygax wasn't aware of this geometric distinction. For example: Looking at the wall of stone spell, in OD&D he specified its area as "10 square inches" (Vol-1, p. 28), while in Swords & Spells he wrote it as "10 inches (square)" (S&S, p. 13), which is technically a tenfold increase in area. In fact, he wrote it like that for every entry in Swords & Spells that was square-inches in OD&D, suggesting strongly that he thought they were the same thing. Again in the AD&D listing for wall of stone, he includes an illuminating example (1E PHB, p. 82):

The wall of stone is 1/4' thick and 20' square in area per level of experience of the magic-user casting the spell. Thus, a 12th level magic-user creates a wall of stone 3' thick and 240 square feet in surface area (a 12' wide and 20' high wall, for example, to completely close a 10' × 16' passage).

Note that while the rule says "20' square" (which would be 20×20 = 400 square feet per level), the example applies the different value of 20 square feet per level, giving the 12th level wizard only 240 square feet in area (barely covering a standard Gygaxian 10×16 foot arched dungeon corridor, as noted).

Back to the wall of fire case. What he explicitly wrote was "2 inch square per level", so the example 12th-level wizard could make a wall 12×2 inch squares = 24" long × 2" high, for example; quadruple what it was in OD&D, S&S, or B/X. But if we look to our evidence and stipulate that he meant to be writing "2 square inches per level", then the 12th-level wizard would get a sheet of fire 12×2 = 24 square inches = 12" × 2"; merely double what it was in OD&D, et. al. Now see what happens with that in 2E...


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Wall of Fire
(Evocation)
Range: 60 yds.
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: Special

The wall of fire spell brings forth an immobile, blazing curtain of magical fire of shimmering color--violet or reddish blue. The spell creates either an opaque sheet of flame up to one 20-foot square per level of the spellcaster, or a ring with a radius of up to 10 feet + 5 feet per two levels of experience of the wizard. In either form, the wall of fire is 20 feet high.

The wall of fire must be cast so that it is vertical with respect to the caster. One side of the wall, selected by the caster, sends forth waves of heat, inflicting 2d4 points of damage upon creatures within 10 feet and 1d4 points of damage upon those within 20 feet. In addition, the wall inflicts 2d6 points of damage, plus 1 point of damage per level of the spellcaster, upon any creature passing through it. Creatures especially subject to fire may take additional damage, and undead always take twice normal damage. Note that attempting to catch a moving creature with a newly-created wall of fire is difficult; a successful saving throw enables the creature to avoid the wall, while its rate and direction of movement determine which side of the created wall it is on. The wall of fire lasts as long as the wizard concentrates on maintaining it, or one round per level of experience of the wizard, in the event he does not wish to concentrate upon it.

The material component of the spell is phosphorus.


Wall of Ice
(Evocation)
Range: 10 yds./level
Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: Special

This spell can be cast in one of three ways: as an anchored plane of ice, as a hemisphere, or as a horizontal sheet to fall upon creatures with the effect of an ice storm.

A) Ice plane. When this spell is cast, a sheet of strong, hard ice is created. The wall is primarily defensive, stopping pursuers and the like. The wall is 1 inch thick per level of experience of the wizard. It covers a 10-foot-square area per level (a 10th-level wizard can create a wall of ice 100 feet long and 10 feet high, a wall 50 feet long and 20 feet high, etc.). Any creature breaking through the ice suffers 2 points of damage per inch of thickness of the wall. Fire-using creatures suffer 3 points of damage per inch, while cold using creatures suffer only 1 point of damage per inch when breaking through. The plane can be oriented in any fashion as long as it is anchored along one or more sides.

B) Hemisphere. This casting of the spell creates a hemisphere whose maximum radius is equal to 3 feet plus 1 foot per caster level. Thus, a 7th-level caster can create a hemisphere 10 feet in radius. The hemisphere lasts until it is broken, dispelled, or melted. Note that it is possible, but difficult, to trap mobile opponents under the hemisphere.

C) Ice sheet. This casting of the spell causes a horizontal sheet to fall upon opponents. The sheet covers a 10-foot-square area per caster level. The sheet has the same effect as an ice storm's hail stones--3d10 points of damage inflicted to creatures beneath it. A wall of ice cannot form in an area occupied by physical objects or creatures; its surface must be smooth and unbroken when created. Magical fires such as fireballs and fiery dragon breath melt a wall of ice in one round, though this creates a great cloud of steamy fog that lasts one turn. Normal fires or lesser magical ones do not hasten the melting of a wall of ice.

The material component of this spell is a small piece of quartz or similar rock crystal.

In the 2E game, as usual, Dave "Zeb" Cook  keeps these spells basically the same in terms of range (fire short/ice long), duration (fire concentration/ice fire-and-forget), and effect (several different cases for determining damage). While he doesn't completely open-door all possible shapes as he did in Expert D&D, he explicates three different shapes for wall of ice, including the new trapping "hemisphere" option explicated for the first time (we might guess as the result of a creative player in one of his games).

For wall of fire, he takes Gygax for his word in 1E, and keeps the area at the very large value of a "20-foot square per level of the spellcaster" (i.e., quadrupled from OD&D). Note that in distinction to this, Cook does correct other places that had a contradicting example, such as the wall of stone spell -- shown below, in which the "20' square" text has been fixed to "20 square feet" (compare to 1E description above):
The wall of stone is 0.25 inch thick and up to 20 square feet per level of experience of the wizard casting the spell. Thus, a 12th-level wizard can create a wall of stone 3 inches thick and up to 240 square feet in surface area (a 12-foot-wide and 20-foot-high wall, for example, to completely close a 10-foot x 16-foot passage).

But with wall of fire, there was no clarifying example, and so without any clue for him to pick up on (unlike the other spells which he does correct), Cook unintentionally cements into the rules the quadruple-area wall of fire which was likely a typo by Gygax in 1E. (As an aside, note that by going in the other direction on the issue, the areas of the wall of iron and wall of stone spells are actually much smaller in AD&D than they were back in OD&D.)


D&D 3rd Ed.

Wall of Fire
Evocation [Fire]
Level: Drd 5, Fire 4, Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Effect: Opaque sheet of flame up to 20 ft. long/caster level or a ring of fire with a radius of up to 5 ft./two caster levels; either form 20 ft. high
Duration: Concentration + 1 round/level
Saving Throw: See text
Spell Resistance: Yes

An immobile, blazing curtain of shimmering violet fire springs into existence. One side of the wall, selected by the character, sends forth waves of heat, dealing 2d4 points of fire damage to creatures within 10 feet and 1d4 points of fire damage to those past 10 feet but within 20 feet. The wall deals this damage when it appears and each round that a creature enters or remains in the area. In addition, the wall deals 2d6 points of fire damage +1 point of fire damage per caster level (maximum +20) to any creature passing through it. The wall deals double damage to undead creatures.

If the character evokes the wall so that it appears where creatures are, each creature takes damage as if passing through the wall. Each such creature can avoid the wall by making a successful Reflex save. (If the creature ends up on the hot side of the wall, it takes 2d4 points of damage, as normal.)

If any 5-foot length of wall takes 20 points of cold damage or more in 1 round, that length goes out. (Do not divide cold damage by 4, as normal for objects.)


Wall of Ice
Evocation [Cold]
Level: Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Effect: Anchored plane of ice, up to one 10-ft. square/level, or hemisphere of ice with a radius of up to 3 ft. +1 ft./level
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: See text
Spell Resistance: Yes

This spell creates an anchored plane of ice or a hemisphere of ice, depending on the version selected. A wall of ice cannot form in an area occupied by physical objects or creatures. Its surface must be smooth and unbroken when created. Fire can melt a wall of ice. It deals full damage to the wall (instead of the normal half damage suffered by objects). Suddenly melting the wall of ice creates a great cloud of steamy fog that lasts for 10 minutes.

Ice Plane: A sheet of strong, hard ice appears. The wall is 1 inch thick per caster level. It covers up to a 10-foot-square area per caster level (so a 10th-level wizard can create a wall of ice 100 feet long and 10 feet high, a wall 50 feet long and 20 feet high, etc.). The plane can be oriented in any fashion as long as it is anchored. A vertical wall need only be anchored on the floor, while a horizontal or slanting wall must be anchored on two opposite sides.

Each 10-foot square of wall has 3 hit points per inch of thickness. Creatures can hit the wall automatically. A section of wall whose hit points drop to 0 is breached. If a creature tries to break through the wall with a single attack, the DC for the Strength check is 15 + caster level.

Even when the ice has been broken through, a sheet of frigid air remains. Any creature stepping through it (including the one who broke through the wall) takes 1d6 points of cold damage +1 point per caster level.

Hemisphere: The wall takes the form of a hemisphere whose maximum radius is 3 feet +1 foot per caster level. It is as hard to break through as the ice plane form, but it does not deal damage to those who go through a breach.

The character can create the hemisphere so that it traps one or more creatures, though these creatures can avoid being trapped by the hemisphere by making successful Reflex saves.

In 3E, for the first time since Swords & Spells, the two 4th-level wall spells are given equivalent ranges (Medium, or 200 feet for a 10th-level wizard). Wall of fire retains its wonky legacy of concentration + 1 round/level for duration, while wall of ice is massively reduced to 1 minute/level (recall it was 1 turn/level, i.e. 10 minutes/level in AD&D; and apparently permanent back in OD&D and S&S). Wall of ice commendably snips out the "horizontal sheet" attack that crashes down on opponents.

But of course the areas are the same as in 2E, particularly wall of fire, which again retains the after-effect of what I think was a geometric error by Gygax back in 1E AD&D (i.e., a misunderstanding that "square inches" ≠ "inches square"). And so we again see a massive wall of fire that has four times the area as compared to wall of ice, whereas they started with identical areas back in OD&D.


Open Questions

What are your preferred versions of wall of fire and wall of ice? Should they have identical range, area, etc.? Are you as aggravated as I am by wall of fire's concentration requirement? And are you convinced that the giant-sized wall of fire is a result of Gygax's units typo back in 1E?


Monday, September 8, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Fear


Fear has almost always been a 4th-level wizard spell in D&D. Primarily the weird thing about it has been how much the range/area of effect changed in different editions.


Original D&D 

Fear: The Wand effects all creatures within a cone-shaped area eminating from it 6" outwards to a base 3" wide. All within it must make their saving throw as against magic or be panicked and flee.

In the boxed-set LBBs of OD&D, fear does not appear as a spell; it only appears as the effect of a magic wand, as shown above (quote from Vol-2, p. 34). It's the first effect given in the game as a smallish and close-range cone effect, 6" long maximum. This cone area is re-used for the wand of cold and wand of paralization [sic] which immediately follow on the same page of Vol-2. In Supplement-I Greyhawk, this wand effect then inspires a new magic-user spell:

Fear: This spell operates as if the user were employing a Fear Wand. All those not saving vs. fear react as follows: They immediately attempt to flee, or get as far away from the user as possible, with a 50% chance that they will drop any weapons they had in hand when struck by the Fear spell. Duration: 6 turns (movement or melee as applicable). Range 24”.

Here's the rub: The spell says that it works as a fear wand, but that's contradicted by the 24" range for the spell. Is the wand's 6" cone area extended out to 24", for a titanic area of effect? Or is the same-sized cone generated at any point within the 24" range (very hard to rationalize)? This seems like a clear mistake/oversight. Note that as written, there are actually no spells in OD&D with a cone-shaped area of effect (there are wands, breath-weapons, and the horn of blasting, but absolutely no spells described as cone-shaped). Also, someone added the new "50% drop weapons" side-effect which I think is a fiddly Sup-I'ism of which I'm not fond.


Swords & Spells

Fear: 24" (Range), 4" diam. (Area Effect), 6 (Turn Duration).

As we've said before, Gygax's Swords & Spells miniature combat for D&D has a comprehensive listing of magic range, area, and durations. In some few places this includes effective errata for some spells, and fear is among the examples. As you can see above, the small cone area is deleted, with a circular 4" diameter area of effect allowed in the 24" range (just like fireball, et. al.). I think that's about the most reasonable fix if we want to keep the long range for the spell. In fact, I kind of wish that Gygax had used the same fix for the other short-range, wand-inspired spells ice storm and cone of cold (in 1E). However, this interpretation was not kept in any later edition of D&D. (Like many Sup-I additions, it doesn't appear in B/X at all, so now we skip to AD&D.)


AD&D 1st Edition

Fear (Illusion/Phantasm)
Level: 4
Range: 0
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 6” long cone, 3” diameter at end, 1/2’ at base
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 segments

Explanation/Description: When a fear spell is cast, the magic-user sends forth an invisible ray which causes creatures within its area of effect to turn away from the spell caster and flee in panic. Affected creatures are likely to drop whatever they are holding when struck by the spell; the base chance of this is 60% at 1st level (or at 1 hit die), and each level (or hit die) above this reduces the probability by 5%, 1.e. at 10th level there is only a 15% chance, and at 13th level 0% chance. Creatures affected by fear flee at their fastest rate for the number of melee rounds equal to the level of experience of the spell caster. The panic takes effect on the melee round following the spell casting, but dropping of items in hand will take place immediately. Of course, creatures which make their saving throws versus the spell are not affected. The material component of this spell is either the heart of a hen or a white feather.

Now in AD&D the fear effect has reverted radically back to the same very short area as the Original D&D wand. The range has switched from the maximal 24" category to 0 here, and the area is the 6" cone emanating from the caster (which seems to put the caster in proximity with the dangerous opponent, and makes it possibly hard to avoid catching friends in the beam). Also that aggravating drop-weapons detail is blooming into another unique rule that requires a varying-probability roll for each creature affected (ugh).


AD&D 2nd Edition

Fear
(Illusion/Phantasm)
Range: 0
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 60-ft. cone, 30-ft. diameter at end, 5-ft. at base

When a fear spell is cast, the wizard sends forth an invisible cone of terror that causes creatures within its area of effect to turn away from the caster and flee in panic. Affected creatures are likely to drop whatever they are holding when struck by the spell; the base chance of this is 60% at 1st level (or at 1 Hit Die), and each level (or Hit Die) above this reduces the probability by 5%. Thus, at 10th level there is only a 15% chance, and at 13th level no chance, of dropping items. Creatures affected by fear flee at their fastest rate for a number of melee rounds equal to the level of experience of the spellcaster. Undead and creatures that successfully roll their saving throws vs. spell are not affected.

The material component of this spell is either the heart of a hen or a white feather.

Mostly the standard copy-and-paste job for 2E spells. The range remains 0, and the area the old short cone effect.


D&D 3rd Edition

Fear
Necromancy [Fear, Mind-Affecting]
Level: Brd 3, Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Area: Cone
Duration: 1 round/level
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes

An invisible cone of terror causes living creatures to become panicked. They suffer a –2 morale penalty on saving throws, and they flee from the character. A panicked creature has a 50% chance to drop what it’s holding, chooses its path randomly (as long as it is getting away from immediate danger), and flees any other dangers that confront it. If cornered, a panicked creature cowers.

In 3E, this is basically similar to the preceding AD&D effect. The drop-weapons chance is at least simplified to a flat 50% here (as in Sup-I). The "cone" area expands with the level, and elsewhere is specified to have a terminal width the same as the length. For example: a 12th-level wizard has a 55 ft. long cone, 55 ft. wide at the far end (about the same length as in AD&D, but twice as wide).


Conclusions

There's quite a significant difference between the OD&D and Swords & Spells conception of the fear spell that wanted to give it an extended 24" range, versus the AD&D versions that reverted back to the original close-up wand effect. I would think that the former would be much more useful to a wizard, as the latter necessarily puts them in some amount of danger to get close to the target hostile creatures. Which do you prefer for your games? If you added it to the B/X rules (where it is missing) what would it look like? How important is it that the effect aligns with the magic wand? And what's your opinion on the drop-weapons chance?


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Growing Animals


Original D&D Vagaries; Advanced D&D Statistics; Proposal for Simplified Spellcasting 

In the prior post I was looking at the 5th-level D&D wizard spell, animal growth, throughout various editions of the game. One problem I pointed out is that the earliest editions commonly didn't give explicit stats for normal or giant animals (as required by different versions of the spell). For example, while the OD&D spell says that animals can "grow to giant-size with proportionate attack capabilities", the following is all you get in OD&D on the subject (from Vol-2, Monsters & Treasure):


That's from the table on p. 4. The first value is for Number Appearing (more for smaller types); the rest, including Armor Class, Move in Inches, Hit Dice, % in Lair, and Treasure Type, are all simply "Variable".


The text paragraphs are from p. 20. For large insects or animals ("giant" types), AC can be 2-8 (i.e., practically the entire range of AC's allowed in the game at this point), hit dice can be 2-20 (at the top end, significantly exceeding any other monster in the list), and damage can be from 2-4 dice (d6, of course; and again actually exceeding any other damage listing in the text of this book). So that more or less boils down to "anything you want, and feel free to surpass any of the other monsters we presented". Which to me seems like a big problem when numerous giant animals are included on the core wandering monster lists, quite heavily so at the starting levels (see Vol-3, p. 10). And an open-ended argument when a player casts animal growth in the game. (Also, you'll notice that reference to John Carter-type Martian beasts is included, and those types likewise show up in the desert wilderness random encounters on p. 18.) 


Now, in the Monster Manual (the first of the AD&D line, and almost entirely consistent with OD&D rules) we do get lots of explicit entries for giant animals. This solves the wandering-table issue, and would almost solve the animal growth spell issue (except that the spell is changed to double the normal animal's hit dice and now that's the thing you're generally lacking). But what are the general parameters for those animals (e.g., if we wish to use them as products of the OD&D spell)? Consider the table below which compiles all the AD&D Monster Manual giant animal types (ordered by increasing hit dice; optionally refer to PDF or spreadsheet ODS).


What do we see here? For starters, the hit dice range of 3-to-5 encompasses almost two-thirds of the giant animals (27/43 = 63%), with a fairly small number of monsters above that and below. In those few cases where hit dice for the "normal" animal type are given (see last column), the giant animal is never exactly double hit dice; some are close while others are much higher or lower. I'll also point out that there are some notable outliers to the high side, in the range of 7-15 hit dice, and they are almost entirely aquatic-type monsters (noted in bold at the bottom of the table -- perhaps emblematic of the rather terrifying "sea monsters" suggested in OD&D Vol-2, p. 15; in fact, the top-level hit dice match up quite nicely). Therefore, I've excluded those unusually huge aquatic monsters, and computed "Trimmed Average" statistics for all the other types, in the last row. Of course, since the majority of giant animals are in the 3-to-5 hit dice range, the average is 4 HD, etc.


So here's an idea: If we're playing under classic-type rules, and almost all of the land-based "giant animals" in the game are close to 4 HD anyway, why not just set that average as a standard profile in the description of the animal growth spell and run with that? That would mean: (1) We don't have to catalog, look up, or debate a list of either normal or giant animals when using the spell (as in any published edition of D&D). (2) We don't need to do a series of math calculations at the table when the spell gets used (most egregiously in 3E). (3) We can rein in the magic to some known parameters, and not run into trouble with some totally open-ended potential from the spell (like, say, casting it on a group of smilodons, killer whales, or triceratops; see also the polymorph problem -- link). Even using that simplifying assumption, we'd be within 1 HD of almost all the giant animals in the AD&D Monster Manual anyway, and with enormously less work.

So here's a proposal for a revised and simplified animal growth spell:


Animal Growth: (Range: 12 inches, Duration: 6 turns) Up to 6 normal animals in range grow to giant size. In most cases this provides: AC 6, MV 15, HD 4, Atk 1, Dam 2d6 (some creatures will exchange one die of damage for poison, paralysis, or blood-drain).  Optionally, use specific statistics from any monster book in use. This spell gives the character no special means of command or influence over the enlarged animals.


What do you think of that?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Spells Through The Ages – Animal Growth

This week we're looking at the 5th-level D&D wizard spell, animal growth. No need for artificial growth hormone with this bit of magic in your book. But how did the spell itself grow over the years?


Original D&D

Growth of Animals: A spell which will cause from 1-6 normal-sized animals (not merely mammals) to grow to giant-size with proportionate attack capabilities. Duration: 12 turns. Range 12".

Originally Gygax called the spell growth of animals. It can affect 1-6 animals; but is that a random roll, or at the election of the caster? Of course, the biggest problem is that while the spell says the targets "grow to giant-size", OD&D nowhere provides concrete statistics for any giant animals. There is one line in the table of Vol-2 that simply says "Variable" for all statistics; and a short block of text that essentially says they could be, well, anything at all. So with this spell the DM and players are utterly on their own about negotiating what benefit the caster gets. (Note that this spell was one of those excluded from Cook's D&D Expert rules, so next we'll go directly to the AD&D line.)


AD&D 1st Ed.

Animal Growth (Alteration) Reversible
Level: 5
Range: 8"
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 7 segments

Duration: 2 rounds/level
Area of Effect: Up to 8 animals in a 2" square area
Saving Throw: None


Explanation/Description: When this spell is cast, the druid causes all animals, up to a maximum of 8, within a 2" square area to grow to twice their normal size. The effects of this growth are doubled hit dice (with resultant improvement in attack potential) and doubled damage in combat. The spell lasts for 2 melee rounds for each level of experience of the druid casting the spell. Note that the spell is particularly useful in conjunction with a charm person or animal or a speak with animals spell. The reverse reduces animal size by one half, and likewise reduces hit dice, attack damage, etc.

Above, we're looking at the druid-spell entry, to which the magic-user section back-references. The name is now animal growth, as it will be in all later editions. The number affected has increased from 1-6 to a maximum of 8 (technically by the wording "all animals" not modifiable by the caster). The effect has changed in kind of a weird way: in OD&D, it said that animals "grow to giant size", even though OD&D lacked explicit giant animal stats. Here in AD&D, you now do have a catalog of specific giant animals available (via the Monster Manual), but the spell effect does not refer you to them, instead saying "effects of this growth are doubled hit dice" -- which is now a whole new problem, because what the MM generally does not have are the stats for the normal version of the animals which are getting doubled here (think: badgers, weasels, spiders, centipedes, etc.). That is: the spell zigged while the monsters zagged. Later on, the Monster Manual 2 gave lots of entries for "normal" animals that I suppose you could use as a basis for the wording of this spell. To me it seems like the best solution would be to extrapolate away from the exact language above and use those giant entries in the MM. But fundamentally this "doubling" rule will be retained consistently in 2E & 3E.


AD&D 2nd Ed.

Animal Growth
(Alteration)
Reversible
Range: 60 yds.

Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: Up to 8 animals in a 20-ft. cube
 

When this spell is cast, the wizard causes all designated animals, up to a maximum of eight, within a 20-foot-square area to grow to twice their normal size. The effects of this growth are doubled Hit Dice (with improvement in attack rolls) and doubled damage in combat. The spell lasts for one round for each level of experience of the wizard casting the spell. Only natural animals, including giant forms, can be affected by this spell.
 

The reverse, shrink animal, reduces animal size by half and likewise reduces Hit Dice, attack damage, etc.

The component of both versions of the spell is a pinch of powdered bone.

This is almost a direct copy-and-paste from 1E with some very minor edits (changing area in scale inches to feet, etc.). The "double Hit Dice" rule is kept intact. Cook does change the wording from "all animals" in the area to "all designated animals", so the caster can now clearly choose how many to gigantify.


D&D 3rd Ed.

Animal Growth
Transmutation
Level: Drd 5, Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: Up to one animal/two levels, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes

A number of animals grow to twice their normal size. This doubles each animal's height, length, and width, increasing its weight by a factor of eight. This increase in size has a number of effects:

Hit Dice: The creature's HD double, doubling the creature's base attack bonus and increasing its saves accordingly.

Size: The creature's size increases one step. This increase reduces its AC (according to the new size), reduces its attack bonus (according to the new size), affects its ability to grapple, and so on. The creature gains an enlargement bonus to Strength and Constitution scores, and its damage with natural attacks increases. This spell does not affect Colossal creatures.

When the spell ends, the creature's hit points return to normal, and all damage the creature has taken while enlarged is divided by 2.

The spell gives the character no special means of command or influence over the enlarged animals.

This version still maintains the kernel of the spell since 1E -- doubling the normal creature's hit dice (and 3E did provide a fairly extensive list of normal animals in its core rules: see 3E Monster Manual Appendix 1.) The number grown has changed to a variable one-per-two-caster-levels. And consistent with 3E's elaborate rules for monster creation and size changes, you now have a whole gauntlet of math calculations that you're supposed to make from the spell: first increasing hit dice, base attack bonus, and saving throws (due to the hit dice basis). Then reducing AC and attack bonus (due to size penalties). Then increasing Strength and Constitution and subsequent attack bonus and damage (due to size bonuses). No matter how you slice it, if you do this extemporaneously during a session at the table, play will be halted for some extended amount of time while you assess these changes, which I personally find to be highly unacceptable. If I recall correctly, a lot of published 3E material would pick one "favored" type or companion for NPCs and present the long stat block for when that animal gets animal growth cast on it. In some sense you'd have to admit that the original simplicity of "double stats on the fly" (to the extent there was some source animal to double in the first place) is in fundamental conflict with the strictly-constructed 3E system for creating and calculating monsters.


Questions

In early editions (0-1-2E), how did you come up with stats for the grown animals? Did you actually take normal stats and double them, or did you turn to the Monster Manual and use the appropriate giant type? Were you ever troubled by the lack of an upper bound on the hit dice possibly created (for example: 15HD giant sharks and sea turtles in the AD&D MM)? Were you able to use the 3E spell on the fly as written at the table, or did that grind your game to a halt?