Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday Figures: Exotic Attack Areas


Exotic attack areas survey on ODD75 Discussion forum.

Consider the spells in OD&D that in some attack opponents, but don't do direct damage: things like sleep, hold person, confusion, and so forth. In the OD&D LBBs these affect a certain limited number of people, but no specific rules for how the targets are picked is given. By default I've always assumed that the caster can pick those targets at will.

But it turns out that this is a very idiosyncratic interpretation, not shared by almost anybody else. Instead I see pretty much everyone else agreeing that having these spells hit your own allies is a regular possibility (based on discussions on both the large Facebook AD&D group and ODD74 Discussion forum). Gygax wrote on ENWorld (2nd February, 2005):

To clarify, as the DM I would allow the spell caster to select one specific target, and by so doing nerrow the scope of a sleep sopell to that individual. If ut were used as an area spell, then all characters in the area would be affected up to the spell's maximum, and that includes PCs associated with the casting magic-user. In the example you give, the sleep spell would get the five goblins first, then the three 1 st level PCs, and if more than eight could be affected, then the two bugbears.

However, in the OD&D LBBs, these spells don't have any specified area. Those were added for the first time in the Swords & Spells supplement, e.g., 1" diameter for sleep, 3" diameter for hold person and confusion, etc. Some iteration of these were then maintained through the AD&D line, but are still missing from the B/X basic line. (An additional complicating factor is that Swords & Spells assumed a 1" = 10 yards scale, which was retconned away in Dragon #15 [see last week], bifurcating the possible interpretations and possibly leaving us with too-small areas?)

So I asked this question on the ODD74 Discussion board and -- while the sample size is very small -- it came out 4:1 in favor of not honoring the targeted areas from later works. But everyone still seems to agree that allies in range are subject to the spell, starting with lowest-level first, as per Gygax above. Then wouldn't that mean that the 1st-level magic-user casting his one and only sleep spell -- would pretty much only affect himself and his 1st-level companions at ground zero?

To me, that's an incredibly ugly interpretation. But the only way I see out of it is to add limited, targeted areas where the wizard focuses the magic, even if it's an added fiddly bit to the spell rules. What do you think?


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7 comments:

  1. Considering how few spells a low level wizard gets (and considering how much of our actual play experience is in those low levels) I rewrote all the spells to have much simpler rules text; then at the table I allow the caster to get the best interpretation of that text as long as it’s fun and feels good.

    On the other hand enemy spell casters often come armed with spells the players are not familiar with. This is both a fun challenge but also a potentially cool prize if they can get the guy’s spell book.

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    1. Yeah, I agree that's my instinct as well; and that's exactly what I've done myself for the last ten years or so now. But the widespread claim that the wizard's party is subject to them has me wondering if I'm way outside the park. (And need some modification to make it more consistent with the high-level spells.)

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  2. When I run OD&D I allow the caster to choose the applicable (rolled) number of targets as long as they're all within range, and only if the number of targets rolled exceeds the number of enemies is there a chance of accidentally affecting allies. [When playing AD&D I follow the rules in those books and definitely will have sleep spells affect allies if they're in the AOE and have lower levels/HD than the opponents]

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    1. Hmmm, that's an interesting take, I kind of like that. Do you do that even if the allies are lower-level than the enemies?

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    2. My OD&D house rules are mostly unwritten so they aren’t necessarily totally consistent and are subject to situational modification (plus I don’t actually play OD&D that much compared to AD&D). My instinctive answer is that in a mixed-HD group I’d first affect the lowest HD opponents, then the lowest level allies, then the next lowest HD opponents, etc. If a party of 1st levels encounters a group of gnolls and the Medium casts a sleep spell I’m not going to have it drop all the PCs and leave the gnolls unaffected, but if the gnolls are being led by a wererat I feel like I probably would have it drop the level 1 PCs after the 2HD gnolls and before the 3HD wererat.

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  3. I find it's almost never a problem in AD&D with the fewer HD affected and clear priority of affecting lowest HD first. In OD&D it's not even clear how the spell works against mixed groups with different HD numbers.

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    1. That's a fair point (esp., the latter item).

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