Spells Through the Ages – Haste

Ancient soldier running in blur

In the past year or so, I've found it beneficial to analyze certain D&D systems, frequently spells, throughout the different editions from Original to 3rd, comparing languages, changes, and benefits. (For example: light and sleep.) I find myself planning to do a couple more, just at the same time as my friend Paul has started doing the same (for example: his recent post on silence). So, we've decided to join forces and start a mutual series that we'll call "Spells Through the Ages". Figured I'd get the first one out there before returning to HelgaCon wrap-ups, so here goes:

The first item in the series is born out of the emergency that occurred in my G1 game the other weekend. It seems like the whole session may have gotten thrown out of whack with a version of the haste spell (as in my Book of Spells) that has a +4 AC benefit, as well as double-move, double-attacks, affects the whole party, and fairly long in-game duration. Historically, haste first appears in the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement:

Haste: A spell which speeds the movement of up to 20 figures by 50% for three turns. (Complexity 3) [Chainmail, p. 32]
So the effect here is to merely boost movement by one-half -- not too bad. It affects 20 men (remembering that Chainmail Fantasy is at 1:1, man-to-man scale), and lasts for 3 turns (recalling that 1 turn = 1 minute here). It's reminiscent of the spell slowness that comes right before it, slowing 20 figures by 50% for 2 turns. Then came Original D&D:

Haste Spell: This is exactly the opposite of a Slow Spell in effect, but otherwise like it. Note that it will counter its opposite and vice-versa. [OD&D Vol-1, p. 26]
This is kind of amusing, because in OD&D it actually doesn't tell you what the effect is. Neither does the preceding slow spell, other than to tell you how many are affected, which is similar to Chainmail (Slow Spell: A broad-area spell which effects up to 24 creatures in a maximum area of 6" x 12". Duration: 3 turns. Range: 24".) Paul had a good laugh last year when he started playing OD&D and couldn't see any actual effect for these spells!

Result: I think we're forced to fall back onto the prior Chainmail description and use that. ("Special Ability functions are generally as indicated in CHAINMAIL where not contradictory to the information stated hereinafter...", OD&D Vol-2, p. 5). Compare, however, to certain magical items: potions of speed and boots of speed both double the movement of the wearer (Vol-2, p. 31 & 37; technically boots of speed say "speed of a Light Horse for up to one full day, but he must then rest one day", that being 24" to a man's 12"), so perhaps that was the intention for the haste spell as well.

The other wiggly problem you have here is that even while copy-and-pasting the "3 turns" duration, the meaning of a "turn" has changed between Chainmail and OD&D. In Chainmail it's simply one combat cycle (explicitly 1 minute); in OD&D, we are told, "ten minutes... constitute a turn... There are ten rounds of combat per turn." (Vol-3, p. 8). So as a more general problem, were spells like these in OD&D really meant to last 3 turns (30 minutes) or 3 rounds (3 minutes, as in Chainmail)? We may never know. Next, 1E AD&D:

Haste: ... When this spell is cast, affected creatures function at double their normal movement and attack rates. Thus, a creature moving at 6" and attacking 1 time per round would move at 12" and attack 2 times per round. Spell casting is not more rapid. The number of creatures which can be affected is equal to the level of experience of the magic-user, those creatures closest to the spell caster being affected in preference to those farther away, and all affected by haste must be in the designated area of effect. Note that this spell negates the effects of a slow spell (see hereafter). Additionally, this spell ages the recipients due to speeded metabolic processes. Its material component is a shaving of licorice root. [1E AD&D PHB, p. 74]
Okay, so here we now have double-movement, and also the first mention of double-attacks. Range is cut to 6" and number affected is limited by caster level (less, but still quite likely a whole AD&D party of around 7 or so). Duration has been cut back (or up?) to 3 rounds + 1 round/level. And, we have an explicit prohibition against accelerated spell casting, which is a good idea.

Near the end, it also has a limiting side-effect bolted on, namely the "ages the recipients" clause. It's detailed in the DMG, haste being in a short list of spells with aging effects, adding 1 year to a creature's age. (DMG p. 13) While the potion of speed matches the 1E spell (double move & attacks), the boots of speed still act basically as in OD&D (light horse 24" base movement, rest equal to time sped up, no extra attacks), and also add in a +2 AC bonus for the first time.

In 2E AD&D, as usual, the spell is mostly just copy-and-pasted from 1E:

Haste: ... When this spell is cast, each affected creature functions at double its normal movement and attack rates. A hasted creature gains a -2 initiative bonus. Thus, a creature moving at 6 and attacking once per round would move at 12 and attack twice per round. Spellcasting and spell effects are not sped up. The number of creatures that can be affected is equal to the caster's experience level; those creatures closest to the center of effect are affected first. All affected by haste must be in the designated area of effect. Note that this spell negates the effects of a slow spell. Additionally, this spell ages the recipient by one year, because of sped-up metabolic processes. This spell is not cumulative with itself or with other similar magic. Its material component is a shaving of licorice root. [2E CD-ROM PHB]
Duration is again 3 rounds + 1/level; still double move and attacks, still one-year aging side-effect. The only change here is a +2 initiative bonus (done in 2E on a d10).

In the same general era, the BXCMI line has a haste spell which is a mixture of the preceding: 24 creatures, 3 turns (explicitly 30 minutes), double move and attacks. However, it adds a 9-paragraph section in "Dungeon Master Procedures" enumerating about the effects of just this spell (I think this first appeared in Mentzer's Companion Rules set; copy below is from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia). It allows multiple speed effects to stack, giving +2 to hit per step, and +2 AC if double-hasted. It ends thusly:
The DM may add other restrictions as desired. For example, problems in communication can develop through speed differences, especially when a character moving at four times normal speed tries to talk with other moving normal speed.

Speed can be an extremely valuable tool for characters in combat. If the bonuses gained by speed give the PCs too much power, you should add any controls needed to keep the game balanced and entertaining. [D&D Rules Cyclopedia, p. 147]
Perhaps the "add any controls" language is a wink at the AD&D aging rule, without actually including that complication in BXCMI? In any case, here comes 3E:

Haste: ... The transmuted creature moves and acts more quickly than normal. This extra speed has several effects. On its turn, the subject may take an extra partial action, either before or after its regular action. The subject gains a +4 haste bonus to AC. The subject loses this bonus whenever it would lose a dodge bonus. The subject can jump one and a half times as far as normal. This increase counts as an enhancement bonus. Haste dispels and counters slow. [3.0 SRD]
Now, this is more radically changed than most spells in the 2E -> 3E switch. The effect is more limited in creatures affected (just one!), range (25 feet + 5/2 levels), and duration (1 round/level). You get a +4 AC included in the spell (somewhat like 1E boots of speed and BXCMI double-hasting language). Aging is persona non grata in this ruleset, so that's not present.

More keenly however, the core effect of the spell is now: "an extra partial action", which is basically whatever "normal" thing you can do in a round, any one of: (1) an extra move, (2) one more attack, or (3) an extra spell. (!) That last bit is an enormous break with the strict "no extra spells" rule that was consistent in 1E, 2E, and BXCMI. It was so potent in 3E that some people argued it would still be desirable as a 9th level spell for any casters. Ultimately, WOTC adventures wound up having almost every NPC wizard with haste ready as their first action in any fight. This was perhaps the #1 item on the list of things that really needed fixing in the 3.5 update:

Haste: ... The transmuted creatures move and act more quickly than normal. This extra speed has several effects. When making a full attack action, a hasted creature may make one extra attack with any weapon he is holding. The attack is made using the creature’s full base attack bonus, plus any modifiers appropriate to the situation. (This effect is not cumulative with similar effects, such as that provided by a weapon of speed, nor does it actually grant an extra action, so you can’t use it to cast a second spell or otherwise take an extra action in the round.) A hasted creature gains a +1 bonus on attack rolls and a +1 dodge bonus to AC and Reflex saves. Any condition that makes you lose your Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (if any) also makes you lose dodge bonuses. All of the hasted creature’s modes of movement (including land movement, burrow, climb, fly, and swim) increase by 30 feet, to a maximum of twice the subject’s normal speed using that form of movement. This increase counts as an enhancement bonus, and it affects the creature’s jumping distance as normal for increased speed. Multiple haste effects don’t stack. Haste dispels and counters slow. Material Component: A shaving of licorice root. [3.5 SRD]
Well, it's certainly grown to a heck of a lot more text than it started out in the Chainmail days, hasn't it? It's back to affecting 1 creature/level. We've yanked out the 3.0 "partial action" language, and hence the ability to cast extra spells. It doesn't double moves & attacks, but rather gives up to one extra attack, and up to 30 feet extra movement (or double if that's less). It also adds a whole bunch of fiddly +1 bonuses: (1) +1 attacks, (2) +1 Reflex saves, and (3) just a +1 AC bonus.

Okay, so let's consider what happened when I drafted my Original Edition Delta: Book of Spells. I started with the 3.0 SRD text for everything because it was closer to older sources. In this case, I had more work to do, because "partial actions" are not a rule mechanic that we deal with, and extra-spells are certainly a hideous error, not found in any other edition of the game. I yanked out the "partial action" line and replaced it with the familiar, common thread from 1E, 2E, and BXCMI: double move and attacks, for a whole party of people. I left the +4 AC bonus in place (not thinking too much about it, or at least thinking it about balanced and simpler than 3.5's basket of various +1 bonuses). I was also turning all duration into "turns", just like OD&D, avoiding the issue of whether rounds or turns should really be intended, thus:

Haste: (Range: 6 inches, Duration: 3 turns) The transmuted creatures (1/level) move and act more quickly than normal. On their turn, the subjects can move and attack at twice the normal rate. Also, the subjects gain a +4 bonus to AC. Haste dispels and counters slow. [OED Book of Spells, p. 8]
So frankly, as I found in my recent G1 session, the +4 AC itself is just too potent for an OD&D game. (It's the first thing I've found in Book of Spells that seems to really need revision.) If it weren't for haste, no negative ACs would have been seen; it switched several fighters from AC0 to AC-4, cutting giant hit probabilities from about 1-in-2 to about 1-in-4 (from 12+ to 16+). While cutting the giant hits in half, it simultaneously doubled the hits the party fighters were dishing out with their extra attacks. (So that's sort of a 4-multiple swing in terms of hits-taken versus hits-given). It also affected the whole party for 30 minutes in-game; several players agreed that it would still be game-changing even if it only last 3 rounds.

Let's think about it more carefully this time. Assume that we just sweep the table of fiddly side-effects like the aging bolt-on, different action types, system-shock rolls, etc. Assume that we're playing a game as close to OD&D as possible, affecting the whole party as in every version except 3.0 (and in that way being symmetric with slow in every edition), and also interpreting "3 turns" in whatever standard way you use for OD&D. What would be a reasonably balanced effect for the haste spell as a 3rd-level wizard (magic-user) spell? (See poll results here.)


  1. I've been thinking about haste since you mentioned its problems in your previous post. My thoughts are pretty different from the poll options, so I thought I'd post them. I'm also fairly new to old-school play, so the system I use is a bit of a mess at the moment.

    Firstly, I use the alternative two-weapon fighting espoused by philotomy. By the logic of 'more attacks = bonus to hit', my first consideration is to give +1 or +2 to an attack.

    Secondly, movement speed. Currently I use the Holmes basic 'an unarmoured man can move 20 feet per melee round', although I've not quite got movement speeds to mesh properly in my head yet, but this means 12" = 4 5ft squares, up and down from there at 1 5ft square per 3", with encumbrance working as your rules. Increasing speed by one step seems a little weedy. Lets say two, that's a 50% movement speed increase on standard which is the Chainmail standard, although it'll be slightly more effective on anyone in armour.

    I'd also be inclined to increase armour by one or two. Two would be the equivalent of the next type of armour, that seems quite reasonable.

    I'm not really sure on duration or number effected, although my gut says a turn is ample.

    So +6" movement, +2AC, +2 to attack. Technically closest to 3.5's myriad small bonuses, but that was the first game I, as well as the majority of my players, played.

  2. I voted for the 1e double movement and attacks, though you may still see that as a bit over-powered. Limiting it to just movement seems simply too underpowered for a 3rd level spell though. Your magic-users are weighing this spell against another fireball, and I can't imagine how +50% movement would ever win out that trade-off.

    If I were balancing it, I'd be inclined to reduce the duration before removing the extra attacks. 3 rounds, or 3 rounds + 1/level still seems pretty potent to me, especially if you have a good number of fighters in your party.

  3. Oh also, I wish I had my Holmes here with me. I find the wording in Holmes is often an interesting half-way step between OD&D and 1st edition AD&D. According to the Acaeum, Holmes came out in '77 and the PHB in '78, so I guess that makes sense.

  4. E. None of the above.

    Increase move by 50%. (Double if only moving.)
    Affects one creature per caster level.
    +1 attack, +1 saves, +1 AC, +1 initiative.
    Short duration.

    It *is* a third-level spell, after all.

  5. It's fair game for anyone to prefer "none of the above", I'm interested in other suggestions, too.

    Paul: I would have mentioned Holmes, except that magic-user spells there only go up to 2nd level, so haste isn't described at all. (It's included in a 3rd-level "teaser" list on p. 14, but that's all.)

  6. You know, I'm wondering if Haste should give the target a limited number of extra turns. I caste Haste on Bob. Bob takes his turn. He then takes 3 extra "phantom" turns. The spell ends. That's very "game-y," but the Chainmail version does specify 3 turns duration. It does allow multiple attacks, although per Changeling Bob, I'd still only give the target one attack roll with a bonus to attack, but with increased damage. A Hastened spell caster can cast multiple spells, but they all take effect on the next *real* turn. There's no AC bonus, but it doesn't matter, because the Haste is no longer in effect when the opponent attacks.

    If not that, I'd probably go with the Chainmail version.

  7. And if I had had my Holmes at hand, I would have realized that and not looked foolish. Doh. :)

  8. Double attacks and movement, +2 AC like the boots, but only affects one person per every 5 levels of experience (2 @ 10, 3 @ 15, etc.) and only for 3 rounds - and only if you're not allowing two-weapon fighting or using Philotomy's less powerful version of it (+1 to hit). Otherwise, you run into the late-1e & 2e problem of paired weapon fighters with extra attacks from high levels doubling the whole nonsense into stupidity - and that way lies madness.

  9. Entire party.

    +1 to attacks, saves, and AC.

    PCs roll initiative twice, choose the better result.

    Double movement.

    1 turn.

  10. Awesome idea for a series of articles (I followed the link here from Grognardia).

    If you take requests, I'd love to see something written about more powerful spells like Polymorph and Wish ...

  11. Sorry I’m late to the party. So, here’s that analysis of 4E Haste and haste-like effects and their meaning in the game that you asked for on Grognardia. I will try to keep this abstract since you’ve probably not read 4E extensively.

    Because 4e has codified and prioritized movement and the management of how many actions you have available each turn to an unprecedented degree, haste-like effects are plentiful and varied. They generally fall into three categories:

    1) Effects that allow you to move around more in combat.
    2) Effects that allow you to perform more actions (attack, use items, open doors, pull levers, move around, etc.)
    3) Effects that increase your movement speed outside of combat. These are more consistent with the “lasting buff” nature of older haste-like effects.

    Of the three categories, number one is the largest, and from a flavor perspective these effects are achieved in a variety of ways, from the mundane to the magical. Some of them are effects that last for the entire combat encounter (and can therefore often be used for five minutes outside of combat to make yourself run faster), some of them just happen instantly. Overall the impression one gets from this category is that pure movement is important but easy to come by.

    The second category is more limited, as WotC has continued to reinforce the lesson they drew from 3E: Extra actions in combat are dangerous and can quickly get out of hand. They decided to make most of these effects one-shot/single round affairs, or at least impose a variety of restrictions on them. They also tend to be higher level effects, and their increasing prevalence as you rise in levels is one of the measures of mechanical character progress.

    4E’s actual Haste spell falls into this category. It is now a level 16 utility spell for the bard and only grants a single standard action (the most useful kind) to the caster or a single ally within 50 feet, but only requires a minor action (the least useful kind) to cast. Basically it’s a single focused burst of supernatural speed for six seconds. It’s also usable only once per day. The rule text is only a dozen words, which is in keeping with its Chainmail and OD&D counterparts, but of course it barely resembles its ancestors at this point.

    The last category is mostly made up of rituals, which are therefore explicitly non-combat (except for the occasional utility class feature or racial ability). They come closest to the longer duration and multiple target abilities of traditional haste-like effects, but their uses are usually limited to non-combat contexts. The one that most readily comes to mind is the ritual Traveller’s Chant: Ten minutes to cast, 15 gp worth of materials, lasts 8 hours, and increases the overland travel rate of up to 8 people.

    There does not yet appear to be an effect that increases the speed of your (non-combat) movements and thoughts yet, though there is ample design space for it.

    So, that’s the 4e shape of Haste.

  12. Make the caster sustain it, or bring back the aging penalty. Big payoffs for big tradeoffs.

  13. "4E’s actual Haste spell falls into this category. It is now a level 16 utility spell for the bard and only grants a single standard action (the most useful kind) to the caster or a single ally within 50 feet, but only requires a minor action (the least useful kind) to cast."

    Gez, I mean... none of that stuff exists in my OD&D game. Not level 16 spells, bards, standard actions, minor actions, or anything.

    In fact, the whole point of switching back to OD&D was to dispose of those things.

  14. Delta said:
    "Gez, I mean... none of that stuff exists in my OD&D game. Not level 16 spells, bards, standard actions, minor actions, or anything.
    In fact, the whole point of switching back to OD&D was to dispose of those things."

    3rd, 2nd, and 1st edition's Haste spells don't exist in OD&D either, but you examined them anyway. You did so in order to perfect your own version of D&D, just as I examine 0e, 1e, 2e, and 3e to better perfect mine. I merely provided one more source for you and your readers to consider.

    If you question its relevance, then I'll summarize what I saw as 4e's "takeaway" on haste-style effects: its designers decided to divide up Haste's movement capabilities, its action increasing/combat buff aspect, its long term buff functions, and its out-of-combat applications. One possible application of this insight is that old school Haste could also be more workable if split into several spells, or perhaps a single modular spell. That's probably not what you would do personally, but it is worthy of consideration.

  15. I give an extra move or an extra full action (we don't use the complex 3E action details, this just means your movement about the area vs the other things your character can do like spells, attacks, magic item use, etc). So it falls between "double move" and "double both" because effectively I'm giving x1.5 but you choose where the extra 0.5 is going to go.

    I see the +50% move as x1.25 (restricted), double move as x1.5 (restricted), double all as x2, and double all plus bonuses as x2+. I say x2+ because it might be as much as x4 for low level characters, or x2.1 for very high level ones. The multiplier is more important for high level characters than the static bonus, and the converse for low-level ones.

    So I fall in the middle, and I like the tactical choice that mine gives. They can choose more mobility or more power, and can shift that as they desire.

    Then again, my spells all suffer from friendly fire and the reverse, that is, if you cast Bless and it hits some enemies, they benefit from it too. This tends to reduce the value of Haste.

  16. What I always found funny is that there's nothing in any of the spell descriptions saying that you get to Haste your friends but not your foes within the area. The way I read it, it's the first 24 (or however many) creatures in order of proximity, period. Ergo, this would almost never be worthwhile, because you've just sped up your enemies too, making it a wash.

  17. Scott -- I agree, I think that's a legitimately possible reading of what's in the text (without my ever playing that way).

    The one balancing factor is that there is a limited area to it (6"x12" in OD&D), so the solution would be to cast it pre-combat or at least before contact is made. If I was in a game where that was the ruling I could accept that.

  18. Necro! Altough there is no description for the haste spell in Holmes, there is a potion of haste in the magic items section. The description reads: " User moves at twice normal speed and can deliver twice the usual number of blows during combat for the durations of the potion effect."

    1. Ooh, great catch! Weird that it wasn't called "Speed" like in normal D&D.