Book of War Expansion: Cold

We had a pretty good cold snap in the northeast this week, so I figured it was a good opportunity to write about adding cold powers to Book of War play. It's something I kind of wanted to do for symmetry's sake in the system, but it requires you to bend a few of the core principles in order to make happen. For example -- Fire Giants get an advantage in being immune to the powers of Red Dragons and Fireball-wands in the game; Storm Giants can say the same against Blue Dragons and Lightning-wands; but Frost Giants are left out in the, um... cold. So let's give them something to be awesome against:

White Dragons

If you've got the BOW rulebook, you might wonder why I only included 3 kinds of dragons: Adult Blue, Red, and Gold. As you might guess, space was an issue, and 3 types seemed enough to suggest the overall flavor of the possibilities. It also seemed nice to include the first 2 types given detail in Chainmail Fantasy (Red & Blue), plus the one Lawful type as a counter.

But the other thing is that those 3 types are the only ones that qualify to appear as solo Heroes at the Adult age level. Recall that a major principle is that creatures need 10 Hit Dice minimum in D&D to appear as Heroes (and this is already being generous, so I tend to uphold it strictly). Consider the OD&D Adult Blue Dragon (medium size): hit points are 9 dice × 4 points per die (for age) = 36 hit points. Pro-rated, that's the equivalent of 36/3.5 (expected value of d6) = 10.28 hit dice -- just enough. Red and Dragon Adults have a bit more, so they're in too, but the rest all fail the test.

So if you want to see a White Dragon in your game -- the weakest of all dragon types -- it has to be nothing less than Very Old (the topmost category) in order to qualify as a Hero. Then you'll have 6 dice × 6 points per die = 36 hit points (the same as the Adult Blue above), and it just squeaks in 1 point over the cutoff. (Note that this "pro-rated" hit dice analysis is systematized in the AD&D Monster Manual as the way to adjudicate Dragon Saving Throws: "When a dragon attains 5 or more hit points per die, its saving throw is calculated by dividing its total hit points by 4, thus giving a higher number of hit dice than it actually has..." [MM p. 31]). So the result follows (text between horizontal rules is Open Game Content per OGL):









Dragon, Very Old White







Flying, breathe cold

Dragon, Very Old White: This type functions as other dragons, but has a cold-breath attack for damage 9.

Walls of Ice

While Book of War directly provides only for the top 6th-level spells in play, you can of course dig down into the lower levels and have your wizards use all that other stuff, if they have the opportunity and you're so inclined (like: conjuring elementals). So the 4th-level wall of ice (or anything else: fire, stone, iron) might be considered as a barrier-making mechanism. But if we apply the AD&D-explicated rule that areas stay in feet-scale outdoors (all-caps on PHB p. 39; and really the only rational way to deal with it in my opinion), its effect might be more limited than first hoped for.

In OD&D, the magic walls of both ice and fire have the same options for area: either (1) a standing plane of 6"×2", or (2) a circle of 3" diameter and 2" height (later editions make this latter a hemisphere, but here it's easy to read it as an uncapped cylinder). Using the Book of War rule to divide areas by 3 (p. 16), we get a straight version that's 2" long, and a circular version that's just 1" diameter (enough to contain one figure, really). A more technical conversion of the former, using our preferred 1"= 5 feet scale for man-to-man D&D (i.e., taking the inches literally compared to standard miniature figures), would give 6" × 5 ft/dnd-inch × 1/20 bow-inch/ft = 1½" long -- but the approximating rule in BOW is so much simpler to use that there's really no need for all that. (Almost all distances in OD&D are divisible by 3, so that's why I round in that direction.) Or if you prefer the 1"=10 feet scale then you get a 3" long wall instead.

So either way you slice it, the wall of ice (and the rest of its family) is not very big on the mass-combat tabletop. Maybe it's just enough to wall off a narrow passage between two terrain features that get set up close to each other (perhaps pre-planned on game start), or maybe stop up a gap in a castle wall made by your opponent's disintegrate spell. Personally, I don't mind that, as at 4th level, it really shouldn't be something that rivals the power of the "greater spells" at 6th level. And the other thing that's funky about wall of ice is that in OD&D, it seems to mimic wall of fire with its concentration-based duration, but every other edition gives it a fixed duration instead. I think I agree with the change; it seems like an active, flickering fire with no fuel source is more in need of infusion with energy than an unmoving block of ice. I converted it to a 6 turn duration in Book of Spells, for example. Thus we get:

  • Wall of Ice (Range: 12", Duration: 6 turns). This spell creates either a 2" long wall, or a 1" diameter circle of ice. It can be broken through by 4HD troops or greater, or any Hero, who then take a damage 1 cold attack (2 for fire-users).

Cold Wands

Following Chainmail Fantasy (where all wizards have an at-will attack form of either fireball or lightning bolt), wizards in BOW all come prepared with either a wand of fire or a wand of lightning. Again for symmetry, I came very close to suggestion an option for an equivalent cold wand, but ultimately didn't keep it in the book (I actually went back-and-forth, inserting and deleting text to that effect a few times).

OD&D has a cold wand, but as written, it simply won't cut the mustard. The effect is what we'd call in later editions a "cone of cold" (5th-level spell as of the 1E PHB). Instead of having the fireball/lightning missile tradition of a long 24" range, it only creates a 6" long cone emanating from the user; see above for what happens when we convert that area-effect to BOW scale (becomes just 2", more-or-less). That's a whole hell of a lot less threatening. Perhaps the cold wand and similar-acting devices (fear, paralysis) are really more specialized to dungeon adventuring than the fireball/lightning attacks -- (1) the area is really sufficient for most purposes there, (2) it has more control, in that there's no legacy of variable targeting error, and (3) no one ever suggested the need for any "blowback" in constricted areas. But outdoors, by the text-as-written, it's clearly deficient.

So part of me wants to go off-book and permit a wizard to appear equipped with something like a wand of ice storms that has the equivalent effect to the other spells, but as cold instead of fire/lightning, at no additional cost. A few problems with that: (1) Obviously there's no such actual item described in core D&D. (2) Even the book effect for ice storm is always shown as shorter range than the other missiles, like 12" when it appears as a 4th-level spell in Greyhawk (Sup-I, p. 23). (3) In addition, I have a much harder time visualizing a cold effect shooting in a line over the battlefield, compared to fireballs/lightning. The ice storm description asserts that a localized storm pounds down out of nowhere, which is frankly a little silly compared to the other stuff. So this is actually the kind of thing that I would criticize other RPG designers for: creating new feature via mere game-mechanical symmetry, even when the modeled concept doesn't really stand up as a thing-in-the-world. I don't know; I guess you could do that if you want to, but I haven't really been able to make myself comfortable with it.

[Photo by sgetliffe under CC2.]


  1. It is interesting that "cold" was given such short shrift by OD&D/Chainmail. Compare that to the whole Nordic idea of the cold being the basis of all life and even something modern like the Winter in 'Game of Thrones.'

  2. On Wands of Cold, just tossing ideas around - Fireballs and Lightning Bolts have a miss chance to go with their range. Would the pitiful range of the cold effect be any more viable if it automatically inflicted damage/figure loss?

  3. Anthony -- That's a really good point. Of course, you can see that as a result of just re-purposing the Chainmail mechanics for catapults (fireballs) and cannons (lightning bolts), neither of which really act "cold-like" at their core.

    Jonathon -- I could be wrong, but I think it's unlikely; kind of the same problem I've wrestled with over dragon's flying. A 24" strike distance allows you to threaten almost a whole table-width (it's over 100 times more threatened area than a 2"-long cone of cold).

  4. Calling down an Ice Storm doesn't have to be a targeted ranged energy attack. It could be a flavor of Control Weather/Alter Terrain.

    An Ice Storm could...
    * give a -1 to Morale for units/heroes who are not acclimated or immune
    *create an area of rough terrain, that only "cold-acclimated" units can pass unimpeded

    A Wand of Cold could...
    *instead of damage, force a morale check against an adjacent unit, or prevent movement for a turn, perhaps with a penalty for units unacclimated to cold.