Arena – Man vs. Monster

Adding Monsters to the Simulated Arena of Battling D&D Fighters, So As to Assess Average Advancement and Ability Scores at High Levels


Previously, I presented a simulation of a D&D gladiatorial "Arena", where we generated a random population of 10,000 original D&D fighters and paired them in battles to the death for a few generations, to see what kind of level, hit point, and ability distributions would arise (link).

Note that this gave rise to a fairly predictable system: Once one fighter graduated from 1st to 2nd level, almost all of their later fights would be against 1st level opponents (96% or more of the population), whom they would almost surely defeat and gain XP from (generally 10 xp × 20 prize factor = 200 xp), reliably increasing in level from that point on. This gave rise to a fairly smooth set of numbers in level and ability distributions over 1,000 cycles of combat (what we might guess as 250 years of arena competitions).

One limitation of that simulation was obviously that normal D&D does not predominantly battle PCs versus NPCs, but rather a regime of mostly nonhuman monsters. It would take additional programming work to add that capacity to the simulation.

New Method

At this point I've added modules to the Java program for the simulation to allow input of a variety of basic monster types and determination tables from CSV text tables. (As a side-benefit, this also allowed use of more exact class XP tables, which were previously approximated by a simple formula.) Now, each combat consists of a given gladiator (fighter) pairing off against a monster of a random level as determined by the tables in OD&D Vol-3, p. 10 (see below). The level of the NPC fighter is used for "Level Beneath the Surface", that is, as though the character were exploring a dungeon equal to their own level. Only the simplest melee-type monsters are included from the following tables: Kobolds, Goblins, Skeletons... and so on up to Superheroes, Lords, and Giants. The program doesn't currently handle any special abilities, so the gladiators do not face off against any monsters with poison, paralysis, petrification, energy drain, breath weapons, spell casting, etc. (For a listing of the specific monsters and game statistics used, see the file Monsters.CSV, linked at the bottom of this post). In order to better resemble standard D&D play, I changed the fighters' presumed armor from chain & shield to non-magical plate & shield (the exact type didn't matter when all opponents are equal in this way, but now it certainly does against predefined higher-level monsters).


Here are some of the chief lessons from this exercise. (1) There is enormously more variation in the system: a 2nd level fighter can be paired off against anything from a Zombie to a Lord or a Giant. (2) The wandering monster tables in Vol-3 are far too dangerous for this exercise as written, and almost no one can advance beyond 3rd level with this system; for example, when one encounters a Lord or Giant at 2nd or 3rd level, that fighter is almost surely destroyed. (3) Experience awards are many times more variable; for example, killing a Giant gains about 5400 xp including prize award (compare to the predictable 200 xp from most fights in the old system). If a 2nd level fighter does manage to accomplish this (through a set of cosmically fortunate rolls, or abnormally low monster hit points, say), then that would be enough to jump over two levels immediately (if it were not capped at a one-level jump). This, then returns us to point #1: there is enormously more variation in the system.

So when I started this simulation at the old parameters (10,000 population, 2,000 cycles), the most common thing was for no one in the entire population to be above 3rd level at the end. But sometimes, there would be one lucky star who managed to graduate past the danger area, and then continued cruising to 10th, 20th, or even 45th level! Of course, anyone in that situation is clearly an outlier that can't tell us anything about overall distributions or ability averages.

Clearly I needed a much larger population (to get better data about higher levels), and a smaller cycle length (to prevent the lucky few from shooting off the end of the scale and becoming deities). The simulation runs below are thus done for a population of 100,000 and only 200 cycles (what we might guess as 50 years of real-life gladiator combat). Here are the results of that, confronting the "normal" random monster tables in OD&D:

As you can see, extreme violence is inherent in the system. Of the 100,000 population, only about 2% have survived to 2nd level, and less then a half-percent have made it to 3rd level or above. The numbers are flat and single digits from 9th-15th level, so that surely looks like random noise to me, and the ability score averages swing up and down without any pattern at that point (the NPCs got there through dumb luck, not any particular ability advantage). So this doesn't tell us much, and I don't think that we expect D&D character levels to be so intensely constrained as all that.

However, before I go on, I must call out the one figure who achieved 16th level in that particular simulation: What a character! Strength 17, Constitution 16, hit points 92, he's clearly the beefiest fighter in the list. And also: Intelligence 5, Wisdom 6, a drooling barely-aware moron (IQ 50?). Charisma 10, so not a completely dislikable sort. Even with those physical abilities, I'd say he could only get to this point through a whole gauntlet of insane (really, really dumb) luck along the way. What if the most powerful NPC fighter in your campaign world was this same, blessed-by-the-gods, illiterate mass of muscle? Call him "Arnold" or "Jean-Claude" or "Groo" if you like.

Anyway, this excursion into nonstop brutality against most of our gladiators is not exactly what I wanted. So I went looking for a simple way to re-interpret use of those tables (have solo fighters play against a lower dungeon level, lower monster level, etc.). The easiest way seemed to be this: simply subtract 1 or more pips from the d6 roll on the monster level determination table. In fact, that's what I already have noted for my games, so it seemed like an obvious choice.

As it turns out, subtracting 1 from the d6 die makes a fairly small difference; achieved levels might increase by about one, is all (perhaps 2nd level fighters get stomped by a Superhero or a Minotaur instead). Even subtracting 2 is not a lot different. Here's what happens when I subtract 3 from that initial die-roll (i.e., limit results 1-3 only): 

At this point, I think you at least start have something that looks like a potentially legitimate D&D fighter population: about 80,000 1st-level fighters, 14,000 (about one-sixth) 2nd level, a third of the 3rd level, a third of that 4th level, and then diminishing reductions after that. There is a clearly increasing pattern to the favored abilities (Str, Dex, Con) that we can use to gauge proper values for new PCs or NPCs -- advancing a bit more slowly than in the former Man-vs-Man case, which makes sense because the gladiators are not contending directly with each other (in which case those abilities are the only distinguishing factor), whereas now the overall luck in monster draw is more telling.

The other thing I like about this is that, very broadly, it replicates the figures stipulated by Gygax in OD&D Vol-2 for proportion of a group of men that are higher-level leaders (see: Bandits, p. 5, and back-referenced in other places). Consider the following comparison:

While not perfect, the numbers are about the right order of magnitude. (And they look better if we add in the simulation numbers at 3rd level and 7th level to complete the picture.) It suggests that this is a place where we can choose to throw our anchor for the population distribution, before assessing ability scores achieved by the selection method. (Note that the more we modify the die roll, the greater the advancement proportions become. If we subtract 4 from the level die-roll, numbers at higher levels increase, and form a better match for the AD&D numbers where Gygax somewhat inflated leader proportions. For brevity, I'll omit showing that comparison here.)

Before I conclude, I'll make a few points about the need to soften those wandering monster tables. I've long seen the need for that already in my own games (link1, link2), and the same was indeed carried out by all later writers, including Holmes, Moldvay, and Gygax himself in AD&D (arguably over-compensating in the DMG). Even though some writers have expressed positive views of how tough they are (see the comments under link2 above).

But I must emphasize how incredibly charitable I'm being in all my interpretations towards our NPC gladiators, even in the original simulation that massacres almost every one with fail. There are no monsters included here that have poison, paralysis, petrification, breath weapon, hit by magic, etc. (any one of which could destroy a lone fighter of practically any level). I've very gently interpreted monster statistics at every turn (see Monsters.CSV below); for example, all the giant animals are given just a single attack for 1d6 damage, white apes are given just 2 attacks (when it could justifiably be 4), NPC fighters are given no bonuses whatsoever for abilities, feats, or magic items, etc. Hit dice are all still 6-sided as per the Original D&D boxed set. There is no penalty to XP for battling creatures under your own level (which arguably would be worse for solo fighters, as opposed to parties that can gang up on one monster of like level for full XP). And yet for all that, the system is practically a sure-fire-killer unless we soften the initial roll for monster level (or the like) in each pairing.


What do you think of that? Is it what you expected when we switched from man-vs-man to man-vs-monster? Can you think of any more justifiable way of determining random pairings of D&D fighting gladiators versus monsters? Is it helpful for the game?

Want the data files and Java code used for the simulation? See here:


Spells Through The Ages – Antimagic Shell

Antimagic shell has been in the game ever since Chainmail Fantasy. It's another one of those high-level spells that I haven't seen get used much (in fact: never), because despite its obvious power, it seems to cancel out the very thing that makes the wizard casting it special: his or her own spells. Let's consider it:

Chainmail Fantasy

Anti-Magic Shell: This causes a bubble of force to surround the user and totally prevents anything magical from either entering or leaving the shell. It lasts for up to six turns. Shell radius is 5". (Complexity 6)

Notice that the name is actually hyphenated, which is retained up through 2E. Now, some important stuff which will contrast with what comes later: First, it says that magic is prevented from "entering or leaving" the shell; narrowly read, this leaves normal operations inside the shell, such that the wizard can continue casting spells within (e.g., protective spells or items, conjuring an elemental, teleporting away to safety, etc.), seemingly giving more options for the wizard in question. Also, this seems to be in tune with the unique naming of the magic as a "Shell", which seems to imply a barrier defense, with some different content inside. Was that the original intent? Secondly, notice the rather enormous area of effect: 5" radius (which depending on how you interpret that might be 50 feet radius, although I assess it at 25 feet radius in man-to-man scale); this will be greatly reduced in later editions.

Original D&D

Anti-Magic Shell: A field which surrounds the Magic-User and makes him totally impervious to all spells. It also prevents any spells from being sent through the shell by the Magic-User who conjured it. Duration: 12 turns.

Largely the same as in Chainmail, but note some fine details. The description has changed from a "bubble" to a "field" (which in physics "occupies space"; link), and makes the caster "totally impervious to all spells", possibly even inside the shell (e.g., an enemy caster that walked into the shell couldn't cast spells within the barrier)? Also, the wording has switched from preventing "anything magical" to "any spells", which might arguably be more limited (magic swords, et. al.?), but is probably not the intent. Finally, no area of effect is given: note that it's a common Gygaxianism to leave out some of the most important details like that when advancing editions (generally still presuming familiarity and use of the prior work).

Swords & Spells

Anti-Magic Shell: [Range] touch, [Area of Effect] 1", [Turn Duration] 12.

In Swords & Spells, Gygax gives the antimagic shell an area of 1", filling in the gap in OD&D, and much smaller than that seen in Chainmail. This actually might be my favorite and simplest specification for the area, but no other edition will use it. Recall that the range "touch" here is used for all caster-only spells (c.f. polymorph self and so forth).

D&D Expert Rules

Anti-Magic Shell 
Range: 0' (caster only)
Duration: 12 turns

This spell creates a personal barrier about the caster that stops any magic spell or spell effect from coming in or going out. It blocks all spells (including the caster's) until the duration is up or until the caster decides to end the spell.

If we look at this with a magnifying glass, it has some bits of understanding from both the prior editions ("any magic spell or spell effect from coming in or going out"). However, Cook makes it a "personal barrier" (Range: 0', caster only), which is pretty likely how you'd interpret the OD&D text with no listed area, if you weren't also looking at Chainmail at the same time.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Anti-Magic Shell (Abjuration)
Level: 6

Range: 0
Duration: 1 turn/leve1
Area of Effect: 1'/level diameter sphere

Explanation/Description: By means of an anti-magic shell, the magic-user causes an invisible barrier to surround his or her person, and this moves with the spell caster. This barrier is totally impervious to all magic and magic spell effects (this includes such attack forms as breath weapons, gaze weapons, and voice weapons). It thus prevents the entrance of spells or their effects, and it likewise prevents the function of any magical items or spells within its confines. It prevents the entrance of charmed, summoned, and conjured creatures. However, normal creatures (assume a normal troll rather than one conjured up, for instance) can pass through the shell, as can normal missiles. While a magic sword would not function magically within the shell, it would still be a sword.

That's the PHB text, here's the DMG errata:
Anti-Magic Shell: It must be pointed out that creatures on their own plane are normal creatures, so this spell cost upon the Elemental Plane of Fire, for example, would hedge out none of the creatures of the plane.

Now, this version has several changes. It returns an area of effect based on caster level (at least about 12' diameter, so you can probably fit in several friends). It is the first one totally explicit that magic is disrupted "within its confines". The effect also includes defense against breath, gaze, and voice weapon; charmed, summoned, and conjured creatures; and also the effects of magic swords and the like. However, these newly called-out defenses create some possible interpretive problems: If a magic arrow is shot at the shell, does it shatter, disappear, or turn into a normal missile? If the caster moves aggressively against a summoned monster, what happens then? What if a charmed creature gets thrown through the air at the shell, does it physically bounce off or something else?

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Antimagic Shell
Range: 0

Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: 1 ft./level diameter

By means of this spell, the wizard surrounds himself with an invisible barrier that moves with him. The space within this barrier is totally impervious to all magic and magical spell effects, thus preventing the passage of spells or their effects. Likewise, it prevents the functioning of any magical items or spells within its confines. The area is also impervious to breath weapons, gaze or voice attacks, and similar special attack forms.

The antimagic shell also hedges out charmed, summoned, or conjured creatures. It cannot, however, be forced against any creature that it would keep at bay; any attempt to do so creates a discernible pressure against the barrier, and continued pressure will break the spell. Normal creatures (a normally encountered troll rather than a conjured one, for instance) can enter the area, as can normal missiles. Furthermore, while a magical sword does not function magically within the area, it is still a sword. Note that creatures on their home plane are normal creatures there. Thus, on the Elemental Plane of Fire, a randomly encountered fire elemental cannot be kept at bay by this spell. Artifacts, relics, and creatures of demigod or higher status are unaffected by mortal magic such as this.

Should the caster be larger than the area enclosed by the barrier, parts of his person may be considered exposed, at the DM's option. A dispel magic spell does not remove the spell; the caster can end it upon command.

This is basically identical to 1E, and folds in the note from the DMG as is customary. The name is finally changed to remove the hyphen. It tries to solve the problem of "what happens when the caster attacks a magical creature?", by creating a "discernible pressure" that might break the spell -- personally, that seems a bit clunky and tone-deaf in how an immaterial field of non-magic can create physical pressure on the caster. There is also an added paragraph at the end that introduces two new details: (1) large creatures may or may not be partly exposed when casting the spell (a maybe-or-maybe-not 2E-ism), and (2) dispel magic cannot remove an antimagic shell. Is that a good idea? Does antimagic serve to cancel other antimagic?

D&D 3rd Ed.

Antimagic Field
Level: Clr 8, Magic 6, Protection 6, Sor/Wiz 6
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 10 ft.
Area: 10-ft.-radius emanation, centered on the character
Duration: 10 minutes/level (D)
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: See text

An invisible barrier surrounds the character and moves with the character. The space within this barrier is impervious to most magical effects, including spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities. Likewise, it prevents the functioning of any magic items or spells within its confines.

An antimagic field suppresses any spell or magical effect used within, brought into, or cast into the area, but does not dispel it. Time spent within an antimagic field counts against the suppressed spell's duration. Golems and other magical constructs, elementals, outsiders, and corporeal undead, still function in an antimagic area (though the antimagic area suppresses their supernatural, spell-like, and spell abilities normally). If such creatures are summoned or conjured, however, see below.

Summoned or conjured creatures of any type and incorporeal undead wink out if they enter an antimagic field. They reappear in the same spot once the field goes away. Time spent winked out counts normally against the duration of the conjuration that's maintaining the creature. If the character casts antimagic field in an area occupied by a conjured creature who has spell resistance, the character must make a caster level check (1d20 + caster level) against the creature's SR to make it wink out.

Normal creatures can enter the area, as can normal missiles. The spell has no effect on constructs that are imbued with magic during their creation process and are thereafter self-supporting (unless they have been summoned, in which case they are treated like any other summoned creatures). Undead and outsiders are likewise unaffected unless summoned. These creatures' spell-like or supernatural abilities, however, may be temporarily nullified by the field.

Dispel magic does not remove the field. Two or more antimagic fields sharing any of the same space have no effect on each other. Certain spells remain unaffected by antimagic field (see the individual spell descriptions). Artifacts and creatures of demigod or higher status are unaffected.

Note: Should the character be larger than the area enclosed by the barrier, any part of the character's person that lies outside the barrier is unaffected by the field.

3E changes the name from antimagic shell to antimagic field, borrowing from the text description back in OD&D, and aligning the name with the fact that it's antimagic throughout the volume of space (which was possibly not the case back in Chainmail, but that can be argued). There is additional detail given to the fact that spells get suppressed but their duration clock keeps ticking, and that summoned, conjured, and incorporeal undead "wink out" if they come in contact with the sphere, reappearing later on -- which to me seems even more kindergarten-y and deaf to the literature. Charmed creatures are no longer specifically called out, although I think we can conclude that the creature can pass into the sphere but the charm is then lifted at the time. 3E keeps the no-dispel rule, answers the antimagic-vs-antimagic question (they can overlap with no effect), and also settles the large-creature issue (definitely partly exposed, which seems very strange).

Also this addresses another issue that I'm surprised didn't come earlier: What about golems and similar constructs, who are created by magic, but whose essential power is that they're immune to all magic by default? 3E answers in that they are not affected in any way; an iron golem can waltz in and brain your wizard just like he normally can, a possibly strange ruling, but generally consistent from the point-of-view of the golem's ignoring of most types of spells. Does that seem correct to you?


While it's possible to read the Chainmail description as a true "shell" (surface barrier only), such that the wizard can still be casting personal magic inside, this clearly gets ruled out in later editions. As I mentioned above, this has always seemed partly troubling, for what does the D&D wizard have but his spells? In this respect the AD&D spell globe of invulnerability seems seems like a better option, possibly a direct response, in that spells go out but they don't come in (up to a certain level).

In later editions, the effect of antimagic shell was expanded (or further fleshed out) to ban exotic attacks like breath, gaze, summonses, and conjured creatures, but the corner-cases of exactly what happens when those creatures touch or get touched by the sphere caused ongoing complications that seem indelicately resolved (not uncommon in powers initially designed as defenses that get turned around by players for offensive purposes). Note that in theory, even something like the 1st-level protection from evil might have the same issue ("keep out attacks from enchanted monsters", OD&D), but that spell never found need to add the same complications that antimagic shell did.

I might go so far as to ask: What's so critical about disallowing that anyway? Might we not run antimagic shell by allowing the caster to move into range of a conjured elemental or invisible stalker and actually disrupt their presence? That would make for some legitimately potent use from this otherwise questionable spell, and the wizard would need to balance the risk in that they have no choice but to walk out onto the field of battle, with absolutely no other defenses active in order to make it happen (by virtue of the non-magic effect, of course). It could be used in magic-trap-sweeping capacity, as well (otherwise not prohibited in any edition).

Other questions: Do you see the spell get used much in your games? In what tactical situations does it get used? Would it be a better option if the casting wizard could still use personal magic inside the shell? And what's your preference for the effect it has when contacting summoned, conjured, charmed, or magically constructed monsters?


In Which I Sit In Judgement

Back in May, I had the distinct pleasure of serving as one of judges in this year's One Page Dungeon Contest. The winners were announced in June -- and among the ways you can see the entries is via a pay-what-you-want package of all the submissions at RPGNow (link), compiled by organizer Random Wizard. Then in July fellow judge Martin Thomas had the great idea of starting a conversation with all the fellow judges, at his "Daddy Rolled a 1" blog, about our various protocols and advice for future dungeon designers. He posted a summary of everyone's responses (link), and prior to that a writeup of his own individual observations (link).

I wanted to match Martin's good idea and post the entirety of my responses here. First of all, here was the questionnaire that he mailed out:
  1. Is this your first time judging the One Page Dungeon contest? What other similar contests, if any, have you judged before?
  2. What were your expectations for the contest before judging began? Were those expectations met?
  3. In general, what kinds of things stood out in this year's submissions? For example, did you notice any similar themes across entries?
  4. Have you used any of the ideas from the contest in any games you're currently running?
  5. What are the Top 3 things you were looking for in the submissions to pick a winner?
  6. For those who are thinking of entering next year, what are 3-4 things you would suggest *not* do to?
  7. Unrelated to judging, but what are some things you're currently working on that you'd like fans to know about, and where can they go to find out more information?
Below you'll find my full responses to his questions.

(1) First, enormous thanks to Random Wizard for asking me to do the judging this year. It's my first time, and so I wrestled with developing some criteria as I plowed through the list. (Actually, the initial results results were delayed by a day or two and that was because of me.) I don't usually use the one-page format myself, but this was golden opportunity to see a wide range of perspectives on dungeon design (110 entries, to be exact). It felt like a master's class in the subject, and was tremendously educational from the judge's seat.

(2) I really don't know what to expect going into the judging. In fact, the educational process kind of unfolded after I'd begun and gotten quite a ways into the list (over a number of days).

(3) It was indeed interesting to see how some of the same ideas bubbled up in multiple entries. Two very young crayon-based entries was present (given special mention in the results, amusing). Two of the entries were full-on "mini-campaigns" that both ended very high in the results. Two entries had features which called for sending PCs to *other* one-page dungeons in the contest, chosen randomly. And several were systems for producing randomized or "infinite" adventures. See more in #5 and #6 below.

(4) I made lists of specific adventures and trick ideas I could use in my own play, but I haven't actually played them out yet.

(5) Starting in a very amorphous place, I developed my criteria in bits and pieces as I was reading the many entries. Overall, I found myself looking for clever and coherent design, plus quick usability for the DM (readable, fully executed, etc.). Some good points would be: (a) Specific number appearing and usable stats for monsters, traps, and treasure (almost any system will do, prefer to see AC, HD, Damage); (b) Clean and readable linear text layout (ideally: map and text aligned, with area 1 at top, and last area at bottom in each); (c) More encounter areas (with detail) are better than few; (d) Usability as a pure drop-in to an existing, standard fantasy campaign.

Note that my very first item (a) above is that I wanted to see some concrete statistics for monsters (and traps and treasure). To me, this shows extra effort and eases use by the DM at the table, so this actually became my first cutoff when looking at any entry. Any system would do, even one I wasn't familiar with. A bit later I thought to research the origin of the One Page Dungeon Contest, and I what somewhat rattled to see the original directions had a "No game stats" allowed rule (http://www.critical-hits.com/blog/2009/04/14/new-grand-contest-the-one-page-dungeon/). Then I had a bit of worry I might be triggering a scandal in the judging; but fortunately Random Wizard's direction here 5 years later was "a good strategy is to avoid using too many system specific stats", so I think what I was doing was compatible with that.

More specifically, my rubric for stats was something like this (from best to worst):
(A) Specific number appearing and brief D&D-like stats (e.g., AC, HD, Damage)
(B) Monsters named by type with details in a core fantasy rulebook (e.g., orcs, harpies, etc.)
(C) Monster strength given by analog to core monsters (e.g., "fight as hobgoblins", "armor as plate", etc.)
(D) Monsters with no information or comparisons, need to be designed from scratch by DM (a "transforming blood demon", "a group of very strong monsters", "a large amount of treasure").

As we go down that list, more and more design work is offloaded to the DM, it becomes less feasible that one could pick a random entry and run it instantly on the fly, and I become less confident of the adventure's cohesion and balance. I do wish that we could come up with a standard stats package for work like this, but Random Wizard told me that prior conversations found this to be surprisingly contentious (with no less than 3 camps for how AC should be presented).

So here's how some of the entries fared in this regard. Generally, my choices were well-represented in the finalists (6 of my top 10 were in the finals). The two entries that were mini-campaigns didn't have any stats, but used common monsters (B-level above), so I was debating not including them in my top 10; but they were otherwise so exciting, so vibrant, and so bursting with energy that I did wind up including them both (with Will Doyle's "Island of the Lizard God" the grand prize winner; and I actually put PJ Cunningham's "Amid the Reapers Scattered Bones" a bit higher in my own list).

I actually like Sean Loftiss' "Bloodberries" quite a bit; I thought it was tight and clever; while it used Fighting Fantasy (non-D&D) stats, I felt it could be translated pretty neatly, and it gave me a metric for how tough one thing was meant to be against the other (e.g., the various alchemy bombs usable by PCs against monsters). However, apparently it didn't show up on any other judges' list.

On the other hand, I was a bit surprised that Matthew Adams "The Long Fall" ended as high as it did; it has a clever and inspiring map, but no stats, nonstandard monsters, sketchy text, and lots of complicated vertical adventuring that will require significant DM fill-ins and adjudication.

(6) In accordance with #5 above, I would recommend including bare-bones D&D-style monster stats (again: at least AC, HD, Damage). Also specify their number, as well as traps and treasures. Don't say "here is a group of very strong monsters" or "there is a powerful NPC wizard" (that the DM must spend time selecting and designing before running the game); personally that made me to see red and immediately reject entries.

Don't create a "randomized infinite adventure table" system. I think there were around a half-dozen in this group of entries? One did get into the finalists, but not highly, and none were on my list. This kind of work makes it hard for the prospective DM to "know what they're getting" or discern a theme (when in fact there usually isn't one); plus it's exacerbated by correlation with not specifying monster stats (see above). Some of my brothers and sisters in the software biz occasionally become enamored of over-abstraction, which I think hurts the fantasy game more than helps it. As my college creative writing instructor told us "it's the specific details that really sell a piece".

Don't create a sci-fi piece. Now, personally, I was very open to the entries that went in this direction, but none really made the cut for me or other judges. (Paul Hughes' space-fantasy "The Great Stag" was #14 on my list, just a bit too sketchy to get in the Top 10.) I think it's just a bit too hard to reconcile these when thinking about using them in a D&D campaign or similar context (as the judges probably have on their mind when reading a series of these adventures).

Don't have blatant logical gaps in how pieces connect, how traps function, etc.

Don't create just an image entirely lacking text or numbers.

Don't have typos or irritating grammatical errors.

(7) I'm currently working on Version 2 of my "Original Edition Delta: Book of Spells", to incorporate the last few years of play experience, and align it even more closely with the old-school game (that is, Original D&D). This summer I'm writing a "Spells Through the Ages" blog at least once a week as I go through the assessment and judging process on this particular project: at my usual blog, http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/. Plus trying to apply some lessons and become a better adventure-writer myself. :-)

Martin, thank so much for digging into this and asking these questions!


Spells Through The Ages – Telekinesis

Telekinesis is one of those spells that I've flat-out never seen used. (I never even figured out how to do anything with it in Diablo.) Let's see what it might do in D&D:

Original D&D

Telekenesis: By means of this spell objects may be moved by mental force. Weight limits are calculated by multiplying the level of the Magic-User by 200 Gold Pieces weight. Thus, a "Necromancer" is able to move a weight equal to 2,000 Gold Pieces. Duration: 6 turns. Range 12".

Notice the misspelling of the name (repeated in the list of spells). There's a weight limit calculation by level, but no specified speed or effects, really (like possible damage). Recall that in these rules 10 GP weigh 1 pound, so the weight rule is indicating 20 pounds/level.

D&D Expert Rules

Range: 120'
Duration: 6 rounds

The caster may levitate and slowly move weights of up to 200 coins weight/level. Thus a 10th level elf could move up to 2,000 coins of weight. The entire weight may be moved up to 20' per round in any direction the caster desires. Unwilling creatures get a saving throw vs. Spells. A successful save results in the spell having no effect. The caster must concentrate while moving objects, and if disturbed the telekinesed objects will fall.

Cook corrects the spelling, and adds a speed of movement -- which is fairly slow (20'/round, equivalent to a man in metal armor in these rules). There's also the possibility of a saving throw for a resisting creature.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Telekinesis (Alteration)
Level: 5
Range: 1"/level
Duration: 2 rounds + 1 round/level
Area of Effect: 250 g.p. weight/level
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 5 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: By means of this spell the magic-user is able to move objects by will force, by concentrating on moving them mentally. The telekinesis spell causes the desired object to move vertically or horizontally. Movement is 2" the first round, 4" the second, 8' the third, 16" the fourth, and so on, doubling each round until a maximum telekinetic movement of 1,024" per round is reached. (Heavy objects travelling at high speed can be deadly weapons!) Note that telekinesis can be used to move opponents who fall within the weight capacity of the spell, but if they are able to employ as simple a counter-measure as an enlarge spell, for example (thus making the body weight go over the maximum spell limit), it is easily countered. Likewise, ambulation or some other form of motive power if the recipient of the spell is not able to ambulate, counters the effect of telekinesis, provided the velocity has not reached 16" per round. The various Bigby's . . . Hand spells will also counter this spell, as will many other magics.

In AD&D, Gygax slightly modifies the weight limit calculation (from 20 to 25 pounds/level), and inserts a fairly complicated doubling-of-speed-per-round mechanic (assuming motion is not countered). That one's kind of a head-scratcher, as by the 4th round (16" movement) the object is almost certainly beyond the range of the spell (16" for 16th-level wizard) -- unless, I suppose, it's being whipped around in a circular motion. It's noted that "Heavy objects traveling at high speed can be deadly weapons!", but zero guidance is given on adjudicating the damage or other possible effect.

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Range: 10 yds./level

Duration: Special
Area of Effect: 10 yds./level 

By means of this spell, the wizard is able to move objects by concentrating on moving them mentally. The spell can provide either a gentle, sustained force or a single short, violent thrust.

A sustained force enables the wizard to move a weight of up to 25 pounds a distance up to 20 feet per round. The spell lasts two rounds, plus one round per caster level. The weight can be moved vertically, horizontally, or both. An object moved beyond the caster's range falls or stops. If the caster ceases concentration for any reason, the object falls or stops. The object can be telekinetically manipulated as if with one hand. For example, a lever or rope can be pulled, a key can be turned, an object rotated and so on, if the force required is within the weight limitation. The caster might even be able to untie simple knots, at the discretion of the DM.

Alternatively, the spell energy can be expended in a single round. The caster can hurl one or more objects within range, and within a 10-foot cube, directly away from himself at high speed, to a distance of up to 10 feet per caster level. This is subject to a maximum weight of 25 pounds per caster level. Damage caused by hurled objects is decided by the DM, but cannot exceed 1 point of damage per caster level. Opponents who fall within the weight capacity of the spell can be hurled, but they are allowed a saving throw vs. spell to avoid the effect. Furthermore, those able to employ as simple a counter-measure as an enlarge spell, for example (thus making the body weight go over the maximum spell limit), can easily counter the spell. The various Bigby's hand spells also counter this spell.

Cook does an uncharacteristically large rewrite of the spell in 2E. For the general case ("gentle, sustained force"), he keeps the 1E weight limit, and changes the duration to open-ended concentration (per the text). He also reverts the speed back to his own Expert D&D rule of 20 feet/round, which is problematic -- because while in B/X that was equal to a man in metal armor, in the different scale of AD&D, that's actually slower than anything else in the game (even a friend in plate mail moving your couch around on a Saturday). Apparently in response to the 1E major speed allowance and allusion to "deadly weapons!", he distinguishes a second use-case of "violent thrust" which is over in a round and does damage of up to 1 hp/level.

I'm not totally convinced by these changes, because it seems a bit of a half-hearted reaction to the 1E rule; generally I think split-use cases are both a complication and a sign of a poorly designed or underpowered spell; and the vague damage allowance seems quite low for a spell of this level (if against only one person). The spell text has grown from 1 paragraph in 0-1E to 3 paragraphs here.

D&D 3rd Ed.

Level: Sor/Wiz 5
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Long (400 ft. + 40 ft./level)
Target or Targets: See text
Duration: Concentration (up to 1 round/level) or instantaneous (see text)
Saving Throw: Will negates (object)(see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes (object) (see text)

The character moves objects or creatures by concentrating on them. Depending on the version selected, the spell can provide either a gentle, sustained force or a single short, violent thrust.

Sustained Force: A sustained force moves a creature or object weighing up to 25 pounds per caster level up to 20 feet per round. A creature can negate the effect against itself or against an object it possesses with a successful Will save or with SR.

This version of the spell lasts up to 1 round per caster level, but it ends if the character ceases concentration. The weight can be moved vertically, horizontally, or both. An object cannot be moved beyond the character's range. The spell ends if the object is forced beyond the range. If the character ceases concentration for any reason, the object falls or stops.

An object can be telekinetically manipulated as if with one hand. The character might even be able to untie simple knots, though delicate activities such as these require Intelligence checks against a DC set by the DM.

Violent Thrust: Alternatively, the spell energy can be expended in a single round. The character can hurl one or more objects or creatures who are within range and all within 10 feet of each other toward any target within 10 feet/level of all the objects. The character can hurl up to a total weight of 25 pounds per caster level.

The character must succeed at attack rolls (one per creature or object thrown) to hit the target with the items, using the character's base attack bonus + the character's Intelligence modifier. Weapons cause standard damage (with no Strength bonus). Other objects cause damage ranging from 1 point per 25 pounds to 1d6 points of damage per 25 pounds.

Creatures who fall within the weight capacity of the spell can be hurled, but they are allowed Will saves to negate the effect, as are those whose held possessions are targeted by the spell. If a telekinesed creature is hurled against a solid surface, it takes damage as if it had fallen 10 feet (1d6 points).

The spell text is now 7 paragraphs in length, with broadly these same effects (weight, cases, etc.) as in 2E. The speed is the same (20 feet/round), although it benefits from the system re-scaling, such that it's now equal to a man with a medium load (conveniently similar to B/X). The "violent thrust" attack usage gets an explicit rule for an attack roll, damage variation (by weapon type, or else a fairly wide range of 1 hp to 1 die/level), and a damage specifier for hurled creatures (limited to a seemingly low 1d6).

Open Questions

Have you ever seen someone use telekinesis on a regular basis (not just as a one-time over-the-cliff gag)? Should it have a more streamlined rule, or higher speed or damage margins? When I think of this power these days, I tend to think of the wizard battle in the first Lord of the Rings movie (Saruman and Gandalf flinging each other around the chamber), or the Force-battle at the end of Empire Strikes Back (Vader propelling a whole barrage of objects through the air to batter Luke). Does this spell do the job of simulating those kinds of actions?

And while I'm on it, what the hell good is it in Diablo?


What Level Do You Make New PCs?

Here's an important question that is only rarely addressed directly in any version of the D&D rulebooks (and related to our discussions of ability-score rolling and reincarnation in the last week)  -- What level should you make new PCs, and why?

In traditional D&D (0-1-2E and B/X), the unstated assumption was that new PCs are made at 1st level, period, end of story. If you lose a character in campaign play, perhaps you've cultivated a henchman NPC to a higher level who can step in as the PC replacement. But if not, are you relegated to 1st level while the rest of the party is higher? On the one hand, survival seems like an issue, but on the other hand, XP may come quickly enough to rapidly advance in just a few sessions.

In the 1E AD&D DMG, Gygax included "Appendix P: Creating a Party on the Spur of the Moment", which supported random creation of party members of advanced level for those cases where it is required, "often if you attend many conventions" (p. 225). However: (a) there is no guidance given for why you'd pick one level instead of another, (b) the party is being generated simultaneously all at the same time (by level, when XP might be a better metric), and (c) the emphasis is on convention play, not for ongoing campaigns.

Probably Dave Cook in the 2E DMG has the most direct commentary on this issue (Ch. 3):

Mixing New and Old Characters

Letting players start at the beginning is fine when you first open a campaign, and all player characters can begin at the same level. As sessions are played, however, a disparity in character levels will develop. New players will join the game and old players will create new characters. Eventually, you'll reach a point where the original group of players has characters many levels higher than when they began. How, then, do you introduce new players and new player characters into your game?

There are times when you should allow a character to start above 1st level. A newly-created character should begin a campaign no higher than 4th level unless the group is very powerful. If this is the case, he should begin no higher than the lowest level character in the party (and it may be better to start a level or two lower).

3E D&D had very robust rules for creating PCs at any level (including a formalized "expected equipment" value that could be used to buy any desired magic items at game start). But again, not much guidance as to exactly what level to choose when playing with a pre-existing group.

My long-running Boston gaming group (late 90's-mid 00's) dealt with this issue, obviously, and we had a series of discussions about it. Starting briefly in 2E and then mostly playing in 3E rules, we basically used the Cook advice above: new and replacement PCs started at one level below the average of the existing party. Over time the party levels stretched out a bit (some died more than others), to something like 8th-12th level; so by the end of the campaign new PCs would be made at the 8th level, the same as the lowest-levels in the party. On the one hand this was both several levels behind the party "leaders", and yet it also caused awkwardness that the lowest-level members could commit suicide and then respawn new PCs at the same level. Also this collided with the 3E philosophy of raise dead and the like, that characters come back reduced by one level; in some cases it would actually be more profitable to create a brand-new PC at 8th level, than play the raised PC at 7th level, for example. Some of the more crunchy players might ask: What's the benefit in being raised from the dead in this case?

So what's your rule? How do you decide on the level for new and replacement PCs in a game that already has mostly high-level characters in play? We would seem to want PCs to be viable partners of the existing party, and yet we also want to motivate a high level of play (players should prefer fighting to survive, than retiring/recycling PCs and returning at the same or better level). If you use the 3E principle of raise dead return a PC at −1 level, then seemingly new PCs would have to appear at least −2 levels behind the rest of the party to make that truly beneficial. If that's unacceptable, then seemingly you would have to scrub that rule from late-era raise dead (as well as reincarnation, for example); the two issues seem to be inextricably tangled. What do you think?


Spells Through The Ages – Reincarnation

Reincarnation is traditionally a 6th-level spell for D&D wizards that doesn't get a lot of use, because (much like contact other plane: link) there is a clerical spell that gets the same job accomplished more easily and without the potentially very nasty side-effects. But in my no-cleric D&D games, reincarnation is the only spell available for resuscitating a slain PC, so it is of much more interest. It usually gets used once in most of my high-level convention games, and I spend a lot of time trying to "dial it in" properly for both tournament and campaign play. The concept of reincarnation is of course most closely related to various Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism; in particular the idea of cross-species migration), but the idea also had a major role in early Greek thought, among the Celtic druids (as reported by Julius Caesar), certain Norse myths, and many other cultures (link). Here are the various aspects through which the D&D spell passed over the years:

Original D&D

Reincarnation: A spell to bring a dead character back to life in some other form. The form in which the character is Reincarnated is dependent upon his former alignment (Law, Neutrality or Chaos). Use a random determination on the Character Alignment table, and whatever the result is, the reincarnated character is that creature and must play as it. If he comes back as a man, determine which class, and roll a six-sided die to determine which level in that class,and similarly check level for reincarnation as an elf or dwarf.

This spell is brief because it gets to offload the various body-type possibilities to a table from the start of the book, a listing of OD&D monster types under three columns for "Law", "Neutrality", and "Chaos". In the interest of comprehensiveness, here it is (Vol-1, p. 9):

That's almost all of the monsters in OD&D Vol-2. It includes all the humanoids, including giants. Dragons, hydras, purple worms and sea monsters (HD 15+) are included. So are all the higher-level undead types, making those technically possible targets for the reincarnation spell. Some things that are not included appear to be -- totally mindless undead (skeletons, zombies), extraplanar types (elementals, djinn, efreet, invisible stalkers), cleanup crew (jellies, puddings, slimes, oozes, molds), a few beast-like monsters (cockatrice, basilisks), animals and insects (including horses), etc.

Note that in these rules if you come back as a human, dwarf, or elf, you get your class randomized and new level based on a 1d6 roll. That's probably better that having to start over at 1st level, but still a pretty bad beat if you used to be 11th+ level (the level required to cast reincarnation, for example), and there doesn't seem to be much visible connection between the old character and the new.

Expert D&D Rules

Range: 0'
Duration: permanent

This spell brings a dead character back to life in a new body, which magically appears in front of the magic-user casting the spell. The DM should roll on the Reincarnation Table below to determine if the character returns as a character class or a monster. If the character is reincarnated as a character class (as opposed to a monster), the level is randomly rolled on a six-sided die. This level can never be higher than the character's level when slain. If the character returns as a monster, the kind of monster must be rolled on the table that matches the character's alignment. If the monster rolled has more hit dice than the character had at the time of death, then the monster type must be rolled again. A monster does not advance in experience: the character must play as reincarnated or retire from play.

The DM is free to add more monsters to the lists if desired. Such monsters should be 6 hit dice or less and should be at least semi-intelligent.

In the Expert D&D Rules, Dave Cook creates a new table for reincarnation, such that all the possibilities are encapsulated and available at a glance in the spell listing. One radical change is that by the OD&D rule, the chance of returning as a classed human/elf/dwarf was almost negligible (3 out of 12 options for Lawful characters), while here in Expert D&D it is almost unavoidable (9 out of 10 options on the main table). Class is still randomized (except in the #8-9 slots) and level is based on 1d6 just like in OD&D (with a restriction that level can't increase this way). The second major change is that the possible monster types are greatly reduced, with some foresight that they should be semi-intelligent, mostly humanoid/bipedal, and restricted to 6 HD or less (in line with the random level determination).

AD&D 1st Ed.

Reincarnation (Necromantic)
Level: 6

Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: Person touched

Explanation/Description: This spell is similar to the seventh level druid spell of the same name (q.v.). It does not require any saving throw for system shock or resurrection survival. The corpse is touched, and a new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1 to 6 turns, providing the person has not been dead for longer than 1 day per level of experience of the magic-user. The new incarnation will be:

Note: Very good or very evil persons will not be reincarnated as creatures whose general alignment is the opposite. The material components of the spell are a small drum and a drop of blood.

In AD&D, Gygax crafts his own custom table, and as you can see the entries are all entirely humanoid-types (topping out with the troll, at 6 HD, reminiscent of the previous returning level limits). There is no specific comment on class or level in any event (another case of leaving out the most important detail in the OD&D-to-AD&D matriculation?). Unlike previous versions, this table is not split up by alignment (although there is the "very good or very evil persons" guidance at the end).

The old corpse must be touchable (so I guess no reincarnation if the body is lost or disintegrated), and there's a detail that the "new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1 to 6 turns". I always interpreted this with the understanding that the new body would wander onstage from some outside location (much like the way monster summoning was written), although you could arrange some contrived example where that wouldn't be possible.

The other alteration in AD&D (as referenced in the first line of the spell above), is that a very similar spell is given to the new PC druid class, called reincarnate (note the slightly different spelling). This spell has entirely sylvan woodlands creatures on it, starting with -- badgers, bears, boars, centaurs, etc. Humans, elves, and gnomes are possibilities, as well as a 15% chance to be sent to the magic-user's table, above. The 1E DMG has this note for both (p. 44):
Reincarnation: Regardless of the form of the creature in which the character is reincarnated, allow the new form to progress as far as possible in characteristics and abilities. For example, a badger character could grow to giant size, have maximum hit points, plus bonus points for a high constitution, and the intelligence level of its former character. A centaur reincarnation might eventually gain hit dice up to 5, 6, 7, or even 8, and it would be eligible to wear armor, use magic items, etc.

So while that's very sketchy, there is at least some hope held out for any creature type to have the possibility of advancement.

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Range: Touch

Duration: Permanent
Area of Effect: Person touched

With this spell, the wizard can bring back to life a person who died no more than one day per level of experience of the wizard before the casting of the spell. The essence of the dead person is transferred to another body, possibly one very different from his former body. Reincarnation does not require any saving throw, system shock, or resurrection survival roll. The corpse is touched, and a new incarnation of the person will appear in the area in 1d6 turns. The person reincarnated recalls the majority of his former life and form, but the character class, if any, of the new incarnation might be different indeed. The new incarnation is determined on the following table. If a player character race is indicated, the character must be created.

Note: Very good or very evil persons will not be reincarnated as creatures whose general alignment is the opposite.

The material components of the spell are a small drum and a drop of blood.

This version of the spell looks pretty much the same as in 1E. The table is identical. So is the parallel listing of the druidic (priestly) reincarnate spell (although the 15% likelihood of going to the wizard's table has been replaced by "DM's choice"). The only real difference I can spot is Cook's addition at the end of the main paragraph, "If a player character race is indicated, the character must be created."; does this mean rolled up fresh at 1st level? If so, then it doesn't seem like this reincarnation spell actually buys you anything.

D&D 3rd Ed.

Level: Drd 4
Components: V, S, DF
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: Touch
Target: Dead creature touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None (see text)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)

With this spell, the character brings back a dead creature in another body, provided death occurred no more than 1 week before the casting of the spell and the subject’s soul is free and willing to return. If the subject’s soul is not willing to return, the spell does not work; therefore, subjects who want to return receive no saving throw. Since the dead creature is returning in a new body, all physical ills and afflictions are repaired. The magic of the spell creates an entirely new young adult body for the soul to inhabit from the natural elements at hand. This process requires 1 hour to complete. When the body is ready, the subject is reincarnated.

A character reincarnated recalls the majority of his former life and form. The character retains his or her Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores, as well as any class abilities or skills formerly possessed. The character’s class, base attack bonus, base save bonuses, and hit points are unchanged. Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores depend partly on the new body. First eliminate the character’s racial adjustments (since the character is no longer of his or her previous race) and then apply the adjustments found below. The character’s level is reduced by 1. (If the character was 1st level, his or her new Constitution score is reduced by 1.)

It’s quite possible for the change in the character’s ability scores to make it difficult for the character to pursue his or her previous character class.

The new incarnation is determined on the following table or by DM choice.

Some bodies may make it impossible for the reincarnated character to use some of his or her class abilities. The reincarnated character does gain any powers or abilities associated with his new form. A humanoid reincarnated into an animal body can speak the languages it formerly knew and is a magical beast.

A wish spell can restore a reincarnated character to his or her original form.

The biggest change that 3E makes is that reincarnation is entirely deleted from the wizard's spell list; all that's left is the druidic version, shown above. The table is very similar to the one for druids in 1E/2E, with just a small number of changes (deleted fox, raccoon, stag; replaced faun → satyr, lynx → leopard; reduced DM's choice, formerly the trigger to wizard's table, to just 1%).

A minor change is that the new body doesn't walk in from offstage; the spell "creates an entirely new young adult body for the soul to inhabit from the natural elements at hand", thereby dodging any complications of its arrival; the former up-to-6-turn arrival time is here changed into 1 hour of body-creation (growth?) time. A major change is the new paragraph that explicates mental abilities and class stay the same, and while physical abilities have the same basis, they are subject to new racial modifiers (very much like the language in the 3E polymorph; link). Level is reduced by just 1, in line with all the other 3E rules on returning from the dead -- enormously more generous than in prior versions of the game.

And that's where we'll end our story -- at the point where reincarnation itself escapes from the cycle of officially-published D&D wizard spell lists for all time (moksha, you might say).

Open Questions

How much have you seen the magic-user reincarnation get used in play? Any memorable examples of PCs turned into interesting animals or monsters? If clerical raise dead and the like were not available, what would your preference be in how this spell functions (for example -- arbitrary monsters as in OD&D; humanoids-only as for AD&D wizards; or mostly animals-types as restricted to 3E druids)? What level should the PC come back as, and how should it be handled for non-standard PC types?


Arena – Ability Distributions

Ability Distributions for 4th-Level NPCs; And a Simple System for Rolling Corresponding Abilities for Like-Level PCs

I'm still working on the Arena program to simulate a population of battling fighters, and using it to assess how high the ability scores are for the characters who manage to achieve higher levels. In fact, as I prepared for my Jul-4 weekend marathon game, I wanted to apply those results. But the evening before I realized I hadn't yet inspected the distribution of ability scores for higher levels.

So here's a closer look at the scores for 4th-level characters in that simulation (the level at which we were playing that weekend). In this case this is the result of a population of 10,000 fighters battling pairwise for 1,000 cycles (with half dying each cycle, the other half gaining prizes and XP). For this run, I've got 42 gladiators who achieved the 4th level. Here is a frequency table of their ability scores:

You can see that the most common Strength score is 16; Constitution around 13-15; Dexterity around 13-14. The scores are approximately bell-shaped around these peaks. Other scores are purely random 3d6, since they give no benefit in the arena combat. Also, here are the hit points:

Most common is to have 26 hit points for these 4th-level fighters, and again roughly bell-shaped around this modal value. That's significantly higher than the average 22 you'd get from a naive dice expectation (4d8+4 [for average Con bonus +1] =  4 × (5.5) = 22).

So then my problem was: What kind of dice-rolling process (hopefully a simple one) can we give to the players that will roughly recreate these distributions of scores? Last time, I suggested that a process like roll-dice-but-apply-minimum (say: 3d6, but minimum "3" on any die; seen in many systems like 1E UA starting hit points) would give on okay average. But that gives a distribution that clusters up at a particular minimum value (i.e., is right-skewed), whereas looking at the distributions above, they're really more properly bell-shaped (as tends to be the result from a natural selection process like we have here). So that prior suggestion simply won't do.

Therefore, I started a different spreadsheet and found myself playing around with several different hypothetical dice-rolling procedures to find something that would work. I went through a few iterations before finding something that satisfied me; both (a) simple at the table, and (b) generates approximately the same distributions as above. The solution, in short, is this: You can't apply a per-dice minimum. What works best is to roll some reduced dice and add fixed bonus (so you do get a bell-like distribution shape, and an inflated average, without potentially blowing past the natural maximum 18 value). Here's what I had my players do that weekend to generate 4th-level characters, and it worked pretty well:
  • Roll for Abilities. Pick one ability and roll 2d4+10 (suggest your prime requisite). Pick two other abilities and roll 2d6+6, in order. For your other three abilities, roll 3d6 in order. For resulting ability modifiers see OED (same as B/X except max is ±2).

  • Roll for Hit Points. For each level, roll a die of one size lower than normal and add 2. That is: Fighters roll d6+2 each level, Thieves d4+2, and Wizards d2+2. Add Constitution bonus as usual. For multiclass characters (Elves), roll separately for each class in this way, and use the higher total.

So that's where we are at the moment. Notes: This is a work-in-progress (subject to later refinements of the Arena; like actually battling standard OD&D monster types). It's only true to the 4th level. But it does give you something to work with at the table (as I needed for my game Jul-4), and I expect that the basic idea will be retained in the future (roll some reduced dice and add a fixed bonus).

More detail in ODS spreadsheets:


Spells Through The Ages – Teleport

The word "teleportation" was coined less than a hundred years ago (by Charles Fort in 1931; link). As such, it tends to be more commonly developed or utilized in 20th century works of science fiction; but it has been a 5th-level D&D wizard spell since the first version of the game. In this way it may stand as an example of D&D's mix-and-match approach, taking some handfuls of all the various pulp literature, not just fantasy and swords-and-sorcery.

Among the classical depictions of instant-transfer powers we might include (link) -- Djinn in "The Arabian nights" (transporting from China to Morocco instantly); examples in the Talmud of "contracting the path" (Kefitzat Haderech); a Tibetan mystical skill of instantaneous transportation (Lung-gom-pa); and the Tarnhelm in Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen". In T.H. White's "The Sword in the Stone", Merlyn accidentally vanishes himself to Bermuda for a few moments (Chapter 9).

Obviously, teleportation is a powerful ability, and in some versions of the game (in conjunction with other powers), it's become problematic and possibly game-breaking. Every edition has had some attached limitation or danger to the ability -- however, traditional legendary versions have seemingly no restriction, so the D&D limits are distinctly sci-fi flavored. Common SF drawbacks are that the teleported person might get "scrambled" en route or incorrectly reconstructed, such that they lose parts of themselves (see Arthur C. Clarke's "Travel By Wire!", or Edward Mitchell's "The Man Without a Body"), gain parts of other beings (as in "The Fly"), mangled fatally (as in the first Star Trek movie), or simply "grounded" and disappear into the Earth (Clarke again). In the 1943 "Philadelphia Experiment" urban myth/movie, a Navy destroyer is teleported and many of crew are merged into the steel superstructure (link). Another complication more recently explored is the idea that multiple copies of the transportee might be produced, causing existential dilemmas of identity (James Kelly's 1996 "Think Like a Dinosaur"; and I also wrote a short story on this theme circa 1990). For a more comprehensive listing of possible mishaps, check out TV Tropes (link). But for now let's look at how D&D has tried to circumscribe the 5th-level teleport spell.

Original D&D

Teleport: Instantaneous transportation from place to place, regardless of the distance involved, provided the user knows where he is going (the topography of the arrival area). Without certain knowledge of the destination teleportation is 75% uncertain, so a score of less than 75% of the percentile dice results in death. If the user is aware of the general topography of his destination, but has not carefully studied it, there is an uncertainty factor of 10% low and 10% high. A low score (1-10%) means death if solid material is contacted. A high score (91-100%) indicates a fall of from 10 to 100 feet, also possibly resulting in death. If a careful study of the destination has been previously made, then the Magic-User has only a 1% chance of teleporting low and a 4% chance of coming in high (10-40 feet).

Of course, the traditional drawback to teleporting in D&D is to possibly appear at the destination point either high (and suffer falling damage) or low (instant death). Teleporting to an "uncertain" location is basically prohibited, since it is 75% likely to result in instant death. More likely usage will be either "general" knowledge (80% safety), or "careful study" of the destination (95% safety, only 1% death result). It's a possibly unique limitation, in that I can't think of any prior source that handles it this way (esp. the "high"/falling possibility). An advantage is that it's concisely determined at the receiving point; a disadvantage is that invisible auto-destruction is not very conducive to continued play of the game. Personally, I might have simply prohibited "uncertain" teleporting, rather than fence it off with the 75% instant death danger.

The other detail here is that the original spell seems to be written assuming that only the magic-user him- or herself can travel by the spell ("...provided the user knows where he is going...", "...
the Magic-User has... a 4% chance of coming in high"). There is no allowance given here for other passengers. However, note how the magic item helm of teleportation is written (OD&D Vol-2, p. 37; likely inspired by Wagner's Tarnhelm?):
Helm of Teleportation: The Magic-User employing this helm must have a Teleportation spell in order to take advantage of this device. Having but one such spell the Magic-User can Teleport himself endlessly about the universe, but if he teleports some other person or object the helm does not function and the spell proper is used. Thus the helm is good only to transport the Magic-User himself. Treat as a non-protective helm if worn into combat.

Here the second and third sentences are devoted to a major distinction between teleporting the wizard himself versus "some other person or object", and in that external case the memorized "spell proper is used" (not the magical helm). So by inclusion here, OD&D allows for use of the spell on some other entity than the casting wizard, but it's extremely easy to overlook that fact (as I did for an extended period of time).

Expert D&D Rules

Range: 10'
Duration: instantaneous

This spell instantly transports the caster or another creature any distance to any known place the caster can visualize. The transported creature (carrying up to its full encumbrance load) will arrive at "ground level" in any suitable open place. The chance of arriving safely at the aiming point depends on how carefully the caster has studied the area. Casual knowledge means the caster has been there once or twice, or is visualizing the aiming point from descriptions or magical scanning. General knowledge means the caster has been to the area often, or has spent several weeks studying the area magically (via crystal ball, etc.). Exact knowledge means the caster has made a highly detailed personal study of the aiming point. The chances of success are:

A creature arriving too high rolls 1d10 for the number, in tens of feet, the creature is above the aiming point. If this area is occupied by a solid object, the creature dies instantly. Otherwise, each 10' a creature falls will do Id6 points of damage on impact. A creature arriving too low has teleported into the ground or other solid object and dies instantly. A creature can never be deliberately teleported too high, too low, or into a solid object. An unwilling creature is allowed a saving throw vs. Spells.

The D&D Expert rules massage teleport in a couple of small ways. First, it is explicit that either the magic-user or another creature within 10' (not an object) may be transported. However, this opens up a can of worms in that the magic-user might simply destroy an enemy by teleporting them low into the earth, so there is language added to prohibit that (which to my eye seems poorly justified, and nonetheless the wizard can choose the more dangerous option in the table to likely cause that result anyway).

Second, Cook has apparently shaved off the "uncertain 75% death" option, and inserted a new "casual" option which is 50% safe (25% instant death). The other two cases are identical to OD&D, and presented in the form of a table for the first time (the table will expand in later editions of the game, of course).

As a small aside, Cook also changes the helm of teleportation such that the device loses its charge when used to "teleport an unwilling creature" (which gets a save as in the spell above; p. X50); but this is actually much more permissive than OD&D, where the helm could not ever be used to teleport any other person, willing or otherwise.

AD&D 1st Ed.

Teleport (Alteration)
Level: 5

Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous

Area of Effect: Special

Explanation/Description: When this spell is used, the magic-user instantly transports himself or herself, along with a certain amount of additional weight which is upon, or being touched by, the spell caster, to a well-known destination. Distance is not a factor, but inter-plane travel is not possible by means of a teleport spell. The spell caster is able to teleport a maximum weight of 2,500 g.p. equivalence, plus an additional 1,500 g.p. weight for each level of experience above the 10th. i.e. a 13th level magic-user teleports a maximum weight of 7,000 g.p. (700 pounds). If the destination area is very familiar to the magic-user (he or she has a clear mental picture through actual proximity to and studying of the area) it is unlikely that there will be any error in arriving exactly in the place desired. lesser known areas (those seen only magically or from a distance) increase the probability of error. Unfamiliar areas present considerable peril. This is demonstrated below:

Teleporting high means the magic-user will arrive 1" above ground for every 1 % he or she is below the lowest "On Target" probability - only 2" when the destination is very familiar, and as high as 32" if the destination area was never seen. Any low result means the instant death of the magic-user if the area into which he or she teleports to is solid. Note that there is no possibility of teleporting to an area of empty space, i.e. a substantial area of surface must be there, whether a wooden floor, a stone floor, natural ground, etc.

In AD&D Gygax appears to restrict the spell more firmly such that the caster must be the primary traveler ("...the magic-user instantly transports himself or herself, along with a certain amount of additional weight...", no saving throw as in the Expert rules, etc.). There is the clause that additional weight "upon, or being touched by" the wizard may be taken, which is ambiguous in whether it is intended for inanimate gear only, or possibly fellow-characters -- it clearly gets used in the latter way in later editions. On the one hand, this solves the "deadly enemy teleportation" problem by always making the caster subject to the same risk. On the other hand, I'm not fond of either (a) the fairly complicated weight calculation (subtract, multiply, add; then shuffle lots of paper for fellow traveler weight and encumbrance sums), or (b) the tone of wizard as magical chauffeur as used in lots of 2E-3E campaign material (I feel it more true to the literature for a wizard to send heroes into some murky danger while he remains behind, keeping himself safe).

The table is now expanded to five gradations of familiarity. All of the risk percentages have changed from before, most a bit safer than in OD&D. Even the "never seen" category has only a 48% total chance for a mishap (unlike the 75% instant death as in Vol-1).

But, if we look at the helm of teleportation magic item, we again get a noticeably different story (DMG, p. 146):
Helm of Teleportation: This is another helmet of normal appearance which will give off a magical aura if detected for. Any character wearing this device may teleport (q.v.) once per day, exactly as if he or she were a magic-user, i.e. the destination must be known, and a risk is involved. If a magic-user has access to this device, its full powers can be employed, for the wearer can then memorize a teleportation spell, and use the helm to refresh his or her memory so as to be able to repeat the spell up to 3 times upon objects or characters and still be able to personally teleport by means of the helm. As long as the magic-user retains the teleportation spell uncast, he or she can personally teleport up to 6 times before the memory of the spell is lost, and even then a usage of the helm remains as noted above.

As in Gygax's OD&D, the AD&D spell seems to restrict usage to the caster only, while the magic item explicitly allows using the power "upon objects or characters" and then separately, "personally teleport by means of the helm". What to make of that, vis-a-vis the spell itself? Also, there is more of a restriction on usages, from OD&D's "endlessly about the universe" to AD&D's 6 times by the wizard himself before the empowering, memorized spell is burnt out.

Edit: While that's the story in the core 1E AD&D rulebooks, the later Unearthed Arcana added a new spell, the 7th-level teleport without error, which avoids all chance of error, unless traveling to another plane. This would seem to be so immensely useful that no wizard would use the original spell once they gained the extra 4 levels to access the new one, I would think. (Thanks to poster JB for pointing this out in 1E UA.)

AD&D 2nd Ed.

Range: Touch
Duration: Instantaneous
Area of Effect: Special

When this spell is used, the wizard instantly transports himself, along with a certain amount of additional weight that is on or being touched by the spellcaster, to a well-known destination. Distance is not a factor, but interplanar travel is not possible by means of a teleport spell. The spellcaster is able to teleport a maximum weight of 250 pounds, plus an additional 150 pounds for each level of experience above the 10th (a 13th-level wizard can teleport up to 700 pounds). If the destination area is very familiar to the wizard (he has a clear mental picture due to previous proximity to and study of the area), it is unlikely that there is any error in arriving, although the caster has no control over his facing upon arrival. Lesser known areas (those seen only magically or from a distance) increase the probability of error. Unfamiliar areas present considerable peril (see table).

Teleporting high means the wizard arrives 10 feet above the ground for every 1% he is below the lowest "On Target" probability; this could be as high as 320 feet if the destination area was never seen. Any low result means the instant death of the wizard if the area into which he teleports is solid. A wizard cannot teleport to an area of empty space--a substantial surface must be there, whether a wooden floor, a stone floor, natural ground, etc. Areas of strong physical or magical energies may make teleportation more hazardous or even impossible.

This text is basically copy-and-pasted from 1E. The weight language is the same, the categories are identical, and the probabilities are all equal to what came before.

While the teleport spell text is still a tiny bit ambiguous about teleporting other people, the DMG definitively lists it as an available service from NPC wizards in the campaign ("Teleport 2,000 gp per person"; DMG Chapter 12: NPCs), and elsewhere asserts "Those with wealth can cross oceans by other, more practical, means: flying mounts, undersea dwellers, and teleportation are all available, at least to the rich and powerful" (DMG Chapter 14: Time and Movement). Meanwhile, the helm of teleportation retains its explicit ability to be used on other "objects or characters" as it always has, here identical to 1E:
Helm of Teleportation: This is another helmet of normal appearance which will give off a magical aura if detected for. Any character wearing this device may teleport once per day, exactly as if he were a wizard—the destination must be known, and a risk is involved. If the wearer is a wizard, the helm's full powers can be employed, for the wearer can then memorize a teleportation spell, and use the helm to refresh his memory so he can repeat the spell up to three times upon objects or characters and still be able to personally teleport by means of the helm. As long as the wizard retains the teleportation spell uncast, he can personally teleport up to six times before the memory of the spell is lost, and even then a usage of the helm remains as noted above for all characters.

D&D 3rd Ed.

Transmutation [Teleportation]
Level: Sor/Wiz 5, Travel 5
Components: V
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Personal and touch
Target: The character and touched objects or other touched willing creatures weighing up to 50 lb./level
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None and Will negates (object)
Spell Resistance: No and Yes (object)

This spell instantly transports the character to a designated destination. Distance is not a factor, but interplanar travel is not possible. The character can bring along objects and willing creatures totaling up to 50 pounds per caster level. As with all spells where the range is personal and the target is the character, the character need not make a saving throw, nor is SR applicable to the character. Only objects held or in use (attended) by another person receive saving throws and SR.

The character must have some clear idea of the location and layout of the destination. The clearer the character's mental image, the more likely the teleportation works. Areas of strong physical or magical energies may make teleportation more hazardous or even impossible.

Note: Teleportation is instantaneous travel through the Astral Plane. Anything that blocks astral travel also blocks teleportation.

To see how well the teleportation works, roll d% and consult the Teleport table.

Refer to the following information for definitions of the terms on the table.

Familiarity: "Very familiar" is a place where the character has been very often and where the character feels at home. "Studied carefully" is a place the character knows well, either because the character has been there often or the character has used other means to study the place. "Seen casually" is a place that the character has seen more than once but with which the character is not very familiar. "Viewed once" is a place that the character has seen once, possibly using magic. "Description" is a place whose location and appearance the character knows through someone else’s description, perhaps even from a precise map.

"False destination" is a place that doesn’t exist. When traveling to a false destination, roll 1d20+80 to obtain results on the table, rather than rolling d%, since there is no real destination for the character to hope to arrive at or even be off target from.

On Target: The character appears where the character wants to be.

Off Target: The character appears safely a random distance away from the destination in a random direction. Distance off target is 1d10 x 1d10% of the distance that was to be traveled. The DM determines the direction off target randomly.

Similar Area: The character winds up in an area that’s visually or thematically similar to the target area. Generally, the character appears in the closest similar place, but since the spell has no range limit, the character could conceivably wind up somewhere else across the globe.

Mishap: The character and anyone else teleporting with the character have gotten "scrambled." the travellers each take 1d10 points of damage, and the character rerolls on the chart to see where the travellers wind up. For these rerolls, roll 1d20+80. Each time "Mishap" comes up, the characters take more damage and must reroll.

As you can see 3E performs a major overhaul on the teleport spell, primarily by removing the traditional "high/low" (i.e., instant death) possibilities, and replacing them with "off target/similar area/mishap" chances. In the first two cases the caster still arrives safely at ground level, but possibly in some greatly removed location many miles away, or possibly "across the globe". The most perilous outcome is no longer instant death, but "mishap", which is to say merely 1-10 points of damage and then a reroll. While I personally agree that those outcomes seem closer to fantasy-world sensibilities (appearing in some foreign location in an amusing accident: see the "Sword in the Stone", "Harold Shea" stories, etc.), it's obviously very much "safety bumpered" compared to what went before. In that sense it opens more options for the wizard exploring by random teleports, and in 3E campaign and organized play, there was an immense problem around the power of the "scry-buff-teleport" assassination technique (granted greater access to scrying, and much less risk to teleporting, compared to prior editions).

Other changes include: (a) a simplified weight calculation, (b) explicit usage for the first time to "bring along objects and willing creatures", (c) an added familiarity case for "false destination". Related spells on the wizard list include the 7th-level teleport without error (just like in 2E) and the 9th-level teleportation circle (new to 3E, allowing a temporary bridge across which any number of creatures can pass). The magical helm is greatly simplified in these rules, simply allowing three teleports per day with no other qualifiers:

Helm of Teleportation
Any character wearing this device may teleport three times per day, exactly as if the character had cast the spell of the same name.


Throughout the classic 0-1-2E there is some ambiguity or confusion in that the player spell teleport never outright says that it can be used to transport other objects or creatures, yet the magic item helm of teleportation always consistently calls out that usage (seemingly in reference back to the spell). The Cook DMG campaign text clearly sets the expectation for wizard chauffeurs using teleport, which is the kind of 2E-ism which is a bit too "wahoo" and counter to the pulp literature for my taste. 3E makes the major switch from "high/low" instant death risk to accidental-foreign-location, which I think is a better fit with the literature, and in some sense opens up more gaming adventure possibilities (but also made the spell problematically powerful as a means of attack).

What would your preference be? The classic high/low teleporting risk, or possibly random movement into distant wilderness locales? Should the spell be castable on other creatures and objects (like the helm device), or is it critical for the game that the casting wizard be part of the travel? Do you like the sliding weight allowance, or should it simply be one creature (as in Expert)? And can you think of any prior work which might have inspired the Gygaxian danger of high-or-low reappearance?

Edit 4/24/2021: At a later point on another forum, someone kindly pointed me to the Alfred Bester novel The Stars My Destination as the very likely source of the D&D teleport tropes (and Gygax explicitly wrote that Bester was one of his favorite sci-fi writers). See here for that blog article.