Can Superheroes See Invisible?

Invisible stalker lurking over unaware fighter

Consider the O/AD&D Superhero -- a.k.a, the 8th-level Fighter. If you blink you'll miss it, but in multiple places in early texts it says that fighters of that level can automatically see invisible enemies. (!)

Here's the Fantasy Reference Table from the Chainmail game (included by reference in multiple parts of Original D&D), with key parts highlighted:

Fantasy Reference Table: Superheroes highlighted

Now, you might possibly think that's a typo or something, except that it gets restated in Original D&D, Vol-2 (the Monsters & Treasures booklet), specifically in the entry for Pixies:

PIXIES: Air sprites as described in CHAINMAIL, Pixies can be made visible, or make themselves visible, but they are naturally invisible to human eyes. Therefore, they are able to attack while remaining generally invisible. They can be seen clearly only when a spell to make them visible is employed, although certain monsters such as Dragons and high-level fighters will be aware of their presence.
A few years later, the Advanced D&D game generalized this ability, such that any high-level creature had some chance of detecting invisible. However, the chances of success are much reduced. For example, the 8th-level Superhero fighter now needs a very high Intelligence score, specifically 15 or higher, to have even a 5% chance of detecting invisible in a given round. Here's this table from the 1E DMG p. 60:

AD&D Detection of Invisibility Table

This seems like an odd rule: counterintuitive, easy to forget, unlikely to come into play in most games. And under the interpretation seemingly shared by the earliest designers -- that OD&D and AD&D were a single continuous game undergoing some evolution -- this seems like a case where Gygax was quickly becoming disenchanted with the rule; radically dialing down the likelihood for standard high-level fighters, for example. I take this as evidence that the clear intent was to largely take the ability away from standard Superheroes after some amount of playtest experience in D&D. (And of course this general rule was sufficiently fragile that it disappeared in later editions.)

Separately: As usual for O/AD&D, if you disentangle the numbers in that 1E table, you'll find that the progression on each axis is mostly linear. You could get a good approximation of that rule by doing the following:

Roll 1d20 + Level + Intelligence and score 40 or more.
Or in Target 20 terms: roll d20 + Level + Intelligence - 20 and get a total of at least 20.

But would you want to use such a rule?


Consider Chaos

Horrified David with blue hair and wings
I had an experience the other day where, trying to resolve an issue, office A told me it's the job of office B, office B said to talk to office C, and C said I had to talk to A. This is not uncommon. Things are pretty chaotic.

The next time you lay out a dungeon or lair of a bunch of chaotic monsters, consider the chaotic people and institutions in your own life, and see if injecting some of those details doesn't heighten how bewildering they are (or at least give some catharsis to you). I'll say as someone just slightly on the spectrum, it's somewhere between challenging and painful to imagine a world that works like this -- but it is the world I live in.

Some seeds for thought:

  • Cave A, B, and C have the same monster type, but they don't coordinate in any way.
  • Different caves have different "bosses" who are in direct competition with each other.
  • There's a "king" monster but (like the book says), their immediate command is only the people in direct line of sight. They can give dictates to the larger complex, but it's always a per-area reaction roll to see if they are obeyed or not.
  • Cave A and B are the same clan, but due to a feud they haven't communicated in several years.
  • Cave A may have information the PCs can cajole, bribe, or force out of them: details on people, places, things, passwords, maps, etc. But they're simply wrong, and the monsters in Cave B say they've never heard of any of them. Maps are incorrect. Passwords are out of date.
  • Cave A has certain protocols that are maintained for weeks or months: a patrol schedule, name of a boss, guardian monster pass, puzzle-lock pattern, etc. Then one day it doesn't work like that and everyone denies any knowledge that it was ever different.
  • The tribe is known for using a particular weapon (say: long spears). Then one day the king announces that these are now anathema (due to a scroll, religious revelation, wormtongue consultant, etc.), and every such item in the tribe is burned in a great bonfire. The tribe starts manufacturing swords and shields; this works poorly, so, some months later, they switch back.
  • Monsters are not proficient with the new weapons they've recently been given. Or, they've had them for some time but never received any training.
  • The king has a cool magic item but can't use it. The shaman is currently on the 5th cycle of divining a series of control words for it, none of which have worked when the king goes to use the item in a crisis.
  • Any idiom you can possibly think of gets misconstrued. "We need to see the boss! - We don't allow portraits in here." "I'm all ears - That's horrible, I'm glad you masked yourself with an illusion." "That'll be a piece of cake - I had cake once, I challenge you to the death for it."
  • General willingness to give BS responses (in the Frankfurtian sense) randomly on any issue, large or small.
  • Claims to great monsters, defenses, or treasures that simply don't exist.
  • Boss monsters who run away immediately and let their goons die to cover their tracks.
  • Numbers in the lair may go up or down randomly between sessions as other monsters are recruited/dismissed for various reasons.
  • Various cargo-cult rituals occur; claims to magic power, alien gates, etc. The majority do nothing. Can the PCs depend on them continuing to do nothing as they try different things in the future?
  • Scrolls & spellbooks of twisted, semi-cursed versions of standard spells.
  • Bosses reactions: Always screaming random directions. Often self-contradictory.
  • Tribe has a series of religious dictates which are all vocally worshiped and ignored in practice.
  • Door with a puzzle lock unknown by anyone in the tribe. Maybe there is no solution.
  • One low-level member of tribe actually has solution or passkey for a certain puzzle, trap, or monster, but no one believes them, because they're politically disempowered. Who is it?
  • Key tribe members are mostly drunk or drugged on a regular basis.
  • Going darker: The tribe randomly accuses some of its members of non-existent heresy and imprisons or tortures them, to no benefit.
  • The tribe ejects members randomly for various infractions. And/or: If members seek to leave, they are captured and imprisoned instead.
  • Townsfolk are kidnapped: And some random proportion are afflicted by the chaos of the place with Stockholm syndrome and surprisingly fight for their captors.
  • The tribe is spending a great deal of resources to defend themselves from a nonexistent threat (fictional monster, enemy tribe, made-up curse, cult, etc.) Meanwhile there's an actual disease, poison gas, parasite infestation, or geologic catastrophe that's degrading the tribe and being scrupulously ignored.
  • The tribe practices culling of a certain part of its population (based on age, gender, physique, etc.) They then have a problem of being over-biased in one direction, so they flip to culling the opposite part of the tribe.

At a somewhat higher level, consider if reality itself isn't morphing all the time, faerie-style:

  • Room furnishings and decor are changed frequently to their exact opposites semi-randomly.
  • NPCs show up in sequential encounters with somewhat changed hair, body, facial features (scar switches side), vocal tics, etc.; and show no awareness they were ever different.
  • Magic tricks, traps, puzzles, riddles, etc., get morphed on different dungeon delves.
  • Time slows down or speeds up in different parts of the dungeon, randomly in different sessions.
  • The spatial map layout of the dungeon, and possibly the surrounding wilderness, likewise shift between different sessions. Connections appear and disappear. Rooms gets closer or further apart. (Note: I've wanted to implement this for some time, but creating a nice keyed map takes so much time, it's difficult to commit to re-generating it on a regular basis. Some software tooling that "rubber-sheets" the map would be really great.)

I'm sure you can think of more examples. Just reflect on the institutions closest to you and riff on out-of-control processes you've seen yourself. Write a dungeon background key as normal; then go through every sentence and roll for whether that really is how things work - in contrast to how the inhabitants think/claim it works. Go read Stack Exchange: Workplace and fold in various absurdities.

In conclusion: The classic trope of a dungeon with monsters in nearby rooms or caves who are totally disconnected, without any communication or coordination, is actually not that unrealistic. It happens around us in the standard workplace all the time. Let your players experience the force of true chaos!


The Gygaxian Hallway

Hallway from Temple of Elemental Evil

It's something of a common gag that in the earliest D&D dungeons, all of the hallways were composed of 10-foot cubes -- but it's not true (notwithstanding the customary backstory to the gelatinous cube).

If you look in the right places, Gygax was surprisingly consistent about the shape of his hallways -- and they look like the image at the top of this post here. This is from the original Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), p. 40, in the introductory material to the temple proper. (Note like most art pieces in the extended module, it's signed "Jack[ie] Fred", which is a pseudonym shared by a number of artists when they were unhappy about the time constraints to do their work; but this definitely looks like a Jeff Easley illustration to me.)

In the text, the very first thing detailed in Part 3: Dungeons of Elemental Evil (p. 43) is is the information on "Standard Corridors", which describes the same architecture. This paragraph reads as follows:

Unless noted otherwise, corridors are of dressed stone blocks or worked from the natural limestone (or granite, in the lower depths). Walls and floors are smooth and polished wherever possible. The 10' wide corridors have gothic arches, peaking at about 17' height. The 20' and 30' passages and spaces have roman arches, about 30' tall. Unless otherwise described, doors are of oak, homwood, or bronzewood. Each is about three inches thick, bound with bronze, and set with a large ring on each side. Cressets and sconces are along the walls, and unlit torches rest in most of the latter. In 10' wide corridors, sconces are at 10' intervals. Cressets in wider passages are at 30' intervals. Both are staggered left, right, left, right (etc.), and unlit unless specified.

Almost a decade earlier, Gygax specified almost exactly the same thing in the 1E AD&D PHB's description of the wall of stone spell (p. 82):

This spell creates a wall of granite rock which merges into adjoining rock surfaces if the area is sufficient to allow it. It is typically employed to close passages, portals, and breaches against opponents. The wall of stone is 1/4' thick and 20' square in area per level of experience of the magic-user casting the spell. Thus, a 12th level magic-user creates a wall of stone 3' thick and 240 square feet in surface area (a 12' wide and 20' high wall, for example, to completely close a 10' × 16' passage).
Moreover, one page before that, the passwall spell is described as creating a passage of exactly half that standard size in each dimension:

A passwall enables the spell caster to open a passage through wooden, plaster, or stone walls; thus he or she and any associates can simply walk through. The spell causes a 5' wide by 8' high by 10' deep opening. Note several of these spells will form a continuing passage so that very thick walls can be pierced The material component of this spell is a pinch of sesame seeds.

I suppose we might say that latter spell is making a door-sized opening (if we ignore times the DMG asserts that standard dungeon interior doors are a tremendous 8' wide: see p. 60, p. 97, and my commentary here).

Anyway, this consistency in scaling seems unlikely to be a coincidence. I'd say it's an easy call that the dungeons underneath Castle Greyhawk had this same architecture, for example. Keep in mind the extra space overhead for that Gothic arch when it's important. Can you find any other references to dungeon hallways being this specific shape?